Tennessee Will Face Wisconsin in Outback Bowl

The Badgers finally have their SEC New Year's Day opponent when the Tennessee Volunteers accepted the invitation to face Wisconsin in Tampa on January 1.

MADISON - Five days after accepting an invitation to play in the 2008 Outback Bowl, Wisconsin knows its opponent will be the SEC East champion Tennessee Volunteers.

Wisconsin, who moved up to No.18 in the final AP poll and No.15 in the coaches poll, found out that No.16 Tennessee will be its opponent after the committee announced the decision a little after four o'clock Sunday afternoon.

"We are excited about the opportunity to play Tennessee," said Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. "I've actually had the opportunity to watch them the last two weeks and a play here or there, they'd be in the think of it for the BCS. I know that they have very talented players and we should have our work cut out for us."

Tennessee is coming off a loss in the SEC Championship game when they let a fourth-quarter lead evaporate against Louisiana State and finished the season 9-4. The Volunteers won 8 of their last 9 regular season games to win the SEC East Division title with a conference record of 6-2.

Tennessee finished the season 0-3 against ranked teams on the road or in neutral site contests.

"We did not play as consistent as we needed to against some really fine football teams," Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We had a really solid game against Mississippi State and Arkansas and I thought we played well last night (against LSU) and just didn't win the ball game. Certainly look forward to getting back into preparation with our football team as soon as we can."

Tennessee's main offensive weapons include senior quarterback Erik Ainge, who threw for over 3,100 yards, connecting on 29 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Junior Arain Foster eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and led the team with 12 touchdowns and fellow junior, Lucas Taylor, finished with a team-high 73 catches for 1,000 yards.

But the true gem of the offense is the Volunteer's offensive line, a group that has given up only four sacks all season.

"That (stat) jumps out at me big time," Bielema said. "Looking at the possible bowl opponents the last couple days and surfing the net, that jumped out right away. A year ago when we played Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl, we actually broke down three games of Tennessee just to get a feel for what they were. Not many people are getting to him and making him feel pressure."

Wisconsin returned to practice this week after finishing the regular season with a 41-34 win at Minnesota. The Badgers finished 5-3 in the Big Ten Conference, but won four of their last five games with the lone loss coming against then-No. 1 Ohio State in a game that was tied after three quarters.

"We rebounded very, very well against Michigan," Bielema said on Wednesday, referring to a 37-21 victory that put Wisconsin in position to play on New Year's Day. "To be able to close out at Minnesota, we knew they were going to be playing at an extremely high level because of what they've gone through this year."

The trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl will mark UW's fourth-consecutive January bowl game, all in Florida, and fifth-straight against a SEC team.

UW suffered a 24-21 loss to No. 8 Georgia in the 2005 Outback Bowl; stunned No. 7 Auburn, 24-10, in the 2006 Capital One Bowl; and beat No. 12 Arkansas, 17-14, in the 2007 Capital One Bowl.

This will be Tennessee's third appearance in the Outback Bowl game where they are 1-1, while Wisconsin is 1-2 in the game, beating Duke, 34-20, in the 1995 game (then known as the Hall of Fame Bowl) and dropping a pair of games with Georgia in 1998 and 2005, respectively.

Tennessee lost to Penn State in last year's Outback Bowl, 20-10.

"We had really good practices last year and a good scrimmage, which was one of our best scrimmages of the year," said Fulmer about his team's preparation leading up to last year's game. "I expected us to play much better than we did."

The only previous meeting between the two schools was in the 1981 Garden State Bowl. Under head coach Dave McClain, the Badgers fell 28-21 to Tennessee.

With UT averaging 33.4 points per game and the Badgers being no scoring slouches themselves, scoring 30.5 points, this looks to be a classic shootout in Tampa.

"Tennessee is an outstanding college football team and we feel our match-up with the Badgers and Volunteers will be one of the best bowl games this year, stated Jim McVay, Outback Bowl President /CEO. "We feel we have a classic matchup. These two teams will go after each other."

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