2008 Outback Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo
Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Tennessee (9-4)
Conference Matchup: Big Ten vs. SEC
Date: Jan. 1, 2008
Location: Tampa, Florida
Spread: Tennessee -3.5.
It's almost déjà vu. Last year the Tennessee Volunteers rolled down to Tampa as confident three-point favorites over another plodding Big Ten team, unranked Penn State. They rolled out with their tails between their legs and a disappointing 20-10 loss.
I remember that game vividly as one of my biggest losses of the season. The key play was, tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, Adrian Foster fumbled at the Penn State 12-yard-line and watched Tony Davis return it for the game-winning score. That play made my New Year's Eve hangover much, much worse.
But now the Vols have a shot at redemption against what has to be considered one of the biggest underachievers of the college football season. Sure, Wisconsin enters that game ranked 18th in the nation. But for a team that returned 16 starters and most of its skill players from last year's 11-1 club, this year had to have been a bit of a let down. The Badgers finished fourth in the Big Ten and lost their three key road games - at Ohio State, at Penn State and at Illinois - by an average of 19 points. They went just 4-7-1 against the spread this year and were a putrid 0-5 ATS away from home.
Road struggles this season weren't limited to Wisconsin. Tennessee won just two of its six road games this year, posting a 2-3-1 mark against the number. Cal and Florida destroyed the visiting Vols this season, and Tennessee also blew a lead against LSU in the SEC Championship Game on a neutral site, the Georgia Dome.
Both Wisconsin and Tennessee fans travel very well, so establishing a "home feel" advantage could prove to be a key in this one.
Another interesting subplot concerns long-time Tennessee assistant coach and current offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe was recently hired as the new head coach at Duke but will coach in the bowl game against Wisconsin. However, while Cutcliffe is trying to build a coaching staff - no doubt recruiting some of his buddies from UT - he is also trying to prepare for the Badgers. There can't be nearly enough hours in the day and you have to wonder where is focus will be.
Tennessee can cover if: If the focused, motivated team that railroaded Georgia between the hedges this year shows up then they could run circles around Wisconsin. If Erik Ainge is sharp then the Vols can get up early, force Tyler Donovan to try to beat them with his arm, and turn it into a blowout.
Phil Fulmer has been battling veiled criticism all season and knows that his only shot at silencing the doubters - at least for a few months - is with a convincing bowl victory over a name program. Fulmer is just 2-5 straight up in his last seven bowl games, but the last two times that he lost in the SEC Title Game (2001 and 2004) he rebounded with solid road wins.
Wisconsin can cover if: If P.J. Hill is healthy and ready to rumble than the Badgers can mimic the game plan that Penn State used so effectively last year. The Vols surrender 162 yards per game on the ground and were actually outgained by their opposition this season. If the Badgers control both lines of scrimmage they could keep Ainge off the field and keep this one low scoring.
As I mentioned, Fulmer has been terrible in bowl games recently and he's a tough guy to trust your money to. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema topped another SEC team, Arkansas, last year in the Capital One Bowl as a three-point dog and could make it back-to-back postseason wins to start his career.
General Notes: Tennessee wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor was offered the Baylor OC position. Bielema said that Hill will play but won't start against Tennessee. He also said that freshman guard John Moffitt would remain the starter for the Outback Bowl.
Re: Outback Bowl
Three Vols starters ruled academically ineligible for Outback Bowl
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Three starters are among a half dozen Tennessee Volunteers who have been ruled academically ineligible for the Outback Bowl.
Wide receiver Lucas Taylor, linebacker Rico McCoy and defensive tackle Demonte Bolden are among the six scholarship players whose fall semester grades didn't meet NCAA and Southeastern Conference requirements to play.
No. 18 Tennessee (9-4) faces No. 15 Wisconsin (9-3) on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.
''We have every resource available through our academic center for academic success by our athletes in all of our sports,'' coach Phillip Fulmer said in a statement. ''In most of these cases, it was simply the student-athlete not being accountable and doing their work. One bright spot is the fact that all of these athletes will be in school spring semester.''
Fulmer said Taylor has passed enough total hours, but was ineligible under a new NCAA policy that requires players to pass six hours within the grade requirements of their major.
The junior started all 13 games this season, even as he battled a turf toe injury, and leads Tennessee receivers with 73 catches for 1,000 yards. He was only four receptions short of setting the school single-season record.
McCoy, a sophomore, has also started each game this season and is second on the team with 106 tackles. Bolden, a junior, started all 12 of the games he played, but was suspended against Louisiana-Lafayette for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Also ineligible to play are free safety Ricardo Kemp, wide receiver Kenny O'Neal and linebacker Chris Donald.
Kemp has played in every game this season and has two sacks. O'Neal caught two passes for a total of 59 yards this season.
Twelve football players graduated earlier this month with bachelor's degrees and another earned his master's degree. Forty players had a semester grade point average of 3.0 or better and 15 earned a GPA of 3.5 or better.
''I am proud of the young men that did a job well done,'' Fulmer said.
Re: Outback Bowl
Outback Bowl: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Tennessee Volunteers
- Tennessee had its chance at a BCS Bowl but lost to LSU in the SEC Championship game. Now, they head to Raymond James Stadium to take on Wisconsin the Outback Bowl. The Badgers, who finished 9-3 in the Big Ten but were awful ATS, will try to vanquish an SEC school in a bowl game for the third straight season.
The Badgers gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but held off the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a 41-34 win last time out. Wisconsin failed to cover the 14-point spread on the road, but the 75 points sailed OVER the posted total of 59.5.
Zach Brown led the Badgers with two touchdowns from 29 carries for 250 yards in the win.
Tennessee allowed 463 yards in a 21-14 loss to LSU last time out in the SEC title game, falling as 7-point road underdogs. The 35 points scored were UNDER the posted total of 59.
Erik Ainge was 20-for-40 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Josh Briscoe caught nine passes for 73 yards and a major for the Volunteers.
Wisconsin: 9-3 SU, 4-7 ATS
Tennessee: 9-4 SU, 7-4-2 ATS
Wisconsin most recently:
When playing in January are 4-2
When playing on grass are 5-5
After being outgained are 7-3
When playing outside the conference are 10-0
Tennessee most recently:
When playing in January are 4-5
When playing on grass are 8-2
After being outgained are 6-4
When playing outside the conference are 8-2
A few trends to consider:
Wisconsin is 18-3 SU in its last 21 games
Wisconsin is 3-6 ATS in its last 9 games
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Tennessee's last 6 games
Tennessee is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games
Re: Outback Bowl
Outback Bowl Preview
By Chris David
Wisconsin (8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS) vs. Tennessee (9-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)
How they got there:
Wisconsin closed the year by winning four of its final five games, three of them by double digits and finished fourth in the Big Ten.
Tennessee entered the SEC Championship with five straight victories before coming up short against LSU 21-14 in the title game.
What to expect:
Similar to past Wisconsin teams, this squad loves to run the football. The Badgers are averaging 201.5 yards per game on the ground, which is ranked 20th in the country. The defense isn't as good as years past, but has held opponents to 350 YPG and 23.3 points per game.
Tennessee likes to air it out with its strong passing game and then use the run to grind the clock out. The Volunteers' offense is averaging 33.3 PPG and has cracked the 50-point barrier on two occassions. Unfortunately, the Vols' defense hasn't been as productive this year -- allowing 407 YPG and 28 PPG, both ranked near the bottom of the SEC.
Players to Watch:
Wisconsin is expected to be without running back P.J. Hill (1,080 yards) due to injury, which means freshman Zac Brown (539 yards, 5 TDs) and senior Lance Smith (406 yards, 3 TDs) will need to step up. Quarterback Tyler Donovan doesn't put the ball in the air much, but has passed for 2,452 yards and 16 TDs on the year.
Quarterback Erik Ainge (63%, 3,157 yards 29 TDs) is one of the more accurate passers in the country and is backed by an offensive line that has only given up four sacks on the year. Running back Arian Foster (1,162 yards, 12 TDs) leads a ground game that appears to be used as a decoy for the air attack.
Wisconsin owns an all-time bowl record of 10-8 but has won six of its last nine postseason tilts, including two straight against SEC teams too.
Tennessee holds a 24-22 record in bowls. Unfortunately, the Vols are just 1-3 both SU and ATS in their last four postseason matchups, including a setback in last year's Outback Bowl to Penn State, 20-10.
In the last 10 years, the SEC has won six of the previous 10 meetings against the Big Ten in this matchup. The favorite has only covered once in the last four Outback bowls.
Inside the Line:
Tennessee opened as a three-point favorite but the number has quietly been dropping to the underdog at most sportsbooks. The total is hovering between 58 and 59.
Both schools posted unbeaten 7-0 marks at home, but Wisconsin (2-3 SU, 0-5 ATS) and Tennessee (2-4 SU, 2-3 ATS) have struggled on the road this year.
The Volunteers are 6-1 straight up and 5-2 against the spread in their last seven games against Big Ten opponents. In Wisconsin's last eight bowl games, the underdog has posted a record of 7-1.
Expert Opinion: - Christian Alexander
Tennessee has been one of the hottest teams - in the best conference in college football - reeling off five straight wins to capture the East Division of the SEC. Only a seven point loss to LSU in the SEC championship game kept them out of the BCS. The Volunteer suspensions hurt but if you ask me they are completely offset by the fact that Wisconsin will almost surely be without their main offensive catalyst, RB P.J. Hill. That is a big loss for the Badgers.
Tennessee hasn't fared well in post season play of late, going 2-3 both SU and ATS in its last five trips. However, when the Vols win - they win big in bowl games. Tennessee stopped Michigan 45-17 in 2001 and Texas A&M 38-7 in 2004. We mention those games because the Wolverines and Aggies were both one-dimensional teams, similar to the Badgers. Look for Ainge to dice up a suspect secondary that has performed worse away from home. The Badgers will put up some points as well, but won't be able to rally from a double-digit deficit.
Final Score: Tennessee 38 Wisconsin 22
Re: Outback Bowl
No. 16 Tennessee tries again to finish season with 10 wins
January 1, 2008
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge is still looking to fulfill a goal set the Volunteers set for themselves last season.
``Obviously it's important to me to end my career with a win,'' he said. ``It isn't about me or my legacy or my feelings. It's about putting a stamp on this season and winning 10 games.''
The 16th-ranked Vols (9-4) tried to win 10 games last season to erase a miserable 2005 season when they went 5-6 and missed a bowl bid. They fell one game short last season, losing a matchup with Penn State in the Outback Bowl, where they get another shot against No. 18 Wisconsin (9-3).
Tennessee has struggled with bowl games in the past decade, going only 2-5 since winning the 1998 national championship.
Coach Phillip Fulmer likes to tout practice as a measuring stick for how his team will perform in a game. Fulmer said the Vols have had strong practices leading up to Tuesday's game, just as they did a year ago in Tampa.
However, strong practices didn't translate into a win in last year's Outback Bowl.
``Our team had prepared well this time last year,'' he said. ``We were in a position going in to win the game. But we had a couple of turnovers we couldn't overcome.''
Fulmer said players and coaches used that bowl loss as a motivation during spring practice - especially tailback Arian Foster, whose fourth-quarter fumble was returned 88 yards for a Penn State touchdown to put the Nittany Lions up 14-10 en route to their 20-10 win.
Instead of wallowing in the pain of the fumble, Foster responded by working harder than before in practice and the offseason. The result was a 1,200-yard season.
``I think it matured him,'' Fulmer said. ``It certainly gave him a sense of focus about how important it is to take care of the football. He's become much more of a complete back.''
Like Foster, the rest of the Vols have bounced back from this season's tough losses to California, Florida and Alabama, following each one with a win. Tennessee had its best response to its particularly embarrassing 41-17 to Alabama, winning its final five games and earning a trip to the Southeastern Conference championship and a chance for the elusive 10th win.
But again the Vols fell short, this time with Ainge struggling against LSU. The senior quarterback threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, one which was returned for a touchdown to give the Tigers the 21-14 win.
Fulmer said Ainge has been tough in the month following the championship game loss, something the coach said he's come to expect. Fulmer said Ainge has not only played with a broken pinkie finger all season, an injury that's been well-documented, but that he's also been throwing with a sore shoulder injured when a pile of players landed on him during the opener at California.
The team has kept that injury quiet all season, and Fulmer said it's an injury that has kept Ainge from throwing as far down field as he'd like.
Now Ainge is back to throwing at full capacity. And even though he never fulfilled the dream of winning an SEC championship, he's ready to add another 10-win season and bowl win to his resume.
``Winning 10 games in any league is an accomplishment, let alone in the SEC the way it is now,'' he said. ``We understand how important that is as a team.''