Outback Bowl Preview
While it may not be a Bowl Championship Series game, having a 10-win season will be a nice consolation prize for either Wisconsin or Tennessee as the schools meet New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl at Tampa, Fla.
The 18th-ranked Badgers (9-3) finished fourth in the Big Ten, a somewhat disappointing result after being No. 7 in the preseason AP Top 25. But it will be the fourth straight year they are playing on New Year's Day, and they have represented the Big Ten well against the SEC recently, defeating Auburn and Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl to cap each of their last two seasons.
Coach Bret Bielema realizes that playing on New Year's Day has long-term benefits to the program he is trying to sustain after inheriting it from current Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez prior to the 2006 season.
"The big thing is it's a January 1 bowl game for the fourth year in a row, it's in Florida, it allows us to have great preparation," said Bielema, who is 21-4 since succeeding Alvarez. "We have been able to do better in Florida in recruiting. It's been able to help us, it's just exposure for our program."
One key difference for the Badgers in this game will be at tailback. P.J. Hill - the team's leading rusher with 1,080 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games - barely played in a Nov. 10 win against Michigan and did not play the following week against Minnesota due to a leg injury, and Bielema is not optimistic he will be able to play in Tampa.
"We've been able to let him decide whether he wants to go or not, it's whether or not he's in a position to run full speed and he can't do that," Bielema said. "You have to be able to run and he can't do that."
Hill's injury leaves Zach Brown as the likely starter, and Lance Smith-Williams as his backup. For Smith-Williams, it will be his first time outside Madison this season after being prohibited from traveling with the team for violating school rules in July.
"Lance has a spring in his step, it will be his first road game," noted Bielema of Smith, who had 406 yards in seven games and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. "I think he thrives in the big games and enjoys all the cameras and the lights on him and performs in that way. We'll go down to Tampa, have a full week of preparation and whoever practices the best will start."
Senior Tyler Donovan played well in his first year as a starter, throwing for 2,452 yards and 16 touchdowns. After Luke Swan went down with a season-ending knee injury, Travis Beckum emerged as Donovan's favorite target and had 73 receptions for 960 yards and a team-high six TDs.
This will be Wisconsin's third appearance in the Outback Bowl, having been routed by Georgia 33-6 in 1998 and losing 24-21 to the Bulldogs in 2005.
A win would give Wisconsin just its seventh 10-win season in the 118-year history of the program, but the sixth since 1993.
Tennessee (9-4) is returning to the Outback Bowl for the second straight season, and like Wisconsin, came up short in key plays that would have resulted in a spot in the BCS.
The 16th-ranked Volunteers were 4-3 after a 41-17 loss at Alabama on Oct. 20, but they reeled off five straight wins to capture the East Division of the SEC before losing 21-14 to LSU in the conference title game on Dec. 1.
The Volunteers were less than 10 minutes from a BCS berth until Erik Ainge threw a costly interception that LSU's Jonathan Zenon returned for a go-ahead touchdown.
"He made a good play," Ainge said. "I shouldn't have thrown the ball out there. I mean, just as much as he made a good play, I made a bad decision. They changed to a different kind of zone, but it shouldn't have mattered.
"I should have thrown the ball to Austin Rogers. We would have had a big play."
Despite a four-loss season, coach Phillip Fulmer did receive a one-year contract extension that will keep him in Knoxville through 2012.
Ainge has thrown for 3,157 yards and 29 touchdowns his senior season as Fulmer gave him more freedom. It also helped that both Lucas Taylor and Rogers emerged as competent receivers after Robert Meachem entered the draft following his junior season.
Taylor had 73 catches for 1,000 yards and five touchdowns, while Rogers - a sophomore - added 53 receptions for 587 yards and four scores.
In the backfield, Arian Foster had 1,162 yards and 12 TDs en route to becoming Tennessee's first 1,000-yard rusher since both Gerald Riggs Jr. and Cedric Houston surpassed the mark in 2004.
Fulmer has not had a 10-win season since 2004, but a victory would mark his ninth with the Volunteers since taking over in 1992.
Tennessee - making its 47th bowl appearance - won the only meeting between these teams, 28-21 in the 1981 Garden State Bowl at East Rutherford, N.J.
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
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