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 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.''
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