Salvage operation for UT

2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl – Friday, December 30, at 2:30 pm (ESPN)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) vs. #21 Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

Fresno State                W43-10                                Appalachian State           (OT) W20-13
Wyoming                     W52-17                               vs. Virginia Tech                      W45-24
Oregon                        W35-32                               Ohio                                        W28-19
at Northwestern           W24-13                               Florida                                     W38-28
Illinois                         W31-16                               at Georgia                                W34-31
at Indiana                    W27-22                               at Texas A&M                  (2OT) L38-45
Purdue                        W27-14                               Alabama                                    L10-49
at Wisconsin          (OT) L17-23                              at South Carolina                       L21-24
at Ohio State                    L3-62                             Tennessee Tech                         W55-0
Minnesota                      W24-17                             Kentucky                                  W49-36
Maryland                        W28-7                              Missouri                                    W63-37
at Iowa                          L10-40                              at Vanderbilt                              L34-45

It is said that bowl games are often determined by who wanted to play more. Well, what happens when neither team wants to be there? Nothing against our fair city or the folks who put together the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, but both Nebraska and Tennessee harbored far loftier goals well into October, and each fell flat and each felt slighted by the process which led to their selection here. Now each has lots to prove and each is hoping to salvage their season.

Nebraska started 7-0 and rose to as high as #7, but then they let a golden chance get away in an overtime loss at Wisconsin, a game they quickly allowed to multiply being shattered at Ohio State the following week. Injuries at quarterback took away continuity and a lackluster effort against Iowa sent the ‘Huskers from the rankings altogether.

Tennessee started 5-0 and few were as exciting as whoever got there, but it was done with smoke and mirrors. A #9 ranking despite never approaching a quality 60-minute performance wrote checks eventually they could not cash. Like Nebraska, they let an opportunity slip away on the road in overtime and then carried it into a following week matchup where they got destroyed. But the Vols were slower to right things, then falling at South Carolina. Decimated by injuries, the defense fell apart and Vanderbilt rolled up 608 yards in the finale.

So these are two programs with two fan bases that are grumpy. Nebraska fans were hoping for a Florida destination, and Tennessee fans are still stinging from the SEC Championship game getting away—and many are tired of Coach Butch Jones’ act, calling for a change.

The fact is that UT has not yet recovered from back-to-back coaching disasters in Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. Is Butch Jones a disastrous hire? He is certainly not in that class, but he is not Philip Fulmer or Johnny Majors, either. As competitive as the SEC is, you make a mistake with a coach, and it can take years to recover. UT made two of them.

Joshua Dobbs was rarely the problem with this team, having a breakout season accounting for 35 total touchdowns. His intelligence and leadership likely saved the Volunteers from a much worse season. The controversial defection of Jalen Hurd was tough for Vol fans to take, but Alvin Kamara emerged. It is an offense with many weapons still. It better be with the state of the defense.

But can Nebraska exploit that? Both the top two quarterbacks, Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe, are dealing with injuries. How healthy they will be for this game is a question mark. Terrell Newby leads a balanced rushing attack, and Jordan Westerkamp is the heart-and-soul of the entire team from the receiver spot.

The tangibles suggest Tennessee should win and the intangibles are anyone’s guess. The Vols have more speed and should have more fans behind them. Josh Dobbs goes out a winner, 38-24.