Tennessee and Nebraska have one thing in common as they prepare to joust Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl. Both teams are in freefall mode.
The Vols enter the matchup 8-4, long removed from a festive 5-0 start that saw them climb to No. 9 in the polls. Nebraska, 9-3, barely resembles the team that was once 7-0 and ranked No. 7.
Tennessee is coming off a 45-34 loss to Vanderbilt. Any loss to Vanderbilt triggers inner reflection and diminishes self-worth.
The Cornhuskers ended their regular season by getting boiled by Iowa, 40-10, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
It’s with a dash of destiny these once-proud programs prepare to meet for all the marbles Nashville has to offer. Fans with long memories know Nebraska holds a 2-0 lead in this series. The Cornhuskers won on a slightly bigger stage in the 1998 Orange Bowl, 42-17. Two years later, Nebraska won in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-21.
Vol coach Butch Jones, already boasting a $4 million salary, receives a $100,000 bonus for getting UT to a bowl game. For a guy who is the highest paid state in employee in Tennessee, I say reaching a mid-level bowl is a job requirement, not something which should be rewarded with a bonus more than three times the state’s median salary.
Yet Jones, per his reported contract, gets at least $100,000 extra if the Vols reach even the most miserable of the 41 bowls on the college football schedule. He’d get the bonus if Tennessee were preparing to face mighty North Carolina Central in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
It could be argued few teams in America have underachieved more than this year’s Vols. It could be argued any football coach in the country, at any level, could have coached this Tennessee team to an 8-4 record. I agree with those arguments.
On the bright side, a win in the Music City Bowl might stop the buzzards from circling coach Jones this offseason. On the dark side, a loss – especially a nasty one – would amplify the cries for Jones to follow the path of downtrodden Derek Dooley and leave Knoxville.
The oddsmakers have the Vols as a 3-point favorite, which is familiar territory. UT was favored in every game this season except Texas A&M and Alabama.
Nebraska was an underdog three times this season and lost all three of those games.
Tennessee last played in the Music City Bowl in 2010 before a capacity crowd of 69,143 that watched the Vols lose to North Carolina 30-27 in double OT.
Prediction: Tennessee 52, Nebraska 51