Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: the Music City Bowl won't be replayed, and we won't get a rematch against North Carolina. (That's true for this year and next.) That's a bitter pill to swallow, but it'll get easier. Really, it will. In the meantime, what on earth can be done? Can anything be done? Did the game end correctly?
Well, we certainly tried to figure that out over the last 36 hours. We've looked at both sides of the "offensive penalty with one second remaining" angle, the NFL's 10 second run off rule, the illegal substitution/participation distinction, the review of the pass play and the "launching" penalty against Janzen Jackson, and the fat lady sings rule.
So yes, there are arguments that we were done wrong. Through the litigious magic of the appeals process, it may be determined that these rules should've been enforced differently than they were. Heck, it may be ruled retroactively that Tennessee should've won the game, should Mike Hamilton want to go down that path. (Right now, there's no indication he wants to go that way, but that may change.)
And you know what? It doesn't make a lick of difference whether or not an appeal is filed.
We don't want the victory. We want the emotions that come with the victory; the rush of pulling out a key game, what we'd hope would be our freshman classes' first out of four consecutive bowl victories (with, of course, the last two being in the BCS Championship Game, in this perfect world), of sending one of the most chaos-ridden classes out with a final victory, of smiting the clock-driven demons that cost us the LSU game. A retroactively awarded victory won't change that.Sure, it'll look nice for the record books in 25 years if Derek Dooley (who, in this perfect world, will still be coaching in Knoxville) has 25 winning records, but if it's 24 out of 25, that's not so bad.
We don't get the emotions. Not today, not tomorrow, and not after - and we don't get them if the NCAA changes the result of the game. The nice part about the LSU game is that, on some level, our problems were our own. Yes, losing the game right after an illegal participation penalty forced an untimed down was devastating, and we spent a few days wandering through the football wilderness trying to figure out what happened. This is harder; it wasn't our fault, and there's no game to focus our attention until next September. Until then, we wait, but discussing what should have been is just a waste now.
Losing the game doesn't invalidate Tyler Bray's performance - which once again topped 300 yards, with 4 TDs and a 60% completion percentage (his best on the season, and the best indicator going forward that he'll improve). The offensive line got 74 more game reps, and while they didn't have a great game, they did well enough to put the team in a position to win. If one of 15 things happen differently, this game is a victory. This team - and us - would be well deserved to focus on the things they can change, and not the things they can't. There was no small degree of self destruction late, and fixing those things means we're not in this position next year. Worry about player performance and not the end result. It's the player performance that dictates next season, and it's the only thing Tennessee can really affect.
In the meantime, I suspect we'll see some rule revisions or clarifications from the NCAA this offseason. That's the best we can hope for; it was a mess of a last few seconds for us, but hopefully it'll be the last time this kind of thing happens to anyone.