Still waiting on official word from the university, but Phil Steele and the NCAA's website are calling for the Vols to head to Memphis to face West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl.
Tennessee's preseason goal was bowl eligibility, and the Vols cleared that hurdle with six wins. The opportunity for seven would have carried momentum no matter the location or the opponent, but now the Vols have both an ideal destination and an opponent that would become a quality win if Tennessee can get it done.
Tennessee will face West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl on Monday, December 29 at 2:00 PM ET on ESPN. The Mountaineers were 7-5 this season, starting 6-2 with a win over Baylor before a 31-30 loss to TCU became the first of a three game skid, including 33-16 at Texas and 26-20 to Kansas State. They beat Iowa State 37-24 to close the regular season; four of their five losses came to teams ranked in the Top 12 at the time:
- 33-23 vs #2 Alabama (Atlanta)
- 45-33 vs #4 Oklahoma
- 31-30 vs #7 TCU
- 26-20 vs #12 Kansas State
This means the Mountaineers have played one of the most difficult schedules in college football and were competitive in every loss to a ranked team. Tennessee obviously comes SEC tested, but will have its hands full in this one.
West Virginia is 47th nationally in yards per play, averaging just over 500 yards per game. Their defense finished the year 55th in yards per play allowed. They are ninth in the country in passing yards per game with strong play from QB Clint Trickett (who missed the regular season finale with a concussion) and WR Kevin White, one of six players in the country to catch more than 100 passes this year. We would expect nothing less from Dana Holgorsen.
The Vols and Mountaineers are already scheduled to open the 2018 season with a neutral site affair in Charlotte, making this one surprisingly round one in the Battle of Appalachia (and twin brothers in Davy Crockett and The Mountaineer), the first ever meeting between the two schools. Butch Jones, who coached wide receivers at WVU in 2005 & 2006, has given his team a chance to continue to build forward momentum as the program bridges the gap between Teams 118 & 119. The task will be a tall one, but I'm glad the bowl game comes with that opportunity. Beating West Virginia would resonate in a way other opportunities in other bowls might not have. We're glad to have the challenge, and if the Vols can rise to the occasion Tennessee will ride a wave of momentum into Butch's third year.
We'll have plenty more on this match-up in the days to come. For more on West Virginia, check out SB Nation's The Smoking Musket