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Tennessee Bowl Projections - Thanksgiving Week

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A clear favorite emerges both in both projection and possibility for Tennessee.

Jay Graham and Tennessee last faced Northwestern in the January 1, 1997 Citrus Bowl
Jay Graham and Tennessee last faced Northwestern in the January 1, 1997 Citrus Bowl
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A week after our six projections were sending the Vols to five different bowl games, a favorable consensus is beginning to emerge:

Northwestern is a lot like us in terms of strength of schedule and quality losses, they're just missing in the close call department.  The Wildcats have a season opening win over Stanford to their credit, and their only losses are to Michigan and Iowa.  They did lose those games on consecutive Saturdays by a combined score of 78-10.  But they've also responded with four straight wins, including 13-7 at Wisconsin last week.  They're a win at Illinois away from a 10-2 season.

This match-up would give Tennessee the desired January 1 spot, plus what should be a Top 15 opponent when the regular season is over with Northwestern hanging at #17 right now.  As you can see it's been 19 years since the Vols and Wildcats met in what we all thought would be Peyton Manning's last game, a 48-28 UT win in the Citrus Bowl following the 1996 season.  Northwestern may not typically be a team you'd be excited about playing, but this Northwestern team in that bowl game?  I'll take that.

Here's the full grid of projections for the SEC's group of six:

Belk Liberty Music City Outback Taxslayer Texas
SB Nation Virginia Tech Kansas State Pittsburgh Northwestern Penn State Texas Tech
Phil Steele Louisville Texas Tech Arizona Northwestern Pittsburgh West Virginia
Mark Schlabach Duke Texas Tech Louisville Northwestern Penn State West Virginia
Brett McMurphy NC State Texas Tech Nebraska Northwestern Pittsburgh West Virginia
Jerry Palm Virginia Tech Kansas State Penn State Northwestern Pittsburgh West Virginia
Bleacher Report Pittsburgh Kansas State Penn State Northwestern Miami Texas Tech

As you can see, everyone likes Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.  The Big Ten will almost certainly get Michigan State, Iowa, and the winner of Michigan/Ohio State in the Playoff/New Year's Six, but almost certainly won't get all four in.  This should send the loser of Michigan/Ohio State to the Citrus Bowl, and after that there would be a huge gap between 10-2 Northwestern and the rest of the conference.  Pencil them in Tampa.

A couple of the Music City options might still be more desirable for the fan base in name recognition or with old scores to settle, but Northwestern is not only the only Top 15 contender on this board, they might end up the only ranked team on the board.  Pittsburgh could sneak in one of the last couple spots, but the only other team up here receiving votes is West Virginia with one.

It's becoming clear that, barring something very much off the board happening, Northwestern in the Outback Bowl isn't just something you'd take, but is the realistic best case scenario for Tennessee.