Tennessee’s 3-7 season was rewarded with a bowl bid on Sunday afternoon. The Volunteers will head to Memphis to face West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The announcement of the bowl game comes at a fascinating time where Jeremy Pruitt’s seat is seemingly on fire beneath him. Many fans monitored Twitter on Sunday looking for some news on that front — instead they got a bowl game announcement.
Even more interesting was the statement released by Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer, which all but confirmed that Pruitt would return next season.
“I’m thrilled about our football program’s opportunity to compete in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against a great opponent like West Virginia,” Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer said. “First, it’s an opportunity to connect with our many fans throughout West Tennessee and expand upon the rich historical links between the Memphis area and UT. We have so much Tennessee family in and around Memphis—especially our medical school and fantastic alumni. And secondly, it’s a tremendous development opportunity for our team and should serve as a primer to spring practice for Coach Pruitt and our returners.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a man that’s ready to make a change.
Tennessee dropped six straight games in 2020, each by double digits. After a quick breather against a decimated Vanderbilt team, the Vols dropped their season finale against Texas A&M to the tune of 34-13. In addition to another loss, reports revealed an ongoing investigation by the NCAA into Tennessee’s recruiting under Pruitt.
“We look forward to the opportunity of playing a bowl game in our home state,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “Since we returned to campus this summer, I am proud of our team in how they have navigated through the challenges presented during this unique season. They get another chance to take the field against a very good opponent in West Virginia. We know Memphis is a special place for Vol fans, and we look forward to seeing them on New Year’s Eve in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.”
Kickoff between West Virginia and Tennessee is set for 4 p.m. ET time on December 31st. Tennessee has opened as a four point underdog in the matchup against the 5-4 Mountaineers.