Looking Ahead: Bowl Season - TransPerfect Music City Bowl, Nashville, TN
by Will Bowen - December 2, 2021
From what I have seen this season, Josh Heupel is THE guy. I believe the Tennessee Volunteers are a 5-star defense away from serious contention for an SEC Championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Now, I’m not saying the Vols win it all next year, of course. Georgia should still be good and Kentucky has been a minor threat recently. I am fairly confident we will win 9-10 games next year and contend for the East title unless we suffer from a monumental collapse in true Tennessee football fashion.
Focusing on this season, the Vols are coming off a 7-5 regular season (4-4 SEC) with losses to Pittsburgh, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Georgia. ALL of these teams with the exception of Pitt were ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game, but Pittsburgh is now 10-2, ranked in the top 20 and playing in the ACC Championship Game this Saturday. None of these losses were particularly bad losses, although I believe UT would have won the Pitt game had Hendon Hooker started at QB.
The latest bowl projections (as of December 1st) have the Volunteers placed in the Music City Bowl (Nashville, TN) against Big 10 member Minnesota. The Golden Gophers finished their season 8-4 overall, and 6-3 in conference play. On paper, this is a fairly even matchup. However, Minnesota is riding high off their November 27th upset of 13th-ranked Wisconsin in Minneapolis to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe for only the second time since 2003. That could prove to be a factor in the bowl game, although both teams would have slightly under a month to prepare for the other. Both Tennessee and Minnesota have one ranked win this season, with Tennessee knocking off 18th ranked Kentucky in Lexington, and Minnesota defeating 13th ranked Wisconsin in Minneapolis.
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, who is a Kentucky native, splitting his high school play between Hazard High School (Hazard, KY), and Ryle High School (Union, KY), holds the program record at Minnesota for single season passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, TD-INT ratio, and a host of others. In short, he is probably the best quarterback Minnesota has ever had.
Minnesota, being a Big 10 team, naturally has a stout defense, only allowing 18.3 points per game to its opponents this year. Scoring wise, the Gophers would be the 2nd toughest defense the Vols have played this year, after Georgia, who is number one in the country at 6.9 points per game allowed. The Vols scored 17 on Georgia, the highest point total of any Georgia opponent this season.
Minnesota has a 66.7% conversion rate on field goals this season, so one of the keys to win must be holding them to field goals in the red zone. Tennessee has to get off to a fast start in the 1st quarter, much like the Missouri and South Carolina games. Beat the defense early, and keep them on their heels. Our offense will win us this game. However, the defense can’t be let off the hook. Minnesota’s offense averages 26.1 points per game, but that could possibly be enough to beat the Vols if the Gophers’ defense plays their best game. The game will come down on the shoulders of Hendon Hooker and the wide receiver core.
I hope to see a big orange turnout in Nashville, or wherever the Vols end up.