Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

UT is going bowling

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Joe Biddle

Tennessee's football team will have to buy some bowling shoes after defeating Vanderbilt 31-24 in both team's final regular season game at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Vols enter the undecided bowl game with a 6-6 record, one win better than last year's 5-7 mark.

It is the youngest team in college football's Power Five conferences. They started seven freshmen against the Commodores.

Second year coach Butch Jones claimed the Vols have had the toughest schedule the past two years.

Don't underestimate how important making a bowl game was for this team, this program. Yes, they left a couple of wins out there this season. The Florida game sticks in my mind.

But with a large recruiting group from the Mid-state, they did not overlook a Vanderbilt team that came into the game with a 0-7 SEC record.

Former Brentwood Academy star Derek Barnett was one of those. A starter as a freshman, Barnett became one of the Vols defensive stoppers as a defensive end.

He knew how important Saturday's game was.

"It means everything," Barnett said. "It was a survivor's game. We knew we would get their best shot. But you'll find who the real ball players are later on in the game."

Quarterback Josh Dobbs was one player Vanderbilt could not contain. Not only did he hurt them passing, but also inflicted damage by running the football.

Dobbs knew what getting bowl eligible means to this program.

"We knew coming in our life expectancy was running out," Dobbs said. "We were fighting for extra days together. We were fighting for another game together."

Jones know the value of getting an extra 30 days together, to grow closer, to get in the weight room, to become better players.

"Invaluable," Jones called it. "We have had too much time off around here from not going to bowl games."

So while SEC teams such as South Carolina and Georgia, whose preseason expectations were not met, they will have a difficult time getting their teams motivated to go to a lower tier bowl game.

But for teams like the Vols, they are young and excited. Many of them said Saturday they didn't care where they are going, or which team they are playing.

For Vanderbilt, Saturday's loss to Tennessee left them with only three wins to show during Derek Mason's first year as a head coach.

While Tennessee's players are looking forward to extending their season, it was like hitting a stone wall for Vanderbilt's players.

Wham, it was all over. No more practice. No more games to look forward to. There is only next year and for college players, that sounds like an eternity away.

Next year should be even more exciting for Tennessee. Jones is only going to add to last year's highly rated recruiting class. He knows players win games and great ones make coaches look better.

The expectation level will rise for the Vols. They could produce a team that will be talented enough to contend with the best teams in the SEC East.

They will be more experienced, more mature. They will know what is expected, what it takes to reach for the stars. And they can mentor the new freshman class that will also have players who will get playing time.

Now they know what it takes to succeed in college football. Rocky Top has gotten over the rocky spots in the road.

Contact Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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