To hear Lane Kiffin tell it, the Tennessee Volunteers are about to play their first BCS Bowl game since the 1999 season. The Vols' first year coach has been saying it for two weeks. Although that is not factually correct, I can definitely see his point.
This game is at a premium facility. It is being shown nationwide on ESPN with zero football competition on any other network. The matchup is BCS quality. The game officially sold out last week, and the full schedule of activities leading up to it is easily on-par with the best BCS bowls.
However, as the old Wendy's commercials used to say, "Where's the Beef?" (Insert obvious Chick-Fil-A pun here).
It's a nice, shiny bowl matchup. All the extracurriculars are there. But what is in store for the Vols should they win the game?
Make no mistake about it, at the end of the day Lane Kiffin and his Vols would rather be playing for a nice, shiny championship trophy rather than in a nice, shiny bowl matchup that is BCS caliber.
When all is said and done, Kiffin would rather be taking a Gatorade bath than having a Milkshake Party (Tennessee's is scheduled for tomorrow night, by the way).
But there is still plenty at stake in this game for the winner.
For starters, you are playing in the only game that night on national television. A win over a Virginia Tech team with national prestige (who happens to be ranked No. 12 in the country) in front of all those eyes would be priceless.
Lane's offseason would get off to a much less controversial start than last year. The Vols would gain tons of exposure for the right reason rather than for a loose-lipped quip in the media (I know, I know—it worked last year, and yes I am partially thankful for it).
I have never necessarily bought into the hype of a big bowl win translating largely onto the recruiting scene. But winning a big bowl game in Atlanta, where Kiffin has thrown down the recruiting gauntlet against the Georgia Bulldogs, would definitely have some effect.
Another benefit: A lot of young guys are getting an extra month of invaluable practice time.
Some incoming freshmen have even taken part. Signees including QB Tyler Bray, WR Matt Milton, and FB Channing Fugate participated in bowl practice before the Vols left Knoxville.
Despite the concussion that held Bryce Brown out of a few practices, he has reportedly made some steps to becoming the key running back in 2010.
At the very least, this talented freshman class has received a ton of experience surrounding a big bowl game.
This senior class has been through two bowl seasons at home. Ask one of those guys how important it is for your team to go bowling. Ask them about the experience gained and how much the practice time means.
Finally, there's no doubt that the most important thing a win would bring Tennessee is momentum. A bowl win over a big time opponent coupled with all the uncertainty at Florida, the head-scratching at Georgia, and the never-ending inconsistency at South Carolina would do wonders for the Vols' national perception this coming offseason.
Some writers have suggested over the past few days that Urban Meyer's recent "rocking of the boat" might have just paved the way for Lane Kiffin to show what he's made of. Maybe there's a changing of the guard in the SEC East.
Georgia had its time in the sun for a couple of years. Florida outshined the sun a couple of times in the last three years.
Is it Tennessee's turn?
I know we all hate preseason polls. But a big win over Virginia Tech might get Tennessee ranked in the preseason top 25 for 2010.
I realize the Vols are losing a lot of talent. I realize their best player, Eric Berry, is almost certainly going to announce his NFL intentions following the final whistle Thursday night.
I realize there will be uncertainty at quarterback, again.
But I also realize the Vols still have the best coaching staff in the SEC. I also realize Tennessee will be bringing in a top-five recruiting class. I also realize that the Vols' stable at running back will be as talented as it has ever been.
A moment in the sun as '09 comes to a close. A very successful season for a first-year coach. A rather bright immediate future.
So there's the beef.
Lane Kiffin and the Vols have plenty at stake in this game—even if Chick-Fil-A would rather you eat more chicken.
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