Tennessee will face Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl (formerly the Gator Bowl) on Friday, Jan. 2, it was announced this evening. The Vols (6-6) and the Hawkeyes (7-5) will kick off at 3:20 p.m. in Jacksonville, Fla. The game will be televised by ESPN.
For the Vols, this will be their first bowl game since an excruciating loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl.
And while I was personally hoping for a return to the Music City Bowl, especially when Notre Dame accepted an invite to the same bowl this evening (a trip to Nashville to see Tennessee and Notre Dame play? Uh, yeah, I would’ve been there), I can’t help but note the parallels between this Gator Bowl and the Vols’ last appearance in the Gator Bowl.
In 1994, a second-year head coach (Phillip Fulmer) and a young quarterback (true freshman Peyton Manning) took an up-and-coming Tennessee team (the Vols had won only seven games that season) to the Gator Bowl and dominated No. 17 Virginia Tech, 45-23.
In 2014, exactly 20 years later, a second-year head coach (Butch Jones) and a young quarterback (sophomore Josh Dobbs) will take an up-and-coming Tennessee team (the Vols won only six games this season) to the Gator Bowl to face a team that will likely be favored to beat them.
That dominating win in 1994 kicked off one of Tennessee football’s greatest eras. With the exception of Memphis, a game that UT would’ve won if instant replay had been in place at the college level in those days (remember the kickoff return?), the Vols didn’t lose a game to anyone besides Florida after that ’94 Gator Bowl until a bowl loss to Nebraska in 1997, three years later. They followed that loss up with an undefeated season and the inaugural BCS national championship in 1998.
A dominating showing against Iowa would help the Vols lock down what could be a recruiting class that ranks among the top five nationally and give the program a load of momentum heading into the 2015 season, when more than a few prognosticators believe UT could be an early favorite to win the SEC East.
Let’s hope the parallels don’t end with the game’s buildup.
The last time Tennessee faced Iowa was the 1987 Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. In that season-opener, the No. 16 Vols defeated the No. 17 Hawkeyes 23-22, behind Darren Miller’s 99-yard fumble return for a score.