It's not the BCS, but a case could be made that for Tennessee it's the next best thing.
Instead of the athletic department bankrolling a high-profile week in Atlanta for coach Lane Kiffin and his staff, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is paying the Vols $2.7 million to do so.
"I can't imagine going to a better place for us,'' Kiffin said Thursday as UT officially accepted a Chick-fil-A Bowl invitation.
"From a standpoint of building our future,'' Kiffin said, "and where our program needs to go in recruiting, with so many players in Georgia and the Atlanta area we continue to see as we go on the road, this is great for us.''
Kiffin is on record that talent-rich Georgia is Tennessee's top out-of-state recruiting priority.
He has already paid for billboards to give UT a presence. He's already chartered a helicopter for a Friday night of high-school recruiting hops around Atlanta.
Now the team and staff will spend a week in Atlanta prepping for the Dec. 31 bowl game against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome (TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).
"We have so many players from the state of Georgia and recruit so many players in Georgia, and Atlanta specifically,'' Kiffin said. "To be down there all week is huge.''
The Chick-fil-A Bowl isn't the SEC's highest non-BCS reward. That status goes to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Playing in the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve, however, is in some ways a more attractive option for Tennessee.
It's an easy drive for fans.
"I think Tennessee probably set a record in how quickly they sold out their 17,000 tickets,'' bowl executive Gary Stokan said Thursday.
The UT roster includes 12 scholarship players from Georgia, most of whom are from in or near Atlanta. Four commitments for 2010 are Georgians.
"To have Eric Berry come back and play his last game in Atlanta is special as well,'' said Stokan.
After which, a smiling UT athletic director Mike Hamilton quickly interjected, "How do you know that?''
Berry hasn't announced his plans but the assumption is the All-American safety from Fairburn, Ga., will turn pro after the bowl and forego his senior season.
The television opportunity is also attractive. The Vols will play the Hokies on ESPN with no other football competition on other channels.
In terms of TV ratings, Stokan said the Chick-fil-A accounts for four of ESPN's top 15 all-time highest bowl numbers.
Assuming Virginia Tech sells its remaining tickets the game will be a sellout for the 13th consecutive year. Only the Rose and Fiesta bowls have a longer streak.
The 2006 game between Georgia and Virginia Tech held the Georgia Dome attendance record for a sporting event until last week's SEC Championship Game.
The SEC holds a four-game winning streak. In the past decade only traditional SEC upper-crust programs - LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee - have represented the conference.
After sitting home with no bowl last year and enduring the trauma of a coaching change, the players are proud to be back on the postseason stage.
"With all the change going on,'' senior linebacker Rico McCoy said, "we still thought we'd be winning.
"We didn't know what game we'd wind up in, of course. We still wanted to be playing in the biggest game (the BCS championship) but to play in this bowl game right now is a gift.
"It's a blessing. I'm happy to be in it.''
Notebook: Kiffin praised Eddie Gran for remaining in town three days this week to help UT prepare a plan for Virginia Tech, even though he had already accepted a new position at Florida State. ... The Chick-fil-A mascot in a cow costume posed for pictures Thursday wearing an interesting UT jersey: No. 7, Nu'Keese Richardson's number. ... The Chick-fil-A Bowl leads all bowls in scholarship and charitable donations.