Tennessee Stat Book
Mike Hamilton is waiting just like everybody else to find out where Tennessee is headed this bowl season.
But anywhere will do for the Vols athletic director.
Whether UT stays close to home for the Music City Bowl in Nashville as is widely expected or somehow slides up to the Gator Bowl in Florida when pairings are officially announced on Sunday, Hamilton won't complain either way. After a difficult 2-6 start that put backs against the wall for the Vols, any destination will do just fine to celebrate a four-game winning streak to close out coach Derek Dooley's first year with the program.
"Postseason is very important," Hamilton said. "It's important for institutional image, it's important that we have the third-most bowl appearances in college football history, it's really important to get that extra practice time, it's important from a recruiting perspective. It's important for our fans to have an opportunity to see the team, it's important for the seniors to play one more game.
"It has a lot of implications, and I think just from having started 2-6 and then winning four in a row, the momentum that creates and the energy that creates around your program to have your program talked about for another month is really important."
It wasn't mandatory for Dooley to deliver all that in his debut campaign with the Vols, particularly with Hamilton well aware of the roster limitations for such an inexperienced team.
But a handful of freshmen UT played early in the year played critical roles in the late push for a bowl bid, especially when coupled with the insertion of Tyler Bray into the lineup at quarterback. And that red-hot finish with a perfect November not only clinched a spot in the postseason lineup, it bolstered UT's reputation enough that it seems to at least be in the conversation for representatives of the Gator Bowl - which looked like an extreme longshot during a winless October.
The odds of an invite still aren't great, but if the folks in Florida pass, the Vols almost certainly will come off the board when the in-state Music City Bowl makes its selection.
"Feedback from the bowl reps has been very positive," Hamilton said. "You know, Tennessee historically is viewed positively anyway because of our fan support, but television ratings are part of that equation as well and we typically draw very well on television.
"But the bowl reps that I've talked to have been very complimentary of Coach Dooley and what we've done down the stretch in the month of November, playing with a combination of some guys that really put it on the line in their last few games and a lot of young guys. We have a thin roster, so we're viewed favorably by the bowls, to say the least."
The two in Tennessee have really had their eyes on the Vols lately, with the Liberty Bowl also excited by the possibility of bringing them back to Memphis and selling a lot of tickets.
Either way, Hamilton will be more than happy to show up for whichever bowl sends an invite.
"Certainly if we played in the state of Tennessee this year, I believe the crowds that would be reflected would be significant because there's a lot of interest just among our own fan base in this team," Hamilton said. "Based upon the calls that we've received in our development office and our ticket office and just in some informal conversations with our staff members, fans seem genuinely interested in watching this team in a bowl.
"A lot of those folks have been excited about the possibility of playing in the state of Tennessee."
And if that's where the Vols do wind up Sunday night, Hamilton can officially be counted in that group as well.