Why Tennessee's bowl game may be the most important bowl in their history
By: John Dunn
The All Vol Call in Show
There are many reasons that this year's bowl game is so different from bowl games in recent memory or historical bowl game.
First of all, there aren't many bowl games in recent memory. It's been three years since the Vols found themselves in the post season.
Secondly, this will be Jeremy Pruitt's first bowl game (hopefully of many) as a head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Thirdly, something has felt different about this team for the last seven weeks of the season. It finally feels like we are laying the foundations of a brighter future, and those foundations can either be strengthened -- or weakened this post season.
They say that a player's biggest development takes place from year one, to year two. The same can be said for coaching. Since his debut season, Pruitt has seemed to have a much better grasp on things. Not only does Pruitt seem to have a better grasp, so do the players. The culture is changing and we are finally seeing measurable results.
Year one didn't go as planned for Pruitt and company. After falling short in some winnable games, the Vols found themselves on the outside looking in at the post season.
It's been three years since Tennessee has earned their way into a bowl game -- three years. Let that sink in for a moment.
Yet, through all of the turmoil and chaos that has surrounded this once proud program, Pruitt and his staff have managed to convince some top-caliber talent that Knoxville is the perfect place to call home.
Nothing would be bigger in helping them persuade elite talent to come to Tennessee than winning -- not just winning, but winning in the post season. The Vols have now rattled off six straight wins, proving that they have the pieces in place to win games in the SEC.
Now, finding themselves back in the post season, the Volunteers must make the most of every extra practice, play and opportunity they are gifted.
This will be Pruitt's first bowl game as a head coach. It will be something that he remembers for the rest of his life. He will be front-and-center to shoulder the brunt of a loss, or divert glory to his team after a win.
This will be uncharted territory for the second year head coach. However, he has shown throughout the course of the season that he is going to do things his way, and pull no punches in the process.
Pruitt has fallen under scrutiny multiple times this season for the way he handles his players. However, more often than not, it's members of the media that reflect on the situation negatively. In fact, Pruitt's players seem to respond quite well to his style of leadership. After a very bumpy start, the Vols have now won six of their last seven games. You can't argue with results.
Pruitt has proven that he has the ability to recruit, coach and steer a program in the right direction.
This bowl game could be the biggest bowl game in Tennessee history. Not for the sake of records, stats or opponent, but for the sake of what it would mean to this program to finally get back up on it's feet.
For over a decade now, it seems like Tennessee has gotten to the tip-top of the hill, and slid right back down. Things will appear to be going in the right direction (2016; snapped UF streak, beat UGA), then the sky will begin to fall the very next play, game or season. (2017; worst season in UT history)
A bowl victory would mean a lot to this program. It could be the first step in bringing Tennessee back to national prominence -- or it could be the nail in the coffin -- the one that finally sinks the Vols to "Vanderbilt status".
With the state of the program over the course of the last decade and how accessible and easy it is to transfer in today's game, a loss in the post season could be disastrous for transfers and incoming recruits.
However, a win could spark the change that we have all so desperately been craving for so long. No matter how you see it, this bowl game is huge for the Volunteer football team, this coaching staff and this program.