Upcoming Match-ups

Music City Bowl Preview: Nebraska vs. (21) Tennessee

T. Klomparens

by T. Klomparens in College Football

Dec 14, 2016 · 5:55 AM PST

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Music City Bowl (Dec. 30, 2016)

Nebraska vs. Tennessee (-3)

Now officially named the “Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl,” the game has been played since 1998 and traditionally features a team from the Southeastern Conference against a team from another conference. Since 2014, the other conference has been either the ACC or the Big Ten. The SEC has struggled in the game, going 7-10 overall, which includes a 2-0 record by the home-town Vanderbilt Commodores.

There is also a long history of underdogs winning the bowl straight up. Last season, a Lamar Jackson-led Louisville team upset Texas A&M 27-21 as 2.5-point ‘dogs. This year’s match-up is expected to be one of the higher scoring bowl games as two explosive offenses will be featured. Both Nebraska and Tennessee have a proud football history and are desperately trying to return to top-10 status; both fell short again this year but a bowl victory would continue the upward trajectory. The game will be played at Nissan Stadium (home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans).


Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten)

It looked like dominating football had returned to Lincoln when the Huskers raced out to a 7-0 start. Unfortunately the season’s final five games didn’t go so well. The Huskers lost three times, and were humiliated at Ohio State (62-3) and at Iowa (40-10). The only wins in the final month were home games against Minnesota and Maryland. The team won all nine games it was favored to win while averaging better than 30 points per game. In the three losses, they were an underdog each time and averaged just 10 points per contest.

The Huskers’ success starts and stops with duel-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The senior battled injuries toward the end of the season and the offense sputtered. A month off should allow him to return to full health and regain his mobility which is so important for the entire offense.  Armstrong threw for 2,180 yards and 14 touchdowns; he ran for an additional eight TDs, while accumulating 512 yards on the ground. Fellow senior Terrell Newby led the team in rushing with 864 yards. Armstrong has a lot of options when it comes to targets; seven different receivers had at least 16 catches. Jordan Westerkamp led the team with 38 catches, 526 yards, and five touchdowns.

The 7-0 start had many believing second-year head coach Mike Riley was bringing the Husker program back to the glory years. From 1993 to 2001, Nebraska won back-to-back national titles (’94 and ’95) and finished in the top-10 in all but one season. In Riley’s first season, the Huskers struggled to a 5-7 regular season but came together nicely and whipped-up on a favored UCLA team in the Foster Farms Bowl.

(21) Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 5-4 SEC)

The 2016 season almost started out as a complete disaster for head coach Butch Jones and his team. Appalachian State came to Knoxville on the season’s opening night and controlled the game and scoreboard from start to almost finish. Somehow, in the end, UT was able to force overtime and win the game. Jones may have lost his job if not for the comeback. He’s stayed firmly on the hot-seat all season.

Huge expectations were put on the Vols’ in the preseason. Many thought the veteran roster was finally going to put it all together; UT was favored to win the SEC East and was a potential contender for the national championship. After a huge second-half comeback win over arch-nemesis Florida, and a last-second miracle victory at Georgia, the team was 5-0 and UT fans had forgotten about the struggles of opening night.

However, the team closed by going 3-4, including a loss to in-state rival Vanderbilt in the last game of the regular season. Tennessee showed signs of a program on the rise but didn’t finish the job. Folks in Knoxville are once again gossiping about the future of Butch Jones. A Music City Bowl loss could make the game Jones’ final one at UT.

Joshua Dobbs is also a duel-threat quarterback and should give the Nebraska defense fits. The senior passed for 2,655 yards and led the team in rushing with 713 yards. He threw for 26 touchdowns, while getting intercepted 12 times. In the Vols’ four losses, he threw just four TDs to go with five interceptions. The biggest key for Tennessee is Dobbs not turning the ball over; when he makes good decisions, the offense is tough to stop. He has two big-play receivers to throw the ball to downfield. Josh Malone and Jauan Jennings combined for over 1,300 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns.


Tennessee (-3)

Although the SEC and the favorite have historically struggled in this bowl, Tennessee is the right side. Both offenses should effectively move the ball and score plenty of points. In the end, UT has too many weapons for the Nebraska defense to handle.

Nebraska travels well, but folks in orange will make the drive to Nashville and give the Vols a home-field edge. More importantly, the UT players love their coach and have a complete understanding of what this game means to him and the program.

Both sides will be focused and well prepared. This one comes down to talent and Tennessee has the edge.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/].

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