Just three weeks ago, Brad Crawford of 247Sports projected that the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. would play host to Tennessee football at the end of the 2021 season along with the TCU Horned Frogs. That’s where the Vols would have gone this past year had a COVID outbreak not shut down their postseason.
Well, now Crawford has changed things up a bit. His new, updated projections have the Vols going to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, which used to be the Belk Bowl, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. to take on the Florida State Seminoles. Now, he’s got the Auburn Tigers facing the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Liberty Bowl.
Of course, Tennessee football going to a bowl at all would be a success, as we wrote about when these projections came out a couple of weeks ago. There are a couple of reasons for uncertainty surrounding such a projection.
The first uncertainty is obviously personnel related. UT went 3-7 last year, has a new head coach in Josh Heupel and took a bigger hit in the transfer portal than any program in the country. That alone makes it questionable if they’ll even be able to reach bowl eligibility.
At the same time, there is still an ongoing NCAA investigation into major violations that resulted in the Vols firing Heupel’s predecessor, Jeremy Pruitt, in the first place. Taking that into account, we’re not sure that Rocky Top won’t receive a bowl ban this year.
If Crawford’s prediction holds true, though, then it would be a far drop-off from the last time the Vols and FSU faced off, which was famously for the national championship in 1998. It’s actually similar to when the Vols faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2016 in the Music City Bowl, a far cry from when the two played in the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl in the late 1990s.
Still, the focus for Tennessee football this year would indeed be getting to a bowl game if they don’t get hit with a postseason ban. Crawford seems to be pretty convinced that they’ll be able to do so, and his projection alone is an encouraging sign for Heupel’s first season.