KNOXVILLE — A wild weekend full of rumors, albeit most of them legitimate, ended Sunday night where it started.
The University of Tennessee football team will end its season with a Dec. 30 Music City Bowl game against border-foe North Carolina.
But that almost didn’t happen, thanks to a seemingly-annual weekend full of surprising twists and turns in the Southeastern Conference’s bowl selection process.
“There was a little bit of a curveball that kind of came up this week,” UT men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton said.
And it came from a familiar source: The Outback Bowl.
The Outback, which had the chance to take SEC Eastern Division champion and conference title game loser South Carolina, again ignored the pecking order — which is allowed but not encouraged — and selected East runner-up Florida. The Gator Bowl, which wanted Florida, then had the option to take UT or Mississippi State, assuming South Carolina accepted its bid to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Several Gator Bowl representatives were enticed by the notion of a UT-Michigan game to draw big TV numbers on New Year’s Day, where it competes directly against the Capital One and Outback. UT’s administration was potentially in a bind, because it’s bad business to turn down a New Year’s Day bowl game but made much more sense on many levels to stay with the Music City.
The curveball ultimately straightened. UT stayed in-state after Mississippi State accepted an invitation to the Gator.
“We think the opportunity to close out this season being back in Nashville again,” Hamilton said. “I know it’s a neutral site, but I think we can all assume that stadium will be full of a lot of orange, and to play a bowl game in front of that setting will be special to our team.”