KNOXVILLE -- It would be easy to assume that the Tennessee Vols would take a bowl invitation for granted. After all, this month's Music City Bowl pairing against North Carolina on Dec. 30 will mark the school's 49th bowl appearance,which ties UT for second all-time with that other UT (Texas). Alabama leads with 58.
But if that were the case, why, oh, why, did Luke Stocker schedule his wedding to Daine Karst for this Saturday in Kingsport?
"Obviously, after our team meeting in February, Luke decided there was no way we were going to a bowl game," said UT coach Derek Dooley with a slight smile on Tuesday afternoon.
"My first question was, 'Who planned that day? And why not in the middle of January?' ... But he didn't answer that. He didn't have to."
What Stocker did do, according to Dooley, was present a plan that would make it easier for this teammates to attend the wedding, especially groomsmen Nick Reveiz, Daniel Lincoln and Cody Pope.
"Luke goes, 'Here's what you can do, Coach,'" Dooley explained. "You can move all the practices.' He starts laying out the Luke Stocker bowl prep plan. I told him that when he got his head [coaching] job, he could prepare for a bowl how he wants to do it.
"Until then, the University of Tennessee is going to prepare for it how I want it done, and if needs to go get married, he can get married. So that's what's happening. He's going to miss practice."
Said a sheepish Stocker, "I just asked him to move [Saturday's] practice so the guys could make it on time."
The Vols got their act together just in time to avoid missing a bowl game for the third time in six years. A chilly 2-6 heading into November, the Big Orange won its final four games, all by double-figures, to become bowl eligible on the final Saturday of the regular season.
"Obviously, 6-6, is not what your goal is," said Reveiz, who shares team captain duties with Stocker. "You don't set a 6-6 goal. If you'd come to me before the season and said, 'This is the end result,' I'd have said you were crazy. But a lot of times it's not how you start, but how you finish, and I think we finished well."
"Before the season, I would not have agreed to any kind of terms that said, '6-6,'" said the almost married guy. "Nobody wants to be 6-6, everybody wants to go undefeated. But we're proud of what we've accomplished."
What they've accomplished, according to Dooley, is "The benchmark standard for every program. I don't care who you are, every year you want to have a winning season and go to a bowl game. It is certainly good for recruiting."
Junior running back Tauren Poole backs up his captains' claims that the Vols were eyeing far warmer venues than Nashville's LP Field when the season began.
"I know when the season begain I felt we'd be going somewhere higher," said Poole. "But it was just a few weeks ago that we also didn't think we'd be going anywhere. When we lost at South Carolina [to fall to 2-6] the whole team was down. Everybody was real quiet. Then everything started clicking and everybody got happy. We're excited to be in any bowl game right now."
If you're into history repeating, the last time the Vols played a bowl game on Dec. 30, they had a different gifted freshman quarterback than Tyler Bray under center, some guy named Peyton Manning.
That team ended the 1994 season by waxing a pretty fair Virginia Tech team by a 45-23 score in the Gator Bowl. Given the Tar Heels' rocky 7-5 season and early NCAA scrutiny, it should surprise no one if Bray engineers a similar triumph two weeks from today.
But all that will momentarily have to take a back seat to Stocker's nuptials.
"I do think it's important that he shows up at his wedding," said Dooley with a somewhat straight face. "So we're going to allow that to happen."
The Luke Stocker bowl prep plan wouldn't have drawn it up any other way.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.