Tennessee's Jalen Reeves-Maybin (21) greets fans as he leaves the field. Reeves-Maybin recovered a fumble to seal Tennessee's 27-24 victory. The South Carolina Gamecocks visited the Tennessee Volunteers in SEC football action November 7, 2015.
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Tennessee coach Butch Jones is doused as the team defeats Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)

KNOXVILLE — It's fair to say Tennessee won its bowl game last season before the football was kicked off the tee.

So you couldn't blame the Volunteers for striving to replicate the approach and mindset that worked so well.

After landing in Tampa on Saturday, Tennessee turns its attention fully toward Friday's clash with Northwestern in the Outback, hoping to produce a replay of last season's rout of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

"Everybody was focused," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said earlier this month about how the Vols prepared for that 45-28 win against the Hawkeyes.

"Everybody was ready to go. I think we kind of looked at it like we were about to put on a show. We were able to come out, we had a lot of success, and I think we're going to have the same mindset going into it this year."

Last year Tennessee had every reason to be ready to play. It was the program's first bowl game since 2010 and the first bowl experience for nearly the entire roster. The Vols had overcome a 3-5 start that included a couple of close losses and a couple of blowouts. The date and destination made the opportunity more appealing.

Is the drive the same for Tennessee heading into the matchup with the Wildcats?

"A lot of teams might look at it as it's really not that important," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said, "(like) we already had our regular season and it's just a postseason game (that) doesn't affect anything for us. But we have to look at it as an extension of our season.

"It's another game for us, and we can't take anyone for granted, no matter who they are. We have to be able to lock in, and I think it'll come down to us older guys and leaders on the team being able to tell them how it is. We were there last year, so we understand how everything works."

By design head coach Butch Jones structured the bowl prep much like he did last season.

The Vols had one practice before learning their destination, then spent a week at work after the coaches returned from recruiting and players wrapped up final exams. Until the game plan was installed, Tennessee mixed in a handful of younger players to help their development.

The starters and proven commodities with high usage rates got a chance to refresh after the season.

It's a welcome time of year for most players.

"The energy's always high," Reeves-Maybin said. "A lot of young guys are getting a lot of reps, and everybody's getting their legs back under them. Everybody's flying around. It's definitely a really fun environment. It's probably my favorite time of the year."

Said Kerbyson: "I definitely think it's fun, because there's no school. You don't have that stress on your back, and you kind of see it like an NFL schedule, which is nice. You just come in, lift, practice, film and you're done.

"You can enjoy your time off and hang out with the guys and be able to soak everything in, which is what I'm trying to do since this is my last go-round."

Tennessee's practices, which will be at the University of Tampa, this week will mirror game-week practices during the regular season.

There's a handful of bowl activities that will occupy the itineraries for players and coaches.

The schedule includes an afternoon at Busch Gardens, a bowling outing, attending a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game, visits to a local hospital and a beach day.

A buffet of Outback Steakhouse food awaited players at a welcome dinner for both teams Saturday.

Jones said his last team went to Jacksonville with the purpose of winning the game at the end of the trip, and it'll take a similar focus to put on another show.

"Experience is always the best teacher," safety Brian Randolph said. "That was our first bowl game last year. We got that out of the way, so we know a little bit more what to expect this year with the schedule and the routine and all the extra events.

"I think that's going to be to our advantage as we prepare for this one."

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