NEBRASKA (9-3) VS. NO. 21 TENNESSEE (8-4)
3:30 p.m. * Music City Bowl (Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.) * ESPN/106.5 FM
By the end of the season, Tennessee's offense had to operate in shootout mode, where the state of its defense prompted the need to score on basically every possession. The Vols wound up with a 36-point scoring average, good for second in the SEC and 31st nationally.
Nebraska boasts a top-25 defense statistically, and only Oregon, Ohio State and Iowa surpassed the 30-point barrier against the Cornhuskers. Thanks to the trio of quarterback Josh Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Josh Malone, the Vols were among the SEC's leaders in big plays, but Nebraska doesn't give up many gains of 20-plus yards.
"It's a scheme defense," Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "What I mean by that is they play their defense, and they play it very sound. They're very good in their fundamentals. They're tough. Their players are in the right position all the time."
ONE TO WATCH
In what likely will be his final game for Tennessee, All-American defensive end Derek Barnett could cement his name in the program's record books. With one sack -- the 33rd of his career -- he will break Tennessee legend Reggie White's record.
It will be a challenge, though, as Nebraska was one of the nation's best teams in not giving up sacks. The Huskers are starting a backup quarterback in Ryker Fyfe, but they only allowed 11 sacks in 12 games this season. If Barnett is going to break the record in his hometown before heading off the NFL draft, he'll have to earn it.
"He has a motor," Vols defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. "He's relentless. He doesn't stop and he doesn't get tired. He's tough -- all these things, I can keep rambling on, but he comes in and gets his work in. He expects the best out of you, and that's why I love playing next to him."
IN THE END
Motivation and interest level could be big factors for a pair of one-time top-10 teams who had higher aspirations than the Music City Bowl.
Nebraska lost three of its final five games after a 7-0 start. Tennessee lost four of its past seven games and flopped away the SEC East and the Sugar Bowl with defeats to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Both teams will be shorthanded.
Still, there is the appeal of a win in a matchup of two tradition-rich programs in front of a sold-out NFL stadium. Nebraska can record a 10-win season and finish in the top 25, while Tennessee can win its third straight bowl, which the Vols haven't done in 20 years.
As is often the case in these kinds of bowl games, the sharper team that can limit missed tackles and avoid turnovers and unforced miscues probably will win.
PREDICTION: TENNESSEE 35, NEBRASKA 31