Bowl games are essentially glorified exhibition games, unless your team happens to be in the College Football Playoff. Sure, each team wants to win, but there’s reason to fulfill other goals beyond a victory.
Tennessee is certainly in that situation. A win would give the Vols nine victories. However, there is much more at stake than just bragging rights against Northwestern on Jan. 1 at noon ET. Tennessee can fine tune some of its X’s and O’s, and show prospects and fans that the conservative approach that cost the Vols some big leads is a thing of the past.
Here are four things the Vols need to accomplish in the Outback Bowl:
Tennessee has nothing to lose in the Outback Bowl against Northwestern. They’ve already posted an impressive regular season record with eight wins and a second place finish in the SEC East. However, fans and prospects would like to see more, especially the ones that remember some conservative play calling that led to blown leads against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. Tennessee can create a lasting impression for prospects with an aggressive game plan. The Vols might as well show off their athleticism against what should be a slower Big Ten opponent.
Improve in the passing game
The Vols set historic marks in the running game in 2015. However, the passing game was inconsistent throughout the season. With quarterback Joshua Dobbs and several talented receivers returning in 2016, Tennessee can give Virginia Tech and other early opponents something to think about with a strong air-attack against the Wildcats. Sure, the ground game will be Tennessee’s bread and butter, but the passing game can be more of a threat.
Find some defensive backs
The Vols never found a cornerback to lock down the spot opposite junior Cameron Sutton this season. Sutton may forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, and if that happens, the Vols will need to replace Sutton and both safeties: seniors Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil. The Outback Bowl is an opportunity for some younger players to show what they can do in a dress rehearsal against a quality team.
Get QB Quinten Dormady some important playing time
The Vols didn’t have many quarterback problems in 2015, but have experienced quarterback injuries in recent seasons. Dormady will be a sophomore next season, but only attempted 18 passes this season. He better be ready in 2016 as teams will know to target Dobbs in the starting role. Plus, if Dobbs struggles passing the football in 2016, it would be nice to have someone to turn to.