There’s a bit of ironic history with where Tennessee football is going bowling. The Vols, who came in at No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will face the Clemson Tigers, who finished at No. 10.
Rocky Top has some tough recent history with both the bowl and the opponent, but some memorable aspects as well. The question is whether or not combining it all together will exorcise the demons.
UT’s last matchup with Clemson was in another bowl, to end the 2003 season. The two teams faced off in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome for the Peach Bowl.
Just like this year, the Vols were 10-2 then, and just like this year, they had a senior quarterback lead them through most of the season. Casey Clausen led them in 2003 with Hendon Hooker leading the Vols most of this year. However, Clemson won 27-14.
Meanwhile, the Vols’ last Orange Bowl game was also forgettable. Just like this year, they had a Heisman candidate at quarterback in his senior season the last year they reached the Orange Bowl, which was 1997.
Of course, that year, it was Peyton Manning. However, Tennessee’s football team lost to the Nebraska Cornhuskers 42-17, as Nebraska won a share of the national championship. UT has actually lost its last three Orange Bowls.
Taking that into account, the Vols will be trying to exorcise recent demons with Clemson and the Orange Bowl in this one. It’ll be a sea of orange for the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., at Hard Rock Stadium.
On the other hand, there is some positive history with both. Technically, the Vols’ last trip to the Orange Bowl, the stadium, ended in a win for them. That was a regular season 10-6 victory over the Miami Hurricanes when Miami was in the top 10.
Ironically, that came back in 2003, when the Vols last faced Clemson. The Vols were double-digit underdogs on the road for that one and pulled out a thrilling win over the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, despite struggling in their last three Orange Bowl appearances, the Vols’ first official bowl game ever was the Orange Bowl, and it also happened in their first national championship season. That was 1938.
Tennessee football went 11-0 that year and shared the national title with the TCU Horned Frogs, who are ironically in the College Football Playoff this year. The Vols beat the Oklahoma Sooners 17-0 in the Orange Bowl. It was their first SEC title season too.
That same year, the Vols beat Clemson 20-7. That was Clemson’s only loss of the year. In fact, it was the first year the Vols won a conference title, 1914, they went 9-0 and won the SIAA, and they beat Clemson that year as well, 27-0.
Tying into that Oklahoma-Orange Bowl win, Josh Heupel led OU to the national championship in 2000 by beating the Florida State Seminoles in, you guessed it, the Orange Bowl. This is familiar territory for him.
Simply put, Tennessee football has unique ties to the Orange Bowl and facing Clemson. This matchup between the two is a chance to exorcise recent demons with both.