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Tennessee football: Despite no College Football Playoff, Jacob Warren says Vols appreciate playing in Orange Bowl

With a 10-2 record, Tennessee football is headed to Miami after earning a chance to play in the Orange Bowl. Josh Heupel has brought a resurgence to Rocky Top and has the Vols playing in a New Year’s Six bowl his second year at the helm.

The chance to play on a national stage against ACC Champion in Clemson is a unique opportunity for the Vols. Tight end Jacob Warren said it means “the world.”

“The Orange Bowl, or even the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, all these bowls that we were considered for, or were kind of within reach for us because of the season we’ve had, you sit there on all these New Year six games and you’re like that must feel amazing, right?” he said. “It’s awesome to have that level of prestige.”

Not since the end of 1999 has Tennessee football played in one of the designated top tier bowl games. That year they lost 31-21 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl, a BCS bowl.

Last year, the Vols lost to the Purdue Boilermakers in the Music City Bowl, a place they have found themselves in a lot over the past decade-plus. They have come a long way from barely making that or the Gator Bowl.

Heck, this team has come a long way from struggling to make bowl games in general. Warren was a part of two Tennessee football teams that didn’t eclipse the six-win mark. 

“We were happy to make bowls,” Warren said of the past. “We were happy to go to Jacksonville, happy to go to Nashville and stuff and just be able to play in a bowl game because not everybody gets to, but at the same time to be bowl eligible six weeks into the season and not even have to worry about it anymore, we were just like, all right, well, now let’s see how high we can go. We obviously ended up with ten wins and going to be in a pretty good Orange Bowl. It’s exciting.”

This will be Tennessee football’s fifth trip to the Orange Bowl, a place where Josh Heupel has fond memories from his playing days. Heupel led the Oklahoma Sooners to the 2000 national championship as their quarterback by winning the Orange Bowl.

OU beat the Florida State Seminoles 13-2 in that game. Heupel will look to have the same success as a head coach on Dec. 30 when the Vols face off with Clemson. 

Of course, Tennessee football could have had a shot at the College Football Playoffs if it had not lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Despite not being in the CFP, the Vols still have a great opportunity in front of them. 

“I know we’ve had a conversation about if you were to look back and at the beginning of the season tell us that we’d win 10 games, we would all be ecstatic,” Warren said. “It kind of it felt a little bit different because of how fragile our opportunity is and just what we could have had. I think a lot of guys are getting over what we could have had and are starting to realize what we do have and what we’ve got in front of us, so I think everybody’s really excited to go down there.”

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