KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee used to be in a position that it could take annual bowl appearances for granted.
Although most of Tennessee's preseason goals already are out of reach, the Volunteers (4-6. 0-6 SEC) still could earn the bowl bid that eluded them last season by if they win their last two regular-season games Saturday at Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3) and Nov. 24 against Kentucky (1-9, 0-7).
Tennessee stayed home for the holidays and finished 5-7 last year after ending the season with a 10-7 loss to Kentucky, snapping the Vols' 26-game winning streak in that annual series. That disappointment gives them extra incentive this year.
"It would mean a lot to the whole program," junior wide receiver Justin Hunter said. "It was hard (last year) because we just knew we were going to go to a bowl game, and we lost to a team we hadn't lost to in a long time. It was a setback for us and made us want it more."
Tennessee hasn't failed to reach a bowl game in back-to-back seasons since being left out four consecutive years from 1975-78. If the Vols don't become bowl eligible this year, they would end up with three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1909-11.
That makes it all the more critical for Tennessee to win these last two games.
"You don't want to feel that embarrassment again, from not making it to a bowl game," senior linebacker Willie Bohannon said. "There are a lot of things that people here in the past have done for Tennessee, and not making it to a bowl game two consecutive years, it's not going to be good. It won't go over well."
The possibility of playing in a minor bowl such as the Music City, Liberty, Compass or Independence might not seem like much of an honor for a program that participated in more prestigious bowls for most of the last two decades.
But the players still consider it a great way to finish a season. They remember the gifts they received and the trips they made during previous bowl appearances. And they recall how much they missed that opportunity last season.
"I can speak from experience," junior nose guard Daniel Hood said. "I felt like I was in the national championship game when we went to the Music City Bowl (in 2010). It's an awesome experience."
Hood considers a bowl more than a reward. He believes the extra practices that come with a bowl appearance can make them a better team.
"It would give us more time to work," Hood said. "Obviously we're not where we need to be technique-wise or discipline-wise or things like that. That extra month will give us more time to develop our techniques and get better."