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Bowl eligibility remains within Vols' grasp

Associated Press Modified: November 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm •  Published: November 13, 2012

Tennessee won't have an easy path to a bowl. The Vols are four-point underdogs Saturday against a Vanderbilt team eager to earn a rare victory over its in-state rival.

"We're still trying to prove ourselves," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "I've got a chip on my shoulder. We have an underdog, blue-collar mentality. That's who we are and we're going to be that way for a long time until we can consistently put a product on the field that everyone can be excited about. We still have a long way to go as a program for us to be thinking we're being hunted."

Vanderbilt has lost 28 of its last 29 games with Tennessee, the lone win coming in 2005. Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 27-21 last year on Eric Gordon's 90-yard interception return in overtime.

"We don't pay attention to point spreads and things like that," junior offensive guard Alex Bullard said. "We feel like we have a better team than Vanderbilt, and we just need to go out there and play like it."

Tennessee also must prepare for these next two games while dealing with the questions surrounding the future of Vols coach Derek Dooley, who owns a 15-20 record in his three-year tenure. Some players indicated Dooley's uncertain job status is a distraction, whereas others say it hasn't bothered them at all.

The Vols may be better equipped than most teams to deal with those types of issues. Tennessee's fifth-year seniors already have endured two coaching changes. They were there when Phillip Fulmer was fired late in the 2008 season and also experienced Lane Kiffin's abrupt departure after one year on the job.

"We've been through three coaches by now," fifth-year senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "That's basically the last thing we're thinking about. We're thinking about playing these last two games and having fun with it."

They're also thinking about avoiding a repeat of last year.

"It was tough sitting at home watching all those bowl games, knowing you should be in one of them," senior wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "We don't want that to happen this year. That was a bad feeling in our stomachs last year."


AP sports writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.