Miami Bound: Vols Earn New Year’s Six Berth, First Orange Bowl Since 1998

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A historic 10-win season filled with memorable moments on Rocky Top will culminate on Friday, Dec. 30, in Miami as the Tennessee Volunteers will square off against the Clemson Tigers in the 89th Capital One Orange Bowl in Hard Rock Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 8 pm ET on ESPN. Tickets to the general public are on sale through the Orange Bowl via Ticketmaster.

The sixth-ranked and at-large Volunteers (10-2) will make their first-ever New Year’s Six appearance in the College Football Playoff era and first in the Orange Bowl since Peyton Manning’s senior season on Jan. 2, 1998. It’s Tennessee’s fifth Orange Bowl berth all-time, which includes games in 1939, ’47, ’68 and ’98.

Clemson (11-2) claimed the ACC Championship with a 39-10 victory over North Carolina on Saturday night in Charlotte. The Tigers and Vols will face off for the 19th time but for just the second time in the last 45 years. Clemson won the previous meeting on Jan. 2, 2003, in the Peach Bowl.

Second-year Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has led the Vols to a national resurgence after taking over a program that was 3-7 prior to his arrival. He has compiled a 17-8 record, winning 12 of his last 15 games with his team setting multiple school records in the process. The 2022 campaign was the first 10-win regular season for UT since 2003, and it featured key victories over final CFP No. 5 Alabama and current Associated Press poll No. 16 LSU by 27 in Baton Rouge.

Heisman Trophy candidate Hendon Hooker led an offense that led the country in scoring offense (47.3) and total offense (538.1) before being sidelined to injury for the remainder of the season. Biletnikoff Award finalist Jalin Hyatt led the nation in receiving touchdowns (15) and ranked fourth nationally in receiving yards (1,267). A UT rushing attack sparked by Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright was tops in the country in rushing touchdowns with 39.

The Vols finished No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff selection committee rankings and No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and AFCA Coaches poll. They head to the Orange Bowl ranked in the top 10 for 11 consecutive weeks in the AP poll, marking the program’s longest streak in the same season since all 17 weeks of the 1999 campaign.

Tennessee Bowl Facts
Appearance: 55th (fifth nationally)
Record: 29-25

Tennessee Orange Bowl History
Jan. 2, 1939 – Tennessee 17, Oklahoma 0
Jan. 1, 1947 – Rice 8, Tennessee 0
Jan. 1, 1968 – Oklahoma 26, Tennessee 24
Jan. 2, 1998 – Nebraska 42, Tennessee 17
December 30, 2022 – Tennessee vs. Clemson

College Football Playoff Rankings (Dec. 4)
1. Georgia (13-0)
2. Michigan (13-0)
3. TCU (12-1)
4. Ohio State (11-1)
5. Alabama (10-2)
6. Tennessee (10-2)
7. Clemson (11-2)
8. Utah (10-3)
9. Kansas State (10-3)
10. Southern Cal (11-2)
11. Penn State (10-2)
12. Washington (10-2)
13. Florida State (9-3)
14. Oregon State (9-3)
15. Oregon (9-3)
16. Tulane (11-2)
17. LSU (9-4)
18. UCLA (9-3)
19. South Carolina (8-4)
20. Texas (8-4)
21. Notre Dame (8-4)
22. Mississippi State (8-4)
23. NC State (8-4)
24. Troy (11-2)
25. UTSA (11-2)

Capital One Orange Bowl Selection Day Press Conference | December 4, 2022

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…

“Good afternoon, everybody. So happy to have the opportunity to be here with you guys today. We are so excited and happy about the invitation to the Capitol One Orange Bowl. I’m really proud of our program, the steps that we’ ve taken in the last two years. Extremely proud of our staff and our players.

“This season was a really unique one. So proud of the accomplishments that we had on the football field. It’s truly a team that’s connected, that competes extremely hard. We’re really proud of the steps that we’re making. Really excited to have the opportunity to compete in the Orange Bowl here later this month.

“I know, having played in it and coached in it two previous times, this bowl game is as good as it gets. It’s a very unique and special opportunity for our football program, and one that we couldn’t be more excited to partake in in.

“I know that our fans, Vol Nation, are going to show up in droves. They’re excited about this opportunity to compete. What a prestigious game. Very honored to be a part of it.”

On how closely he follows Clemson and his perception of the program…

“Yeah, in recent years obviously I’ve had an opportunity to see them sporadically throughout the season, but see them. It’s a tradition-rich program. They’ve had a ton of success, not just in past seasons but in this season , too. Obviously finishing it out with an ACC championship.

“We have great respect for the quality of opponents. Coach Swinney has done a fantastic job with that program since he’s taken over.

“Obviously you look at what they’ve done defensively year in and year out, one of the top in the country. Haven’t had a chance to follow up and watch in detail, just the personnel or the scheme. Can’t dive too much into that. Obviously we’ll do that here in the coming days and certainly over the next week.

“But offensively they’re historically a really good program, too. Certainly last night were very explosive and created a bunch of big plays. Great opponent, one that we’re excited about having the opportunity to go compete with here at the end of the month.”

On the quarterback Joe Milton III playing the bowl game near his hometown…

“Joe is certainly going to be excited about having an opportunity to go play in an area that he certainly is familiar with, but so many friends and family, coaches and mentors that have been a part of his life will have an opportunity to come see him play in the football game.”

On returning to Florida after a successful stint at UCF…

“Certainly for me, having familiarity with the state of Florida, having been down there, a lot of our staff as well, having recruited down there. It’s a place that we certainly know well. But not just through my experience down there as a coach, also just having played in this bowl game as a player, having coached in it two previous times as a coach, as well.

“This is a great week leading up to the kickoff. The bowl committee does an unbelievable job of taking care of the athletes and the staff. It’s absolutely first class. The football game itself is always one that is highly competitive and a special environment. “

On filling the role of departing offensive coordinator Alex Golesh

“Yeah, certainly losing Alex is something that we’re excited about. I think it speaks to the growth inside of our program. When I say that, just that the success that we’re having on the field, the style of play, the culture that we have inside our building, for him to have an opportunity to go run his own program is one that I and the staff are excited for him to have that opportunity. In the coming days we’ll understand how we want to fill that out on the recruiting trail, then as we get into game preparation as well. Excited for him. Again, I think it speaks so well to what our players and staff have done in a short amount of time here at Tennessee.”

On his past experience at the Orange Bowl and his message to the team about playing in the game…

“Yeah, at the end of the day the game is the most important thing. It’s the most memorable thing of all the week of festivities. I think it’s important that you enjoy the buildup and opportunity to see a new place, see a new culture , enjoy the festivities of the week. At the end of the day the most important thing is the game. When it’s time to lock into your game preparation, your practice, you got to be completely invested in those moments. At the end of the day, at the end of the week, man, you’re going to get an opportunity to play in a very special game. This is an historic, iconic game. A lot of these guys have grown up in an era of watching the importance of this football game. I know I grew up in that as well. This is a special opportunity. You’re going to have the entire country watching this football game when this is slotted here on TV. It’s a special opportunity, a special moment , and a memory that you’ll have forever.”

On any nostalgia surrounding the Orange Bowl…

“Yeah, there will be things that will spark memories from my two stints as a coach being back in Miami. But certainly as a player, too, absolutely will bring back a lot of great memories. Really excited about having an opportunity to lead a program in this football game. This game is extremely special to me. A lot of great memories. Really looking forward to that opportunity. Already have teammates that will be able to come to the ballgame, guys that shared the field with me. Really looking forward to that opportunity.”

On players opting out of the bowl…

“I certainly expect most of our guys to be there. There’s guys that are still gaining information, guys that were nicked up on the back half of the season, that got to see where they get to here over the coming days and make a smart , educated decision for them and their future. This is a special football game. This is important to our program. It’s important to our players inside of the locker room. Certainly I believe we’ll have a majority if not a full roster when we get down there for it.”

On Alex Golesh‘s potential to succeed in the American Athletic Conference…

“He’s smart. He’s competitive. Offensively what he came in and learned while we were at UCF, then transitioned up here to Tennessee. He has a great ability to communicate and relate to student-athletes. He’s relentless as a recruiter. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to do a great job of leading that program.”

On Hendon Hooker possibly being named a Heisman Trophy finalist…

“Yeah, unfortunately he doesn’t have control of that at this point. Hendon certainly deserves to be at that ceremony. He certainly is one of the best players in college football. The growth of our program is a direct correlation to what he’s done , what he’s invested, how he’s helped build the culture inside our locker room. Dynamic play-maker that has played his best in the biggest moments. Fierce competitor that makes a ton of plays. I certainly hope that he has that opportunity.”

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