Tennessee is back in postseason play for the second year in a row, taking on North Carolina in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Thursday in Nashville.
After a 2-6 start, the Vols (6-6) rallied to win their final four games in November to become bowl eligible. They were originally scheduled to play the Tar Heels during the 2011 season, but Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton paid the penalty to get out of that series to help soften up the schedule during the early part of Derek Dooley's tenure.
Who's going to step up for the Vols?
Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson: The best news for the Vols upon their arrival in Nashville was that Jackson also reported. He missed all of the bowl practice time in Knoxville and was back home in Louisiana for what Dooley said was personal family issues. Jackson was Tennessee's best defender this season, and the Vols are a much different defense when he's on the field. He's a big hitter with a nose for the ball and also intercepted four passes this season. The Vols are just as comfortable using him on the blitz as they are in coverage situations, and he's one of those players on the back end of your defense that helps mask mistakes other players make. North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates was one of the ACC's most improved players this season and will test Tennessee down the field with the deep ball. Jackson's value is helping to keep those big plays to a minimum, but he's also a game-changer with his ability to force turnovers and set up short fields for the offense. He's missed a lot of practice time, but Dooley doesn't think he will be too rusty come Thursday.