Tennessee starts 2016 right, blows out Northwestern in the Outback Bowl

Sorry, Coconut Shrimp fans. It’s free Bloomin’ Onions for everybody on Saturday thanks to Tennessee’s 45-6 win over Northwestern in Friday’s Outback Bowl. It was the perfect way to start the new year for the Volunteers.

What this win means for Tennessee: What is it about Tennessee and bowl games under Butch Jones? The Vols dominated Iowa in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl, and it was more of the same this year in the Outback Bowl. Fans are hoping for the same result next year in a New Year’s Six bowl or even the College Football Playoff. There will be a lot of buzz around this Tennessee team heading into 2016 and rightfully so. They return nine starters on offense and potentially eight starters on defense. Can they break through and win the SEC East?

What this loss means for Northwestern: Don’t let one loss -- no matter how bad it looked -- take away from what was another great season at Northwestern. Sure, it wasn’t the Wildcats' day. Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson struggled, throwing two interceptions, and the defense wore down in the second half. But winning 10 games is no small feat, and you can bet that Pat Fitzgerald will have this team competitive again in 2016.

Player of the game: Before the game, it was all about the two running backs -- Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Northwestern's Justin Jackson. Well, Hurd more than did his part. The sophomore got stronger as the game went on and simply took over in the second half. He finished with 24 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown. It was his third straight game with more than 100 yards. Meanwhile, Jackson had a decent day, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown, but he was overshadowed by his counterpart.

Unsung hero: Northwestern was never going to light up the scoreboard. That’s not who they are. But that was still some performance from the Tennessee defense Friday. Led by the likes of Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland Jr., the Volunteers' front seven finished with eight tackles for loss and four sacks. As a unit, the defense also pulled down four interceptions and held Northwestern to 261 total yards.

Stat of the game: Coming into the game, Northwestern had allowed a total of 99 yards rushing (8.25 yards per game) to quarterbacks this season. They evidently hadn’t faced a player like Joshua Dobbs. The Tennessee quarterback rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats’ defense.