Tennessee is making just its second Outback Bowl appearance and first since 1993 when the Vols clubbed Ohio State 24-7. Penn State visits Tampa for the third time after wins in 1996 and 1999 over Auburn and Kentucky, respectively.
Joe Paterno is 15-6 in New Year's Day games and the Nittany Lions have a sparkling over-all bowl record of 24-12-2. Tennessee is just 3-5 in its last eight bowl games.
The Volunteers failed to make it to a bowl game last year, ending a string of 16 consecutive years in the postseason.
Paterno looks to be back on the sideline after sitting out the Temple game and looking on from the press box in the season finale against Michigan State.
His Nittany Lions only had two wins over Big 10 teams with non-losing records as an anemic offense relied on a solid defense to keep them in games. They managed a total of 19 points in losses to the Big Ten's top three teams - Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Penn State managed to scored over 30 points against only their four weakest opponents - Akron, Youngstown State, Northwestern and Temple.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny, a two-time Bednarik Award recipient as the nation's top defensive player, anchors the Nittany Lions stop unit. After surrendering 41 points to Notre Dame in the second game of the season, only Ohio State and Minnesota managed to ring up more than 17 points against the nation's No. 11 scoring defense. Penn State registered two shutouts and held a total of four opponents to 7 points or less.
Penn State's defensive weakness is against the pass where they only rank 43rd in the national statistics.
That could spell bad news for the Nittany Lions as Tennessee's Erik Ainge averaged 247.5 yards passing while connecting on 66.9 percent of his throws. He tossed 19 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. But the often one-dimensional Tennessee attack only managed 110 rushing yards per game.
The Volunteers showed flashes of explosiveness on offense, but were inconsistent throughout the year. Tennessee inexplicably rang up 51 points on Georgia's vaunted defense but only managed 17 points against Kentucky, the nation's 9th-worst defense in yards allowed.
The same inconsistency was evident in Tennessee's defense as the Vols held Florida to 21 points but gave up 30 to Air Force. The Vols proved to be vulnerable to a good rushing attack and Tony Hunt could be the difference-maker for Penn State. Hunt rushed for 1,228 yards and scored 11 TD's for the Nittany Lions.
LaMarcus Coker was Tennessee's leading ground-gainer with 660 yards. The redshirt freshman started just four games and saw action in nine games total. When he did play, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry, a number that was boosted by an 89-yard touchdown burst against Marshall. But he still averaged 5.6 yards on his other 102 carries. However, Coker was being held out of practice
for disciplinary reasons at the time this preview was written.
Tennessee's Robert Meachem was first in the SEC, and third nationally, in receiving yards with 1,265 for an average of 104.5 per game.