The Tennessee Vols are no longer in the College Football Playoff conversation after their stunning 63-38 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks this past weekend.

With their national championship dreams over, the next best scenario for the Vols this season would be to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Tennessee hasn’t played in the Sugar Bowl since 1991 when they beat the Virginia Cavaliers.

While a return to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl would be a great ending to a special season, now that UT’s playoff hopes are dead, I don’t think fans should be concerned one bit with which bowl game selects the Vols.

They should be more worried about Tennessee getting their 10th and 11th wins of the season.

Tennessee Vols
Nov 12, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jabari Small (2) runs for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers in the first quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols haven’t won 11 games in a season since 2001.

Falling short of the College Football Playoff this season is a disappointment, but getting to 11 wins would be a nice consolation.

To get there, Tennessee needs to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville next Saturday. And then they have to win a bowl game. And they have to do all of that without superstar quarterback Hendon Hooker, who tore his ACL in the loss against South Carolina.

Here’s the thing about bowl games: Unless it’s the College Football Playoff, bowl games don’t carry the same prestige as they did years ago.

Most people probably couldn’t tell you off the top of their heads who played in the last Sugar Bowl.

If you don’t remember, it was Baylor and Ole Miss who met in the Sugar Bowl last season.

The Rebels played most of the game without quarterback Matt Corral, who was injured in the first quarter.

Without Corral, the Ole Miss offense wasn’t nearly as effective.

As a result, Baylor won 28-7 and the Rebels finished the season with 10 wins instead of 11.

Most folks probably remember that Ole Miss failed to win 11 games more than they remember that the Rebels played in the Sugar Bowl.

Tennessee could face a similar situation this season without Hooker.

Would Vols fans rather see Tennessee play a tougher team in the Sugar Bowl or an easier team in a “less prestigious” bowl?

I think getting to 11 wins is far more important than which bowl game the Vols play in this season.

If Tennessee wins 11 games, no one is going to care if the 11th win comes in the Outback Bowl. All that will be remembered is that Josh Heupel won 11 games in his second season in Knoxville.

Of course, the Vols have to get past Vanderbilt this weekend before the team can worry about that 11th win. And that won’t be an easy task with Joe Milton starting at quarterback against a much-improved Vanderbilt team.

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK