ORLANDO, Fla. -- Michigan tight end Shawn Thompson jokes that he has learned his way around this Florida vacation city. No wonder.
The No. 17 Wolverines (8-3) play No. 8 Tennessee (10-2) on Tuesday in their third visit to the Citrus Bowl since the end of the 1998 season.
"I'm starting to know Orlando better than Ann Arbor," Thompson, a fifth-year senior, said this week.
The Volunteers haven't been to Orlando since the 1996 season, but this is their fifth trip since 1983.
The Citrus Bowl - even with the allure of nearby Disney World and Universal Studios - is one tier below the Bowl Championship Series games and usually features the runners-up in the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten.
When Tennessee and Michigan end up in the Citrus Bowl it means the teams didn't win as many games as they had hoped.
Both teams lost their last games and failed to win their conferences.
The Vols also missed a berth in the Rose Bowl when they lost to LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 8. Michigan finished with a loss at home to Ohio State way back on Nov. 24.
"It's an excellent opportunity after you haven't played as well as you would have liked in the last game to go play again," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Despite the season-ending disappointments, neither team has given any indication they don't care about the first-ever game between the schools.
Because of the losses, the players and coaches are eager for a win to end the season.
"You just have to put the disappointment behind you and focus on what the game plan the coaches have prepared for you," Michigan linebacker Victor Hobson said. "Whoever is able to do that and execute their game plan the best will be victorious."
Of all the bowls, this is one of the more appealing matchups because of the schools' winning traditions.
"Ever since Michigan won the national title in 1997 and Tennessee won in 1998, there is a little rivalry," Michigan defensive end Dan Rumishek said.
Then there's all the hoopla about Michigan's Charles Woodson beating out Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning for the 1997 Heisman. The players have avoided that topic this week.
Another plus for the game is that both teams are fairly even, at least statistically. Both feature tough defenses against the run and balanced offenses.
The biggest difference is how they played down the stretch of the season.
The Wolverines have been trying to get their offense on track since going through a slump in the final games of the season when they were 3-2.
Michigan quarterback John Navarre, who is making his first bowl start, threw 10 interceptions in the last five games compared to just two in the first six games.
"You play your best teams at the end of the season. It is a matter of staying focused on your goal and what you want to accomplish," Navarre said.
Tennessee won seven straight games, including an impressive 34-32 win over Florida at The Swamp, and then played one of its worst games in a 31-20 loss to LSU in the SEC title game.
The Vols' sophomore quarterback, Casey Clausen, has steadily improved. In the last five games, Clausen was 106-of-162 for 1,361 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Michigan relies heavily on receiver Marquise Walker, who averages seven catches and 94 receiving yards a game.
The Vols spread the ball to several receivers but prefer to get rolling first on the ground behind tailback Travis Stephens.
Michigan repeatedly referred to Tennessee's defensive line as the best they've faced all year. The Vols like to pressure quarterbacks, but so does Michigan
The Wolverines lead the nation with 46 sacks, and linebacker Larry Foote had six of them.
On the Net:
Michigan football: http://www.mgoblue.com
Tennessee football: http://www.utsports.com
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