KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Whether Tennessee plays before or on New Year's Day could come down to the result of Saturday's game against Kentucky.
Or maybe not.
The Volunteers (7-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) could still end up playing New Year's Eve in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl either way.
Of the six bowls with SEC tie-ins, the only other most likely options appear to be the Cotton Bowl or Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 or the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
Tennessee has played in seven straight bowl games on or after Jan. 1 since the 1995 Gator Bowl, a 45-23 win over Virginia Tech.
Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey said he doesn't necessarily prefer before or after New Year's.
"I don't know if there's great magic in that," he said. "If we're playing in the Peach Bowl instead of the Outback Bowl, I'm not sure one day is going to upset the history of the University of Tennessee."
Coach Phillip Fulmer and most of the players aren't worrying about how they'll ring in the new year. They are concerned about beating the Wildcats (7-4, 3-4), who can't go to a bowl because of NCAA sanctions.
"We need to worry only about Kentucky. Everything else will take care of itself if we do," Fulmer said. "However, I am glad we are bowl eligible."
Tennessee could find out as early as next week if it's going to Atlanta, Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan said.
The Peach matches the third selection from the Atlantic Coast Conference, likely Virginia or Maryland, and the fifth pick from the SEC.
Stokan and his collegues will meet Tuesday, most likely choosing between Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn with the Arkansas-LSU game Friday weighing heavily on that decision.
Stokan said Tennessee would be a logical choice because Atlanta is three hours from Knoxville, and the Vols have a large alumni base there.
"When you talk about TV ratings, people will tune to watch a Tennessee football game no matter where they are in the country. That means a lot," Stokan said. "From a travel and ticket standpoint, UT will do very, very well."
The Peach can't decide until the Capital One Bowl, formerly the Citrus, makes its decision. That could be as early as next week or Dec. 8, a day after the SEC title game.
Georgia has already secured a trip to the championship and will play either Arkansas or LSU. The winner goes to a Bowl Championship Series bowl.
Capital One gets the No. 2 SEC team, which would likely be Florida or the winner of the Arkansas-LSU game if Georgia beats Georgia Tech on Saturday.
A Georgia loss would probably send them to the Capital One, Stokan said.
The Cotton gets next dibs, followed by the Outback. The Peach choses what it sees as the fifth-best SEC team. Then it's the Music City Bowl and Independence Bowl with the final picks.
Aside from the dates, the biggest difference in the bowls is money. Last year, Tennessee got $4.25 million playing in the Citrus Bowl.
The Outback paid $2.2 million a team and the Cotton $2 million.
The Peach's payout was $1.8 million, followed by the Independence at $1 million and the Music City with $750,000.
The Peach Bowl has been very interested in Tennessee, scouting most of its home games this season. Representatives from the Peach and Capital One will be at the Kentucky game. The Outback requested credentials but canceled this week.
Maryland (9-3), which missed a chance to share the ACC title by losing to Virginia last week, is angling for a Peach Bowl bid since the Gator Bowl picked North Carolina State (10-3).
Dickey said he isn't going to lobby the bowl committees.
"We have never done any guarantees outside what the conference arrangements are," he said. "We just have an arrangement for a pecking order by the bowls. The money is such that we've all agreed that that's OK. However that comes out is the way it comes out."
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