LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A historic year continued for Indiana's football program Sunday. After an 8-4 season, the Hoosiers accepted an invitation to play Tennessee in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Gator Bowl berth marks the first time in program history that the Hoosiers will play in a Florida bowl game.
"Just a tremendous reward for our players; they've worked so hard," Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. "To be able to go to this particular bowl in Jacksonville, this is a couple of our players' home."
IU Athletic Director Fred Glass pointed out that the Hoosiers have a "Big Ten high" 26 players on their roster from the state of Florida. It was one of the many factors he brought up that suggested Indiana and its fan base would travel well for the game against the Volunteers.
Allen and his staff have made Florida a priority in recruiting, and this game will only help matters.
"Really proud of our young men and proud of our coaching staff," Allen said. "Really thankful for the opportunity to go play in this bowl, and a chance to improve as a team as we have a young team that can take advantage of this opportunity to practice."
There was some confusion, however, leading up to the official bowl announcement. In fact, most of the country believed it would be Kentucky — not Tennessee — representing the Southeaster Conference at the Gator Bowl. The Volunteers were originally believed to be headed to Nashville to take on Louisville in the Music City Bowl.
"The selection process is fluid, and there were a lot of people writing a lot of things," said Gator Bowl President and CEO, Rick Catlett. "You have to let the College Football Playoff and the New Year's Six play out. As that shook out, it was very orderly … that's something you have to wait on when you're part of the group of five. We had a shot at Tennessee there, and, obviously, there were other teams on our list. Indiana has never played a bowl game in the state of Florida, and how can you not be excited about having them with the season they've had."
"Nashville would have been a fantastic destination; they've done a great job," added Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics. "The conference commissioner asked our preference and at the end we ended up in the right place at this particular time.
"... I think the Gator bowl got the hottest team."
Allen will be tasked with getting a bowl win over an opponent that saved its best football for the end of the season. The Vols started the year 1-4 before rattling off wins in six of their past seven games, including five straight to end the year.
"We have a lot of respect for the SEC, and for coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and what he's doing there at Tennessee," Allen said.
Indiana's breakthrough season has been well documented. The Hoosiers cracked the Associated Press' Top 25 Poll for the first time in decades, finished with a winning conference record for the first time since 1993 and won eight games for the first time since 1993.
"Just a chance to play against a really good football program and a chance for our fans to enjoy a bowl trip with a great opponent," Pruitt said of the Hoosiers.
IU won't be satisfied making it to a higher-tier bowl. Allen has said all year that his team didn't want to just make a bowl game. It wants to accomplish something the program hasn't since 1991: "We're going there to win," Allen said.
The Hoosiers have their opportunity: a chance at reaching the nine-win plateau for just the third time in program history.
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