DALLAS, Dec. 31 -- For your early viewing New Year's Day, No. 21 Tennessee takes a six-game winning streak to the Cotton Bowl Monday to play ninth-ranked Kansas State in a game that begins at 11 a.m. EST.
Freshman quarterback Casey Clausen has been behind the resurgence for the Volunteers (8-3), who closed the regular season with a six-game winning streak after starting the campaign at 2-3. It is the Volunteers longest-winning streak since they won 14 in a row from the national championship season of 1998 (13-0) through the first game of the 1999 campaign.
"I told the team how proud I am of them with the fight and commitment they've shown," said Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer. "They had their backs to the wall and came from nowhere to get to a New Year's Day bowl game."
Clausen stepped into the starting role on October 21, led Tennessee to a 20-10 victory over Alabama, and the winning has not stopped. Road victories over South Carolina and Memphis followed and Clausen threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns in a a 59-20 rout of Kentucky on November 18.
Sophomore wide receiver Donte' Stallworth is an emerging star, having caught 35 passes for 510 yards and two touchdowns opposite star wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
Kansas State (10-3), which lost to top-ranked Oklahoma twice, presents a serious challenge for Tennessee in the first meeting between the teams.
Cotton Bowl officials originally were interested in luring Nebraska to Dallas, but the invitation instead went for the Wildcats, who promise a large fan base. When Kansas State played in the game four years ago, more than 40,000 Wildcat fans made the journey to see their team loss to Brigham Young, 19-15.
Kansas State's offensive star is senior quarterback Jonathan Beasley, who has thrown for 2,636 yards while rushing for 499 and accounted for 34 touchdowns.
He will face a Tennessee defense that recorded 27 sacks during the team's winning streak but will be without defensive end DeAngelo lloyd, who was ruled ineligible for academic reasons.
The Wildcats are trying to finish with 11 victories for a fourth straight season. Florida State is the only other school that has reached that plateau. Tennessee is seeking its sixth straight season of at least nine wins, which would be a first in school history.
The Volunteers are making their fifth Cotton Bowl appearance. They are 2-2 in the classic, having won in 1951 (Texas) and 1990 (Arkansas) while suffering losses to Texas in 1953 and 1969.