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Tennessee Vols still have path to make College Football Playoff

Tennessee Vols still have path to make College Football Playoff
Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee Volunteers are looking to close the regular season strong in hopes of making the College Football Playoff. (Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BVM) – The 2022 season has been a special one in Knoxville, as the Tennessee Volunteers have jumped out to a 9-1 start, and have often looked like one of the best teams in college football. With an improved defense and a high-flying offense under head coach Josh Heupel, the Vols have put together some impressive wins, none more so than a 52-49 victory over Alabama on Oct. 15, their first over the Crimson Tide since 2006.

However, Tennessee’s perfect season did take a turn after they fell to No. 3 Georgia two weeks ago, 27-13. Ranked No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings going into the game, the loss dropped the Vols to No. 5, which is where they stand currently following a dominant rebound win over Missouri last weekend.

Although they are on the outside looking in at the moment, hopes of making the College Football Playoff this season are certainly not lost for Tennessee. Here are a few things that will impact the Vols’ chances over the next few weeks.

Tennessee taking care of its own business

First and foremost is making sure the Vols win out. They should be heavily favored in their two remaining games, first taking to the road to battle a 6-4 South Carolina squad this weekend. 

After that, Tennessee will make the short trip to Nashville to take on a 4-6 Vanderbilt team that just earned its first SEC win since 2019 against Kentucky last week. 

You can never take a game for granted, but the home stretch of the schedule couldn’t be much more favorable for the Vols. Assuming they get two wins, they’ll run their regular season record to 11-1 with their only loss coming to the No. 1 team in the country.

Can anyone behind Tennessee jump them?

There are a few teams behind Tennessee that could apply some pressure based on how they finish out the regular season, and potentially perform in their conference championship games. Clemson sits at No. 9 currently with a 9-1 record, but even if the Tigers were to win the ACC championship, their resume just doesn’t seem to stack up with that of those in the SEC.

Alabama looms at No. 8, but already having two losses, losing head-to-head to the Vols and not having the chance to prove themselves in the SEC Championship game this season, the Crimson Tide’s chances seem all but done. 

The main threats behind Tennessee are likely No. 7 USC and No. 6 LSU. USC sits at 9-1, with its only loss on the year coming to Utah. However, tough games do await against UCLA and Notre Dame to close out the regular season. If they would earn a couple of victories there and put on a strong performance to win the Pac-12 Championship game, the Trojans could be a threat to sneak into the playoff.

Hendon Hooker Josh Heupel Tennessee Vols football College Football Playoff
Josh Heupel, Hendon Hooker and the Vols will look to finish the regular season with an 11-1 record. (Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

Meanwhile, LSU has already clinched the SEC West, and they are slated to face Georgia – the winner of the SEC East – in the conference’s championship game. Should LSU win games they should to close out the regular season against UAB and Texas A&M, they enter the championship game 10-2. A win over Georgia, particularly one in relatively dominant fashion, would take the Tigers to 11-2 and make it hard to keep them out of the playoff. 

Despite a head-to-head win over the Tigers earlier this year and the eye test probably favoring Tennessee, LSU could find its way in with this scenario, and a one-loss Georgia team would also likely still get in with the head-to-head win over the Vols. However, if the Bulldogs take care of business in the SEC title game, it should only help the Vols’ chances.

What shakes out in the Big Ten?

The Big Ten has come down to a two-horse race between Ohio State and Michigan, as both are a perfect 10-0 and sit at No. 2 and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, respectively. The two teams will clash in the latest edition of “The Game” to close out the regular season on Nov. 26.

Whoever wins will punch a ticket to the Big Ten Championship game, while a loss will have the other nervously awaiting its playoff fate. Either team will see a weak opponent from the Big Ten West that they should easily dominate in the championship game. An upset in the conference title game would change everything, but should Michigan or Ohio State win, they will enter the playoff undefeated and almost certainly the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

For Vols fans, it would probably be better to see Ohio State defeat Michigan at home on Nov. 26 and win the Big Ten Championship game. Other than a blowout of Penn State, the Wolverines’ resume is not all that impressive, and they don’t have a win like Alabama anywhere on it, seemingly favoring the Vols to get in if they are both one-loss teams.

Should Michigan beat Ohio State, the Wolverines will almost certainly make the playoff, while the committee could look to include a one-loss Ohio State team that has looked dominant through stretches of the regular season.

What does TCU do to finish out the season?

While Ohio State beating Michigan is potentially one of Tennessee’s best avenues to get in, the other would be a TCU loss. Despite being a perfect 10-0 and sitting at No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings currently, the jury is still out on how good the Horned Frogs really are.

So far in the Big 12 season, they have won just one game by more than 10 points – the conference opener against Oklahoma. They snuck out a two-overtime thriller against Oklahoma State, and last week beat Texas by a touchdown. TCU has a sneaky-tough game at Baylor coming up this week, and hosts Iowa State to close the regular season. 

Jalin Hyatt Tennessee Vols football College Football Playoff
Already with well over 1,000 yards receiving on the year, Jalin Hyatt has been a true bright spot for Tennessee’s offense. (Credit: Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The Horned Frogs have already clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship game where they could take on Kansas State, or perhaps a team like Oklahoma State or Texas will sneak into that game for a rematch. No matter what happens, one TCU loss over the next three weeks should bump Tennessee up into the playoff picture. Should TCU run the table, it will be hard for the committee to keep them out at 13-0.

Vols’ chances remain high

If there is one thing college football fans know, it’s that things rarely go to plan week in and week out. It’s why upsets are seen every week, and is frankly part of what makes the sport so great. 

Who knows what will be seen over the last few weeks of the regular season. But if Tennessee can take care of business and get just a little bit of help, it will be hard to deny an 11-1 team whose only loss is to the No. 1 team in the country, a chance at competing for a national championship.