After an 0-2 start, Tennessee football is back to 5-5. If they finish 8-5, the Volunteers have a real chance to finished ranked.
Ever since the College Football Playoff era began, only two 8-5 teams have finished ranked in either the AP Poll or Coaches’ Poll at the end of the season. But both were in the SEC: The Auburn Tigers in 2014 and the Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2018. Could Tennessee football become the third team to do so?
The Vols are still not receiving any recognition in either poll. And at 5-5 after an 0-2 start in which they lost two games to Group of Five teams at home, they shouldn’t be. But after winning four of five in Jeremy Pruitt’s second season, people are beginning to take notice. The math also favors them going forward.
At the moment, there are only 28 Power Five teams plus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with fewer than five losses. Now, yes, there are 33 other Group of Five teams who fit that category. So theoretically, the Vols have to overcome a ton of other teams to make that jump.
But in the SEC alone, everybody believes the Texas A&M Aggies and Missouri Tigers will finish with five losses. These next three weeks plus the bowl season will have so many games with such teams playing each other and don’t even take into account potential upsets that it’s almost certain there will be 20 or fewer Power Five teams with lass than five losses at season’s end.
Meanwhile, you expect that group of Five number to reduce dramatically as well. So if Tennessee football continues to go about its business, there’s a real chance they could finish the season in the top 25. That would be an insane accomplishment given how they started.
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Now, this isn’t a guarantee. And it’s probably not going to be deserved. After all, the Vols still haven’t yet beat a Power Five team with a winning record on the year. Their horrible start resulted in them failing to cash in on a very easy schedule that we all knew they had going in.
It’s also worth noting that they haven’t even clinched a bowl game yet. And they would have to beat Mizzou on the road to accomplish this feat. The Tigers, despite their three-game losing streak, remain undefeated in Columbia.
If they do pull it off, though, and if they don’t lay an egg against the Vanderbilt Commodores, their resume will look much better by the end of the season. The Kentucky Wildcats are likely to finish the year with six or seven wins, as is Missouri, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs have a great shot at it. That could turn into three solid Power Five wins that don’t look so great now.
Then, should they go to a bowl game, their standing in the SEC East would actually get them to a much better bowl game than their 7-5 record would indicate, and they could potentially play a nine or 10-win team from the ACC or Big Ten. What happens if they win that matchup?
An appearance in the final rankings would then be a very strong possibility. So don’t look now, but Tennessee football may not be done with its shocking turnaround. However, their only focus during this bye should be figuring out how to beat Missouri. Then they have to beat Vanderbilt. They shouldn’t even think about the top 25 before winning both of those games.