There is a chance Tennessee football finishes 8-5 with multiple quality wins. Here’s how that could happen for the Volunteers.
Throughout this turnaround, the narrative for critics has been that Tennessee football beat up on lesser competition. Now, even if that were true, the competition was still stiffer than the two Group of Five teams who beat them in Knoxville earlier in the year, so there’s no denying the Vols have improved dramatically in Jeremy Pruitt’s second season.
But in this turnaround that has involved four straight wins and five of six overall, only one team UT beat was a Power Five team with a winning record when they played them, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Right now, MSU and the Missouri Tigers are 5-6. But it could end much differently.
There is a chance that by the end of the season, Tennessee football finishes 8-5 with five wins against FBS teams who finished with a winning record and four wins against such Power Five teams. Of course, the Chattanooga Mocs are a win over an FCS team, and the South Carolina Gamecocks won’t finish with a winning record.
What about everybody else? Well, if Mississippi State beats the Ole Miss Rebels, it becomes bowl eligible. They could win that bowl game and finish 7-6. The UAB Blazers, despite being a Group of Five team, are already 8-3, so they have clinched a winning record. After just beating the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, they now have a chance to repeat as C-USA Champions as well.
The Kentucky Wildcats were 4-5 after losing to the Vols, but they are now 6-5. They only either have to beat the Louisville Cardinals or win their bowl game to finish with a winning record. And then the Missouri Tigers may have fallen to 5-6 by losing to Rocky Top, but if they beat the Arkansas Razorbacks, they are back at .500.
Mizzou is a special case, though, because then they have to wait to see if the NCAA will lift their bowl ban. But that’s possible, as is them beating the Hogs, the worst team in the SEC. And if those two things happen, they could then win their bowl to finish 7-6.
At that point, UT will have four wins over teams with winning records and three over such Power Five teams. Then comes the bowl game. Tennessee football will likely play a Power Five team with a much better record in their bowl. And should they win, that is where their fifth quality victory on the year comes from.
In fact, if UAB and Kentucky finish strong, they could have three legit quality victories and two more over teams that finished with winning records. By the way, their losses to the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide could end up being to two College Football Playoff teams and three top 10 and New Year’s Six teams.
There is nothing we can say to salvage what happened at the start of the year. The Georgia State Panthers are a bad loss, even if they are 7-4 right now. That is a Sun Belt record. But the BYU Cougars are also 7-4.
So there is a chance UT will have played 10 FBS schools that finished the year with a winning record if everything bounces right, and they could win eight games with that resume, including two on the road and one at a neutral site. Should all of that happen, Tennessee football will actually have a very good resume to close out Jeremy Pruitt’s second season on paper.