Nobody is expecting Tennessee football to compete for the College Football Playoff this year. Heck, even if the program does rebound under Josh Heupel, expectations for that to happen are at least three years in advance.
However, the way one analyst described the Vols still stung a bit. In a listing of the CFP tiers for all 130 FBS teams by Heather Dinich of ESPN, UT was listed as a Power Five team that is not yet ready for the big stage.
That tier included 34 teams, to be fair, more than half the teams in the Power Five, so Tennessee football was far from alone. On the other hand, it was only one tier above the lowest tier, which was Independent and Group of Five teams not ready for the big stage.
There were 11 tiers overall, and 35 teams were in tiers above the Vols. As a result, it’s safe to say they are a middle of the pack team in FBS play this year, but they are likely in the bottom half of Power Five teams overall.
Four Group of Five teams were in tiers above them: the Cincinnati Bearcats, Appalachian State Mountaineers, UCF Knights and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Also, the Pittsburgh Panthers, the Vols’ one imposing non-conference opponent, were in a tier above them.
In addition to Pitt, there were four SEC teams on UT’s schedule that were in tiers above them. The Alabama Crimson Tide were in the top tier, the Georgia Bulldogs were in the second tier, the Florida Gators were in the sixth tier, and the Ole Miss Rebels were in the eighth tier.
The good news about that is four teams on Rocky Top’s schedule were in the same tier as them. They were the Vanderbilt Commodores, South Carolina Gamecocks, Missouri Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats. Also, the South Alabama Jaguars and Bowling Green Falcons were in tiers below them. Finally, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles didn’t even get a tier because they are an FCS team.
Simply put, Tennessee football has seven foes in a tier with them, a tier below them or in FCS play. That alone is a path to a winning record and bowl eligibility. Facing Ole Miss and Pitt at home makes for nine games that could be winnable. As a result, there’s good news to draw from this.