It came as a bit of a shock last week when Tennessee football was revealed to be three spots out of the Coaches Poll preseason top 25. That softened the blow for this week, when the Vols were left out of the AP Poll preseason top 25, and even made it a bit encouraging, as they were only one spot out.
However, despite being that close into the top 25, it’s not likely the Vols get in after the first week, regardless of what they do in their opener against the Ball State Cardinals. There are very few opportunities for them to jump anybody while nobody jumps them.
As a result, Tennessee football will have to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road in Week 2 to get there, and that’ll get them in the Week 3 rankings. It’s not that it matters, but don’t count on them getting into the polls any time before then.
Sure, the Vols could leapfrog the loser of the Cincinnati Bearcats and Arkansas Razorbacks. However, no rational pollster would drop either team below the Vols simply for losing when UT beat a mediocre MAC foe expected to have a major drop-off.
The only other top 25 matchup will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ohio State Buckeyes, and both are top five teams. As a result, neither will drop below the Vols. That leaves a collection of losable games for top 25 teams to unranked foes.
What do those look like? Well, Pitt ironically has one against the West Virginia Mountaineers. However, if WVU wins, they’ll get into the top 25 over UT. If the Florida Gators upset the Utah Utes, Florida will leapfrog the Vols, and Utah may stay in the top 25 since they are a top 10 team, so that double works against them.
Only one game remains that’s realistically losable for a top 25 team, and it’s the Houston Cougars at the UT San Antonio Roadrunners. If Tennessee football is going to get into the top 25 after the first week, Houston losing is what will do the trick.
Still, the Vols have to count on no other upsets like Florida and Utah that would move one of the two teams ahead of them in both polls. They also have to have a case over their closest competitors missing out on the top 25 rankings.
Those two competitors are the Penn State Nittany Lions and Iowa Hawkeyes in both polls. Penn State opens the year with a visit to the Purdue Boilermakers, who just beat UT last year. Purdue is also receiving votes in both polls. As a result, a rational person would give the winner of that game a vote over UT after Week 1.
Now, to be fair, of course there are unlikely possibilities to get Tennessee football into the top 25. Any scenario, though, would involve a shocking upset that was on nobody’s radar. Taking that into account, it’s a safe bet UT won’t be ranked when visiting Pitt.