It had to feel good for Tennessee football fans. The Vols aren’t No. 1 in the AP or Coaches Polls, but they debuted at No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff ranking Tuesday night. More importantly, the Vols are now positioned to get into the playoff no matter what.
Key to UT being No. 1 was how the committee values two of their opponents. While most people would say the Vols have the best win over the year against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the committee is also giving them huge props for beating the LSU Tigers.
LSU came in ranked No. 10 despite being No. 15 in the AP Poll and No. 17 in the Coaches Poll. Tennessee football blew them out on the road 40-13. Combine that with Alabama holding firm at No. 6 above the undefeated TCU Horned Frogs, and the respect for UT is through the roof.
Most importantly, these rankings may have rendered Saturday’s game for the Vols at the Georgia Bulldogs somewhat irrelevant. Georgia is 8-0 as well and No. 3 in the playoff. If the Vols lose, it’ll be almost impossible to knock them below that No. 3 spot. They’ll still have two top 10 wins on their resume.
In addition to that fact, Josh Heupel’s team closes the season out against the Missouri Tigers, South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores. Say the Vols lose and Georgia wins out. How could Rocky Top fall out of the top four at that point, regardless of what the other teams do?
Even if Alabama slips up, which could cost the Vols their quality win, there’s a 50-50 chance that slip-up is at LSU, who is another top 10 team the Vols beat. As a result, it’d still be difficult to move Josh Heupel’s team out of that top four spot.
Taking all this into account, we really can’t underestimate the magnitude of that Alabama win. It gave Tennessee footballs so much leverage for the rest of the season, and as long as they aren’t blown out on Saturday, a loss shouldn’t do much harm to the Vols.
No other team will have had three opponents the playoff committee currently considers in its top 10. Right now, the rankings are based on the clear-cut four best teams in the committee’s eyes, and that meant to them putting UT above the other five undefeated teams.
Of course, for a bit of insurance, they could use a loss somewhere by TCU and Clemson. It’s possible the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines both finish with a loss if one is upset and then beats the other team at the end, but that’s unlikely. OSU is No. 2, and Michigan is No. 5.
Those two things combined with Alabama beating every team left on its schedule except LSU, which the Vols can afford to have go either way, will 100 percent guarantee them a spot in the playoff. Tennessee football is playing with a lot more right now than most teams who debut with that No. 1 ranking usually do.