They entered Saturday with a better than 60 percent chance of making the College Football Playoff. Tennessee football ended the day with, well, a better than 60 percent chance of making the College Football Playoff. In fact, their numbers went up after the game.
Despite losing 27-13 to the Georgia Bulldogs on the road, the ESPN FPI actually upped the Vols’ chances of making the CFP to 63.7 percent. That’s abut half a percentage point above where it was before they played that game and lost to UGA.
There’s a reason for that increase. Although Tennessee football entered the game ranked No. 1 in the CFP, the ESPN FPI had them losing to an undefeated Georgia team anyway. As a result, a loss wasn’t going to do much to cost them.
What helped the Vols was the fact that other teams who could have caused them trouble lost. Most importantly, the Clemson Tigers lost 35-7 to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. That all but ended their chances of making the playoff after they were playing with fire for weeks.
However, beyond Clemson, the Alabama Crimson Tide lost to the LSU Tigers. Now, that may seem on the surface like it would hurt the Vols, who are depending on their quality win over Alabama to sell their resume with a loss and likely no conference championship.
Well, the Vols beat LSU on the road in a 40-13 blowout, so that’s still a quality win for them. More importantly, the worst-case scenario for the Vols was for Alabama to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship game as both won out, as UT would then be the team left out among the three.
Unless you thought there was a legitimate chance the SEC would put three teams in the playoff, and there wasn’t, then the Vols needed to guarantee Georgia finished the year undefeated. Those chances improved dramatically with what LSU did.
Of course, Tennessee football may still need some help. The TCU Horned Frogs continue to squeak by, and they remain undefeated. However, the FPI is likely taking into account that TCU visits the Texas Longhorns and Baylor Bears over the next two weeks, so they’re likely to lose one.
Heck, they could even lose both. If that happens, the Vols are almost a lock. Even if it doesn’t happen, though, they appear likely to get first dibs over the winner between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes, both of whom are undefeated as well.
Obviously, one other huge factor in this is what they do over their next three games. They have the Missouri Tigers at home and then South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores on the road. However, all signs point to them winning all three pretty easily.
As a result, the real story of the day was Clemson and Alabama losing. That improved Tennessee football’s playoff chances despite them losing. Now, to be fair, the Vols’ chances would’ve been better with a win regardless of what happened elsewhere, but overall, they left the day with a net positive, which you have to tout.