Tennessee football’s playoff chances hurt by Saturday’s slate despite Oregon loss

Smokey X walks across the checkerboard end zone after a Tennessee touchdown during the NCAA college football game against Missouri on Saturday, November 12, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.Ut Vs Missouri
Smokey X walks across the checkerboard end zone after a Tennessee touchdown during the NCAA college football game against Missouri on Saturday, November 12, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.Ut Vs Missouri /

When you look at the biggest storylines heading into Saturday, Tennessee football couldn’t have asked for much more. The Vols came in at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff ranking, and with the Georgia Bulldogs beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs, they still have the best loss.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers both won, giving them the best wins of any team on the cusp of the playoff. Most importantly, though, one of their biggest threats, the No. 6 ranked Oregon Ducks, lost at home to the Washington Huskies, ending their playoff chances.

Then there was Tennessee football’s performance itself, which was a 66-24 thrashing of the Missouri Tigers. Sure, they’ll still be No. 5 in this week’s rankings, but with the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines and No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes facing each other, they control their own destiny, right?

Wrong. In spite of all of those things happening Saturday, the Vols playoff chances went down, according to the ESPN FPI. Ironically, they went up, to 64 percent, after their loss to Georgia. They went down this past weekend to 57 percent.

What changed? Well, the TCU Horned Frogs complicated things. TCU beating the Texas Longhorns on the road, fairly convincingly despite that 17-10 score, now guarantees that they will stay ahead of the Vols given their undefeated record. It’s much more likely that they’ll finish undefeated too.

That means the Vols, if everything stays the same, have to hope they leapfrog the loser of Michigan and Ohio State. Honestly, that’s not a guarantee. For starters, that loss is equally as good as the Vols’ loss to UGA, even if UGA is technically ranked higher the next week. It’s effectively the same.

More importantly, if Michigan is the one to lose, they will have lost a road game, just like UT. The playoff committee will likely then go by who was closer in their loss, and if Michigan puts up a fight after UT got trounced by Georgia, they’ll have a much better argument.

Simply put, the Vols now have to hope TCU gets upset by an unranked team over the next two weeks or one of two things happens between Michigan and Ohio State: Michigan wins or loses in a blowout. That’s not the best position to be in.

Then there are the other teams threatening that may have a chance. In addition to Oregon, the UCLA Bruins lost their second game, leaving the USC Trojans, with one loss, as the only Pac-12 team that has a shot at the playoff. USC’s one loss is to the Utah Utes, not as good as Georgia, but it was on the road.

If USC wins out, they will score three more quality wins over UCLA, a Notre Dame Fighting Irish team now in the top 20 and the Pac-12 Championship game over another ranked team. They will have a case over the Vols by that point, and the committee is supposed to give extra credence to conference champions.

As a result, the Vols now need to root against USC. One more league is left, though, and it’s the ACC. The Clemson Tigers and North Carolina Tar Heels both have one loss, to Notre Dame at home. However, ND looks like a rising program, so that’s not a bad loss anymore.

If Clemson wins out, they will beat UNC and finish with four top 25 wins. Wouldn’t that make a strong case for them, especially as conference champions? It’s probably harder with UNC, but they do have the N.C. State Wolfpack and then Clemson in the ACC title game, so two quality wins could be coming.

Next. Top five Vols performers in 66-24 win vs. Missouri. dark

Taking all of this into account, Tennessee football’s road to the playoff just got tougher, not easier. Clemson and UNC are probably long shots to surpass them. However, TCU, USC, Michigan and Ohio State are all now obstacles. The Vols need TCU and USC to lose. If neither happens, they need Michigan to beat Ohio State or get blown out.