Tennessee football: CFB Playoff uncertainty is reaching its climax

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during a game between Tennessee and Missouri in Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.Volsmizzou1112 1558
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during a game between Tennessee and Missouri in Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.Volsmizzou1112 1558 /

Following the College Football Playoff rankings released late Tuesday night, Tennessee football is currently sitting at No. 5 across the board. The Vols were able to get back on track with a 66-24 win against the Missouri Tigers last weekend but still remained unchanged in the CFP.

Still, Rocky Top’s cinderella story is far from over. I say it has only just begun. After starting the season unranked and completely overlooked, the Vols shocked the College Football world with statement win after statement win. Tennessee football has five ranked wins, two of which currently sit within the top eight in the CFP.

The only loss for the Vols came against the No. 1 seed Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., which is the reason they are sitting one spot out of the playoff. How likely is their position in the rankings to change before the playoff is officially set in December?

As expert writer Caleb Calhoun stated in his article, “The best case for the Vols is for either Ohio State to win in a blowout or Michigan to win outright.” A home loss for the Buckeyes, or a blowout loss for the Wolverines, would almost certainly be enough for the Vols to jump either team.

However, let’s focus on a likely scenario in that Ohio State is only able to narrowly defeat Michigan. Most people will probably predict something like that anyway given how both teams are still undefeated. What would this entitle for the Volunteers?

Barring a loss to the Kansas State Wildcats, the TCU Horned Frogs seem likely to win out, so they are likely a shoo-in to the playoff with an undefeated record. With this in mind, three spots in the playoff are likely locked in if the rest of the season plays out the way it should:

  1. Georgia Bulldogs
  2. Ohio State Buckeyes
  3. TCU Horned Frogs
  4. ?

In this scenario, we would have four teams fighting over one spot: Tennessee football, the LSU Tigers, Michigan and the USC Trojans. On Tuesday, the committee made it clear that being in the SEC is extremely valuable. LSU, a two-loss team, was ranked above the Trojans.

That probably means there’s no shot for USC to leap into the No. 4 seed. Even if USC can win the Pac-12 Championship, they will still have no top-10 wins. The Vols, on the other hand, have two top-10 wins, one of which is the team right behind them sitting at No. 6.

LSU has a better chance than USC to make it into the playoff because they get the opportunity to upset Georgia in the SEC Championship. However, is an SEC Championship enough to jump the Vols, who beat them senseless in Baton Rouge by a score of 40-13? Probably not, but there certainly is an argument for this case.

This final playoff spot will likely come down to a runner-up in the SEC or the Big Ten, either the Vols or Michigan, if this scenario plays out. Both teams would be 11-1 with their only loss on the road to one of the top two seeds who would be interchangeable for No. 1.

Losing to No. 1 seed UGA looks better than losing to No. 2 seed Ohio State, but it ultimately doesn’t make much of a difference. If Michigan plays Ohio State close, that argument likely gets thrown away because the Vols did not play Georgia very close.

Should that happen, the argument then comes down to whom the two blue bloods have beaten. As we discussed earlier, the Vols have two wins against teams in the top eight. On the other hand, the Wolverines currently hold 0 wins against teams just in the top 10.

Next. Five Gamecocks to watch for against Vols. dark

Furthermore, the strength of schedule then comes into play. Tennessee football has the No. 3 hardest schedule in all of college football, while the Wolverines have the No. 82 hardest schedule. It’s becoming increasingly obvious the Vols will deserve that No. 4 spot when you take everything into account on the year.