Tennessee Bowl Projections: 7-5, What’s Next?

Tennessee Bowl Projections: 7-5, What’s Next?

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At the start of fall camp, our GRT Expected Win Total Machine came back at an average of 6.9 wins. We ran it again the week leading up to Georgia State, and August optimism drove it north to 7.2.

And then it hung out in the twos and threes for a while.

But here, at the end, Tennessee may have gotten the most bang for their 7-5 buck: a 6-1 run, the only loss a could’ve-been at Bama, and lessons one might not have learned along any other way. Not all 7-5’s are created equal; if you’re looking for the one that helps Tennessee most in 2020, this might be it.

But first, the final piece of 2019’s puzzle. And there’s a chance it too could be the one that helps the Vols most next season: January 1 in Florida should mean a shot at the most meaningful victory of the year.

The Straightforward Path & Four SEC Teams in the CFP/NY6

No drama, all chalk this week could lead us to something like this:

  • College Football Playoff: Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma/Utah
  • Sugar: Georgia vs Oklahoma/Baylor
  • Rose: Penn State vs Utah/Oregon
  • Orange: Florida vs Virginia
  • Cotton: Alabama vs Group of Five

(For more on automatic bids and the SEC selection process, see last week’s bowl projections)

Automatic bids leave few questions here. After the four playoff teams, only two at-large selections are available: the highest-ranked SEC/Big Ten team to go opposite an ACC school in Miami, and the highest-ranked remaining team to face the best Group of Five team in JerryWorld. If Penn State is ranked higher than Wisconsin in the final College Football Playoff poll, the Nittany Lions will go to the Rose Bowl and clear the path for both Florida and Alabama to play in the New Year’s Six.

If this happens, Auburn will go to the Citrus Bowl. From there, the SEC’s Group of Six will choose between Tennessee, Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Mississippi State.

Last week, the assumption was the Outback Bowl would take 7-5 Texas A&M with losses to Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and LSU. But the Aggies were non-competitive in a 50-7 loss, and have become popular in projections to stay home and play in the Texas Bowl. Remember: A&M played in the Gator Bowl last year. That performance against LSU makes them even less likely to return there in my opinion.

If, in fact, Tennessee is now more desirable than Texas A&M, the Aggies could go to Houston and clear a path to Tennessee in Tampa. The only way I can see the Vols in the Outback Bowl is if four SEC teams are in the CFP/NY6. Getting four there means the Big Ten gets just two, which we’ll assume to be Ohio State and Penn State. That scenario should then send Wisconsin to the Citrus Bowl, where they haven’t been since 2014. And that would make Minnesota the most likely opponent in the Outback Bowl: the Gophers have never played in Tampa, and simplifies what comes next with Iowa and Michigan available for the Holiday and Gator Bowls. Tennessee vs Minnesota (currently #15 in the AP poll) in the Outback Bowl is now the projection from both ESPN analysts.

What to watch here on Tuesday: how close are Penn State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the College Football Playoff poll? Does the committee reward Minnesota’s head-to-head win over Penn State the way the AP poll did not (PSU 12, Minnesota 15)? Is Wisconsin so far up the ladder that a competitive game with Ohio State could keep them in the New Year’s Six mix?

What if only three SEC teams make the CFP/NY6?

Let’s say the playoff committee really takes it out on Alabama and drops the Tide way down the list and out of New Year’s Six contention. If a Big Ten team earns an at-large bid to the Orange or Cotton, the quality of opponent other SEC teams would face will drop, and we’re all going back one in the pecking order without a fourth SEC team in the CFP/NY6.

In this scenario, let’s say Wisconsin plays a close game with Ohio State and stays ahead of Alabama in the final poll. The Badgers go to the Cotton Bowl, knocking the Tide back to the Citrus Bowl. That knocks Auburn to the Outback Bowl, and would in all likelihood send the Vols to Jacksonville. The Big Ten pecking order then goes like this: Minnesota to the Citrus Bowl, then a real conundrum for the Outback Bowl. The last three years Tampa had Iowa, Michigan, and Iowa. The Big Ten has written rules to push for five different teams in their second-tier bowls in six years. But the drop-off from Michigan and Iowa to everyone else is steep. If they just kept it straightforward, you’d have Michigan in the Outback Bowl, Iowa in the Holiday Bowl and Indiana in the Gator Bowl. This is the scenario 247 takes for Tennessee: Vols vs Hoosiers in Jacksonville. Jason Kirk at Banner Society still has the Vols in Charlotte for reasons that are unclear to me, but does make the ACC/Big Ten swap we discussed last week to send Indiana to the Music City Bowl to face Kentucky (win-win). This week Jason sends Florida State instead of Virginia Tech to the Gator Bowl, where he has them playing Western Kentucky. I cannot fathom the SEC sending the Vols to Charlotte but leaving Jacksonville void.

So, to recap:

  • If the SEC gets four teams in the CFP/NY6, the Vols would be a favorite for the Outback Bowl in Tampa, with #15 Minnesota the most likely opponent. This scenario likely depends on Texas A&M going to the Texas Bowl.
  • If the SEC gets three teams in the CFP/NY6, the Vols would be a favorite for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, with Indiana or an ACC #3 substitute like Florida State or Virginia Tech the most likely opponent.
  • On Tuesday, keep an eye on Penn State and Alabama in the College Football Playoff poll. I think you want Alabama still in range for the New Year’s Six, and Penn State in position to make the Rose Bowl over Minnesota and Wisconsin after they presumably lose to Ohio State.

More to come after Tuesday night.

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Alyas Grey
Alyas Grey
8 months ago

The bowl discussion, and the consistent predictions/game summaries this season, has convinced me several folks in “sports journalism” don’t have any clue at all what they’re doing and are either overworked or complacent.

CFN has us in the Liberty Bowl with UK in the Gator. That’s just weird. Charlotte isn’t happening unless the SEC office and the bowls do some weird swapping around of teams, but I can’t believe that ANY bowl would take MSU or UK ahead of Tennessee.

Joel Hollingsworth
Joel Hollingsworth
8 months ago

Early SPM estimates for these possible games (without any analysis or eyeball adjustments):

Tennessee 20.9, Minnesota 37.3
Minnesota -16.4

Tennessee 32.7, Indiana 35.5
Indiana -2.8

Tennessee 34.1, Virginia Tech 36.9
Virginia Tech -2.8

Tennessee 25.8, Florida State 20.7
Tennessee -5.1

Isaac Bishop
Isaac Bishop
8 months ago

When I saw Banner Society’s bowl picks I knew you were going to bring up the FSU vs WKU matchup. I have no earthly idea why the SEC would rather fill the Charlotte slot than a Florida game unless theirs some clause where certain bowls must be filled and for some reason Belk gets priority over Gator? I don’t know, really tempted to ask why he thinks that way but I don’t like using Twitter.