Tennessee Bowl Projections – Championship Week

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What’s a good distraction while we watch the coaching carousel spin? Here are the latest round of bowl projections, with only the championship games left to play.

In the SEC, three teams are locked into the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six. I don’t see any amount of weirdness that would keep Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss out of that equation. If Pitt beats Wake Forest to win the ACC, four of Tennessee’s five losses will have come to teams in the CFP/NY6.

The Citrus Bowl is next, and will have their pick of #23 Arkansas (8-4), #24 Texas A&M (8-4), and #25 Kentucky (9-3). The Wildcats’ win over Louisville may not have helped Tennessee in the bowl equation, but it does present the opportunity for the Vols to get just their seventh win over a team that finishes the year ranked in the last 14 seasons:

  • 2011 #25 Cincinnati
  • 2013 #4 South Carolina
  • 2015 #23 Northwestern
  • 2016 #14 Florida
  • 2016 #16 Virginia Tech
  • 2018 #12 Kentucky

Is there an outcome in Orlando that helps Tennessee the most? Officially or unofficially, the league office isn’t going to reward a 7-5 team over a 9-3 team. If the Cats are getting preference over us either way, I’d say let’s get them out of the way and send them to the Citrus Bowl.

That then brings us to the Group of Six: Outback, Gator, Music City, Mayo, Liberty, Texas. Louisville’s win over Kentucky was almost certainly the final blow for any flickering Outback Bowl hopes. But we have seen Tennessee get in the mix after that in various projections.

In fact, at this point I can’t find anyone projecting Tennessee to the Liberty or Texas Bowls. These things are always unpredictable, but the Vols sure seem like they’re headed to the Gator, Music City, or Mayo Bowl.

Of the three, the Gator certainly carries the most prestige, though it is on December 31 and not January 1 this year. The Music City, of course, carries the best travel option for the largest percentage of Tennessee’s fan base. And the Mayo Bowl would come with some newness, as the Vols have never played in the Belk/Mayo game; Tennessee was in downtown Charlotte to open the 2018 season against West Virginia.

When you break these three down, much of your preference is going to fall to who we’re playing. Here are the projected opponents in the Gator, Music City, and Mayo Bowls from seven sources; Tennessee’s projection is listed in bold:

GatorMusic CityMayo
ESPN BonaguraWake ForestPenn StateMiami
ESPN SchlabachClemsonPurdueVirginia
CBSWake ForestMinnesotaVirginia
College Football NewsWake ForestPurdueVirginia
247 SportsClemsonMinnesotaNorth Carolina
The AthleticWake ForestPurdueNC State
AthlonClemsonPurdueVirginia

The most desirable outcome – Clemson in the Gator Bowl – doesn’t fall Tennessee’s way in any of these. But that doesn’t make it impossible. I will say, if Wake Forest beats Pittsburgh in the ACC title game, the Vols aren’t going to be matched up with the Panthers again. The Cheez-It Bowl has the ACC’s first pick after the NY6, then the Gator, then the Mayo. So a Wake win in the ACC title game could increase the likelihood of Vols vs Clemson…but could also increase the likelihood of Vols in the Music City.

What might feel like the second most desirable outcome – Penn State in Nashville – also isn’t projected anywhere. But you might get a ranked opportunity against Minnesota, who beat Wisconsin on Saturday. The Gophers are also receiving votes in the AP poll, but could sneak into tomorrow’s playoff poll. The same would be true with NC State, currently 21st; Clemson, currently 23rd; and possibly Wake Forest in a loss, currently 18th.

After that, there would be some excitement over catching Miami or North Carolina in Charlotte. The Hurricanes still carry brand value, and the Tar Heels would present an opportunity to right the wrongs of the Music City Bowl 11 years ago.

Any of those games would present an opportunity to elevate the program to various degrees. Nothing would do more for Tennessee than beating Clemson. But a ranked win over Wake Forest, NC State, or Minnesota, or a statement win over Miami, North Carolina, or Penn State would all be helpful.

Some of the other projections wouldn’t carry the same weight, though Vols vs Purdue could be plenty of fun if you like offense. Tennessee hasn’t played Virginia since the January 1, 1991 Sugar Bowl, but the Hoos ended their season with four straight losses to BYU, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Virginia Tech, so what would’ve been an opportunity game now feels more like an anniversary special.

No matter what, a win for Tennessee would lead to an 8-5 finish, which would be the most wins in year one for any Vol squad since Phillip Fulmer’s in 1993. Forward progress is available anywhere…it’s just a question of how much.

Go Vols.

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Isaac Bishop
Isaac Bishop
1 month ago
Reply to  Will Shelton

Whoa that would be awesome to beat out A&M and Arkansas for a more prestigious spot. At first I didn’t want Wisconsin because they looked unstoppable tor a while. Didn’t get to see the game, but that Minnesota loss is really confusing so I’m sure how to feel about them now. I don’t think it makes me more worried about Minnesota though. Purdue and Wisconsin are the only two good teams they’ve beat. I just can’t get past the fact that they lost at home to Bowling Green.. Anyways I’ll take Wisconsin in the Outback or Clemson in the Gator.