Win totals are at the bottom if you want to finish the run, but Tennessee’s schedule should leave everyone somewhere between 6.8-7.0 wins. With one ranked win in hand and a pair of satisfying blowouts behind it, the Vols can get one more opportunity at a win that resonates in the postseason. And there, 7-5 can still lead to 8-5, which would be the best year one record for any coach here since Phillip Fulmer.
So first the path, then the projections:
You want as many SEC teams in the CFP/NY6 as possible. The working assumption here is Georgia and Alabama are in there somewhere, and Ole Miss can be too if they win out. Those three in the CFP/NY6 should leave Texas A&M in the Citrus Bowl if the Aggies beat LSU to finish. Little has been clean this year other than Georgia at the top, but that’s the simplest version to get us to the group of six, where the Vols should find themselves.
That, of course, is the Outback, Gator, Music City, Belk/Mayo, Liberty, and Texas Bowls. Among those six, if the above scenario holds, you’ll have some combination of:
- Arkansas (7-3, at Alabama, vs Missouri)
- Kentucky (7-3, New Mexico State, at Louisville)
- Mississippi State (6-4, Tennessee State, Ole Miss)
- Auburn (6-4, at South Carolina, Alabama)
- Tennessee (5-5, South Alabama, Vanderbilt)
- Florida (5-5, at Missouri, Florida State)
- Missouri (5-5, Florida, at Arkansas)
- South Carolina (5-5, Auburn, Clemson)
- LSU (4-6, LA Monroe, Texas A&M)
So there’s still a bit of work to do here, including, of course, Tennessee finishing strong. Outcomes of particular importance here include Alabama winning out to stay in the CFP/NY6, Ole Miss winning the Egg Bowl for the same reason, and any additional losses for teams with a chance to finish better than 7-5 in that group.
The line is that the league office works with the schools and the bowls to make “assignments” for those six bowls. It doesn’t always go the way you think – see Tennessee’s pair of assignments to the Gator Bowl at 6-6, to our benefit – but the Vols should be well positioned if they finish at 7-5.
Could Tennessee get as high as the Outback Bowl, the most prestigious of that group? You’d need some particular madness, like Arkansas losing out and Louisville over Kentucky. But as it’s not impossible, we’ve included all six bowls in the grid below. Just keep in mind that no one actually doing projections is sending the Vols to Tampa. A couple send the Vols to Jacksonville, but most like Nashville or Charlotte. The Belk/Mayo Bowl is particularly interesting because the Vols may be “competing” with a bunch of teams from the SEC West, so geography may send Tennessee to North Carolina.
Here’s the list of potential opponents in these six bowls:
|ESPN Bonagura||Wisc||NC State||Penn St||Miami||Kansas St||Iowa St|
|ESPN Schlabach||Iowa||Clemson||Minn||UNC||Kansas St||Iowa St|
|McMurphy||Penn St||Clemson||Minn||UNC||Texas Tech||Iowa St|
|CBS||Wisc||UNC||Penn St||NC State||West VA||Kansas St|
|247 Sports||Iowa||Pittsburgh||Wisc||VA Tech||West VA||Kansas St|
|Athlon||Wisc||Clemson||Minn||NC State||West VA||Kansas St|
|College Football News||Iowa||Clemson||Minn||UNC||West VA||Iowa St|
(If the chart looks weird on your phone, try landscape)
There’s a lot left to figure out. But chances are better than not that Tennessee is going to play someone on this list.
And if the Vols find themselves in Tampa, Jacksonville, Nashville, or Charlotte, there are plenty of enticing matchups. Anything in the Outback Bowl would be a win. Nashville is its own bonus, but the chance to play Penn State or Wisconsin could be a definite additional step for the program to end year one. Clemson remains the favorite among fans I’m sure, but an Auburn/Clemson matchup might be too much for Jacksonville to pass up if they have a say in it. But a shot at Miami or North Carolina in Charlotte would also stir interest among Tennessee fans.
At this point, what you want is opportunity. And there’s plenty still out there if the Vols handle their own business the next two weeks.