Tennessee held at No. 5 in the third College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, as the Top 5 remained unchanged.
Georgia remained at No. 1 in the rankings, followed by Ohio State, Michigan and TCU, in that order, as the nation’s four unbeaten teams. Tennessee is the top-ranked one-loss team at No. 5, followed by two-loss LSU in sixth and one-loss Southern Cal in seventh.
Although currently on the outside looking in at the playoff standings, most insiders believe the Vols are in a good position to make the playoffs despite not being conference champions. Georgia and LSU will play for the SEC championship on Dec. 2.
However, Tennessee does not control its own destiny; ESPN pointed out Tuesday that the Vols will face increased scrutiny since they will not win their conference or their division. There is precedent for making the playoffs in Tennessee’s situation; Ohio State did it in 2016 and Alabama did it in 2017.
There are three scenarios that could likely prevent the Vols from making the playoffs:
- The Ohio State-Michigan game is close. The Buckeyes and the Wolverines will square off in the final week of the regular season, Thanksgiving weekend. Tennessee fell from No. 1 to No. 5 in the standings after a two-touchdown loss to Georgia, and many experts feel the Vols’ best road to the playoffs involves leap-frogging the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game. However, if the game is close — perhaps decided by a touchdown or less — it’s possible that both teams remain ranked ahead of Tennessee, even though the Vols’ overall resume will be more impressive than the loser’s. This scenario becomes moot if TCU loses a game. Much to UT fans’ dismay, the Horned Frogs held off Texas 17-10 in a road game last weekend. They’re a 3-point favorite to defeat Baylor this weekend, and their next challenge will come in the Big 12 championship game.
- Southern Cal wins out. Tennessee’s playoff chances improved last week when two of the Pac-12’s one-loss teams suffered defeats. Washington defeated Oregon, which was nipping at the Vols’ heels in the polls, and UCLA also fell. That leaves USC as the last one-loss team in the Pac-12. If the Trojans win a conference championship, there will be a push for them to make the playoffs ahead of Tennessee. Can they do it? They face UCLA this weekend, in a game that UT fans are sure to be watching.
- LSU wins the SEC championship. Tennessee throttled LSU when the two teams met in Baton Rouge earlier this season, winning 40-13. But LSU has been dominant since then, and has risen to No. 6 in the standings. The Tigers have two losses, including the lopsided loss to Tennessee, but would almost certainly leapfrog the Vols in the standings if they’re able to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
So at this point, with three weeks remaining before everything is settled, these are the games that Vols fans will be keeping an eye on, in the order they’ll be played: TCU vs. Baylor, USC vs. UCLA, Ohio State vs. Michigan, and Georgia vs. LSU.
Of course, from Tennessee’s perspective, it all becomes moot if the Vols lose again, which means this weekend’s game at South Carolina and the next at Vanderbilt are the most important games of all. Because, let’s face it: A playoff bid would be nice, but if it can’t happen, so would a Sugar Bowl bid against Kansas State or an Orange Bowl bid against Clemson.