We’re keeping regular tabs on the updated bowl projections for the Vols and we’ll throw in our own thoughts as the rest of the season unfolds:
ESPN (McMurphy): Citrus Bowl vs. North Carolina
ESPN (Schlabach): Citrus Bowl vs. Florida State
CBS: (Palm): Citrus Bowl vs. Florida State
SBNation (Kirk): Citrus Bowl vs. North Carolina
RTI’s take: It looks like there’s some national consensus that Tennessee is most likely headed to the Citrus Bowl, at least at this point. And we agree that there is a decent shot that it happens.
The Citrus Bowl gets its pick of any SEC team not in the New Year’s Six bowls or the playoffs. Standings don’t necessarily matter. It can choose the team that will give it the best matchup against an ACC or Big 10 team, and UT, which hasn’t been to Orlando since 2002, could be an intriguing option to match against a team like Florida State, Penn State, Nebraska or somebody along those lines.
There’s still a lot of football to be played, however. A loss to Missouri and/or Vanderbilt would obviously change the narrative. And the Sugar Bowl isn’t 100% out of reach at this point either. Tennessee is guaranteed to go to New Orleans if it wins the SEC outright. But the Vols still could end up in the Sugar Bowl even without an SEC crown.
Since it’s all but certain that Alabama will be in the playoffs, the Sugar Bowl then would take the highest remaining SEC team in the College Football Playoff rankings – the poll Tennessee checked in at No. 19 in earlier this week. You may not have cared a ton about that ranking, but it is actually significant. There are five SEC teams that are realistically vying to claim the Sugar Bowl spot, assuming Alabama goes on and wins the SEC – Auburn (15), LSU (16), UT (19), Florida (23) and Texas A&M (25).
Tennessee has the easiest regular-season slate remaining of those teams by a wide margin, but that also takes away opportunities for quality wins. And how would the committee just UT in the rankings if it makes it to Atlanta and loses to Alabama? Same question goes for Florida. It’s really too early to project who will finish on top from those five teams, but the point remains that UT remains in the hunt to go to New Orleans, even without going to Atlanta and beating Alabama.
So a lot remains in play for the Vols with two or three games remaining. Realistically anything from the Sugar Bowl to the Music City Bowl is still on the table.