For the first time in a decade, the Vols have a legitimate chance of winning the SEC regular season title. But they’ll need a little help to do so.
Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC regular season title outright since the 2007-08 season when the conference was still just comprised of 12 teams and was still broken up into divisions. The Vols finished 14-2 in conference play that year, edging out Kentucky and Mississippi State who were both 12-4.
Since then, the Vols have finished in second place overall in the conference twice. But both times, they weren’t all that close to bringing home the regular season title. The Vols were 10-6 in SEC play in 2008-09 and were tied with South Carolina and Auburn for the second-best overall record. But LSU finished with a 13-3 mark that season. Tennessee also finished tied for second in 2011-12 after the conference went divisionless. They were 10-6 overall again and tied with Vanderbilt and Florida. But Kentucky went 16-0 in conference play that season.
Now the Vols (21-7, 11-5) are only a game behind Auburn (24-5, 12-4) for at least a share of the regular season title. And if they can win out and Auburn loses out, the title will be Tennessee’s.
For the Vols to at least get a share of the regular season SEC title, they have to win out, no questions asked. Tennessee will need to defeat Mississippi State on the road on Tuesday of this week, and they need to close out the regular season with a win against Georgia as well.
But that’s not all. Tennessee would need to win out, but they would need Auburn to lose at least one of their final two games to tie overall conference records. Auburn would technically own the tiebreaker since they defeated the Vols 94-84 earlier this season. But that tiebreaker is only used for seeding purposes; by rule, the two teams would be co-champions of the regular season title.
If the Vols want an outright championship in the regular season, they would need to win out and have Auburn lose both their remaining games. The Tigers travel to Arkansas on Tuesday and then host South Carolina on Saturday to close out the season.
Auburn has a slightly tougher road ahead when you look at the RPI. Arkansas, their road opponent, has an RPI of 27 and is 14-2 at home. The Vols’ road opponent, Mississippi State, has an RPI of 60 and is 17-1 at home. Tennessee’s home opponent, Georgia, has an RPI of 70 and is 4-8 on the road. South Carolina, Auburn’s home opponent, has an RPI of 73 and is 4-7 on the road.
The odds aren’t in Tennessee’s favor to win the regular season SEC title. But for the first time in a decade, Tennessee is actually in a spot where these types of conversations can be taken seriously. Regardless, the Vols almost have a double-bye wrapped up for the SEC Tournament as they’re all but guaranteed a top four overall seed.
It’s been a while since the Vols have been this good in conference play. And if not for an Auburn team who has been just as surprisingly good this season, Tennessee might already have the conference under wraps.