Making a bowl game is still an unlikely task for Jeremy Pruitt’s second Tennessee squad, but their chances of doing so only increased after Saturday’s impressive result against Mississippi State.
The Vols improved to 2-4 on the season and picked up their first SEC victory of the year with a 20-10 win over the Bulldogs. Tennessee led from start to finish, though the game remained close throughout. UT never held more than a 10-point lead at any point in the game. But thanks to a stifling defense and timely plays from the Vols’ rushing attack, Tennessee was able to put away Mississippi State.
That win has boosted Tennessee’s chances of getting six wins and making it to their first bowl game since 2016. The odds are still stacked against the Vols, however.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Vols are only favored to win in two of their remaining six games on the season. The FPI gives Tennessee an 85.2 percent shot at beating UAB on November 2nd and gives UT an 85.5 percent chance of defeating lowly Vanderbilt at the end of the regular season.
Aside from those games, Tennessee is a pretty significant underdog in terms of the FPI projections.
The Vols only have a 2.6 percent chance of beating Alabama according to the FPI, and those projections only give Tennessee an 18.9 percent shot at getting a win on the road against Missouri.
Tennessee’s upcoming match-up with South Carolina in two weeks has swung drastically in the Gamecocks’ favor after their upset win over No. 3 Georgia. South Carolina is now favored by 66.4 percent to beat Tennessee, although starting freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s status for that game is unknown at this time. The Vols also have just a 38 percent chance of beating Kentucky on the road on November 9th.
Still, the Vols did see a decent jump in their FPI ranking after their win against the Bulldogs. Tennessee was ranked outside the top 50 teams in the FPI before Saturday, and their win over Mississippi State pushed them to No. 48 in the updated rankings. Mississippi State was a top-30 FPI team when Tennessee beat them, and they managed to stay just inside that mark, coming in at No. 30 in the rankings.
Of Tennessee’s remaining schedule, only three teams (Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina) are ranked inside the top 30 of the FPI.
Over on TeamRankings.com, Tennessee’s chances of making a bowl game sat at a mere five percent before their match-up with Georgia two weeks ago. Now with a win over Mississippi State, the Vols’ odds of getting to bowl eligibility have jumped to 12.1 percent, and Tennessee’s “most likely outcome” has shifted from 3-9 to 4-8.
According to the Team Rankings projections, the Vols have a 38.8 percent chance of finishing 4-8, a 30.7 percent chance of finishing 5-7, a 15.9 percent chance of going 3-9, and a 10.7 percent chance of finishing 6-6. Their formula gives Tennessee just a 1.4 percent shot of going 7-5 to end the season, which would mean likely losing to Alabama this upcoming weekend then finishing the season on a five-game winning streak.
TeamRankings.com would consider Tennessee getting a 6-6 record this season a “miracle” by their tabulations. A “miracle” finish a week ago for Tennessee was a 5-7 record. A finish with “good luck” would put the Vols at 5-7, and the “most likely” finish or a finish even with some “bad luck” would be 4-8.
All in all, Team Rankings gives Tennessee an 85.2 percent chance of beating Vanderbilt and an 81.9 percent shot at defeating UAB. The Vols have a 32.5 percent chance of getting a win against Kentucky and a 25.5 percent chance of taking down South Carolina.
Against Missouri, Team Rankings gives Tennessee only an 8.6 percent chance of winning. Against Alabama, that percentage is less than one, coming in at 0.5 percent.
Overall, Tennessee’s odds of making a bowl game in 2019 still aren’t great, but getting an upset victory over Mississippi State boosted those minuscule chances into something a little more conceivable.
Still, in order for the Vols to get to postseason play in Year 2 under Pruitt, Tennessee is going to have to pull off at least a couple more upsets along the way according to these projections.