At the end of September, Tennessee’s 2019 football season looked like a lost cause. The Vols were 1-3 and had suffered losses to Georgia State, BYU, and Florida. After the first week of October, Tennessee was 1-4 thanks to a 43-14 loss to Georgia in Knoxville.
Over a month ago, the Vols were given just a five percent chance of making a bowl game by TeamRankings.com. But after Saturday’s 17-13 victory over Kentucky, Tennessee now has a 93.6 percent shot at earning a bid to a bowl game after improving to 5-5 on the year.
Tennessee has gone 4-1 in their last five games, with their only loss coming at the hands of SEC powerhouse Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Otherwise, the Vols have won every game they’ve played after starting the season 1-4. Wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina, UAB, and Kentucky have helped salvage what looked like a disastrous season just six weeks ago.
The Vols were dead to rights after the first month of play this season. Now, there are many reasons for optimism in Knoxville.
Both Team Rankings and the ESPN FPI are very high on the Vols’ chances of getting that sixth win to get to a bowl game, and both projections give UT a pretty decent chance of winning out in the regular season, too. Team Rankings favors the Vols heavily against Vanderbilt in UT’s season finale, giving Tennessee a 92.5 percent chance of winning. Those projections give the Vols a 32.9 percent shot at beating Missouri on the road in two weeks. All in all, Team Rankings gives Tennessee a 31.3 percent chance of winning out and going 7-5.
Those same projections give the Vols a 62.3 percent chance at going 6-6 and splitting their final two regular season games. Team Rankings only gives UT a 6.4 percent shot of losing out and finishing 5-7 for a second-straight year.
As for the Football Power Index on ESPN, those projections feel even better about UT’s chances of winning out. The FPI has UT’s chances of beating Missouri at 40.3 percent and gives the Vols a 90.1 percent shot at defeating Vanderbilt. The FPI gives Tennessee a 36.7 percent likelihood of winning out in the regular season, and their projected record for UT is 6.3-5.7, meaning they’re slightly more likely to go 6-6 than 7-5.
Not only has the Vols’ turnaround and their gritty win over Kentucky given Vol fans renewed optimism about this season, but it’s done the same for those who create bowl projections, too.
Tennessee is now showing up in most of the major media outlets that put out weekly college football bowl projections. The Vols are included in some interesting bowls and intriguing match-ups, too.
On 247Sports, the Vols are projected to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville, Florida. Their opponent? Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.
“Let’s say the Vols beat Mizzou and Vanderbilt to end the regular season 7-5 with five consecutive wins entering bowl season. Tennessee would be an attractive option for Jacksonville,” 247Sports’ analysis says. “Considering the Vols would have the same record as Texas A&M, who played in this game last season, we’ve been told the Gator Bowl committee would favor Orange. That could send the Aggies to the Texas Bowl (or elsewhere).”
The Vols have only played Michigan once in football despite both schools being storied programs in the sport. Tennessee crushed the Wolverines 45-17 in the Citrus Bowl on New Years to end the 2001 season.
Over on ESPN, both Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach are also projecting the Vols to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on January 2nd. Bonagura has Tennessee matched up with Illinois while Schlabach picks the Vols to face-off with Iowa, the same team the Vols played in the TaxSlayer Bowl back after the 2014 season concluded.
On Sporting News, Bill Bender has Tennessee projected to take on the Texas Longhorns in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on December 31st. The two UT schools haven’t played each other since 1969 in the Cotton Bowl, and Tennessee is 1-2 all-time against the Longhorns.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports also has the Vols playing in the Liberty Bowl, except he has Tennessee facing TCU. The Vols haven’t played TCU in several decades either, last playing the Horned Frogs in 1976. UT is 2-0 all-time against TCU.
Tennessee hasn’t made a bowl game since 2016, and it looked like the Vols would be missing out on the postseason once again after the first month of this season. Now, Tennessee is almost virtually locked in as a bowl team with two games remaining in the regular season.