3 Past Seasons the Vols Would’ve Made the CFP

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    Record: 9-1-2
    Final AP ranking: No. 4
    Bowl: Sugar vs. No. 4 Miami

    Heading into their Sugar Bowl tilt with No. 2 Miami in New Orleans, there was little confidence that Tennessee could pull off of the upset.

    The Hurricanes had dominated the 1980s, winning national championships in 1983 — and they would go on to win another in 1987 — in dominating fashion. In 1985, they were going for what would have been their second national title of the decade at the time, and the Vols were the only thing standing in the way.

    Tennessee had claimed the SEC championship by default because Florida was on probation for NCAA violations. The Vols and Gators shared the same record in conference play at 5-1-0, but Florida had won the head-to-head meeting in Gainesville earlier that season by a touchdown, 17-10.

    Because Florida was banned from the postseason, Tennessee took their Sugar Bowl spot.

    The Vols came in at No. 8 in the last AP Poll before the bowl game, coming in behind Air Force, Michigan, Nebraska, and Iowa. If strength of schedule is any factor in deciding who makes the College Football Playoff and who doesn’t, Tennessee had a better argument than a few of the teams ahead of them.

    That 1985 season, the Vols faced four ranked opponents, three of which were in the Top 10 when they played each other. Tennessee beat No. 1 Auburn by multiple scores, 38-20, and knocked off No. 15 Alabama, 16-14.

    Tennessee tied twice, once in their season opener against No. 10 UCLA and again against unranked Georgia Tech.

    But even if those teams were more deserving of their regular season ranking, the Vols proved they belonged against Miami, blasting the Hurricanes 35-7 and knocking them out of contention for a national championship. That 1985 Tennessee team is now fondly remembered as the “Sugar Vols” because of that victory.

    It’s not like Miami had nothing to play for, either. Entering that game, Miami was 10-1, with their lone loss coming to No. 5 Florida and having beaten eventual national champion Oklahoma head-to-head. Had the Hurricanes beaten Tennessee, they likely would have been named national champions by the major polls.

    Instead, Tennessee won convincingly, and had it not been for that 6-6 tie against Georgia Tech, would have an argument for the 1985 national title themselves considering they beat the team that beat the eventual national champion.

    Had the Sugar Bowl been a College Football Semifinal, No. 4 Tennessee would have likely played top-ranked and undefeated Penn State instead before playing Oklahoma in the national championship game.