Second loss drops Vols in latest College Football Playoff rankings

The stunning loss at South Carolina last week ended Tennessee’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff and playing for a national championship, but the new CFP rankings still matter in terms of how this season could conclude. After the 63-38 loss in Columbia to the unranked Gamecocks, the Vols dropped five spots to No. 10 when the Playoff Committee unveiled its latest top 25 on Tuesday night. Despite the drop after its second loss, Tennessee remains firmly in the picture for a potential New Year’s Six bowl – those four high-profile games are slotted based on the final CFP rankings.

Tennessee was a more than three-touchdown favorite going into the game against South Carolina, which was 6-4 and coming off a 32-point loss at Florida. But the Gamecocks delivered a huge shock, going up and down on the field on a hapless Vols defense en route to 606 yards and 63 points. Tennessee threatened to make a game of it after falling behind 21-7 after the first quarter and 35-17 in the second quarter, but South Carolina scored four straight touchdowns after the visitors made it 35-31 midway through the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter the Vols lost star quarterback Hendon Hooker to a torn ACL, an injury bringing his brilliant season and college career to an end.

Josh Heupel’s Vols can still grab a 10th regular-season win and potentially secure a New Year’s Six berth – the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the Orange Bowl in Miami and the Cotton Bowl in Texas are the possible outcomes – if they win at Vanderbilt on Saturday night.


“Coach Heupel, he stated it in the team meeting on Sunday: We still have a lot to play for,” running back Jabari Small said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s definitely a goal of ours and getting 10 wins, which is something that hasn’t been done in a long time, so we have a lot to play for. Those are some bowl games that we’re very excited about getting the opportunity to play in.”

Ramel Keyton (Photo: Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

An 8-0 start including wins against Florida and Alabama at home and a 27-point victory at eventual SEC West winner LSU saw Tennessee land at No. 1 in the initial CFP rankings. After two losses in three weeks, though, the Vols will become just the second team to be ranked No. 1 in the first rankings to miss the Playoff, joining 2014 Mississippi State. The 27-13 loss at Georgia saw Tennessee drop four spots to No. 5, leaving the Vols in great position to make the Playoff had they won out.

After crushing Missouri 66-24 in the home finale at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee’s road struggles emerged again as South Carolina started fast and never let up, forcing the Vols to allow 60+ points in a game for the first time since 1995 and scoring so much even the nation’s no. 1 offense couldn’t keep up.

The nature of the loss surely is what prompted Tennessee to fall behind an Alabama team that lost to the Vols in October and had its best win lose value after Ole Miss was crushed at Arkansas, but it is notable that Tennessee landed ahead of Penn State even though Oregon moved ahead of the Vols.

In terms of landing in the New Year’s Six, the situation remains the same as it was with the Playoff for Tennessee – the Vols have to pick up the pieces from last week’s debacle and handle their business by beating a Vanderbilt team coming off wins against Kentucky and Florida, ending a 26-game SEC losing streak with a winning streak.

“We’ve got to make sure we come out and play better this week, but I think a lot of stuff is still ahead of us,” offensive lineman Cooper Mays said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve got a lot of good things going. It’s been a long year, but I think it’s been a pretty good year in comparison to what we usually have done recently. I think there’s a lot of stuff to play for and we’ve just got to rally together a little bit and have a sense of pride about us.”

CFP COMMITTEE RANKINGS (November 22)

1. Georgia (11-0)
2. Ohio State (11-0)
3. Michigan (11-0)
4. TCU (11-0)
5. LSU (9-2)
6. Southern California (10-1)
7. Alabama (9-2)
8. Clemson (10-1)
9. Oregon (9-2)
10. Tennessee (9-2)
11. Penn State (9-2)
12. Kansas State (8-3)
13. Washington (9-2)
14. Utah (8-3)
15. Notre Dame (8-3)
16. Florida State (8-3)
17. North Carolina (9-2)
18. UCLA (8-3)
19. Tulane (9-2)
20. Ole Miss (8-3)
21. Oregon State (8-3)
22. UCF (8-3)
23. Texas (7-4)
24. Cincinnati (9-2)
25. Louisville (7-4)

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