Could Tennessee still make the College Football Playoff with loss to Georgia?

Josh Heupel, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Josh Heupel, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images) /

Here is how Tennessee can still make the College Football Playoff with a road loss to Georgia.

It is a clash of SEC titans on Saturday, and it is going to be very challenging for the loser of No. 1 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia to make the College Football Playoff.

The Vols may be the new No. 1 team in the nation, but they have to play on the road vs. the defending national champions in No. 3 Georgia, a team who has not lost a game in almost a year.

Although Georgia is the slight home favorite in this game, there is still a chance that the loser of this SEC East battle could make it into the College Football Playoff. Now how would that work?

Here is a look at what needs to happen for Tennessee to make the four-team field, despite potentially losing on the road to Georgia on Saturday afternoon.

How Tennessee can still make the College Football Playoff with a loss to Georgia

The best thing Tennessee can do to make the playoff in wake of a Georgia defeat is to win the rest of its games. The Vols would be sizable favorites over fellow SEC East teams in Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. But even if they went 7-1 in SEC play, Tennessee would need Georgia to lose its final two conference games at Mississippi State and at Kentucky to win the SEC East.

While those are two tougher games for Georgia than the final three for Tennessee, that is the only way the Vols get to Atlanta and play in the SEC Championship Game over Georgia. In all likelihood, the winner of that title bout in Atlanta between East and West will be going to the playoff. Of course, a two-loss SEC Champion LSU team would complicate things, but don’t count on it.

In short, Georgia could afford to drop either the Mississippi State or Kentucky game and still win the division to play for a playoff berth, as long as they beat Tennessee and then don’t lose to Georgia Tech in the non-conference. Again, those are harder opponents than what Tennessee has left to face, but the Volunteers would need the Dawgs to drop both of them to get to Atlanta.

As with Georgia, there is still a chance the Vols can make the playoff as an 11-1 (7-1) non-division champion. Tennessee would need undefeated Georgia to beat whoever comes out of the SEC West between Alabama, Ole Miss or even LSU. A 13-0 Georgia really helps Tennessee’s chances of getting in. If the Dawgs fall in Atlanta, that only further complicates things, as they are getting in.

And even if that happens, Tennessee needs to see two Power Five champions be worse than them. In all likelihood, that would have to be among the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 champions. Since every team in the Pac-12 has a loss on the year, it might have to be one of them. As for the Big 12, TCU is still undefeated, but that’s about it. With the ACC, Clemson has not lost and UNC has once.

Of course, there is one other conference Vols fans need to pay attention to regarding the team’s playoff chances should Tennessee lose to Georgia on Saturday. That would be the Big Ten. There is a potential that the Big Ten could get two teams in, especially if the Michigan at Ohio State winner is undefeated and goes on to win the Big Ten, as well as that being the losing team’s only defeat.

As with Georgia, the preferable outcome would be for Ohio State to be undefeated and win the Big Ten. This is because Michigan does not have a strong non-conference schedule. The Vols would be rewarded by playing Pitt in the non-conference, much like Georgia would for playing Oregon if they were in this situation. Regardless, it will be way easier if the Volunteers beat the Dawgs in Athens.

There is a chance a one-loss, non-champion Tennessee gets in, but it will not be an easy pathway.

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