Tennessee's place in the SEC East race certainly isn't the primary or even secondary story out of Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa, where the Vols were close again and we're left with bitter defeat in the short term and clear progress in the long term. But enough people have asked me about this today to put it out there again. Atlanta isn't likely, but it's not yet impossible. Saturday's loss to Alabama drops the Vols to 1-3 in the SEC with a much easier load on the way in.
Tennessee's path to Atlanta is more straightforward than you may think, with enough games and enough losses at this point to rule out other possibilities.
1. Tennessee wins out. The Vols' remaining SEC schedule: at Kentucky, South Carolina, then homecoming with North Texas, then at Missouri and Vanderbilt in Knoxville to close. As long as Tennessee continues to win in this stretch, they will continue to be favored.
2. Georgia beats Florida on Saturday. The Dawgs had won three straight before Will Muschamp's Gators stunned everyone with a 38-20 win last season. Georgia now controls its own destiny thanks to Tennessee's loss yesterday, so there should still be plenty of fire in Mark Richt's squad coming into this one.
3. Georgia loses vs Kentucky OR at Auburn. We'll need the Dawgs to get a third loss after we picked up our own yesterday to come back even with us at 5-3. What we do not need is Georgia to lose both of these games, unless Florida loses both of theirs in step four below. Tennessee's most likely path is getting in a three-way tiebreaker at 5-3 with Florida and Georgia. That means we need one more Georgia loss here, and...
4. Florida loses vs Vanderbilt OR at South Carolina. One more Florida loss here. If they lose one, it won't matter if they lose the second unless Georgia does.
If this scenario unfolds, we get a three-way tie at 5-3 and we go to the SEC's tiebreakers:
- Head-to-head record among the tied teams, which in this case would be even at 1-1
- Divisional Record...and here, the Vols would win. If all three are even at 5-3, Tennessee would be 5-1 against the East, while Florida would be 4-2. It wouldn't matter if Georgia was 4-2 or 5-1 (thus, it doesn't matter if they lose to Kentucky or Auburn); even if Georgia is 5-1, this tiebreaker would eliminate Florida and send us back to the two-team tiebreaker, which is head-to-head, and the Vols beat Georgia.