Jim Mora could not say it better. Yes we are talking PLAYOFFS!
In the short history of the College Football Playoff, there has never been a two-loss team make the field of four.
There has been one key reason for that being the case. The Southeastern Conference has not had a champion with more than one loss during the two years in which the playoffs have been in existence. Will this be the year that might happen?
Even after the 49-10 beat down at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide as crazy as it might seem, Tennessee is talented enough to win an SEC championship if it can get enough of its key pieces back from injury. If the Volunteers win-out — they will be heavily favored in their final four SEC games to do — and Florida falters in a league game, the Vols head to Atlanta with a 10-2 record assuming a win over Tennessee Tech.
It appears that the opponent will be a rematch against the winner of Alabama-Texas A&M. Alabama is heavily favored in the October 22nd match up. Whoever the opponent, that would likely be Tennessee's third game verses a top 10 team, which is significant.
Looking at the teams in the playoff hunt, that picture is more clear than one might think. At this point, the Big Ten champion appears to be assured of a spot in the final four. That's likely the winner of Michigan-Ohio State.
The winner of the ACC is also in solid shape if that school is named Clemson or Louisville. Washington is going to be a selection from the Pac-12 if it wins out. That leaves the final spot for the SEC or the Big 12 Champion. If the SEC champion has one or less losses that team is assured of a spot.
The CFP selection committee has tried to clarify their selection process as of late and below is the criteria taken from www.collegefootballplayoff.com:
When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:
- Championships won
- Strength of schedule
- Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
- Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
What kind of résumé would an 11-2 SEC champion in Tennessee have when using that criteria? If the committee is serious about rewarding conference champions like it has listed at the top of its criteria, then Tennessee would be in great shape for a spot over the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game or a one-loss Louisville that didn't win the ACC.
When considering strength of schedule, it is clear that Tennessee would easily win using that consideration as the Vols currently have a top 5 strength of schedule.
Head-to-head nor comparative outcomes would be a factor when considering Tennessee and the other teams mentioned as neither is applicable.
As long as the committee follows the criteria it has set, an 11-2 SEC champion has a major argument to get in over a 11-1 Michigan, Ohio State or Louisville that did not make their conference championship game and also get in over an 11-1 Alabama or Texas A&M team it would have just beaten in Atlanta.
What is the biggest hurdle for a two-loss Tennessee grabbing that final spot? That appears to be Baylor out of the Big 12. If Baylor runs the table and wins the Big 12 that would severely hurt any chance the Vols would have to make the field. A one-loss Baylor team that wins the Big 12 would be an interesting argument but the strength of schedule argument would give the Vols a leg to stand on. The same could be said about Washington if it should stumble once in the Pac-12.
Another glaring hurdle the Vols must overcome is the blow out loss to Alabama 49-10. Tennessee will need to hope the committee takes into account the long list of injuries and believes the game was not true representation of the Volunteers team. In the past it has been widely reported that the NCAA basketball selection committee takes into account injuries and the Vols will have to keep their fingers crossed the same would be the case with this committee. Tennessee certainly will need nearly all the list of injured players to return to the lineup to have any realistic chance to pull off a massive upset in Atlanta if that opponent is Alabama.
It has been less than a decade where we saw a two-loss SEC champion win a national championship (LSU, 2007 season) and that was with only two teams being matched up by the BCS. This year might very well be the first time the nation sees a two-loss team make the final four field. Don't count the Vols out of making a strong push in the second half of the year as they have a strong history of making things extremely interesting in the second halves.