KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A week ago, it appeared that Memphis was the most likely destination — perhaps the only destination — if Tennessee manages to win its final two games and become bowl eligible.
But a fresh round of projections indicates that the Music City Bowl in Nashville could still be in the mix.
You can see the projected standings and bowl match-ups below. I differ with national analysts mainly by projecting Missouri to win out and make a higher-tier bowl, while predicting that Texas A&M will lose out.
But that doesn’t concern Tennessee. What could impact the Vols is how Georgia finishes the season. Using Sagarin ratings, I’m projecting Georgia to lose to both Auburn and Georgia Tech, which would drop the Bulldogs to seven wins and cause them to plummet in the bowl pecking order.
If Georgia wins at least one of those games, it would ensure that the Vols would be competing with at least one eight-win team for the Music City Bowl.
Here’s how I came up with the projections…
Projected standings, with results according to Sagarin ratings*
Missouri: 11-2, 7-1 (beat Ole Miss, Texas A&M, lose to Alabama in SEC championship game)
South Carolina: 10-2, 6-2 (beat Florida, Coastal Carolina, Clemson)
Georgia: 7-5, 5-3 (lose to Auburn, beat Kentucky, lose to Georgia Tech)
Vanderbilt: 7-5, 3-5 (beats Kentucky, loses to Tennessee, beats Wake Forest)
Tennessee: 6-6, 3-5 (beats Vanderbilt, Kentucky)
Florida: 5-7, 3-5 (lose to South Carolina, beat Ga. Southern, lose to Florida State)
Kentucky: 2-10, 0-8 (lose to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee)
Alabama: 13-0, 8-0 (beats MSU, Chattanooga, Auburn and Missouri in SEC championship game)
Auburn: 10-2, 6-2 (beats Georgia, loses to Alabama)
LSU: 9-3, 5-3 (beats Texas A&M, Arkansas)
Texas A&M: 8-4, 4-4 (loses to LSU, Missouri)
Ole Miss: 8-4, 4-4 (beats Troy, loses to Missouri, beats Miss. State)
Mississippi State: 5-7, 2-6 (lose to Alabama, beat Arkansas, lose to Ole Miss)
Arkansas: 3-9, 0-8 (lose to Mississippi State, LSU)
* The Sagarin predictor ratings give Vanderbilt a slight edge over UT, but for the purposes of this blog, we are assuming that the Vols become bowl eligible.
BCS Championship, Pasadena, Calif.: Alabama makes it here if the Tide wins out. This doesn’t look like a good year for a one-loss team, but never say never. My pick: Alabama. Other picks: Pretty much all Alabama.
Sugar, New Orleans: Missouri might deserve it, but Auburn’s larger fanbase and compelling come-back story make it a more logical bet for an at-large BCS berth. My pick: Auburn. Other picks: South Carolina, Auburn.
Capital One, Orlando: South Carolina might be the greatest threat to jump over Missouri for this bowl. Depending on how the season plays out, LSU and Texas A&M could also be options. My pick: Missouri. Other picks: Texas A&M, South Carolina.
Cotton, Arlington, Texas: The Cotton usually takes a West team, while the Outback takes the East, although that’s not written in stone. LSU and Texas A&M would both be viable options, but the Aggies have been here two of the last three years. My pick: LSU. Other picks: LSU, Texas A&M.
Outback, Tampa: South Carolina would be a good fit here if still on the board, but the Gamecocks were here only a year ago. Would the Outback try a West team for a change of pace? My pick: South Carolina. Other picks: Missouri, Missouri.
Chick-Fil-A, Atlanta: Ole Miss hasn’t played here since 1971. For a bowl that frequently suffers from same-old-team fatigue, that makes the Rebels a compelling pick. My pick: Ole Miss. Other picks: Georgia, Texas A&M.
Gator, Jacksonville, Fla: This is the last sort-of-warm-weather bowl. If Texas A&M is still around, the Aggies are a logical choice. Most projections seem to think the Aggies will pick up one more regular season win and be gone by now. My pick: Texas A&M. Other picks: Auburn, Georgia, LSU.
Starting here is where it gets interesting for Tennessee.
Music City, Nashville: Under the current projections, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee would all be in the mix here. The Vols would almost certainly be the most attractive pick. It would be tough to turn down a eight-win team to take the 6-6 Vols. But choosing UT over a 7-5 team it just beat (Vandy), or a 7-5 team it almost beat (Georgia) is a much easier sell. My pick: Tennessee. Other picks: Ole Miss, Ole Miss.
Liberty Bowl, Memphis: An easy call for the Liberty Bowl if the Vols are available, but a somewhat more difficult choice when it’s Vandy or Georgia. My pick: Georgia. Other picks: Tennessee, Vanderbilt.
For most fans, the difference between a trip to the Liberty Bowl and a trip to the Music City Bowl isn’t a huge deal. They’re both large cities with nice downtown entertainment districts. They’re both probably going to be cold in late December. Nashville is a more convenient trip for those in eastern or Tennessee, but Memphis might be more doable for fans in other parts of the South.
Tennessee has played in the Music City Bowl once, losing to North Carolina 30-27 after the 2010 season. The Vols are 3-0 in the Liberty Bowl, but haven’t been there since beating Minnesota 21-14 in 1986.
All this talk is contingent on the Vols beating Vanderbilt on Nov. 23 and Kentucky on Nov. 30 to earn a bowl trip. Given UT’s recent struggles, that’s far from certain.