Tennessee and Georgia both notched double digit wins over Kentucky and Florida, respectively, and now we are set for what will likely be a number one vs. number two battle in Athens next weekend. Tennessee at Georgia will become one of the biggest college football games in SEC history, not just because both teams are one and two, which is a rarity any time in the season, but also because you simply don’t see many November games featuring undefeated teams in the SEC.
We know Georgia is good, they’re the defending national champions, but what we don’t know, at least not yet, is whether Tennessee has another gear, a national championship level gear they’ll need to be able to reach to win a road game like this. For a team that wasn’t ranked when the season started, the Vols have already soared past their fan base’s wildest dreams. And with games against Missouri, at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt left on the schedule, the last real obstacle to an undefeated regular season — and the first trip to Atlanta for Tennessee since 2007 — is Georgia.
The same is true, by the way, for Georgia, which finishes at Mississippi State — although this could be a bit of a trap game coming off Florida and Tennessee and playing on the road — at Kentucky and then finishing with Georgia Tech. Based on what we saw from Kentucky against Tennessee last night, I don’t think Georgia should be that worried about Kentucky.
If you asked me to compare this Tennessee team through eight games with past stellar SEC teams, I’d say so far Tennessee 2022 looks quite a bit like LSU 2019. Think about it, you’ve got a transfer quarterback who plays at a Heisman level for a team that no one believed was a legit title contender before the season started. You’ve got a team that appears to be improving substantially all season long, especially on defense, as the team’s confidence in its quarterback continues to grow.
Now I’m not saying Hendon Hooker is Joe Burrow, but if you compare Tennessee and LSU’s point totals from 2022 and 2019, Tennessee has put up more points 395 to LSU’s 374 and the Vols have done it against a better schedule so far. That means this Tennessee offense is even more explosive through eight games than the Joe Burrow led LSU offense was in 2019. And the defenses aren’t much different, Tennessee has given up 168 points while LSU gave up 160.
So what happened with that 2019 LSU season once November arrived? The Bayou Bengals went on the road and beat Alabama as an underdog, 46-41. Can Tennessee do the same thing to Georgia? If they can, the comparisons between these two teams are going to become even more frequent.
And I’ll be down there with the Fox pregame show for Big Noon so I can’t wait for the experience in Athens.
But, just for the record, Vegas still isn’t sold on the Vols, Georgia has opened -11.5 in this game.
1. The Michigan-Ohio State undefeated match-up seems highly likely to end the regular season in Columbus.
Ohio State pulled away late against Penn State and Michigan handled Michigan State fairly comfortably in Ann Arbor.
So now Ohio State has at Northwestern, Indiana and at Maryland left and Michigan has at Rutgers, Nebraska, and Illinois left. As good as Bret Bielema has been, he’s coach of the year in the Big Ten this year for sure, it’s hard to see any of these teams stopping 11-0 vs. 11-0 on November 24th in Columbus.
Presuming this happens, what does it mean for the loser of this game when it comes to playoff chances? I’ll discuss that below.
2. Alabama has to play at LSU and at Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks.
I think the Tide will lose at least one of these games, which means there’s a very real chance of LSU or Ole Miss being the SEC West representative in Atlanta.
The Bama game at Ole Miss is going to be one of the biggest games in Rebel history. And can you imagine the insane story lines if Lane Kiffin took Ole Miss to Atlanta to play Tennessee?
But keep in mind that LSU, whom everyone left for dead after Tennessee whipped them in Baton Rouge, still is in great shape to potentially roll in to Atlanta as well. In fact, barring an awful performance that led to a one point loss against FSU to start this season LSU would be in the top ten in the country right now.
And if Bama wins both these games then the Tide would be 11-1 and either get a rematch with Tennessee or get an undefeated, probably, Georgia with a chance to punch their ticket to the playoff.
Wildly, by the way, Tennessee if it went 12-0 could play 11-1 Alabama, lose to the Tide in the SEC championship game and then play Alabama again in the playoff. So we could end up, at least in theory, with three Alabama-Tennessee games this year.
3. Does TCU have what it takes to go undefeated and win the Big 12?
Because that’s the only way I can see the Big 12 getting a playoff team in given how strong the top of the SEC and the Big Ten look right now.
So TCU finishes with Texas Tech, at Texas, at Baylor, and Iowa State.
As impressive as they have been this season, I just don’t like TCU’s chances to run the table there. And, again, if they don’t run the table I don’t think one loss TCU matches up well with the top teams in the SEC and the Big Ten.
4. Do we believe in Clemson as a legit title contender?
And are we sleeping on UNC in the ACC since every other team in the conference is collapsing?
I just don’t think Clemson is that good. But with games left at Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and South Carolina, who do you think is going to beat them? I’d say Notre Dame has the best shot and then, at least in theory, maybe UNC could beat Clemson in a shootout in the ACC title game, but 13-0 Clemson feels like a very real possibility.
Even though I don’t think Clemson is on the same level as the top five teams I have ranked below from the SEC and the Big Ten.
5. Oregon continues to roll in the Pac 12.
But Oregon remains in a unique spot where they need to go 12-1 and then hope Georgia is 13-0 and wins the SEC. Then they can argue they’ve improved enough to deserve another shot in the playoff.
But given the inevitable chaos that always arises in the Pac 12, it feels like both Oregon and USC are hanging on to playoff chances with their fingertips.
And that’s reflected in the Vegas title odds as well, which have the Pac 12 as a distant contender at this point for a national title.
6. The Michigan State-Michigan brawl looked awful and is a mess for the Big Ten.
Look, the brawl was awful and there should be consequences for those who ganged up on the Michigan player in the tunnel.
Having said that, I hate the idea of a legit criminal investigation taking place or charges being filed by a local DA against a rival football program’s player for something that happened in uniform at a game.
But, man, how quickly has Michigan State gone from college football darling to a complete collapse?
7. Okay, so let’s discuss college football chaos.
Here’s the most challenging scenario I can think of that would involve the most deserving teams: Georgia loses to Alabama in the SEC title game so both finish 12-1, Tennessee finishes 11-1, Ohio State goes 13-0, Michigan goes 11-1, TCU finishes 13-0, Clemson finishes 13-0, Oregon finishes 12-1.
You’d legit have eight teams here that feel they really deserve a chance in the playoff.
But what does your four look like here? I think you’d get 1. Ohio State 2. Alabama 3. Clemson 4. TCU
But there are also still scenarios where three SEC teams could get in, where two SEC and two Big Ten teams could get in, and where, as I showed you above, only one SEC and Big Ten team gets in.
Buckle up, November is just getting started.
8. Hendon Hooker is now your Heisman trophy favorite in betting markets.
If Tennessee were to beat Georgia, I think he’d come close to locking it up because of the massive audience that will be watching this game and because I can’t foresee the Vols winning without Hendon playing at an incredibly elite level. (Assuming it’s close, Tennessee-Georgia will be the most watched game of the year so far in college football. Then Michigan-Ohio State will likely eclipse it at the end of the year if that game stays close too.)
If Hooker and Tennessee are able to pull off the road upset then the final three weeks of the season he should put up some big numbers against Mizzou, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. That would effectively end the race, I think.
But given the fact Tennessee will be an underdog at Georgia, this feels like a Hendon Hooker C.J. Stroud race down the stretch.
9. The Vegas National Title Odds
Ohio State +200
North Carolina +8000
Ole Miss +10000
As you can see, there is a major drop off after the top six. And, by the way, Tennessee started the year at 125-1 in some places.
10. Outkick’s National Top Ten
3. Ohio State
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
After the top five this is just a total jumbled mess and your guess is as good as mine. We’ve reached the point in the year when it’s impossible to rank every team above the teams they’ve beaten.
5. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State
8. South Carolina
12. Texas A&M
See y’all in Athens on Saturday.