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AP photo by John Bazemore / South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp celebrates after the Gamecocks returned an interception for a touchdown during the first half of Saturday's game at Georgia.

The last time the Tennessee Volunteers won a Southeastern Conference football game in October, they didn't win another one until November.

With Alabama on tap Saturday night in Tuscaloosa and a suddenly dangerous South Carolina team scheduled to visit the Vols' Neyland Stadium the following week, that bit of history from the 2018 season when Tennessee upset a ranked Auburn team in October could easily repeat itself this time around.

But let's say the Vols do lose to both the top-ranked Crimson Tide and the Gamecocks — and good as South Carolina was stunning Georgia this past Saturday, there is certainly no guarantee it wins in Knoxville — can the Vols still go bowling? Are there still four wins on the board if they lose to both Bama and the Garnet Roosters?

It says here that such a scenario is still possible, though the margin for error shrinks dramatically.

A little math is in order. Unless a bizarre set of circumstances emerges, you need a minimum of six wins to become bowl eligible. Tennessee currently has two victories versus four losses with six games to go.

Five of those games are against Southeastern Conference foes: Bama, South Carolina, at Kentucky, at Missouri and the regular-season finale inside Neyland against Vanderbilt. The sixth in that stretch is at home on Nov. 2 against a University of Alabama at Birmingham team that is 5-1, with four of those victories by double figures.

Until Vandy was bludgeoned at home by awful UNLV on Saturday, four of those five SEC games — top-ranked Alabama is the exception — looked both winnable and losable. But assuming they can knock off both UAB and Vanderbilt, the Vols' bowl hopes come down to what they can do against South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri.

To go bowling, they'll also need to win two against those three. So just where might those two needed victories come from?

To view the Gamecocks today is to respect them far more than anyone did after their early loss to North Carolina in Charlotte. Some of that has to do with the victory over Georgia, but North Carolina has to be judged differently, too, after its narrow loss to Clemson, which dropped the reigning national champion from the top spot in the rankings.

Beyond that, after losing to Kentucky for five straight seasons, the Gamecocks flattened the Wildcats 24-7 in Columbia late last month. Now 3-3 overall and 2-2 within the SEC, South Carolina is certainly capable of defeating the Vols for the fourth straight season.

But while Tennessee is in Tuscaloosa, South Carolina must host physical Florida, which is coming off a tough loss at LSU. Already down to their third-string quarterback in Dakereon Joyner after Ryan Hilinski was injured against Georgia in the third quarter, the Gamecocks would seem vulnerable against the Vols, regardless of the result against the Gators.

On a scale of 1 to 10, rate the Vols' chances of defeating South Carolina a 6.

Now for Kentucky, long known as The Cure around Volsville. Tennessee has won 32 of the past 34 meetings, including knocking off a squad ranked just outside of the top 10 last season in Knoxville, 24-7. To show how completely the Big Orange owns Big Blue, the week before that victory over the Wildcats, the Vols struggled to beat a bad Charlotte team 14-3. The two games after that? Missouri came into Neyland and left with a 50-17 win, and Tennessee ended the year with a 38-13 loss at Vanderbilt.

Given that Kentucky just beat Arkansas with wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback because starter Terry Wilson was lost for the year during the second game and his backup, Sawyer Smith, has been banged up for the past month, this should be the Vols' best chance for a win despite being in Lexington.

On a scale of 1 to 10, put their chances of beating the Cats at 8.

Then there's that road trip to Missouri on Nov. 23. After losing to Wyoming to open the season, the Tigers have won five straight to move into The Associated Press Top 25 this week at No. 22. With Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant, they have one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. They've won their two SEC games against South Carolina and Ole Miss by double digits, and they've hung at least 50 on the Vols the past two years.

Again, on a scale of 1 to 10, put the Vols' chances of defeating the Tigers at a 3.

During his postgame comments after beating Mississippi State with a very conservative offensive game plan, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said of that strategy: "Can we win a bunch of games like that? Probably not. But that's the way we needed to play to win this game."

But can they win four of their last six to reach their first bowl in three years?

They can, but they'll probably have to beat South Carolina in two weeks in Knoxville to have a realistic chance.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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