So, which of these two scenarios do you find more likely?
Rose Bowl (CFB Playoff semifinal, Jan. 1, 2021)
Projected matchup: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Florida
How we’ll get there: It’s a bit hazy, sure, but there is a justifiable path to the Playoff for Dan Mullen in Year 3 with the Gators. Let’s say Florida finishes 11-1 during the regular season with its only loss coming to Georgia in Jacksonville — which would include a Top 10 win over LSU in Gainesville. Georgia finishes 11-1 with a loss to Alabama, thus wins the East with the tiebreaker. Then, the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs again in Atlanta, ensuring Florida is the SEC’s second-most attractive option for the Playoff committee. Hmm. Keep an eye on Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, who will surge to the front of the Heisman race. The other team here is chalk. Ohio State should field the most talented team nationally next fall with Justin Fields back and a host of playmakers around him.
What comes next will determine whether this becomes a really good season or a great one. It’s Alabama, after all, which hasn’t lost to UT since Nick Saban took over the Tide in time for the 2007 season. But with this one being played in Neyland Stadium and ESPN’s “GameDay” crew in the house, make it Tennessee 27, Alabama 21 — and number of unlit victory cigars returned to Tuscaloosa 115 or so.
The problem with big victories is how you handle them. Because of that, the Vols catch a scheduling break in that the next two games after Alabama come on the road at woeful Arkansas, then home against the SEC team UT owns like no other — Kentucky.
This is not to say that neither of those teams absolutely, positively can’t beat the Big Orange. Just that they won’t. So if you’re doing the math, the Vols will arrive at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium on Nov. 14 with a 9-0 record, a Top 10 ranking (No. 4) and dreams of a College Football Playoff berth dancing in their heads.
Fortunately for UT, the Dawgs will arrive at this one more physically and mentally drained than the Vols, having just faced Florida in Jacksonville and South Carolina in Columbia. Once again, UT wins 24-22 to keep its date with the SEC title game alive.
The final two regular-season games are anticlimactic. Troy at home. Vanderbilt in Nashville, with 80% of the crowd clad in pale orange. What awaits is an SEC title game against Auburn. What awaits is a loss made tougher to swallow by Auburn true freshman defensive lineman Jay Hardy, the former McCallie School star who shockingly said no to the Big Orange, twice sacking Guarantano in the final quarter.
Still, 12-1 and heading to the Sugar Bowl is nothing to feel bad about.