By Jimmy Hyams
Odds suggest Tennessee will play in the Orange Bowl.
But don’t take that to the bank.
Odds suggested South Carolina would lose to Tennessee and Clemson.
Odds suggested Ohio State would beat Michigan.
Odds suggested LSU would beat Texas A&M.
Odds favor Tennessee going to Miami for a Dec. 30 bowl game because of the formula that determines bowl participants.
The College Football Playoff committee assigns matchups. Based on what we think the standings will be tonight, No. 1 seed Georgia will play No. 4 seed USC in the Peach Bowl and No. 2 seed Michigan will play No. 3 seed TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
If the standings stay true to last week’s form, Alabama will represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl as the highest ranked SEC team not in the four-team CFP.
Tennessee, projected to be ranked No. 7, would then be assigned to the Orange Bowl against the ACC champion (Clemson or North Carolina).
The Cotton Bowl would then likely get Penn State and the highest ranked Group of Five team.
But as college football has displayed week after week, there are no guarantees, no matter what the Vegas odds suggest.
And there is a chance Tennessee could wind up in one of three bowls: the Sugar, Orange or Cotton.
Here’s a deeper dive.
Tonight’s CFP rankings could give us some insight into future matchups.
If the CFP puts Penn State ahead of Tennessee, and it stays that way Sunday, Penn State would go to the Orange Bowl and Tennessee to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.
Since Penn State played in the Cotton Bowl in 2019 against Memphis, would the CFP manipulate the rankings to allow the Nittany Lions to avoid a second trip to the Dallas area in four years?
How could Tennessee make it to the New Orleans?
If TCU and USC lose their conference championship games, Alabama could jump them and move from sixth to fourth in the CFP rankings. That would put Alabama in the four-team playoff.
And that would put Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl as the highest ranked SEC team not in the CFP.
Tennessee will be in the Orange Bowl if Alabama is higher ranked, isn’t in the CFP and Tennessee remains ahead of Penn State in the CFP standings.
Tennessee will be in the Cotton Bowl if Penn State jumps the Vols in the CFP rankings.
Could Tennessee make the CFP?
Yes, but odds – there’s that word again – don’t favor it.
If TCU and USC lose conference title games – and that’s not a long shot – both could fall behind Alabama and Tennessee.
Then the CFP committee, which had Alabama ranked ahead of UT in last week’s reveal, could vault the Vols over Alabama based on UT beating Bama head to head.
That seems unlikely, since the committee has made it clear it penalizes a bad loss more than a good win. And Tennessee suffered a bad loss at South Carolina.
The committee could also argue that Alabama lost two games on the road to top 15 teams on the last play of the game.
And it could argue that Tennessee isn’t as good without quarterback Hendon Hooker, although the Vols scored 56 points against Vanderbilt with backup Joe Milton.
You will get a clue about where Tennessee is headed based on where the committee ranks Alabama and Penn State tonight.
But don’t book a flight to Miami or New Orleans or Dallas just yet.
Odds suggest you shouldn’t.