KNOXVILLE (WATE) – While No. 19 Tennessee learned during its game Saturday against Missouri it would not win the SEC East, the Vols could find an invitation to its best bowl game since 1998.
The Vols will travel to Nashville on Saturday to meet in-state rival Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. ET. With a win, Tennessee has a realistic shot at going to the Sugar Bowl.
The bowl game, set for January 2 in New Orleans, is contracted to take the highest ranked SEC team that does not make the College Football Playoff.
On the other sideline, the Sugar Bowl will take the Big 12 Champion, unless that team is selected in the College Football Playoff. If Oklahoma wins against Oklahoma State on December 3 in Norman, the Sooners are likely Sugar Bowl bound.
If Alabama takes down Auburn on Saturday, followed with a win over Florida on Dec. 3 in the SEC Championship, the Crimson Tide will earn a spot in the playoff making Tennessee the next best thing in the SEC in the process.
While the Vols are No. 24 in the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, the College Football Playoff ranking is the only one that matters for determining bowl game matchups.
The College Football Playoff committee will announce its new rankings on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Tennessee has several numbers on its side as well.
The Vols’ strength of schedule is ranked No. 1 in the country, according to NCAA.com. With a win over the Commodores, Tennessee will also have the most wins against bowl-eligible teams.
Heading into Week 13, the Vols win against Virginia Tech is also the SEC’s best out-of-conference win this season besides Alabama’s over USC. A Florida win over Florida State Saturday could change that, but Tennessee still has a head-to-head win over the Gators.
No. 25 Texas A&M could be a threat for the Vols Sugar Bowl hopes. The Aggies end the regular season at home on Thursday against LSU.
Tennessee has already clinched a spot at one of the 41 bowl games this season. A trip to the Sugar Bowl would be the Vols first since 1991, when Tennessee rallied to knock off Virginia, 23-22.
However, first thing’s first. If the Vols don’t come to play against Vanderbilt, Tennessee’s chances at a Sugar Bowl go out the window.