You can chart every metric that the College Football Playoff Committee has laid out for inclusion in the final four of postseason play and Tennessee checks the box. In the end it was good old subjectivity that declared the the Vols would be left out of college football’s final four, plain and simple.
Despite a loss to Georgia, the Vols were still considered one of the most scintillating teams in the nation before the South Carolina loss. Tennessee could have won a battle on paper with any other one-loss team and probably would have been included in the College Football Playoff. However, losing to South Carolina and the way that Tennessee lost couldn’t be forgotten in the latest College Football Playoff ranking, which had Tennessee at seventh and behind Alabama, which Tennessee beat head-to-head.
There’s nothing that can be done at this point. Neither team plays before the final selection is made on Sunday. The Vols will be behind Alabama despite beating the Crimson Tide in October. Committee chairman Boo Corrigan said the South Carolina loss “really weighed” on the committee’s collective minds following Tuesday night’s show.
Since the College Football Playoff began in 2014, there was always some subjectivity left in the selection gumbo. Why? Two reasons. Television and drama.
It would have been much more fair to use the Bowl Championship Series formula, which still has Tennessee behind Alabama, to determine who makes it into the playoff. However, that would have taken away the extra advertising that ESPN could sell for its College Football Playoff selection show. There would be no debate if the selection was formula based. Once you knew the formula, you could determine what teams would be in the College Football Playoff as soon as the last game was played on Saturday. That means no drama.
College football has always been about drama with the mindset of “any publicity is good publicity.” If you recall, there wasn’t a unified national champion for the first 100 years of the sport. Polls could just crop up and take whatever team they wanted. The AP and Coaches Poll couldn’t even get along in the modern era of the sport. They’d often split national champions.
This, however, seems a bit different, a bit suspect. Writers and coaches may disagree, but this time the uniform body of college football denied a team a chance to win a championship because of a really bad night – and it was really bad.
It’s hard not to wonder what might have happened in the latest rankings show if Tennessee had stayed close to South Carolina. It’s really difficult not to wonder what might have happened had Tennessee not lost starting quarterback Hendon Hooker to a knee injury in the third quarter. Tennessee could have come back and won the game had Hooker not been hurt. He certainly could have made the game closer. Most importantly, he would be a valuable asset to the committee when they consider the appeal of a potential team. Hooker was a great player with an even better story.
That story, unfortunately, ended in Columbia. I can tell you how Tennessee should be content with what they’ve done, which is 10 wins in a season for the first time in 2003, but we’ve been down that path. The future is bright for the Vols, but just not the immediate future. The College Football Playoff committee made that abundantly clear on Tuesday.