At first glance it seems obvious. Tennessee football has four circled wins and one probable win of the year, and it has three circled losses and three probable losses. Reaching their bowl-eligibility goal, at least on the field, would mean winning their only toss-up game against the Pittsburgh Panthers this weekend.
Pitt is the only Power Five enemy of the Vols this year not out on the road and expecting to have a winning record but not finish in the top 25. While they are probably better now under Pat Narduzzi, playing at Neyland Stadium seems to prefer Rocky Top. As a result, this seems like a game the UT needs to win. It’s not.
Look, if all goes as expected, Tennessee Football will almost bag a bowl berth with a win over Pitt. However, things don’t go as expected, and there’s no way of knowing how things will shake out for the rest of the year.
Assume for a moment that the Vols lose this game. They still have three chances to provoke defeat. One of those games is with the Missouri Tigers, a team they defeated 35-12 last year. Another is with the Kentucky Wildcats, a team they notoriously own, with the exception of last year, even though the UK is better. The UT also has a bye week for the UK this year.
Then there’s their only probable but uncircled loss at home, the Ole Miss Rebels. Sure, Ole Miss is much better at Lane Kiffin’s sophomore year this year, but playing in Neyland could make things somewhat interesting. Simply put, it’s not all a complete loss if the Vols lose this game.
Now you may be wondering how the UT could beat any of those teams if they can’t beat Pitt at home. However, anyone who watched last week’s opening game against the Bowling Green Falcons realizes that the Vols haven’t fully grasped Josh Heupel’s attack yet. They still won’t have it this game.
That will be different by the time October arrives, and as we said, they are playing Kentucky out for good. Those two will face each other in November. If Tennessee Football hasn’t picked up a significant portion of the offense by then, the program has much bigger problems under Heupel.
The reverse is of course also true. If the Vols beat Pitt, it doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to have a bowl. They should still beat the South Carolina Gamecocks, the one that’s probably on their schedule because that game is at home. However, there is no reason to rely on this happening.
Beating Pitt ensures that UT wins five times for sure. They have already beaten BGSU and will win their other non-Power Five games against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles and South Alabama Jaguars, while also beating the Vanderbilt Commodores to finish out the season. However, it does not guarantee six wins.
Still, with three chances to make up for a Pitt loss and only one chance to wipe out a win, beating Pitt helps Tennessee football a lot more than losing hurts them. That’s the good news for the Vols. The sky will not fall if they lose this game.
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