Yes, the rankings have a recency bias. However, head-to-head should matter when it comes to teams with the same record. So it’s ridiculous that Tennessee football is behind the Alabama Crimson Tide in both polls to end the regular season.
Both teams finished with a 10-2 record, and the Vols beat Alabama 52-49 this year. However, UT came in at #7 in the AP poll and #8 in the Coaches poll, while Alabama is #6 in both polls. The Penn State Nittany Lions are ahead of the Vols in the Coach Poll.
There is no way around. This is an absolute travesty. You might be able to sell the margin, as Alabama’s two losses are a point each down the road and Tennessee football lost one game by two touchdowns and another by 25 points.
However, these losses are also both down the road. One goes to the Georgia Bulldogs, unanimously ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the other to the South Carolina Gamecocks, who just upset the Clemson Tigers on the road, finished 8-4 and are 20th in both polls .
In fact, these two teams, Georgia and South Carolina, rank higher than any team that beats Alabama. Meanwhile, one of Alabama’s losses is at the LSU Tigers. The Vols beat the same LSU team by 27 in their place, leaving them neck and neck and the common opponent.
The other common opponent for both teams is the Vanderbilt Commodores. Alabama won 55-3 at home. Tennessee Football won 56-0 away. So let’s break this down. UT and Alabama have the same record, UT beat Alabama, the Vols are 2-0 against common opponents while Alabama is 1-1, and the Vols looked better in the joint win.
What about overall plan strength and quality gains? Well, Alabama alone is one for the Vols, but even after losing to the Texas A&M Aggies, LSU is #11 on the AP poll and #13 on the Coaches poll. Again, this LSU team managed to beat Alabama.
What is Alabama’s best win? It’s down a point on a Texas Longhorns team that’s 8-4, lost their quarterback while facing the tide, and is ranked 21st. Their other top 25 win is against the 8-4 Mississippi State Bulldogs, who are ranked 25th in both polls.
Aside from those two teams, the Ole Miss Rebels, who are 8-4, are the only other team with a winning record that Alabama has beaten this year. What about Tennessee Football? Well, we mentioned Alabama and LSU. However, the Pittsburgh Panthers also finished 8-4.
Simply put, the Vols’ top three wins are better than Alabama’s top three wins. Then you have all the other factors in play, and by any metric, UT has a higher ranked schedule strength than the tide. Only timeliness and media love keep Alabama above the Vols.
For what it’s worth, it’s ridiculous that Tennessee football is behind Penn State. To be fair, Penn State has better losses overall, but they don’t have quality gains on the year. It’s not as straight forward as Alabama, to be fair, but the Vols are the best two-losing team in the nation.