When the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year were released on Tuesday, the Tennessee Volunteers were deemed to be in a good position to go on and eventually clinch a spot in the CFP. After their 27-13 road defeat to the Georgia Bulldogs, it will now be much more difficult for the Volunteers to pull off a run to the CFP — let alone the SEC title game.

Tennessee was unable to ride its hot start to the season in its showdown against Georgia on Saturday. Hendon Hooker did not throw a single touchdown pass for the first time this season, while the rush offense posted a lowly 2.2 rushing yards per attempt average. More so, Tennessee, a team that came into the day with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, did not score its first touchdown of the contest until the late stages of the fourth quarter.

With the loss to Georgia, Tennessee remains in second place in the SEC East standings. In the big picture, Heupel is well aware that it will now be a “whole lot tougher” for the Volunteers to clinch both the division and a spot in the SEC title game.

“Getting to Atlanta is a whole lot tougher now, right?” Heupel said during his post-game press conference. “Certainly. That’s the No. 1 goal inside of our program.”

For the Volunteers to make an appearance in the 2022 SEC Championship Game, it will need to win its remaining three conference games and see Georgia drop its upcoming conference contests against Mississippi State and Kentucky.

Live and breathe sports?

🚨 Get viral graphics, memes, rumors and trending sports news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

For now, Heupel is looking to “learn” from this arduous defeat.

“Our kids have handled a bunch of adversity throughout their careers inside of this program,” Heupel said. “They’ve continued to fight and scratch and claw and be connected and come together. There’s not doubt in my mind that when we get back in the building on Monday that they’ll continue to do that. That’s how we got to the point of making this a big football game. We’ve got to go reset and continue to grow individually and collectively as a program. Everybody has got a hand in this. Starting with me and our staff and our players.

“Learn and grow and continue to climb as a program.”

Tennessee will now have a home matchup against Missouri coming up next week.