The SEC has automatic tie-ins to eight bowl games, and at least one more, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, has expressed an interest in an SEC team to fill its at-large slot if one is available. While it is unlikely that the SEC could finish the season with nine bowl-eligible teams, as of the Oct. 29 weekend, 11 of the SEC's 12 teams still were in position mathematically to dream of the postseason.
Here's a look at possible bowl matchups.
1. BCS (Sugar and/or Rose): SEC #1 vs. at large
Analysis: At this point, it looks unlikely that Alabama will make it to the Rose Bowl, if for no other reason than neither Texas nor Southern California is unlikely to lose before the end of the season. USC will be tested only by UCLA; Texas has to make it through a rivalry game with Texas A&M, which shouldn't be a terribly hard feat to accomplish, then beat either Colorado or Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game. Neither team is a real threat to the Longhorns. Of the five undefeated teams left in the country at week's end (USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Alabama, UCLA), Alabama clearly has the most difficult schedule. Alabama must beat LSU and Auburn in consecutive weeks, with the Auburn game on the road, then go through either Georgia or Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Even this weekend's game against Mississippi State isn't a gimme. Alabama fans might not want to consider it, but a loss to LSU would end Alabama's SEC title hopes unless the Tigers get upset by Ole Miss or Arkansas to close the season. It's hard to bet against Alabama until the Crimson Tide actually loses, but LSU is the conference's most talented team top-to-bottom and Alabama's offensive line doesn't match up well with the Tiger defense.
Prediction: LSU vs. Penn State
2. Capital One Bowl: Orlando, Fla., SEC #2 vs. Big Ten #2
SEC teams under consideration: Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Florida
Big Ten teams under consideration: Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State
Analysis: The winner of the Wisconsin-Penn State game on Saturday most likely moves up to the BCS. Penn State closes with erratic Michigan State, while Wisconsin has Iowa and Hawaii to end its year. The dark horse is Ohio State, which has two losses already but finishes with Illinois (win), Northwestern (likely win) and Michigan (likely win). From the SEC, if Alabama loses to LSU but beats Auburn, the Tide will either land here or even possibly stay in the BCS as an at-large team. If Alabama loses twice, the Tide could still end up here if Georgia wins out, then loses to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but might fall to the Cotton instead. Bowl sites know Alabama's traveling reputation and that will factor into the decision. If Alabama goes 11-0 and then loses to Georgia or Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Orlando is a dead-bang lock to get the Tide.
Prediction: Alabama vs. Ohio State
3. Outback Bowl: Tampa, Fla., SEC #3 vs. Big Ten #3
SEC teams under consideration: Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Georgia
Big Ten teams under consideration: Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State
Analysis: This is where it gets tricky for the Big Ten. Wisconsin would probably have to lose twice to get here, which is very possible for a team as unpredictable as the Badgers have been during head coach Barry Alvarez's tenure. Penn State is in the same boat, but the Nittany Lions look like safer bets to advance into the BCS. Ohio State may get pinched into this bowl if Wisconsin loses a close game against Penn State and then kills Iowa and Hawaii. Anyone behind that first group is a long shot, save perhaps Michigan. The Wolverines finish with Indiana, which they should by all rights kill, and then Ohio State. Michigan's destination will probably be decided by how well Wisconsin closes. If the Badgers lose to Penn State and Iowa, Michigan would probably leapfrog them by winning out. On the SEC side, here's where the battle really starts between the Outback and the Cotton. Assuming LSU goes into the BCS and Alabama takes the Capital One, the Outback may elect to take Georgia over Auburn even if Auburn beats Georgia in the regular season. The wild card is Florida; if Auburn beats Georgia, the Gators will likely go to the SEC Championship Game, but a second loss to LSU may kick the Gators all the way down to the Peach Bowl.
Prediction: Georgia vs. Wisconsin
4. Cotton Bowl: Dallas, Texas, SEC #4/5 vs. Big 12 #2
SEC teams under consideration: Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Auburn
Analysis: By the time the Cotton gets around to picking, the choices are likely to be a three-loss Auburn team or a three- or four-loss Florida team, neither of which will be very interested in traveling to Dallas in the dead of winter. The wild card here is Alabama if the Crimson Tide finishes with two losses. If Alabama loses to LSU and Auburn, the LSU/Georgia-or-Florida winner will go to the BCS. If Georgia goes to the SEC Championship Game against LSU and loses, the Bulldogs will probably get the Capital One, Auburn the Outback and Alabama the Cotton. If Florida goes into the SEC Championship Game and loses, however, Auburn and Alabama probably move up a spot, and could also flip-flop. The real fun begins if LSU gets a rematch with Florida and loses to the Gators. Florida, with a likely loss to Florida State still ahead, could go into the BCS as a three loss team. LSU could fall all the way to the Cotton due to proximity to Dallas. And if by some chance Alabama loses to LSU in the regular season, then gets an at-large bid into the BCS, Florida probably gets this bid with a loss in the SEC Championship Game. The same crazy scenarios are in play from the Big 12, with Texas Tech the most likely opponent unless the Red Raiders somehow find themselves in the BCS as an at-large team. There is one scenario that could knock a 10-1 Texas Tech out. If Texas gets upset in the Big 12 Championship Game – not impossible, given Texas' affinity for not being able to close the deal under head coach Mack Brown – the Longhorns are probably a shoe-in for this game. If Texas does as expected and beats one of the Big 12 North schools, however, either Texas Tech, Oklahoma or in the most outside of shots, Texas A&M are possibilities. No one from the Colorado-Missouri-Iowa State-Nebraska group excites Cotton Bowl officials.
Prediction: Auburn vs. Texas Tech
5. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Atlanta, Ga., SEC #4/5 vs. ACC #3
Analysis: Finally, some narrowing of the field on the SEC side of things. It's unlikely the Peach gets past a pick between Florida and Auburn, but there are a few doomsday scenarios that need to be mentioned. If Tennessee wins out, the Volunteers will go 7-4. If Florida loses to Florida State, then makes the SEC Championship Game and loses to the SEC West representative, the Gators will be 8-4. It's unlikely that Peach Bowl officials will want to bring a mediocre Florida team – which doesn't travel well under those circumstances – back for a repeat performance. So unless the Cotton Bowl digs the Peach out of a hole by taking Florida off its hands in that scenario, look for the Peach to either go after South Carolina or Tennessee. Complicating matters is the fact there is a scenario in which South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Tennessee all finish 6-5, and in that case, the Peach probably wouldn't be able to avoid picking Florida. More likely, though, the Gators watch Georgia play for the SEC title and make just one trip to Atlanta. On the ACC side of the equation, it seems most likely that Miami will be in this slot, especially if the Hurricanes lose to Virginia Tech this week as expected. If that happens, Miami will likely come here and the loser of the ACC Championship Game ends up in the Gator Bowl. A possible complicating factor comes into play if Florida upsets Florida State, in which case the Gator probably takes Miami and the Seminoles end up here – unless Florida also falls to the Peach, in which case bowl officials aren't likely to schedule a Florida-FSU rematch just over a month after the original. In that case, hometown Georgia Tech or perhaps even Boston College lands here.
Prediction: Florida vs. Miami
6. Gaylord Hotels Music City: Nashville, Tenn., SEC #6/7 vs. Big Ten #6
SEC teams under consideration: South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky
Big Ten teams under consideration: Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana
Analysis: Raise your hand if you want to see an Indiana-Kentucky rematch in this bowl game. Didn't think so. The next week of SEC games will go a long way to deciding who still has a shot to get into this one. Kentucky faces Auburn and will probably get pummeled, ending the Wildcats' bowl hopes. Arkansas and Ole Miss both have to face LSU, and Arkansas also has South Carolina on the docket. Vanderbilt has to beat Kentucky and either Florida or Tennessee to get bowl-eligible. In fact, the most believable scenario finds Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Kentucky all missing the postseason. Only slightly less likely is the possibility that South Carolina and Tennessee will join the other four at home for the holidays. In other words, the SEC might not be able to fill its obligations here or in the Independence Bowl, either one. More likely, though, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will play for bowl eligibility, while South Carolina will get by either Arkansas or Clemson to make itself bowl-eligible as well. Assuming Tennessee and South Carolina are available, the Music City will try to jump on Tennessee. If it's Vanderbilt and South Carolina instead, look for South Carolina to get the invite, as Vanderbilt would probably wish to travel. On the Big Ten side of things, only Michigan is currently eligible of the teams listed. If Michigan beats Indiana as expected, the Wolverines will probably play themselves out of this bowl and into the Vitalis Sun Bowl instead. The other five teams basically catch each other in a round-robin between now and the end of the year. Indiana is unlikely to be bowl-eligible. Of the rest, Minnesota and Iowa seem to have the best chances to reach seven wins. The Golden Gophers played Alabama in this bowl last year and didn't travel well, which wouldn't seem to endear them to bowl officials.
Prediction: Tennessee vs. Iowa
7. Independence Bowl: Shreveport, La., SEC #6/7 vs. Big 12 #5/6/7/8
SEC teams under consideration: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky
Analysis: Yep, you read that right – 11 of the 12 Big 12 teams are in the mix for this bowl. It's easier to pick who won't be here at that time than who will. First of all, Texas Tech would have to lose out and then still fall out of MasterCard Alamo Bowl at 7-4, which actually isn't that likely. Oklahoma State probably won't be eligible. At least one of the Kansas schools will probably sit out the bowl season as well. That gets it down to a more manageable eight teams to consider. Of those, Kansas/Kansas State, Texas A&M and Baylor are long shots to get eligible, and if any do, they'll probably be playing in either the Fort Worth Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl, which figure to take the seventh and eight seeds. So that leaves us with Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa State and Nebraska. The Independence would dearly love to get Oklahoma, but the Sooners will probably be off the board to the Cotton or Alamo by the time the Independence picks. If Colorado does as expected – wins out in the regular season, then gets creamed by Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game – the Buffaloes will be 9-3 and won't be playing here. The most likely scenario is for the bowl to take the first team among the Missouri-Iowa State-Nebraska trio to get to seven wins. All three teams are at 5-3 right now. Missouri closes with Colorado, Baylor and Kansas State, giving the Tigers the easiest road of the three. Iowa State and Nebraska both get a slightly tougher road: Colorado, Kansas State and Kansas in place of Baylor for both. It's feasible that all three teams go 7-4. In that event, look for Nebraska to get the nod, although Iowa State traveled decently well in 2001 when the Cyclones lost to Alabama. On the SEC side of things, look for South Carolina to get this spot unless Vanderbilt beats Tennessee.
Prediction: South Carolina vs. Nebraska
8. EV1.net Houston Bowl: Houston, Texas, SEC #8 vs. Big 12 #5/6/7/8
SEC teams under consideration: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky
Big 12 teams under consideration: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa State, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State
Analysis: First of all, it's unlikely the SEC will be able to fill this slot. If South Carolina and Tennessee get eligible, they'll be off the board by the time Houston Bowl officials come looking for a team. Of the rest, Vanderbilt has the easiest road to eligibility, and really the only legitimate shot among the remaining teams. Stretching a bit, Ole Miss could get eligible with an upset of LSU, as the Rebels' other two games are against Mississippi State and Arkansas. It's hard to conceive of any scenario in which Arkansas or Kentucky wins out. From the Big 12, look for Iowa State to get this position if the Independence Bowl doesn't take them first.
Prediction: Vanderbilt (if eligible) vs. Iowa State