Bowl Picture Still Cloudy

As the SEC season winds down, we'll update our bowl preview from two weeks ago. Four SEC teams that were entertaining bowl aspirations then – Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt – have joined Mississippi State on the staying-home-for-the-holidays list. Only Tennessee's bowl hopes continue to hang in the balance.


1. BCS (Sugar and Fiesta/Orange): SEC #1 vs. at large


SEC teams under consideration: LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina


Likely at-large teams: West Virginia, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Louisville, Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, Penn State, Ohio State


Analysis: When LSU defeated Alabama, it likely brought an end to any hope of a SEC team going to the Rose Bowl. Technically, Alabama and LSU are still in it, but USC and Texas would both have to lose, Miami would have to fall to Florida State in the ACC Championship game, and in Alabama's case, the following would have to happen:

LSU to lose to Ole Miss or Arkansas, Penn State to lose to Michigan State, and either Notre Dame to lose to Stanford or Syracuse, or Virginia Tech to lose to Virginia or North Carolina – and preferably both.

In other words, not likely at all. Most likely, LSU will win out, putting the Tigers in the title game against Georgia. If Georgia beats Kentucky, the Bulldogs clinch the SEC East outright. Lose, and Georgia falls into a three-way tie with Florida and South Carolina that would send South Carolina to the championship game by virtue of SEC tiebreakers. But the Bulldogs seem virtually certain of beating the Wildcats.

If Alabama beats Auburn, it would leave the Tide 10-1 and put Alabama into a pool with Notre Dame, Oregon and Virginia Tech for two at-large slots in the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame is all but assured of getting one of those slots, and it's a toss-up between the other three schools for the Fighting Irish's opponent. Bowl officials will probably choose between Alabama and Oregon in that scenario, and it's too close to call at the moment.

The winner of the SEC Championship Game in all likelihood gets the Big East champion in the Sugar Bowl. West Virginia will almost certainly get that nod, but it could fall to Pittsburgh, Louisville, or even South Florida – and make the Sugar Bowl into a very bad joke of a game.


Prediction: LSU vs. West Virginia (Sugar Bowl only)


2. Capital One Bowl: Orlando, Fla., SEC #2 vs. Big Ten #2


SEC teams under consideration: LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina


Big Ten teams under consideration: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan


Analysis: If Alabama beats Auburn and doesn't get selected for the BCS at-large game, the Crimson Tide will go here. The confusion begins if Alabama loses to Auburn. The Tide and Tigers would then both be 9-2, but would both probably miss out on the SEC Championship Game, as LSU is likely to win out against Ole Miss and Arkansas. Alabama travels much better than Auburn, and even with a head-to-head loss, Alabama would be the favorite to get the bid.

But that changes if Georgia beats Kentucky and Georgia Tech, then loses in the championship game to LSU. Even though Georgia would be 9-3, the Bulldogs would have a very good shot at this bid. It comes down to whether the bowl favors money (Alabama fans traveling) or a more explosive team (either Auburn or Georgia). If Georgia beats LSU, that probably guarantees Alabama or Auburn a trip, since LSU is so far to the west that the Tigers wouldn't present themselves as a good traveling bet. If Georgia fails to make the championship game, the Capital One bowl will almost certainly pick between Alabama and Auburn no matter what happens in Atlanta.

From the Big Ten side, the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game this weekend is probably out of it. Michigan would certainly be eliminated, as a loss to the Buckeyes would give them four on the year. If Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions go to the BCS and send the OSU-UM winner here automatically. If Penn State loses, they go here if Ohio State beats Michigan. If Michigan wins and Penn State loses, Ohio State still ends up in the Capital One bowl.


Prediction: Alabama vs. Ohio State


3. Outback Bowl: Tampa, Fla., SEC #3 vs. Big Ten #3


SEC teams under consideration: LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina


Big Ten teams under consideration: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota


Analysis: If Auburn beats Alabama by a close score and LSU wins out, the Outback will probably take Auburn unless Georgia loses in the SEC Championship Game to LSU. If Auburn blows Alabama out, it will probably be between Alabama and Georgia. LSU isn't a good fit for this bowl under any circumstances; the Bayou Bengals will probably fall to the Cotton if they lose in Atlanta. Even if Florida or South Carolina find themselves in Atlanta, they'll probably fall to the Peach with a loss to the SEC West representative, but it depends on whether the SEC sends two teams to the BCS. From the Big Ten side, if Michigan beats Ohio State, it probably locks the Buckeyes into this game. If Ohio State wins, though, it sets up some interesting scenarios. Wisconsin has a game left against Hawaii, which the Badgers will probably win. That would make Wisconsin 9-3 and hard to pass up. Minnesota has Iowa, and a Golden Gopher win would make them 8-3 and set up a possible rematch of last year's Music City Bowl with Alabama. If Michigan loses to Ohio State as expected, it could knock Michigan all the way from the Capital One, through the Outback and into the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Michigan would have to hope, at minimum, for a Wisconsin loss to Hawaii to get consideration here, and would probably need Iowa to knock off Minnesota as well.


Prediction: Georgia vs. Wisconsin


4. Cotton Bowl: Dallas, Texas, SEC #4/5 vs. Big 12 #2


SEC teams under consideration: LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee


Big 12 teams under consideration: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Colorado, Iowa State


Analysis: The Cotton Bowl would prefer to get an SEC West team, and they're very likely to get their wish. The only way the Cotton Bowl gets shut out of an SEC West team is for LSU to win the SEC and Alabama to get the at-large BCS bid. That would leave Georgia and Auburn for the two Florida bowls, and leave the Cotton to pick between Florida and South Carolina, or spurn them both and invite Tennessee if the Volunteers manage to get eligible. Most likely, LSU will win the conference title, Georgia will go to one of the Florida bowls and Alabama the other, leaving Auburn for the Cotton. But Alabama covets a bid to the Cotton as well, which carries prestige and is the site of many former great Alabama games. If Georgia beats LSU in the SEC Championship Game, it throws another wrinkle into the picture, as the Cotton Bowl would love to have a team from so close by. If Georgia loses to Kentucky and Georgia Tech, however, the Bulldogs could fall to this slot. The Big 12 side of things is still up in the air. Texas likely won't make themselves available, as the Longhorns need only to defeat the overmatched Texas A&M Aggies and then get through the Big 12 Championship Game. Technically, Oklahoma is the Big 12's No. 2 team at the moment in terms of conference record, but the Sooners were 1-2 in non-conference play and they might not have enough oomph to leapfrog Texas Tech, even if they beat the Red Raiders head-to-head this Saturday. If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech and then loses to an improving Oklahoma State team the next week, the Cotton will probably opt to take the loser of the Big 12 Championship Game, if that team has eight wins total. Colorado leads Iowa State by a game in the Big 12 North standings, although both are 7-3 overall. Iowa State controls the tiebreaker. If Colorado loses to Nebraska and Iowa State beats Kansas, which is quite possible, the Cyclones could meet Alabama in a rematch of the 2001 Independence Bowl. A close loss to Texas in the championship game could send the 8-4 loser to the Cotton over a potential 8-3 Texas Tech.


Prediction: Auburn vs. Texas Tech


5. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Atlanta, Ga., SEC #4/5 vs. ACC #3


SEC teams under consideration: LSU, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee


ACC teams under consideration: Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Florida State, Boston College


Analysis: Barring complete collapses by LSU and Georgia, this one will probably come down to two teams on the SEC side – Florida and South Carolina. If the SEC puts two teams in the BCS, the team not picked by the Cotton Bowl comes here. If the SEC has just one representative, the Peach is left with a big decision, Florida or South Carolina. South Carolina would probably get the nod in that case, given the Gamecocks' reputation for fan support and their thirst for a bowl trip. Florida would probably fall all the way to the Independence Bowl, unless the Gators beat Florida State and Clemson upsets South Carolina. The ACC picture is still cloudy, given the prestige level of this bowl in that conference's pecking order. It seems unlikely either Miami or Virginia Tech will be available, but late-season collapses do happen. More likely, Florida State comes here if the Seminoles beat Florida and then lose in the ACC Championship Game. And if that happens, the Peach Bowl would almost certainly pass on Florida rather than set up a Florida-Florida State rematch in such short order. If Florida State loses to Florida, though, and Boston College beats Maryland, Florida State will go into the ACC Championship Game at 7-4 ahead of an 8-3 Eagle squad. A Florida State loss to Miami would make the Seminoles 7-5, and knock them out of this slot. Boston College would get the nod, or perhaps Georgia Tech or Virginia, depending on how those teams finished. A Florida State-South Carolina matchup would be dreamy, pitting Steve Spurrier against Bobby Bowden one more time.


Prediction: South Carolina vs. Florida State


6. Gaylord Hotels Music City: Nashville, Tenn., SEC #6/7 vs. Big Ten #6


SEC teams under consideration: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee


Big Ten teams under consideration: Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa


Analysis: If Tennessee is eligible, the Volunteers probably get this bid no matter what. The game would be virtually a guaranteed sellout because of its location. South Carolina could possibly land in this game – and should, given the Gamecocks have beaten Tennessee head-to-head and would have one more win than the Vols – but it doesn't always work out that way. Florida is the longshot of this trio to be considered due to traveling distance. From the Big Ten, Michigan could find itself in the Big Ten's No. 2 bowl slot all the way down to this position. If Iowa loses to Minnesota, the Hawkeyes are probably out. That leaves Northwestern, which closes with Illinois, a game it should win handily. A Northwestern win and a Michigan loss would leave the two teams tied for sixth place, with Iowa and Minnesota falling into that same tie if Iowa upsets the Golden Gophers. That foursome would be tied for fourth through seventh place, and in that scenario, Northwestern probably ends up in the Motor City Bowl and Minnesota gets the bid. Most likely, Michigan and Northwestern will end up tied for fifth and sixth, and the Vitalis Sun Bowl picks first among those two. Michigan would certainly get picked ahead of Northwestern. Basically, this is a four-headed monster that will go right down to the last game of the last weekend, and picking the Big Ten representative at this point is nothing more than a guess.


Prediction: Tennessee vs. Northwestern


7. Independence Bowl: Shreveport, La., SEC #6/7 vs. Big 12 #5/6/7/8


SEC teams under consideration: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee


Big 12 teams under consideration: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State


Analysis: Tennessee could wind up with this pick if they can't lobby the Music City Bowl – which is generally thought of as the more prestigious of the SEC's #6/7 duo – to pick them over Florida and South Carolina, both guaranteed of better records. In fact, Tennessee has to beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky to even be eligible for this game. Most likely, the Music City will acquiesce to Tennessee's wishes and take them, leaving the Peach Bowl to cast the deciding vote, which will be determined by who the ACC opponent is in that game. At this point, it appears that Florida ends up here, against one of any number of Big 12 opponents. More likely than not, Texas Tech won't fall this far. Texas A&M and Kansas are both 5-5 and would need a victory over Texas or Iowa State, respectively, to even qualify for consideration. Neither is favored to pull it off. Oklahoma State is another team with six maximum wins on the docket, but the Cowboys' road is easier, as they must go through Baylor and Oklahoma. The five most likely Big 12 opponents for this game are Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri and Nebraska, and Independence Bowl officials will probably get the middle of that pack of five. If they can pick their matchup, they'd probably take Florida against Nebraska in a rematch of an earlier national championship game, but Nebraska would have to upset Colorado to be 7-4 and make that a probability. Missouri, which faces 4-6 Kansas State, is a safe bet. If the SEC sends two teams to the BCS, though, there will be no SEC team for the Independence Bowl to take and the bowl will have to scramble for an at-large team.


Prediction: Florida vs. Missouri


8. Houston Bowl: Houston, Texas, SEC #8 vs. Big 12 #5/6/7/8


SEC teams under consideration: None


Big 12 teams under consideration: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State


Analysis: No SEC teams are left that will be bowl eligible. The Houston Bowl will have to look outside its conference tie-ins to secure a team. From the Big 12 side of things, it's the same suspects that were under consideration for the Independence Bowl. Look for a 6-5 team to land here, perhaps Nebraska.


Prediction: Nebraska vs. ???



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