Marshall: Sorting Out the Bowl Possibilities

Columnist Phillip Marshall looks at where the Tigers and other football teams could be playing during the bowl season.

By sometime Sunday, maybe even late Saturday night, Auburn's bowl destination will be clear. It it's anything other than the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, it will come as a surprise.

But surprises can happen.

The most intriguing possibility still lingering out there is the Fiesta Bowl. Some Fiesta officials have quietly let it be known that, given their druthers, they would invite Auburn and Notre Dame. Unfortunately for Auburn, it's not so simple.

The Fiesta Bowl is in a Pac-10 city. Oregon is 10-1, No. 7 in the BCS standings and already has a share of the Pac-10 championship if Southern Cal loses to UCLA. Ohio State is 9-2, the Big Ten co-champion, and is No. 6. Auburn, of course, is 9-2 and No. 10.

It's widely known that the Fiesta simply doesn't want Oregon, but the political pressure to take the Ducks is strong. With their eye on a $14 million payday, Oregon's coach and athletic director have already visited Tempe to plead their case. Ohio State has played in three of the past four Fiesta Bowls. Like other bowls, the Fiesta likes new blood.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the men who run the Fiesta Bowl will suck it up and take Auburn, but it's not likely. There'll be wailing and gnashing of teeth if they take Ohio State over Oregon, but they can point to Ohio State's higher ranking. They wouldn't have that to fall back on with Auburn.

Auburn's best chance of getting into the Fiesta Bowl might be for No. 1 Southern California or No. 2 Texas or both to lose Saturday, throwing everything into a state of confusion.

Chances are that neither will lose and Auburn won't make a second consecutive BCS appearance. That will probably mean a trip to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando to play Wisconsin, though that's not written in stone either.

If Georgia beats LSU in Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game, things could get interesting.

If that happens, the logical outcome would be for Auburn to go to the Capital One Bowl, LSU to the Cotton Bowl, Alabama to the Outback Bowl, Florida to the Peach Bowl and South Carolina to the Independence Bowl.

But the Cotton Bowl might want Alabama, regardless. The Outback Bowl would love to have South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have the worst record of the SEC's six bowl-eligible teams. The SEC office won't like it if LSU, with a 10-1 regular-season record, drops all the way to the Peach Bowl because of losing in the championship game. The SEC office doesn't control the selections, but it does control future bowl agreements. The in-state political pressure on the Outback Bowl to take Florida will be strong.

If LSU wins Saturday and locks up the Sugar Bowl bid, things will fall fairly neatly into place. Barring a Fiesta Bowl bid, Auburn will be in the Capital One. Alabama will be in the Cotton and Georgia will be in the Peach. The only issue will be whether Florida or South Carolina goes to the Outback. The other will go to the Independence.

An Auburn-Wisconsin matchup, should it happen, isn't ideal for fans or players. The two teams met at the end of the 2003 season in the Music City Bowl, where Auburn won 28-14.

The modern-day bowl setup doesn't lend itself to the best matchups available. How much more attractive would it be if Auburn could play Miami in a showdown between Top 10 teams? Alas, it's not going to happen.

Should the Fiesta Bowl cave and take Oregon, a terrific matchup between Auburn and Ohio State will fall into the Capital One Bowl's lap. That one would generate a lot of interest. Auburn and Wisconsin will generate some interest, too, especially with it being Barry Alverez's last game as Badgers' head coach. But it won't be the same.

Auburn can do something special, regardless of the opponent. With a victory, the Tigers' 15 seniors can become the first class in school history to win 40 games and average 10 wins a season. A win, regardless of the opponent, will mean a lofty ranking in the final polls.

And there are worse places to be in December than Orlando.

Before anything can be decided, there is the matter of Saturday's championship game at the Georgia dome.

Last Saturday, as I watched LSU struggle to beat Arkansas, I thought Georgia would win. Then, as I watched Georgia struggle to beat Georgia Tech, I wasn't so sure.

Georgia is stronger on offense and LSU is stronger on defense. LSU seems to have lived this season under a lucky star. For nine consecutive games, when the ball has bounced, it has bounced LSU's way. Something tells me, with Georgia playing a virtual home game, it isn't going to happen that way this time.

Georgia 23, LSU 17

Until next time…

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