Marshall: Iron Bowl and Other Bowls

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Iron Bowl, around the SEC, and potential bowl destinations for the league.

Other than bragging rights and Auburn's five-game winning streak in the series, about the only thing that will be at stake in next Saturday's Iron Bowl the places for each team in the bowl pecking order. And it's uncertain how much the outcome of the game will even have on that.

The way the Southeastern Conference bowl systems works is that all 7-5 teams must be accommodated before any 6-6 team. But no bowl would be obligated to take an 8-4 Auburn over a 7-5 Alabama or vice versa. It wouldn't even be required to take a 7-5 team over a 6-6 team, as long as the 7-5 team also has a spot.

Auburn might have hurt itself in the bowl sweepstakes when, for reasons I still haven't figured out, it took an 11-2 team to Dallas last season to play Nebraska and sold fewer tickets for the game than any SEC team has since the league hooked up with the Cotton Bowl.

With 10 SEC teams already bowl eligible and Vanderbilt needing a win over Tennessee or Wake Forest to make it 11, it's going to get interesting. The SEC has tieups with the Sugar, Capital One, Cotton, Outback, Chick Fil-A, Music City, Liberty and Independence. If LSU goes to the BCS championship game, there will be spots for nine teams, assuming the Sugar Bowl takes an SEC team. That could mean South Carolina, if it finishes 6-6, or Vanderbilt, if it gets eligible, being left out of the SEC bowls. Either could take one of the few available at-large spots in non-SEC bowls, as long as there were no 7-5 teams available.

For what it's worth, here's one man's guess, based on no inside information, at where SEC teams will go:
BCS Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. BCS qualifier
Capital One Bowl: Florida vs. Big Ten
Cotton Bowl: Tennessee vs. Big 12
Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Big 10
Chick Fil-A Bowl: Alabama vs. ACC
Liberty Bowl: Kentucky vs. Conference USA
Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. ACC
Independence Bowl: Arkansas vs. Big 12

Back to the Auburn-Alabama clash at Jordan-Hare Stadium next Saturday, it could actually be one of the more evenly matched games between the two in recent years. Barring an Alabama stumble against overmatched Louisiana-Monroe, both will be 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the SEC going into the game.

Of course, the last time it seemed so evenly matched was 2005 when they played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn had 11 sacks and won 28-18 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.

Don't fall into the trap that, somehow, the future of Auburn football rides on the outcome of this game. College football is a year-to-year and game-to-game thing. What happens in this game isn't likely to change any recruit's mind about where he is going to play and it certainly won't have any impact on what happens a year from now.

The truth is that the series will even out. It always has, and it would have whether Nick Saban had shown up in Tuscaloosa or not. That's why it is the rivalry it is. Rivalries don't mean much when one team wins all the time.

On to this week's picks …

Your fearless forecaster had an unprecedented meltdown last week. I thought Auburn would win at Georgia. Wrong. I thought Alabama would win at Mississippi State. Wrong. I thought Arkansas would win at Tennessee. Wrong. And I was daft enough to pick South Carolina to upset Florida. Wrong again. But, hey, I was right on the nose on LSU beating Louisiana Tech and Kentucky beating Vanderbilt. The result was a humbling 2-4 record. For the season, the record is 55-22.

This week's abbreviated predictions:
Alabama 35, Louisiana-Monroe 14 (Tuscaloosa)
Georgia 38, Kentucky 35 (Athens)
Arkansas 28, Mississippi State 24 (Little Rock)
Florida 49, Florida Atlantic 10 (Gainesville)
LSU 31, Ole Miss 14 (Oxford)
Tennessee 34, Vanderbilt 20 (Knoxville)

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