Kentucky (7-4, 3-4) plays host to Tennessee (6-5, 3-4) tonight in what most observers believe is the elimination contest for the Outback Bowl, to be held in Tampa (FL) on New Year's Day.
The Southeastern Conference has bowl alliances with nine or ten bowls. The difference is if the top two teams qualify for two BCS bowls, as they do this year. Alabama (12-0, 8-0) will face Florida (11-0, 8-0) for the SEC Championship next Saturday in Atlanta. Both teams are expected to receive BCS slots, with the winner playing for the national title.
The Capital One Bowl selects next from the remaining SEC teams, and is required to take the team with the next best record, or within one of that record. The Capital One Bowl is widely thought to be eyeing a surging Ole Miss Rebel team (8-3, 4-3), who face rival Mississippi State today in their season finale.
The Cotton Bowl and the Outback Bowl select next on an equal footing. The Cotton Bowl has the first pick from the SEC West, while the Outback Bowl has the first selection from the SEC East. The Cotton Bowl has all-but-placed in ink the winner of the LSU (8-3, 4-3) vs Arkansas (7-4, 3-4) game as their selection.
That leaves the Outback Bowl.
With a victory over Tennessee, Kentucky would finish in 2nd place in the SEC East, and would be the only 8-win team from the SEC East. The Cats would be a lock for the Outback Bowl with the victory.
A Tennessee win would be slightly more interesting, from an Outback Bowl selection standpoint. If the Vols win, their record would be a fairly average 7-5, 4-4 mark. One potential scenario could have the Outback Bowl bypassing the Vols, even with a Tennessee win.
If Ole Miss defeats MSU as expected, but Arkansas defeats LSU--LSU would finish with an 8-4 mark. Would they be more attractive to the Outback Bowl than a 7-5 Tennessee team?
Remember--although the Outback Bowl gets first pick of teams from the SEC East after the BCS slots and Capital One Bowl slot has been filled, they are not required to take an SEC East team. They can instead wait for the Cotton Bowl to select its pick from the SEC West, and then choose from the SEC West instead. That option has not been exercised by the Outback Bowl since 1996, however, and most believe Tennessee would still get the nod over a struggling LSU squad who faltered down the stretch anyway.
The loser of tonight's Kentucky v. Tennessee game is expected to go to the Music City Bowl or the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. If Tennessee loses, a 6-6 Vol squad is expected to travel down the road to Nashville for the Music City Bowl. Kentucky's bowl situation is more cloudy with a loss. A 7-5 Wildcat squad may be battling with a 7-5 Auburn Tiger team for the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, or could be going bowling in Tennessee for the fourth consecutive year, for the third time at the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
A lot of football yet to be played, and some upsets--and games not discussed--may still have an impact on Kentucky's bowl situation. The Outback bowl will pit an SEC team versus a Big 10 Team, and will kickoff on January 1, 2010 at 11 a.m. ET and will be televised live by ESPN.
Outback Bowl play-in game: UK v UT
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