Mississippi State is to learn its post-season destination sometime around 5:00 Sunday, per football media relations. This year’s announcement won’t have the same level of excitement as last when those Bulldogs hoped for a New Years Six bowl berth. Which they received, going to the Orange Bowl.
Still there is a level of honest tension to find just where Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC) is assigned for the holidays. Whatever the destination it will extend the record of consecutive Bulldog bowl appearances to six years.
Speculation and projections vary by media outlet, but all begin with an assumption Alabama defeats Florida tomorrow in the SEC Championship Game.
If Alabama wins as expected they are certain of representing the SEC in this year’s second edition of the College Football Playoff four-team semifinals. An upset win by Florida would likely send the league champions to the Sugar Bowl, not the Playoff; with Alabama still finding a spot somewhere in the New Years Six bowl system.
With a loss the Gators might yet stay in the NY6 system as East Division champions, since the Sugar Bowl would be losing their league champion to the Playoffs. But informal indications are the Sugar Bowl would prefer a team that won its last regular season game over a Florida team coming off consecutive losses. The SEC Office and Sugar Bowl will doubtless be talking over scenarios.
This year the Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, and Chick-fil-A Peach are the ‘access’ bowls selecting teams based on final CFP rankings which come out Sunday. That was the system which put Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl last winter.
This year’s Bulldogs will not be a part of that system. Instead Mississippi State is bound for one of the SEC’s ‘pool of six’ bowls. Those six receive their assignments after the Citrus Bowl makes their own unique selection, which this year should be the SEC team which does not get the Sugar Bowl berth.
These next six events do not have the same order-of-selection as under the old BCS system. Instead, as the league’s guidelines state, “In consultation with SEC member institutions, as well as with these six bowls, the conference will make the assignments for the bowl games in this newly created pool system.” After those seven games are set, the Independence and then Birmingham choose from the remaining eligible SEC teams.
What makes the negotiation, or just plain politicking by bowls and schools alike, intriguing are factors going beyond mere orders-of-finish in SEC or Divisions. Every program wants the most prestige a bowl can bring, and that is generally measured in money. The Citrus pays out $4.25 million to each participant to lead the non-NY6 list.
Following in payouts are the Outback at $3.5 million, Texas $3.0, Taxslayer $2.75, Music City $2.75, Belk $1.7, Liberty $1.437, Independence $1.2, and Birmingham $1.1 million for the SEC team. They pay $900,000 to the ACC opponent.
Those payouts pale compared to the CPP and NY6 bonanzas of course. Even there, some flexibility exists year to year based on rotations of the CFP semifinals. Because it was a ‘contract’ bowl and they were not hosting a semifinal, the Orange paid out a total $27.5 million. Thus it was Mississippi State which turned in the single largest check of any school, any sport, to the SEC’s coffers in 2014-15.
The SEC reportedly received almost $88 million in total bowl payouts last year, or $5 million more than runner-up Atlantic Coast Conference.
So…where are the Bulldogs bound?
There is not the same depth of historical tendencies to call on as before. In previous years it would be easier to project where an 8-win SEC team would end up. Not easy, since factors like the last appearance in a bowl, how the team finished the season, how ‘happy’ or not a fan base was about the team, coaching changes, always have been taken into account. Also in the current financial climate bowls actually might consider the matchup’s TV potential to count at least as much and maybe more than simple ticket sales and attendance. Mid-week game days are further complications and put a premium on happy fans bases and proximity.
This is where the SEC’s increased say, even dictates, on who goes where is less predictable than ever. Does the league want to maintain the importance of a team’s final Division/SEC standings over other factors? That was a factor in the past, but is it still top of the list?
A number of pool-six bowls have been campaigning for particular teams already. Such as the Taxslayer which has lobbied for either nine-win Georgia or eight-win LSU, though neither fan base is especially ecstatic this winter. By contrast Tennessee’s five-win streak to close out the schedule, along with the obvious local fan base and national TV market, has the Music City Bowl begging to keep the Vols in state. And that would come at the cost of Mississippi State, also an eight-win team but losers twice in their last three games.
A small sample of the three major college football networks projects State to make a first-ever trip to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. The presumed draw would be matching record-smashing quarterback Dak Prescott against retiring Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in their college finales. Bulldog fans are not thrilled at thought of going to a game subject to iffy weather and a Wednesday afternoon kickoff between the holidays. One network still projects State going back to Jacksonville a third time in five years, which MSU officials do not expect but would likely welcome since it is a Saturday game in a sunnier address.
The Liberty Bowl wants Arkansas and should get the on-rise Razorbacks. And State will not fall as far as Shreveport or Birmingham.
There is a wild-card possibility though. Tennessee could well end up in a Florida bowl, it seems, and Texas A&M find its way to Nashville now. And based on payout, the Texas Bowl in Houston would have more fiscal prestige than Charlotte or even Nashville. That bowl clearly wants nearby Texas A&M to match up with Big XII opponent Texas Tech. Aggie fans might like the convenience but they are not enthralled with the team after struggling down the stretch as well.
But A&M did beat State straight-up and finished with eight wins, so if the alternative is going to Charlotte the Aggies would just as soon stay home for the holidays. Nashville would be more salable to A&M folk without losing any prestige to speak of. Besides, after every school gets their advance cut of bowl money to pay expenses, everything else goes to SEC coffers anyway.
Mississippi State has been accepting advance orders for bowl tickets (hailstate.com) to all the pool-six games. Based on the bowl assignment and date, Coach Dan Mullen will begin campus bowl came sometime from December 10th to 12th. The exact schedule with open practice dates will be announced.