As I do my level best to ignore Election Day (I'm voting, but we're not getting into details here), this entry aims to take a look at the SEC bowl picture. The picture is a little complicated by the fact that the SEC may or may not get multiple BCS bids, particularly if either Bama or Florida gets a shot at the BCSNCG.
First, let's look at the tie-ins. Of course, there's the Sugar Bowl, which historically goes to the #1 SEC team, unless the #1 SEC team gets the national championship game, which has a very realistic possibility at this point.
After the BCS bid, here are the SEC Tie-ins:
- The Cap One Bowl: New Year's Day. SEC #2 vs. Big Ten #2. The Cap One gets its pick of the SEC teams that are not in the BCS. Of course, if the BCS system picks up the #2 SEC team, the Cap One gets the #3. Of course "#2" or "#3" are not in terms of rankings, but rather in terms of "desirability" which has as much to do with ticket sales and sponsor desires as anything else. If given a choice between a high profile team like, say, Georgia, and a low-profile team like South Carolina, they'll pick Georgia every time if there are similar records.
- The Outback Bowl: New Year's Day. SEC #3/#4 vs. Big 10 #3. This is an SEC East slot, meaning that the Outback gets its choice after the Cap One is filled, so long as it wants an SEC East team. If it wants an SEC West team, it has to wait until after the Cotton Bowl makes its pick.
- The Cotton Bowl: New Year's Day. SEC #3/#4 vs. Big 12 #2. This is an SEC West slot, meaning that the Cotton gets its choice after the Cap One, so long as it wants an SEC West team (better for ticket sales, since this game is in Dallas). Honestly, at this point LSU is a shoe-in for the Cotton unless it wins the SEC or collapses down the stretch, or if Georgia loses another game. If the Cotton is desperate for an East team (which it may be if Bama and LSU are not available), it has to wait until after the Outback makes its choice. This is why LSU is very unlikely to ever play in the Outback and why Florida is unlikely to ever play in the Cotton.
- The Peach Bowl: New Year's Eve. SEC #5 vs. ACC #2. I am generally not opposed to the modernization of traditional events, but this is one thing I absolutely refuse to call by its modern name, which is of course, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
- The Liberty Bowl: SEC #6 vs. C-USA #1. This assumes the CUSA champion is not in the BCS. Also, it's not strictly true that this is the SEC #6 slot, as according to the SEC site, the Liberty and the Music City make their selections "not in any particular order, but in consultation with the SEC office," whatever that means.
- The Music City Bowl: SEC #7 vs. ACC #6. See above.
- The Independence Bowl: SEC #8 vs. Big 12 #7. Obviously, if you're going to Shreveport in December, life is not going how you wanted it unless you're a Mississippi team or Vanderbilt.
- The Papa John's Bowl: This is a new one added to the list of SEC bowl tie-ins, replacing (I think) the Houston Bowl, which I don't think ever actually had an SEC team in it because there were never enough bowl-eligible teams to fill it. We'll see about this year.
So then, that is 9 or perhaps 10 spots out there for SEC teams, depending on what the BCS does. Here, at this point, is my breakdown if the season was over today.
BCS: The SEC gets two, with Bama and Florida going.
Cap One: At this point, it would have to be Georgia.
Cotton: LSU is pretty clearly the #4 team in the SEC right now (by resume) and the Cotton gets its choice if it wants a Western Division team. Unless the Cap One were to take LSU, this is an easy choice for the Cotton.
Outback: Here's where the heads start scratching. Right now, you'd have to say that it's South Carolina. They've been solid except for the now distant memories of the first couple weeks of the season, and they have a crowd- and ratings-drawer in Steve Spurrier on the sidelines. Kentucky could end up with as many wins, or even more, but I think unless South Carolina implodes again and ends up stuck at six wins, this is probably a spot reserved for South Carolina.
Peach: Anyone's guess at this point. It could be Vandy. It could be Kentucky. It could be Ole Miss. Vandy's not bowl-eligible yet, and may not get there considering how cold they are, but then again Ole Miss isn't yet either. One of the odd little rules about bowls is that a bowl CANNOT pick a 6-win team over a team with greater than 6 wins. If there is a team out there with 7 wins and an appropriate conference tie-in, it must pick that team over a 6-win team. This game could well go to whoever has 7 wins of the teams remaining. The best bet here is probably Ole Miss, as they are sitting at 5 right now and have Mississippi State and UL-Monroe left on the schedule.
Liberty/Music City: I think it's safe to say that if Kentucky doesn't get one of the above bowls, they'll pick up one of these spots. Kentucky could well end up as high as the Outback, but I don't see any way they fall lower than this. The other spot is probably Vandy, if they can get a 6th win.
Independence: Is there anyone left? The I-bowl could well be looking at an at-large team, which would be very unusual. Of the teams not slotted above, Auburn, Arkansas, and Tennessee still have at least outside shots at bowl-eligibility. If Tennessee makes it, they will do so probably by knocking Vandy out. Arkansas has its work cut out, as it needs to beat MSU and then figure out how to beat either LSU or South Carolina. Auburn has to beat Tennessee-Martin and then either Georgia or Bama. Tall orders, all.
Papa John's: I don't see the SEC making it this far with bowl-eligible teams unless the BCS picks only one of us, which I would say is possible if LSU beats Bama, Auburn beats Bama, LSU wins out, LSU plays Florida in the SECCG and loses. If that happens, the BCS may not reach down to pick up Bama or Georgia. If that doesn't happen, I don't see enough SEC teams getting to six wins to put a team in Birmingham.