Finding a sixth win for SEC teams on the bowl fringe
Eight teams are in and five more can still make the list of SEC bowl-eligible schools over the final weeks of the season. Though in all probability not all will achieve eligibility, the conference should have no problem filling its 11 bowl tie-ins.
Alabama (10-0), Auburn (7-3), LSU (6-3), Texas A&M (7-3) and Arkansas (6-4) are in from the SEC West, while Florida (7-2), Georgia (6-4), and Tennessee (7-3) are eligible from the East.
Here are the five teams on the bubble and how they could reach six wins and bowl eligibility:
Kentucky (5-5): The Wildcats would love to exit the roller coaster ride they’ve been on all season. After opening with two losses, the Cats won their next two. And after falling to Alabama (who hasn’t) they won three straight and looked like a lock for bowl eligibility.
But the amusement park ride continued. Back-to-back losses to Georgia and Tennessee leave Kentucky still one win short. Saturday’s home finale with FCS foe Austin Peay could very well be the final chance. That’s because the Cats end the season at Louisville.
Ole Miss (5-5): The Rebels need one win over the last two games to reach bowl eligibility and give their budding star quarterback Shea Patterson another few weeks of valuable experience with bowl preparation. But that could prove to be easier said than done.
Riding the high of Patterson’s late-game heroics in Saturday’s 29-28 comeback victory at Texas A&M, the Rebels visit a Vanderbilt team also looking to become bowl eligible. Patterson rallied the Rebels from a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes for their first road win of the season.
But if they don’t get it done on the road, the Rebels could still get there with a victory in the Egg Bowl against in-state rival Mississippi State.
Patterson looks to be on an accelerated course to stardom, so winning at least one of the last two games would seem likely for the Rebels.
South Carolina (5-5): At the midway point in the season, talking bowl eligibility would have been the furthest thing from the mind of first-year head coach Will Muschamp. A 2-4 start gave pause to Gamecocks fans reflecting on Muschamp’s first head coaching experience at Florida. But consecutive victories over UMass, Tennessee and Missouri put that very idea front and center.
Now it’s a possibility if not an inevitability. The Gamecocks need only to take care of business against 2-8 Western Carolina at home on Saturday to throw their hat in the postseason ring.
That’s South Carolina’s best chance at bowl eligibility because the season finale at Clemson is a daunting challenge.
Mississippi State (4-6): Dan Mullen has to be wondering what he’s done wrong to upset the College Football Gods. The Bulldogs have lost three games by a field goal or less, and another in double-overtime. They must win both of their remaining games to become bowl eligible. That won’t be an easy task; both are against SEC West foes.
The Bulldogs host an Arkansas squad on Saturday that will be looking to rebound from the pummeling it took from LSU at home. The Hogs, already bowl eligible, will be looking to improve their position in the pecking order.
Even if they should come out on top in that one, a victory in the Egg Bowl is also a must. And though Ole Miss lost QB Chad Kelly for the season, freshman Shea Patterson has already emerged as the future of the Rebels. Stopping him will take a better effort than Texas A&M threw at him on Saturday.
If the Bulldogs do become bowl eligible, however, at least they’ll know they earned it.
Vanderbilt (4-6): Back-to-back losses to Auburn and Missouri have all but dashed any bowl hopes the Commodores may have had. They’ll have to win at least one of the remaining two games to even have a chance. That’s right, at least one of the final two; both at home vs. Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Winning one of those two is going to be tough, but should they accomplish it and get to five wins, the Commodores could still get in. There are 80 bowl slots to be filled. If there aren’t enough teams that qualify, as was the case last season, any spots still remaining would go to those 5-7 teams with the best Academic Progress Rate (APR), of which Vanderbilt ranks among the top five.
That’s right, academics count for something in college.