SEC bowl projections, Week 14: Rivalry Week scrambles order
One thing we know for sure: For the first time since the College Football Playoff began, the semifinals will not include Alabama.
But can the SEC still get two teams into the CFP?
The answer is pretty simple: Yes, if Georgia beats LSU in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.
Georgia and LSU cruised to easy victories this weekend to stay atop our SEC bowl projections. We are projecting that the Tigers will run the table by winning in Atlanta and take the Bulldogs out of the CFP race.
An interesting development happened last week when Ohio State jumped LSU for the top spot in the CFP rankings. Our guess is that OSU and LSU will remain 1-2 after the championship games, leaving LSU to contemplate an all-Tigers semifinal against Clemson while the Buckeyes face our new No. 4 team, projected Big 12 champ Oklahoma (we still think Oregon beats Utah for the Pac-12 title, knocking the Utes out of CFP contention).
If LSU wins the SEC Championship Game as we project, the question then becomes which New Year’s Day 6 bowl candidates from the SEC — Georgia, Alabama and Florida — will land where. We still say the SEC will have four teams in the NYD6, including, of course, LSU in the CFP.
The guess here is that, even with a loss to LSU, Georgia will be rewarded for winning the East Division with a trip to the Sugar Bowl as the top-ranked SEC team outside of the CFP. After that, things get more interesting. The CFP committee could well keep Alabama ahead of Florida in the rankings this week even after the Crimson Tide’s loss to Auburn.
Or not. Just a guess, but the voters should take a second look at the Gators after they stomped bowl-bound Florida State on Saturday. That plus Bama’s loss, plus the fact that the Crimson Tide is shaky on defense and missing injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, will give UF the edge over Bama in the CFP’s eyes when the new rankings come out Tuesday. That would put Florida in the Orange Bowl and mean that Alabama would be slotted into the Cotton Bowl.
As for the SEC’s other bowl bids, Mississippi State clinched a spot on Thursday with its dramatic win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The Bulldogs claimed their sixth win and will go to a mid-level bowl. MSU will be last in the SEC pecking order at 6-6. After Auburn, whom we have projected for the Citrus Bowl, the other bowl-eligible SEC teams are all 7-5 overall: Tennessee, Texas A&M and Kentucky.
The six bowls in the SEC pecking order after the Citrus — Outback, Gator, Music City, Liberty, Texas and Belk — are all considered equal in the league’s eyes. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that the SEC has only four teams left to fill those six spots. It also does not take an economics expert or a travel agent to suss out that there is no way the SEC will let some other league fill out those Outback and Gator Bowl spots and give up those sunny Florida postseason destinations, regardless of whether any other bowl is “considered equal” to those two.
As for those Florida bowls, Texas A&M and Tennessee are probably more viable candidates than Kentucky because of their tradition and, more important, their history of traveling really well to bowls. Gotta fill those hotel rooms, you know. A&M went to the Gator last year, so we’re guessing that the Aggies will go to Tampa for the Outback while the Vols head to Jacksonville for the Gator. But considering the way the Vols closed their season, it will not be shocking if UT wound up in the Outback and the Gator Bowl took either the Aggies again or invites Kentucky.
So that leaves the Liberty, Music City, Belk and Texas bowls to fight for two SEC teams (the folks who run the Birmingham and Independence bowls have probably known for months that they were never going to get the SEC teams that they are supposed to get). It is unfortunate that Missouri’s postseason ban means the Tigers will not get to go to one of those bowls.
Now, on to our bowl projections: