Wins and losses are just part of the bowl selection process. Fan support and morale is always a big factor. Travel also has to be considered.
Under the new bowl selection process unveiled in 2014, the SEC has major influence concerning which of its teams play in which bowls. The College Football Playoff and the Citrus Bowl are the only entities that actually get to select the SEC team that will take part in their bowl games.
The SEC will take the bowls’ preferences into consideration, but the conference office will ultimately decide which SEC team will end up in the Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas and TaxSlayer bowls.
The SEC has said there’s no pecking order, but some games are clearly more desirable to fan bases. Most would prefer a sunny trip to Florida, which puts the Outback and TaxSlayer bowls toward the top. They are held in Tampa, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla., respectively.
Let’s assume Alabama wins out and beats Florida in the SEC championship game. Subsequently, Alabama makes the College Football Playoff, and the Citrus Bowl selects Florida. Now, let’s assume Arkansas, UGA, LSU and Tennessee win their remaining games.
That would mean there are four teams vying for the best bowl status based on win-loss record. Here is a breakdown of each school’s advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the bowl selection process:
Arkansas — The Razorbacks seemed about as far removed from a Florida bowl as Antarctica just a few weeks ago. Now, a four-game winning streak has Arkansas looking much more attractive to the bowl selection process. The Razorbacks defeated Auburn and Ole Miss in overtime, then pounded LSU, 31-14. Travel would be a concern for any Florida bowl, which could be enough to keep Arkansas closer to home. However, if Arkansas can close out the season with wins against Mississippi State and Missouri, fan optimism could have them bowling in the Sunshine State.
UGA — Based on record and proximity alone, UGA makes the most sense to end up in the Outback Bowl. The Bulldogs should have as many or more wins as any team in contention for the SEC’s top appointed bowls. However, the Bulldogs carry the stench of a disappointment, even if they finish 9-3. Losses to Tennessee and Florida took UGA out of the SEC East race before it had even picked up steam. After those losses, fans had more questions about coach Mark Richt’s future than anything that could happen on the field. If UGA loses to Georgia Tech in the season finale, it would surely be out of the running for a Florida bowl game. If it wins out and the SEC doesn’t send it to the Outback Bowl, things could get interesting. The Bulldogs played in the TaxSlayer Bowl two seasons ago and the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., last season. How far could they drop?
LSU — The Tigers are another team dealing with a disappointing season. Losing to Alabama is understandable. However, LSU got hammered, 30-16, then lost to Arkansas, 31-14. Fair or not, there are questions about coach Les Miles’ future in Baton Rouge. Proximity certainly isn’t on the Tigers’ side. Also, the Outback Bowl took LSU just two seasons ago. That could work against it in the selection process.
Tennessee — Most thought the Volunteers would stay in-state to go bowling before their recent run of success. The Liberty Bowl in Memphis and the Music City Bowl in Nashville both looked like the strongest possibilities. Both of those bowls are still in play, along with the Belk Bowl. However, the Outback Bowl makes a lot of sense. The Vols haven’t been to the Outback Bowl since after the 2007 season. Tennessee’s team and its fans had a strong showing there, which should help. The TaxSlayer Bowl seems unlikely since Tennessee played in that game last season. Fan optimism should help the Vols if they can close the year with a five-game winning streak and their best regular-season record since 2007.