While the SEC mostly maintained its status quo this weekend, a number of huge results around the country altered outlooks for the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl games.
Louisville, even with the Lamar Jackson machine running full throttle, was outgunned on the road by mighty Clemson. Washington absolutely crushed Stanford at home. Michigan uglied its way past Wisconsin in The Big House to stay perfect.
And, of course, Tennessee defied fate in its Hail Mary escape against Georgia.
All of that has reshaped the postseason picture in this week’s bowl projections:
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Washington||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#2 Clemson||#3 Ohio State||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Michigan||Louisville||Big Ten/SEC/ND vs ACC #1|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Tennessee||Oklahoma||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||Texas A&M||Houston||At-large vs at-large|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Wisconsin||Stanford||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||Ole Miss||Miami||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||Florida||Michigan State||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Georgia||Florida State||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Arkansas||Notre Dame||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||LSU||Texas||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Auburn||Virginia Tech||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||Memphis||Oklahoma St.||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||NC State||East Carolina||SEC #9** vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Kansas State||Wake Forest||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Missouri, Miss State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky||**Replaced by fill-in|
About those Vols…
The great football Houdinis of the season keep finding the most ridiculous, nerve-wracking ways to avoid defeat. They were outplayed by Georgia until, once again, Josh Dobbs, Jauan Jennings and Derek Barnett pulled their team out of the fire.
Even so, this group should get healthier as the season wears on. So far Tennessee has all but sewed up the SEC East through five weeks.
After Texas A&M and Alabama, Tennessee’s opponents are: South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. It would take an incredible upset for this team to not reach the 10-win mark.
The New Year’s Six field does look crowded. The ACC has Louisville, Florida State and maybe a Miami program, which is 4-0 heading into next week’s matchup with the floundering Seminoles. The Big Ten has Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Houston, if not in the Playoff, would slot into the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five team.
Trevor Knight playing against his old team in the Sugar Bowl or Tennessee getting a rematch with Oklahoma would both be excellent pairings. The Vols, with an easier schedule and their flair for the dramatic, hold a slight edge for now — even though they’re the weaker team playing in College Station on Saturday.
The Aggies facing in-state foe Houston would be a fun one, too, even if Tom Herman has taken another job by then.
Shuffling at the bottom
The SEC might only have nine bowl-eligible teams this year. Is it possible five-win Missouri and South Carolina teams would earn bowl invites? Sure. But the Gamecocks play that not-so-pretty Will Muschamp brand of football, and Missouri has started 0-3 against Power Five opponents.
Add in Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and you’ve got a pretty weak bottom portion of the conference.
So it’s likely you have three bowls fighting over LSU and Auburn. Geography and the presence of fans Houston would make LSU-Texas a good fit for the Texas Bowl. Memphis and Charlotte are about equidistant from Auburn, but the deeper ACC would offer a more compelling matchup in Virginia Tech than the Liberty Bowl’s Big 12 tie-in.
Although the final score was 48-28, Memphis put up a real fight against Ole Miss and at one point cut the Rebels’ lead to 6 points with 3:30 left in the third quarter. A look at Memphis’ remaining schedule makes 9 wins seem likely. There’s also the super-slim possibility of upsetting Houston in the season finale. Keeping the Tigers in Memphis would be a good plan for Liberty Bowl.
Can the Rebels keep rolling?
Ole Miss is certainly the team most likely to crack the New Year’s Six outside of Tennessee and Texas A&M. There’s a real chance Ole Miss runs the table to 10-2, even with road matchups at Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M.
When Chad Kelly is on his game, few teams have the firepower to keep pace as long as he and the offense keep their feet on the gas pedal.
Barring an ugly loss or a couple more collapses, there’s little chance Ole Miss — an exciting team to watch with a dedicated fan base — falls below the Citrus Bowl and into the Pool of Six games. The Rebels are just too enticing to pass up.
Week 6 SEC games to watch
- Tennessee at Texas A&M (kickoff time TBD)
- Alabama at Arkansas (kickoff time TBD)
- LSU at Florida (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
With ESPN’s College GameDay on hand, two of the SEC’s three remaining unbeatens square off at Kyle Field in the country’s biggest game of the week. Arkansas hosts Alabama in Fayetteville for the first time since losing to the Crimson Tide, 14-13, in 2014. And suddenly-energized LSU travels to take on a Florida team that looked U-G-L-Y against Vandy. The results of these three games should really crystallize how the SEC shakes out this season.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 6
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (12-0, 8-0)**||Tennessee (10-2, 6-2)|
|Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2)||Florida (8-4, 5-3)|
|Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2)||Georgia (8-4, 4-4)|
|Arkansas (9-3, 5-3)||Missouri (5-7, 2-6)|
|Auburn (7-5, 4-4)||South Carolina (5-7, 2-6)|
|LSU (7-5, 4-4)||Kentucky (4-8, 2-6)|
|Mississippi St (5-7, 2-6)||Vanderbilt (3-9, 0-8)|
|** = SEC champion|