We’re into October now and TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage will be doing regular check-ins on the power conferences, to take a big-picture look at the race for their championships and how their bowl tie-ins might shake out. Let’s take a brief look at the landscape in the nation’s top conference and then make some SEC bowl projections…
*Georgia established itself as the early frontrunner in the SEC East with a win over South Carolina, and maintained that standing by beating LSU and surviving Tennessee. There’s still plenty left to shake out in this division though.
Florida joins Georgia at 3-0 in the conference, and though the Gators have not looked great, they have their games with both the Bulldogs and Gamecocks in November. Most intriguing is Missouri, who is 5-0 and blew out Vanderbilt on Saturday. Mizzou now enters a three-game stretch where they get Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in succession. Nothing like an opportunity to see what your made of.
South Carolina needs something to upset the applecart, because they need either a three-way tie situation or two Georgia losses to have a chance at getting to Atlanta. The Gamecocks are also another team that just doesn’t look sharp and they won’t run the table in the SEC if they don’t start playing better.
Alabama has control of the SEC West, with all other contenders having lost a conference game. The key here is whether LSU can get past Florida on Saturday, as the Tigers still get a chance at ‘Bama head-to-head and could win on a tiebreaker.
Texas A&M’s loss means they need either two Tide losses or some sort of other crackup. Auburn’s win over Ole Miss was big, but Auburn has lost at LSU and they need to win at Texas A&M on October 19 if we’re going to give Gus Malzahn’s team credence as a contender for more than bowl eligibility.
What I think is most interesting in this conference is the race for the at-large BCS bid. Of the four bids available to non-BCS conference champions, a league cannot get more than one. At the very least we know the SEC will grab one of those empty slots.
So for the moment, let’s assume the chalk holds and Alabama wins the conference championship. What are the scenarios for the at-large?
*If Georgia wins out, with their only loss being to Alabama in SEC Championship Game rematch, the Dawgs would be 11-2. The losers of these league title games though, are at a distinct disadvantage in the politics of BCS bowl selection though. They’ve lost steam in the rankings after a defeat, their fan bases have already traveled to a neutral-site game (though this would be less of a factor for the Bulldogs since the conference game is in Atlanta), and there’s just a more negative mojo after a defeat.
Georgia need no look no further than being ignored by the Sugar Bowl last year in favor of Florida, in spite of having beaten the Gators head-to-head and won the division.
That would shift our focus to South Carolina/Florida in the East and LSU/Texas A&M in the West. Both of these will be head-to-head games coming up and will sort themselves out. You’d have to think A&M would have the inside track if they’re 10-2 or 11-1, given the attraction of Johnny Manziel. I’m personally less high on the Aggies’ chances of finishing second, but that’s another story entirely.
On the conference’s opposite end, Kentucky is the only team off the board as far as serious consideration for bowls, while Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are 3-3. Mississippi State is 2-3 and not looking good, while Ole Miss, at 3-2 looks to be in that area of being a comfortable bowl team, but not a threat to go marquee.
Beyond the BCS, the top bids in this league are for the Capital One Bowl, involving the top available Big Ten team, and the Cotton Bowl, against the best available from the Big 12 after the BCS is done picking. Here’s how TheSportsNotebook has its current SEC bowl projections lined up. In parentheses, I’ve noted a possible opponent. This isn’t an official prediction, but just a way for us to stir up the games we might be watching in December in January.
BCS Automatic: Alabama
BCS At-Large: LSU (please note this represents a change from the BCS bowl projections I did just yesterday, with Georgia as the selection).
Capital One: South Carolina (Big Ten #2–Michigan)
Cotton: Texas A&M (Big 12 #2–Baylor)
Outback: Georgia (Big Ten #3–Northwestern)
Chick-Fil-A: Florida (ACC #2–Virginia Tech)
Gator: Ole Miss (Big Ten #4–Michigan State)
Music City: Missouri (ACC #6–Pitt)
Liberty: Auburn (CUSA #1–East Carolina)
Compass: Vanderbilt (American Athletic #4–Houston)
Advocare: Arkansas (ACC #7–N.C. State)