SCOTT: The SEC Bowl Pecking Order

Sly Croom has State in first bowl since 2000

LSU didn't do the SEC any favors with its three-overtime loss to Arkansas, most likely depriving the conference of a shot at a second consecutive national championship.

The Tigers also threw the SEC's bowl situation up for grabs, with 10 bowl-eligible teams competing for eight guaranteed spots and the conference office looking for possible openings in other bowls.

The SEC's best hope at this point is to place two teams in BCS bowls. One will certainly be the winner of Saturday's SEC championship game between LSU and Tennessee. The other will most likely be Georgia as an at-large team in either the Orange or Rose bowls.

But what happens to the rest of the teams? How will the SEC manage to fit 10 into eight (or nine)? Who will get left out?

Here's a breakdown of the SEC's bowl tie-ins and where they stand headed into the SEC championship game.

CAPITAL ONE

After the Sugar Bowl and a second likely BCS bowl, the Capital One in Orlando steps up with the next choice of an SEC team.

Keep in mind that bowls are business entities who have to make money to survive – just like any other business. That means the top spot doesn't always to the top team.

With that in mind the Capital One appears to have its sights set on Florida and the possibility of a match-up between the Gators and Illinois, coached by former Florida coach Ron Zook. While the loser of the SEC championship game might be more deserving, Florida-Illinois sells tickets.

OUTBACK

The Outback Bowl in Tampa is next up, and while that might seem like a suitable alternative if LSU loses to Tennessee, it's important to remember that the Outback hasn't selected an SEC West team since Alabama on Jan. 1, 1997.

While Tennessee played in the Outback Bowl last year, it's also important to remember that the Outback has hosted SEC East teams in back-to-back years twice since then, with Florida in 2003 and 2004 and South Carolina in 2001 and 2002, so Outback officials wouldn't be afraid to go with Tennessee again.

COTTON

The Cotton Bowl in Dallas is wide open with a list that includes Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and LSU.

The Cotton Bowl would love to have LSU if the Tigers lost to the Vols on Saturday but if not they'll be giving serious consideration to Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a long history with the Cotton Bowl from their years in the Southwest Conference

"I hope the Cotton Bowl comes and gets us," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said after the victory over LSU. "I love it. ... I hope they give us that invitation. I want to go to the Cotton Bowl."

While Auburn is a possibility it's not as likely a choice because the Tigers played in the Cotton last year. On the other hand, the Cotton has hosted Tennessee twice since 2000.

Getting the loser of the SEC championship game would be a big deal for the Cotton, but the Razorbacks could sell more tickets.

"The Razorbacks certainly played their way back onto our radar screen with their impressive upset of the No. 1 team," Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "However, there are a lot of football games to be played and we will be monitoring them closely, this week and next.

"The great thing about the current system is that everyone can wait for all the games to be played before the final match-ups are determined."

CHICK-FIL-A

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta is also wide open at this point, with everyone from Tennessee to Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State on the bowl's radar.

If Tennessee ends up in the Outback or Cotton bowls, the most likely selection would be Auburn because of the geographic proximity to so many Auburn fans, including a significant population of Auburn fans in the Atlanta metro area.

Kentucky most likely came up just a bit short of serious consideration with its triple-overtime loss to Tennessee while Mississippi State improved its stock with a dramatic comeback win over Ole Miss. The Chick-Fil-A Bowl's Jack D'Arcy attended the Egg Bowl and told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, "They did well, by winning, let's put it that way. Had they not, there would have been too many other teams with better records. At 7-5, they've become a lot more interesting."

LIBERTY

The Liberty Bowl in Memphis went with South Carolina last year but appears more likely to pick a team closer to home this season.

While Auburn could fall this far and Alabama could come up from the bottom of the pack, the more likely possibilities are Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

After losing to Tennessee, the Liberty Bowl has to look pretty good to the Wildcats.

"Obviously our options would have been greater at 8-4," Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart told the Lexington Herald-Leader," but we've got some star power, guys who put points on the board who are fun to watch, and our fans have been buying tickets to all of the bowls that we had a possibility of going to," he said.

Don't count out Mississippi State. While Kentucky has traveled well in its most recent bowls, the Bulldogs are making their first bowl appearance since 2000 and there's a lot to be said of the combination of a bowl-hungry fan base and geographic proximity.

MUSIC CITY BOWL

While Kentucky would seem like a likely choice for the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Wildcats played there last year and the Music City might want to look elsewhere.

Then again, the Wildcats did whip up on Clemson in last year's game and Kentucky fans did their part to fill seats so both sides might see this as a good choice.

Don't be surprised if it plays out this way: the Liberty will choose from either Kentucky or Mississippi State, and the Music City Bowl will choose the other team.

"We're in a bowl game, and we'll play somewhere between Dec. 29 and Jan. 1," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. "I think this win put us right in the middle of everything, with the exception of the top two bowls in our pecking order. We're in the hunt on everything else."

INDEPENDENCE

Let's say, just for speculative purposes, that Kentucky goes to the Music City Bowl and Mississippi State goes to the Liberty Bowl? Where does that leave the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.?

Could Arkansas drop this far? It's always possible that missing out on the Cotton Bowl could drop the Razorbacks this far, which would thrill the Independence Bowl folks.

The other choice might be Alabama or South Carolina. At 6-6, the Crimson Tide and the Gamecocks need the SEC to place two teams in BCS bowls. If that happens, one of those two teams is going bowling. If not, one of them is going to get left out.

If someone had told the Independence Bowl folks before the season that it would have its choice of teams coached by Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban, they would have been jumping for joy. While Alabama and South Carolina both ended the season with ugly Novembers, Saban and Spurrier do bring some rep and the Independence needs all the attention it can get to raise awareness and ticket sales.

WHAT'S LEFT?

At this point the SEC has run out of bowl guarantees and has to go fishing for other possibilities. One could come from the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Pac-10 has a tie-in with the Armed Forces Bowl but can't fill all of its openings, leaving the bowl to look for another team from a long list of possibilities. Either Alabama or South Carolina could be that team, but Purdue has also been mentioned as an option. TCU, located in Fort Worth, could be another possibility.

If the SEC places 10 teams in a bowl it would be another big show of strength for the conference.

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