Losing the Iron Bowl by a respectable margin has seemingly handed the SEC’s contractually mandated Sugar Bowl berth to Auburn.
Auburn fell just one spot to No. 14 in the latest College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings revealed Tuesday night after dropping a 30-12 decision to the Crimson Tide, leaving it one spot ahead of Florida, which stayed at No. 15 despite losing to Sunshine State rival Florida State, 31-13, demonstrating just a faint pulse on offense.
Five SEC schools are ranked in the new CFP standings: Alabama (No. 1), Auburn (14), Florida (15), LSU (21) and Tennessee (22).
The Tide are firmly entrenched atop the rankings and are virtually guaranteed a spot in the 4-team playoff even if they suffered a massive upset loss to the Gators in Saturday’s SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Alabama is a three-touchdown favorite over Florida, the largest margin ever for the league title game.
Being ranked ahead of Florida entering championship weekend puts Auburn in the driver's seat for the Sugar Bowl despite losing its final two conference games to Georgia and Alabama, and concluding the regular season with an 8-4 record.
At this point, the only way Florida could jump over Auburn and steal the Sugar Bowl bid is 1) beat Alabama or 2) play the Tide close enough to impress the committee and move up the rankings.
Unless the first scenario happens, a team with just TWO more wins than the Gamecocks is headed to a ‘New Year’s 6’ bowl game. Nothing illustrates the SEC’s down year from a depth perspective more than that.
Auburn should face Oklahoma or Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. Saturday’s Bedlam game in Norman is for the Big 12 championship with the winner advancing to the Sugar Bowl. Neither the Sooners or Cowboys are ranked high enough (No. 9 and 10 in CFP standings, respectively) to get into the playoff with a win on Saturday.
Since Auburn dropped only one spot after losing to Alabama by 18 points, we can presume the same thing would happen to Florida without an embarrassing blowout loss. However, the Gators’ defense ranks among the best in the SEC, so the Tide scoring 40+ points is unlikely.
Thus, Florida will likely to remain ahead of LSU and Tennessee when the final standings are released Sunday afternoon, putting the Gators in the Citrus Bowl, which has next pick on the SEC bowl ladder behind the four-team Playoff and Sugar Bowl.
LSU and Tennessee drop down to the ‘Pool of 6’ bowls, joining 8-win Texas A&M and 7-win teams Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky as probables to fill the conference’s guaranteed spots in the Belk, Liberty, Music City, Outback, TaxSlayer and Texas Bowls.
Again, as a 6-6 team coming off a horrific loss in its rivalry game, the Gamecocks are likely headed for the Birmingham or Independence Bowls. They would have to unseat one of the teams with 7+ wins to participate in a ‘Pool of 6’ bowls.
Here is the latest bowl projections for the Gamecocks from several national media outlets:
FOX Sports: Birmingham Bowl vs. USF
SEC Country: Birmingham vs. Tulsa
CBS Sports: Independence vs. NC State
ESPN (SEC Blog): Birmingham
SI.com: Birmingham vs. USF
Sporting News: Belk v. Miami
Athlon’s: Independence vs. Wake Forest
CollegeFootballNews.com: Independence vs. Wake Forest
As you can see, most of the national media are divided on exactly where the Gamecocks go bowling: A majority predict Birmingham, but some say Independence.
Bottom line: It’s one of those two. With a 6-6 record and so many 7+ wins teams ahead of them, the Gamecocks bowl options are few.
We’ll find out Sunday afternoon where USC is headed after the selection committee announces the four teams in the playoff and the lineup for the other ‘New Year’s 6’ bowls.
The SEC has been far from a great conference this year, yet it appears 12 teams are going bowling. Mississippi State has one of the top team APRs among the 5-7 teams, and most projections have them headed to the Las Vegas Bowl (Pac-12 doesn’t have enough bowl eligible teams to fill their slots) or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.
SEC BOWL PROJECTIONS (After Week 13)
Four-Team Playoff: Alabama
Sugar (New Orleans): Auburn
Citrus (Orlando): Florida
Outback (Tampa): LSU
TaxSlayer (Jacksonville): Georgia
Music City (Nashville): Tennessee
Texas (Houston): Texas A&M
Belk (Charlotte): Kentucky
Liberty (Memphis): Arkansas
Birmingham (Birmingham): South Carolina
Independence (Shreveport): Vanderbilt
At-Large: Mississippi State
No Bowl: Ole Miss (5-7), Missouri (4-8).