How I've missed this week of trying to figure out who's going where and what teams might be waiting on us when we get there. In the old days you could also count on some bowls to do screwy things in passing up better teams for bigger paydays; the SEC now places teams, so hopefully we get lesser shenanigans instead of just different shenanigans.
In breaking down Tennessee's bowl possibilities there are a number of factors still at play:
Ole Miss Makes the New Year's Six AND/OR Missouri beats Alabama
While the Tigers winning the SEC Championship would probably be bad for the league, almost guaranteeing none of its teams would make the playoffs, it would almost certainly put three SEC teams in the January 1 bowls. The Tigers would qualify automatically as league champs, Mississippi State shouldn't fall too far from the top, nor would a two-loss formerly number one Alabama team.
If Missouri winning in Atlanta is a little too much for you, a far more likely scenario for the SEC to get three teams in the Playoffs/New Year's Six is for Ole Miss to be ranked in the Top 10 by the selection committee. The Rebels took a nose dive to #19 in last week's rankings, but could bounce all the way back after winning the Egg Bowl. With an expected Top 6 of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, and Ohio State, there are still four spots left for the New Year's Six playoff-rotation bowls (after Group of Five and ACC/Orange Bowl auto-bids) and the SEC needs the state of Mississippi to grab two of them. Michigan State will almost certainly take one in the clubhouse at 10-2, and I would assume the same about Mississippi State. Barring upsets, which never ever happen, I think it will come down to whether the selection committee values 9-3 Ole Miss, with wins over a pair of Top 5 teams at the time, over one or both of the presumed losers of the Big 10 and Pac 12 Championship Games in would-be 10-3 Arizona and Wisconsin.
The league getting three in the Playoff/New Year's Six helps clear traffic for the other nine bowl-eligible teams in the SEC.
The Citrus Bowl
Tennessee sent out priority bowl ticket applications to season ticket holders and included every possible option. So while I'm still crossing my fingers for Orlando, my understanding is the Citrus Bowl (goodbye what's in your wallet, hello Buffalo Wild Wings) has to take the teams with the best records from the SEC and Big 10 OR a team no more than one loss behind them. Where I am unclear is how they will treat what we will assume to be 10-3 Missouri. If they treat the Tigers as "better" than 9-3 Georgia (or 9-3 Ole Miss if the Rebels don't get in the New Year's Six), then their choices are limited. If they treat 10-3 Missouri as the same as Georgia/Ole Miss, then the rules would also allow them to select 8-4 Auburn or LSU.
Once the Citrus Bowl makes their selection, then it gets crowded.
The SEC Six
This year the SEC has grouped six bowls together and will assign teams in this tier, at least in theory, with less concern to pecking order. The Outback, Music City, Taxslayer (former Gator), Liberty, Belk, and Texas Bowls are now all grouped together and the league will have the final word on which teams go where. There is, of course, still some sense of pecking order because not all the payouts are equal (ranging from $3.5 mil for the Outback/Taxslayer to $1.4 mil for the Liberty according to wikipedia).
UPDATE: Wikipedia is incorrect on the Liberty Bowl payout, which is now $2.4 million according to this story from The Commercial Appeal. Thanks to memphispete in the comments for the heads up.
The Belk and Texas Bowls are also new to the SEC party.
And there still has to be some sense of pecking order among the teams themselves. Auburn deserves a better bowl game than Tennessee. It's up to the league now to determine its definition of "better" for each team, which I'm sure they will try to sell as "best possible fit" to at least every team in this tier.
If Ole Miss doesn't make January 1, it will clog up this tier. But for the sake of argument, let's assume the Rebels get in and 10-3 Missouri goes to the Citrus Bowl. From that point you'll have the SEC trying to decide which of these teams should make this group of six:
- 9-3 Georgia
- 8-4 Auburn
- 8-4 LSU
- 7-5 Texas A&M
- 6-5 Florida
- 6-6 Arkansas
- 6-6 South Carolina
- 6-6 Tennessee
For more, check out SB Nation's updated bowl projections
UPDATED 1:59 PM - Jimmy Hyams tweets the Vols have turned in their preferences to the conference office, which is what you would expect:
UT will recommend to SEC office it's choice of 3 bowls: Music City, Liberty, Belk. SEC will make final determination based on matchup.— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) December 1, 2014