Rivalry week should bring SEC bowl forecast into clear focus
Published 11:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2022
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — It’s rivalry week for most of the Southeastern Conference. The Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl. The Palmetto Bowl. The Sunshine Showdown. Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. The Battle Line Rivalry.
It’s a chance for everyone to either avoid or add to the powerhouse league’s recent chaos. Thirteen of 14 SEC teams — everyone except Texas A&M (4-7) — are eyeing various levels of postseason play.
Auburn, Missouri and Vanderbilt need upset victories to become bowl eligible. Given how games have unfolded the last two weeks — South Carolina stunned Tennessee, Arkansas shocked Ole Miss and Vanderbilt upset Kentucky and Florida for consecutive SEC wins for the first time in four years — no one should be surprised by any outcome this holiday weekend.
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“I don’t know if parity is the right word but having the ability to perform on a consistent basis,” first-year Gators coach Billy Napier said. “We live in a time where you just see a lot of inconsistency. … There’s a number of challenges that come with roster attrition and retention, the addition of players, all those things that contribute to your stability of the program. Things can change dramatically in a hurry.”
Several coaches are counting on it. Here’s a look at where the SEC stands as teams jockey for postseason positioning:
Although the top-ranked and defending national champion Bulldogs have looked vulnerable at times, nothing short of losing to Georgia Tech and then LSU in the SEC title game would keep them from the College Football Playoff.
The sixth-ranked Tigers would make a strong case for the CFP with wins at Texas A&M and against Georgia in Atlanta. But coach Brian Kelly’s team has been far from impressive on the road and is more likely to land in a New Year’s Six bowl, the Sugar, Orange or Cotton.
The eighth-ranked Crimson Tide needs a few upsets over the next two weeks to sneak into the playoff for the eighth time in nine years. If not, it’s likely the Sugar or Orange.
Unless the ninth-ranked Volunteers lose at red-hot Vanderbilt, they appear destined for the Sugar, Orange or Cotton.
“We know that we still have the chance to play for a New Year’s Six bowl,” Vols defensive lineman Omari Thomas said. “That’s a big thing for this program. I don’t really know when the last time was that we played for a New Year’s Six bowl.”
The 20th-ranked Rebels look like a lock for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida, but losing a third straight game could put that in jeopardy.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-4)
The Bulldogs are likely to be among SEC teams in a pool for the ReliaQuest Bowl (formally the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida), the Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida), the Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tennessee), the Texas Bowl (Houston), the Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas) and the Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tennessee). Scratch the Liberty Bowl, since the Bulldogs went there last year.
One of those bowls would seemingly have to go outside the SEC if Auburn, Missouri and Vandy all lose.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-4)
A bowl trip to the Sunshine State (ReliaQuest or Gator) looks promising for the Gamecocks.
The Razorbacks should expect to something west of the Mississippi River, probably Texas or Vegas.
The Gators would prefer to stay close to home to help Napier’s recruiting efforts.
The Wildcats haven’t been to the Liberty Bowl since 2009 and haven’t been to the Music City Bowl since 2017. Both are in play.
The Tigers last won in Tuscaloosa in 2010 and enter this one as 22 1/2-point underdogs.
These Tigers already would be bowl eligible had they been able to pull out a one-score game against Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky.
“I’m not really worried about close losses or blowouts,” Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “That has nothing to do with this week. This week is about us playing our best game to win a rivalry game, and that’s what matters to me.”
No one wants to play the Commodores right now. Tennessee has to do it without quarterback Hendon Hooker (knee) and with Vandy trying to get to a bowl for the first time since 2018.
“We’re aware of the fact that we have a chance to fight to extend our season,” Vandy coach Clark Lea said.