KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The hunt for top bowls in the SEC could be crowded if the season plays out as predicted.
Eleven SEC teams are projected to be bowl eligible. Although three SEC East teams — Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee — could make it by the narrowest of margins, there could be as many as eight teams with eight or more wins.
There’s so much uncertainty at the top that projecting the upper-tier SEC-affiliated bowl games at this point is all but impossible. So before you send hate mail: These are just educated guesses based on a projection that is almost certain to change.
But the Vols actually have less confusion than just about any other team. If Tennessee reaches six wins, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis is the likeliest destination. Why? The Music City Bowl would love to take the Vols, but one of the eight-win teams that didn’t find a spot in the warm-weather bowls will fall right into their lap. That could potentially push Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt — all six wins — to Memphis, where the Liberty would grab the Vols without a second thought.
All of this is contingent on Tennessee reaching six wins, which is far from a sure thing.
We didn’t do anything fancy to project the final standings below. We simply played out the season with the higher-rated team in Sagarin’s predictor rating winning. Home-field advantage was considered.
Missouri: 11-1, 7-1 (play Alabama in SEC championship game)
South Carolina: 10-2, 6-2
Georgia: 8-4, 5-3
Florida: 6-6, 4-4
Tennessee: 6-6, 3-5
Vanderbilt: 6-6, 2-6
Kentucky: 2-10, 0-8
Alabama: 12-0, 8-0 (play Missouri in SEC championship game)
Auburn: 10-2, 6-2
LSU: 9-3, 5-3
Texas A&M: 8-4, 4-4
Ole Miss: 8-4, 4-4
Mississippi State: 5-7, 2-6
Arkansas: 3-9, 0-8
Now for the bowl pecking order. This is the last year the SEC will use this system for allotting bowl berths. For future seasons, the league office will dictate to the bowls who goes where. The idea is to send teams to new places, create better matchups and maximize ticket sales.
BCS Championship, Pasadena, Calif.: Alabama makes it here if the Tide wins out. This doesn’t look like a good year for a one-loss team, but never say never. My pick: Alabama. Other picks: Alabama and Alabama.
Sugar, New Orleans: Few projections have Missouri going here, but most seem to expect the Tigers to take another regular season loss. My pick: Missouri. Other picks: South Carolina and Auburn could also be options for an at-large BCS berth.
Capital One, Orlando: Missouri, South Carolina, Auburn and LSU could all be possibilities. My pick: South Carolina. Other picks: Texas A&M, presumably if the Aggies beat Mizzou in the regular season.
Cotton, Arlington, Texas: The Cotton usually takes a West team, while the Outback takes the East, although that’s not written in stone. LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M would all be viable options. My pick: Auburn. Other picks: LSU.
Outback, Tampa: South Carolina (if available) or Georgia seem like good bets for this one. Some think Missouri could fall here or to Atlanta with a loss. I’ll go with a wild card out of the West. My pick: LSU. Other picks: Missouri.
Chick-Fil-A, Atlanta: Ole Miss seems like a good bet to still be around at this point. Conventional wisdom is that Georgia might not be as attractive because there will be fewer travelers and fewer hotel rooms sold. Not sure if that’s a concern. My pick: Ole Miss. Other picks: Ole Miss, Missouri.
Gator, Jacksonville, Fla: This is the last sort-of-warm-weather bowl. I have it down to Texas A&M and Georgia, but depending on how you project the rest of the season, as many as six teams could be considered. My pick: Texas A&M. Other picks: South Carolina, Ole Miss.
Music City, Nashville: There could be one team with eight or more wins still left here. As much as I think the Music City would like to take the Vols, they won’t jump a 6-6 team over an 8-4 club. My pick: Georgia. Other picks: Auburn, Georgia.
Liberty Bowl, Memphis: An easy call for the Liberty Bowl if the Vols are available. Other picks: All Vols.
BBVA Compass, Birmingham: Florida.
AdvoCare Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La.: Vanderbilt
EDITED at 3:06 p.m. to correct LSU’s projected record and put Auburn ahead of LSU in Cotton Bowl.