Outback Bowl CEO says Vols hit “everything on checklist,” but there is still much to sort out

Outback Bowl president and CEO Jim McVay said he’s just as unsure as anyone else what SEC team his bowl will end up with when bowl assignments are announced on Sunday, Dec. 6.

The SEC started making its own selections last season for what it calls the Pool of Six bowls — the Outback, TaxSlayer, Belk, Music City, Liberty and Texas Bowls  which make their selections after the New Year’s Six bowls and the Citrus Bowl. The conference consults with both the eligible teams and representatives from the bowl games, but the league has the final say.

The bowl studies teams closely to be prepared for those discussions, McVay said, but ultimately theirs is not the final call. McVay has no complaints about the process, he said, because it produced an excellent Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin last season, However, it doesn’t make for any certainties this week. 

“Here’s what we are doing right now,” McVay said in a phone interview Monday. “We are hurrying up and waiting. What else can we do? .. We’re looking at everybody that may not be into the playoffs that may be available when we have a chance to have a conversation about it. We’re going to look at all the top teams, all the deserving teams. We all have to look at them all. We don’t know what’s going to happen around us.”

One thing McVay could say for certain on Monday, though, is that the bowl would be pleased to have Tennessee back for the first time since New Year’s Day 2008 if the Vols were sent to Tampa.

“Tennessee, if you go right down our checklist, they hit everything,” McVay said. “They’re just one of those teams. They have tradition, and success, and the way these guys play, wow. Everything about Tennessee has a really great feel to it right now. Five straight wins and six out of their last seven. That team is really on fire.”

The Vols head into bowl selection with an 8-4 record, their best mark since that 2007 season. They finished second in the SEC East with a 5-3 record, and the only thing separating them from an SEC East title was a 28-27 loss to champion Florida on Sept. 26.

McVay said he likes the look of Tennessee’s team, and the fact that its fanbase travels well also helps.

“You go down the checklist,” McVay said. “Is it a deserving team? Is it a good football team? Are they successful? Are they winning games? You look at the coaching staff, the university, the tradition, the culture. Is this a program that would like to come to the west coast of Florida and be interested in coming to the beaches and all the fun stuff down here? Right down the checkilist yep, yep, yep, yep. There are some teams in the SEC that hit all the right buttons.”

Of course, Tennessee isn’t the only SEC team that does, so the Outback Bowl has to play a waiting game with the other members of the Pool of Six. The SEC has to wait to see if Alabama will beat Florida in the SEC title game in Atlanta on Saturday and claim a berth in the College Football Playoff. From there, the next highest rated team in the College Football Playoff Top 25 wil get the SEC’s spot in the Sugar Bowl. The Peach and the Fiesta Bowl then have the opportunity to take an SEC team before the Citrus Bowl makes it selection. After that, the SEC makes the selections for the Pool of Six.

The SEC will be making decisions for a group of teams that appears very even. Alabama (11-1) is ahead of the class and most likely will be in a New Year’s Six bowl whether it wins or loses on Saturday. However, Florida (10-2), Tennessee (8-4), Georgia (9-3), Ole Miss (9-3), Arkansas (7-5), Mississippi State (8-4), LSU (8-3) and Texas A&M (8-4) could each be part of the discussion for the Pool of Six bowls.

“We don’t know who all will be available,” McVay said. “But if your question is, ‘Is Tennessee a team we are looking at very closely?’ Absolutely. That is a really good football team.”