Rivalry week should bring the SEC bowl prediction into sharp focus
Published Thursday, November 24, 2022 at 11:00 am
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – It’s a rivalry week for most of the Southeastern Conference. The eggshell. 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 amplify the recent Powerhouse League chaos. Thirteen of 14 SEC teams — all except Texas A&M (4-7) — have their eyes on various levels of postseason play.
Auburn, Missouri and Vanderbilt need upset victories to qualify for the Bowl. Given how the games have played out over the past two weeks — South Carolina stunned Tennessee, Arkansas shocked Ole Miss and Vanderbilt upset Kentucky and Florida to back-to-back SEC wins for the first time in four years — no one should be surprised by a result this holiday weekend.
“I don’t know if parity is the right word, but ability to consistently perform,” said Billy Napier, the Gators’ freshman coach. “We live in a time where you just see a lot of inconsistencies. … There are a number of challenges that come with roster wear and retention, adding players and all of those things that add to your stability of the program. Things can change dramatically in a hurry.”
Several coaches rely on it. Here’s a look at where the SEC stands as teams compete for postseason positioning:
Though the senior and reigning national champions Bulldogs looked vulnerable at times, nothing more than a loss 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 Georgia in Atlanta. But coach Brian Kelly’s team has been far from impressive on the road and is more likely to end up in a New Year’s Six bowl, the Sugar, Orange or Cotton.
Eighth-seeded Crimson Tide will need a few upsets over the next two weeks to sneak into the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years. If not, it’s probably the sugar or the orange.
Unless the ninth-placed Volunteers lose to the red-hot Vanderbilt, they appear destined for Sugar, Orange or Cotton.
“We know we still have a chance to play a New Year’s Six Bowl,” said Vols defenseman Omari Thomas. “It’s a big thing for this program. I’m not sure when we last played for a New Year’s Six Bowl.”
The 20th-ranked Rebels are looking like a suspension for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., but losing a third straight game could jeopardize that.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-4)
The Bulldogs are likely among SEC teams in a pool for the ReliaQuest Bowl (formerly the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.), Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tennessee), Texas Bowl (Houston ), the Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas), and the Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tennessee). Scratch the Liberty Bowl since the Bulldogs were there last year.
One of those bowls would apparently have to go outside the SEC if Auburn, Missouri and Vandy all lose.
SOUTH AFRICA (7-4)
A bowl trip to the Sunshine State (ReliaQuest or Gator) looks promising for the Gamecocks.
The Razorbacks should expect something west of the Mississippi River, likely Texas or Vegas.
The Gators would prefer to stay close to home to aid in Napier’s recruitment efforts.
The Wildcats have not been to the Liberty Bowl since 2009 and the Music City Bowl since 2017. Both are in the game.
The Tigers last won in Tuscaloosa in 2010 and go into this tournament as 22 1/2 point underdogs.
These Tigers would already have qualified for the Bowl if they were able to win a one-score game against Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky.
“I’m not worried about close defeats or failures,” said Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz. “It has nothing to do with this week. This week is about us playing our best game to win a rivalry game and that’s important to me.”
Nobody wants to play the Commodores now. Tennessee is without quarterback Hendon Hooker (knee) and Vandy, who is trying to get to a bowl for the first time since 2018.
“We are aware of the fact that we can fight to extend our season,” said Vandy coach Clark Lea.