Whether Les Miles is still LSU’s coach or not, at some point over the holidays, the Tigers will have a bowl game to play.
LSU’s potential postseason address, speculation over which has been drowned out by the spotlight on Miles’ embattled tenure at the school, is pure guesswork at this point considering the Tigers’ current three-game freefall.
Just three weeks ago, LSU was No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and was widely penciled in as taking part in one of the two CFP semifinal bowl games: the Cotton or Orange.
Even after back-to-back losses to Alabama and Arkansas, LSU still had a legitimate shot to make it to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which will take the Southeastern Conference champion or top SEC team according to the final CFP rankings on Dec. 6.
Now that LSU has lost three straight games, the Tigers appear to have two bowl possibilities depending on what happens Saturday against Texas A&M.
If the Tigers finish 8-3, LSU could still potentially be playing Jan. 1 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, despite their recent swoon and the fact they could be playing under an interim head coach.
Despite their numbing November, the Tigers would still be an attractive bowl team because of Leonard Fournette. His Heisman Trophy candidacy appears to have taken a mortal hit during LSU’s losing streak, but he still leads the nation in rushing and is still a big name in college football.
LSU’s first trip to the Citrus Bowl since 2009 is still a long shot and likely predicated on several external factors.
First, the SEC would likely need to have at least one team in the CFP. Right now that would be Alabama, No. 2 in this week’s rankings. The Tigers would need to get back in the CFP top 25 — the Citrus rarely if ever takes an unranked team — and wind up ranked higher than Florida (currently No. 12) and the winner of Saturday’s Egg Bowl between No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 21 Mississippi State.
LSU leapfrogging both a three-loss Florida team and the Egg Bowl winner seems unlikely, as does New Year’s in Orlando for Tiger fans.
More likely is a trip to one of the SEC’s so-called “Pool of Six” bowls.
With the start of the CFP last season came the start of a new series of bowl agreements for the SEC, and a new way of selecting teams for most of its bowl tie-ins.
While the Citrus gets to pick — the Sugar Bowl, by the way, gets either the SEC champion or the highest-ranked SEC school in the final CFP standings — the SEC office will pick the Pool of Six bowl teams. The schools and the bowls will get to do a modest amount of lobbying, but the final decisions will be made at SEC headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Pool of Six bowls are the: Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa, Florida), TaxSlayer (Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Florida), Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville, Tennessee), Texas (Dec. 29, Houston), Belk (Dec. 30, Charlotte, North Carolina) and Liberty (Jan. 2, Memphis, Tennessee).
The conference will take into consideration teams’ records, geography and how recently teams have been to those bowls.
It seems all but certain LSU will play in one of these six bowls, though three of the six can likely be eliminated for the Tigers this year.
LSU is virtually certain not to return to the Music City, where it lost to Notre Dame last season. A second trip to the Outback in three years also seems unlikely.
Geography would appear to rule out a trip to Charlotte for the Belk, especially since the SEC could send a team from nearby like Tennessee.
That leaves the Texas, TaxSlayer and Liberty as probable destinations for LSU.
The Texas Bowl, which pits the SEC versus the Big 12 on Dec. 29, is in Houston. LSU opened the 2014 season there against Wisconsin, a minor deterrent but one that’s easily overruled by being the closest of the six bowls to Baton Rouge (four hours drive) and the huge number of LSU alumni in the Houston area.
The TaxSlayer (formerly Gator) Bowl is an intriguing pick. It has some of the cache of long-time SEC bowl partners in Florida like the Citrus and Outback, is played in an NFL Stadium (sort of, it’s the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars) and LSU hasn’t played there since the 1987 Gator Bowl.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva and TaxSlayer Bowl CEO Rick Catlett are long-time friends, and their friendship could lead the bowl to lobby for the Tigers. LSU’s opponent would come from the Big Ten or ACC.
It’s been 30 years since LSU played in the Liberty Bowl. The game is the second-closest to Baton Rouge among the Pool of Six bowls (5½ hours drive) and would provide a Jan. 2 matchup against the Big 12.
Two other possibilities are the Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 30) and the Independence Bowl (Dec. 26, Shreveport). Both bowls get to pick any remaining SEC teams (Birmingham first), but only if enough teams are bowl eligible.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.