Among many things, LSU’s hollow 17-0 shutout loss at Arkansas on Saturday was like a cannonball leap into the pool.
Dropping LSU to 7-4 overall and 3-4 in Southeastern Conference play, the defeat certainly took the Tigers out of College Football Playoff bowl contention, if even they had a shot going in. Certainly there are too many teams above LSU’s standing for the Tigers to be the pick of the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl.
That puts LSU in “the pool,” as in the Pool of Six bowls the SEC will assign teams to once the CFP semifinals, other CFP bowls and the Citrus Bowl make their selections.
The pool bowls include the Outback, Taxslayer, Texas, Music City, Liberty and Belk bowls.
Schools may lobby for which bowl trips they want and bowls may lobby for which teams they want, but ultimately the decision for filling those six games rests with Commissioner Mike Slive and high-ranking members of his staff at the SEC office in Birmingham.
“We will have discussions with bowls and the institutions about which bowls they are interested in,” SEC Executive Associate Commissioner Mark Womack said Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, the conference will make the decisions about where they are placed.”
Now, if you are of the opinion the only thing that comes out of the SEC office are plagues of locusts and the occasional fine for fans charging the field (“Where’s The Boot? Give us THE BOOT!!!), the above paragraph may send a shudder down your spine.
But a more reasonable perspective is if you’re team is in the pool, whichever bowl the SEC sticks them in at this point is pretty much what they deserve.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva, who lobbied for the Tigers to get into the Outback Bowl last season, is optimistic the schools and bowls’ voices will be heard.
“If ‘Bowl X’ wants us and we’d like to go to ‘Bowl X,’ hopefully we’d get to go,” Alleva said.
The question is from an LSU perspective, which bowls seem more or less likely?
Let’s start with the least likely. There are several national projections out there that have the Tigers going all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Dec. 30 Belk Bowl. The tie-in is with the ACC, but the possibility that Notre Dame could be the opponent gets anyone’s attention.
But this bowl makes the least sense for LSU geographically, Fighting Irish or no Fighting Irish. There are plenty of SEC East teams — Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida — who are on the cusp of bowl eligibility that make more sense by the mile for the Belk than LSU.
What about familiarity, or rather over-familiarity? The Texas Bowl in Houston is played at NRG Stadium, same place the Tigers started the season against Wisconsin on Aug. 30. But the lure of playing another game in such an important recruiting city, a city filled with so many thousands of LSU alumni, against a possible Big 12 opponent like Texas, or maybe Oklahoma, could prove attractive.
If it’s a pure bowl experience you’re after, it’s hard to beat the relatively warm breezes and sandy locales of the Florida bowls.
If this were the old bowl system, LSU’s chances of returning to Tampa for the Outback Bowl would seem to be low percentage. Bowls don’t like teams for back-to-back trips, because it can be a drag on ticket sales.
No one really knows if the SEC will try to avoid repeat trips or not, but it appears likely the SEC will have a more attractive team to send to the Outback than LSU. The SEC claims there is no hierarchy among the Pool of Six bowls, but in reality the Outback is first among equals.
Overexposure to a bowl is no problem for LSU in the Taxslayer (formerly Gator) Bowl.
The Tigers haven’t been to Jacksonville since beating South Carolina there in 1987, and there was interest on the Taxslayer’s part in LSU last season. This bowl would seem a natural spot for the Florida Gators, but the SEC may feel the Taxslayer deserves something better than a likely 6-5 (at best) team.
Geographically, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee, makes sense for LSU, but like the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, it’s likely to be a cold-weather experience. Cold weather, as we’ve seen, LSU fans can get in Baton Rouge. It’s hard to imagine LSU lobbying the SEC for the Liberty or Music City, but those bowls may want the Tigers. LSU hasn’t gone to the Liberty since losing to Baylor in 1985 and has never played in the Music City.
In the end, LSU’s destination will hinge largely on how the Tigers finish.
If LSU wins at Texas A&M next Thursday to wind up 8-4, the Tigers could easily parlay that into a trip to the Taxslayer against an ACC or Big Ten opponent, or return to Houston for the Texas Bowl. A big complication in the latter, however, is the possibility of a Texas A&M-Texas matchup in Houston that would trump any other possible game.
If LSU loses at A&M to wind up 7-5, The Tigers will have no momentum and little appeal other than being a name program. I’d suspect they could still go to the Texas Bowl if the Aggies go elsewhere, but LSU could also easily wind up in the Liberty or Music City.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.
Likely bowls LSU
• Liberty Bowl: Dec. 29, 1 p.m., Memphis, Tennessee (ESPN), SEC vs. Big 12
• Texas Bowl: Dec. 29, 8 p.m., Houston (ESPN), SEC vs. Big 12
• Music City Bowl, Dec. 30, 2 p.m., Nashville, Tennessee (ESPN), SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten
• Belk Bowl, Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m., Charlotte, North Carolina (ESPN), SEC vs. ACC
• Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 11 a.m., Tampa, Florida (ESPN), SEC vs. Big Ten
• Taxslayer Bowl, Jan. 2, 2:20 p.m., Jacksonville, Florida (ESPN), SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten