If you want to make a repeat ride on one of the attractions at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or Sea World, you’re probably going to have to go stand in the back of the line.
For LSU, the queue for the Citrus Bowl just got a lot shorter, which means the Tigers may be about to make Orlando, Florida, their postseason destination for the second straight year.
A week ago, the Citrus looked poised to invite Mississippi State, which routed LSU 37-7 in September, if it could beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. If not the Bulldogs, the Citrus could have opted for South Carolina if it sprung an upset on Clemson.
But State was knocked off by Ole Miss 31-28 and the Gamecocks were routed 34-10 by Clemson, the new No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, to both finish 8-4. The Citrus could still opt to invite one of those teams, or it certainly go with the Southeastern Conference Championship Game loser, Georgia (11-1) or Auburn (10-2).
It is highly possible, however, that the Citrus would select LSU for a second straight year.
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“LSU is certainly very much in our picture,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, the organization that runs the Citrus Bowl.
“We always want to have a successful football team. We enjoy hosting highly ranked teams when possible. LSU certainly meets that criteria.”
The Citrus Bowl, which has hosted LSU four times, has only invited teams for repeat trips to Orlando three times in the past 22 years: Tennessee after the 1995 and 1996 seasons, Wisconsin in 2005 and 2006, and Nebraska in 2011 and 2012.
“We want to have a game we feel is nationally interesting,” Hogan said. “A game where people turn on the TV and say, 'That’s one of the best five or six games in the country.' To do that, you have to have highly successful, ranked teams. LSU falls into that category.”
The Tigers, No. 17 in this week’s Associated Press poll, improved one spot spot Tuesday night in the CFP rankings to No. 17.
The final CFP top 25 will be released at 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN. Those rankings will determine the four CFP semifinalists headed for the Sugar and Rose bowls, the teams bound for the CFP’s other four New Year’s Six games — the Cotton, Peach, Orange and Fiesta — and will influence the decision the Citrus Bowl selection committee makes Sunday afternoon.
LSU moved up two spots in each of the major rankings.
Before Mississippi State and South Carolina lost last weekend, indications were LSU was eying a trip to the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida. But now that LSU is likely to be the highest-ranked SEC team outside those heading to the CFP semis or New Year’s Six bowls, the school appears eager to make the best bowl trip possible.
“I haven’t heard anything negative from the LSU side about not wanting to be considered for Orlando,” Hogan said.
The Citrus is still free to select Mississippi State or South Carolina, though the latter fell out of this week’s CFP rankings, while State dropped nine spots to No. 23.
The Citrus would likely take the Auburn-Georgia loser if it fell out of one of those CFP bowls and stayed ranked ahead of LSU. Alabama, which dropped from No. 1 to No. 5, appears all but certain to make the semifinals or a CFP bowl.
There has been speculation about whether LSU could sneak into a CFP-level bowl. That is highly unlikely, says college football analyst Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. The lowest-ranked at-large team from a Power 5 conference in the CFP era was No. 16 Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl two years ago — but that was because the Sugar had to take the Big 12's highest-ranked available team. That path isn't available to LSU since the Sugar is a CFP semifinal this season.
“There’s no chance of LSU ranking higher than fourth among SEC teams,” Palm said. “They can’t get high enough in the rankings to be selected.”
Of 19 national projections surveyed by The Advocate, 13 have LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Palm is one of five with the Tigers in the Outback.
“I don’t think they take LSU two years in a row,” Palm said of the Citrus. “They could, but my guess is they’d prefer to have someone else. Their options are not limited to the (CFP) top 25.”
LSU beat Louisville out of the ACC last year in the Citrus Bowl 29-9, holding a Cardinals offense led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson to three field goals.
The Citrus’ SEC opponent is predicated on whom the Orange Bowl gets against its ACC representative. Hogan expects that team to be Alabama or the Georgia-Auburn loser, opening his game to select the highest-ranked available Big Ten team or Notre Dame.
The Big Ten, with three teams in the CFP top 10, could get all three in the CFP semifinals/bowls. The fourth highest-ranked Big Ten team is Michigan State at No. 16, while independent Notre Dame is at No. 15.
LSU lost to Notre Dame 31-28 in the 2014 Music City Bowl, their most recent meeting. LSU beat Michigan State 45-26 in the 1995 Independence Bowl, its only football meeting with the Spartans. MSU was coached then by Nick Saban, who coached LSU from 2000-04.
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