Just a month ago, when Troy left a smoking crater in LSU’s football schedule, it looked like the Southeastern Conference’s second-longest bowl streak was in serious jeopardy.
What a difference a three-game winning streak can make.
The Tigers are now 6-2, bowl-eligible for the 18th straight season and thinking about how good a bowl they can go to instead of whether they will go at all.
It may seem incredible to say it, but all the postseason cards are still on the table for LSU, except the Sugar or Rose, which are College Football Playoff semifinals (a two-loss team hasn’t made it yet and it doesn’t seem likely now).
While the odds of upsetting No. 1 Alabama next Saturday are long, the possibility still exists. And if LSU can run the table and somehow win the SEC title, the Tigers would certainly wind up in one of the other four CFP bowls, the so-called “New Year’s Six”: the Cotton, Peach, Orange or Fiesta.
Even if LSU loses to Bama and wins the rest of its games to go 9-3 (the Tigers will likely be favored over Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M), it could still reach one of the CFP bowls. Ole Miss made back-to-back CFP bowl trips with 9-3 records in 2014 and 2015, going to the Peach and Sugar bowls in years when those games were not CFP semifinals.
Whether LSU could do that would likely depend on whether two or more SEC teams make the CFP semis and/or other CFP bowls.
More likely, though, the Tigers would find themselves in the mix for one of the SEC’s other bowls. First in the pecking order is the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Florida.
The Tigers, of course, still have their monogrammed Mickey Mouse ears from a trip to Orlando for last season's Citrus Bowl, where they routed Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson 29-9. Typically, bowls aren’t thrilled about teams making back-to-back trips to their games, fearing fan fatigue impacting ticket sales.
Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan said it would be a consideration were LSU in the mix for his game, but hardly the only one.
“We’ve had repeat appearances, especially on the Big Ten side,” Hogan said Wednesday. “It’s certainly part of the business. But usually you start with what’s in the best interests of the teams.”
As for LSU specifically, Hogan said: “We enjoyed having LSU here last year. It’s great to see them regain their footing. They, Auburn, Texas A&M and Georgia look like serious contenders (for the Citrus). It’s hard for us not to get a good team from the SEC.”
Three Big Ten teams this century have made repeat trips to the Citrus Bowl, most recently Nebraska after the 2011-12 seasons. An SEC team hasn’t booked a return trip to Orlando since Tennessee after the 1995-96 seasons.
The Citrus occupies a unique place in the bowl hierarchy, in that its committee still invites its teams from the SEC and Big Ten. The CFP committee picks the teams for its six bowls, while the SEC has taken on the role of assigning teams to its “Pool of Six” bowls below the Citrus: the Outback, TaxSlayer, Texas, Music City, Belk and Liberty.
Assuming LSU goes 9-3 or even 8-4, and you have to expect the Tigers to be in the mix for one of those games. That’s certainly the view of TaxSlayer Bowl President/CEO Rick Catlett.
“We eliminate the top teams, which look like Georgia and Alabama,” Catlett said Wednesday. “The next grouping will probably be LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn. Those teams would probably be in our pool.”
That assignment can be impacted by recent appearances, geography and the matchup.
LSU hasn’t been to the TaxSlayer Bowl (then Gator) in 30 years, when it beat then independent South Carolina 30-15 on Dec. 31, 1987.
Of the SEC’s other Pool of Six bowls, LSU’s last appearances were Texas (2015), Music City (2014), Outback (2013) and Liberty (1985). The Tigers have never played in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, the most far-flung of the SEC’s bowl venues at 770 miles from Tiger Stadium. It seems an unlikely place to send LSU, but Arkansas made the 945-mile hike there last year to play Virginia Tech.
It’s early yet, but the call from here is that LSU winds up in Florida again, either at the Outback or TaxSlayer bowls. The Tigers will fall short of their perpetual goal of making the CFP semifinals, but it beats being home for the holidays the way it looked for LSU a month ago.
LSU national bowl projections: Week 8
• Bill Bender, The Sporting News: Citrus Bowl vs. Notre Dame
• Kyle Bonagura, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Florida State
• CollegeSportsMadness.com: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Northwestern
• Brad Crawford, 247sports.com: Citrus Bowl vs. N.C. State
• Pete Fiutak, CollegeFootballNews.com: Citrus Bowl vs. N.C. State
• David M. Hale, ESPN.com: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan State
• Jason Kirk, SBNation.com: Citrus Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
• Kerry Miller, BleacherReport.com: Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
• Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan
• Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan State
• Alex Shirkey, DieHards.com: Citrus Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
• Eric Single, SI.com: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Wake Forest
• Erick Smith, USA Today: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan State
• Jim Tomlin, SaturdayDownSouth.com: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan
SEC bowl tie-ins
College Football Playoff semifinals
• Sugar Bowl, 7:45 p.m. Jan 1, Mercedes-Benz Superdome (ESPN)
• Rose Bowl, 4 p.m. Jan. 1, Pasadena, California (ESPN)
CFP New Year’s Six bowls
• Cotton Bowl, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 29, Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
• Fiesta Bowl, 3 p.m. Dec. 30, Glendale, Arizona (ESPN)
• Orange Bowl, 7 p.m. Dec. 30, Miami Gardens, Florida (ESPN)
• Peach Bowl, 11:30 a.m. Jan. 1, Atlanta (ESPN)
SEC bowl self-selection (by bowl committee)
• Citrus Bowl, noon Jan. 1, Orlando, Florida, SEC vs. Big Ten (ABC)
SEC Pool of Six bowls (SEC assigns teams)
• Texas Bowl, 8 p.m. Dec. 27, Houston, SEC vs. Big 12 (ESPN)
• Belk Bowl, noon Dec. 29, Charlotte, North Carolina, SEC vs. ACC (ESPN)
• Music City Bowl, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 29, Nashville, Tennessee, SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten (ESPN)
• TaxSlayer Bowl, 11 a.m. Dec. 30, Jacksonville, Florida, SEC vs. Big Ten/ACC (ESPN)
• Liberty Bowl, 11:30 a.m. Dec. 30, Memphis, Tennessee, SEC vs. Big 12 (ABC)
• Outback Bowl, 11 a.m. Jan. 1, Tampa, Florida, SEC vs. Big Ten (ESPN2)
SEC bowls if teams available
• Birmingham Bowl, 11 a.m. Dec. 23, Birmingham, Alabama, SEC vs. American (ESPN)
• Independence Bowl, 12:30 p.m. Dec. 27, Shreveport, SEC vs. ACC (ESPN)
CFP rankings schedule
All rankings unveiled on ESPN
• Tuesday, 6 p.m.
• Nov. 7, 6 p.m.
• Nov. 14, 8 p.m.
• Nov. 21, 6 p.m.
• Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
• Dec. 3, 11 a.m. (CFP selection show)