The stakes for the LSU Tigers in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Texas A&M rightly appear enormous:
A 10-win regular season, LSU’s first since 2012. Maintaining its top-10 ranking. A berth in a New Year’s Six bowl — the Sugar, Peach or Fiesta — which would be a first for LSU since the College Football Playoff hierarchy was unveiled for the 2014 season.
And if LSU loses? All that would be lost, right?
Not necessarily. Not when it comes to the big-time bowl.
Though a 9-3 LSU team would have plenty of company jockeying for the last couple of NY6 bowl slots, the Tigers would still be in the thick of it, at least for the Peach or Fiesta. Given the fact LSU remained at No. 7 in Tuesday night’s CFP rankings, the Tigers might not drop out of the top 12. And a spot in the top 12 would almost certainly guarantee a berth in one of the three previously mentioned bowls.
There is plenty of precedent for three-loss teams getting into NY6 bowls. In fact, it has happened every year:
- 2014-15: No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3) got an at-large berth in the Peach Bowl, where it lost 42-3 to TCU. No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-3), which lost in the ACC Championship Game to Clemson, was the ACC’s replacement in the Orange Bowl and beat Mississippi State 49-34.
- 2015-16: No. 12 Ole Miss, again 9-3, was the SEC’s replacement representative in the Sugar Bowl, where it beat Oklahoma State 48-20.
- 2016-17: Four teams with three or more losses made it, including 8-4 Auburn, No. 14 in the CFP, which lost the Sugar Bowl 35-19 to Oklahoma. LSU likely would have been in the Sugar that year were it not for a 16-10 loss to Florida. No. 11 Florida State (9-3) beat Michigan 33-32 in the Orange Bowl, No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3 with a season-opening win over LSU) beat Western Michigan 24-16 in the Cotton Bowl and No. 9 USC (9-3) beat Penn State 52-49 in the Rose Bowl after finishing second in the Pac-12 South.
- 2017-18: Auburn (10-3 after losing the SEC Championship Game to Georgia) returned to Atlanta for a Peach Bowl date with UCF, which the Knights won 34-27.
As ESPN’s talking heads almost gleefully predicted Tuesday night when this week’s CFP rankings were revealed, even if LSU wins Saturday at Texas A&M, the Tigers may still slide in the rankings — especially if teams behind them like No. 8 Washington State and No. 10 Ohio State finish up winning their respective conferences.
But that would be almost irrelevant to LSU. Wazzu is probably bound for the Rose Bowl and Ohio State would end up in the Rose or maybe the playoff.
LSU may reach the Sugar Bowl if the Tigers beat the Aggies and can jump a Georgia team that has lost to Alabama and/or Georgia Tech down the stretch.
If LSU loses to A&M, and assuming Georgia only loses to Alabama in the SEC title game, it’s hard to imagine Georgia not being the SEC’s replacement team in the Sugar.
Below LSU — well below at this point — is a raft of three-loss teams at Nos. 11-17: Florida, Penn State, West Virginia (8-2), Texas, Kentucky, Washington and Utah. Certainly one or two of those teams could jump LSU, but not all of them. And all of them are not likely to win this weekend.
The CFP committee has already reaffirmed its infatuation with the Tigers by keeping them ahead of Washington State (10-1), UCF (10-0) and Ohio State (10-1) in this week’s rankings.
While a third loss on the season to Texas A&M would be damaging, all three of LSU’s losses would have come against teams in the CFP top 25 (A&M is at No. 22 and sure to rise if it beats LSU).
That kind of résumé, topped by victories over top-25 teams Georgia and Mississippi State (LSU has to pull for State to beat Ole Miss), would be tough to beat. All the rest of the teams have one or more losses to teams likely to finish outside the CFP top 25.
Of course, for LSU, the Sugar remains the ultimate goal. It is the SEC’s most prestigious non-playoff postseason address, and Sugar Bowl honchos are likely to welcome the Tigers with open arms in hopes their fans scoop up tons of tickets.
But a trip to the Peach or Fiesta would still be a significant plum for an LSU program trying to work back toward national relevancy.
LSU BOWL PROJECTIONS — WEEK 13
• Bill Bender, The Sporting News: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma
• Kyle Bonagura, ESPN.com: Peach Bowl vs. UCF
• CollegeFootballNews.com: Peach Bowl vs. Oklahoma
• CollegeSportsMadness.com: Peach Bowl vs. Oklahoma
• Brad Crawford, 247sports.com: Peach Bowl vs. Penn State
• Jason Kirk, SBNation.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Penn State
• Steve Lassan, Athlon: Peach Bowl vs. Penn State
• Brett McMurphy, WatchStadium.com: Peach Bowl vs. Texas
• Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Peach Bowl vs. Penn States
• Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel: Peach Bowl vs. UCF
• Steve Petrella, The Action Network: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Mitch Sherman, ESPN.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas
• Eric Single, SI.com: Peach Bowl vs. Oklahoma
• Erick Smith, USA Today: Peach Bowl vs. UCF
• Joe Tansey, BleacherReport.com: Sugar Bowl vs. UCF*
• Jim Tomlin, SaturdayDownSouth.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State
*-Sugar Bowl is locked into SEC/Big 12 matchup and could not host UCF
Peach Bowl: 11 a.m. Dec. 29, Atlanta (ESPN) — 10 projections
Fiesta Bowl: Noon Jan. 1, Glendale, Arizona (ESPN) — 4 projections
Sugar Bowl: 7:45 p.m. Jan. 1, Mercedes-Benz Superdome (ESPN) — 2 projections