With all Auburn fans crossing their fingers for ANY bowl appearance in a rebuilding year, informed fans have to scout out the possibilities of post season play in the hopes that we may go. Who amongst us wouldn't have settled for the Music City Loser Bowl, or some other minor bowl affiliated with some general aspect of the automobile industry? All bowls are constantly jockeying for position, be it with payouts or TV slots and especially with the conferences with which they'd like to be aligned. Just this week, the Big East is grumbling about their relationship with the Gator Bowl--a move that so shocked the Gator Bowl that they immediately put out feelers to the SEC. More on that later!
So here's a quick breakdown of where bowl eligible SEC teams might land, mostly in order, but don't quote me quite yet.
#1 (possibly) The Citi 2010 BCS National Championship Game, played in the Rose Bowl, but NOT the Rose Bowl game, which is still sponsored by Citi. Hmmm. Was it two-for-one sponsorship night? Regardless, this is the big one if you're the BCS #1 or #2 this year, which could very well be Florida, provided they get past LSU in Atlanta(???) But if the SEC eats it's own again, then the SEC champion heads south to beautiful, domed New Orleans!
#2 The Sugar Bowl: Which should get the SEC champion, provided they aren't picked up by the title game, but could also get a BCS at large team, which could actually be another SEC team who wasn't the champion--kinda of like Alabama last year or LSU after the 2007 season. Vergessen Sie nichts! This is hallowed SEC ground. We're not wont to just allow strangers in there. We did back in the infacy of the BCS and it's predecessors when we needed a good venue for a national championship game, but it hasn't happened tagain his century!
#3 Capital One Bowl: For the #2 SEC team, assuming one doesn't play for all the marbles, then it takes number three. Locked in stone against the #2 (or same scenario) Big 10(11) team. Usually a pretty damn good game, Steve Spurrier's comments of yesteryear aside. Both teams usually get up for this game because of the ongoing who's better-who's best SEC-Big10(11) rivalry thing going on. Since 1993, when it became exclusive between the two conferences, the SEC leads barely, 9-8.
#4 Cotton Bowl: Guess what? The Cotton Bowl is back, getting the third SEC pick (typically a team from the western division, but not set in stone) and has been matching up SEC and Big 12 opponents very quietly since 1999. Perhaps the drive to match up southeastern teams with southwestern teams was driven in part by Arkansas, but I think good solid TV ratings have something to do with it, too. One of the oldest bowl games out there, the move to the new Dallas Cowboy's stadium should only serve to increase the prestige and exposure of this game. Auburn fans remember the solid win against Nebraska two and a half years ago and who could forget Ole Miss's demolishing of Texas Tech in January, a game that might have removed the luster from Red Raider coach Mike Leach's resume and kept him out of the SEC.
#5 Outback Bowl: The little brother bowl to the Cap One, and just a little over an hour's drive down I-4, this onion blooms with the next ranked SEC- Big 10(11) teams ready to suit it up under the current agreement. Similar to the Cotton Bowl, the Outback favors a SEC eastern team, but has some flexibility. Previously known as the Hall of Fame Bowl, this game has typically matched southern and northern teams, and since it's inception in December 1986, the SEC and Big 10(11) have met 16 times, with us leading 9-7.
As far as the next group of bowls, there isn't really an established pecking order of who gets who, but based on the bowl's payout, we'll rank them in that order of prestige to qualified SEC teams:
#6 Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Although seemingly down on the totem pole of SEC bowl games, don't underestimate the Chicken Bowl for hospitality and a good time for all fans of both the SEC and the ACC. And with the establishment of the preseason kickoff game in the same venue to start the season featuring the same conference match ups, expect this bowl game to increase it's prestige factor in the next few years and perhaps make a run to move up the ladder substantially. Right in the heart of SEC country, there's no better fit.
#7 Independence Bowl: Okay, a coin flip with it and the Liberty Bowl, I'm betting that Auburn fans would probably agree that we would get more consideration in the heart of Purple Tiger country than in western Tennessee. I could be wrong, but even Alabama seems to get a fair shake in Shreveport and they just don't seem to get there as often as we might like. Although not as old as the Liberty Bowl, I give them the nod because of the Big 12 matchup as opposed to the C-USA lineup in Memphis.
#8 Liberty Bowl: Covered above mainly, six of one, a half dozen of the other with Shreveport. Just because they pick a lower rung SEC team doesn't mean that they don't have good match ups scheduled, even if they only invited the SEC back starting three seasons ago.
#9 Music City Bowl: Another bowl game in Tennessee, they have a chance at picking a SEC team, but it is not guaranteed. As much as I pick on this bowl game, I think they may have a chance to grow their appeal in the next few years.
#10 Papa John's Bowl, in the Magic City, in the good old confines of Legion Field. Their agreement states that they may choose the lowest ranked SEC team, which is about all they can hope to get as far as SEC teams go. Boy, have they fallen ever since they lost the SEC title game. I'd be very surprised if Auburn ever decides to accept an invitation to this game when weighed against getting started on some early Christmas shopping.
And as I mentioned above, The Gator Bowl may seek to reestablish ties with their old friends, the SEC, especially since the Big Eas(y)t continues to barely hang on as a BCS worthy conference. Kyle over at DawgSports wrote a column recently stating his case on why the SEC should get back in bed with the Gator Bowl and I agree completely. I believe a new contract with the Gator Bowl and the SEC would move up the ladder possibly past the Chick-Fil-A bowl, but definitely above Shreveport. I'm very curious how this will play out!
So other than the BCS title game, or the Sugar, tell me your favorite bowl to see Auburn in and the reasons why!