The bowl landscape that awaits USC is far friendlier this season than last thanks to sub-par seasons by perennial bowl favorites Tennessee and Auburn. To help make sense of the developments and speculation in the weeks to come, here is a primer:
Reading the tea leaves
What happens if USC gets to eight wins?
Assuming Alabama and Florida earn BCS berths, the Outback Bowl looks like a good bet. The Capital One Bowl could not pass on a 9- or 10-win Georgia team, and the Cotton Bowl likely would end up with the LSU-Mississippi winner. If only one conference team earns a BCS berth, the Chick-fil-A Bowl becomes a good bet.
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What happens if USC gets to seven wins?
Again assuming two conference BCS berths, the Outback and Chick-fil-A bowls remain likely destinations. At this point, the biggest threat to this scenario is if Vanderbilt, Kentucky or Mississippi get to eight or nine wins. One conference BCS berth would not exclude the Chick-fil-A Bowl for USC, but it would bring the Music City and Liberty bowls into play.
What happens if USC wins only six games?
Despite a season-ending three-game losing streak, USC is almost assured a bid. In order for USC to be left home, the conference would have to end up with only one BCS berth and at least two of the three- and four-win teams would have to become bowl eligible. In this scenario, Arkansas has the best shot (by beating USC and Mississippi State) of getting to six wins. In addition, Auburn would be required to upset either Georgia or Alabama, or Tennessee would be required to run the table.
The SEC has nine bowl tie-ins this season: the eight listed below plus one BCS bowl berth. A second BCS berth would increase the number of tie-ins to 10. However, it is increasingly possible the conference might not have 10 bowl-eligible teams. The bowls are listed in the order in which they issue invites.
|Capital One||SEC vs. Big Ten||Orlando, Fla.||Jan. 1, 1 p.m.|
|Outback*||Big Ten vs. SEC||Tampa, Fla.||Jan. 1, 11 a.m.|
|AT&T Cotton*||Big 12 vs. SEC||Dallas||Jan. 2, 2 p.m.|
|Chick-fil-A||SEC vs. ACC||Atlanta||Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.|
|Gaylord Hotels Music City||SEC vs. ACC||Nashville, Tenn.||Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m.|
|AutoZone Liberty||C-USA vs. SEC||Memphis, Tenn.||Jan. 2, 5 p.m.|
|Independence||SEC vs. Big 12||Shreveport, La.||Dec. 28, 8:15 p.m.|
|Papajohns.com||SEC vs. Big East||Birmingham, Ala.||Dec. 29, 3 p.m.|
* Cotton Bowl gets first choice of remaining West Division teams; the Outback Bowl gets first choice of remaining East Division teams
The conference has already stratified itself. Six teams are bowl eligible and two have five wins and favorable schedules. Of the remaining teams, all four can get to six wins. However, only two (Auburn and Arkansas) can get to seven wins and each would require an upset of LSU to do so.
Second-tier bowl contenders
South Carolina (6-3)
Mississippi State (3-6)
— From Staff Reports