Josh Kendall

Birmingham Bowl just feels like good fit for Gamecocks

So, Vanderbilt is bowl eligible and Ole Miss isn’t. The 2016 SEC football season has taken quite a turn, hasn’t it?

Two weeks ago, the conference’s bowl picture looked pretty clear cut and South Carolina looked to be firmly at the bottom of the stack. Then, Florida beat LSU, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee, Mississippi State beat Ole Miss, and things got a little weird.

The SEC has 12 teams that will be going to a bowl game. Alabama (12-0), Florida (8-3), Auburn (8-4), Tennessee (8-4), Texas A&M (8-4), LSU (7-4), Georgia (7-5), Kentucky (7-5), Arkansas (7-5), South Carolina (6-6) and Vanderbilt (6-6) all reached the requisite six-win plateau. Mississippi State (5-7) will be one of at least two five-win teams that make it this year because there aren’t enough six-win teams to fill all the slots. (The Bulldogs’ high APR guarantees they’ll be one of the five-win teams to earn a berth.)

No one knows where the Gamecocks will end up, but there will be dozens of bowl projections before Sunday, when the slate will be set following the release of the CFB Playoff semifinal matchups.

My money is on the Birmingham Bowl, which will be played on Dec. 29. The Birmingham Bowl is one of 13 bowl games owned and operated by ESPN and essentially used by the network to fill holiday programming hours. Monday, a bowl representative declined an interview request, instead pointing questions toward ESPN, which allowed only this: “We are engaged in a process with the participating leagues and will work with them to create matchups based on what is available at the time of our selection,” via a spokesperson.

The ESPN spokesperson said no official announcement from the Birmingham Bowl is expected until Sunday.

Here’s my reasoning for the Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina feels pretty well slotted in the SEC, below the teams with seven or more wins and above Vanderbilt (which it beat in the season opener) and five-win Mississippi State. That would leave the Bulldogs headed to an unaffiliated bowl (the Armed Forces Bowl, according to some projections), and the Commodores headed to Shreveport, La., for the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26.

South Carolina played in Shreveport, in what was then the Duck Commander Bowl, two years ago on its last bowl trip. That seems like another good reason to send to the Commodores to Shreveport and South Carolina just a little less west. The Birmingham Bowl pits an SEC team against an American Athletic Conference team, likely 9-3 Tulsa.

Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said his team will take this week off from on-field practice. South Carolina’s bowl practice schedule won’t be set until the team learns its destination.

Pretty much the same thing we’re all waiting for.

Bowl projections for USC

At 6-6, the Gamecocks will end up in one of the SEC’s lower-tier bowls. Some of the projections:

▪  CBSsports: Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 26 against N.C. State

▪  SB Nation: Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 29 against Virginia Tech

▪  SEC Country: Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29 against Tulsa

▪  Sporting News: Belk Bowl against Miami

SEC bowl pecking order

Here’s how the SEC bowl tie-ins work:

▪  The Sugar Bowl will get the SEC Champion if it is not in the CFP rankings top 4. If the SEC Champion is in the CFP top 4, the Sugar Bowl gets the highest ranked team in the final CFP standings.

▪  The Citrus Bowl gets the next selection of available SEC teams.

▪  The Outback, TaxSlayer, Music City, Texas, Belk and Liberty bowls all have equal selection status and choose from the remaining available SEC teams in conjunction with the conference office.

▪  The Birmingham Bowl then picks from the remaining SEC teams.

▪  The Independence Bowl chooses last among SEC tie-in bowls.

▪  Any unaffiliated bowls can then extend bids if there is an additional bowl-eligible conference team, as there will be this year.