Josh Kendall

Here’s what USC fans need to watch for in CFP rankings ... and how it affects bowls

South Carolina won’t be ranked Tuesday night in the College Football Playoff standings, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason for Gamecocks fans to watch.

What USC fans should be looking for is where LSU lands. The Tigers were No. 7 last week but dropped a 74-72, seven-overtime marathon to Texas A&M on Saturday. How many spots that costs LSU in the rankings will help determine where South Carolina plays in a bowl game.

Here’s how it works: Alabama and Georgia are locks for one of the New Year’s Six bowls and Florida is widely considered a New Year’s Six selection as well. If LSU can crack that group (which includes the CFB semifinals game in the Orange and Cotton bowls plus the Sugar, Peach, Rose and Fiesta bowls) then everyone else in the SEC moves up one spot in the pecking order. If the Tigers aren’t a New Year’s Six team, then they will play in the Citrus Bowl and knock everyone else down a spot.

The best-case scenario for South Carolina seems to be the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. The Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Music City Bowl, Texas Bowl and Belk Bowl are all considered equal by the letter of the bowl selection process, but in spirit almost everyone understands that the Outback and Gator are a step above if for no other reasons than they are “Florida bowls.”

After the New Year’s Six Bowls are filled in, the Citrus Bowl gets its pick of the remaining SEC teams. After that, the conference and the schools work together to fill the six pack of bowls just mentioned.

If LSU goes to the Citrus, then Kentucky likely goes to the Outback, leaving the Gamecocks competing with the Aggies and probably Mississippi State for that spot in the Gator Bowl. Both teams have better records and are ranked higher than USC, and the Aggies beat the Gamecocks this season. That’s probably not a fight South Carolina would win in the conference office.

If the Tigers get pulled up to New Year’s Six, then Kentucky goes to the Citrus and Texas A&M goes to the Outback and the Gamecocks have a better argument for getting to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator Bowl. If South Carolina doesn’t land in Jacksonville, then the Belk Bowl and Music City Bowl are the next most logical choices.

A trip to the Belk Bowl would mean back-to-back games in Bank of America Stadium because the Gamecocks open the 2019 season there against North Carolina. That fact doesn’t increase their chances of playing in that game, but it’s not a deal breaker either.

South Carolina has never played in a Music City Bowl, so that might have some appeal for USC administrators. The Liberty Bowl does not because of its location in Memphis, Tenn., and the fact that it’s the only one of the six pack that’s not played in an NFL stadium.

The bowl selections will all be official Sunday night, but for now South Carolina fans can keep an eye on LSU to get some hints.


ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura — Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. Baylor, Dec. 31

ESPN’s Mitch Sherman — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Pitt, Dec. 29

Sports Illustrated — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Duke, Dec. 29

CBS Sports — Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. TCU, Dec. 31

SB Nation — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Michigan State, Dec. 31

247Sports — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Purdue, Dec. 31

College Football News — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. North Carolina State, Dec. 29

Sporting News — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Northwestern, Dec. 31

Saturday Down South — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. North Carolina State, Dec. 29

Bleacher Report — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 29

NBC Sports — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 29

Athlon Sports — Music City Bowl (Nashville) vs. Michigan State, Dec. 28