We’re officially half way through the 2018 college football season. And it’s never too early to start thinking about bowl destinations for teams. The Southeastern Conference has ten affiliated bowls, not including the College Football Playoff. The past two bowl seasons were rough for the SEC, going 11-13 overall, even with three teams appearing in the past two national championship games. Last bowl season’s five conference wins and nine overall teams were the lowest numbers in those categories since 2010 and 2012, respectively.
2018 SEC Bowl Projections
But the 2018 season started off in dominate fashion for the SEC. The conference scored big out-of-conference wins in the first few weeks of the season with Auburn beating Washington, LSU soundly defeating Miami, and Mississippi State winning on the road against Kansas State. The SEC is expecting a better 2018 bowl season.
But where will each team end up in December and January? Here are our current projections:
College Football Playoff
Alabama: It’s highly unlikely that SEC will get two teams in the CFP again this year. While Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky still control their own destiny to the SEC Championship Game–and a one-loss SEC Champion is almost a lock for the CFP–it’s hard to see anyone beating Alabama at this point. LSU’s dominant performance over Georgia certainly got the nation’s attention, but the Crimson Tide are the favorites until someone proves otherwise.
LSU: With the SEC Champion very likely to make it to the CFP, the Sugar Bowl will get the next pick of teams. It’ll likely come down to a one-loss Georgia or a two-loss LSU. It’s technically been 12 years since the Tigers played in the Sugar Bowl, although the 2007/2008 and 2011/2012 National Championship Game was the Sugar Bowl. If LSU can hold serve against everyone except Alabama, they’ll be on Bourbon Street again.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Georgia: The Bulldogs are still the class of the East, even after a devastating loss at LSU. If they can win against Florida and Kentucky they’ll keep control of the East and face Alabama in Atlanta. That’ll likely get them a second loss on the season, which will put them Orlando for the Citrus Bowl, which has the pick after the CFP and Sugar Bowl.
First Tier Bowls
The conference then gets to slate teams in the first tier of contracted bowls. It becomes more difficult to predict, because the league likes to get favorable match-ups on the field. But they do consider fan bases, television ratings, and previous appearances.
Florida: Dan Mullen’s first season in Gainesville seems to be ahead of schedule. The Gators have a good shot at finishing second or third in SEC East with either two or three losses at season’s end. The Gators don’t traditionally travel exceptionally well outside of Florida, so the short trip to Tampa would be an ideal match-up for the SEC. If Florida stumbles, Kentucky would be the next likely team in this spot.
Auburn: Yes, Auburn might barely become bowl eligible, but the War Eagle brand is still strong. And a trip to Jacksonville might be a nice consolation prize for an otherwise disappointing season. If Tennessee can get to six wins, or if Ole Miss wins their appeal, they could also find themselves here.
Music City Bowl
Missouri: This will probably be the hardest fit for the league. Kentucky or Tennessee are the natural fits here, but Kentucky probably deserves a better bowl and both teams have recent history in this bowl. Additionally, this is the best fit for Missouri from a travel and match-up standpoint. Mississippi State and Auburn could also make the trip to Music City.
Kentucky: The Wildcats might get squeezed out of the Sunshine State, but the Belk Bowl would welcome Big Blue Nation. A regional match-up with an ACC opponent with a surprisingly strong team would make the Belk Bowl committee very happy.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs still have work to do to be bowl eligible, but should get to six or seven wins. They’ll be disappointed after having dark horse aspirations early in the season, but Houston will be a tempting landing spot Joe Moorhead’s squad.
Tennessee or South Carolina: The Vols surprising upset of Auburn indicates that they might have six wins in them. The match-up against South Carolina in two weeks is probably a de-facto play-in game for the Liberty Bowl. Tennessee has Charlotte, and then must win two from Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. That’s certainly doable with a repeat performance from last weekend. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s canceled game against Marshall, coupled with their out-of-conference against Clemson, means they have to win two out of Tennessee, Florida, and Ole Miss just to get to six wins.
Second Tier Bowls
Texas A&M: The Aggies will make the short trip east to Shreveport after going through a tough late season gauntlet that includes Mississippi State, Auburn, and LSU. They’re in no danger of missing a bowl, but their current 5-2 record isn’t the best indicator of where they will end up. Of all the teams listed, though, they have the best chance of improving their bowl landing spot.
It’s unlikely the SEC gets a tenth team to the bowls this season. Tennessee and South Carolina will be an either/or based on who wins their head-to-head. Vanderbilt will have to turn things around to become bowl eligible. Arkansas won’t be going bowling for certain. And Ole Miss, pending appeal, is still ineligible for a bowl this season. If the NCAA reverses their punishment, expect Ole Miss to be in either the Music City Bowl or the Birmingham Bowl.
That’ll projects the SEC to have nine teams bowl eligible this season, matching they decade-low number.