Playing in a bowl game has become a less familiar process in Knoxville after Tennessee went three straight seasons without one. Furthermore, the SEC bowl selection process was overhauled this past offseason, leading to some confusion as to how all of this works. We’ve been asked several questions and have answered them in different forums, but here we’ll compile our answers in one easy-to-use forum for your reference.
Q: When will we find out where UT is going?
A: Officially, this coming Sunday, Dec. 7, though there will be reports and rumors that will spread about potential or likely destinations throughout this week.
Q: How does the selection process work?
A: First, the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings are selected for the two-round playoffs. After that the playoff selection committee will place teams into the rest of the major bowls that aren’t part of the CFB Playoff rotation this year (Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton). The Citrus Bowl then gets first choice of remaining SEC teams (doesn’t have to be the highest remaining team in the standings or rankings). After that, there’s a pod of six bowl games – the Texas, Belk, Music City, Liberty, Taxslayer and Outback – that will have SEC teams assigned to them by the league office. After that group of six bowls, the Birmingham Bowl can select any remaining team and then the Independence can do the same after that.
Q: How does the SEC choose teams for the group of six bowls?
A: It’s ultimately up to the league how it wants to make the selections. Expect them to factor things like overall record, head-to-head outcomes, avoiding recent rematches, proximity, fan base excitement and matchups into the decision. The SEC will get input from both the bowls and the schools as to their preferences, but it’ll be the SEC’s decision at the end of the day for these six. It’s also important to remember that, at least in theory, these six bowls are on level footing now in terms of prestige and they’re all close in payouts. That doesn’t mean that programs wouldn’t rather go to a bowl like the Outback as opposed to the Liberty, but, in terms of how the SEC is viewing them, they’re all equal.
Q: What if there are more SEC bowl eligible teams than SEC bowl tie-ins?
A: There are 12 bowl-eligible SEC teams. The SEC likely gets one in the playoffs, one or two more in the other major bowls that are assigned by the committee, one in the Citrus Bowl and then it’s down to the group of six and then the Birmingham and Independence Bowls. So there is a feasible scenario where only 11 SEC teams get selected to bowls with SEC tie-ins. And if that does happen, the league would hope that another league doesn’t fill all of its bowls tie-in spots and then would be eligible to take the final SEC team. That’s why you’ll occasionally see Tennessee projected in a random bowl such as the Heart of Dallas.
Q: Is there a chance Tennessee doesn’t get selected to a bowl?
A: Mathematically, yes. Practically speaking, no. For that to even be a consideration, everything mentioned in the prior answer would have to happen, plus the SEC (for the group of six bowls), the Birmingham Bowl and the Independence Bowl would have to choose South Carolina (a team with the same record as UT and that UT beat) and Arkansas (a team with a worse conference record than UT) over the Vols. Throw in the fact that Tennessee is excited to be in a bowl game and would travel well, especially to closer ones such as the Belk, Music City, Liberty and Birmingham Bowls, and it’s virtually impossible for the Vols to be left out of the SEC tie ins, and even if they were, there would likely be an opportunity to go to one without an SEC tie in if the numbers worked out.
Q: Can you give a mock of where the SEC teams might end up?
A: 1. CFB Playoffs: Alabama
2. Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
3. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss
4. Citrus Bowl: Georgia
5. Outback: Missouri
6. Taxslayer: Auburn
7. Texas: Texas A&M
8: Belk: Tennessee
9: Music City: Florida
10: Liberty: LSU
11. Birmingham: Arkansas
12: Independence: South Carolina
Q: What are the most realistic destinations for Tennessee?
A: We think the Vols land in the group of six bowls with the three closest geographically – the Belk, Music City and Liberty Bowls making the most sense. The Liberty Bowl has been at virtually every Tennessee game this year, and, along with the Belk Bowl, seems to be showing the most interest. The Music City Bowl will always making some degree of sense for UT as well, though some have questioned whether three straight games (at Vandy, Music City Bowl and the 2015 opener) in Nashville could be a little bit of overexposure.
Q: What are some realistic matchups for the Vols?
We looked at 10 interesting and realistic matchups for Tennessee in a bowl game before the Vols took on Vanderbilt lats week.