The Maneater

Assessing Missouri’s possible bowl game destinations

The Gator, Music City and Liberty bowls have all appeared in recent projections as MU awaits its assignment Sunday. Here are The Maneater’s picks.

Missouri coach Barry Odom talks to sideline reporters just after Missouri's 38-17 win over No. 13 Florida on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.

Drew Lock won’t tell anyone his bowl game preference until after it’s announced.

That was the senior quarterback’s stance when grilled on the matter by reporters following Missouri’s 38-0 defeat of Arkansas to close out the regular season on Friday. Others were more outspoken. Lock’s top receiver, senior Emanuel Hall, said he wants the Tigers to end up in Florida. That’s likely a popular opinion among fans, too.

Missouri (8-4, 4-4 SEC) is waiting to receive its postseason bowl game assignment on Sunday after tearing off a four-game win streak to finish the regular season. Eleven teams from the SEC are bowl eligible, and with Missouri considered among the middle to upper tier, it is expected to land somewhere in the league’s “Pool of Six.” These are the six games to which SEC officials, rather than the bowls, assign teams.

They are the Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.), Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.), Liberty Bowl (Memphis) and Texas Bowl (Houston).

Though each of these six games are technically equal in prominence, some by precedent are considered more distinguished than others. The Outback Bowl in particular usually receives a high-profile team, and the Gator Bowl is often close behind it in reputation.

But before Missouri can be placed, the hierarchical system of bowl placement must start at the top with the “New Year’s Six.” It remains unclear how many SEC teams will be named to college football’s six most prestigious postseason games, but Alabama (12-0) and Georgia (11-1) are considered locks.

LSU (9-3) was set to be a third lock, but it missed out on a crucial 10th win Saturday when it lost a monumental seven-overtime classic to Texas A&M. Had LSU won, Kentucky (9-3) and Florida (9-3) would have been lobbyists for a fourth SEC New Year’s Six bid. Instead, the league has three 9-3 teams, and it’s unclear whether one or two will make a New Year’s Six contest. The Sugar Bowl will take someone, and the Peach and Fiesta bowls have the option to do so as well. Kentucky, with a loss to Tennessee, is the least likely of the three to land in the New Year’s Six.

The Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Fla.) gets next choice among the SEC, with Florida and LSU as its most appealing options if either is still unselected. If only one of them reaches the New Year’s Six, the other is probable to end up here. Kentucky and Mississippi State (8-4) are other potential fits that various outlets have projected.

Then comes the Pool of Six, with three 8-4 teams – Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M – next in line behind the 9-3 trio. Record isn’t the only factor in determining placement, however, especially once the Pool of Six comes into play. Since the SEC places its own teams in each of those games, location proximity and projected ticket sales dictate the decisions as well.

With that in mind, South Carolina (6-5) is a likely candidate for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, even though the Gamecocks have one more make-up game to play this Saturday first. The SEC also avoids sending teams to the same game two straight years, so Missouri likely won’t return to the Texas Bowl. And at 8-4, it won’t fall below the Pool of Six to the Birmingham or Independence bowls.

That leaves the Outback, Gator, Music City and Liberty bowls.

Either four or five SEC teams will be placed before the Pool of Six – three or four New Year’s Six games plus the Citrus Bowl – and five SEC teams have more than Missouri’s eight wins.

Assuming each of those five gets priority over MU, there will be either one or zero 9-3 teams left when selection reaches the Pool of Six. If there is a leftover 9-3 team, that candidate will likely land in the Outback Bowl. If not, Outback isn’t out of the picture for Missouri, but many have speculated that the Tigers won’t get first priority of the three 8-4 teams regardless.

Mississippi State is the closest of the three to Florida, which could help it land the Outback, but the Bulldogs played in the Gator Bowl last season and won’t end up there again. It doesn’t help MU’s case that the Tigers are the farthest from Florida of the three. Some haven’t ruled Auburn (7-5) out of Gator Bowl contention yet.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether Texas A&M’s seven overtime upset of LSU catapulted the Aggies over Missouri in priority. Even if all 9-3 teams are taken before the Pool of Six, there is a chance Missouri falls to Music City or Liberty. Still, Music City would be an appealing result as well for the Tigers.

There are still games left that could have a reverberating impact through the conference. If Georgia defeats Alabama in the SEC Championship on Saturday, both teams would probably end up in the College Football Playoff, making it more likely that an extra SEC team makes the New Year’s Six. And if Central Florida loses its conference title game to Memphis, UCF would fall from the New Year’s Six and also leave an opening.

Here are The Maneater’s projections on SEC bowl destinations, including Missouri’s, as researched by sports editor Bennett Durando:

Alabama (12-0): Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)

Georgia (11-1): Sugar Bowl (New Year’s Six)

Florida (9-3): Peach Bowl (New Year’s Six)

LSU (9-3): Outback Bowl

Kentucky (9-3): Gator Bowl

Mississippi State (8-4): Citrus Bowl

Missouri (8-4): Music City Bowl

Texas A&M (8-4): Texas Bowl

Auburn (7-5): Liberty Bowl

South Carolina (6-5): Belk Bowl

Vanderbilt (6-6): Birmingham Bowl

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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