Consider it the LSU Tigers’ own personalized version of a four-game college football playoff.
Four possible bowl destinations for the Tigers — the Capital One, AT&T Cotton, Outback and Chick-fil-A — appear likely be trimmed down to two leading destinations, the Cotton and Chick-fil-A, before LSU finds out Sunday which is the one game where it will finally play.
Indications point to LSU’s bowl fate being closely tied to which team wins Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta.
If it’s No. 2 Alabama winning to advance to a date with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, that would likely steer LSU to the Jan. 4 Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. If it’s No. 3 Georgia, then LSU would likely follow the Bulldogs to Atlanta to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
With 11-1 Florida (currently No. 4 in the BCS) set to snap up the SEC’s second and final BCS bowl slot, the Gators are poised to be the SEC champion’s replacement in the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
That leaves the Cap One, Cotton, Outback and Chick-fil-A to divvy up an 11-2 SEC Championship Game loser and LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina, all at 10-2.
BCS No. 9 Texas A&M, with Heisman Trophy favorite Johnny Manziel running the offense, remains the hottest non-BCS contender among SEC schools. The Aggies are trending so well, they could easily be snapped up by the Jan. 1 Capital One, which gets first pick of SEC teams after the BCS slots are filled.
The Cotton and Outback pick next, with the Cotton getting preference for SEC West teams and the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl having preference for teams from the SEC East.
If Alabama and A&M were off the table, the Cotton would likely have to choose between BCS No. 7 LSU and a Georgia team coming off a loss that possibly may slip below the Tigers in the final BCS standings. The Outback, which had Georgia last year, would probably prefer to steer clear of the Bulldogs two years in a row, meaning they could wind up in the Chick-fil-A against Clemson.
That’s precisely the scenario that ESPN.com college football analyst Brad Edwards sees happening.
“I think the Cap One takes A&M,” Edwards said. “And then the next typical step is for the Outback to get an East team and the Cotton to get a West team. With Georgia having played in the Outback last year, I think they go with South Carolina. Georgia and Clemson open next season against each other, but I don’t know why the Chick-fil-A would care about that.”
Edwards projects LSU in the Cotton Bowl against Texas, though if the Longhorns (8-3) finish the season on a two-game losing streak with a loss Saturday to Big 12 leader Kansas State, the Tigers could wind up playing Oklahoma State if it can finish 8-4 with a win Saturday at Baylor.
An LSU-Oklahoma State game sets up a compelling matchup between LSU coach Les Miles and the school he coached before leaving for Baton Rouge in 2005. Current OSU coach Mike Gundy was a Miles assistant.
Kansas State could also be in the Cotton if it loses to Texas and Oklahoma beats TCU to win the Big 12 outright, but the Wildcats played in the Cotton against Arkansas last year. Oklahoma could also be in the Cotton if the Sooners, Longhorns and Cowboys all lose.
“There’s still lots of teams for us to choose from,” Cotton Bowl spokesman Charlie Fiss said. Cotton Bowl President Rick Baker declined comment until after his bowl committee’s selection meeting Tuesday.
If Georgia beats Alabama, the Bulldogs would play Notre Dame for the national title. Florida would still likely move ahead of Alabama and grab a spot in the Sugar Bowl (despite protests from Alabama coach Nick Saban), leaving the Capital One to choose between Alabama and probably Texas A&M.
Whoever goes where, the Cap One and Cotton are likely to snap up both the Crimson Tide and Aggies. The Outback could go against type and pick LSU over South Carolina, but the smart money says the Outback takes the Gamecocks and LSU goes to the Chick-fil-A.
The opponent there would likely be 10-2 Clemson. Florida State (10-2) can fall to the Chick-fil-A, but only if it loses to 6-6 Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
Chick-fil-A Bowl President/CEO Gary Stokan could not be reached for comment.
Officials from the Capital One and Outback bowls as expected did not dismiss the possibility of LSU playing in their games, especially with the prospect of Miles’ alma mater Michigan
(8-4) being on the other side for either.
“We know the history,” Outback Bowl President and CEO Jim McVay said.
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan said his bowl has had good experiences with LSU when the Tigers played in the Orlando, Fla., bowl after the 2004 and 2009 seasons, but acknowledged that LSU didn’t have such a great experience the last time when heavy rain turned the Tigers’ game with Penn State into a mud-covered quagmire.
Hogan said his bowl spent $1.5 million to install a new artificial turf field and drainage system (Southern opened the 2010 season on that field against Delaware State) and that Citrus Bowl Stadium and its environs are in the midst of a $200 million renovation that will virtually make over the stadium in time for the January 2014 game.
“We wish we had the stadium the last time that we do today,” Hogan said.
Both McVay and Hogan said the unusual number of highly ranked available teams — at least four in the top 10 with at least 10 wins each — makes their selections more difficult.
“They are all virtually interchangeable,” McVay said.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said the school is looking for the best bowl destination as determined by a number of factors. “We’re looking for the best matchup that’s also the best reward for our players and fans,” Alleva said.
Bowl bids will be announced Sunday night.