Rabalais: Five bowls appear most likely destinations for LSU

After Saturday’s loss at Alabama, LSU’s bowl prospects are easier to define in terms of where the Tigers aren’t going than where they are.

LSU isn’t going to the BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers aren’t going to a BCS bowl like the Sugar, either.

Where LSU does land once the bowl bids are announced on Dec. 8? Absolutely no way to tell, other than to say the Tigers will likely play in one of five spots: the Cotton, Gator, Outback, Capital One or Chick-fil-A bowls.

Cotton Bowl

7 p.m, Jan. 3

Arlington, Texas (Fox)

This has been the Tigers’ likely bowl destination from the beginning, which was in the Cotton Bowl’s venue, AT&T Stadium, against TCU in the Cowboys Classic.

If LSU finishes 9-3 with wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas, it’s hard to imagine the Cotton not picking LSU. And Cotton Bowl President and CEO Rick Baker said Tuesday the fact that LSU played in Arlington in August is no impediment to the Tigers ending the season in his bowl.

“I don’t think that’s a negative unless someone tells me it is,” Baker said. “Unless Joe (Alleva) or Les (Miles) tell me they don’t want to come back. We certainly don’t see any downside at all.”

LSU’s athletic director apparently is not at all about to tell the Cotton that.

“Our goal is to play in the best bowl we can possibly go to,” Alleva said.

There may be lingering resentment among the LSU fan base that thought their Tigers were going to the Cotton last year. At the last minute, the Southeastern Conference shuffled the bowl selections basically to keep SEC Championship Game loser Georgia from falling to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That meant the Capital One picked Georgia, and the Cotton took Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M instead of LSU.

But the combination of destination, stadium and opponent (probably Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor or Miles’ former employer Oklahoma State out of the Big 12) makes the Cotton appealing.

What if LSU and A&M are both 9-3, and maybe even Ole Miss, too? The Cotton is traditionally loathe to invite the same team two years in a row, and LSU has more brand appeal than Ole Miss. A 9-3 or 10-2 Missouri team is also a possibility, but it’s hard to see the Cotton ending its 15-year affiliation with the SEC (it joins the College Football Playoff next year and hosts its first championship game) with two straight ex-Big 12 members.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

7 p.m, Dec. 31

Atlanta (ESPN)

A couple of national projections have LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for the second straight year, but that seems as likely to happen as Chick-fil-A adding burgers to its menu.

LSU fans were lukewarm to last year’s game with Clemson despite the fact it was a great matchup. LSU has been in the Chick-fil-A five times since 1996, more than any other bowl other than the Sugar/BCS title game (also five times). Add LSU’s five SEC Championship games and one Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game appearance, and you see the reason for Atlanta fatigue.

This seems like the toughest sell to LSU fans.

Gator Bowl

11 a.m., Jan. 1

Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN2)

LSU hasn’t been to the Gator since 1987 when it beat South Carolina 30-13. Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett — a long-time friend of Alleva — said his bowl is highly intrigued by the idea of paring LSU with a Big Ten foe. That could be especially true if Michigan — Miles’ alma mater and one team LSU has never faced in football — is the Big Ten representative.

“There are only certain football brands in America, 25 or 30 really big names, and LSU is certainly one,” Catlett said.

“If somehow we had LSU play a Big Ten school, it would be a home run for us.”

For LSU to get to the Gator, it would probably have to finish 8-4 with a loss to Texas A&M. Otherwise, it’s hard to see 9-3 LSU getting past the Cotton.

Outback Bowl

Noon, Jan. 1

Tampa, Fla. (ESPN)

In its 19-year tie-in with the SEC, the Outback has picked an SEC West team just three times: Auburn twice and Alabama once. It would be an interesting matchup if Michigan is on the other side, but it seems highly, highly unlikely.

Capital One Bowl

Noon, Jan. 1

Orlando, Fla. (ABC)

It would take a special set of circumstances: LSU is 9-3, Alabama is in the BCS title game, 10-2 Auburn is in the Sugar, Missouri and South Carolina both have three losses and finished on a losing note, and Texas A&M and Georgia are 8-4. Could happen, but too many dominoes have to fall.