Cotton Bowl looks likely again for LSU, but ...

When the LSU Tigers were making their Christmas bowl wish list last year, the Cotton was at the top.

The Tigers didn’t get picked by the Cotton, though, relegated instead to the Chick-fil-A.

For LSU, the bowl was a tie the Tigers couldn’t return. The team’s play reflected the overall disinterest of the school and its fans in a 25-24 loss to Clemson.

A year later, LSU is in a similar spot and again is dreaming of ringing in the new year in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the Cotton Bowl, set for Jan. 3 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This time, it looks much closer to being reality. The results of the final regular-season weekend of Southeastern Conference play appeared to move LSU and the Cotton closer to a deal.

After the Tigers rallied dramatically past Arkansas 31-27 Friday to improve to 9-3, three Saturday games affected LSU’s bowl future: Auburn’s surreal 34-28 win in the Iron Bowl over previously top-ranked Alabama, Missouri’s 28-21 win over Texas A&M and South Carolina’s 31-17 nonconference win over archrival Clemson.

While at the moment it appears likely the SEC champion will be shut out of the BCS Championship Game for the first time since 2005, ending the conference’s run of seven straight titles, the SEC is again almost certain to get the maximum two teams in BCS bowls.

If the winner of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between Auburn and Missouri (both 11-1) doesn’t get in the BCS title game, that team will be automatically slotted into the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

If the Auburn-Missouri winner gets in the BCS title game, 11-1 Alabama figures to be in the Sugar. Otherwise, the Crimson Tide is expected to go to the Orange Bowl.

The Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl, which has first pick of SEC teams after the BCS entrants, would likely have to choose between an 11-2 SEC Championship Game loser and 10-2 South Carolina, the SEC East runner-up. If not in the Capital One, which has taken the SEC Championship Game loser only twice since 2005, the Outback would be expected to pick South Carolina even though the Gamecocks went to the Tampa, Fla., bowl last year.

The Cotton gets first pick of the remaining SEC West teams. LSU has the best record after Alabama and Auburn, and the Cotton had Texas A&M (8-4 after two straight losses) last year.

Cotton Bowl President/CEO Rick Baker is aware of LSU’s disappointment in not being his bowl’s selection last year and has expressed strong interest in the Tigers. It’s a matter of mutual attraction as far as LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva is concerned, but he is well aware of the vagaries of the bowl selection process.

“Next year the conference will assign which teams go to which bowls” after the 12 slots for the College Football Playoff bowls are filled, Alleva said. “I’ll be able to talk to (SEC Commissioner) Mike Slive and say we’d like to go here or there.

“But this year is the same as it’s always been. If (a bowl) wants to take us, they’ll take us. If not, they’ll take someone else. I can call and talk, and we do that. But last year, I thought we were going to the Cotton and, at the last minute, they decided to take Texas A&M.”

There is a slight chance a last-minute curveball could leave LSU out of the Cotton again.

In a rule put in place after a 10-2 LSU team was in danger of tumbling far down the SEC’s bowl pecking order after losing the 2005 SEC Championship Game, the SEC requires the Cap One, Cotton, Outback and Chick-fil-A to rotate being the so-called “safety-net” bowl for the championship game loser.

This year, the Cotton Bowl is contractually obligated to fill that role. That means it would be required to take the Auburn-Missouri loser if that team is passed over by the BCS bowls, the Cap One and, in Missouri’s case, the Outback.

Such a scenario would possibly send LSU to the Outback, the Gator (also Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.) or back to the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A in Atlanta.

It’s also possible the Cotton would pair Texas A&M against longtime rival Texas, but that also appears as unlikely as the SEC getting just one BCS bowl team. Texas could be one of several Big 12 teams in the Cotton mix, along with Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Bowl bids will be announced Sunday evening.