In the past the SEC bowls used to have a pecking order for lower tier games, but that's no longer the case with the new College Football Playoff structure. 2014 marks the first year of the SEC's "Pool of Six," and the conference office has full control over the placement of SEC teams in six different bowls: Texas, Belk, Liberty, Outback, Music City and TaxSlayer. The part that makes projecting which team goes where interesting is the sheer number of SEC teams that are bowl eligible this year.
The SEC has 12 bowl-eligible teams. Presuming that Alabama beats Missouri in the SEC Championship game, they'll be in the playoffs. That would likely put Missouri in the Citrus Bowl (although the Citrus isn't required to take the SEC Championship runner-up), and would put Mississippi State or Ole Miss into the Orange Bowl. Assuming that Mississippi State gets the nod for the Orange, the remaining SEC bowl eligible teams are:
- 9-3 Ole Miss
- 9-3 Georgia
- 8-4 Auburn
- 8-4 LSU
- 7-5 Texas A&M
- 6-5 Florida
- 6-6 Arkansas
- 6-6 South Carolina
- 6-6 Tennessee
No matter which way this last week shakes out, Texas A&M would fall in to the top 6 remaining teams by record in the SEC, and you would think they'd be placed somewhere within the "Pool of Six." To project which bowl Texas A&M will wind up in, we'll start by looking at what others are projecting:
|Sporting News||Belk||Notre Dame|
|College Sports Madness||Texas||Texas|
|Saturday Down South||Texas||West Virginia|
|Orlando Sentinel||Birmingham||East Carolina|
|Tampa Bay Times||TaxSlayer||Iowa|
|Dallas News||Belk||Notre Dame|
|Fox Sports||Music City||Louisville|
|Athlon Sports||Independence||North Carolina|
Per SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, the factors in choosing team bowl placements include "the creation of intriguing match-ups, the accommodation of travel for fans, reduced ticket obligations for our schools and a variety of assignments to help prevent repetitive postseason destinations." While other factors such as regional brand exposure, recruiting, TV markets, etc., will also be considered, SEC teams winning their bowl game is likely one of, if not the, most important factors.
With the factors listed in mind, we can break down how each bowl would fit with the Aggies this year.
Texas Bowl - Houston, TX
It's clear that many sites are projecting the Aggies to wind up in the Texas Bowl, with many assuming we'll play the Longhorns and reignite the rivalry. Chip Brown's sources told him that the SEC is already moving towards blocking this game - which doesn't make sense, since they have all the control here and don't need to "block" anything - which started building the "Aggies are scared to play Texas" narrative. This horse has been beaten to death, so I won't rehash the counter-argument here. Instead we'll look at the SEC's motivating factors for our placement in this game.
Winning: Sagarin ratings have A&M as a touchdown favorite for a game vs. Texas. Would A&M win this game? I think so, but it would probably be an ugly ride towards a 21-14 ending.
Intriguing Match-ups: The game would be either really great or really awful for fans though. Texas' sometimes woeful offense would be moving the ball against an A&M defense that got DC Mark Snyder fired this year, and A&M's explosive but youthful offense would attempt to score on a Texas defense that has proven it's one of the top units in the nation - for the first half at least. But, everyone loves a rivalry, so there's still going to be eyes on this game for the full duration.
Accommodating Travel: Houston is boiling over with A&M "Former Student" bumper stickers, so a bowl game here is a plus for many fans.
Repetitive Destinations: Texas A&M played in Houston in 2011, played in Texas at the 2012 Cotton Bowl, and even though this bowl game would be right in my backyard, I'd like to see the team go somewhere else. I think the SEC does as well, and that would be attributed mainly to...
Branding: The Texas A&M brand, and by extension the SEC, has nothing to gain by playing in a market that's already saturated by Aggie-phernalia.
Final Guess: I don't see the SEC placing us here. Too much bad blood with nothing to gain for either the conference or the Aggies. The rivalry may come back one day, but I don't think it's this year.
Belk Bowl - Charlotte, NC
This is the Belk Bowl's first of it's six year contracted SEC tie-in, with its other tie-in being an ACC team. The ACC has already played a handful of SEC teams this year, but had a memorable rivalry week, going 4-0 against SEC East teams. The SEC will definitely be placing an SEC West team in this matchup, and regardless of whether or not the Aggies land in it, make sure to follow the Belk on Twitter, and enjoy the bantering they've had with GBH during the past month.
Winning: Teams most commonly being mentioned for the ACC slot include: Duke, Clemson, and Notre Dame. Texas A&M is favored by 9, 1, and 6 points, respectively, based on Sagarin ratings.
Intriguing Match-ups: Our game against Duke last year almost ended in disaster, but wound up being Johnny Manziel's swan song. But, if they are a likely participant, the thought of a back-to-back rematch wouldn't really be intriguing (although it could cure some of the trauma suffered by Duke fans last year). We just scheduled Clemson for a 2018/19 matchup, and I'd be ok with waiting until then to see them. Notre Dame carries it's own brand name. In the end, I don't know if any of these match-ups are truly intriguing enough to take fan eyes and cars to the game.
Accommodating Travel: Aggies always travel well, so this isn't an issue.
Repetitive Destinations: A post-season trip to North Carolina would be an A&M first, but the thought of going head to head against an ACC opponent again may drive the SEC away from this one.
Branding: We do have one of the top recruiting classes in basketball coming to A&M in 2015, so there's that value-add. We could also sell some Aggie Honor Code merchandise to the UNC faithful who show up to see Duke lose.
Final Guess: 50/50. This is probably a good bowl for us opponent-wise, but the SEC may not want to put us on the East Coast against an ACC team in back-to-back outings.
Independence Bowl - Shreveport, LA
Another ACC vs. SEC matchup, Texas A&M could likely benefit from a recruiting trip to Louisiana this winter. It's not one of the "Pool of Six" bowls, and A&M could fall here given the shear number of teams that are bowl eligible in the SEC. Most sites are currently projecting North Carolina as the ACC's representative. How does this bowl work for the SEC and the Aggies?
Winning: Aggies are 14 point Sagarin favorites. I believe the Aggies would crush the 6-6 Tarheels.
Intriguing Match-ups: I really don't see this being a competitive game. The academic fraud story the Tarheels carry in will weight some of the conversation, but not much. An SEC East team like Florida probably makes more sense here, given that there's some history between those programs across different sports.
Accommodating Travel: Seems like every Aggie has family, or a close enough friend to be considered as such, in Louisiana.
Repetitive Destinations: We were here in 2009, where we got crushed by Georgia 44-20. If the SEC keeps us out, it's because we already play games in Louisiana once every other year.
Branding: Louisiana doesn't need to be sold on the SEC, and the best thing for us would be the recruiting benefits as we showcase Louisiana-bred Speedy Noil in front of young, hungry new players.
Final Guess: I don't think the SEC wants an SEC West team here if they can avoid it. The only way they can do that is by ensuring all 5 SEC West teams get placed within the 6-bowl pool. It's possible that we are the odd man out in favor of having at least two SEC East teams in the pool.
Liberty Bowl - Memphis, TN
SEC vs. Big 12, and what I feel is one of the most likely landing spots for the Aggies. Most sites have penciled in West Virginia to rep the Big 12 in this game, and our head to head would likely make for a high-scoring affair.
Winning: A&M would be a 2 point Sagarin favorite over West Virginia, and I'd hate to guess at the over-under right now. This game could be a shoot out or a couch fire for either team, and I think the Aggies would probably have a 40-50% shot of winning. The entire game would likely fall on Kyle Allen's arm, and it would be interesting to see him sink-or-swim after a month of practice.
Intriguing Match-ups: I normally loathe Big 12 match-ups for A&M - because they're all I've seen for over a decade - but WVU is a new opponent that A&M never had to face each year. Both teams have been up and down all-year, and this could be a great matchup to watch for a non-SEC/Big 12 fan.
Accommodating Travel: 9 hours by car doesn't even get you out of Texas heading west from Houston, but it can get you to Memphis. Ags would show up well for this one.
Repetitive Destinations: I didn't do the background research necessary to know if the Liberty bowl was actually in Memphis in 1975, when A&M was shut out by USC 20-0.
Branding: WVU had a good showing against Alabama earlier in the year that people still use as a negative against Bama. If an SEC team that Bama hosed 59-0 can walk out with a win, and if A&M gets a win against a Big 12 team that isn't Texas, I think it's a plus for the conference narrative.
Final Guess: I hope this is where we wind up, but the Big 12 may be putting Texas here. I really think the Big 12 wants to put Arkansas up against Texas, because it would be a really great matchup, and they'll likely chase them to whichever bowl they're heading to.
The Aggies' Final Destination?
After analyzing each destination, I think A&M lands in the Independence Bowl. It's not in the 6-bowl pool, but it does line up with a number of the factors listed here. It keeps us off of the East Coast, puts us close enough to home to get fans out there, and has about a 0% chance of embarrassing the SEC as A&M moves forward with an interim defensive coordinator. The plus for A&M is Kevin Sumlin & staff further entrenching themselves within fertile Louisiana recruiting territory. It's a win/win for everyone.
Getting to the Independence bowl means a team like Tennessee gets seeded ahead of A&M, which is only possible if the SEC doesn't use overall record to determine bowl placement in the pool. If the SEC does determine who goes into the 6-bowl pool by overall record, then Texas A&M will likely be participating in the Liberty Bowl against WVU.