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November 27, 2012

Projecting Vanderbilt's bowl fortunes

With the regular season now officially behind us, it is finally time to talk openly and with some accuracy about the potential bowl game destinations for Vanderbilt.

Recapping the state of the Southeastern Conference union, the conference has nine official bowl relationships. Each of those bowl games is in a pecking order for selecting an eligible SEC school for half of their match-up.

This year, the SEC has an embarrassment of riches at the top of the bowl pecking order. With four two-loss schools (giving the loser of UGA-Alabama an additional loss) and two one-loss schools. The top six bowls figure to end up with some combination of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. With so many options, and so little clarity on bowl preferences, there are multiple scenarios for even the last few bowl eligible schools -- including your Vanderbilt Commodores.

In our attempt to get to the bottom of it all and give Vandy fans the best case scenario for the Commodores, here's how we see things breaking out, starting with the SEC's pecking order:

Title game: Alabama or Georgia
SEC 1: Sugar Bowl
SEC 2: Capitol One
SEC 3: Cotton
SEC 4/5: Outback
SEC 4/5: Chik-fil-A
SEC 6: Gator
SEC 7: Music City
SEC 8: Compass

The Compass Bowl will jump the Liberty Bowl this year, as there are not enough eligible SEC schools to fill nine bowl game slots. Since the Liberty got Vandy last year, the Compass gets the final eligible SEC school this year.)

What we know

While there are seemingly unending ways that the top six SEC bowls could go, obviously either Alabama or Georgia will play in the national championship game versus Notre Dame.

After that, Florida is already guaranteed to take the SEC's second BCS bowl slot. So, pen the Gators in for the Sugar Bowl.

After that, there will be four SEC schools with two losses: Georgia or Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina and LSU. Any of the next four bowls could select any of these four schools, and there are multiple scenarios for each. But it appears as though most believe the loser of the SEC title game will play in the Capitol One Bowl -- either Georgia or Alabama.

That means the Cotton will likely select Texas A&M to go up against Texas. Some feel LSU, however, may get that position in an effort by the Cotton Bowl to get a non-Texas-based school to Dallas.

According to our sources at Gamecocks Central, it is believed that South Carolina is a virtual certainty for the Outback Bowl in Tampa -- especially since the Outback Bowl has taken a team from the East every year but one (2010) since 1997.

That will suit the Chick-Fil-A Bowl just fine, as selecting either Texas A&M or LSU will avoid a rematch between USC and Clemson.

Despite what some prognosticators are suggesting -- especially if we can assume our contacts at Gamecocks Central are right about the Outback -- we don't see any reasonable likelihood that the Chick-Fil-A would pass up either 10-2 A&M or LSU for 8-4 Vandy.

What's left

That leaves four bowls, with four SEC schools. And this is where things get interesting.

The next bowl on the pecking order is the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. The Gator should have its pick of two 8-4 teams: Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

Traditionally, one would assume that the Gator would snatch up MSU, as it is a so-called big state school. But as Lee Corso says, "Not so fast, my friend!"

The Gator has already suggested it might prefer the Commodores. MSU has ended its season with four losses in its final five games, and the Gator seems to be implying its concern that State fans may not be all that excited about making a relatively long trip to Jacksonville for a bowl game.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is the hot team, with the hot coach, with a fan base that -- though obviously smaller than State's -- has proven its ability to fill seats at last year's Liberty Bowl.

If the Gator picks Vandy, the Music City Bowl would then pick between 8-4 MSU and 6-6 Ole Miss. That's a quandry for the MCB, because State played in Nashville last year and also lost to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl last weekend.

The MCB could, with SEC commissioner Mike Slive's blessing, select Ole Miss, which would send State to the Compass in Birmingham.

What about the Music City Bowl?

If, however, the Gator picks State, Vandy would then fall to the Music City Bowl for the second time in its existence. That, obviously, has its positives and negatives for both parties.

On the down side for VU, the Commodores would not have the perceived excitement of traveling for the bowl season.

On the up side for Vandy, though, staying in Nashville would save an enormous amount of money on travel expenses. VU would also dominate the local media for the month of December, and give James Franklin the opportunity to give guided campus tours to the ESPN TV staff.

And, let's be honest: The Compass will probably bring in a C-USA or MAC opponent. Fair or not, few will feel as though a game against Central Florida or Bowling Green will be an appropriate reward for a school that just completed its most successful regular season in five decades.

For the Music City, hosting Vanderbilt -- likely versus Virginia Tech -- has similar ups and downs. For obvious reasons, MCB leader Scott Ramsey would love to get a share of those hotel packages sold through the Ole Miss or MSU ticket offices. Obviously, he wouldn't have as much up side hosting the local school.

But is that what the Music City Bowl wants? And, perhaps even more importantly, is that what Vanderbilt wants?

For his part, yesterday Ramsey said the decision to pick or not to pick Vandy would likely rest at least in large part with Vanderbilt.

"(Selecting Vanderbilt over another school) would be the right thing to do," said Ramsey to Nashville's 104.5 The Zone. "We work a lot with Vanderbilt and they are a big supporter of everything we do with the Nashville Sports Council. That includes Chancellor Zeppos, David Williams and James Franklin. I think their input is important to us.

"And really the question on the table when we sit down with them is, are you sure you want to be in Nashville or do you want to go on the road somewhere? That input will be important to us when we make our decision, and I think as partners is a lot of ways other than this year I think its important to have that conversation with them."

Regardless of which schools end up in Nashville, Ramsey said the bowl is well on its way toward its most successful event yet.

"We're a little ahead of pace from where we were last year," said Ramsey in relation to ticket sales to date. "We've got a great date this year, we're on December 31st this year, noon Eastern kickoff, we're the lead-off game on ESPN, that's a Monday of a four day weekend, the Titans play at home the day before, we have a New Year's Eve Party that night. So I think the fans coming in are going to have a good opportunity to see what Music City has to offer."

Whether Nashville, Jacksonville or Birmingham, Vanderbilt fans must wait until Sunday's selection process until they know where to plan to be for New Year's Eve. No matter where the Commodores end up, Vandy fans won't complain.


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