SEC Bowl Eligibility is so 2007

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What has 30-minutes-or-less free delivery, 12 delicious available toppings, tons of family-friendly specials to choose from and is totally and irreparably screwed? These guys.

When I blog, I try to mention the papajohns.com Bowl as rarely as possible. It's my firm belief that every time someone types out the phrase "papajohns.com Bowl"--the bowl sponsored by and named after not the monolithic pizza company, but by the monolithic pizza company's website*--somewhere a jersey-wearing fairy falls down dead. But that doesn't mean the well-intentioned Birmingham leaders of commerce who put the thing together deserve a fate like this:

The SEC has nine bowl spots guaranteed and could send as many as 10 teams to the postseason, if two grab BCS slots.

That's a problem: The SEC may have a hard time getting 10 teams eligible.

"We're certainly watching closely," said Mark Meadows, executive director of the Papajohns.com game. "Our projection is that there's still an opportunity to get 10 teams eligible. If there aren't, we'll get a team from the Sun Belt."

And so the residents of Birmingham all responded: Really? Sun Belt, huh? Good for you then. No, I don't think I'm going to make it. I'm busy ... um, washing my hair. My dog's hair, I mean. I'll be busy washing my dog's hair.

But could the papajo ... I mean, the Bowl in Question be spared such a horrible fate? Even in this now 100% USDA-certified down year for the SEC, could the league still hit the magic 10-team bowl-eligibility mark? We take a team-by-team look after the jump.

In decreasing order of bowl-eligibility likelihood:

Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU: All mortal locks. 'Bama, Georgia, and Florida are all eligible already and gleefully on their way to New Year's Day bowls or better, and thanks to the cream-puffiest nonconference slate this side of Bill Snyder, all LSU needs to lock up their sixth win is a home win Saturday over backsliding Tulane. Bowl Eligiblity Chances out of 100: 100-0.

Ole Miss: Even after losing a whole string of heartbreakers thus far this season--all four of the Rebels' losses have been by a touchdown or less and Nutt's bunch finished with the greater total yardage in three of them--the team Kyle King accurately labels the best 4-4 team in America shouldn't have any problem making their first bowl game since that 2003 Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma St. you've probably forgotten about. The Rebels need only to win two of their three contests against Sun Belt also-ran Louisiana-Monroe, offensively-decrepit Auburn, and toothless rival Mississippi St. to reach six wins, and all three of those games are at home. At this point, a better question for Ole Miss than "Will they make a bowl game?" is "How nice a bowl game can they reach?" And with LSU looking vulnerable after their shellackings at the hands of the Gators and Dawgs, the guess here is a very nice one indeed. Chances: 95-5.

South Carolina: Big road wins over the aforementioned Rebels and Kentucky Wildcats mean the 'Cocks are in very little danger of seeing their one-year absence from the postseason turn into a two-year streak. Sitting at five wins already and with three wobbly opponents in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Clemson still to play, 7-5 looks to be about Carolina's worst-case scenario. In the 2008 SEC, it's also safe to assume even a surprising drop to 6-6 won't leave Spurrier and Co. home for the holidays the way it did last season. Chances: 90-10.

Kentucky: With the 'Cats as banged-up and offensively inept as they appeared to be in their slaughter in the Swamp last Saturday, they're not a lock even sitting at 5-3. They still have games to play against the bottom two teams in the SEC in Mississippi St. and Tennessee, but both of them come on the road. The Georgia game looks like a lost cause, and even the home date against reeling Vanderbilt will come against a team every bit as desperate as they are. Nonetheless, it seems like a stretch for the 'Cats to face three teams as hapless on offense as State, Vandy, and Tennessee and somehow lose to all three. Rich Brooks should go bowling again. Chances: 75-25

Vanderbilt: Vandy, please, for the love of all this is just and right in this world, win a sixth game. Easier said than done when you've lost 16 consecutive times over a 26-season span with bowl eligibility on the line, I know, I know, but hope isn't lost for the 'Dores yet even with such gilt-edged opportunities as "at Miss. St." and "home to Duke" already having gone by the boards. "At Kentucky" won't be easy, but it certainly won't be any tougher than the games against Ole Miss and Carolina Vandy's already won.  "At Wake Forest" to end the season might be an even tougher nut to crack, but the Demon Deacons' six-turnover disaster against Navy suggests that on the right day, they might be willing to make the big mistakes that Vandy thrives on. But the big one, the 'Dores last best hope, is "home to Tennessee" Nov. 22. The Vols' offensive problems run nearly as deep as Vandy's (No. 114 in total offense to Vandy's No. 116), the 'Dores should have their largest and most desperate crowd of the season, and by that point it seems exceedingly likely Tennessee will be playing for a de facto lame duck coaching staff. The guess here is that by season's end, the 'Dores will have had enough chances that that even they won't have been able to blow them all. Chances: 60-40.

Unfortunately, this ends the list of "likely" SEC bowl teams at eight (!). Your longshots:

Tennessee: This is how deep the SEC's bowl eligibility predicament runs: the wretched Vols still look, from here, like the next-most-likely team to reach six wins. Why? Schedule, schedule, schedule: after this week's road trip to Carolina, their final three games include home dates against Wyoming and Kentucky and a trip to the Vanderbilt for a taste SEC's least-intimidating road venue. The homecoming "battle" against the Cowboys (the country's dead-last team in turnover margin) is an almost certain win and with Nick Stephens still looking borderline competent, both the UK and Vandy games look too close to call either way. A sweep even of this motley crew isn't likely, but it's a shorter hill to climb than the ones facing the teams further down this list. Chances: 30-70.

Auburn: Auburn's trip to Ole Miss Saturday is indeed as important for the SEC as the Doug Segrest article linked above says it is; if the Tigers don't make six wins, eight teams is pretty much the SEC's bowl-eligible ceiling, since even if Tennessee crosses the finish line they'll almost certainly have to do it at the expense of Kentucky or Vandy's postseason plans. And even with Tommy Tuberville's track record of pulling rabbits out of top-10 opponents' hats and the freebie at home to FCS UT-Martin, any shot Auburn has at six wins has to start with a win in Oxford. A team whose objective "best" win to date remains the infamous 3-2 nightmare in Starkville can't exactly be counted on to finish a lost campaign by defeating one of the best teams in the country, at home (Georgia) or on the road (Alabama). Barring the biggest miracle of Tubby's career, Auburn will have to defeat Ole Miss. And it just ain't likely: the last three offenses of the Rebels' caliber Auburn faced--LSU, Arkansas, and West Virginia--torched the Tigers' banged-up defense to the tune of an average 420 yards a game. If the trend continues, there's very little hope of Auburn's somnabulant offense keeping up. Chances: 25-75

Arkansas: Things aren't quite as bleak for the Hogs as it might seem at a glance. Bobby Petrino's team was a bit unlucky to come away from two down-to-the-wire games against Kentucky and Ole Miss without a win, and if they can improve on those performances there's no reason to think they couldn't surprise any one of Tulsa, Carolina, or LSU. They also now have to be seen as a favorite to come out of Starkville Nov. 22 with a win. The problem is that sitting at 3-5, they wouldn't just have to beat the Bulldogs and spring one of those upsets; they'd have to beat State and spring two. I'd be willing to wager on the former, but the latter--especially with the Carolina game on the road and the Hogs' brittle defense looking unlikely to find an answer for Gus Malzahn's reign of destruction--seems a bridge too far. (That said? The Hogs' chances aren't all that far off from Auburn's.) Chances: 21-79.

Mississippi St.: The relatively comfortable win over a relatively decent Middle Tennessee team last week was a good sign, but assuming they lose to 'Bama the Bulldogs would still have to put together a clean sweep of Kentucky and Arkansas at home and Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on the road. It's not impossible. But when you've already lost to Auburn and Tennessee this season, the odds aren't exactly in your favor, either. Chances: 10-90.

A final prediction: Believe it or not, it's worse for the SEC than it first appears, because it's my guess the league will fail to fill two of its bowl slots. Alabama looks poised to knock off LSU in Baton Rouge and go to Atlanta undefeated while the East's Cocktail-triumphant representative should wrap up the regular season with a single loss. With at-large candidates in both the Pac-10 and Big 10 looking in short supply (to say nothing about the ACC or Big East), a one-loss Alabama or a two-loss Florida or Georgia is going to be way too tempting for the BCS to pass up.

After those two shuffle off to the big-money games, that leaves only seven remaining eligible SEC teams as none of the Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas, or Miss. St. crew promise to hit the six-win mark. (Note here how much those losses to UCLA, West Virginia, and Louisiana Tech could cost the conference.) So the Florida-Georgia loser heads off to the Cap One, Ole Miss to the Cotton, LSU to the Outback, Carolina to the Chick-Fil-A (!), Kentucky to the Liberty, Vandy to a thrilled Music City Bowl ...

and no one to the Independence, or--sorry, fairies--papajohns.com Bowl.  It's a grim picture, unless you're a 7-5 Conference USA team (in which case, hello, Shreveport!) But it's a grim SEC this year, folks, and this, unfortunately, is the result.

*Can't find it, but I'm pretty sure both this phrasing and the all-too-appropriate sentiment is borrowed from Matt Hinton, back in his old SMQ days. Hopefully he won't notice it's missing.

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