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Outback Bowl Hates SEC East, American Values -- But Loves Auburn

UPDATE: The Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl will go with Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech.

And now, playing the in the Outback Bowl after going 2-5 in the two months of the season with wins against Furman and Ole Miss and losses to Kentucky AT HOME and Georgia and Arkansas on the road ...

The Auburn Tigers?

The Outback Bowl has invited Auburn to its Jan. 1 game and will make the official announcement later today, according to a person familiar with the process. Auburn's Big 10 opponent is expected to be Wisconsin, although it's not clear if that will be announced today. ...

Auburn is the first SEC West team selected since Alabama beat Michigan 17-14 on Jan. 1, 1997, in Gene Stalling's final game as the Tide's head coach.

While this is a surprise to rational people, it really shouldn't be given the Outback Bowl's history of bizarre bowl choice. Last year, the game selected 7-5 South Carolina pretty much out of necessity, though it could have gotten a better LSU team instead. The Gamecocks got waxed playing an Iowa team that they probably shouldn't have been facing.

Now the Tampa-based bowl has taken the 7-5 SEC team least likely and some would say least qualified for the bowl. The Outback, generally considered a bowl for an SEC East squad, had to pass over Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky to select the Tigers. And if you're going to ignore late-season losing streaks, why not at least invite a team in South Carolina that defeated its hate rival?

Vols fans are most unhappy, since Tampa seemed the best destination for Tennessee.

When you have six teams at 7-5, it's not going to be totally fair.  It's tough to argue Auburn/Tennessee, because the Tigers beat the Vols.  It's not tough to argue that of the six 7-5 teams, Tennessee has the best credentials.  What's more, not only did the Outback Bowl go away from their traditional agreement of picking an SEC East team, they've reportedly rejected 8-4 Ole Miss, as the Cotton Bowl's attempted trade of Tennessee for Ole Miss was shot down by the suits in Tampa.

But Tennessee isn't the only team that might get cheated. By rejecting the Vols and every other team in the East, most of those programs will drop at least one bowl. Except perhaps Georgia, which could still get a shot at the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl because of ticket sales.

We now pretty much know all of this:

BCS: Alabama
BCS: Florida
Capital One: LSU
Cotton: Ole Miss
Outback: Auburn

What's left?

Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl
Music City

The Peach Bowl -- no, I'm not going to call it by the corporate name -- now gets a chance to throw a curve ball by choosing the Vols or someone else. And if reports are to be believed, that is precisely what they will do.

Sources indicated on Monday that the Vols wouldn't slide past the Atlanta-based bowl if the Outback didn't take them, though no decision has been reached yet according to UT athletic director Mike Hamilton.

UPDATED: The News-Sentinel now reports that Tennessee will go to Atlanta.

Tennessee and Virginia Tech will meet in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, according to a source familiar with the selection process.

An official announcement should come after the SEC releases non-BCS teams for bowl consideration, possibly later this evening. The Vols still don't have an official bid either verbally or in writing at this point according to a separate source in the UT athletic program, but that appears to be a formality.

The Music City, meanwhile, loves to choose Kentucky when they get the chance because of proximity and fan excitement to be going to any bowl not held in towns whose populations double on bowl day.

There is a chance that Georgia or even South Carolina could still get into one of these bowls. The Dawgs could still be in line to play Clemson in the Peach if the Tigers don't win the ACC Championship Game and South Carolina would make an intriguing opponent for North Carolina if the Tar Heels end up going to Nashville. The league could also intervene, since the bowl rules for the Music City and the Liberty state that the two "will make their selections, not in any specific order, but in consultation with the SEC Office."

Barring involvement by Mike Slive and Co., though, it's likely that Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina will be left fighting for the last three spots. I can't imagine the Liberty passing up a chance to take the Dawgs, and the Independence's best draw would probably be Arkansas. That leaves South Carolina looking at a trip to Birmingham for the Bowl.

Few of those destinations seem terribly fair. But that was apparently the last thing on the mind of the Outback Bowl when it chose to go with Auburn.