After seeing projections from media outlets for months, Kentucky’s bowl picture is exponentially clearer entering the final game of the season against the Louisville Cardinals.
Kentucky’s fate will not be determined when the dust settles this Sunday. A bowl bid will be accepted the following week after conference championship games are played. Before I dive into the different scenarios that will play out this weekend, there are a few things we must consider:
1. Regardless of what happens in the conference championships, the SEC will make up four of the 12 New Year’s Six bids with LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Their success frees up Kentucky to climb into better bowl games.
2. The SEC’s six-year contract with various bowls expires after this postseason, beginning a new cycle in the winter of 2020. The new contract made headlines because the Las Vegas Bowl will be added into the rotation next year. It carries more significant weight when determining this year’s matchups.
3. Missouri is not eligible for postseason play. A win over Arkansas on Saturday would give them six wins but earlier today NCAA denied their appeal, giving bowls one less SEC team to choose from.
As for the potential destinations, this flow chart from the SEC should explain it pretty clearly.
The first bowl you can scratch off is the Citrus. Barring something wild, that’s Auburn’s spot for the taking. As for the rest the spots, that all comes down to what happens this weekend.
If Tennessee Beats Vanderbilt
The Commodores have won three straight against their in-state foe. Replicating as 22-point underdogs is unlikely. The win at Neyland Stadium would give the Vols seven victories.
If LSU Beats Texas A&M
The top-ranked team in America is a 17-point favorite at Death Valley. A Texas A&M loss will give Jimbo Fisher a seven-win season.
If Mississippi State Beats Ole Miss
The Bulldogs need one more win to become bowl eligible. Playing in Starkville, they actually opened as one-point underdogs in the Egg Bowl. If Joe Moorhead can pull it off, the Bulldogs will be 6-6 and destined for one of the bowls in the six-pack.
If Kentucky Beats Louisville
A Governor’s Cup victory would make UK the third seven-win SEC team. For those doing the math at home, that’s only four teams for six games, with three teams tied at seven wins apiece. Here’s how that scenario would most likely play out:
- Outback Bowl: Texas A&M
- Gator Bowl: Tennessee
- Belk Bowl: Kentucky
- Texas Bowl: Mississippi State
Entering the final year of the six-year bowl cycle, UK has not played in the Belk Bowl and Miss. State has not played in the Texas Bowl. Last season Texas A&M played in the Gator Bowl.
That makes the most sense, but let’s get a little crazy.
— Louisville does not go to the Music City Bowl. Considering geography Nashville is the Cards’ most likely destination. If they beat UK to become an eight-win team, maybe the Camping World Bowl wants them in Florida, a move that would open up the Cats for a trip to Nashville. It’s unlikely, but possible.
— Ole Miss beats Miss. State. An Ole Miss victory on Thanksgiving night would make both teams 5-7. If there are still games that need to be filled, the Rebels actually have a high enough APR score to become a five-win bowl team in the Liberty Bowl.
— Texas A&M wants to play close to home and chooses to go to the Texas Bowl. Adam Luckett’s theory on 11 Personnel seemed crazy at the time, but after another underwhelming season, playing in Houston might be the best way for the Aggies to sell tickets. 2016 was the last time they played in the Texas Bowl.
The last bullet point is how UK gets back to Florida in the Gator Bowl. Of the seven-win teams, the Outback Bowl probably prefers Tennessee more than the rest of the pack, but A&M’s trip to Jacksonville last year forces their hand. If Tennessee is in the Outback Bowl and UK has seven wins, the Wildcats are going to the Gator Bowl.
Regardless of what happens over the final two weeks of the college football bowl season, the Wildcats will accept a bowl bid in 12 days. The weird year in the SEC makes Charlotte, Jacksonville and Nashville the most likely destinations. Plan accordingly.