Alabama now plays a waiting game on its bowl destination, based largely on today’s LSU-Arkansas game and Auburn-South Carolina next week at the SEC Championship Game.
This much is certain: The Crimson Tide (9-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) won’t reach a Bowl Championship Series game for the third straight year. Alabama will likely be in the Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1 in Orlando#, Cotton Bowl #Jan. 7 in Dallas) or Outback Bowl (Jan. 1 in Tampa).
The Capital One has the first SEC selection after the BCS. The bowl must select the team with the next best overall record or a team that is within one win of the team with the next best overall record.
The Cotton and Outback share the third and fourth selections. The Cotton has the first preference of teams from the West Division and the Outback has the first choice from the East, although their selections don’t have to be predicated by division.
A big question is how many SEC teams place in the BCS, and which ones. If LSU #10-1, 6-1) defeats Arkansas (9-2, 5-2), the Tigers would be in good position to reach the Sugar Bowl as long as Auburn defeats South Carolina.
That would leave the Capital One to choose between three-loss Alabama and three-loss Arkansas to pair against the Big Ten, possibly Michigan State, Wisconsin or Ohio State. Alabama beat Arkansas this season. The Crimson Tide hasn’t played in the Orlando bowl since defeating Ohio State in 1995 — Arkansas was there in 2006 — so that might make Alabama more attractive.
But if Arkansas defeats LSU, then the Crimson Tide is competing with LSU for Orlando. In that scenario, LSU would have one more victory than Alabama and has beaten the Crimson Tide.
However, LSU played in the Capital One just last season, losing to Penn State. Would LSU and the Capital One want that marriage for a second straight year?
Even if Arkansas defeats LSU, there is no guarantee the Razorbacks would receive an at-large BCS berth at 10-2. So Arkansas would be thrown into the mix with Alabama and LSU.
An extra wrinkle is what happens if South Carolina defeats Auburn. The Gamecocks would be a BCS team in the Sugar Bowl, and Auburn would undoubtedly be an at-large BCS team with a 12-1 record, possibly in the Orange Bowl. Only two teams per conference can play in a BCS bowl.
There’s also the issue of how the SEC bowls would treat a four- or five-loss South Carolina if it loses to Auburn. Potentially, the SEC East champion Gamecocks could slip all the way down to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which picks after the Cotton and Outback.
But the Chick-fil-A would probably be leery of a team returning to Atlanta in the same month. That could move the Gamecocks into the Outback and, depending on how many SEC teams move up to the BCS, take away a spot from Alabama, Arkansas or LSU.