Where to for Mizzou? Bowl bids are Sunday
COLUMBIA, MO. • Barry Odom’s Missouri football team clinched bowl eligibility two weeks ago but won’t know its destination until Sunday. Considering only eight current Mizzou players saw the field in the team’s last bowl game, a Citrus Bowl win over Minnesota on Jan. 1, 2015, the Tigers can patiently wait a few more days.
There are six cities where Missouri (7-5) could land for its bowl, and until invitations are formally delivered Sunday, all six bowls in Charlotte, Houston, Jacksonville, Memphis, Nashville and Tampa could be in play.
The bowl selection process for Southeastern Conference teams is unique compared to other leagues. First, the College Football Playoff Committee selects the 12 teams that will make up the playoff rotation bowls: the two playoff semifinals, the Rose and the Sugar, and the other four non-playoff access bowls, the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Peach. Depending on the outcome of Saturday’s SEC championship game between Georgia and Auburn, plus other conference title games this weekend, the New Year’s Day bowls could select as many as three SEC teams: Georgia, Auburn and Alabama.
From there, the Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.) gets first choice of SEC teams. Most bowl projections have Louisiana State (9-3), Mississippi State (9-3) or South Carolina (8-4) playing in Orlando, though LSU just played there last year.
After the Citrus makes its choice, the SEC league office chooses the participant for each of the next six SEC bowls: Texas (Dec. 27, Houston), Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte), Music City (Dec. 29, Nashville), Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis), TaxSlayer (Dec. 30, Jacksonville) and Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa).
With only nine bowl-eligible teams in the SEC this year, there’s a good chance only five SEC teams are available for the pool of six. That will happen if the playoff rotation games snatch up three SEC teams in Georgia, Auburn and Alabama. That would leave only six SEC teams available for the Citrus and the pool of six.
There’s a protocol in place for such an occasion, though the SEC doesn’t publicize the rule: If only five teams are available for the pool of six the Liberty Bowl is out of the running, multiple industry sources confirmed. The Liberty would instead choose a team from another conference to play a team from the Big 12.
Liberty Bowl officials declined to comment until Sunday’s selections are made. SEC officials also declined to comment this week.
This week, each SEC school and SEC bowl in the pool of six submitted their top three choices to the league office to help SEC officials play matchmaker. With the Liberty Bowl’s proximity to Missouri, notably the St. Louis area, the Memphis bowl would be an ideal fit for Mizzou, especially given a familiar Big 12 opponent on the other side of the matchup. Missouri has sent marketing information to all six bowls, but as of Wednesday school officials were unsure where the Tigers will land. Should the Liberty be off the table, MU feels best about the Texas, TaxSlayer and Belk. The Liberty and TaxSlayer sent representatives to multiple Mizzou games during the team’s six-game winning streak. MU would be pleased with the Music City Bowl, too, but believes the other options are more realistic destinations.
“Proximity-wise we’d certainly fit from Missouri’s standpoint,” Music City Bowl president Scott Ramsey said. “Their last half of the season was a real bright spot for the SEC schedule behind maybe only Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. Their resurgence in the second half was certainly noteworthy. And we saw quite a bit of Missouri fans two weeks ago in Nashville when they were here at Vanderbilt. That’s something we’d look at as well.”
In Houston, the Tigers would be matched against a Big 12 opponent, possibly Texas. Texas Bowl executive director David Fletcher said the Longhorns (6-6), Texas Tech (6-6), Iowa State (7-5), Kansas State (7-5) and West Virginia (7-5) are on the radar for the bowl’s selection committee.
A Mizzou-West Virginia matchup might be less appealing considering they played last year and are scheduled to meet again in 2019. Otherwise, MU’s familiarity with the other Big 12 teams makes for an appealing matchup, Fletcher said.
“And you look at how well (Missouri) finished the season,” he said. “It’s been a great story to watch and unfold. They’ve got a passionate fan base and a national brand that I think would be very exciting to see in our game.”
CBSSports.com, SI.com and USA Today are projecting Mizzou in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia — while leaving an SEC team out of the Texas Bowl or Belk Bowl. One ESPN.com projection has Mizzou in the TaxSlayer against North Carolina State while another puts MU in the Texas Bowl against Texas. Sporting News has the Tigers in the Belk playing Wake Forest.