The Vanderbilt Commodores are going bowling for the first time since 2016 and for the ninth time in program history.
With conference championships taking place this Saturday, Vanderbilt will find out its bowl fate on Sunday. The results of Saturday’s games could affect Vanderbilt’s bowl placement.
Here’s how the bowl selection process works:
After the College Football Playoff (Cotton and Orange) and New Year’s Six bowls (Peach, Fiesta, Rose, Sugar) select teams, the Citrus Bowl will have the first pick of the remaining SEC teams. After that, a pool of six bowls (Outback, Gator, Music City, Texas, Belk and Liberty) get the next picks and make those choices in conjunction with the conference and schools. Once those picks are made, the Birmingham Bowl gets the next pick, and the Independence Bowl gets the final pick.
This year, there are 11 bowl-eligible SEC teams and nine SEC bowl tie-ins outside of the New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff. The SEC champion automatically qualifies for the Sugar Bowl as part of the New Year’s Six, so at least one of those 11 teams will be going to that game.
In all likelihood, Alabama will qualify for the College Football Playoff regardless of the result of the SEC Championship game on Saturday. If Alabama beats Georgia and makes the playoff, then Georgia will fill the Sugar Bowl slot.
On top of that, both the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl are filled at-large by the College Football Playoff Committee. Both Florida and LSU are both near the top of the CFP rankings, so one or both of them could qualify for one of those games.
All of this is to say that if you want Vanderbilt to make the best bowl possible, you want as many SEC teams in those CFP/NY6 games as possible. If three teams get selected, then in theory, there are only eight teams left to fill nine bowl tie-ins, so the worst bowl Vanderbilt could make is the Birmingham Bowl.
Apologies to those who were intrigued by another trip down to Shreveport.
It logically follows that if both Florida and LSU make NY6 bowls, then Vanderbilt avoids both Birmingham and Shreveport.
The Vanderbilt pessimist might say that the bigger, more prominent bowl games would shy away from Vanderbilt in favor of other teams with big name brands and massive groups of traveling fans. However, this time around, Vanderbilt has some recent evidence to show that its fans would travel for a bowl game: the Notre Dame game.
Droves of black and gold fans came to South Bend to watch Vanderbilt play Notre Dame, including notable alumni like Willie Geist. That will likely be a huge part of Vanderbilt’s bowl pitch.
Also keep in mind that representatives from the Liberty Bowl were on hand for Vanderbilt’s win over Tennessee on Saturday, so read into that what you will.
It’s easy to speculate, but it will really come down to how the chips fall this Saturday in the conference title games. For now, here’s where the projectors from numerous outlets place Vanderbilt in bowl season:
Sports Illustrated: Birmingham Bowl vs. Memphis
Sporting News: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Nashville, TN) vs. Pitt
CBS Sports: Belk Bowl (Charlotte, NC) vs. Pitt
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura: Birmingham Bowl vs. Memphis
ESPN’s Mitch Sherman: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL) vs. Wisconsin
SB Nation: Belk Bowl vs. Georgia Tech
USA Today: Birmingham Bowl vs. Temple
The Athletic: Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN) vs. Oklahoma State
247 Sports: Liberty Bowl vs. TCU