Thursday, November 20, 2008

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Peaches

Well, it's happened. 'Next year' has come. It's done.

After 26 agonizing years, the Vanderbilt Commodores have won six games and are heading to a bowl. So which game will it be?

Let's start with the ground rules. There are nine bowl games partnered with the SEC and they pick in the following order:

Round 1: Sugar Bowl
Round 2: Citrus Bowl (aka Capital One)
Round 3: Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl, Peach Bowl (aka Chic-fil-a)
Round 4: Liberty Bowl, Music City Bowl
Round 5: Independence Bowl
Round 6: PapaJohns.com Bowl

To figure where Vandy lands you have to start at the top and work your way down, round by round.

Barring upset losses to either Auburn or Florida State, the winner of Alabama vs Florida will be going to Miami to face (likely) the Big XII champion in the National Championship. That's a fact. If the winner is Florida, Alabama will be heading to the Sugar Bowl. That's close to being a fact.

If #1 Alabama pulls off the upset, though, all bets are off. It would be nice to think a two loss Florida team would still reach the Sugar Bowl, but there is quite a bit of competition for those BCS at-large spots. Things that would help guarantee Florida an at-large bid: USC winning the Pac-10 outright (currently, Oregon State owns the tiebreaker and the straight path to the Rose Bowl); undefeated Utah losing to BYU; and maybe Ohio State losing to Michigan.

If something screwy happens and Florida misses the BCS, they will go to the Citrus-y Capital One Bowl in Orlando and everyone else drops down a peg. For now, though, let's assume that both Florida and 'Bama reach the BCS (an outcome I'd probably tie an 80% probability to). That leaves Georgia - the clear #3 in the conference - for the Capital One.

The next three picks all happen roughly at the same time. The Cotton typically takes the best Western team available while the Outback takes the best of the East. Behind Alabama the next best Western is LSU - a thoroughly logical choice for the Cotton.

The Outback would represent Vandy's ceiling. Two wins and losses by Carolina and Ole Miss wouldn't guarantee a trip to Tampa, but it gives the Dores a very good chance. Even if Carolina beats Clemson, they would finish 8-4 (4-4) while winning-out Vandy would finish 8-4 (5-3) with a win over the Cocks. My bet is that Vandy loses to either Wake or the Vols though, and Carolina gets free Bloomin' Onions. Maybe 5% chance for Vandy.

The Peach is a reachable goal, and in my view, the real prize. Ole Miss or South Carolina would also be under consideration, but I would give Vandy a 20% chance here. If they win twice, they still might not reach the Outback but they would almost certainly reach the Peach. And they would draw very well in Atlanta.

Next up, the Liberty and Music City select at the exact same time. While there again would be some West/East preference, Vandy would be an attractive selection for either. Both bowls will rank their teams by preference, likely among Vandy, Ole Miss, and Kentucky. Kentucky would be a good choice for the Music City, however they have made the trip down I-65 in both 2007 and 2006. Ole Miss would be a very good choice for the Liberty, assuming they don't beat LSU and leapfrog to the Peach.

The appeal of the Music City for Vandy is obvious, but the Dores would have no trouble filling the Liberty Bowl. If a team is selected by both bowls, it is the school's decision. And which game would Vandy pick?

I personally hope it's not the Music City. Surely we've waited 26 years for something more interesting than playing Minnesota at LP Field. But I could see the Vandy administration choosing to stay at home. The pay-outs are roughly equivalent but after years of seeing half empty Vanderbilt Stadiums surely some insecurity creeps in (we haven't even sold out the UT game for Saturday!). I would say 35% Music City and 35% Liberty.

And then there's Shreveport. An Independence Bowl berth would likely only be in the cards if Vanderbilt loses both to the Vols and the Demon Deacons and Alabama beats Florida. I would give the Independence Bowl a 5% chance.

That leaves the Step-Grandson of them all, the PapaJohns.com Bowl at Legion Field. What do they even use Legion Field for nowadays? Hoover High games? If Auburn beats Alabama or Arkansas beats LSU they would gain eligibility and land here. I don't see it happening. Good spot for the Trojans of Troy.

So, in summary: 35% chance of Music City, 35% of Liberty, 20% of Peach, 5% of Outback, and 5% of Independence. Whatever happens in the next few weeks though, that adds up to 100% of a bowl game! And that's worth cheering about.

BCS: Florida
Sugar: Alabama
Capital One: Georgia
Cotton: LSU
Outback: South Carolina
Peach: Ole Miss
Liberty: Vanderbilt
Music City: Kentucky
Independence: None
PapaJohns.com: None

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