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Bowl Rundown: Kentucky is trending towards Liberty Bowl

Adam Luckett11/30/22

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Article written by:On3 imageAdam Luckett

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(Photo courtesy of Tim Graham/Getty Images)

We are just a few short days away from Selection Sunday in college football when ESPN takes about 37 hours to tell us who will be in the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six before getting to the rest of the bowl selections.

Once again, the Big Blue Nation will be playing the waiting game.

Not everything is clear at the moment. Let’s dive into what we know.

Kentucky is a clear No. 4 in the Pool of Six

Georgia is heading to the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the third time under Kirby Smart no matter what happens on Saturday in Atlanta. Both Alabama and Tennessee have seemingly locked up New Year’s Six bids after Tuesday’s CFP’s latest top 25 rankings dropped.

That leaves the rest of the SEC. As long as LSU doesn’t beat Georgia in Atlanta or see a big drop in the rankings, the Tigers seem like the favorite to be headed to the Citrus Bowl (Orlando.) A consensus is forming that they’ll draw Purdue in a battle of conference runner-ups.

That gets us to a trio of 8-4 (4-4) teams in the SEC — No. 19 South Carolina, No. 24 Mississippi State, and unranked Ole Miss.

If these rankings holds, the Gamecocks should be first in the pecking order in the Pool of Six group that includes the ReliaQuest Bowl (Tampa), Gator Bowl (Jacksonville), Music City Bowl (Nashville), Las Vegas Bowl, Liberty Bowl (Memphis), and Texas Bowl (Houston).

That gets us to Shane Beamer. It seems very possible that the opponent in Jacksonville could be Notre Dame due to an ACC tie-in. However, the Irish could also get to Tampa if the Rose Bowl picks Penn State over Ohio State according to Brett McMurphy. South Carolina could get their wish in the top slot by drawing the Irish in Tampa on Jan. 2.

Regardless, Beamer’s club is locked into one of the Florida bowls. Next up would Mike Leach’s Mississippi State who would likely want the Florida bowl that South Carolina is not in. That gets us to Ole Miss. The Rebels are located just four hours away from Nashville and haven’t been to the Music City Bowl since 2013. That seems like a good fit for both parties.

Kentucky is left at No. 4 in his pool of teams as the only SEC team at 7-5 (3-5).

Las Vegas is a wild card

The biggest wrinkle in the bowl selection process this season is the status of the Las Vegas Bowl. For the first time ever, the SEC will be participating in this game taking the place of the Mountain West to provide a Power Five vs. Power Five matchup on the first Saturday of bowl season. A good Pac-12 team will be in this contest.

The Las Vegas Bowl is near the stop of the pecking order for the western conference. As of now, it seems that a 9-3 team (Oregon State, Utah, or UCLA) will be the participant. Each of those opponents is ranked.

The SEC must send a team to face a ranked opponent in a prime-time window with this game being shown on ABC. Even though this game is in the Pool of Six, it’s pretty clear that this is a bigger spot than most of the others. But the date of the game causes problems.

On Dec. 17, every SEC program is going to want to host last-minute official visitors before National Signing Day the following Wednesday. No one is going to want to be on the road in Las Vegas getting ready for a bowl game. That creates a dilemma.

Is Birmingham cool with letting things whittle down to the final Pool of Six team and forcing a 6-6 squad to go to Las Vegas? Or will Greg Sankey’s office attempt to push someone into making the trip out west? Only time will tell.

If everything holds and the SEC teams get to pick, it seems likely that Kentucky is headed to the Liberty Bowl to face a Big 12 opponent. However, that could change if the league office gets involved somewhere down the line.

We’ll find out for certain when things shake out this weekend. Don’t be surprised if Sunday turns into a wild day as we wait for Kentucky’s bowl destination.

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2023-02-01