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SEC postseason picture takes shape, predicting the bowl pairings

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Dabo Swinney (L) of Clemson and Steve Spurrier of South Carolina are known for their verbal feuds. Will the two meet again in a postseason bowl? (Source: WHNS) Dabo Swinney (L) of Clemson and Steve Spurrier of South Carolina are known for their verbal feuds. Will the two meet again in a postseason bowl? (Source: WHNS)
Georgia's Todd Gurley has played a big role in their success this year. (Source: UGA Media Relations) Georgia's Todd Gurley has played a big role in their success this year. (Source: UGA Media Relations)
Could Johnny Football wind up playing against Texas A&M's archrival in the Cotton Bowl? (Source; Texas A&M) Could Johnny Football wind up playing against Texas A&M's archrival in the Cotton Bowl? (Source; Texas A&M)
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(RNN) – Nine SEC teams are bowl eligible, and where they'll all wind up and who they will play will be determined after Saturday's games.

But it is never too early to start guessing how things will pan out. Games are listed in descending order of play (all times Eastern).

Oh, and by the way, if Wisconsin upsets Nebraska this weekend,  these predictions are all out the window.

BCS National Championship, Jan. 7, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Alabama vs. Notre Dame – The dream matchup of the NCAA and the powers-that-be in college football will happen if the Crimson Tide can get past Georgia in the SEC championship game. That won't be an easy task, but Alabama got new life after a pair of upsets at the top of the BCS standings catapulted it back into the hunt for the championship game. Should the Bulldogs win, they'll get this berth instead. Alabama is currently ranked higher, so it earns the projection.

Notre Dame is the longest of long shots after starting the season unranked, and was on no one's radar for the national championship game until about three weeks ago when the Tide lost to Texas A&M. The Fighting Irish (12-0) survived two overtime games and three others decided by one score to become the only undefeated team eligible for postseason play.

Cotton Bowl, Jan. 4, 8 p.m., FOX

Texas A&M vs. Texas – The only people who will be happy about this game will be the executives at the Cotton Bowl and FOX. The Aggies (10-2, 6-2) are dead to Texas after leaving the Big XII, and having to face them in a bowl game will be about as well received as a slap in the face.

A&M hates Texas even more than that, and is well rid of the Longhorns (8-3, 5-3). Or so they thought. Texas last made the Cotton Bowl in 2003, which is also the last time a current member of the Big XII won the game. This matchup, however, is not a guarantee. The Big XII will have to get one of its teams in the BCS as an at-large team to make it happen, which means Oklahoma has to beat TCU this weekend.

If Texas loses to Kansas State this Saturday, the Longhorns could have the same record as Oklahoma State. On the flip side, LSU and South Carolina are both teams that could get the SEC's invitation in A&M's place. But if given the chance, the Cotton Bowl will not let this matchup slip away.

The Cotton Bowl has not been kind to Texas A&M. The Aggies last won it in 1988 and have six losses in that time.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Florida vs. Oklahoma – Florida is already guaranteed a trip to New Orleans by virtue of its BCS ranking. Oklahoma has to beat TCU to have a shot at an at-large BCS berth.

The chance to hold a rematch from the 2008 national championship game would be a major attraction to the Sugar Bowl choosing Oklahoma. The Sooners (9-2, 7-1) would bring an explosive offense to face the Gators' old school crushing defense and relentless running game.

Oklahoma hasn't fared well against SEC schools in recent years, suffering losses in the national championship game to Florida and LSU.

Capitol One Bowl, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC

Georgia vs. Michigan – With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play, every bowl the Big Ten has a tie-in to will take a hit in terms of a quality matchup. Michigan had a more than respectable season, but suffers from a severe perception problem because of the weak Big Ten and a 41-14 season-opening drubbing the Wolverines (8-4, 6-2) took at the hands of Alabama.

If Alabama loses to Georgia in the SEC championship game, the Tide would be chosen for this bowl and hand Michigan a season-ending drubbing. Georgia (11-1, 7-1), which is very similar to the Tide in both numbers and style of play, will do the same. 

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN

LSU vs. Northwestern – The Outback Bowl is at the Cotton Bowl's mercy. Should the Cotton Bowl take Texas A&M, as projected here, that would leave the Outback Bowl to pick between LSU and South Carolina.

Should the Cotton Bowl go with LSU (10-2, 6-2), the Outback will likely take South Carolina. On the Big Ten side, Northwestern is the logical choice, unless Wisconsin is able to upset Nebraska in this week's championship game. That would bump every Big 10 team down one spot and put Michigan here and Nebraska in the Capital One.

Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) has had a good season, but battles the same perception issue all Big Ten teams are facing right now. No matter who ends up here from the SEC, the Wildcats will be no match for them.

Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, noon, ESPN2

Mississippi State vs. Wisconsin – By virtue of their loss to Ole Miss to end the season, the Bulldogs' chances for a better bowl were crushed. The Gator Bowl was Mississippi State's likely destination anyway, but the Bulldogs are far less appealing now and could be passed over for Vanderbilt, which has the same overall record as the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4) but a better conference mark.

If Wisconsin is unable to topple Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers (7-5, 4-4) will default here. No one has been a bigger beneficiary of the NCAA sanctions leveled against Ohio State and Penn State than Wisconsin. Both those teams are ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten Leaders division.

Both of these teams will be reeling entering this game. Mississippi State has lost four of its last five games and Wisconsin would be on a three-game losing skid. Wisconsin would have six losses entering the game, but five of those are by a field goal, including an earlier loss to Nebraska, and three came in overtime. The Badgers are better than their record shows, and will prove it. 

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

South Carolina vs. Clemson – Whoever is left over from Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina, the Chick-fil-A Bowl will happily snatch up. If that should be the Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2), a rematch with archrival Clemson could be in store.

Clemson (10-2, 7-1) could be in line for a BCS at-large berth, which would put North Carolina N.C. State (Miami self-imposed a bowl ban) in this game. Should Florida State lose to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, the Seminoles would get the nod. It will take a little bit of luck for the Chick-fil-A Bowl to get such a high-profile game, but it's certainly not out of the question.

Clemson would love the opportunity to avenge the 27-17 loss it suffered the Gamecocks to end the regular season. Steve Spurrier would love the opportunity to give "that school that used to beat us a lot but doesn't beat us much anymore" yet another loss – their fifth straight to the Gamecocks – and he will get his wish.

Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Ole Miss vs. Tulsa – The Rebels held out as long as they could before becoming bowl eligible and will likely end up in Memphis. The SEC's final two bowl bids don't have an official order of selection. The two bowls work in concert with each other and the league office to set the matchups.

With Memphis a stone's throw from Oxford, and Vanderbilt located in the same city as the Music City Bowl, the geographic tie-in is a no-brainer. The opponent will be the winner of the Conference USA championship game this weekend between Tulsa and Central Florida.

Tulsa (9-3, 7-1) picked up a two-point win over the Golden Knights two weeks ago, so it gets the projection. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5) has been sporadic at times, and has the tendency to blow leads in the fourth quarter, but every loss the Rebels have is to a BCS conference team. That won't change.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 31, noon, ESPN

Vanderbilt vs. Virginia Tech – Should Vanderbilt end up in the Gator Bowl, Mississippi State would take its place here. The other team in this game is anyone's guess.

The Music City Bowl has a tie-in for the sixth selection from the ACC. Should the conference get a BCS at-large berth in addition to its champion, it would be between Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Duke. Without two teams in BCS games, N.C. State and Duke are also in play.

There is such a logjam in the ACC behind its top two teams that it's difficult to make sense of. Nevertheless, proximity and name recognition are taking precedent in this projection, and the nod goes to the Hokies (6-6, 4-4).

Vanderbilt has shown it is a legitimate threat to anyone it faces and has won six straight games. A win in their bowl game would make coach James Franklin the hottest name in college football and give the Commodores (8-4, 5-3) their second nine-win season in school history. The other came in 1915. They get it. 

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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