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The SEC has 13 bowl-eligible teams, the most by a single conference in college football history, and Tennessee is one of them.
In a crowded field, where will the Vols go? There are a few possibilities.
First, it’s important to understand how SEC teams will be placed in bowls.
Georgia and maybe Alabama will make the College Football Playoff. Alabama or Ole Miss will play in the Sugar Bowl as the next highest ranked SEC team. If Alabama plays in the Sugar Bowl, Ole Miss should be in a New Year’s Six bowl with an at-large bid.
Then the Citrus Bowl chooses between the remaining SEC teams. Kentucky (9-3), Texas A&M (8-4) and Arkansas (8-4) appear to be the best options.
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After that, a secondary pool of SEC bowls — where UT will land — includes the Outback (Tampa), Gator (Jacksonville), Music City (Nashville), Duke’s Mayo (Charlotte), Texas (Houston) and Liberty (Memphis) bowls. That’s close to the order of preference for many teams, even though the six bowls are technically even in the selection process.
Kentucky, Texas A&M or Arkansas — minus the Citrus Bowl participant — likely would get the first shot at the Outback Bowl. It's unlikely UT (7-5) would drop to the Texas Bowl or Liberty Bowl with five 6-6 teams in the field.
That would put the Vols in the middle of the pool. Intriguing matchups or other circumstances could reshuffle the deck in unexpected ways, but here are UT’s likely leading options:
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Dec. 31 in Jacksonville
Why Tennessee: UT will want to go to a Florida bowl, and the Outback should be out of reach. After the Citrus and Outback are filled, if the remaining team with the next best record (Kentucky, Texas A&M or Arkansas) fits better in another bowl by matchup or preference, the Vols could land here.
Why not Tennessee: If some combination of Kentucky, Texas A&M and Arkansas fill the Citrus, Outback and Gator because of their better records, then this spot is never available. Plus, UT played in the Gator Bowl two years ago.
TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Dec. 30 in Nashville
Why Tennessee: If the Outback and Gator are filled by the aforementioned trio of teams, the Music City or Duke’s Mayo likely would be preferred by UT. Also, Nashville really wants UT’s fan base to help recoup revenue lost when last year’s Music City Bowl was canceled due to COVID-19. UT hasn’t played in the Music City Bowl since 2016.
Why not Tennessee: If the Vols can get into the Gator, they won’t be an option for Music City. Or a better matchup may be available in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. If it comes down to Music City or Duke’s Mayo, the SEC will have to weigh its options. Mississippi State is the only other 7-5 team.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
Dec. 30 in Charlotte
Why Tennessee: UT could be among the top choices of the Music City or Duke’s Mayo. If so, the best matchup could determine where the Vols go, or it may depend on the preference of the school or bowl. UT has never played in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, formerly the Belk Bowl, which has hosted six SEC teams since 2014.
Why not Tennessee: It’s not a new site for the Vols, who played the 2018 season opener against West Virginia at Bank of America Stadium, the site of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. And South Carolina could fit here because it’s less than 100 miles from Charlotte.
Reach Adam Sparks at email@example.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee football bowl projections: Music City, Gator, Duke's Mayo or others?