Now that Arkansas' victory over Ole Miss has them just one win away from a bowl game, the Razorbacks are appearing in pretty much every bowl projection somewhere.
The Razorbacks will likely be a significant favorite over Missouri in the home finale, but the team definitely has a chance to win one or even both of the other two games on the schedule against LSU and Mississippi State. That means, thanks to the win over the Rebels, the Hogs could conceivably win out, which means they'd go 8-4 on the season. Really, anything between 8-4 and, God forbid, 5-7 is on the table still.
So what does that mean for which bowl Arkansas could go to? If you're like me and listen to sports talk radio more than you should, there's a decent chance you hear a bit of misinformation out there.
Traditionally, the more games you win, the better bowl you go to and there's a clear hierarchy of those bowls. That's led people to think if Arkansas wins 8 games, they'd go to certain bowls, 7 wins and these other certain bowls, and lower tier bowls for a 6-6 record.
It still does work that way to some extent, but for these types of records, it really doesn't. The SEC changed how it extends bowl bids last year, you might recall, and it created what's known as the "Pool of Six" bowls for teams that don't reach the top bowls and don't become relegated to Birmingham or Shreveport. This is how Arkansas ended up going to the Texas Bowl last year with a 6-6 record.
The bowl invitations are handed out as follows:
- The Playoff takes as many SEC teams as they want (most likely one per year on average)
- The other four games from the New Year's Six make their selections (most likely two per year on average. Bama, LSU, Florida, and Mississippi State are the only real contenders for these spots this season at this point). They took two SEC teams last year. It'll generally require a top 12-ish finish. This year, the top SEC team not in the Playoff will go to the Sugar Bowl and anything else will be an at-large bid.
- After the New Year's Six, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando selects the next team
- Then the Pool of Six bowls make selections with the league. These are the Liberty, Music City, Texas, Belk (Charlotte), Outback (Tampa), and TaxSlayer.com (Jacksonville) Bowls. There is not hierarchy between them. They're all considered equal, even if the Liberty Bowl is clearly the worst stadium of the six. Really, you can finish anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 and end up in one of these six games. I continue to think Arkansas will most likely end up in Memphis, Nashville, or Houston whenever the Hogs land in this group because of geography.
- After the Pool of Six, Birmingham makes the next selection, and the last pick goes to Shreveport.
So really, the only benefit of winning seven or more games (in terms of bowl destinations only - obviously winning as many games as possible is pivotal to the program moving forward) is the likely avoidance of Birmingham and Shreveport. Those two bowls will usually end up with 6-6 teams not picked to go to a Pool of Six bowl. They say there's no such thing as a bad bowl, but Birmingham - a terrible stadium against an AAC opponent - is pushing it.
Here's where the experts have Arkansas going as of this week:
- ESPN - Brett McMurphy puts the Hogs in Charlotte in the Belk Bowl against NC State. Mark Schlabach sees the Hogs in Nashville for the Music City Bowl against Duke.
- Fox Sports - It looks like Stewart Mandel just looked at ESPN and combined the two with Arkansas in the Belk Bowl against Duke.
- SB Nation - Liberty Bowl against Kansas State. Are the Wildcats up for a 2012 Cotton Bowl rematch? The stadium wouldn't be as nice, though.
- CBSSports - Texas Bowl against West Virginia. Apparently Jerry Palm wants to see the classic Brandon Allen Cowboy hat one more time.
- Sports Illustrated - Music City Bowl vs Pitt
- Bleacher Report - Liberty Bowl vs West Virginia
- Saturday Down South - Liberty Bowl against West Virginia
So as you can see, each of these outlets has Arkansas in the Group of Six and picked to go to four of the different games in the Pool. Since Arkansas went to Houston last year, my bet is on Memphis or Nashville.
It will also be impacted by how many teams become bowl eligible and what their final records are. No SEC teams have been eliminated yet (not even Vandy - although, you know, it's going to happen), and any of the "northern" SEC schools like Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even Missouri would be attractive to the bowl games in Tennessee. So we'll see how it plays out.