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November 11, 2013

Bowling, but where?

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AUBURN | Auburn's win over Tennessee last weekend bumped the team to 9-1 and two wins away the Southeastern Conference title game.

Of course, two losses could erode the Tigers' allure in the eyes of league-affiliated bowl games.

A lot can happen between now and early December.

Let's take a look at where Auburn is being projected to go bowling from a number of sources:

SI.com's Stewart Mandel projects Auburn to play in the Sugar Bowl as a BCS at-large team against American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida. The Golden Knights are ranked 17th in the latest BCS Standings and are 7-1 the season. Mandel also forecasts Alabama to play for the BCS National Championship, meaning he's taking the Tide over the Tigers, but likely thinks Auburn can take care of business at home against Georgia.

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards both project Auburn in the Sugar Bowl against Fresno State (Schlabach) and Wisconsin (Edwards), respectively. Fresno State is 19th in the latest BCS Standings and 9-0 on the season, while Wisconsin is 22nd in the latest standings and 7-2 on the season. Again, likely meaning Auburn defeats Georgia, but falls to 'Bama, based on their projections.

CBSSports' Jerry Palm projects Auburn to play in the Gator Bowl, a game usually reserved for the SEC's No. 6 team. This has been a controversial pick. It means Palm either projects Auburn to lose to both Georgia and Alabama or he expects Texas A&M to win out, based on his projections. We'll get to that later. Palm currently projects Auburn to play Michigan, which is 6-3 after losing consecutive games to Michigan State and Nebraska.

College Football News projects Auburn to play in the Capital One Bowl as the SEC No. 3, after Alabama earns the BCS title game slot and Missouri earns a Sugar Bowl bid. That likely means they predict Missouri to defeat Texas A&M in the season finale before falling to Alabama in the SEC title game. They project Auburn to play Wisconsin in Orlando.

Phil Steele projects Auburn in the Sugar Bowl against Central Florida with Alabama in the BCS title game, Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and Missouri in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Most analysts believe Auburn can reach the Sugar Bowl by winning one of its final two regular-season game. If the Tigers win both, they'll head to Atlanta with an automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl on the line. The biggest variables affecting Auburn's quest for an at-large BCS bowl bid appear to be Missouri and Texas A&M. If Missouri finishes 11-1 by beating Texas A&M to end the season, a loss in the SEC title game might not be enough to bump them from the at-large Sugar Bowl bid -- assuming Auburn goes 1-1 in their final two.

If Missouri and Auburn win out, they will play in the SEC title game with a Sugar Bowl bid (and perhaps something even bigger) at stake. That's clear.

And then there's Texas A&M. The Aggies still have marquee games against LSU and Missouri on their schedule. If Johnny Manziel leads his team to wins in both of those games and becomes the front-runner to win another Heisman Trophy, the Sugar Bowl would have to make a difficult decision between A&M and Auburn. Both teams would be 10-2 and the chance the Sugar Bowl turns down Johnny Football at that point is slim.

Could Auburn fall to the Gator Bowl? It's possible, but that seems like a long shot. First, Auburn would have to drop their final two games and finish 9-3. Then, LSU would need to beat Texas A&M and the Aggies would need to beat Missouri, which would send South Carolina to Atlanta. That could create a jumble of SEC teams in the nine-win range. Bowl representatives will be anxious.

In that scenario, LSU could go to the Cotton Bowl, Missouri to the Outback Bowl at 10-2 (assuming the Tigers beat Ole Miss on the road), Texas A&M lands in the Capital One Bowl with a 9-3 finish and Georgia slides to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That would leave Auburn in position to spend New Year's Day in Jacksonville.

Still, that seems unlikely at this point.

Twitter: @JHokanson



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