ATHENS – It’s gotten to this point: Kirby Smart was asked Monday whether he thinks about getting his team bowl eligible. Not which bowl Georgia will go to. Just bowl eligible, something the Bulldogs have been every year since 1996.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” Smart said. “My sole purpose is on Kentucky, giving these kids an opportunity to go play, and have success in this game, and that’s really what we’re thinking about.”
Georgia (4-4) needs two wins in its next (or final) four games to become bowl eligible. That’s very possible with remaining games at Kentucky (5-3), then three home games to finish the season against Auburn (6-2), Louisiana-Lafayette (3-4) and Georgia Tech (5-3).
But given the way Georgia has played, losing three of those, or even all of them, isn’t off the table either.
“We’re just trying to keep the mentality of being undefeated each week, and try to become 4-0,” senior linebacker Chuks Amaechi said. “So we can become 8-4 and go to a pretty good bowl game.”
But by losing four of its past five games, the Bulldogs have dramatically decreased the possibility of going to a “pretty good bowl game.”
Georgia is all but eliminated from these bowls:
- The playoff bowls (Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl).
- Sugar Bowl.
- The Orange Bowl, which can take an SEC team if a third one qualifies for the New Year’s Six.
- The Citrus, which gets the best SEC team that doesn’t make the New Year’s Six.
From there, the SEC has six bowls it is supposed to assign teams to – with input from the schools and bowls, of course:
- Texas Bowl (Houston): Dec. 28, 9 p.m., vs. Big 12.
- Belk Bowl (Charlotte): Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., vs. ACC.
- Liberty Bowl (Memphis): Dec. 30, noon, vs. Big 12.
- Music City Bowl (Nashville): Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m., vs. ACC or Big Ten.
- Taxslayer Bowl (Jacksonville): Dec. 31 11 a.m., vs. ACC or Big Ten.
- Outback Bowl (Tampa): Jan. 2, 1 p.m., vs. Big Ten.
You can probably scratch Georgia from the Taxslayer Bowl, as it would be the third appearance in that game in four years. The Texas Bowl is also generally for SEC West teams, though it could take an SEC East team if need be.
If Georgia was bowl-eligible but not selected for any of those games, that leaves two options. Neither is exactly enticing:
- Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.): Dec. 29, 2 p.m., vs. American Conference.
- Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.): Dec. 26, 5 p.m., vs. ACC.
Meanwhile, the rest of the picture in the SEC is rather muddled, as there’s Alabama and then everybody else. Will a second team be good enough to make a New Year’s Six bowl? Texas A&M (7-1), Florida (6-1) and Auburn (6-2) are candidates, with LSU (5-2) an outside shot. But each team’s schedule is difficult enough that it’s not automatic the SEC gets a second team in the top-tier bowls. It is still probable, however. At this point, Georgia should root for two non-Alabama teams to play well enough to get teams in the Sugar and the Orange.
Let’s assume the SEC gets one team (Alabama, almost certainly) in the playoff and one more (let’s say Texas A&M) in the Sugar. Then another makes the Citrus. That would mean – barring a complete slide by one of the remaining top SEC teams – two spots in those six other SEC bowls (Texas, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Taxslayer and Outback) will be taken by teams ahead of Georgia.
So in order to avoid a trip to Birmingham or Shreveport, Georgia would be fighting it out with Tennessee (5-3), Kentucky (5-3), Arkansas (5-3) and Ole Miss (3-5) – and perhaps even South Carolina and Vanderbilt (both 4-4) – for one of four spots in those six bowls.
Yes, that’s very complicated, and a lot of dominoes have yet to fall.
The gist: Georgia may need to win out to avoid Birmingham or Shreveport, and at least needs to win three of its remaining four. If it only wins two more, it’ll need some luck.