With Thanksgiving behind us, the regular season over and number 25 Arkansas sitting at 8-4, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: Bowl projection season.
Arkansas qualified for bowl with six wins after beating Mississippi state in early November. This season marks the first time the Razorbacks have played in a bowl since 2016. Last season, Arkansas finished 3-7 and was set to play in the Texas Bowl against TCU, but the game was canceled due to opposition COVID-19 cases . team.
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Much depends on the SEC Championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Georgia on Saturday (3 p.m. CT, CBS). If Alabama wins, both teams will enter the College Football Playoff. If it loses, the committee could still bring in Alabama, but it could also drop out of the top four. Arkansas could see a bid for the new year’s six bowls, although unlikely.
There are three New Year’s Six games that SEC teams can play in: the Sugar Bowl, the Peach Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl gets the SEC’s second team, so let’s assume Alabama plays in New Orleans. The Peach and Fiesta Bowls each select two major teams. At 10-2, Ole Miss should make a New Year’s Six bowl, say the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
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That would leave 9-3 Kentucky, 8-4 Texas A&M and Arkansas in contention for the Fiesta Bowl. But the Fiesta Bowl probably won’t take on a 9-3 or 8-4 team. That leaves the SEC out of that game.
So, suppose Arkansas is missing a New Years six-bowl. The next set of post-season SEC opportunities are the Outback, Citrus, Texas, Gator, Music City, Duke’s Mayo, and Liberty bowls. With 13 of the SEC’s 14 teams eligible for a bowl, there are many ways this could go.
Based on data, location and history, I put Arkansas in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Jacksonville, Florida.
Arkansas has not played in the Gator Bowl since 1981, when it lost a close game to North Carolina. Florida Bowls will love that Arkansas is popular and fans rave about the program and bowl destination. The Gator Bowl makes its roster after the other two Florida games, the Citrus and Outback bowls.
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The Gator Bowl pits an ACC opponent against its SEC roster. The ACC champion, who will be Pittsburgh or Wake Forest, goes to the Orange Bowl. Next, the Cheez-It Bowl makes its roster, followed by the Gator Bowl.
CBS, which also lets Arkansas go to Jacksonville, has the Razorbacks play Wake Forest (10-2). I think the Cheez-It Bowl would prefer an ACC runner-up over a 9-3 team, so I’m putting the loser of Pitt vs. Wake Forest in Orlando for that game.
That leaves 9-3 ACC teams NC State and Clemson for the Gator Bowl. NC State played in the Gator Bowl in 2018 and 2021. That won’t stop them from making another trip to Jacksonville, but it won’t help their cause. So I pick Clemson as Arkansas’ Gator Bowl opponent.
A year ago, Clemson vs. Arkansas have sounded insane in the postseason. But this college football season has been anything but healthy, so I stop my disbelief.
Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @christinalong00.