Charting a path to the postseason for SEC's bowl bubble teams

Even in what has been a down season for the conference, the SEC could have as many as 12 bowl-eligible teams.

Eight conference teams -- Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas -- have already achieved the six necessary wins and five more still have a chance to get there in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities for the teams that remain on the bubble with input from ESPN’s probabilities-based Football Power Index:

KENTUCKY (5-5, 4-4 SEC)

Remaining schedule: Nov. 19 vs. Austin Peay; Nov. 26 at Louisville

FPI says: The FPI gives Kentucky a 99.3 percent chance to beat Austin Peay, a winless FCS team, on Saturday. If for some reason the unthinkable happens, the FPI shows Kentucky as a huge underdog at Louisville, giving the Wildcats just a 3 percent chance to win.

Bottom line: The Wildcats will notch their sixth win on Saturday over Austin Peay. We can say that with near absolute certainty. That would end a five-season bowl-less streak for the program and would mark the first time Coach Mark Stoops has led the Wildcats to the postseason since taking over from Joker Phillips in 2013.


Remaining schedule: Nov. 19 vs. Arkansas; Nov. 26 at Ole Miss

FPI says: Las Vegas slightly favors the Bulldogs this Saturday against Arkansas and the FPI also gives them the nod, giving Mississippi State a 53.7 percent chance to win. It doesn’t look so good the following week in Oxford, Mississippi. The FPI shows State with just a 16.7 percent chance to beat Ole Miss. It says Mississippi State has a 9 percent chance of earning both wins necessary to achieve bowl eligibility.

Bottom line: It doesn’t look good for the Bulldogs, who could look back with dismay on a season-opening loss to South Alabama and a double-overtime defeat at BYU. Even if the Bulldogs manage to topple an Arkansas team that struggles to defend the run, beating Ole Miss seems like a long shot. The home team generally holds serve in the Egg Bowl -- winning 14 of the past 17 – and the Bulldogs are playing at Ole Miss this time around.

OLE MISS (5-5, 2-4 SEC)

Remaining schedule: Nov. 19 at Vanderbilt; Nov. 26 vs. Mississippi State

FPI says: Ole Miss needs just one win to appear in a bowl and the FPI favors them in both of their remaining games: carrying a 78.3 percent chance to win at Vanderbilt on Saturday and an 83.3 percent chance to win the following Saturday against Mississippi State. The FPI gives Ole Miss a 65.2 percent chance to win both.

Bottom line: Things are looking sunnier for the Rebels after freshman quarterback Shea Patterson led them to a comeback win over Texas A&M last Saturday. Because of that 29-28 victory, they have a wider margin for error as they strive to claim a bowl bid despite playing the nation’s most demanding schedule and losing senior quarterback Chad Kelly in the process.


Remaining schedule: Nov. 19 vs. Western Carolina; Nov. 26 at Clemson

FPI says: With Western Carolina -- a 2-8 FCS team -- ahead, reaching bowl eligibility seems highly likely in Will Muschamp’s first season leading the program. The Gamecocks would get there with a win on Saturday, and the FPI gives them a 97.9 percent chance to do so. The odds are terrible if they still need a win the following weekend. The FPI gives them a 4.3 percent chance to go on the road and beat Clemson.

Bottom line: This situation is highly similar to the one facing Kentucky. Losing Saturday against an overmatched FCS team would be inexcusable and would probably eliminate the SEC team from bowl contention with a highly-ranked in-state rival ahead the following weekend. The Gamecocks will get it done this weekend, though, notching their fourth win in the past five games.


Remaining schedule: Nov. 19 vs. Ole Miss; Nov. 26 vs. Tennessee

FPI says: Vandy needs to win both of its remaining games and the FPI doesn’t give the Commodores much of a chance to do that. It gives them a 21.7 percent chance of beating Ole Miss, a 23.2 percent chance of beating Tennessee and a 5 percent chance of winning both. In other words, it’s not entirely out of the question, but Vandy is a huge underdog here.

Bottom line: The Commodores still would have faced an uphill climb if they had managed to beat Missouri last weekend, but their 26-17 loss made the climb that much steeper. If Ole Miss and Tennessee weren’t also in must-win positions -- Ole Miss to reach bowl eligibility and Tennessee to potentially win their first SEC East title since 2007 -- perhaps the Commodores might be able to sneak up on these two. But it just doesn’t seem likely to happen for Derek Mason’s club.