Auburn Football: Best Bowl Options for the Tigers
AUBURN, Ala. — Although Auburn's 2014 season has been one of great disappointment for players, coaches and fans, it doesn't have to end on a completely negative note.
The Tigers still have a bowl game left to play.
Auburn will hope to send its seniors out with a victory this winter and restart its postseason winning streak after last year's last-minute loss to Florida State in the final BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.
The trip to Pasadena was the first for the program, and while the Tigers won't be playing for any championships in December or January, there is a chance they could visit another new postseason locale thanks to some new SEC bowl tie-ins.
Here are the five best bowl options Auburn has on the board as it looks forward to Sunday night, when all the nation's matchups will be finalized.
Date and Time: Jan. 1, 12 p.m. CT
Location: Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Opposing Conference: ACC/Big Ten
Current Projections: None
Auburn's loss to Alabama in last weekend's Iron Bowl shootout put a dent in its chances at the Citrus Bowl—the former Capital One Bowl now sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings.
The Citrus Bowl gets the first SEC selection outside of the New Year's Six bowls, and AL.com's Brandon Marcello reports Auburn "is also believed to still be in play if the SEC places three teams" in the six games that rotate as part of the new College Football Playoff system. This scenario, of course, would place Alabama in the playoff following a win in this Saturday's SEC Championship Game.
If that were the case, the Tigers still seem like a long shot for a trip to Orlando. The SEC's trio of New Year's Six teams would most likely be a combination of Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia and Missouri, meaning the Citrus Bowl would choose Auburn over a team with a better overall record. Still, it's not completely out of the question, making the Citrus Bowl the best spot for Auburn this postseason.
Date and Time: Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT
Location: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Opposing Conference: Big Ten
After the New Year's Six slots and the Citrus Bowl, the SEC has its pool of six mid-tier bowls that each have similar payouts and stay in the south—depending on one's personal inclusion or exclusion of Texas as a southern state. According to Marcello, the Outback, Texas, Belk and Music City Bowls are the most likely spots for Auburn from the pool.
The lone Jan. 1 bowl in this pool is the Outback Bowl, a game in which Auburn has played a Big Ten opponent on two separate occasions. In 1996, Penn State delivered a 43-14 blowout to the Tigers in Tampa, but, in 2010, Auburn defeated Northwestern 38-35 in what was one of the wildest bowl games in recent memory.
Two of the Tigers' projected Outback Bowl opponents, Nebraska and Wisconsin, have each played Auburn in a bowl game within the last decade. Minnesota, on the other hand, has never played Auburn, making a meeting with the resilient Golden Gophers at Raymond James Stadium an intriguing possibility.
Date and Time: Dec. 29, 8 p.m. CT
Location: NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
Opposing Conference: Big 12
Current Projections: Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis (vs. Texas)
The SEC has never been part of the Texas Bowl, which is a new tie-in for the conference this season.
There have been rumblings and a projection or two of a potential Texas vs. Texas A&M reunion in Houston later this month, but those rumors have died down in recent weeks. Texas is still the widely projected Big 12 representative for this game, and Auburn could slide into a new postseason location to face the Longhorns, whom they haven't faced since 1991.
The Longhorns would almost have a home-field advantage for this potential meeting, but the Texas Bowl would probably still be a preferred slot for Auburn fans wanting to avoid another winter game in Florida.
Date and Time: Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m. CT
Location: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Opposing Conference: ACC
Like the Texas Bowl, the Belk Bowl is another non-traditional bowl game that features a new tie-in to the SEC for this upcoming postseason.
Another new venue for Auburn fans, the game will be held at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers and former Heisman-winning Tiger quarterback Cam Newton.
Auburn had a few early projections to the Belk Bowl, including a potential blockbuster matchup against Notre Dame, who has never faced off against the Tigers in its storied history. Although no one is currently predicting Auburn will head to Charlotte later this month, a bid to the Belk Bowl is still a possibility as we head into the final week of the regular season.
Music City Bowl
Date and Time: Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT
Location: LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
Opposing Conference: ACC/Big Ten
The location with the most projections for Auburn is Nashville, where the Tigers would face off against an ACC team in the Music City Bowl.
The Tigers have not been in the Music City Bowl since a 2003 victory against Wisconsin by a score of 28-14. This bowl emerged as a potential location for Auburn this week with the uncertainty up top with the SEC's Playoff and New Year's Six hopes.
Three of the four analysts projecting Auburn to head to Nashville have the Tigers facing Louisville, which is somewhat of a disappointment considering the two teams will open the 2015 season against each other in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. A game against Maryland or another ACC opponent would be more attractive for fans.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.