SEC bowl pool system can protect recruiting interests
Among numerous factors influencing where the conference places teams from the new six-team pool for bowl games, minimizing recruiting risk is possible for the SEC.
The Big 12 has a big problem and the new SEC bowl pool system will make postseason recruiting inroads in the state of Texas much more difficult moving forward.
The recruiting rise of the Texas A&M Aggies after the move to the SEC and the subsequent de-emphasis of recruiting in Texas for the Oklahoma Sooners and the continued struggles of the Texas Longhorns have led to a major talent drain for the Big 12 conference, with much of the talent heading to the SEC.
Of the top 30 players in the state of Texas according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, 11 of them are committed to SEC schools, including nine pledged to the Aggies. The Big 12 meanwhile, has six, with none of the top 15 players pledged to its member institutions.
The elite talent in the state isn’t headed to other conferences, either — recent Texas running back decommit Jordan Stevenson pledged to the Wisconsin Badgers, making him the only top-30 player going to the another conference other than the Big 12 and SEC.
Non-conference match ups could help provide the head-to-head boost that Big 12 schools need in recruiting, but the SEC now possesses the ability to limit risk in that regard.
The upcoming bowl games marked the first time the SEC put six teams into a pool instead of locking conference finish to a specific game. After the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s games select their teams, the Capital One Bowl gets the first choice.
Then the Outback Bowl in Tampa (vs. Big Ten), Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville (vs. ACC/Big Ten), TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville (vs. ACC/Big Ten) and AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis (vs. Big 12), the Texas Bowl in Houston (vs. Big 12) and Belk Bowl in Charlotte (vs. ACC) all draw from a six-team pool.
The conference then consults with the member institutions and officials representing the bowl games to determine placement.
“This bowl process gives us the best opportunity to address several issues that impact SEC fans, including the creation of intriguing matchups, the accommodation of travel for fans, reduced ticket obligations for our schools and a variety of assignments to help prevent repetitive postseason destinations,” said retiring SEC commissioner Mike Slive when the new ties in were announced.
What Slive didn’t mention — and would not publicly — is that also allows the conference to minimize the risk of a loss impacting the recruiting trail since the conferences knows which schools its member institutions would face in the bowl games.
Take, for instance, the Texas Bowl, which has the second pick of schools in the pool after the Birmingham Bowl.
Officials for the Texas Bowl expressed interest in matching the Longhorns and the Aggies in a renewal of one of the best rivalries in college football that ended up with the move of A&M to the SEC.
But a report from Chip Brown of Horns Digest indicated that the SEC wasn’t interested in that game happening — there was too much to lose, especially in recruiting.
The Aggies are dominating the current landscape of the state and a loss could have given Texas and new head coach Charlie Strong a head-to-head win on the field that could have resulted in some head-to-head wins on the recruiting trail with the state’s top prospects considering both schools.
How about the LSU Tigers? The Longhorns and Tigers are set to play in 2019 and 2020, but those pending meetings don’t reduce the appeal of the flagship programs from the neighboring states facing off on the field.
The problem was that LSU is another school that recruits the state of Texas hard and struggled down the stretch, getting shut out by Arkansas and then squeaking past an A&M team that was ready to fire its defensive coordinator.
The SEC ended up sending A&M to the Liberty Bowl to play against West Virginia, a match up that has appeal because the offensive coordinator for the Aggies worked with Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen at Houston, Oklahoma State, and then West Virginia. Their previous relationship quickly sparked an amusing Twitter exchange.
A possible consideration for the conference was the fact that even since the move to the Big 12, West Virginia hasn’t had success recruiting in Texas — if the Aggies happen to lose to the Mountaineers in Memphis, the recruiting ramifications will be minimal compared to a loss to the Longhorns.
And LSU was sent to Nashville to face off against Notre Dame for a game with much reduced potential recruiting ramifications than a tilt versus Texas.
Meanwhile, the SEC matched Arkansas with Texas in the Texas Bowl, reprising the old Southwest Conference rivalry. The game matched the last-place finisher in the SEC West with the former Big 12 power. If the Razorbacks win in Houston, it could help the recruiting efforts of head coach Bret Bielema in the talent-rich state.
A win would also provide the rest of the conference with an easy negative recruiting tactic against the Longhorns — “Look at how far away Strong and his team are from competing. They just lost to an SEC team with a 2-6 conference record.”
A loss, on the other hand, wouldn’t mean much with the built-in excuse that Arkansas is still working to rebuild the program under Beliema, who won his first conference game against LSU in November to end a 17-game SEC losing streak that stretched over parts of three seasons.
So the pool system is a smart move by the SEC and will continue to ensure that the conference remains a dominant recruiting power, with the ability to minimize recruiting risk concerning the state of Texas and the recruiting rivals in the Big 12.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 will have to find other ways to make up ground in recruiting without the benefit of favorable match ups in the two bowl games that take SEC programs from the six-team pool.