Are Experts Really Projecting LSU For The 2021 Independence Bowl?
Trying to project the two teams that will meet in Shreveport's college football bowl game is probably harder this year than ever before. The 2021 version of the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl could have the most eclectic set of teams we've ever seen in the game's history.
But it shouldn't be this way.
This year's Indy Bowl was set to feature BYU versus a team from Conference USA. But back in September, we started to worry about that BYU commitment. Not because BYU seemed like they were a bad team and wouldn't reach 6 wins to become bowl eligible...it was because the team was looking too good.
See, if BYU is in a position for a College Football Playoff spot, or New Year's Day bowl game, they would likely bounce from Shreveport to whatever game they get in that mix. Now it is a near impossibility at this time that BYU is going to be in the Playoff (can't say impossible when it comes to that committee), but BYU getting an invite to a "New Years 6" game is for sure on the table.
BYU is currently ranked 12th in the AP Poll, and 14th in the Coaches Poll, while the College Football Playoff Rankings put them at #13...but those will be updated tomorrow. The Playoff Rankings will determine who's in the playoffs (obviously) but who also gets those "New Years 6" invites. If you're in the Top 10 of the rankings, you get those games. So if BYU jumps into 9th, or 10th at the least, they're on their way to that game instead of the Independence Bowl.
Most projections have BYU at #12 for their Week 14 guesses, which puts them in striking distance of that 10th spot (or more).
There are multiple teams in the current Top 10 who have conference championship games this week. If a few of them fall, and in a way that harms their ranking, BYU could get elevated without being on the field.
The 10th ranked Oregon Ducks will play #14 Utah in the PAC 12 Championship Game, #9 Baylor plays #5 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game, #1 Georgia and #4 Alabama square off in the SEC Championship Game, #2 Michigan and #15 Iowa go at it for the Big 10 title, and #3 Cincinnati plays #16 Houston for the American Athletic Championship Game. Losses from teams like Oregon, Baylor, and Cincinnati could give BYU a spot in the Top 10. Weird combinations of blowouts and upsets inside those matchups could also lead to BYU finding their way into a "New Years 6" bowl, instead of Shreveport.
But if the favorites all win, and BYU is frozen out of the Top 10, it still could be great news for the Indy Bowl, and Shreveport.
A few weeks ago, Brett McMurphy from Action Network was on the Independence Bowl's weekly radio show, and dropped a bombshell. Not really a secret bombshell, but one that many forgot about. He told the show:
"Okay. So I do know that this year is unlike any other year, in that basically the 16 games that ESPN owns, which does not include the Independence, but they are not affiliated with specific conferences. So, for instance, we'll say the Cure Bowl is not specifically Conference A versus Conference B. It's basically any schools from any of the group of five conferences. So it's basically the world's largest Sudoku puzzle, and it's impossible to solve. So what? I don't know if this will happen, and no one will till we get to the first Sunday in December. Is there could be some horse trading where ESPN may say, hey, we've got this team from this conference. We want to move to the Independence Bow. We'll put a Conference USA team into one of our other games."
He would go on in the conversation to talk about how desirable a 10-win BYU team would be for a conference to play against. Also, how desirable it would be for the ESPN family of networks (this year's Indy Bowl is on ABC, the big bowl crown jewel of their broadcast empire) to feature a 10-win BYU against another big name school.
Which is exactly what McMurphy sees playing out with his latest bowl projections. According to his most recent Independence Bowl projection, BYU would be facing LSU on December 18th in Shreveport.
That would mean that ESPN would negotiate with Conference USA to place one of their bowl eligible teams into another ESPN owned bowl game, and pull LSU out of one of their bowl games to send to Shreveport. Something that can only happen because LSU somehow upset Texas A&M in their final regular season game to become bowl eligible at 6-6.
Now as we've seen locally when it comes to projecting the Independence Bowl teams, sometimes people throw out wild conspiracies that could never happen. Which might be what McMurphy is thinking here...but he's not alone. This isn't just the ranting of a random guy.
In addition to McMurphy, 247Sports has slotted LSU to face BYU in Shreveport.
While at the same time, other outlets have BYU still facing a Conference USA team. CBS Sports says that will be UAB, CFN says it will be UTSA, with Sporting News and Athlon Sports also on the UTSA bandwagon. Interestingly, Sports Illustrated has gone with UCF vs. Utah State...maybe they thought BYU was Utah State? Just kidding, they have them in the "New Years 6" games, meaning they believe there will be some upsets this weekend.
So how will this playout for the Independence Bowl? We're probably more lost than we ever have been before. We used to have locked in conference agreements that only got messy with the Playoff system being introduced, or not enough teams in a conference becoming eligible. But even then, there were backup agreements in place that made the guess work easier. Now we won't know if the one locked in element will be in place until a bunch of other teams play their championship games, and then we have to see if ESPN flips the whole thing upside down.
Ultimately, no matter what two teams come to Shreveport, we need to keep last year in mind. When the game was stolen from us through dirty pool from conferences out west, and college football politics. No matter who comes to play, we're going to have a game, and that's what matters.