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 JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Athletic director Larry Templeton has been working the phones as he tries elbow Mississippi State's way into an open slot in the crowded Southeastern Conference bowl picture. Ten league teams are eligible for bowls, but the SEC only has eight tie-ins.
``I think we've done a lot of campaigning,'' Templeton said. ``We've done a lot of visiting, trying to talk through various scenarios, what ifs.''
Mississippi State is in competition with five other teams for the SEC's last three bowl bids - the Music City, the Liberty and the Independence.
The jostling is necessary because the phrase ``bowl eligible'' is misleading in the SEC's case. A record number of teams have reached the six-win benchmark and Vanderbilt could make it 11. But the reality is teams likely will need seven wins to be considered.
That's something Mississippi State players have been explaining to fans since the Bulldogs clinched their sixth win two weeks ago.
``Everybody on campus is like, 'Which bowl are we going to, which bowl are we going to?''' defensive lineman Cortez McCraney said. ``I'm like, 'I don't know, we're just trying to get ready for the next game. Just because we're bowl eligible doesn't mean we're going to get into a bowl.'''
Four SEC teams - LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida - have already clinched a bowl, though where they're going won't be determined till Dec. 2. Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky all have seven wins and are likely in.
Their status could change by Saturday night, however, because several possible scenarios remain. If six-game winners Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina win, Kentucky loses to Tennessee and Arkansas loses to LSU there will be six teams with 7-5 records.
Those six teams will be vying for four bowls, with the Independence making the hard choice of which two teams to leave home.
There's also a slim chance the Shreveport, La., bowl might be sifting among the remainders if Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina finish 6-6.
The low bowl among the SEC's tie-ins can't lose.
``We're extremely excited about what the potentials are because at the beginning of year we always have some low-level anxiety about the qualifiers,'' said Joe Darwin, Independence Bowl chairman.
``Instead of scratching teams off the list every week, we seem to be adding them on. That's the unique thing, because Alabama certainly wasn't on our list a week ago, but they are now.''
If there are choices to be made, SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said, ``it's a bowl decision.''
Darwin said the Independence committee will decide on its preferences Monday, then finalize it's SEC vs. Big 12 matchup on Dec. 2 when the postseason alignments are settled.
Independence officials, who traditionally take an SEC West team, consider proximity, the potential matchup, the number of fans who might attend and even how the school has been marketing the bowl to its fans when choosing among multiple contenders.
``And more often than not the SEC and the Big 12, they're not unfamiliar to the bowl environment, and they've typically done a good job of that,'' Darwin said.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he's not worried about the bowl picture because he can't control it beyond trying to win regular-season finale.
``But we would like to go to a bowl,'' he said. ``South Carolina's never gone to a bowl three years in a row so we would like to have said, 'Hey, we did it three years in a row and every year we're here.'''

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