New Year’s Day is SEC vs. Big Ten Day, and it certainly lived up to the hype and expectation. Yes, Mississippi State was the only loser today against Northwestern, but everyone figured they were the most likely team to be on the losing end. South Carolina and Georgia both outplayed their opponents in the second half and pulled out wins. Aren’t you going to miss college football?
#7 Georgia 45, #16 Nebraska 31
What does it mean? Georgia caps off a 12-win season by throttling Nebraska in the second half. The game was 24-23 at halftime in favor of the Huskers, but the Bulldogs turned it on in the second half, outscoring Nebraska 22 to 7. Georgia totaled 589 yards of offense against a top 25 defense and converted 12-17 on third downs.
Key Stat: Aaron Murray threw for 427 yards with five touchdowns and two INTs – setting a bowl record – against the top statistical pass defense in the country. Murray completed 54.5 percent of his passes, and he has a very big decision coming up regarding the NFL Draft.
Key Play: With Georgia up two scores, Nebraska drove into Georgia territory and looked to put points on the board again, but Taylor Martinez was picked off by Damian Swann at the seven yard line to end the threat.
#10 South Carolina 33, #18 Michigan 28
What does it mean? This is the golden age of South Carolina football. After notching back-to-back 11-win seasons, South Carolina returns a slew of players to make a legit run at another SEC Championship in 2013. This gives USC momentum heading into the offseason, and the Gamecocks can be mentioned with the other elite teams around the country with a stellar defense and two legitimate SEC quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.
Key Stat: Shaw and Thompson combined to complete 25 of 36 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns, with each notching two. Shaw made some great plays but was still banged up from his ankle injury, and Thompson seriously has ice water in his veins. Thompson hit Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left on a 32-yard touchdown pass to win it.
Key Play: Did you see Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Vincent Smith? Not only was it the hit of the year, but the fumble recovery with one hand was amazing. With Michigan up 22-21, just after USC had a call go against them on a phantom first down, Clowney destroyed Smith and recovered the fumble. USC scored on the very next play.
#20 Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20
What does it mean? Northwestern won their first bowl game since 1949, and it came against an SEC opponent in struggling Mississippi State. MSU, losers of four of their last five games in the regular season, struggled all game against a faster and more physical team in the Wildcats. They just wanted it more. The Bulldogs turned it over four times on four picks by QB Tyler Russell. Russell had thrown only four interceptions the entire season, and he duplicated that in one game.
Key Stat: Besides the four turnovers, MSU also finished 1-11 on third downs. Converting less than 10 percent on third down is a killer, and it sure was today, too.
Key Play: Northwestern DE Quentin Williams returned an INT for a 29-yard touchdown the first play of the game. It was clear Russell never looked into the game.
Photo Credit: Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports