1 bowl game record each SEC team can break in 2023
Because of the stellar body of work the SEC puts in, season after season, the conference that calls itself the best in the country gets the chance every December — and January — to put on a show during the bowl season and in the College Football Playoff.
When the holidays come along and there are holiday parties everywhere with college football postseason games on in the background, chances are that game will involve an SEC team. For fierce defenders of the conference, it’s the gift that keeps on giving amid the food and decorations. For SEC haters, bowl season is the annual holiday sting that reminds everyone which conference rules — and wait until Texas and Oklahoma arrive in 2024.
In 2023, the conference did it again. It didn’t quite get to double-digit bowl teams this fall, and it didn’t set records for most bowl bids from 1 league, like it did just 2 years ago when an eye-popping 13 SEC teams went bowling. But the SEC is sending 9 teams to bowl games, headlined by Alabama, which dethroned 2-time defending national champion Georgia and slipped into the 4th spot in the Playoff opposite Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
So, once again, SEC football fans will have a chance to boast — and nobody boasts quite like SEC fans — that the national champ comes from their conference, this time with Alabama. But beyond the Crimson Tide, beyond the glitz of the College Football Playoff, there are 8 other SEC teams going somewhere cool to play a postseason football game this holiday season, and with that bowl stage comes a chance to make some memories, snag another victory on the way to the offseason and … set a bowl record they can brag about forever, even when it eventually gets broken years from now.
With that, we’ll give you 1 bowl record each of the 9 bowl-bound SEC teams could break in 2023 (and into 2024). We’ll go in chronological order of when the bowl game is being played:
1. Texas A&M: vs. Oklahoma State, Texas Bowl, Dec. 27
The underachieving 7-5 Aggies will kick off the SEC bowl season a few days after Christmas in Houston, and they’ll do it without the fired Jimbo Fisher. Before Mike Elko takes over in College Station in 2024, interim coach Elijah Robinson will lead the Aggies against the Cowboys before leaving to be Syracuse’s defensive coordinator. Bowl game performances with teams in between head coaches could go a number of ways, especially for a middling team like Texas A&M. We had initially targeted star linebacker Edgerrin Cooper, who piled up a team-high 8 sacks this season, to break the Texas Bowl record for sacks, which is 2.5. After all, Cooper had 3 sacks in 1 game this year, and it was against none other than Alabama. But Cooper declared for the NFL Draft and opted out of the bowl game, so we’ll shift to the offensive side of the ball and the Texas Bowl record for receiving yards.
That mark is only 154 yards, not a particularly huge number, and it’s held by a former Aggie, Josh Reynolds, who set the record in the 2016 Texas Bowl against Kansas State. With top receiver Ainias Smith also declaring for the draft and not playing in the game (interestingly, he’s going to help coach) and the status of 2nd-leading receiver Evan Stewart up in the air, junior Jahdae Walker would seem to be in line for a lot of action in Houston. The transfer from Grand Valley State was 3rd on the team with 453 yards receiving in his 1st season in College Station, and he had at least 80 yards in 4 games. With no Smith and maybe no Stewart, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see Walker eclipse that 154-yard mark against an Oklahoma State team that just allowed 49 points to Texas in the Big 12 title game.
2. Kentucky: vs. Clemson, Gator Bowl, Dec. 29
A few short years ago, or even back in September, the idea that you would be playing Clemson in a bowl game would signal an extremely successful season. Like, maybe a Playoff berth, or at least a spot in a New Year’s 6 matchup. Unfortunately for Kentucky, it’s not a few years ago, Clemson has fallen off mightily, and so the 7-5 Wildcats are only facing the 8-4 Tigers in Jacksonville’s historical, if not elite, showcase. The good news for Kentucky is that star running back Ray Davis felt the Gator Bowl was good enough to give it 1 final go in blue and white after there were doubts about his status when he declared for the NFL Draft a few weeks ago. Davis wouldn’t have bothered to play if he wasn’t going out to showcase himself 1 last time for all the NFL scouts in attendance, so look out. The Gator Bowl record for individual yards rushing is 236, and while Davis only eclipsed 100 yards in 3 games this season, 1 of those performances was a 280-yard explosion against Florida.
So, 236 will be well within reach for a motivated talent like Davis, who’ll want to go out with a bowl-game bang.
3. Missouri: vs. Ohio State, Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29
The Tigers reached a lot of uncharted territory in 2023, going 10-2 and finishing only behind Georgia in the SEC East. It was quite the ride, and Mizzou was rewarded with a sexy New Year’s 6 showdown against Ohio State. The cherry on the cake for Eli Drinkwitz’s crew would be a victory in a tradition-rich bowl over a tradition-rich program, and breaking a Cotton Bowl record along the way wouldn’t be bad either. Brady Cook threw for 3,189 yards this season, and a good chunk of those yards went in the direction of Luther Burden III, who caught 83 passes for 1,197 yards. Breaking a Cotton Bowl record is nothing to take lightly, and the prestigious bowl game’s record for catches is 11. That’s a lot of catches in 1 game, but Burden did it twice this season, posting 11 in consecutive games against Vanderbilt and LSU.
Now, doing it against Ohio State’s defense (or even a watered-down version) would appear to be a much bigger challenge, but Burden and the Tigers will be out to prove the regular season was no fluke and they can play with the big boys of college football.
4. Ole Miss: vs. Penn State, Peach Bowl, Dec. 30
The Rebels were good in 2023 but couldn’t overcome the SEC’s 2 behemoths, Alabama and Georgia, and so Lane Kiffin will take his team to Atlanta for a bowl game instead of the SEC Championship Game. Ole Miss couldn’t achieve its ultimate goal this fall, but 1 thing the Rebels did (except against the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, of course) do was score a bunch of points. Led by multi-threat quarterback Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss averaged 34.8 points per contest, and now it draws a Penn State team that even scored a little more, averaging 37.2 points per game. Things could get wild on the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, without any elements to interfere. That means the Rebels, with just a sprinkling of defense, could absolutely threaten the Peach Bowl total yards record of 693 set by the Joe Burrow-led LSU machine in the 2019 Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma.
Of course, Penn State could break that insane number, too.
5. Auburn: vs. Maryland, Music City Bowl, Dec. 30
OK, so Hugh Freeze’s debut season on The Plains didn’t go quite as planned, although 7-5 would’ve looked a little different to everyone had Jalen Milroe not pulled off that 4th-down miracle in the Iron Bowl. Instead, the Tigers settled for 6-6 and a date with the Terps in Nashville. Now, it’s all about securing a winning season, and as Music City Bowl records go, Auburn kicker Alex McPherson might just get his shot. All the redshirt freshman did in 2023 was go a perfect 13-for-13 in field goal attempts, nailing all 3 of his kicks between 40 and 49 yards and making his only attempt from 50-plus, a 53-yarder. The Music City Bowl record for longest field goal is 48 yards, so it’s well within McPherson’s wheelhouse.
McPherson can show fans 1 more time this fall that the Tigers have once again struck gold at the kicker position.
6. Georgia: vs. Florida State, Orange Bowl, Dec. 30
After seeing the Bulldogs bulldoze their way to back-to-back national championships, it’s going to be weird to watch them in a matchup and a venue where there’s not a title at stake. Instead, the Dawgs will be trying to show the college football world that the Alabama loss was a 1-game hiccup after 29 straight wins. But they’re matched with the 1 team that has more motivation than they do, a 13-0 Florida State team that absolutely feels it should be playing in 1 of the Playoff semifinals a few days later.
This all means that setting any Orange Bowl records won’t be easy for Kirby Smart’s team, nor will winning the game at all. But we all know about Jordan Travis’ injury, how it altered the course of FSU’s season and how limited it has made the Seminoles look on offense. FSU only managed 16 points in its ACC title game victory over Louisville, so the Noles might not have the ball much at all as that Georgia defense keeps giving it back to Carson Beck. The Orange Bowl record for 1st downs by a team is 34, set just last year by Clemson in a losing cause against Tennessee.
Give Beck and that motivated Dawgs offense the ball enough in Miami and that mark could very well be threatened against a strong but tiring FSU defense that might be on the field way too long.
7. LSU: vs. Wisconsin, ReliaQuest Bowl, Jan. 1
Formerly known as the Hall of Fame Bowl and the Outback Bowl, this game is a Tampa staple and also an annual showcase of a good-but-not-great SEC team. This year, that team is the 9-3 Tigers, who were gunning for a much better bowl destination (read: a Playoff berth) back in September, all due respect to the ReliaQuest Bowl. LSU might’ve underperformed as a team in 2023, but on paper the Tigers carry plenty of star power to Tampa, headlined of course by Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels. We were going to say that Daniels, who threw for a whopping 3,812 yards and ran for 1,134 more this fall, could break this bowl game’s record for total offense, held by Northwestern’s Mike Kafka, who had 566 yards of total offense for the Wildcats in the 2010 game against Auburn. But Daniels, with that shiny Heisman in hand, decided to opt out of the bowl game and enter the NFL Draft, so now redshirt sophomore Garrett Nussmeier is expected to step in and make his 1st career start.
So, let’s say Nussmeier, who’s been waiting in the wings for a while in Baton Rouge and probably figured Daniels wasn’t going to play, is really ready for his moment. We’re not going to go crazy and say he’ll break the total offense record, too, because, well, he’s not Daniels and he isn’t known as a dual-threat quarterback. But Kafka also holds the ReliaQuest Bowl record for passing touchdowns with 4 in that same game against Auburn, a number that isn’t so outrageous. And it’s not outrageous at all to think that Nussmeier — who comes from a football family, has played in some big games when Daniels has gone down and will be supremely motivated to show that life after Daniels will be just fine — can get to 5 touchdown passes, especially with LSU’s array of offensive weapons around him. Let the Nussmeier Era begin with a bang.
8. Tennessee: vs. Iowa, Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
The Vols are going to tie 1 Citrus Bowl mark just by stepping foot on the Camping World Stadium field in Orlando on New Year’s Day. When that happens, Tennessee will tie 6 other programs (Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Penn State, Auburn, LSU) for the most appearances in Citrus Bowl history. As far as breaking a bowl record against the Hawkeyes? The Volunteers might have stumbled to an 8-4 record and, like LSU, hoped for much greater things in 2023. But the Vols still put up points this fall, 31.5 per game to be exact, and they’re facing the usual plodding Iowa team that only scored a miniscule 16.6 per contest. That’s a sizable gap for a bowl matchup, and you know what else will be sizable? The Vols’ overall speed advantage against the Hawkeyes. The Citrus Bowl record for fewest points allowed is 0, set back in 1965 when East Carolina blanked Maine, 31-0. So, technically the Vols could only tie this record, too, by repeating that feat.
Don’t laugh. Just remember how many points Iowa managed against Michigan in the Big 10 title game — yep, 0.
9. Alabama: vs. Michigan, Rose Bowl, Jan. 1
The final SEC bowl game is, by far, the biggest 1, with Nick Saban’s team back in the Playoff after a 1-year hiatus and after many said the dynasty was dead after the Week 2 loss to Texas. Instead, the Crimson Tide slipped into the Playoff as the No. 4 seed after winning 11 in a row and making sure Georgia didn’t get its 3-peat. So, in the most historical bowl of all, on the biggest stage of all, arguably the most polarizing team in college football might just see a Rose Bowl record get broken by … a true freshman? Yeah, that’s right, and, really, why not? Safety Caleb Downs is already a star after 1 season in Tuscaloosa, being named SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC. On a defense filled with standout veterans, Downs led everyone on the team in tackles by a country mile with 99, and this takes us back to that Rose Bowl record. For tackles, it’s 17, and it’ll be tough but it’s doable for Downs, who twice had 13 tackles, including against LSU.
The Michigan offense will be the ultimate test for the Tide, and so Downs should have an abundance of chances on the back end to climb a little higher and grab that tackles record.