Ranking the SEC teams based on bowl performance
Ranking the best SEC performances this postseason is like parsing Christmas presents. Or fine steakhouses.
All eight SEC favorites in Vegas won. That’s what was “supposed” to happen. But the eight wins represent an all-time bowl record. And the margin of victory in those victories tells a story of sheer dominance: 29, 21, 23, 38, 28, 39, 7 and 22.
Still, not all of those wins were equal. We’ve ranked the bowl performance of all 10 participating SEC teams this postseason:
10. FLORIDA — Eight SEC teams won. Texas A&M lost by six. And Florida, the SEC East champions, got thrashed, 41-7, by coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. The Gators scored just 12.8 points per game in their final six outings as a leaky offensive line did little to support the overmatched Treon Harris. This game against a good Wolverines defense was no different. Even more embarrassing, a defense loaded with NFL talent collapsed. True freshman receiver Antonio Callaway is the only skill player who gained more than 50 yards, and at least provided Gators fans with a source of hope for the future. But for a team that compiled an unexpected 10 wins by Nov. 21, this performance only underscored the offensive worries entering 2016.
9. TEXAS A&M — The advanced scouting report on quarterback Jake Hubenak proved accurate. He’s no five-star talent, but he’ll compete like hell. That’s exactly what he did against Louisville, making it a game in the fourth quarter after it appeared the Louisville would make it look easy. The Aggies defense made freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson look outstanding. Texas A&M lost, 27-21, once again looking adrift without a strong identity.
8. GEORGIA — Considering the great migration of Georgia coaches prior to this one, any victory against a Big Ten school is a positive. The Bulldogs did exactly what the team needed: harass the heck out of the Penn State quarterbacks, run the darn ball and squeeze some offense out of the passing game with a trick play. Still, a flailing Big Ten program marched down the field twice with backup quarterbacks and very nearly coughed away a 24-3 fourth-quarter lead. It’s hard to characterize this game as anything other then the least-impressive SEC bowl win. But it was a win, the 10th of Georgia’s season. Kudos to the interim staff as well as former coach Mark Richt, but now it’s time for the Kirby Smart era to begin.
7. ARKANSAS — Brandon Allen, Alex Collins, Drew Morgan and Hunter Henry capped their final season together with yet another splendid offensive performance. That the Razorbacks are here, celebrating an eighth win, is a huge positive considering the two non-conference losses to Toledo and Texas Tech. The 45-23 final score looks nice, and coach Bret Bielema got to admire another “borderline erotic” victory formation. But we’ve ranked the Hogs lower on our list because they were among the strongest favorites in all of bowl season, and a mediocre Kansas State team with very little offensive prowess hung within one possession into the fourth quarter. We’re nitpicking here, but you have to do that when seven different SEC teams win games by more than 20 points.
6. LSU — It took a while, and at one point Brandon Harris seemed determined to throw the game right into the hands of Texas Tech’s defensive backs. But LSU kept making second-half defensive stops, and eventually Leonard Fournette took over the game, finishing with five total touchdowns. The output and final score, 56-27, were terrific for the Tigers. But this game was 21-20 in favor of LSU midway through the third quarter, and the Tigers benefitted from a tipped-pass-turned-interception at the goal line before putting the game out of reach. In his final game as defensive coordinator at LSU, Kevin Steele’s defense allowed nearly 400 passing yards as the Tigers defensive backs repeatedly let Red Raiders receivers get behind them.
5. AUBURN — Lance Thompson has to be wondering what else a coach has to do to earn a defensive coordinator gig. Thompson, the linebackers coach who migrated from Alabama to Auburn, led the defense on an interim basis against Memphis, holding likely first-round pick Paxton Lynch and the high-scoring Memphis offense to three points. (After campaigning for the job internally, and watching Auburn flounder with several candidates telling him know, Thompson eventually endured the frustration of the Tigers hiring fellow former Alabama linebackers coach Kevin Steele.) During the 31-10 bowl win, Jovon Robinson continued to resemble the next superstar Auburn running back. Coach Gus Malzahn still didn’t know what to do between Sean White and Jeremy Johnson. The biggest story came when a Memphis defensive back tackled an Auburn equipment manager after the game in order to steal a game ball, which he promptly flaunted on social media.
4. MISSISSIPPI STATE — Dak Prescott was not going to go out with a whimper like the Bulldogs did against Georgia Tech last bowl season. It remains to be seen what will happen when the team replaces Prescott and installs a third defensive coordinator in three years. But for the bowl game, this program made a resounding national statement: Mississippi State deserves just as much applause for its last two seasons as Ole Miss. A 51-28 victory helped coach Dan Mullen’s team reach 19 wins in the last two years. It felt very much like a celebration of the greatest quarterback in program history, and that’s a testament to how the team prepared and executed against North Carolina State.
3. OLE MISS — The Rebels got Big 12 bowl revenge by posting 34 first-half points against a shoddy Oklahoma State defense. Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell played fantastic games in what everyone assumes will be their final showing in a Ole Miss uniform, but Chad Kelly looked like one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Granted, it came against that Big 12 defense. But Kelly finished with more total yards of offense in one SEC season — 4,542 — than anybody but Johnny Manziel. And the Landshark defense held up just fine without Robert Nkemdiche in the 48-20 victory.
2. TENNESSEE — Let the enormous 2016 Vols hype begin. Northwestern ranked No. 12 in the most recent Associated Press Top 25. Team 119 obliterated the Wildcats 45-6. Four different UT players intercepted a pass and no Northwestern player even accounted for 75 yards passing, rushing or receiving. Jalen Hurd, Joshua Dobbs and Alvin Kamara nearly combined for 250 rushing yards. All of that is just a byproduct of the way that a physical Tennessee team controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
1. ALABAMA — The Tide won a national semifinal game 38-0 against the Michigan State Spartans. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran for just 75 yards and it took a while for the Bama offense to get cranking. But the defense allowed just 29 rushing yards. And when Connor Cook got a nice two-minute drive going at the end of the first half, Cyrus Jones intercepted him near the goal line. Coordinator Lane Kiffin and the offense put together a tremendous plan to attack the perimeter with quick throws, and as a result Jake Coker completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns.