Best thing about every SEC bowl matchup
There are 11 SEC teams participating in bowl games this season. In the next few weeks before the conference’s postseason action begins, there is a lot of possible intrigue to mull over.
So here are the best things about every SEC bowl matchup, in chronological order.
Texas: Vanderbilt vs. Baylor
The I Remember You Bowl. These teams have not met since 1954, but the Commodores will still see an old enemy. Former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd is now at Baylor. Hurd transferred to the Bears and switched to wide receiver as well and has done just fine, leading Baylor with 69 catches for 946 yards this season. He’s banged up, but he might not want to miss this one.
Music City: Auburn vs. Purdue
David Blough gets another shot at an SEC team. The Purdue quarterback has had pretty middling success for much of his career. He struggled mightily in the first two games this season. Then Mizzou showed up at Ross-Ade Stadium and, for one night, Blough looked like an All-American (he also clued in Tigers fans as to how unpredictable 2018 would be). He passed for a career-high 572 yards against Mizzou, but the Tigers prevailed 40-37. Blough’s top five career passing efforts all came in losses.
Peach: Florida vs. Michigan
Dang it, we thought we were going to get the Jim McElwain bowl. But the former Gators head coach, who has been an assistant on Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines staff this season, was named Central Michigan’s head coach on Sunday. So we’ll have to settle for this: Florida is looking to avoid a fifth loss in five tries against Michigan. That 0-4 mark, with three of the meetings in bowls, is tied for Florida’s worst mark against teams it has never beaten. UF is also 0-4 against Villanova.
Belk: South Carolina vs. Virginia
Can Samuel hit four digits? Gamecocks receiver Deebo Samuel seeks to finally break the 1,000-yard receiving barrier in his final game with South Carolina. Samuel had a career-high 210 receiving yards in the loss against Clemson in November. The senior has 849 yards receiving in 2018 and seeks to become the first South Carolina pass-catcher to hit four digits since Pharoh Cooper (1,136) in 2014. It will be tough because the Cavaliers are ranked No. 14 in FBS in pass defense.
Orange: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Come for the high stakes in this CFP semifinal, stay for the offense. Alabama is averaging a mind-boggling 47.9 points per game this season. That would top the nation … if not for the Sooners. Oklahoma is putting up 49.5 points per game and averages about 50 yards a game more than the Crimson Tide. Of course Oklahoma has not seen a defense as good as Bama’s. Oh, by the way, the two likely Heisman Trophy frontrunners square off — quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa (Bama) and Kyler Murray (Oklahoma). If you don’t like this matchup, throw your TV out the window.
Liberty: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Old rivals hook up. Missouri faces a former Big 8/Big 12 foe for the third time in six years in a bowl, and this is the second time the Tigers have met the Cowboys in that span. Mizzou blew out Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl to cap the 2013 season. This is also a meeting of two strong offenses, though not as much as the Orange Bowl. The Cowboys are 14th in FBS in scoring, the Tigers are 18th. This could even be more of a shootout than Bama-OU because neither defense here is very good.
TaxSlayer Gator: Texas A&M vs. N.C. State
Come East, young men. Texas A&M is a fascinating study in this bowl season because this is the school’s first trip to Florida for a bowl since 1957. The Aggies have been to the Sunshine State in the postseason just twice. And of course what makes this even more interesting is that former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is bringing his A&M bunch back to his old stomping grounds. A&M travels really well and N.C. State doesn’t have to go far, so Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field should be packed and rocking.
Outback: Mississippi State vs. Iowa
For the Bulldogs, this gives head coach Joe Moorhead a foe he’s familiar with. The former Penn State offensive coordinator (from 2016-17) faced the Hawkeyes twice. The Nittany Lions won both meetings, 41-14 in 2016 and 21-19 on the road in 2017. Mississippi State and Iowa should make for a close matchup. MSU is 66th in the nation in total offense, Iowa is 76th. In total defense, MSU is No. 3 in FBS and Iowa is eighth. We might get a rarity in 2018: A defensive slugfest.
Citrus: Kentucky vs. Penn State
The best thing about this one is simply that the Wildcats got such a good destination and matchup after their best season in a generation or more. This is Kentucky’s best postseason assignment since the 1951 season when Bear Bryant’s bunch played in the Cotton Bowl (UK has played in the Peach Bowl twice since, but that wasn’t as prestigious then as it is now). Benny Snell and company have been tested and should give the Nittany Lions a good game. Either way it’s a modern rarity: A bowl as a pure reward.
Fiesta: LSU vs. Central Florida
The Tigers get to go to a different bowl destination. LSU has never played in the Fiesta Bowl and never played any bowl in Arizona. That’s probably the draw for Tigers fans. How much does it mean to them that LSU gets a chance to snap UCF’s 25-game winning streak? That’s the calling card for the Knights, who have reached heights no other Group of 5 team has in the College Football Playoff era. How does UCF’s explosive offense measure up when it finally sees a defense as good as LSU’s, even with half of its starting secondary hurt or preparing for the NFL Draft? Fun stuff.
Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas
The best thing about this matchup is that these two blue bloods have not met since the 1984 Cotton Bowl, when the Bulldogs shut down the No. 2 Longhorns’ chance at a national championship with a 10-9 victory. It will also be interesting to see how these teams rebound after tough losses in their respective league championship games. Texas is 36th in the nation in rushing defense, not bad by Big 12 standards. But the Bulldogs are averaging more than 250 rushing yards a game.