A bright spot for every SEC team this bowl season
It’s time for the spin zone.
It’s an easy thing to do this time of year. It’s the postseason, where random December/January games are celebrated like titles, especially when the SEC is 7-2 with a championship game to go. Not every SEC team has a bowl victory to celebrate.
Every SEC bowl team does, however, have something worth celebrating.
Here are those things:
Alabama: Jerry Jeudy made a statement for Alabama
That’s the type of game where if there’s an Alabama player debating whether to play in a bowl game, Nick Saban will simply point at what Jeudy did and go, “see? That’s why you play in a bowl game.” And Saban’s not wrong. Why wouldn’t you use that as the perfect example for how a player can prove his draft stock. Jeudy beat one of the country’s better defense repeatedly. His route-running was on full display and he did so with a backup quarterback.
The fact that all of those Alabama receivers wanted to play in a non-Playoff game was surprising. But Saban was right. That group is indeed wired differently than most, and we saw that play out on Wednesday.
Auburn: Bo Nix got a valuable experience, I guess?
It was rough. I’ll be honest. And Nix was part of that. This might sound like a spin zone, but hear me out. Nix, at this point in his career, needs reps, reps and more reps. He’s still so young, and clearly, he still has issues reading defenses and making on-target throws. I tend to think that against a pretty solid Minnesota defense, that’s not the worst thing to continue to get.
Getting those few weeks of practice might not matter to a Derrick Brown or a Marlon Davidson, but they should for someone in Nix’s position. He now will have an entire offseason to get on the same page as his fellow receivers. Well, he also has an entire offseason to get on the same page as Gus Malzahn. Nix is the quarterback of the present, and of the future whether Auburn fans like it or not.
Florida: History happened
History? In the Orange Bowl?
Here’s the list of coaches who won a New Year’s 6/BCS bowl in each of their first 2 years at a school:
That’s the list.
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) December 31, 2019
To me, that’s an extremely good sign for a coach heading into Year 3. Mullen hasn’t beaten Georgia or won the SEC East title yet, but that’s still quite the feat for someone who took over a 4-7 team and also dealt with a season-ending injury to his starting quarterback in mid-September. To win 11 games and only suffer a pair of close losses to current top-5 teams away from home is impressive.
This is easily the best 2-year stretch of the post-Urban Meyer era at Florida, and it’s not close. The Gators graduate a lot of talent, but with Mullen, I’m not ruling out anything in 2020.
Georgia: The George Pickens/Zamir White combo is all sorts of exciting
I want to focus on those 2 because they were in different roles than usual, and they shined. Pickens was virtually un-guardable in the 1st half. His career day was the product of Jake Fromm force-feeding him targets. Good. That’s what’s supposed to happen when you have a mismatch. Too often this year, Georgia has failed to exploit those weaknesses in the passing game, especially when Lawrence Cager has been absent.
And in place of D’Andre Swift, “Zeus” had the game that Georgia fans had been waiting to see. He looked like he could have had a couple of long runs had he not gotten tripped up, too. He was quick to get to the edge and he displayed some of that power that we’ve been seeing in doses.
If you’re a Georgia fan watching a game in which a bunch of players were sitting, seeing those two 5-star talents step up for a stagnant offense had to be a welcome sight.
Kentucky: Lynn Bowden happened
Oh, and it was magical. I’m glad that Kentucky was playing at noon ET on New Year’s Eve. Everyone should have had a chance to flip on the end of that game and see just how special he was. I’ve been saying for the past 6 weeks that this was one of the cooler stories in recent memory, and I think Tuesday’s heroics only solidified that.
Yeah, he’s leaving. But think about what Bowden did to get Kentucky to 8 wins. In a year in which the Cats were written off before the season began, Bowden’s performance — he averaged more rushing yards per game as a starter at quarterback than leading FBS leading rusher Chuba Hubbard — kept Kentucky on the map.
The Cats did everything possible to make sure they weren’t a flash in the pan. He brought more eyeballs to Kentucky, and now, there should be people all over the Bluegrass State wanting to become the next Bowden.
LSU: There was absolutely zero awards season hangover
That was the one thing I was really worried about with LSU. The fact that a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback hadn’t won a Playoff game since 2014 was alarming, and I had a tiny bit of skepticism how the Tigers would perform as a 2-touchdown favorite after a month of being told how great they were.
Yeah, about that.
It looked too easy. Like, you would have thought the way LSU played that Oklahoma had publicly mocked every human in the state of Louisiana. That team came out firing on all cylinders. There was no underestimating the Sooners. Instead, it was picking them apart for touchdown pass after touchdown pass. It was easy to forget that Oklahoma had a Top 25 passing defense.
Now, LSU is playing for its first national championship since 2011. Regardless of how this season finishes, it’s been one of the more impressive, dominant showings that I can remember. Ed Orgeron’s team is now a win away from capping off one of the best individual seasons we’ve seen in the 150 years of college football.
Mississippi State: Garrett Shrader didn’t suffer a serious injury … because he didn’t play
I know. I’m really scraping at the bottom of the barrel here. It was ugly. I’ll be honest.
But hey, the benefit of Shrader getting into that post-practice altercation with Willie Gay is that it meant he didn’t go down with a major injury in the bowl game. I say that because it would’ve been horrendous to watch the true freshman suffer a torn ACL in a loss. By virtue of that punch, perhaps Gay saved Shrader the possibility of injury risk. Now, the true freshman will get an entire offseason to rep with the first-stringers.
I’m trying, man. I really am. It was an awful post-first quarter of that game.
Tennessee: This defense is legit and the future is bright
Winning 6 consecutive games to end the season is cool and all, and that comeback was great, but what about this defense standing up down the stretch? Take away the pick-6 and Tennessee only allowed 15 points to an Indiana offense that averaged 32.4 played extremely well.
Shawn Shamburger had a sack and an interception, Kivon Bennett had 2 tackles for loss and Henry To’o To’o was everywhere. Those are all guys who are going to be back playing crucial roles for Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, which looked like a unit that figured it out in the latter half of 2019. It figured it out in the latter half of games, allowing just 5 points per second half post-Georgia. Yeah, losing Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli hurts, but the Vols have a lot of talent returning for that group. Guys like Aubrey Solomon and Jaylen McCollough are also back after promising first seasons as starters.
The Tennessee hype train has officially left the station.
Texas A&M: Kellen Mond reminded us what he’s capable of with his legs
The A&M hype train is going to roll a little faster this offseason in Year 3 of the Jimbo Fisher era. That’s inevitable now that A&M doesn’t have a brutal schedule that includes Clemson and Georgia. But in the Texas Bowl, we saw Mond flash that ability with his legs and why he can be so dangerous with an improved offensive line. Mond rand wild on the Hokies. The issue this year was that A&M didn’t really have the offensive line so support a ton of designed runs for Mond.
And if we’re being honest, A&M trailed a ton against quality opponents — the Aggies led for 7 minutes and 42 seconds in their 5 losses — which hurt the odds of that. Mond is still figuring out the ins and outs of Fisher’s offense, but he’s plenty experienced, and he could easily be leading a preseason top-10 team.
Mond will get sleeper Heisman buzz this offseason, and his legs are a big part of that.