Favorable bowl matchups provide SEC with chance at redemption
The SEC had a down year. That’s the consensus — from traditional SEC critics around the country to SEC Network broadcaster Paul Finebaum.
Ole Miss, the conference’s second-best team, lost to Memphis. Arkansas and Tennessee combined to lose three non-conference games. Florida was dominated by Florida State. South Carolina lost to The Citadel. Georgia and Florida had overtime escapes against in-state foes Georgia Southern and Florida Atlantic on the same weekend in November.
But the season isn’t over. The SEC will have a chance for redemption in the bowl games. And the matchups favor a successful holiday season for the conference.
Alabama is the favorite to win the national championship. If the Crimson Tide can pull it off, the title would be the eighth in the last 10 seasons for the conference.
Nine of the 10 SEC bowl teams are favored to win. Looking at the matchups, its easy to see why. Of the SEC favorites, only Auburn (6-6) seems an unlikely pick against Memphis.
Regardless, an Alabama national championship combined with a dominant showing in the bowl games should restore the SEC’s reputation.
Here’s a quick look at why the SEC should dominate the bowl season:
Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State — Traditionally, teams that finish the regular season playing well, continue to play well in the postseason. Ole Miss finished with victories over LSU and Mississippi State. Oklahoma State, a College Football Playoff contender, lost its final two games. The Rebels are excited to be in New Orleans. The Cowboys are disappointed they aren’t in the playoffs.
Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State — The Razorbacks were among the SEC’s best teams in the second half of the season. Brandon Allen and Alex Collins have thrived behind the Razorbacks’ huge offensive line. Though Kansas State won three straight games to finish 6-6, the Wildcats gave up more than 50 points three times during a six-game losing streak.
TaxSlayer: Georgia vs. Penn State — The Bulldogs must deal with a transitional coaching staff. And quarterback play has been a problem. But the Bulldogs’ running game and defense are solid. The 7-5 Nittany Lions don’t have a single impressive victory and they lost their last three games.
Outback: Tennessee vs. Northwestern — Maybe the SEC’s best matchup. The Volunteers are on a five-game winning streak. Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd form a tough duo to stop. Northwestern struggles on offense, averaging only 20.7 points per game. The Wildcats combined for only 89 yards rushing in back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan.
Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. N.C. State — The Bulldogs take care of business. Their four losses were to the cream of the crop in the SEC West. They beat everybody else. They want to send Dak Prescott out with a victory. The Wolfpack lost five of its last eight games after winning their first four against creampuff competition.
Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville — Granted, the Aggies have problems. They didn’t finish well and they didn’t find consistency from either of their highly touted quarterbacks. They do have playmakers, though. Louisville has struggles of its own. The 7-5 Cardinals were as unimpressive winning as they were losing, squeaking past the likes of Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia.
Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech: The speculation about Les Miles’ job over, the Tigers no longer have to deal with the pressure cooker in Cajun’ country. Leonard Fournette will roll like a tank over a Red Raiders defense that gave up more than 300 yards rushing to six opponents, including more than 400 yards to Oklahoma and Texas.
Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis — The Memphis Tigers had the better season. No doubt about it. They beat Ole Miss. They made the top 25 in the polls. But they lost coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech. Star QB Paxton Lynch may be more concerned about getting ready for the NFL Draft. And they probably aren’t very excited about playing a 6-6 team in Birmingham. Plus, Gus Malzahn had several weeks to work on Auburn’s struggling offense.
Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan — It’s hard to win while scoring as little as the Gators did down the stretch. The only SEC underdogs in the postseason, the Gators face a stingy Michigan defense that held seven opponents under 100 yards rushing, but was embarrassed by Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Without a potent passing game, the Gators should be in trouble. Jim McElwain has four weeks to find some solutions on offense.