Power ranking the SEC’s bowl opponents
The college football bowl schedule slowly came together as Sunday afternoon turned into evening. Twelve SEC teams are playing in bowl games this season, with only Ole Miss and Missouri failing to make the cut.
Not all bowl games are created equal, and some matchups are much more enticing than others. Now that we know what this bowl season looks like, we decided to rank the SEC’s bowl opponents.
This is not a ranking based on record or any specific metric, but rather a sense of how talented and dangerous a team is.
1. Washington (11-1): One of the four teams in this year’s College Football Playoff, Washington has incredible talent and balance on both sides of the ball. Led by quarterback Jake Browning, a top Heisman candidate, the Huskies score 44.5 points per game and are one of the most explosive offenses in college football.
On defense, Washington is stout against both the run and the pass. Each aspect of the Huskies’ defense complements the others, and the result is a unit that allows just over 17 points per game and has 33 takeaways. They will face Alabama in a CFP semifinal on Dec. 31 at 3 p.m. ET.
2. Louisville (9-3): Although Louisville may have a worse record than Oklahoma, it is a more dangerous team when everything is clicking. Quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is considered the Heisman favorite by many, has 3,390 yards passing with 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Those are excellent numbers through the air, but Jackson is more dangerous as a runner, leading the team with 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Cardinals lead the nation with 45.3 points per game.
An elite offensive team, Louisville is also a good defensive squad. The Cardinals give up just over 23 points per game and are adept at rushing the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Louisville will face LSU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.
3. Oklahoma (10-2): Oklahoma made a late push for the Playoff, but didn’t have enough of a resume to warrant true consideration. The Sooners are still a very good team, however. Baker Mayfield is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and has thrown for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He is complemented by a two-headed rushing attack led by Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Oklahoma’s 44.7 points per game are third-most in college football.
The Sooner’s defense is a bit of a problem area. Allowing nearly 30 points per game, the Sooners are among the bottom half of all college football teams in scoring defense. Oklahoma will face Auburn in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
4. Virginia Tech (9-4): Virginia Tech is another capable offensive team that has flown under the radar for much of the season. The Hokies average 35 points per outing and are led by dual-threat quarterback Jerod Evans (below). Virginia Tech’s defense, allowing 22.7 points, is on par with its offense, making this a balanced squad capable of hanging with anyone. Arkansas and Virginia Tech will square off in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET.
5. Iowa (8-4): Iowa ended the season on a three-game win streak that included victories over Michigan and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes aren’t a flashy team, but they do have a strong rushing attack. Pair that ground game with a top 10 defense that gives up under 18 points per game, and beating Iowa is a tall task. Florida will attempt to knock off the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET.
6. Nebraska (9-3): Nebraska got out to a 7-0 start before going 2-3 down the stretch. The Cornhuskers’ offense is led by exciting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. but struggles to score. Instead, the team relies on a good defense and turnovers to overcome its opponents. Nebraska and Tennessee will face each other in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
7. USF (10-2): A team that few SEC fans will be familiar with, South Florida shouldn’t be overlooked. The Bulls scored 43.6 points per game this season, which is seventh among all college football teams. One of USF’s losses came in a 55-35 contest against Florida State, but the Bulls knocked off a ranked Navy squad 52-45. South Carolina will try to contain South Florida’s high-scoring offense in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29 at 2 p.m. ET.
8. Kansas State (8-4): Kansas State may be a better team than its record would indicate. All four of the Wildcats’ losses came against teams that were ranked at some point in the season. Kansas State doesn’t have the typical Big 12 offense that scores a lot of points, but it does have a very balanced rushing attack. That ground game combined with a stout defense that allows just 21.8 points per game is a winning formula. Texas A&M and Kansas State will play in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET.
9. Georgia Tech (8-4): Behind a 14-point fourth quarter, Georgia Tech knocked off in-state rival Georgia between the hedges. Now, the Yellow Jackets will look to attack another SEC defense with their triple-option offense. That offense can be difficult for teams to defend, but the extra bowl prep should lessen that difficulty. Georgia Tech seeks to shorten games and keep its weak defense on the sideline with a ball-control focus. Kentucky’s run game will go up against Georgia Tech’s in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.
10. TCU (6-6): Led by former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, TCU hasn’t had the season its fans hoped for. The Horned Frogs haven’t had the same explosive offense we’ve come to expect over the years and averaged 31.7 points per game. Defensively, TCU isn’t any better and it has played many high-scoring games. Georgia and TCU will play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30 at noon ET.
11. North Carolina State (6-6): NC State was a missed field goal away from knocking off Clemson. The Wolfpack couldn’t get it done, but did manage to beat a good North Carolina squad to end its 2016 campaign. Averaging just over 25 points per game, NC State doesn’t have an offense that should scare any team. Instead, the Wolfpack relies on an attacking defense to stifle opposing squads. NC State will play a surging Vanderbilt team in the Camping World Independence Bowl on Dec. 26 at 5 p.m. ET.
12. Miami (OH) (6-6): Incredibly, Miami (OH) won its last six games of the season to become bowl eligible. After an 0-6 start, the RedHawks ran the table and edged out Ball State 21-20 in their season finale to reach a bowl game. Miami (OH) has one of the worst offenses in college football, averaging 23.4 points per contest. The RedHawks will try to win their seventh game in a row against Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. ET.