A week out, let's predict winners for every SEC bowl game
I hate your team, I hate your team, I hate your team.
You know how when you say something over and over again, the weirder it sounds? That was what I was hoping the words “I hate your team” would feel like if I wrote them 3 times.
I am here to predict SEC bowl games, and not hate your team. I promise. But I do, however, have the right to hate a matchup that your team plays in. Is that fair? Good.
Let’s pick some bowl games:
Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
Where — Nashville
When — Monday, Dec. 30 (4 p.m. ET)
Final score — Louisville 35, Mississippi State 31
I know that Kentucky just pummeled Louisville via the ground game, which will be how Joe Moorhead wants to attack, as well. This defense can absolutely be had, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kylin Hill had another big day in his final game at MSU. But I have a tough time seeing the MSU defense slowing down the Cardinals’ rushing attack for 4 quarters. That has been an issue against non-bottom feeders this year. I don’t trust MSU if it falls behind, and I get the feeling it’ll be playing catchup for the majority of this one.
Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
Where — Houston
When — Friday, Dec. 27 (6:45 p.m. ET)
Final score — Oklahoma State 27, Texas A&M 24
Stopping the FBS’ leading rusher Chuba Hubbard seems like an awfully tall task for an A&M defense that will be without Justin Madubuike, who is sitting out the bowl game and leaving for the NFL. I realize that A&M is a 7-point favorite, and that Mike Gundy said it is “the best 7-5 team in NCAA history,” but I worry about the fact that A&M has 1 win over a bowl team all year. Against the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU, A&M lost by an average of 3 touchdowns. An OSU team that has been banged up all year benefits greatly from the break and comes out like the fresher, more prepared team.
Gator Bowl: Tennessee vs. Indiana
Where — Jacksonville
When — Thursday, Jan. 2 (7 p.m. ET)
Final score — Tennessee 34, Indiana 31
Quietly, this will be one of the sneaky-good bowl games. A pair of teams who absolutely care about this game will play in a down-to-the-wire battle that actually starts off with the Tennessee defense getting smacked via Indiana’s passing attack. Ultimately, though, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense will close the year with a fitting stop. And call me crazy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jauan Jennings entered in the second half and delivered a memorable 30 minutes to lead a comeback late. Jarrett Guarantano’s first bowl game proves to be a special one, and the Rocky Top hype train picks up major steam heading into the offseason.
Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech
Where — Charlotte, N.C.
When — Tuesday, Dec. 31 (12 p.m. ET)
Final score — Kentucky 21, Virginia Tech 17
Lynn Bowden swan song? Yup. Why would it happen any other way? I understand this is also Bud Foster’s last game, and that should be a motivated Virginia Tech squad, but I can’t pick against this Kentucky ground attack. I think trying to stop it for 60 minutes is an absolutely brutal endeavor that few programs are up to. And it’s not like Mark Stoops’ defense is a pushover, either. People might not realize that this is a top-15 defense that played extremely well down the stretch. Post-September, nobody scored more than 21 points against the Cats. That streak continues, and Bowden gives the Kentucky faithful one more glorious showing.
Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn
Where — Tampa
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET)
Final score — Auburn 42, Minnesota 21
To be clear, I don’t think Minnesota was a fraud. The Gophers had a special season. But I think Auburn was even better than the 9-3 record indicated. This is a battle-tested team that has all sorts of motivation to get that 10th win. Bo Nix played much better against Alabama, and dare I say, I think Auburn’s skill players should shine against this Minnesota defense. The Gophers actually match up better than some might realize up front against the likes of Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, but that duo is still too dominant to not make a game-changing play or two. It’s shades of Gus Malzahn’s bowl performance last year, and Auburn rolls easily.
Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama
Where — Orlando
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET)
Final score — Alabama 52, Michigan 28
You better believe I’m taking the “over” in this one. And by “over,” I mean Alabama is going to go over the top of Don Brown’s single-high safety all afternoon. Whether it’s Jerry Jeudy or Jaylen Waddle, this is a horrendous matchup for a Michigan secondary that can be had. Steve Sarkisian is going to want to stretch the field as much as possible, regardless of the fact that Mac Jones doesn’t have the downfield precision of Tua Tagovailoa. Alabama reminds Michigan fans of Ohio State a little too much, and nobody questions the Crimson Tide motivation by game’s end.
Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia
Where — Miami
When — Monday, Dec. 30 (8 p.m. ET)
Final score — Florida 28, Virginia 10
Don’t get me wrong. Virginia is a solid, well-coached team with Bronco Mendenhall. What the Cavaliers did to earn a New Year’s 6 Bowl berth is certainly impressive. But they haven’t seen a defense like Florida’s. Yes, that defense without CJ Henderson is still plenty elite. Jon Greenard is playing in this one, which is bad news for the Virginia offense. I expect Kyle Trask to continue his impressive 2019 season by lighting up a defense that still let up at least 27 points in the final 6 games. Dan Mullen gets his second New Year’s 6 Bowl win in as many seasons.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor
Where — New Orleans
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (8:45 p.m. ET)
Final score — Georgia 24, Baylor 7
Yes, I’m still taking the “under” in this game. More importantly, I’m taking Georgia’s defense to stymie a Baylor offense that will likely be without starting quarterback Charlie Brewer. What about last year’s Sugar Bowl dud, you ask? I think that factors into how UGA prepares to play in this one. Without knowing the full extent of players sitting, I’m betting on Kirby Smart to have a much different post-SEC Championship loss sense of urgency this time around. This proves to be another ugly game, but the Dawgs’ ground attack and defense once again does the heavy lifting en route to a sigh-of-relief win.
Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Where — Atlanta
When — Saturday, Dec. 28 (4 p.m. ET)
Final score — LSU 48, Oklahoma 31
Ah, the grandaddy of them all. Oh, this isn’t the Rose Bowl. I probably shouldn’t use that. This is, however, a marquee matchup with a pair of quarterbacks who have Hollywood stories. But I’ll take Joe Burrow’s movie to have the happy ending. Why? I don’t see Oklahoma’s defense slowing down the Tigers for 60 minutes. They’re too versatile, and they can dominate a game in more ways than people realize. Burrow can pick apart mistakes, and even if Oklahoma makes big plays in the secondary, I’d trust Clyde Edwards-Helaire to pick up chunks of yardage if needed. An LSU defense that played like it had a chip on its shoulder down the stretch plays “bend, don’t break” in the first half to allow LSU to get a comfortable lead that isn’t relinquished.
The year of the Tiger continues.