Ranking SEC bowl games: From 'do I have to watch?' to 'must watch'
Bowl season is here, and y’all, that’s not the worst thing.
Before you tell me that there are too many bowl games or whatever, let me just remind you that we had 15 weeks of the college football season (don’t forget about Week 0) and we still have another 5 weeks of games to look forward to. The longest season in college football history has flown by, but that’s OK.
With ranking these bowl games, I’m ranking them strictly based on current circumstances. I’m not assuming anyone is sitting out necessarily. Will they? Absolutely, but I’ll base these rankings on what I know as of this moment.
So here they are, starting with the least entertaining to most entertaining:
9. Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
Where — Nashville
When — Monday, Dec. 30 (4 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — Well, it’s at 3 p.m. local time on a Monday afternoon, which is telling. It’s also a pair of teams who run the ball and don’t throw the ball particularly well. Scott Satterfield earned ACC Coach of the Year, despite the fact that his team got trucked by Kentucky in the regular-season finale. Having just watched the most predictable non-service academy offense in America roll the Cardinals, I’d expect a run-heavy attack from Mississippi State.
Neither team is playing for a milestone victory, and hey, we already saw them face off in a bowl game less than 2 years ago. While I’m an admitted Joe Moorhead apologist, this one’s primary interest will be for the gamblers looking for a way to pass the time on a Monday afternoon.
8. Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia
Where — Miami
When — Monday, Dec. 30 (8 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — I give Florida a ton of credit for winning 10 games this year. I also believe that any New Year’s 6 bowl is a major accomplishment, especially for a program like Florida, which was staring at a 4-win season a couple years ago.
So why am I not more excited for this? A couple reasons. It’s a pair of teams that don’t cross paths either on the field or off it and this game lacks star-power. The Gators have a lot of really good players — Jon Greenard and Lamical Perine to name a couple — but I don’t know that any outside of 3-touch Kadarius Toney are “must-see.” And let’s be honest. Even Florida fans were all sorts of “meh” when they saw that Virginia was the opponent. It doesn’t take away from Florida’s impressive season to say that the bowl matchup just doesn’t get me fired up.
7. Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
Where — Houston
When — Friday, Dec. 27 (6:45 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — In a nutshell, Mike Gundy vs. Jimbo Fisher is an intriguing matchup of offensive minds. But a couple of household names aren’t enough to spice up this matchup, which is obviously hurt by its time slot. The thing that excites me about this matchup is finally getting a chance to watch a full Chuba Hubbard game. The FBS leading rusher put together a ridiculously good season, though he might have a tall task ahead against Mike Elko’s defense.
It’s a sneaky-good strength on strength matchup that feels like it’s saving an otherwise lackluster matchup.
6. Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor
Where — New Orleans
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (8:45 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — I know it’s coming. The “Georgia didn’t care about being there” narratives are already out. It sort of takes away from the matchup itself. It’s a built-in excuse.
We already know that Georgia will be without the injured Dominick Blaylock, who tore his ACL in the SEC Championship. And that’s with Lawrence Cager out for the season, as well. We don’t know what’s next for the likes of D’Andre Swift, Andrew Thomas and Jake Fromm, so for now, we’re assuming they’ll be in action. We also don’t know that status of Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, who went down with a head injury in the Big 12 Championship.
Does that mean we’re in for a low-scoring game that looks like it’s being played in 1995? Possibly. It is still a New Year’s 6 bowl with a pair of conference championship participants. These are really strong teams with elite defenses. But both just watched their Playoff dreams die, and it’s fair to wonder what the excitement level will be for this one.
5. Gator Bowl: Tennessee vs. Indiana
Where — Jacksonville
When — Thursday, Jan. 2 (7 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — Part of this is because it has been a hot minute since we’ve seen Tennessee in the postseason. We’ll see Vols fans take over a random stadium south of the Mason-Dixon Line instead of just having the random fans at non-Tennessee games (there’s always a few in the SEC). Seeing Jeremy Pruitt in his first postseason game is interesting, as is the fact that he’ll face off with a high-powered Indiana offense.
This is going to be the type of game that everyone puts on the back burner after the non-national championship New Year’s 6 bowls conclude, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they flip it on. Tom Allen is a jolt of lightning on the sidelines. He’s going to coach this game like his life depends on it, which will make this game feel slightly more important than it is.
4. Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech
Where — Charlotte, N.C.
When — Tuesday, Dec. 31 (12 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — Lynn Bowden, Lynn Bowden, Lynn Bowden.
I know I’m higher on this game than you are. That’s OK. As one of the biggest pro-Bowden people outside of the state of Kentucky, I admit that I’m unreasonably pumped watch a pair of defensive-focused, limited offensive teams battle it out at noon on New Year’s Eve. It’s the Bowden factor. Behind that elite offensive line, Bowden is electric.
He’s been one of the best stories in college football this season, and the chance to get to watch him spin (hopefully) at least one more time is worth the price of admission.
3. Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn
Where — Tampa
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — I know that both teams were disappointed not to get into the New Year’s 6, especially Auburn. But I actually think this is a pretty solid matchup with some intriguing elements. Minnesota is essentially doing what 2018 Kentucky did. This game still matters to P.J. Fleck and Co. Watching that oversized offensive line battle Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson — if they play — would be an outstanding showdown in the trenches.
And for Auburn, there’s still incentive to get to 10 wins for the 2nd time in 3 seasons. Let’s not forget that when Gus Malzahn had a month to prepare last year after taking over play-calling duties, his team played like the best offense in college football history. I want to see what kinds of gadgets and wrinkles Malzahn has for his frustrated, but motivated offense.
2. Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama
Where — Orlando
When — Wednesday, Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — Jim Harbaugh vs. Nick Saban? In my backyard? Ah, college football gods. You made this Orlando resident one happy man.
Besides my admitted bias for seeing this game up close and personal, we’re going to get some extremely awkward pregame coach press conference photos with fake smiles that the internet will absolutely eat up. I’m here for that. I’m also here for all of us circling back to the feud that began when Saban called out Harbaugh’s satellite camps … which resulted in quite the Twitter clap back from the Michigan coach:
“Amazing” to me- Alabama broke NCAA rules & now their HC is lecturing us on the possibility of rules being broken at camps. Truly “amazing.”
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) June 1, 2016
That’s the stuff. All we need is Harbaugh and Saban having a John Chaney-John Calipari moment in a postgame press conference. But even if that doesn’t happen, this is still a pair of traditional college football powers battling in the “I can’t believe we lost to our rivals and are playing in this game” bowl.
If Alabama’s receivers play in this one, they figure to torch Don Brown’s defense like Ohio State did. That’s a big “if,” though. This game isn’t important for Alabama, and the built-in excuse is there, but it’ll still be plenty entertaining to watch Steve Sarkisian’s offense cook. Also, can we get Saban and Josh Gattis to have a mic’d up pregame conversation? Please?
1. Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Where — Atlanta
When — Saturday, Dec. 28 (4 p.m. ET)
Why this spot — If you’re just looking at the spread, I can understand why this game wouldn’t appeal to you. And to be clear, I’m fully aware that this has LSU blowout potential.
But if you’re telling me you’re not excited for Joe Burrow vs. Jalen Hurts in a Playoff game, well, I’m sorry. That’s kinda sad. It’s one of my favorite QB battles of recent memory because of what both of these grad transfer quarterbacks did to get here. Both found programs that wanted them, and both took their games to new heights. The fact the winner will play for a national championship is such a cool, feel-good story.
As for the game itself, I’d watch LSU’s offense play against air (insert joke about Oklahoma’s defense attempting to look like more than air). Add in the fact that it’s Lincoln Riley who’s tasked with keeping pace with the Tigers and it’s safe to say this has the makings of a peak-2019 offensive matchup. The over/under for this game is a whopping 76 points. Even those who don’t gamble should know that’s a stunning number.
You’re crazy if you’re not parked in front of your couch for this one come Dec. 28.