What SEC teams have the best, and worst, bowl matchups? (Hint, there aren't many 'good' ones.)
Ranking the SEC bowls from the most favorable matchup to the toughest matchup is a bit hard this year because, well, the SEC wasn’t very good below the top.
Usually, you can look down the list and feel good about the matchups. This year, you have this glut of four-loss teams that get to go to the SEC’s prime bowls, including the Sugar.
It’s hard to feel good about those matchups.
One thing’s for certain, this is a year where bowl season will truly test the depth of the conference.
So here they are, the SEC bowl games, ranked from the most likely win to the toughest matchup, taking into consideration the Vegas point spreads and, mostly, the eye test:
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State (5-7) vs. Miami of Ohio (6-6): Mississippi State is only in a bowl because there weren’t enough teams with non-losing records to fill the bowl schedule.
The reward? They get to play a 6-6 Miami team that, while hot with six straight wins since an 0-6 start, is one of the weaker bowl teams out there. The RedHawks have beaten one team with a winning record, 7-5 Eastern Michigan.
The Bulldogs are 11.5-point favorites and this game probably means something to MSU. It’s had some bad losses, most notably a season-opening loss to Sun Belt Conference non-bowl team South Alabama, and the Bulldogs want to build on the momentum of their Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss.
It’s a fairly motivated MSU team that will look to make a statement here.
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (12-1): Wait, this is a College Football Playoff game. How could it possibly be an “easy” matchup for the Tide?
Well, if you listen to Vegas, it’s the biggest point spread among the SEC bowl games, with Bama a 14-point favorite. That sure seems like a bit of slap in the Huskies’ face, but it’s also a comment on just how good Alabama’s been.
Alabama is one of those dominant teams where it’s sort of the Tide vs. the Field. So yeah, until somebody proves otherwise, this is a matchup for the SEC to like.
Citrus Bowl: No. 20 LSU (7-4) vs. No. 13 Louisville (9-3): On paper, Louisville looks better, but this game is even in the Vegas odds for a reason.
LSU doesn’t have that great of a record, but if it weren’t for finding creative ways to lose to Florida, the Tigers would be 6-1 under Ed Orgeron and headed to the Sugar Bowl. Louisville, on the other hand, is the higher-ranked team, but the Cardinals tanked late, getting blown out by Houston before losing to Kentucky.
It also seems like LSU has some intangibles going for it. Louisville went from a Playoff contender to out of the New Year’s Six with a late slide. LSU went from being a loss away from perhaps the Independence Bowl at 6-5, to looking good against Texas A&M and getting the SEC’s No. 3 bowl slot.
There’s a good chance LSU looks very motivated here to continue the momentum, but does Louisville come out playing for some redemption?
Music City Bowl: No. 21 Tennessee (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3): Maybe it’s because the game is in Tennessee, but the Vols are a three-point favorite. That means Nebraska may have UT where it wants it. Even in the weak SEC East, UT has been notorious for stubbing its toe as fast as expectations start to favor the Vols.
But, so has Nebraska. With a couple of chances to make national splashes, the Cornhuskers were destroyed by Ohio State 62-3 and, with a chance (with help) to win the Big Ten West, they laid an egg in a 40-10 loss to Iowa.
So maybe Tennessee has found a traditional power that handles the spotlight even worse than the Vols do.
Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt (6-6) vs. North Carolina State (6-6): Both teams come in off of upset wins against their hated and usually more successful in-state rival.
Vandy knocked off Tennessee on the heels of a good win over Ole Miss. The Wolfpack upset North Carolina.
This one seems pretty even with one notable exception: Before the North Carolina win, NC State was in a free fall with five losses in its previous six games. Given that, you have to like Vandy, even though North Carolina State is the 4-point favorite.
Liberty Bowl: Georgia (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6): The Horned Frogs are hard to figure out. They are 2-4 in the last last six with an ugly loss to Kansas State to end the season. But, at the same time, their two wins in that stretch, over Texas and Baylor, were fairly impressive.
Then there’s Georgia, which can beat Auburn but not Georgia Tech. But they also beat a rapidly improving Kentucky team late in the year. Neither of these teams are world-beaters, but it seems like Georgia has a little more momentum even though TCU is a slight (1.5-point) favorite.
Texas Bowl: Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Kansas State (8-4): The Aggies are two-point favorites in this one maybe because Trevor Knight should be something close to healthy or maybe because the game is in Houston, just down the road from College Station.
But I’m not buying it. K-State looked pretty good down the stretch, winning five of six — the last three by 60 combined points with a 30-6 win over TCU in the finale.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, has gone through its annual late-season swoon, dropping four straight SEC games to close the year (with a couple of non-conference gimmes sprinkled in).
In the last third of the season, K-State looks like it had the better team.
Outback Bowl: No. 17 Florida (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4): Can two 8-4 teams come into a game feeling any more different?
Florida comes in having been blown out in two games where it could have made a statement, getting destroyed by a combined 54 points. Iowa, meanwhile, finished with three straight wins, including upsets of Michigan and Nebraska.
The big question here is, how is Florida a two-point favorite?
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (8-4): Kentucky is surging, winning five of its last eight, including the 41-38 win over Louisville to close the regular season.
That’s a nice job, but Georgia Tech, a 5-point favorite, has been even better down the stretch, winning five of six with wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia.
So this looks like it could be a tough and fast (since both teams like to run the ball) game for UK. It may come down to just how well prepared UK is to stop Paul Johnson’s triple-option game.
Sugar Bowl: No. 14 Auburn (8-4) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (10-2): When the SEC started sending its best team to national championship-deciding games instead of the Sugar Bowl (unless the Sugar was involved in the title process), the Sugar Bowl probably never thought it would have to take a four-loss SEC team as the “No. 2 option.”
But this is a weird year in the SEC. We have an Alabama team that was undefeated and head and shoulders better than the rest of the league, then five four-loss teams for the Sugar to choose from.
Auburn wound up being the highest-ranked four-loss team and gets to face a conference champion from a Power 5 league.
Maybe. Certainly Auburn isn’t a vintage SEC Sugar Bowl team. But, then again, OU, with its losses to Ohio State and Houston, isn’t a vintage Power 5 conference champion either. Still, the Sooners are probably deserving of being a 5.5-point favorite in this one.
Belk Bowl: Arkansas (7-5) vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech (9-4): It’s a finicky world in postseason football. Here’s Virginia Tech, which came within a touchdown of winning the ACC title against Clemson.
But by losing 42-35, they went from the New Year’s Six to … the Belk Bowl? Against an Arkansas team that looked really bad at times, particularly against teams with any speed.
Maybe Arkansas will come out with a better performance than it had in late-season losses to LSU and (gasp) Missouri. But the Razorbacks look deserving of being a 6-point underdog.
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. South Florida (-11): Look, it’s good, nay, great news for South Carolina that Will Muschamp got such an offensively challenged team to a bowl game at all.
But the SEC East is forgiving and that’s a big reason why. The Gamecocks opened an 11-point dog against the Fighting Willie Taggarts, nay, the Fighting Charlie Strongs. Why? South Florida can score 11 points.
Much more, in fact. So much more that Taggart was hired away by Oregon in hopes of reviving the once-powerful spread offense that’s been the identity of the Ducks’ program (along with gaudy uniforms).
South Carolina? Sometimes it looks like the Gamecocks couldn’t score 11 points with no defense on the field.