Sixteen bowl games will be played this season before the SEC finally gets in on the action. But when the premiere conference in the country finally starts playing, its teams will be the focus of attention – playing seven games in an eight-day span beginning Dec. 30 – and then culminating in the first-of-its-kind BCS Championship Game featuring two teams from the same conference, on Jan. 9.
SEC teams are favored in all 7 of the bowl games they’ll play in this season against other conferences. During its 5-year reign atop the college football landscape, the SEC has a sterling 30-16 record in all bowl games. That .652 winning % would equal out to about a 6-3 record this bowl season, except for the fact that 2 of the 9 bowl-eligible SEC teams are facing each other in the BCS title game.
The SEC was 5-5 in bowl games last season and 11-9 over the past two seasons (although Tennessee and Kentucky, a combined 0-4 the past two seasons, won’t be in the mix this time around). In the 5-year span of dominance, the SEC is 9-5 head-to-head against the Big Ten, including a 2-0 mark in the all-important national title game.
It’s interesting to note that the conference that has long been criticized for refusing to travel out of the region for nonconference games is playing all of its bowl games in the south, including the BCS title game in New Orleans. Most of the bowl games are being played in Tennessee, Florida and Georgia (plus Arkansas is playing next door in Texas for the Cotton Bowl).
2010-11 SEC BOWL GAME PREDICTIONS
Franklin American Mortgage Music City (Nashville, Tenn.)
Dec. 30 / ESPN
Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
The Bulldogs will have to try to brush off distracting rumors that coach Dan Mullen is high on the list of possible candidates to fill the Penn State vacancy as they prepare for a matchup against the Demon Deacons. Mississippi State demolished Michigan last bowl season to win its fourth bowl game in a row (dating back to 1999) and is coming off of a season finale victory against archrival Ole Miss to become bowl eligible. Wake Forest has won its past two bowl games but is 0-2 vs. the SEC in bowl games. The Demon Deacons lost 4 of their final 5 games this season – including a 41-7 rout in the regular season final by Vanderbilt, which finished with the same 2-6 conference record as Mississippi State.
: Mississippi State QB Chris Relf torched Michigan last January for 3 passing TDs and 1 rushing score. The senior will end his career as a winner, by making enough plays against a Deacon defense that is ranked 75th
in the nation (allowing 399 yards and 3.3 offense TDs per game).... Mississippi State 24, Wake Forest 10
AutoZone Liberty (Memphis, Tenn.)
Dec. 31 / ABC
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
The Commodores might be getting used to this whole bowl thing, appearing in their second bowl game in the past four seasons after making just three postseason games in their entire history before that. Vanderbilt crushed Wake Forest in its season finale to qualify for a bowl, but will have to figure out how to stop Cincinnati – which will have starting QB Zach Collaros back after he missed the last three games due to injury. The Bearcats were 7-1 in games that the senior QB started and finished, as he combined for 22 TDs (passing and rushing) in those eight games. Collaros will be playing in his first, and last, collegiate bowl game.
Vanderbilt will rely on junior RB Zac Stacy (1,136 yards, 13 TDs) to pace its mediocre offense. Of course, facing four of the top 10 defenses in the country like Vandy did would be a tall order for any team. The top defense Cincinnati faced was 23rd
-ranked Tennessee, a game in which the Vols won 45-23. Vanderbilt also lost to Tennessee this season.
: the Bearcats offense will look like it did before Collaros got hurt (Cincinnati averaged 39.1 PPG in its first eight games), and the Big East conference will get a much-needed bowl win…. Cincinnati 30, Vanderbilt 21
Dec. 31 / ESPN
Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Life without Cam Newton has been tough for Auburn this year, as the defending national champs were roughed up by Clemson in their key nonconference game, and lost 4 conference games by an average of 30.5 points. The Tigers had trouble scoring, averaging only 24.3 PPG (82nd
in NCAA). Their struggles in the passing game (106th
in the country) were somewhat offset by a rushing attack that averaged 174.8 YPG. Auburn was blown out by LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas, although they did upend South Carolina. Sophomore RB Michael Dyer rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 TDs.
Virginia surprised many by surging toward the top of the ACC this year under second-year coach Mike London. The Cavaliers posted even worse offensive numbers than Auburn, scoring just 23.3 PPG (that number obviously wasn’t helped by a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech in the season finale). Virginia did beat two teams who were ranked at the time – Florida State and Georgia Tech – but mostly feasted on weak teams (including William & Mary, Indiana and Duke).
: Auburn will end another season with a bowl victory, although this one won’t elicit quite the emotion as last season’s. …. Auburn 16, Virginia 9
Outback (Tampa, Fla.)
Jan. 2 / ABC
Michigan State (10-3) vs. Georgia (10-3)
The first of 3 SEC-Big Ten matchups, this is perhaps the most intriguing as it features teams that both lost in their conference championship game. Georgia had its 10-game winning streak stopped in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs lost to Boise State and South Carolina to open the season, before bearing down and allowing just 13.3 PPG the rest of the regular season. The offense (QB Aaron Murray tossed 33 TD passes) is overshadowed by an excellent defense that is ranked third in the NCAA (268.5 YPG). LB Jarvis Jones and DB Bacarri Rambo were both first-team All-SEC selections.
Michigan State’s defense was no slouch either, finishing fifth in the nation in yards allowed per game (272.7) and ninth in PPG (17.4). The Spartans played two thrillers against Wisconsin, winning in the regular season on a Hail Mary and losing a back-and-forth inaugural Big Ten title game 42-39. Senior QB Kirk Cousins is the key to Michigan State’s chances of pulling an upset. Cousins set career highs in TD passes (24), yards (3,016) and fewest INT (7). He had one of his better games in the Big Ten title contest, completing 73.3% of his passes and adding 3 TDs (and 1 INT).
: The Spartans will have one more fantastic finish in them, scoring late to give coach Mark Dantonio his first bowl win, and sending the ‘Dawgs home with a second consecutive loss…. Michigan State 24, Georgia 20
Capital One (Orlando, Fla.)
Jan. 2 / ESPN
Nebraska (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
It’s official, South Carolina is in a bowl-game funk, with three straight losses under coach Steve Spurrier the past three seasons. Losing star sophomore RB Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury midway through this season hurt the Gamecocks’ already limited offense, although Brandon Wilds (486 yards, 3 TDs, 3 100-yard games) has shown some promise filling in. South Carolina’s fourth-ranked defense (268.9 YPG) has set up Spurrier’s team for possibly its first 11-win season ever.
The key to beating Nebraska will be stopping the potent running attack of Rex Burkhead (1,268 yards, 15 TDs) and QB Taylor Martinez (837 yards, 9 TDs). The Cornhuskers average 223.9 YPG on the ground, 13th
-best in the nation. In the two games this season in which Nebraska was blown out, the running game was limited to 159 and 138 yards respectively. If there is a weakness in the South Carolina defense, it’s against the run. The Gamecocks allow 135.9 YPG and 11 TDs on the ground. Nebraska will have to plan for the intimidating presence of SEC Freshman of the Year Jadeveon Clowney, who registered 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles from his DE position.
: Spurrier takes South Carolina to previously unknown heights as the Gamecocks manage to limit the Nebraska rushing game and end their bowl slide in the fastest-played game of the day. ….South Carolina 23, Nebraska 20
Taxslayer.com Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Jan. 2 / ESPN2
Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)
The Gators are just 4-5 in non-BCS bowl games since the BCS era started (and of course 1-0 vs. the Buckeyes with a national title on the line) although they whipped Penn State in the Outback Bowl last season. Florida should feel right at home in this bowl, with a 6-2 all-time record. The truth about this year’s Florida team is that the offense has not been very good in Will Muschamp’s first season as coach, ranking 87th
in passing YPG, 75th
in rushing YPG and 72nd
in PPG. Senior QB John Brantley posted pedestrian numbers (58.9% completion, 10 TD passes in 10 games) as half of the Gators’ wins came against the likes of Furman, Florida Atlantic and UAB. Muschamp even called his own team soft after its regular-season finale against Florida State, a 21-7 loss.
The Buckeyes thought they had the BIG “0-9 vs. SEC teams in bowl games” monkey off their back after beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last January, only to vacate the win in the wake of TattooGate. So even though the win happened on the field, Ohio State is still 0-fer in the official record books. Luke Fickell will be on the sidelines for the game, but expect to see new coach Urban Meyer’s impact on the offense, which is led by dynamic freshman QB Braxton Miller (who averaged 90 yards rushing the final 5 games, while scoring 7 TDs on the ground and passing for 6 more).
: Whichever team loses will finish with a rare losing record; OSU has 1 losing season in the past 44 and Florida has not had a losing season since 1979 … until now. It’s small consolation to Buckeyes fans after the 2006 title game debacle, but for once, the Gators wind up on the short end (so Florida fans can point out that it took a former Florida coach to finally put Ohio State over the top)… Ohio State 32, Florida 20
AT&T Cotton (Arlington, Texas)
Jan. 6 / Fox
Kansas State (10-2) vs. Arkansas (10-2)
It will be interesting early on to see how motivated Arkansas will be after the disappointment of not being selected for a BCS game. Every bowl season it seems a better team is upset because it just isn’t as interested in the game as the opponent. The Razorbacks’ only losses came against the two teams playing in the national title game. In its 10 wins, Arkansas averaged 41.8 points. Junior QB Tyler Wilson threw for 3,422 yards and 22 TDs, with senior wideout Jarius Wright catching 11 of those scoring passes. This matchup features Arkansas’ 51st
-ranked defense and Kansas State’s 74th
-rated D, so the game may come down to which team has the ball last.
The Wildcats lost back-to-back games to top-10 foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, before rebounding to win their final three. The combined score of the losses was 110-62; the total score of KSU’s 10 wins was 335-224. In most seasons, RB Collin Klein’s 26 TDs would draw some notice, but his scoring was overshadowed by Wisconsin’s Heisman finalist Montee Ball and Ball’s pursuit of Barry Sanders’ single-season TD record.
: In one of the more exciting games of the bowl season, Klein’s late TD caps an Arkansas comeback and lifts the Razorbacks to their first January win since the 2000 Cotton Bowl. …. Arkansas 36, Kansas State 35
Allstate BCS National Championship Game
Jan. 9 / ESPN
New Orleans, Louisiana Superdome
No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1)
An Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the national title was deemed unacceptable back in 2006 (even though the No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular season matchup that season was a thriller). My how things have changed. After five consecutive victories in the BCS title game, the SEC got its dream matchup, with Heisman candidates, big-time coaches and lots of defense. TV executives and fans alike can only hope the football played in this rematch is a little more entertaining than the offense-free 9-6 final from earlier in the season.
LSU’s Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, the AP’s choice for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, teamed this season with the coaches’ choice for the SEC’s top player, Mo Claiborne, to lead one of the greatest college defenses of the modern era. The pair of cornerbacks helped the Tigers limit opponents to just 7 passing TDs, and the entire defense allowed just 13 total TDs in 13 games while intercepting 18 passes.
As good as LSU’s defense was, Alabama’s was even better. The Crimson Tide finished ahead of the Tigers in almost every major team category, including fewest points allowed (106), fewest YPG (191.2), fewest offensive TDs allowed (12), top defensive passing efficiency, and best defensive third-down conversion %. Pairing Heisman finalist RB Trent Richardson with that defense was a lethal combination for opponents. Richardson ran for 1,583 yards with an impressive 6.0 average, while scoring 20 times.
Just like the first matchup, when the game was likely decided on a trick-play INT in the red zone by LSU (plus a terrible day for Alabama special teams), this game could very well be decided on a miscue by one of the offenses in the second half.
: While Richardson will find some running room as he did in the first game, LSU will completely shut down the Alabama passing attack and do just enough on offense to at least score one TD. In a game that many non-SEC fans around the country hope is the zenith of the conference’s incredible run of titles this past decade, Les Miles will walk out of the Superdome with another BCS Championship Game trophy. … LSU 16, Alabama 12
We already know for certain that the SEC will continue its unprecedented run of national championships, with a sixth straight title. And we also know for sure that an SEC team will lose in a BCS title game for the first time. When the bowl dust settles, the SEC will have won 4 of its 7 bowl games before the BCS Championship Game, although a couple losses to the Big Ten might give hope to fans outside of the South that someone else – anyone else! – might be able to win a national title at some point in the not-too-distant future.
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