Predicting the MVP of Every SEC Bowl Game
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Nine SEC teams will spend the holidays preparing for and playing in a bowl game, and considering the SEC dominated the top end of the BCS standings this season, it should come as no shock that all nine are favorites over their competition (according to VegasInsider.com).
Who will be the MVP of those bowl games?
It's safe to say that players like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and other SEC stars are set for big days, but an unsung hero could step up and make the big play that is the difference between a bowl win and loss.
Our picks for the MVP of every bowl game involving an SEC team is in this slideshow.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
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Vanderbilt is in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews is a big reason why.
The junior finished second in the SEC with 87 receptions and 1,262 yards, and is a big reason why the Commodores have topped the 40-point mark in four of their last five games.
David Amerson and the North Carolina State secondary is, at least in theory, supposed to be stout. However, in 2012, it has been anything but.
The Wolfpack finished 97th in the nation in pass defense, having given up 261.8 yards per game through the air.
Commodore quarterback Jordan Rodgers will have a big day, and will find Matthews early and often.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU LB Kevin Minter
LSU LB Kevin Minter
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LSU will certainly have its hands full under the big top at the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve, when the Clemson Tigers will show off their potent offense against one of the top defenses in college football.
There are weapons galore on Clemson's roster, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.
The LSU secondary will have its hands full with Hopkins and Watkins, and it will be up to LSU's front seven to contain Ellington and Boyd, when Boyd decides to take off.
That puts a ton of pressure on Minter, who will have plenty of opportunities for big plays—especially if defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery can keep the action inside.
Minter has stepped up in big games in the past, notching 20 tackles against Florida and 12 against Texas A&M. Expect big things from the junior in the Georgia Dome.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Northwestern RB Venric Mark
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Of all of the SEC bowl games that could result in an upset, it's the Gator Bowl.
Mississippi State has given up an average of 209.75 yards per game on the ground over the last four games, while Northwestern has averaged 248 yards per game on the ground over that same span.
Simply put, it's a bad matchup for the Bulldogs.
Running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter are both healthy and ready to go for the bowl game, which presents an interesting challenge for the Bulldogs.
This will be a shootout, which means Mark will have video game numbers. If the Wildcats spring the upset, he will be the MVP.
Outback Bowl: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
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South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told the Associated Press this week that he wants to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, after finishing sixth in the voting in 2012.
Lofty expectations, but certainly attainable for the rising junior defensive end of the Gamecocks.
That Heisman campaign starts on New Year's Day when Clowney's Gamecocks will face off against the dynamic Michigan offense in the Outback Bowl.
It will be up to Clowney to disrupt the two-headed Wolverine quarterback threat featuring Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, and with more than a month to watch the two signal-callers on film, Clowney will be prepared for the challenge.
If he wants to win the Heisman, he's going to have to have more than just eye-popping defensive statistics—he's going to have to score points. If he gets a scoop and score or a pick six against the Wolverines, consider it "game on" between Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Capital One Bowl: Georgia RB Todd Gurley
Georgia RB Todd Gurley
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The last time we saw Nebraska, the Cornhuskers were giving up 539 rushing yards in one game—a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Do you think that Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took notice?
Gurley wowed the SEC during his freshman campaign, rushing for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns, tops in the SEC among running backs. He is the leader of Georgia's two-headed rushing attack, which features fellow freshman Keith Marshall, who rushed for 723 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bulldogs' game plan heading into this matchup is simple—they're going to force Nebraska to stop the run. However, after what we saw against Wisconsin, it simply won't be able to.
Gurley will have a field day.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Florida RB Mike Gillislee
Florida RB Mike Gillislee
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Florida's offense won't be very complicated against Louisville. It will be Mike Gillislee left, Mike Gillislee right and Mike Gillislee up the middle.
It's overly simplistic, but it has worked 11 times this season. So why not send the senior out with a bang in his final game in orange and blue?
Louisville's rush defense ranks 53rd in the nation, having given up 151.08 yards per game on the ground. That won't scare Gillislee, who has topped the century mark against Florida State and LSU this season—two of the top rush defenses in the country.
He may get a challenge for MVP honors from someone on the defensive side of the ball, especially if safety Matt Elam goes off for a big day. However, we'll give a slight edge to Gillislee in the race for game MVP honors.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
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All eyes will be on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel when the Aggies square off against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4. Can he handle the pressure now that a Heisman Trophy is sitting on his shelf?
Against a defense like Oklahoma's, he should.
The Sooners are giving up 380 yards per game, and have struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks Collin Klein and Everett Golson in their two losses this season.
Manziel stole the headlines, but offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel were a big reason why Manziel was so successful. They should get MVP consideration, but quarterbacks always get the pub.
Fair or not, Manziel will be held to a different Heisman standard now that he's already taken home the award, and will be out to prove that 2012 was no fluke starting in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief
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If there has ever been a team that was happier to be in the BBVA Compass Bowl than the Ole Miss Rebels, I'm not sure who they were.
In Hugh Freeze's first season as the head coach of the Rebels, they managed to make a bowl game and shift the power in the state, following a 41-24 dismantling of Mississippi State to close the season.
Fans urged quarterback Bo Wallace to "Feed Moncrief" as the season came to a close, and he did to the tune of 234 yards and five touchdowns over the final two games of the season.
That won't change in the bowl game against Pittsburgh, even though the Panthers rank 25th in the country in pass defense. It's a matter of motivation, and Pittsburgh won't be motivated to play in this bowl game for the third straight season.
Discover BCS National Championship Game: Alabama RB Eddie Lacy
Alabama RB Eddie Lacy
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Eddie Lacy was an absolute beast in the SEC Championship Game, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama's 32-28 win over Georgia.
Quarterback AJ McCarron hit wide receiver Amari Cooper for the game-winning touchdown, but without Lacy's performance in the second half, the Crimson Tide wouldn't have been in that position.
Head coach Nick Saban put the ball in the hands of McCarron in last season's title game against LSU, but versus Notre Dame, I expect Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to line Notre Dame up and punch the Fighting Irish in the mouth repeatedly until they don't get up.
Lacy will be a big part of that game plan.
Expect a big day for the junior running back in what will likely be his final game with Alabama before jumping to the NFL.