4 Bowl Games Every SEC Fan Must Watch
Ten teams from the SEC have accepted invitations to bowl games, the league's most since 2010. Riding a wave of seven consecutive national championships and unprecedented authority over the college football landscape, the SEC's reputation has been built via the postseason.
This doesn't only involve national titles, either.
Year after year, the SEC's performance in bowls is either best, or among the best, the nation has to offer. The bowl scenarios for the conference in 2013 provide great opportunities to continue that tradition.
Facing high-level teams from other conferences, there are no duds in the SEC bowl lineup. All of the games will be worth watching, as teams hope to build momentum for recruiting into the offseason. Four of them, however, will be of the can't-miss variety for SEC fans.
Here's a preview of those four.
4. Capitol One Bowl
The Teams: No. 9 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten)
Date/Time: Jan. 1, 2014 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Line: Wisconsin (-1)
An unexpected 23-21 loss in Knoxville to Tennessee held the Gamecocks back from the SEC Championship game and a possible BCS bowl. Despite that, USC has won at least 10 games for the third straight season and takes on a Wisconsin team with a new coach.
That coaching change adds a bit of flavor to the game. The Badgers' long-time head coach Bret Bielema, after disparaging the SEC, jumped ship and took the job at Arkansas a year ago. Fast forward to the present and Arkansas has lost nine-straight games while the Badgers are in yet another high-profile bowl game.
Narratives aside, this should be a great game. Unlike most of the rest of the SEC this season, South Carolina prides itself on its defense, and Wisconsin is just as stout. Both teams rank in the nation's top 15 in scoring defense and have 1,000-plus-yard rushers on offense. These teams bring similar approaches with similar statistics, though the strength of schedule edge goes to Carolina.
Look for a low-scoring affair that puts pressure on the quarterbacks and the defensive lines.
3. Sugar Bowl
The Teams: No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12)
Date/Time: Jan. 2, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: New Orleans, La.
Line: Alabama (-15)
Some bowl games are must-see because of how competitive they are expected to be. Others have great stories behind them, drawing a huge audience. Others will only be good television if you're a fan of the winning team or its conference.
This could be one of the latter.
In what is the largest spread of any Sugar Bowl since at least 1995, this one might get ugly. The Tide are a single miraculous missed field goal return for a touchdown away from playing for a national title while the Sooners, though highly ranked, come into this one with losses to Texas and Oklahoma State and near losses to West Virginia, TCU and Texas Tech. Alabama's average margin of victory, including the Auburn loss, is 27.4 points.
This game ranks highly on the list not for competitiveness but for the excitement of SEC fans watching one of its teams smash another from a BCS conference. Not entirely watchable for those of you who aren't fans of the league, but entertaining if you are.
2. Cotton Bowl
The Teams: No. 8 Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12)
Date/Time: Jan. 3, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Arlington, Texas
Line: Missouri (-1)
Only a year removed from missing a bowl, the Tigers of Missouri were just one loss away from replacing Auburn in its quest for a national title. Instead, the Cotton Bowl should be an offensive frenzy good for some very entertaining couch play-calling.
Together these teams are averaging 39 points per game and have scored 119 touchdowns. Both starting quarterbacks have passed for at least 1,700 yards and rushed for at least 300 despite injuries. They rank 14th (OSU) and 15th (UM) in scoring offense and have not scored less than 21 points in any game this season.
Fielding offenses of this caliber, and with intangibles arguably a draw, this game will come down to which defense can best protect against the pass.
1. BCS National Championship
The Teams: No. 2 Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 1 Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC)
Date/Time: Jan. 6, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Pasadena, Calif.
Line: Florida State (-8.5)
Which other? Thanks to an Ohio State loss in the Big Ten championship game, one-loss Auburn will face a dominant and undefeated Florida State team a year after winning just three games.
The storylines here are impressive. Gus Malzahn, in his first year at the helm of a BCS program, takes a downtrodden team that went winless in the conference in 2012 to a conference championship and national title game appearance a year later. The Southeastern Conference is playing for its unprecedented eighth consecutive national championship. Florida State ranks 14th nationally in passing offense; Auburn ranks tops nationally in rushing offense.
Again, we're looking at a whole lot of offense. The sizeable spread comes from Auburn's close calls against Georgia, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State while Florida State is winning by an average margin of 46.7 points.
The Seminoles' strength of schedule, though, is weak. The massive blowouts have come against just two ranked teams and an ACC that is well behind the power four conferences in football prowess. Auburn, in comparison, has defeated four ranked opponents, including two Top 10 teams, and won the prestigious SEC championship.
Just how well Auburn's defense can withstand FSU's air attack and how many holes its running backs will find in the Seminole defensive front stands to be seen. With these kinds of narratives and this offensive production on the field, though, this game promises to be epic.
See the rest of my commentary on Twitter @SEC_Nerd.