The 2011 SEC football regular season has come and gone and the bowl invites have been made and accepted.
With nine Southeastern Conference teams going bowling, and two conference teams playing in the national championship game, it is sure to be an exciting few weeks of postseason football for SEC fans.
The matchups have just been announced on ESPN and we will take a first-look at each SEC bowl game and analyze the matchups.
Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati
Date: December 31, 2011
Location: Memphis, TN
This Big East versus SEC matchup was put together through a loophole that allows the Liberty Bowl to grab a Big East team, instead of its traditional Conference USA pick.
Both of these teams have had solid seasons and are probably better than most people give them credit for.
Cincinnati has just three losses all season, all on the road, to Tennessee, West Virginia and Rutgers. The Bearcats also have wins against N.C. State, Pittsburg, Louisville and Connecticut. They run the ball well, with star running back Isaiah Pead leading the way, and rank sixth in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 93 rushing yards per game.
Vanderbilt had blowout wins over Ole Miss, Army and Kentucky. However, their most impressive work may have been in their losses. The Commodores lost to highly ranked Arkansas and Georgia by three and five points respectively, were edged by Florida by just five points and lost in double overtime against in-state rival Tennessee.
Look for this to be one of the closest battles of the bowl season. Cincinnati will gain plenty of yards and could win this game if they hang on to the ball. However, Vanderbilt is 20th in the nation in creating turnovers and will attempt to take the ball, and the game, away from the Bearcats.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Vanderbilt 21, Cincinnati 20
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest
Date: December 30, 2011
Location: Nashville, TN
This is the least attractive SEC bowl game this season.
Mississippi State was the biggest disappointment of the Southeastern Conference season, winning just two conference games on the year after being ranked 16th in the nation one week into the schedule.
Wake Forest started the season hot, winning four of their first five games, including a win over Top 25 ranked Florida State. However, since then things haven't been so great; the Demon Deacons went on to lose four of their last five, including a bad 41-7 loss to Vanderbilt to end the season.
The Bulldogs will pound the ball at Wake Forest with big running back Vick Ballard (1,009 rushing yards in 2011), challenging a Wake run defense that ranks just 70th in the country in stopping the run, giving up 162 rush yards per contest.
Look for low TV ratings and a lopsided win for the SEC in this one.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Wake Forest 10
Florida vs. Ohio State
Date: January 2, 2012
Location: Jacksonville, FL
Now this should be interesting, as former Florida head man Urban Meyer is now with Ohio State.
Many Gator fans and players have been upset with Meyer for coming back to coaching so quickly after resigning from the Gator position with health concerns. Be prepared to hear this storyline early and often in the coverage of this matchup.
Florida battled through sloppy play, a tough schedule and injuries to struggle to a 6-6 record on the season. They have just one win over a winning team, and that was against six-win Vanderbilt.
On the flip side, Ohio State, in the throws of NCAA troubles and a resulting coaching change, have been up and down through a tough season.
The Buckeyes looked inept in loses to Miami and Purdue, but played sharp and impressive in wins over Top 25 ranked Illinois and Wisconsin.
Florida is playing strong defense, allowing less than 300 yards per game this season. Even though it was a losing effort, the Gator defenders held Florida State to just 95 yards in the entire game.
A young and sporadic Buckeye offense may find it tough sledding against the SEC defense, especially since they rank 107th in the nation in total offense.
If Florida, and healing quarterback John Brantley, can generate any offense, the Gators should be victorious.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Florida 17, Ohio State 13
Auburn vs. Virginia
Date: December 31, 2011
Location: Atlanta, GA
This matchup was the biggest surprise of the day, as many expected Virginia Tech to be the ACC selection. However, the Hokies were picked for the Sugar Bowl as a BCS selection, allowing Virginia to slide into this bowl slot.
New Virginia coach Mike London has Virginia on the upswing, after winning eight games this season, including wins over Top 25 ranked Georgia Tech and Florida State.
There have been some poor games for Virginia though, with an ugly overtime win over lowly Idaho and a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech last weekend.
Auburn lost tons of talent from last season's national championship squad and has battled through a rebuilding year against a tough schedule to get to seven wins.
The Tigers had a huge victory over now Top 10 ranked South Carolina on the road, but were beaten badly by elite teams like LSU and Alabama.
Both teams are building for the future and both have had big ups and big downs this season.
Look for both teams to run the football, with Auburn winning that battle behind the talents of star running back Michael Dyer.
The Cavaliers will put up a strong fight and this game will be close throughout, but the brutal SEC schedule will have Auburn prepared to edge out Virginia.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Auburn 28, Virginia 27
Georgia vs. Michigan State
Date: January 2nd, 2012
Location: Tampa, FL
This could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season.
Both teams had strong seasons where they each battled through adversity and earned a spot in their respected conference title games.
They both then lost their title game.
The Spartans have solid wins this year over Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. The disappointment came in a blowout loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame team, a 24-3 lopsided loss to Nebraska and the Big Ten title game loss to the Badgers.
Georgia had a bad start to the year with an 0-2 start, after losing to Boise State and South Carolina to start the season. They then reeled off ten straight wins heading into the SEC title game loss to LSU.
Georgia will use a balanced offense, that is averaging over 415 yards per game, and attacking defense to try and earn their 11th win of the season.
Michigan State has the fifth best defense, statistically, in the nation and will try and let talented quarterback Kirk Cousins spark the Spartan offense.
The team that can get over that disappointment and show up hungry to win will be the one that ends the season on a high note.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Michigan State 21, Georgia 20
Arkansas vs. Kansas State
Date: January 6th, 2012
Location: Dallas, TX
This could easily be two BCS bowl teams. The Sugar Bowl snubbed Kansas State and selected Virginia Tech, dropping the Wildcats to this bowl slot.
Arkansas would be a definite BCS selection, except for the rule that no more than two teams per conference can be selected and LSU and Alabama are already in.
The coaches in this game will have to do a strong job of motivation to keep these players from letting the disappointment of not making it to the BCS stage from causing them to end the season with a bowl loss.
Kansas State has big wins over Top 25 ranked Baylor and Texas this season and lost by just one score to highly touted Oklahoma State.
Arkansas touts big wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina and their only two losses were against the top two teams in the nation (LSU and Alabama).
Arkansas will sling the ball all over the field, with a passing attack that averages over 300 yards per contest. Star quarterback Tyler Wilson will connect with senior wideout Jarius Wright early and often.
Kansas State will counter with a tough and methodical approach on defense and execute in the running game on offense, averaging almost 200 rushing yards per game this season.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Arkansas 33, Kansas State 24
South Carolina vs. Nebraska
Date: January 2nd, 2012
Location: Orlando, FL
Both of the teams were listed in the preseason as dark-horses to win the national championship and failed to reach those lofty standards. However, both programs has solid years, but just weren't able to reach their conference title game.
It should be an interesting Big 10 versus SEC battle.
Nebraska has nice wins over Washington, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa, but lost badly to Wisconsin and Michigan and struggled in a loss to Northwestern.
South Carolina had a huge win over Georgia early in the season, but then stumbled in a loss to Auburn and in a lopsided defeat at the hands of Arkansas. The Gamecocks ended the season on a high note with a blowout win over rival, and ACC Champion, Clemson.
The Gamecocks will pound the ball on the ground with Brandon Wilds and then look to try and open up passing lanes for quarterback Connor Shaw to find stud receiver Alshon Jeffery. On defense they will attack the Cornhuskers with players like athletic Melvin Ingram flying into the backfield.
Nebraska is 13th in the nation in rushing offense, led by a star tailback Rex Burkhead and mobile quarterback Taylor Martinez, and will look to pound the ball at South Carolina.
The Nebraska passing defense is 17th in the nation and should give Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks fits all game long.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: Nebraska 24, South Carolina 21
LSU vs. Alabama
Date: January 9th, 2012
Location: New Orleans, LA
While there are some out there that do not like the rematch of the Tigers and Tide, or the fact that Alabama didn't win or play for the SEC title, these two teams are the best two teams in the nation and under the current BCS system are rightfully playing for the national championship.
LSU is undefeated and has impressive wins over Oregon, West Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama along the way.
Alabama has eleven wins, including a road win over Penn State and wins against Top 10 ranked Arkansas and on the road at then No. 12 Florida.
Alabama will most likely hand the ball off to star running back Trent Richardson more often than they did, especially late in the game, in the loss to LSU earlier in the season. They stay the course with a defense that leads the nation in yards and points allowed per game.
LSU will continue to use special teams and a havoc-creating defense, led by all-world defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, to give themselves advantages in big games.
It should be another close and classic matchup.
Off-the-Cuff Prediction: LSU 16, Alabama 14