Not all college football bowl games are created equal. Some bowls go down in history and some shape the future of a team. Others provide decent background noise for a late-December nap. Then there are those, let's face it, that shouldn't be played at all.
But when the SEC is involved, rest assured that the bowl games mean something. If nothing else, they allow SEC homers another year of bragging rights, or in last year's case, a bowl season of disappointment.
Athlon ranks the SEC bowl games from must-see to avoidable. From No. 1 to No. 10, here's a look at which games will be watchable this holiday season.
1. Cotton Bowl — Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1)
Dec. 31 - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
There are a lot of people out there who think this is a big-time mismatch for Michigan State. They think Sparty got a bad draw, having to play Alabama. But despite what Vegas thinks, it's tough to envision this one as a comfortable, 10-point Alabama win. This is the most physical matchup between two teams on the entire bowl slate, besides maybe Iowa and Stanford. These two teams will rely upon the ground game and stifling defense to wear each other out. It should be a lot of fun to watch, and it should be a low-scoring, four-quarter affair. The team with the most efficient quarterback will have an advantage, so Connor Cook's experience and health should be key factors here. Derrick Henry and Alabama's depth will probably prevail in the end, but don't be fooled. Sparty's tough.
2. Sugar Bowl — Ole Miss (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2)
Jan. 1 - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cotton Bowl certainly isn't the only SEC bowl game with major implications. The Sugar Bowl, which is usually regarded as the ultimate destination for an SEC team not playing for a national championship, involves a pair of teams that are fairly proficient on offense. Both the Cowboys and Rebels average more than 40 points per game. Take the over, regardless of the number. Ole Miss' defense is billed as "good," but has given up 21 points or more in six games this year. The Rebels gave up 38 to Florida, 37 to Memphis, and 53 to Arkansas. Oklahoma State is more than capable of putting up those kind of numbers. The problem for the Pokes, of course, is the same one with most Big 12 teams. Will they play any defense? It will be a blast for college football fans to watch this shootout in New Orleans.
3. Outback Bowl — Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4)
Jan. 1 - Noon ET, ESPN2
Tennessee fans are having a blast referring to Northwestern as "Purple Vandy." This is an "insult" directed at Northwestern's prestigious standard of higher education in comparison to its lesser ability to play football. If I was a Northwestern fan, I wouldn't take it too rough. But what does make sense in the comparison, is like Vanderbilt and Missouri (two teams Tennessee handled in November), Northwestern plays good defense but has had little production on offense. That's why this appears to be such a good matchup for the Vols. Northwestern's defense, despite giving up only 16 points per game, is probably going to have its hands full with Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. If the Wildcats can't score, it could get ugly. However, Northwestern shouldn't be taken lightly. The 'Cats have beaten Stanford, Duke, Penn Stat and Wisconsin. And both teams have won five straight. Something's gotta give.
4. TaxSlayer Bowl — Georgia (9-3) vs. Penn State (7-5)
Jan. 2 - Noon ET, ESPN
Well, Georgia fans got what they wanted. Mark Richt was canned and Kirby Smart has taken the reigns in Athens. Yet, with a win over Penn State, Georgia can get to double-digit wins for the fourth time in the last five years. This still puzzles me. Anyway, the 'Dawgs are rightfully the favorite headed into this one. Vegas gives them a 6.5-point edge over the Nittany Lions. Two things make this game interesting. The first is the coaching turnover, as Penn State fired its offensive coordinator, John Donovan, as well. So both teams will have a new look offensively. But the best thing about this matchup is that it will be James Franklin's first game against an SEC team since leaving Vanderbilt for Happy Valley. Franklin's Commodores beat Georgia in his final season in Nashville in 2013, 31-27. Look for a 17-14 kind of dogfight in Jacksonville.
5. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl — Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3)
Jan. 1 - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Honestly, the only reason this game is even at No. 5 is because of the brands. It involves Michigan and Florida, so it's worth seeing to an adequate number of people. But again, in one guy's honest opinion, I'm not sure the game is going to be that exciting. Florida has proven down the stretch that it really isn't very good. The Gators looked like College Football Playoff contenders up until November. After punishing Georgia, Florida beat Vanderbilt 9-7, beat South Carolina 24-14, and went to overtime with FAU. To close out the season, the Gators lost decisively to Florida State (scoring only two points) and Alabama. Sure, Michigan didn't look great down the stretch either, but the Wolverines didn't go to overtime with a Conference USA member. They have a better coach and will get it done in Orlando.
6. Texas Bowl — Texas Tech (7-5) vs. LSU (8-3)
Dec. 29 - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
We were all fooled, thinking Les Miles would roam the sidelines for one final time against Texas A&M. But as mysterious as that whole week was, it turned out that the "Mad Hatter" had a little magic left. Now, his team can get to nine wins with a victory over the Red Raiders. If not for a canceled season opener against McNeese State, it could potentially be another 10-win season for the Bayou Bengals. The best thing about this game is the personalities of head coaches Miles and Kliff Kingsbury. Even though the Red Raiders are 7-5, they can score with about any team in the country. It's evident in their games against TCU and Oklahoma State. Texas Tech is putting up a whopping 46.6 points per game. Leonard Fournette looks poised to have a field day against the Red Raiders' defense, but don't forget, one SEC coach already got his tail kicked by Kingsbury this year.
7. Belk Bowl — NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Dec. 30 - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Wolfpack have a quarterback in Jacoby Brissett who is no stranger to the SEC. Having once been in competition for the starting job at Florida, Brissett now finds himself leading the way at NC State. He has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards this season and will have plenty to prove against the Bulldogs, coached by another former Gator, Dan Mullen. Mississippi State's quarterback efficiency is no question. Dak Prescott is going to go down as one of the SEC's all-time greats when all is said and done. He hasn't had the same recognition as Tim Tebow or Cam Newton, but it's tough to argue his importance on the field for State. He has playmakers around him at wide receiver and that should be enough to get the Bulldogs to nine wins on the year.
8. Music City Bowl — Louisville (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
Dec. 30 - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Again, offense is clearly the theme. Two of the best minds in the game, Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino, will go head-to-head, matching wits for four quarters. The problem for both is that it hasn't exactly been a dominant year on that side of the ball for either team. Both the Aggies and Cardinals are averaging just over 28 points per game. That's not great. Adding to that dilemma, both teams are giving up tons of yardage. This explains the mediocre records. There's also the matter of Texas A&M's quarterback situation with Kyle Allen already announcing he is transferring and Kyler Murray reportedly intending to depart the program as well. Louisville's defense figures to have the advantage given how far down the depth chart the Aggies have to go to find their starting signal-caller.
9. Liberty Bowl — Arkansas (7-5) vs. Kansas State (6-6)
Jan. 2 - 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
This game is a story of ups and downs. Kansas State won its first three games of the year, then dropped six in a row, then closed it out with three wins. Talk about up and down. The thing is, Kansas State has done a really good job of taking advantage of the schedule. The Wildcats' wins have come against South Dakota, UTSA, Louisiana Tech, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia. Their best win is against West Virginia. Arkansas, on the other hand, began the year with losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, but then picked up road wins against Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU. Neither team knows the definition of consistency, but there is a glaring talent disparity in this game. The Hogs should cruise in Memphis.
10. Birmingham Bowl — Memphis (9-3) vs. Auburn (6-6)
Dec. 30 - Noon ET, ESPN
Although this could be an intriguing matchup, the theme is disappointment, so we'll leave it at No. 10. Plus, the Birmingham Bowl isn't exactly the most attractive bowl destination if you're an SEC team. This year just hasn't gone Auburn's way. Maybe it's payback for 2013. The Tigers were picked to win the SEC and ended up last in the West. Memphis, a team that looked like a dark horse Playoff contender after beating Ole Miss, racked up three straight losses in November to Navy, Houston and Temple. It will be fun to watch Paxton Lynch dissect the Auburn defense in this one. He will probably be the difference in the game as Memphis pulls away in the fourth quarter.