The southern monster conference (aka SEC) really has nothing to complain about here. Two of their teams made it to college football’s version of the Final Four and nine teams made it to the postseason in all.
It was tough to pick which game got the nod as the No. 1 must-see bowl game, since both have national championship ramifications, obviously. Even beyond the College Football Playoff there are some compelling matchups to set your alarms to make sure you tune in. The old saying is “opposites attract” right? Well there are plenty of those games with explosive offenses vs. lock-down defenses on tap this bowl season.
Grab a fork and dig in. It’s going to be a tasty postseason for the SEC.
Note: All times are ET.
1. Sugar Bowl — Alabama (11-1) vs. Clemson (12-1)
Jan. 1 — 8:45 p.m., ESPN
For the third year in a row we get these two behemoth programs going toe-to-toe in the College Football Playoff. But this time, it’s not for the national title, merely a semifinal game. Still, with the decibel levels in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome just edging the talent levels on the field, this should be one incredible atmosphere.
That QB matchup of Jalen Hurts vs. Kelly Bryant is going to be one tasty morsel in itself. If you recall, last year it was Hurts in the role of freshman hot-shot of the No. 1 team who had to prove his worth in this matchup. This time, the pressure falls on the Tigers’ side as first-year starter Kelly Bryant has handled the pressure of following in the enormous footsteps of Deshaun Watson with aplomb.
2. Rose Bowl — Georgia (12-1) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
Jan. 1 — 5 p.m., ESPN
The Baker Mayfield Show comes to Tinseltown. You better believe Roquan Smith and Co. can’t wait to crash that party. The Sooners scored 38 and 41 vs. TCU, the 17th-ranked defense in the country. But now they’ll face the No. 6-ranked defense in the country in the Junkyard Dogs. That will be a huge hill for the Boomer Sooners to climb.
Likewise, OU’s defense could be in for a long day, coming in giving up 25 points per game. The sixth-ranked Bulldog running game, featuring Nick Chubb (1,175 yards) and Sony Michel (948), is going to be tough to hold back. If they can – and that’s a pretty big if – and they force freshman QB Jake Fromm to beat them, the Sooners have a chance here.
3. Peach Bowl — UCF (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3)
Jan. 1 — 12:30 p.m., ESPN
This is a perfect example of the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. The Knights have a high-octane offense that averages 540 yards per game behind the mastery work of quarterback McKenzie Milton. They’ll be facing a defense that is ranked 10th nationally, giving up just 17 points per game.
Since the 27-23 loss to LSU, the Auburn offense started clicking, averaging 40.2 points over a five-game winning streak. Then came the SEC title game where Georgia put the clamps on the Tigers, particularly in the second half where they managed just 123 yards. The Knights’ defense isn’t going to put a scare in anyone, but they’ve got to make the Tigers one-dimensional if they’re going to complete their perfect season.
4. Citrus Bowl — Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3)
Jan. 1 — 1 p.m., ABC
A rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl where the Irish stunned LSU 31-28, this one should go much differently. The Tigers come in having played much better in the last half of their season including dominating wins over Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M to close things out. And the Irish are just the opposite, limping into the postseason with blowout losses to Miami and Stanford among their last three games.
Both teams feature a marquee running back as Derrius Guice (1,153 yards, 11 TDs) and Josh Adams (1,386, 9) look to establish dominance on the ground for their offenses. The quarterbacking can be shaky at times on both sides, so whichever running game gets cranking will win this game. The way the momentum of the season has been, look for the Tigers to roar.
5. Outback Bowl — Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
Jan. 1 — 12 p.m., ESPN2
This Yellers and Screamers Bowl between Jim Harbaugh and Will Muschamp should be interesting. The last time these two teams faced off, Jadaveon Clowney was popping the helmet of Vincent Smith into orbit and recovering the fumble, leading to the Gamecock comeback. You have to wonder about the psyche of each team as they both come in limping down the stretch of the regular season. Michigan lost to both Wisconsin and Ohio State and South Carolina dropped two of its last four games. Whichever team is “angrier” gets the edge here. Neither offense is very proficient but you have to give the edge to the Wolverines, who have the third-ranked defense in the country.
6. TaxSlayer Bowl — Louisville (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Dec. 30 — 12 p.m., ESPN
This one would normally be shaping up to be one of the better quarterback battles in all the bowl games. But a season-ending injury to MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald means that the Bulldogs will be a little hamstrung going up against 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and company. But Mr. Jackson and his cohorts average 560 yards per game while MSU’s defense is behind only Alabama and Georgia in the SEC, giving up just 302 yards per game. So we’ve got another matchup of opposites here and it should be outstanding.
7. Music City Bowl — Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Dec. 29 — 4:30 p.m., ESPN
It’s going to be Wildcat-on-Wildcat crime in Nashville. But these two are going in opposite directions with Kentucky coming in having lost four of its last six and Northwestern having won seven straight. The Purple Cats’ offense has been on fire, plastering Minnesota 39-0 and Illinois 42-7, helping them finish second in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin. The Blue Wildcats’ defense is just the 12th-best in the SEC and will have a tough time containing quarterback Clayton Thorson (2,809 yards, 61 percent completion rate) and running back Justin Jackson (1,154 yards).
8. Belk Bowl — Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Dec. 29 — 1 p.m., ESPN
What a strange and winding road we have had here for Texas A&M. Wake won its bowl game a year ago with the 118th-ranked offense. This year, the Demon Deacons are ranked at No. 29, which should bode well for them and dual-threat QB John Wolford. Meanwhile, on the other sideline, head coach Kevin Sumlin was loaded up on a flatbed truck and shipped out of town. Now, a special teams coach, Jeff Banks, will lead the team on an interim basis. Who knows where the Aggies’ mindset will be? That in itself should be reason enough to check in on this one.
9. Texas Bowl — Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)
Dec. 27 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Oh sure, it’s not really fair that Texas gets to play in a bowl game that sports its name, but the Mizzou Tigers will still take on the challenge anyway. The Tigers are going to just their third bowl game in the last six years and the Longhorns will be bowling for the first time in three years. UT is one of 16 sad sack programs that got into the postseason despite winning just six games. Guess the ‘Horns can thank their lucky stars for San Jose State and Kansas being on the schedule. The Drew Lock-to-J’Mon Moore connection should be fun to watch, especially against Texas’ porous pass defense (ranked No. 107 in the FBS).
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.