The SEC was once again the premier college football conference in the nation ending the 2019 regular season with five teams ranked in the top 13 including LSU, the No. 1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff.
Showing up in the postseason is a regular occurrence for SEC teams, but as a group there was a slip in 2018 as the conference's representatives finished 6-6. This year, there are nine squads going out to represent the conference, highlighted by two in the New Year's Six as well as the aforementioned Tigers fighting for the national title.
During the regular season, the SEC more than held its own against the rest of FBS, going 9-7 against fellow Power 5 teams. From that group of games, only one ranked team from the conference (Texas A&M) lost and that was to then-No. 1 Clemson. Tennessee (to BYU) and Mississippi State (Kansas State) are the only other bowl-bound SEC teams that lost to Power 5 foes. Among the feather-in-the-cap out-of-conference wins, Auburn took down (at the time) No. 11 Oregon, LSU defeated No. 9 Texas, and Georgia beat down No. 7 Notre Dame.
The SEC's bowl lineup this year features three teams each from the ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten. As other conferences complain about the SEC's non-conference scheduling, it should be pointed out that the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 each have at least one bowl matchup against a Group of 5 or FBS Independent program.
So with the SEC's bowl slate set, including matchups with six ranked names, which games should be at the top of the list to watch this postseason?
1. Peach Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal – LSU (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
Dec. 2 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Since missing out on the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the inaugural edition (2014-15), the SEC has been a mainstay with Alabama making each of the last four and Georgia losing to the Crimson Tide two years ago. The hopes of the SEC fan base for a fifth consecutive title game appearance rest squarely on the capable shoulders of LSU. This meeting between the Tigers and Sooners should be a highlight reel kind of game with a lot of offense. Both teams finished the regular season one-two in total offense among all FBS squads with LSU nudging out the Big 12 champs by two-tenths of a yard (554.4 to 554.2). This game also features two of the top quarterbacks in the nation, Heisman Trophy Award winner Joe Burrow and fellow finalist Jalen Hurts.
2. Citrus Bowl – Alabama (10-2) vs. Michigan (9-3)
Jan. 1 – 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Rankings aside, seeing these two blue bloods square off is a treat for college football fans across the nation. As storied as these two programs are, they have only met on the field four times, splitting the series 2-2 with the last collision occurring in 2012 during the regular season. This is a strength vs. strength pairing seeing Alabama's offense (No. 7 in FBS) vs. Michigan's defense (No. 6). It may not produce any big hits or circus catches, but this is one for the ages on the sidelines as well with Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh matching wits.
3. Sugar Bowl – Georgia (11-2) vs. Baylor (11-2)
Jan. 1 – 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last season, after losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game by a touchdown, Georgia was denied a shot at returning to the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs followed that up with a lackluster showing in the Sugar Bowl against Texas, losing 28-21. You better believe that head coach Kirby Smart wants to avoid a repeat this time. Baylor has been better on offense, statistically speaking, while Georgia's defense is ranked fourth out of 130 FBS teams. Points may be hard to come by in this slugfest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
4. Outback Bowl – Auburn (9-3) vs. Minnesota (10-2)
Jan. 1 – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Outback Bowl is another treat for the diehard football fans with two innovative head coaches trading barbs. In P.J. Fleck's third season with Minnesota, he put the Gophers back on the college football map after flirting with a Big Ten West Division title. Minnesota avoided Ohio State during its conference slate, but there will be no chance to avoid Auburn's talented defense that boasts several future NFL draft picks. The Gophers had trouble against big teams that can play defense, dropping games to Iowa and Wisconsin. Can they shock the nation with a win against the Tigers in Tampa?
5. Texas Bowl – Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (8-4)
Dec. 27 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Texas Bowl is another game pitting two offensive geniuses against one another. The slogan for this one should be "let the pigskin fly." The Cowboys have one of the best offenses in the nation, accumulating 464 yards per game. A&M has one of the more underappreciated defenses in the land and a young offense that can lay it on teams not ranked in the top 10. Seeing Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond and Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard compete in NRG Stadium in Houston is another reason to gather around the TV for this one.
6. Orange Bowl –Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
Dec. 30 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
All season quarterback Bryce Perkins has been the primary playmaker for the Cavaliers, leading the ACC in total offense and his team in rushing as well. How will he hold up against the nation's 10th-ranked defense? Perkins was the only offense against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, throwing for 266 yards with two touchdown and two picks while rushing for a team-high 58 yards. And Virginia still got routed, 62-17. The Gators’ offense is not flashy but averages 33 points per game and the defense has limited the opposition to just 14. Can Perkins turn in a career day for the upset win?
7. Belk Bowl – Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
Dec. 31 – 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
This one may not have the fanfare of some of the other matchups, but could end up being one of the more entertaining bowl games on the slate with two lunch pail teams banging heads. It took Virginia Tech seven games into the season to get going, but a six-overtime win against North Carolina brought the team together. Kentucky tried to find its footing on offense early in the season, suffering through a three-game slide in the process. The revelation came when Lynn Bowden Jr. moved from wide receiver to quarterback, which changed the Wildcats’ fortunes. Bowden has the distinction of being the only FBS player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards.
8. Music City Bowl – Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Louisville (7-5)
Dec. 30 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Although both teams are unranked, this is an interesting pairing. Both squads have young teams with newer head coaches seeking to establish a culture at their respective program. Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and Louisville's Scott Satterfield are both offensive-minded coaches, which should lead to some fireworks at Nissan Stadium in Nashville for those watching at home. The Cardinals from the ACC have the better numbers on offense while the Bulldogs have the edge on defense. If both teams show up, this could be a high-scoring affair.
9. Gator Bowl – Tennessee (7-5) vs. Indiana (8-4)
Jan. 2 – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
From 5-7 a year ago to 8-4 this season, Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen is quietly building something in basketball country. On the other sidelines, the same can be said about Jeremy Pruitt. After a 2-5 start to the 2019 season, and when everyone had given up on the Volunteers, they went on a five-game winning streak that included four conference wins, two of them coming on the road. Both teams align evenly in the stat column with good offenses and defenses good enough to win games. Both programs want to make a statement, so expect both to show up for this one.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.