The holiday season is upon us, and that means it's also bowl season. Unlike many others that cover college football, I honestly really enjoy all the bowl games (except the ones with 5-7 teams). While the playoff is all that ultimately matters, the bowls provide a stage for teams to finish the season off on a good note. For some teams, a mid-major bowl means a successful season; for others, it's a sign of disappointment of not going farther. Either way, the games are always fun to watch.
The SEC got a bad rap last bowl season as the conference struggled in the postseason particularly in the SEC West. The ten teams from the SEC will seek to change that this time around. Let's take a closer look at all the bowl games (outside of Alabama's playoff matchup) in the Southeastern Conference.
Texas Bowl: #20 LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)-Dec. 29th at 9PM
Players to Watch: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU; QB Patrick Mahomes, TTU
Preview: Well, apparently Les Miles will still be the coach at LSU. I don't think AD Joe Aleva and the people at LSU could've handled the situation worse. That's another story for another day. Anyway, the Tigers will take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Houston and look to get another win in 2015. The Red Raiders will hope to keep LSU from achieving that dream. Texas Tech is 7-5 but has wins over Arkansas, Texas, and a narrow loss to then #3 TCU. The Red Raiders have a high-powered offense led by QB Patrick Mahomes, but their defense is absolutely horrible. Fournette and LSU should exploit that.
Prediction: LSU 35-Texas Tech 32
Birmingham Bowl: Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)-Dec. 30 at 12PM
Players to Watch: DE Carl Lawson, AU; QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Preview: The 2015 season has been a forgettable one for the Auburn Tigers. Auburn better not let this game get away from them for Gus Malzahn's sake. Their opponent, Memphis, has had a very successful season led by QB Paxton Lynch. They can put an exclamation on their season with another win over an SEC team (beat Ole Miss earlier) in Auburn. I think Lynch and his Tigers can exploit an Auburn defense that has struggled much of the year. It should be close either way.
Prediction: Memphis 31-Auburn 28
Belk Bowl: NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)-Dec. 30th at 3:30PM
Players to Watch: QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State; QB Dak Prescott, MSU
Preview: Let's just say it how it is. Dak Prescott is a dang good quarterback. He's done wonders for MSU and will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play in Starkville, Mississippi. The quarterback on the other side of the field is not shabby either. Jacoby Brissett has done fairly well at the reigns of NC State.
This should be a good game as both teams will look to avenge their last game losses to in-state rivals. Both defenses are weak, and both teams know how to score, so I think this should be really entertaining. I think ultimately Dak Prescott and the receiving duo of Fred Ross and De'Runnya Wilson of State will be too much to handle for the Wolfpack.
Prediction: Mississippi State 41-NC State 37
Music City Bowl: Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Louisville (7-5)-Dec. 30 at 7PM
Players to Watch: QB Kyler Murray, Texas A&M; QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Preview: Texas A&M's 2015 campaign has been a disappointing one. The offense has struggled to find consistency this year despite that side of the ball supposedly being the Aggies strong suit. Also having two 5-star QBs in Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray leaving Kevin Sumlin's program is not a good look. It looks like Jake Hubenak will be the new starter for the Aggies. There are a lot of distractions for the Aggies on the future of their coaching staff.
Louisville has had a disappointing season of their own, but also have another young starting quarterback in Lamar Jackson, who is not only his team's leading passer but also the Cardinals' leading rusher. Combine Jackson's presence with the Cardinals boasting the 13th ranked defense in the country and that should indicate Louisville should win this game.
Prediction: Louisville 28-Texas A&M 14
Outback Bowl: #13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. #23 Tennessee (8-4)-Jan. 1 at 12PM
Players to Watch: RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern; QB Josh Dobbs, UT
Preview: Tennessee was probably the best team in the SEC East this year. However, their overall record didn't show they were championship worthy. They gave up several big leads early in the season. However disappointing the losses were, the Vols were in every game they lost, lost by five points to #2 Alabama, and were up 17-0 on #4 Oklahoma before squandering that lead and losing in Week 2. There is talent galore in Knoxville and the future looks very bright. They should be a favorite to win their division next year.
Anyway, Northwestern didn't have a bad season either led by a stingy defense that currently ranks 11th in the country. Getting ten wins at Northwestern is something to be proud of, and the Wildcats would love to cap off their successful season with a bowl win. I think dual-threat quarterback Josh Dobbs and a talented but sometimes inconsistent offense should ultimately be the difference.
Prediction: Tennessee 27-Northwestern 24
Citrus Bowl:#14 Michigan (9-3) vs. #10 Florida (10-3)-Jan. 1 at 1PM
Players to Watch: QB Jake Rudock, Michigan; DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida
Preview: Orlando, Florida, will play host to a bowl matchup between the two top coaches of the year in college football. Jim Harbaugh of Michigan and Jim McElwaine of Florida have both done outstanding jobs at the helm of their respective programs and have transformed them into championship contenders. The Florida defense is simply stellar on every level with stars in every position. They probably have the best secondary in the nation.
The problem is that the Gators' under QB Treon Harris have a significant problem scoring points. Both teams like running the football, but the main tipping point in this matchup is that the Wolverines have a solid quarterback in Jake Rudock. I like the Wolverines to win this one, but Florida's staunch defense makes it interesting.
Prediction: Michigan 24-Florida 20
Sugar Bowl: #16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. #12 Ole Miss (9-3)-Jan. 1 at 8:30PM
Players to Watch: QB Mason Rudolph, OSU; QB Chad Kelly, UM
Preview: Ole Miss stud DT Robert Nkemdiche was suspended from the bowl game due to his recent escapades and has declared for the NFL Draft. Ole Miss has had an up and down season, but Hugh Freeze's team, although inconsistent, finished as the second best team in the SEC and have the distinction of being the one team to beat Alabama. Oklahoma State started out 10-0 but lost their final two games of the year to Baylor and Oklahoma.
This is a big game for the heralded and star-studded 2013 recruiting class to actually win something. They got embarrassed by TCU in their last postseason matchup, and they should be motivated to finish this season the right way. They have talent all over the field with playmaking QB Chad Kelly, WR Laquon Treadwell, and TE Evan Ingram as well as a really good defense. Dual-threat QB Chad Kelly and that defense should be the difference in this game, and the Rebels should be motivated. OSU knows how to score points though.
Prediction: Ole Miss 42-Oklahoma State 38
Taxslayer Bowl: Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)-Jan. 2 at 12PM
Players to Watch: DE Carl Nassib, PSU; RB Sony Michel, UGA
Preview: It's been a disappointing season for both teams. Georgia is dealing with coaches dropping like flies and uncertainty. Motivation will be a question for both teams, but I think each squad will be ready to play. This is an intriguing matchup as the teams are so similar. PSU and UGA have thousand yard plus running backs in Penn State's Saquon Barkley and UGA's Sony Michel. The Nittany Lions have the edge at quarterback with Christian Hackenberg under center. Both teams have struggled generating explosive plays. The Nittany Lions and the Bulldogs have top defenses (PSU with #14 and Georgia with #8).
Watch out for Penn State DE Carl Nassib, who leads the nation in sacks with 15.5. He needs to put pressure on UGA QB Greyson Lambert, who has not been dynamic to say the least and has struggled moving the Bulldogs down the field. I think Georgia gets this one as they have the talent to beat the Nittany Lions. They should be focused on this game as the seniors want to go out with a victory, and it will be a platform to try and impress new head coach Kirby Smart from afar. The Nittany Lions' defense is good, but they've not been great against the run. This could prove to be a big factor as this plays right into UGA's hands.
Prediction: Georgia 24-Penn State 17
Liberty Bowl: Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)-Jan. 2 at 3:20PM
Players to Watch: QB Joe Hubener, KSU; QB Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Preview: Arkansas finished as one of the most dangerous teams in the Southeastern Conference. If only they learned to not start badly, they could really contend in the SEC. Anyway, the Razorbacks have this game won. For one thing, Brandon Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and has a slew of weapons to throw the ball to in TE Hunter Henry, WR Drew Morgan, WR Dominique Reed, etc. Combine that with Arkansas having a strong running attack led by Alex Collins, and you got a really good offensive unit. Kansas State has one of the worst defenses in the country and won't be able to handle the Razorbacks.
Prediction: Arkansas 45-Kansas State 31
*all times are ET
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