It is the most wonderful time of the year! It’s time for the College Football bowl season! There are 40 bowl games (plus the National Championship game) to look forward to. In this series, I will be looking at all 80 teams who qualified for the postseason and breaking down their matchups. Each installment will focus on teams from a respective conference. This year, two teams will be making their bowl debut, one bowl-eligible team was left home, and there are 14 instances where the teams are facing for the first time in history! Let’s take a look at the 2019 SEC Bowls.
2019 SEC Bowls Preview
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
Texas A&M vs Oklahoma State
The first game on the 2019 SEC bowls docket is the Texas Bowl between Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. A&M is 7-5 thus far and 4-4 in the SEC. All year, the Aggies have been put on a pedestal as every team’s best win. They could still be considered Clemson’s best win. The issue is that they went 0-5 against ranked foes and 1-5 against bowl-eligible teams.
Junior quarterback Kellen Mond will look to improve on the Aggies’ 17-10 all-time record against OSU. This year, Mond accounted for 2,802 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. Even if he took a step back statistically, the dual-threat athlete added 384 yards on the ground and seven scores. He is the leader of this program, but it would not be a surprise if he decided to forgo his senior year and enter the draft. Even if he leaves or sits out this game, A&M can take solace in true freshman running back Isaiah Spiller. Spiller was a formidable force considering he totaled 869 yards and nine touchdowns. This bowl game will be his opportunity to show out against a team that isn’t FCS Lamar or UT-San Antonio.
The A&M defense will need to figure something out if they want to stop a good Cowboy defense. In their seven matchups against unranked opponents, the Aggies allowed 14.8 points per game. They allowed the five ranked teams to gouge them to the tune of 33.6 points per game. This Oklahoma State offense that they are facing can move the ball and score. In all honesty, I expect the Cowboys to take this contest. Chuba Hubbard is the real deal and will test A&M’s 129 rushing yards allowed per game.
Amazingly, the second matchup in the 2019 SEC bowls schedule is the CFP semifinal at the Peach Bowl between number one LSU and number four Oklahoma. The 13-0 Tigers ran through their schedule and made most games look easy. They did sweat in a few matchups, but the prevailed and passed every test. All in all, this team is really good. Do they have a legitimate weakness?
Even if you were living under a rock, you would know that senior quarterback Joe Burrow was the top signal-caller in the nation. Burrow threw for 4,715 yards and a ridiculous 48 touchdowns. He completes 77.9% of his passes, which would be an all-time record. It is no wonder he won the Heisman and is projected number one overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition to Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 1,290 yards and 16 touchdowns. These two complement each other perfectly. Oh, and the Tigers have two receivers who went for more than 1,200 yards in Justin Jefferson (1,207 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Biletnikoff Award winner, Ja’Marr Chase (1,498 and 18). This 3rd-ranked scoring offense has been nearly unstoppable all season, so good luck Sooners.
There were four instances this season where the defense gave up at least 37 points. Against good competition, I could understand, but when you give up 38 and 37 points to Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, respectively, there could be an issue. They did give up more than 500 yards three times, which is understandable, but Texas has proven to not be as good as advertised, and the 4-8 Ole Miss team went for 614 yards. These may point to LSU getting upset by Oklahoma, but however bad LSU’s defense is, Oklahoma’s is worse. I have LSU winning this to get to the National Championship Game. It’s going to be a high scoring affair, so get comfy.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs Louisville
Nashville, Tennessee will be the backdrop for game three of the 2019 SEC bowls slate. Mississippi State will take on Louisville in the Music City Bowl. Miss State went 6-6, though they went 5-6 against FBS-level programs. The Bulldogs elected to go the route of playing a lowly FCS squad the week before rivalry week, as is custom in the SEC. After starting 3-1, the Bulldogs lost five of six contests before righting the ship against the previously mentioned FCS team.
To start the season, Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens was the number one quarterback. It is uncertain of his availability for this game, so they may have to continue with dual-threat freshman Garrett Shrader. Through the air, Shrader amassed 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns. His 587 rushing yards and six touchdowns are good for second-best on the team. The leader? NFL-bound junior running back Kylin Hill. Hill’s 1,347 rushing yards is good for tops in the SEC. The good news for the Bulldogs is that he will play in this game. They are going to need all of their athletes to show out in order to secure the victory in the game.
For every point or yard the offense earns, the defense gives up. The more than 28 points allowed per game puts the Bulldogs at 68th nationally. Louisville will look to gash this defense to the tune of their average of nearly 400 yards allowed per game. To me, the Cardinals are good enough on offense to get over their own defensive deficiencies. I expect Louisville to tie the all-time series record between the squads at 3-3.
Of the 2019 SEC bowls, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. The New Year’s Six Orange Bowl will pit Florida against Virginia out of the ACC. The Gators are an impressive 10-2 this year (8-2 against FBS opponents). For the majority of the season, their wins did not come easily nor were they pretty, but wins are wins.
It looked like the quarterback spot was Feleipe Franks’ to lose. Even after a 2018 campaign where he threw for 2,497 yards and 24 touchdowns, the junior struggled in 2019. He was eventually passed up by Kyle Trask, which prompted Franks’ eventual decision to enter the Transfer Portal. Trask’s 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns were a welcome surprise, considering he had never started a game before college. Florida is still a power in recruiting, so Trask has plenty of weapons, but none more than running back Lamical Perine. In terms of rushing yards, Perine’s 539 yards and four scores were a massive step back from last year. The difference is that this year, the senior has been more of a weapon catching the ball. He tacked on 219 yards and four touchdowns in addition. Florida has the firepower to compete, there is no doubt.
The strength of this team is its defense. Take away the 42 that LSU put on them, Florida opponents were held to less than 12 points per game. Five times, the Gator defense stifled offenses so well that they did not score a single touchdown. Realistically, Florida deserved to appear in a New Year’s Six game. Virginia, however, does not. I expect Virginia to get shut down as they were against Clemson. Florida’s offense probably won’t up 62, but they should certainly win.
Kentucky vs Virginia Tech
Big Blue Nation and the Kentucky Wildcats fact the Virginia Tech Hokies will face off in this year’s edition of the Belk Bowl. The 7-5 squad (6-5 against FBS teams), went an unfortunate 3-5 in SEC play. Their poor conference showing probably has something to do with the fact that they went through two quarterbacks. They then converted a wide receiver to quarterback. It has been an odd season for the Wildcats, to say the least.
Lynn Bowden, Jr. started off his Kentucky career as a kick and punt returner. This year, he worked his way into the receiver rotation. Now, he’s the team’s quarterback. He leads a run-first attack with his 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns. Beside him is junior running back Asim Rose. Rose accounted for 757 yards and six scores. Since their week six matchup with Arkansas, Kentucky is averaging more than 353 yards on the ground. It seems like the Wildcats have found what works and they are going to be sticking to it.
Like Florida, the calling card for this team is its defense. At 18.4 points allowed per game, the Wildcat defense is 12th in the nation. While they may not have any household names on this defense, they can certainly force turnovers. Kentucky forced 16 fumbles and eight interceptions. I think that this defense will be the difference in this contest. As I wrote in a previous iteration, Virginia Tech won’t be able to get much going against this defense. It’ll be a lower-scoring affair, but expect Kentucky to secure their 12th win all-time against the Hokies.
This year’s outback bowl features a solid matchup between Auburn and Minnesota. Quietly, I think this is only of the most intriguing of the 2019 SEC bowls. At 9-3 (8-3 against FBS teams), Auburn lived up to its annual preseason hype. By starting off strong in a comeback victory against Oregon (a game which they led for all of nine seconds), the Tigers solidified themselves as a contender. Auburn finished 2-3 against foes who finished in the final CFP poll and knocked off their hated rival in the final week after the annual FCS high school YMCA tune-up game.
SEC freshman of the year Bo Nix leads this offense to 34 points per game, good for 29th in the nation. Nix made himself known early with his comeback against the Ducks en route to a 2,366-yard, 15 touchdown year. He can also take off when needed, adding 301 yards and seven scores. His best friend in the backfield is sophomore running back JaTarvious Whitlow. In three games, including the crucial matchup with Alabama, Whitlow took off for more than 100 yards on the ground. He finished the regular season with 739 yards and nine touchdowns. This Gus Malzahn offense is very hot and cold, so it should be interesting to see which shows up in the Outback Bowl.
On defense, the Tigers are led by SEC defender of the year, Derrick Brown. The senior is almost certainly a first-round draft pick which has earned the respect of offensive coordinators. His regular season only resulted in 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, but this is due to the fact that offenses game plan away from the big number five. As of today, it looks like Brown will participate in this bowl game, so look for him to establish himself early. At the end of the day, I think that the Golden Gophers will take the first-ever meeting of these programs. Minnesota is severely underrated and talented. Auburn will have its hands full. Hopefully, if they drop this, we don’t hear “they didn’t play well because they were not motivated.”
The second of the New Year’s Six Bowls on the 2019 SEC bowls schedule pits Georgia and a very surprising Baylor team. 11-2 (10-2 vs FBS teams) is a good indication of the level of this team. They passed every test except against a very good LSU team and a letdown vs South Carolina. The Bulldogs were in the conversation for the CFP up until the official unveiling of the rankings, despite a thorough dissection in the SEC title game.
Junior, third-year starter Jake Fromm is the quarterback to lead this offense. After three consecutive seasons of 2,600 yards and 24, 30, and 22 touchdowns, respectively, Fromm is expected to declare for the NFL draft. Hopefully, for the Tigers, should Fromm declare, he will still appear in this game. Top offensive tackle prospect Andrew Thomas declared for the NFL draft and will not participate in this game. In addition to Thomas, stud running back D’Andre Swift is headed to the NFL. His 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns will be missed as he has elected to forgo his final contest. Look for senior Brian Herrien to finish his career strong with a start in his final game as a Tiger. What is crazy is that this offense has so much potential, but they are the 51st-best scoring offense in the nation.
As with most of these teams, the defense is the strength. At only 12.5 points allowed per game, the Bulldogs boast the number two defense in the nation. Before the SEC title game, the most this unit allowed in a game was 20. Mix that in with three shutouts, we have a great defense on our hands. This is a matchup to circle on your calendar. Baylor runs a very efficient offense. I do think that the Bears’ offense will get the better of the Bulldogs. This is going to be a good old-fashioned slugfest. I can’t wait.
The next game in the 2019 SEC bowls slate pits Tennessee and Indiana. The Gator Bowl is an interesting matchup of a pair of teams that you never expected. In 2019, the Volunteers went 7-5 (6-5 against FBS opponents). To start the season, Tennessee dropped back to back matches against Georgia State and BYU. Jeremy Pruitt was hired instead of Greg Schiano before the 2018 season due to fan backlash, so has that decision paid off?
To say that the Volunteers struggled on offense would be an understatement. In only two contests, Tennessee scored more than 30 points. In this league, you will not win many games. The starting signal-caller is junior Jarrett Guarantano. The scoring offense is ranked 97th in the nation. It is certainly due to this athlete. Guarantano only accumulated 1,937 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. The offense goes as he goes. The leading rusher is Ty Chandler and his meager 620 yards and three touchdowns. Honestly, there really isn’t much on this offense that moves the needle. They are going to have to make some serious changes if they want 2020 to go better than in 2019.
As is the case with many SEC teams, the defense is the strength. At 21.7 points allowed per game, the Volunteers sit at 29th in the nation. In seven games, the opponent failed to score more than 21 points, but they did allow more than 34 four times. Honestly, this matchup is probably more of a toss-up, so I’ll roll with Indiana. The Hoosiers have a solid one-two punch on offense, so I expect them to be just enough to take down the Volunteers to even the series at 1-1.
The final guaranteed matchup of the 2019 SEC bowls slate pits Alabama and Michigan against one another. Oh boy. The Crimson Tide were revered as the top team in the nation for the majority of the year. That was, of course, until they fell to LSU and lost their Heisman-worthy quarterback due to injury. Despite the time-tested practice of playing the local boy scouts the week before the Iron Bowl, Alabama fell to their rivals to finish the season 10-2 (9-2 vs FBS teams).
Tua Tagovailoa was the man for the majority of the season and tallied 2,840 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. The lefty was struck down by injury in the Mississippi State game, so Mac Jones has had to replace the probable NFL-bound quarterback. Jones has all of the talent in the world around him, so he should be okay. Running back Najee Harris leads the way on the ground with 1,088 yards and 11 scores. Where the Tide are most dangerous, however, is their fearsome foursome in Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, and Jaylen Waddle. The number two scoring offense in the nation has had its way with most of its opponents. I don’t expect that to change.
As usual, the Alabama defense is stout. Seven times, the Tide held opponents to fewer than 14 points. It is possible to get the better of this defense, however. During their two losses, LSU and Auburn gashed them form 46 and 48 points, respectively. Michigan has athletes, but they don’t have and LSU-type offense. I expect the Tide to roll and break the 2-2 tie they hold with the Wolverines. The Michigan defense is good, but when they face an offense with this level of talent like they did against their rival, they could get exposed.
CFP National Championship
LSU vs Ohio State
This year’s National Championship will be number one LSU versus number two Ohio State. All year, it’s seemed like these two were on a collision course in the title game. I’ll reveal the winner of this game in the final installment, so let’s make the case for the Tigers. Heisman winner Joe Burrow is slated to be the number one overall pick in April’s NFL draft and will be eager to face his former team. LSU has dominated its opponents all year. Last time these two met, the Tigers took down the Buckeyes in the BCS title game in 2008, 38-24. This is a perfect stage to break an all-time 1-1-1 record.
2019 SEC Bowls Results
Before the eventual National Championship matchup, the 2019 SEC bowls record will stand at 4-5. Due to their upheld bowl ban, the 6-6 Missouri squad was left home. All-time, Texas A&M stands at 18-22 in bowls and LSU rolls with a 26-23-1 mark. Miss State and Florida both post winning records at 13-9 and 24-20, respectively. Meanwhile, Kentucky is sitting at an even 9-9 whereas Auburn boasts a 24-17-2 record. At 28-24, Tennessee enjoys plenty of postseason success. However, Alabama is 1st overall with 71 bowl appearances and Georgia is a distant second at 56.
The series will wrap up tomorrow as I preview the Big Ten and reveal my CFP National Championship pick!