2020 SEC Bowls Preview

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2020 SEC Bowls
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 19: Brad Stewart Jr. #2 and Donovan Stiner #13 of the Florida Gators break up this touchdown reception intended for DeVonta Smith #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 19, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 SEC bowls as well as every other conference (plus the FBS Independents). Bowl games will likely look different this year. Many states have their own restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will likely see even fewer fans than normal. Additionally, a number of bowl-eligible teams elected to opt-out of the post-season, so there will be fewer matchups this year. 

Eight teams with losing records made bowls this year (six from the SEC; imagine that). This year, one team will be making its bowl debut. Plus, this season will feature ten first-time matchups. Strap in, it’s time for 29 bowl games! 

2020 SEC Bowls Preview 

Gasparilla Bowl (December 26, 12:00 p.m., ABC)
South Carolina vs UAB 

Head-to-head: South Carolina 3-0 UAB
South Carolina bowl record: 9-14 

Editor’s note: The Gasparilla Bowl was canceled the Tuesday before the game due to South Carolina pulling out. 

Music City Bowl (December 30, 4:00 p.m., ESPN)
Missouri vs Iowa 

Head-to-head: Missouri 4-4 Iowa
Missouri bowl record: 15-18 

Editor’s note: The Music City Bowl was canceled the Sunday before the game due to Missouri pulling out.

Sue to the cancellation of the Gasparilla bowl, this Music City Bowl will be the first of the 2020 SEC bowls. This Mizzou team was not inspiring this year. They went 5-5 on the year, lost to all of the teams on the schedule with a pulse, and narrowly avoided losses against bad teams. They did dominate winless Vanderbilt, so that’s a plus. 

Leading the way in the Tigers’ offense is redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak. On the season, he’s been successful in gaining yards, accounting for 2,366. He did only manage seven touchdowns in ten games and threw eight interceptions. Three of those came in the final contest.  

Senior Larry Rountree III has been a force on the ground all four years. If it weren’t for the shortened season, he would have ended up with the most rushing yards in Mizzou history. As it stands, he’s at 3,720 career yards on the ground with 972 coming this year. Even in the shortened season, 2020 has been his second-most productive year, surpassing his 2019 mark. 

Is it saying something that Mizzou allows 32.3 points and 407.7 yards per game and they’re ranked right in the middle of the SEC? Regardless, sophomore defensive lineman, Trajan Jeffcoat is a force. His 6.0 sacks on the year are good for second-most in the conference. 

Thus far, Missouri has not been inspiring. Aside from smacking a pathetic Vandy team, Mizzou has faltered against decent teams and won three of their games by one score. They’re not going to light up the scoreboard, nor will they stop a competent offensive attack. The Iowa Hawkeyes will hand the 2020 SEC bowls its first loss.  

Cotton Bowl (December 30, 8:00 p.m., ESPN)
Florida vs Oklahoma 

Head-to-head: Florida 1-0 Oklahoma
Florida bowl record: 24-21 

The first of three premier 2020 SEC bowls features the SEC East divisional champions, Florida. Consistently given the benefit of the doubt, the three-loss Florida Gators found themselves remaining in the top ten after dropping two straight. The first of those to an atrociously short-handed LSU team and their true freshman quarterback. 

It must be known that quarterback Kyle Trask has been phenomenal this year. Nobody throws the ball quite as often, considering Trask leads the nation in completions and attempts. With that, come the obvious: his 4,125 yards and 43 touchdowns lead all players. He’s played his way in a first-round pick in 2021. 

Even without eventual top-ten pick, Kyle Pitts, Trask will have plenty of weapons. Both Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes have stepped up and led the way with 984 yards, ten touchdowns, and 589 yards, nine touchdowns, respectively. Even in the high-powered Big 12, this will be the best one-two punch of receivers they’ve faced. 

Only once has Florida played a team with an offense quite as potent as the Sooners; they gave up 605 yards and 52 points. They’ve given up 400+ yards through the air four times.  

Oklahoma is peaking at the right time. They’ve won seven in a row. They’ve found their rhythm and it’ll hand the 2020 SEC bowls record its second loss. 

Armed Forces Bowl (December 31, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Mississippi State vs Tulsa 

Head-to-head: 0-0
Mississippi State bowl record: 13-10 

Starting the 2020 SEC bowls season, there were six SEC teams with losing records. This Mississippi State team is one of those teams at a meager 3-7. They face off against a quietly great AAC squad in Tulsa. The Bulldogs had better not take the Golden Hurricanes lightly because of the differences in their conferences. 

To start the year, MSU ran with Stanford transfer K.J. Costello. After struggling, they made the switch to freshman Will Rogers. Considering this is a Mike Leach air raid offense, they throw the ball almost 53 times a game to the tune of 311.1 yards.  

The lack of a rushing attack has allowed the defense to just sit back and allow the quarterback to make mistakes. They’ve turned the ball over 26 times all year and were held to fewer than 300 yards four times. On two occasions, the Bulldogs finished with negative rushing yards. 

This team is not good. They lost to Kentucky after out-gaining them 295-157. They are facing a Tulsa team who will feel disrespected. They’ve forced 16 turnovers. Tulsa wins this one. The 2020 SEC bowls are not off to a great start. 

Texas Bowl (December 31, 8:00 p.m., ESPN)
Arkansas vs TCU 

Head-to-head: Arkansas 44-24-2 TCU
Arkansas bowl record: 15-24-3 

Editor’s note: The Texas Bowl was canceled the Tuesday before due to COVID-19 concerns within the TCU program.

Hey, look! Another team with a 3-7 record on the 2020 SEC bowls slate. Former Big 8 foes, Arkansas and TCU face off for the 70th time in history, by far the most by any pair of bowl teams. 

Cashing in off of a solid 2019, Last Chance U alumn Rakeem Boyd decided to opt-out of the remainder of the season after six games. That paved the way for redshirt sophomore Trelon Smith. Smith, who transferred from Arizona State, came into his own this year to the tune of 710 yards and five touchdowns.  

Overall, the leader of this offense is Florida transfer, Feleipe Franks. Of his 2,107 yards and 17 touchdowns, 820 yards and seven touchdowns went to his favorite receiver, Treylon Burks 

For however good this offense is, the defense is worse. The bright spot in this defense was senior linebacker, Grant Morgan. He was experiencing a breakout year, but due to an undisclosed injury, it is unclear if he will suit up for this game. 

While TCU may not be as offended as other opponents on the 202 SEC bowls slate, they will still feel slighted. I’ve got the Horned Frogs taking this Big 12-SEC battle. 

Peach Bowl (January 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Georgia vs Cincinnati 

Head-to-head: Georgia 1-0 Cincinnati
Georgia bowl record: 32-21-3 

The second prime game of the 2020 SEC bowls is the Peach Bowl featuring the 7-2 Georgia Bulldogs. Of those seven wins, one team has a winning record. For half the year, they could not figure out its quarterback situation. They had better not underestimate the 9-0 Cincinnati Bearcats or else they are going to get 2017 Auburn’d. 

After floundering between guys like Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis, the Bulldogs found a quarterback in USC transfer, J.T. Daniels. Even then, the three teams he faced have a combined record of 10-20. As a whole, the offense averages 421.3 yards and 33.2 points per game. But they haven’t faced a defense like Cincinnati. 

On the ground, the Bulldogs have a formidable running back in Zamir White. White leads the way with 740 yards and ten touchdowns. He’s scored in every game except for one, but if Cincinnati can keep him in check, they can control the game. 

The AAC has not started off strong in the bowls this year. Up to this point, neither will the SEC. Cincinnati will come to this game more motivated to prove the CFP committee wrong and will take down Georgia. Honestly, don’t be surprised if it’s in a convincing fashion. 

Citrus Bowl (January 1, 1:00 p.m., ABC)
Auburn vs Northwestern 

Head-to-head: Auburn 1-0 Northwestern
Auburn bowl record: 24-18-2 

The second of three New Year’s Day 2020 SEC bowls (well, 2021, but you get it) features the Auburn Tigers and Northwestern Wildcats. Auburn, following their 6-4 season and seventh-consecutive season losing at least four games, fired their head coach Gus Malzahn. Consistently propped up by the benefit of the doubt and high pre-season ranking, Auburn falls back to where they’ve been every year outside of its magical National Title season way back when. 

This offense is not great. Bo Nix is a decent quarterback and can provide highlight-reel plays. A few could be reminiscent of one Johnny Manziel. But with 2,123 yards and only 11 touchdowns (and seven interceptions), he underperformed expectations. He’s got a strong arm and, if developed, could play on Sundays in a few years. 

Beside him is Tank Bigsby. Though he out-paces Nix in yardage (834 to 356), he has fewer touchdowns (five to seven). With a name like Tank, you have no choice but to be great. As only a freshman, we can expect a productive career from him. 

As with many of the teams in the 2020 SEC bowls, the Auburn defense is less-than-stellar. Nobody really stands out, but junior linebacker Zakoby McClain is about as productive as you’ll find. However, in six games, the defense failed to hold the opposition to under 400 yards. 

Northwestern may not be the flashiest team in the nation. But, neither is Auburn. These two programs could be replacing coaches this off-season. Auburn just hired the Boise State coach, Bryan Harsin. Northwestern has heard rumblings about Pat Fitzgerald and the NFL. They’ll come out inspired, hoping to end a successful 2020 off with a win. 

Rose Bowl, CFP Semifinal (January 1, 5:00 p.m., ESPN)
Alabama vs Notre Dame 

Head-to-head: Alabama 2-5 Notre Dame
Alabama bowl record: 42-26-3 

Easily the best team that the 2020 SEC bowls schedule has to offer, Alabama looks to continue its dominance in college football. 2019 is looking more and more like a fluke as the Tide have made every CFP since its inception, except for last year. As usual, this team is loaded with NFL talent and they have yet to sweat. 

The only reason an Alabama player would not win the Heisman Trophy this year is because the three that deserve it will split the vote. Mac Jones has played his way to the top of NFL teams’ draft boards. Devonta Smith did not need to come back but he did and we are all better for it. Najee Harris is just another elite running back to come through Tuscaloosa.  

What more can I say about this offense? Imagine what they’d be like if Jaylen Waddle had not gotten injured. 

If there’s a weakness to this team, it would be the defense. Even then, it’s very good. They did give up 647 yards to a bad Ole Miss team and was moderately threatened in the SEC Championship Game by Florida. They’re talented, fast, and aggressive.  

Notre Dame is a good team. They own a 5-2 all-time record. This is probably the best Fighting Irish team in a while. But this could be the best Alabama team in a while. The Tide roll in this one to set up either a re-match with Clemson for what seems like the 100th time or a battle of Bluebloods against Ohio State. 

Gator Bowl (January 2, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Kentucky vs NC State 

Head-to-head: Kentucky 1-0 NC State
Kentucky bowl record: 10-9 

Another team with a losing record on the 2020 SEC bowls schedule is the Kentucky Wildcats. Last year, the team was a mess and played with a wide receiver at quarterback. This year, the offense is just as anemic. 

Just like last year, this offense is run-first. They have three players with significant rushing numbers, led by redshirt sophomore Christopher Rodriguez, Jr., and his 701 yards and nine touchdowns. With him is senior running back Asim Rose and his 518 yards and two touchdowns. They are two legitimate threats that NC State will have to defend.  

Another rushing threat is quarterback Terry Wilson. He’s accounted for 410 yards and five touchdowns on the ground to go with his 1,092 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. If you can stop the run and make Wilson throw, you can win the game.  

The NC State rush defense is not the best in the nation. They were gashed by the better rushers in the ACC and will have to buckle down to win this one. Realistically, NC State is a better team than most think, plus Kentucky shouldn’t have even been considered for a bowl. Wolfpack win this one. 

Outback Bowl (January 2, 12:30 p.m., ABC)
Ole Miss vs Indiana 

Head-to-head: 0-0
Ole Miss bowl record: 24-13 

The penultimate scheduled 2020 SEC bowls matchup features the second first-ever meeting on the slate. The Ole Miss fighting Lane Kiffins face off an underrated Indiana team out to prove itself. At 4-5, Ole Miss is the fourth SEC team with a losing record to play in a bowl (sixth overall, but two dropped). 

This team averages 569.2 yards and 40.7 points per game. If there’s one thing Kiffin knows it’s offense. Redshirt sophomore Matt Corral leads the way with 2,995 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air. He does lead the entire SEC with his 14 interceptions. High risk, high reward. His favorite receiver to the tune of 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns is Elijah Moore. Moore is going to be playing on Sundays sooner rather than later. 

Usually, when a team throws as much as the Rebels do, you don’t see much of the rushing attack. Sophomore running back Jerrion Ealy took advantage of the high-flying pass attack, going for 745 yards and nine touchdowns. 

For as high-powered as this offense is, how do they have a losing record?  The defense. Yikes. Only five teams in the nation give up more points per game. They allowed 723, 642, 593 yards on their worst days. Given, two of those were to the two SEC Championship Game participants. 

Ole Miss is 4-5, can’t stop anyone, and turn the ball over profusely. Indiana’s only loss was by seven at Ohio State, has a legit offense, and has a stifling defense that forces turnovers. Hoosiers win this and win at least a crumb of respect. 

Orange Bowl (January 2, 8:00 p.m. ESPN)
Texas A&M vs North Carolina 

Head-to-head: 0-0
Texas A&M bowl record: 19-22 

The final scheduled game of the 2020 SEC bowls slate involves a team that thinks they belonged in the CFP (they don’t). Texas A&M boasts an 8-1 record, beat up on the really bad teams of the conference, and fluked out a win over Florida. They lost by 28 to Alabama. 

For the third-straight year, Kellen Mond is the quarterback for the Aggies. He accounted for 2,050 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air and added 258 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While he had two decent games early, he was held to fewer than 250 yards five times in 2020. 

Isaiah Spiller has turned into a solid running back beside Mond. He, in four fewer games, surpassed his 2019 freshman mark in rushing yards, though scored fewer touchdowns. The sophomore is getting better with each game, so look for his 2021 to be even better. 

Something is going to have to break. A&M has yet to allow a rusher to eclipse 40 yards. They are going to be facing one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. Even if they can contain UNC’s leading rusher, their quarterback is good enough to take advantage. North Carolina wins this and puts to rest any of Jimbo’s qualms with the CFP and knocks them back to where they’ve belonged the last two decades. 

College Football Playoff Championship (January 11, 8:00 p.m., ESPN)
Alabama vs Ohio State 

Head-to-head: Alabama 3-1 

Finally, the National Championship! The only win thus far in the 2020 SEC bowls has been thanks to the Tide. They’re a legit team absolutely loaded with talent. They’ll be facing the Buckeyes of Ohio State fresh off of an upset of Clemson. 

Ohio State is headed by Justin Fields, the junior quarterback. He’s had a good season, but he sure struggled in the Big Ten Championship Game. Ohio State is also full of talent, but they have not played to the level they should. When these two match up, don’t be surprised if this is a barn burner. Each team has had some issues with the secondary. 

Ultimately, Alabama will likely be at least a touchdown favorite. My OSU biases could justify a win over Clemson, but not here. Alabama is absolutely loaded. I’d love nothing more than to be wrong once in these previews. 

That’s All Folks! 

With this 2020 SEC bowls preview, the 11-part series has concluded. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the college football landscape and there’s been so much uncertainty. Thanks to programs around the country from areas that take the pandemic seriously, plenty of bowl-eligible teams were left home. That paved the way for six SEC teams with losing records to make bowls. 

Let’s hope we can get all of this under control before the 2021 bowl season rolls around. 

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