Ten teams from the SEC made bowl game eligibility this year. Here’s a quick breakdown of the games along with predictions. (All times CST)
Check back next week for the BCS Championship Preview.
North Carolina vs. Tennessee
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Nashville, Tenn. LP Field Dec. 30 @ 5:40 p.m. ESPN
Tennessee really came on late in the season and FR. QB Tyler Bray is the reason. He gave a spark to an otherwise lifeless offense and bailed out a defense that is thin and ragged around the edges. UNC can’t wait for this season to end. They’ve had off-the-field and on-the-field issues and it has resulted into very uneven performances this season. Tennessee still has a long way to go but they are the hotter team and this is the first step towards more success in 2011.
Tennessee 27, North Carolina 20
Georgia vs. Central Florida
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Memphis, Tenn. Liberty Bowl Dec. 31 @ 2:30 p.m. ESPN
QB Aaron Murray has led Georgia through a lot of ups and downs this year but even with a target like A.J. Green, they can’t fix the biggest problems for Georgia and those are on defense. Central Florida has grown into a respectable program built around a high-scoring offense. Conventional wisdom favors an SEC team over C-USA teams almost always but Georgia is a program lacking a solid identity while Central Florida knows exactly who and what they are. Score one for the Knights who walk out of Memphis with the win.
Central Florida 34, Georgia 23
South Carolina vs. Florida State
Atlanta, GA Georgia Dome Dec. 31 @ 6:30 p.m. ESPN
The runners-up from the SEC and ACC this season should provide a great deal of fireworks and fun in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve. Jimbo Fisher’s first year guiding the Seminoles hasn’t been easy, but they’ve reestablished the defensive reputation of old—FSU leads the nation in sacks—while the offense, when it’s working, is very balanced.
South Carolina found a running game with Marcus Lattimore, and Alshon Jeffrey continues to shine on the outside while the Gamecocks defense has bent and broken a few times but also turned in strong performances—the win over Alabama being the prime example. This is one of the best games of the bowl season and will come down to which team can overcome occasional inconsistencies and play the most complete game. It will be close, but give South Carolina the edge, as they played better competition this year.
South Carolina 28, Florida State 24
Florida vs. Penn State
Tampa, Fla. Raymond James Stadium Jan. 1 @ 12 p.m. ABC
Urban Meyer’s last stand for Florida pits him against the ageless Joe Paterno, who guided the Nittany Lions to a decent bowl spot; lesser coaches would have seen this young and weak team fold under all that pressure.
Florida’s offense is nothing special and will be changing greatly under Will Muschamp’s regime but they should be able to piece together enough to win this one. Penn State simply doesn’t have the speed to keep up with them and Florida’s defense will hem Penn State’s offense into bad places all day.
Florida 29, Penn State 16
Alabama vs. Michigan State
Orlando, Fla. Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1 @ 12 p.m. ESPN
Michigan State—the Big 10 champion left out of the BCS—draws the hardest of all bowl match-ups, squaring off against the defending national champions of Alabama. The young Crimson Tide defense has grown up a great deal this season and has seen a lot better attacks than what the Spartans run.
Michigan State is a strong team but they don’t have any real speed to speak of and they will be lost as to what part of Alabama’s offense to try and key on for the game. Michigan State is good enough to keep it interesting early but expect Alabama to roll late and win big.
Alabama 38, Michigan State 20
Mississippi State vs. Michigan
Jacksonville, Fla. Municipal Stadium Jan. 1 @ 12:30 p.m. ESPN2
Michigan has no defense. Period. Mississippi State isn’t explosive on offense but they don’t have to be to win this one. They just have to limit mistakes, which is something the Bulldogs have learned to do in Dan Mullen’s second year in Starkville. Michigan can move the ball on offense but they still turn it over too much, and that lack of defense tips the scales for Mississippi State in a big way.
Mississippi State 30, Michigan 17<\i>
Ohio State vs. Arkansas
Allstate Sugar Bowl
New Orleans, LA Louisiana Superdome Jan. 4 @ 7:30 p.m. ESPN
Arkansas’s offense is explosive, balanced, and very impressive. The Hogs defense is better but still not great. Here’s the rub: Ohio State heard the same thing last year when they went into the Rose Bowl and had to try and stop a high scoring Oregon attack. They did. Cameron Heyward on the DL will get in Ryan Mallett’s face and disrupt Arkansas’s attack. Terrelle Pryor’s 2011 Heisman campaign gets an early start as Ohio State ends the bowl game losing streak to the SEC and picks up a second BCS game in a row. Off-the-field distractions won’t derail the Buckeyes.
Ohio State 27, Arkansas 24
LSU vs. Texas A&M
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Arlington, Texas Cowboys Stadium Jan. 7 @ 7 p.m. FOX
A&M has come a long way under Mike Sherman but they still have a long way to go. LSU is unpredictable except to say that defense is a force and should give the Tigers the edge in what shapes up to be a real back and forth game. Don’t be surprised to see LSU come out of the gate fast and have to hang on in order to preserve the win.
LSU 33, Texas A&M 26
Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
BBVA Compass Bowl
Birmingham, Ala. Legion Field Jan. 8 @ 11 a.m. ESPN
This pick was more secure when UK QB Mike Hartline was still playing—he’s been suspended after an arrest—but Randall Cobb and Derek Locke are still playing. Pitt’s defense is slow against teams with speed and their offense can’t do enough to overcome that differential.
Kentucky’s played much better teams and they won’t be phased by what Pitt does with the ground game. Kentucky’s Joker Phillips ends his first year with a bowl win while The Stasch (Dave Wannstedt) leaves Pitt with another loss.
Kentucky 24, Pittsburgh 14