2012 SEC Bowl Preview

It is believed by most analysts and fans that SEC football has been, and is currently, the premiere conference in the nation.  The combination of size and speed combined with the tactical masterminds of coaches like Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Les Miles make it difficult for one to argue otherwise.  After all, the last 6 National Champions hail from the SEC.  With bowl season upon us the SEC has again sent at least one member to the national championship game and another member to a BCS bowl in what is becoming a yearly ritual.  It is a very difficult bowl slate for the conference this year due in large part to the fact that all nine of the teams the SEC faces come from the other AQ conferences (three from the Big 10, two from the ACC, two from the Big East, one from the Big 12, and Notre Dame).  There is no surprise that the conference has nine teams selected to represent in bowls this season.  Yet, it is surprising (at least to me) that teams from the SEC are favored in all nine of their matchups.  Surely the mighty conference will not be 9-0 at the end of the bowl season (last year the SEC went 5-2 with one of those bowl losses coming to another SEC team).  The question is which games will SEC teams come up short in during this year’s bowl campaign?  Listed below are the bowls, with their participants, the spread, a brief description, and whether or not the SEC team will cover their spread.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
North Carolina State
vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt -6 1/2
James Franklin has led the Commodores to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time ever. They are looking to send seniors like Zac Stacy out with a win, and avoid a loss like the one they suffered to Cincinnati in last year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl.  North Carolina State comes into the game with one of the best secondaries in the nation and must find a way to contain the combination of Jordan Rodgers and Jordan Matthews if they are going to be able to win.  In the end Vanderbilt gets the first bowl win of the Franklin era and covers the spread too.

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Clemson vs. LSU
LSU -4

The organizers of the Chick-fil-A Bowl should really considered renaming this the Lord of the Tigers Bowl.  If LSU is going to win they will have to go through one of the most prolific offenses in the country.  Clemson ranks ninth nationally in total offense and sixth in scoring and are led by star QB Tajh Boyd.  He is one of the most dynamic football players in the nation, and it will be fun to see what tricks Miles, AKA the“Mad Hatter”, will pull out to contain Boyd’s explosiveness.  It will be a battle of strength on strength however, as LSU has one of the best defenses in the nation and is 8th nationally in total defense.  There is a 100 percent chance that the Tigers will win this game.  It just will not be LSU as the Clemson offense will prove too much and they pull off the upset.

TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl
Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
Mississippi State -2

This is the closet spread out of all of the SEC bowl games this year and for good reason.  While the Bulldogs started off red-hot winning seven straight games, they went 0-3 against ranked teams, and managed to win just one game in their last five, including a loss to arch rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.  Northwestern is entering this contest with one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, averaging 230.9 yards rushing per game.  The Bulldogs have struggled defending the run this year and in their last game allowed the Rebels to rack up 233 yards on the ground. Mississippi State has not beaten a good team all year and Northwestern is a good team.  State loses in a close game and therefore does not cover the spread.

Outback Bowl
Michigan vs. South Carolina
S. Carolina -5

These are two of the best defenses in the nation with Michigan 11th in total defense and 16th in scoring D, while South Carolina is 12th in total D and 13th in scoring D respectively.  The matchup everybody wants to see is Jadeveon Clowney versus Denard Robinson.  Shoelace is one of the fast players in all of college football and is 14th in the nation in rushing yards.  On the other hand, Clowney is a true beast off the edge and one of the main reasons why the Gamecocks rank fifth in the nation in sacks.  He is also more than capable of containing the elusive Robinson.  The Wolverines will be without their tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint so expect Devin Gardner to play quarterback and Robinson to be the primary tailback. This should be a low scoring game as neither team allows more than 21 points per game.  Three of the Wolverines four losses are to the top three teams in the AP poll (Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Alabama), and Michigan is more than capable of pulling off the upset.  South Carolina loses in a hard-fought contest and fails to cover the spread.

Capital One Bowl
Nebraska vs. Georgia
Georgia -10

Yet another intriguing matchup and it is the third SEC vs. Big Ten matchup of the bowl season.  Both teams are division winners and both are coming off of losses in their individual conference championship games.  Georgia lost a close contest to Alabama, while Nebraska was demolished in stunning fashion by Wisconsin.  Georgia appears to have advantages all over the field, but the one area of concern for Mark Richt and Georgia has to be their rushing defense.  The Bulldogs are allowing 177.7 yards per contest, including 350 yards on the ground to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.  Nebraska, led by Taylor Martinez, brings in the number eight rushing attack in the nation which might give the Bulldog defense some issues.  There is a strong chance that this will be Aaron Murray’s last game in a Georgia uniform and in the end he will prove too much for a struggling Cornhusker defense. Georgia wins big and covers the spread with ease.

AllState Sugar Bowl
Louisville vs. Florida
Florida -14

This is the largest spread of this year’s bowl season for the SEC and for good reason.  Even though the Big East is 4-2 in their last six BCS bowl games, Louisville should be underdogs thanks to their struggles late in the season.  They dropped two of their final three games of the regular season and just recently climbed back into the BCS poll.  On the other hand, Florida was one game away from a perfect regular season, a trip to the SEC Championship, and a chance to play for a BCS National Championship. Louisville should not be underestimated though, as they bring in the best red zone offense in the nation. Florida will be the best defense the Cardinals have faced all year so quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is going to have to put together a stellar game and limit turnovers, which is easier said than done against this Gators defense.  The Gators are fifth in the nation in turnover margin, and have 19 interceptions on the year. The two touchdown spread seems right given the circumstances and the talent gap between the two teams.

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M -4 1/2

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies will renew an old Big 12 conference rivalry when they take on the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.  It is a rivalry that Aggies fans probably looked forward to never playing again as A&M has only won two games in their last ten meetings against Oklahoma.  All of the attention will be on Johnny football, as it should be, but do not forget about the quarterback on the other side of the field.  Landry Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and is more than capable of putting up big numbers of his own. Oklahoma has the number five passing attack in the nation thanks to Jones and is every bit as potent on offense as Manziel and the Aggies.  Defensively both teams have their issues, but in the end expect Oklahoma to get the win in what is sure to be a shoot out and an exciting game.

BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss -3 1/2

In his first season as head coach, Hugh Freeze has the Rebels bowling.  Ole Miss is coming off of an emotional win against hated rival Mississippi State and is looking to carry that momentum into their matchup with the Panthers.  Pitt has allowed just one touchdown in their last 10 quarters and is led on the defensive side of the ball by stand out defensive back Jason Hendricks.  Bo Wallace and Dante Moncrief will have to find a way to exploit a secondary that has only allowed 12 touchdown passes all season.  Freeze’s boys certainly have their hands full, but it is nothing that they cannot handle and they should cover the spread with ease.

Discover BCS National Championship
Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Alabama -9 1/2

For the seventh straight year, a SEC team is in the BCS Championship Game.  Saban is looking for his third national title since taking over as the head coach for the Crimson Tide.  Notre Dame is no slouch though, and if you like defense this is going to be the best game on the bowl schedule.  The Irish are number one in the nation in scoring D while Alabama is second.  Both teams rank near the top in every defensive statistical category and points will be hard to come by, especially in the red zone. Alabama and Notre Dame allowed a combined 11 red zone rushing touchdowns all season (9 for the Crimson Tide and two for Notre Dame) and are in the top three defenses in the nation when it comes to red zone defense.  Manti T’eo and the Fighting Irish defense will have their hands full trying to contain the dynamic duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.  Both of the Alabama tailbacks have over 1,000 yards rushing this year, and are more than capable of exploding for a big game at the same time (ask Richt about them).  With two stellar defenses on the field it is highly unlikely either team jumps out to a comfortable lead. Alabama wins, but does not cover the spread.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport.  Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.

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