Well, congrats to Louisville. While my Gators looked just awful, the Cards came to play. SEC at .500 in the post season. Ugh.
Looks like Bama and the Ags both have to pull it off to salvage the post season.
With the SEC kicking off its bowl schedule today, we wanted to get you up to speed with the television listings, latest lines, keys to victory and our own predictions for each of the league’s first eight contests.
Naturally, next week’s BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame will get its own breakdown a bit later.
But without further ado, here’s your holiday gridiron primer for all the SEC action this week…
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Nashville, TN)
Vanderbilt (8-4) vs NC State (7-5)
12:00pm ET, Today on ESPN
Opening Line: VU -5
Current Line: VU -7.5
Sidenotes: Vanderbilt has the SEC’s longest win streak at six games and it’s won those six games by an average of 24 points, scoring more than 40 points in four of those six contests. NCSU lost three of its last five games allowing 43 to North Carolina, 33 to Virginia, and 62 to Clemson in those defeats.
Key for Vanderbilt: Own the air. NC State had the ACC’s second-best passing attack this season, but Vanderbilt had the third-best pass defense in the SEC. In the all-important opponent’s passer rating statistic, Vandy actually placed second in the league. While Commodore QB Jordan Rodgers didn’t match the numbers of Wolfpack QB Mike Glennon, Rodgers protected the football — just five INTs all season — against superior defenses. NCSU’s pass defense ranked just ninth in the ACC.
Pick: Vanderbilt 27, NC State 17
Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta, GA)
LSU (10-2) vs Clemson (10-2)
7:30pm ET, Tonight on ESPN
Opening Line: LSU -3
Current Line: LSU -6
Sidenotes: Clemson had the best offense in the ACC rolling up 518 yards per game. But in a 27-17 loss to South Carolina to end the season, the Tigers put up just 328 yards of offense (145 rushing, 183 passing). LSU ranked just ahead of Carolina in total defense in the SEC this year.
Key for LSU: Show up. The Tigers aren’t thrilled to be heading to Atlanta when slots in more prestigious bowls were available. The last time a Top 10 SEC team moaned so much about landing in Atlanta, #6 Tennessee was whipped 27-14 by unranked Clemson in 2004. LSU has the superior defense and the superior team. But if the Bayou Bengals aren’t fired up for this one, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd will surprise.
Pick: Clemson 24, LSU 23
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL)
Mississippi State (8-4) vs Northwestern (9-3)
12:00pm ET, Tomorrow on ESPN2
Opening Line: MSU -2
Current Line: NU -1
Sidenotes: After a 7-0 start to the season, MSU lost four of its last five games. In fact, the Bulldogs went 0-4 against bowl teams this year losing by an average margin of 23.2 points per game. Northwestern went 4-2 against bowl-bound teams and beat Vanderbilt 23-13 back in September.
Key for Mississippi State: Protect QB Tyler Russell. State allowed just 16 sacks all season, the second-best number in the SEC. The O-line need to be solid again. Russell sprained his ankle in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss and there’s no way to know if he’ll be 100% or not. Northwestern’s weakness is pass defense (they ranked 12th in the 12-team Big Ten against the pass) while MSU’s strength has been Russell and his arm. If he’s not at fully healthy, a banged up Bulldog running back corps will have to move the ball on the Big Ten’s third-best rush defense. Better hope Russell starts healthy and stays healthy.
Pick: Northwestern 24, Mississippi State 21
Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL)
South Carolina (10-2) vs Michigan (8-4)
1:00pm ET, Tomorrow on ESPN
Opening Line: USC -4.5
Current Line: USC -5.5
Sidenotes: Heading into the season, Michigan and South Carolina were both expected to be Top 10 squads. The Gamecocks lived up to their billing. But both teams were disappointed in their stars. Michigan QB Denard Robinson was far from the Heisman candidate Wolverine fans had hoped he would be and Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore had his season cut short by a devastating knee injury. In other words, this game would have looked even better to preseason prognosticators.
Key for South Carolina: Shut down Robinson. Gamecock DE Jadeveon Clowney and company will need to contain Robinson and not let him escape pressure. Robinson averaged 248 yards of offense per game, but he was much more of a threat with his legs than with his arm. In Michigan’s six wins with Robinson at the helm, he averaged 301 yards per game. In the Wolverines’ four losses with Robinson at the controls, he was held to an average of just 169 yards per contest. Stop Michigan’s quarterback and Carolina should record their second 11-win season in a row.
Pick: South Carolina 27, Michigan 17
Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL)
Georgia (11-2) vs Nebraska (10-3)
1:00pm ET, Tomorrow on ABC
Opening Line: UGA -8.5
Current Line: UGA -9
Sidenotes: Nebraska ranked eighth in the nation this year running the football (254 yards per game). Georgia’s rush defense ranked #78 in America and gave up 350 yards on the ground to Alabama its last time out. Now the Dawgs will have to stop the Cornhuskers’ run game without star nose guard John Jenkins, who found himself academically ineligible for UGA’s bowl game.
Key for Georgia: Don’t get cocky, kid. The oddsmakers and the betting public certainly took note of the 70 points Wisconsin hung on Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. Ditto Georgia’s effort in the SEC title game against Alabama. But it’s hard to imagine Nebraska playing as poorly as it did in Indianapolis. And can UGA bounce back from its heartbreaking loss in Atlanta? The Dawgs had better have their helmets strapped on tight for this one.
Pick: Georgia 31, Nebraska 24
Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)
Florida (11-1) vs Louisville (10-2)
8:30pm ET, Wednesday on ESPN
Opening Line: UF -15
Current Line: UF -14
Sidenotes: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater led the Cardinals to the top of the Big East passing chart this season. But Florida doesn’t have a Big East defense. To be clear, the Gators rank #5 in the nation in total defense, #6 in rushing defense, and #13 in passing defense.
Key for Florida: Protect the football. Florida should be able to run the ball on Louisville and it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals being able to move the ball much at all against the Gators. This is a Florida team that beat 10-2 Texas A&M, 10-2 LSU, 10-2 South Carolina and 11-2 Florida State. UF’s only loss came in a game with 11-2 Georgia in which the Gators turned the ball over six times. They still just lost that one by eight points. Barring a Keystone Kops-like performance, Florida should win this win easily. (At least on paper.)
Pick: Florida 24, Louisville 7
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX)
Texas A&M (10-2) vs Oklahoma (10-2)
8:00pm ET, Friday on FOX
Opening Line: A&M -3
Current Line: A&M -3
Sidenotes: Aggie QB Johnny Manziel will try to become the fourth-straight Heisman Trophy-winner to taste victory in his team’s bowl game after winning the award. Mark Ingram snapped a four-game losing streak for the Heisman club in 2009 and Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III have followed Ingram’s lead. Manziel appears to be every bit as dangerous a weapon as those last three guys.
Key for Texas A&M: Make the last stop. This matchup of old Big XII foes looks to be a pure offensive shootout. A&M ranked #3 nationally in scoring offense, Oklahoma ranked #11. The Aggies stand at #13 in rushing offense while the Sooners are #4 in passing offense. In the total offense category it’s Texas A&M #3, Oklahoma #10. Ah, but on defense, the Sooners were a tad better in the national rankings (#45 to #57). The team that makes the last stop on defense in this game will probably win the thing. The Aggies need to make sure they’re that team.
Pick: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 37
BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, AL)
Ole Miss (6-6) vs Pittsburgh (6-6)
1:00pm ET, Saturday on ESPN
Opening Line: UM -2
Current Line: UM -3.5
Sidenotes: If a team has the “excitement” edge it’s Ole Miss. The Rebels haven’t been bowling since 2009. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will be making its third-consecutive trip to a bowl… to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham to be specific. UM’s players should be a lot more enthused about a trip to Legion Field with a 6-6 record than Pitt’s players.
Key for Ole Miss: Wear ‘em out. Pittsburgh had the Big East’s third-best defense in 2012. They were plus-eight in turnover margin (Ole Miss was minus-one). The Panthers also won their final two games of the season and came from way ahead to lose to #1 Notre Dame (29-26 in overtime) in early November. Clearly, Pitt’s not a bad football team. But the Rebels’ up-tempo attack caused some headaches for plenty of good teams this year, including Alabama. Pittsburgh finished second in the Big East in time of possession. Their defense, therefore, had plenty of time to rest. Ole Miss will try to speed up the game on the Panthers. They’ve already shown in SEC play that they can do just that.
Pick: Ole Miss 31, Pittsburgh 21