Although the SEC may have suffered a losing record in the bowl season a year ago, Alabama topping Georgia in the first overtime College Football Playoff national championship sure helped make up for it. The SEC only landed one team in the playoff this season with Alabama continuing its perfect streak of playoff appearances for a fifth straight season, but the SEC also has three additional teams taking part in the New Year’s Six lineup with Georgia, LSU, and Florida all in big bowl games.
In all, the SEC has 11 teams in action and nearly all of them are favorites in their bowl matchups, with Florida and Kentucky the only underdogs according to the betting lines. The SEC certainly has a loaded bowl draw to entertain fans this bowl season once they get going.
College Football Playoff
Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, Dec. 29, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Alabama -14.0
Death, taxes, and Alabama in the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide have yet to miss a College Football Playoff in its fifth year of existence, and this time the Crimson Tide are tasked with facing their first Heisman Trophy winner in the playoff. Nick Saban once again has Alabama looking like the favorite to win it all as they collide with Big 12 champion Oklahoma in Miami for one of the two semifinal games, with the winner taking on Clemson or Notre Dame in the national championship game.
Although Alabama has been the most successful program in the playoff era, the Crimson Tide will look to become the first back-to-back national champion under the format.
Key matchup: There will be plenty of focus on what Alabama’s defense does against Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. The Sooners quarterback has been on fire in leading Oklahoma to a Big 12 title, passing Alabama’s own Tua Tagovailoa in the Heisman voting as a result. But while Murray vs. the Alabama defense will be fun to watch, Tagovailoa and Alabama’s offense with Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy should be in for a big day against an Oklahoma defense that is soft as a wet napkin. Even if Murray has some success against the Tide, can Oklahoma stop Alabama’s offense?
New Year’s Six Bowls
Peach Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan (Saturday, Dec. 29, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Florida +7.0
Yep, we’re getting another round of Michigan vs. Florida, a tradition unlike any other it seems. Dan Mullen’s first year in The Swamp clearly turned things around for Florida, but are the Gators truly worthy of being in such a game? This will be a chance to prove they are worthy as they take on a Michigan team that is a bit upset about how their season ended.
Key matchup: Florida had the SEC’s most improved offense in terms of offensive yardage this season, and now they must go up against a defense that was statistically the best in the nation until facing Ohio State. If Jim Harbaugh has Michigan ready to end the season on a winning note after being the only Big Ten team to play in and lose a bowl game last year, then Mullen will have to have the Gators ready to scratch out some points. Michigan failed to score more than 16 points in a game this season against ranked opponents.
Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. UCF (Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: LSU -7.5
The LSU Tigers are heading out west to play in their first Fiesta Bowl in school history. Ed Orgeron’s Tigers draw the undefeated UCF Knights who are looking to claim another national championship with a second straight bowl victory over a team from the SEC, and Alabama’s division. LSU is looking to win its first NY6/BCS bowl game since the 2010 season and wrap up the first 10-win season of head coach Ed Orgeron’s career. Doing so while also handing UCF a loss to prevent another offseason of UCF talk would be welcomed throughout the SEC.
Key matchup: LSU is typically known for its defense, but the Tigers failed to land a single defensive lineman on the first or second All-SEC team this season. Though the level of competition is different in the AAC, UCF will line up with three all-AAC offensive linemen in tackle Jake Brown and guard Cole Schneider along with center Jodan Johnson. LSU’s Rashard Lawrence will try bringing pressure on the edges while linebackers Devin White and Michael Divinity plug the middle of the field and perhaps get some chances to come rushing young backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr., who’s replacing the injured McKenzie Milton.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Texas (Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Georgia -11.5
After being left out of the College Football Playoff, Georgia will look to take out their frustrations on the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. This will be just the fifth all-time meeting between the Dawgs and Longhorns, with the most recent meeting being played in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 1983 season.
Key matchup: Georgia should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage which should open things up for the 1-2 running combo of Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift, but this is a matchup that should allow for Jake Fromm to have a big day through the air. Texas brings the nation’s 114th-ranked passing defense to the Sugar Bowl. Even if the numbers are inflated as a result of playing in the Big 12 (and having to face Kyler Murray and Oklahoma twice), that should still suggest Georgia should have good success throwing the football.
Other Bowl Games
Texas Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Baylor (Thursday, Dec. 27, 9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Vanderbilt -3.5
Both Vanderbilt and Baylor played their way into a bowl trip with wins in the final game of the regular season, so neither team will be taking the Texas Bowl for granted. Although Baylor will be playing in a bit closer to home, Derek Mason’s defense should be up to the task of containing Baylor’s offense.
Key matchup: Playing in the Big 12, Baylor was known to give up big chunk plays all season long. The Bears allowed 21 plays of 40 yards or more. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur will look to take advantage of those gaps in coverage with rising tight end Jared Pinkney, who averaged 15.51 yards per reception this season.
Music City Bowl: Auburn vs. Purdue (Friday, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Auburn -3.5
Auburn has never lost bowl games in three consecutive seasons. To avoid suffering that unprecedented fate, Gus Malzahn will have to avoid taking a loss against Jeff Brohm and an inspired Purdue team that has shown the ability to blast a team like Ohio State, but struggle to score points against a team like Minnesota. Purdue is a hard team to figure out, but so is Auburn.
Key matchup: Auburn’s more experienced safeties Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson will have their hands full with Purdue freshman receiver Rondale Moore. If Moore gets his hands on the ball, Auburn’s safeties will be tasked with helping to make sure he doesn’t break loose for a big gain.
Belk Bowl: South Carolina vs. Virginia (Saturday, Dec. 29, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Line: South Carolina -4.0
The 2018 season may not have seen South Carolina make a serious run for the SEC East Division as some thought they could, but Will Muschamp has the Gamecocks in a favorable draw this bowl season as they look for back-to-back bowl victories. South Carolina should fare well against Virginia’s run game, which should create an advantage by forcing Virginia to beat them through the air.
Key matchup: Deebo Samuel would have created problems for Virginia on defense and on special teams, but the First-Team All-SEC all-purpose back has decided not to play in the Belk Bowl so he can begin focusing on the NFL draft. Where can the Gamecocks look for a spark now? Bryan Edwards figures to be the next best option as South Carolina’s second-leading receiver behind Samuel and a tested punt returner. He lacks the ability to create a big play on special teams, but he should be a reliable target in the passing game.
Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State (Monday, Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Missouri -8.0
Missouri’s potent offense take son former Big 12 foe Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl, or at least whatever is left of Oklahoma State. The Tigers will take on an Oklahoma State squad that will be without star running back Justice Hill (who is preparing for the NFL draft) and faces a few injury concerns heading to the bowl season.
Key matchup: The Liberty Bowl should lead to a big day through the air for Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Lock is passing against the nation’s 107th-ranked pass defense, with the Cowboys giving up 24 passing touchdowns with just five interceptions this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 141.43 against Oklahoma State this season, and Lock enters the bowl game with a season passer rating of 145.62.
Gator Bowl: Texas A&M vs. NC State (Monday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Texas A&M -6.0
Jimbo Fisher’s first season in College Station showed some promise for the future of the Aggies, and it will come to an end against an old familiar foe from the ACC with NC State. It will be the first meeting between the two programs, although Fisher is no stranger to the Wolfpack, a former division opponent for Fisher at Florida State. The Aggies look for their first bowl win since the 2004 season as players like Kellen Mond and Jace Sternberger continue to step up their games to help the Aggies thrive.
Key matchup: Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams enters the bowl season as the nation’s fourth-leading rusher with 1,524 yards. He’ll look to continue racking up yardage on the ground against one of the best rushing defenses he’s seen this season; NC State ranks 13th in the nation against the run. The Wolfpack have allowed 109.08 yards per game on the ground this season. Against the only two rushing defenses with a better average this season, Williams rushed for 31 yards against Clemson (3rd) and 26 yards against Mississippi State (9th). He was without a touchdown in each.
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Iowa (Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Line: Mississippi State -7.0
If you’re looking for solid run defense, the Outback Bowl is the game for you. Iowa (7th) and Mississippi State (9th) each bring top ten rushing defenses to Tampa this season as Joe Moorhead gets his first chance to coach in a bowl game. He’ll do so against a man who has been here time and time again, Kirk Ferentz. If Mississippi State can get one final solid performance from quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, the Bulldogs may have enough juice on offense to outlast Iowa in what should be a good defensive battle.
Key matchup: Although Iowa is typically known for being able to handle rushing offenses, this hasn’t been one of Iowa’s better years stopping the run. And that could lead to a big day from sophomore running back Kylin Hill, who could be and has been utilized in a similar way Moorhead used Saquon Barkley at Penn State. Given how much success Moorhead had against Iowa with Barkley last year, don’t be surprised if Moorhead tries getting Hill involved in a variety of ways to catch Iowa’s defense off guard and one step behind the action.
Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State (Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 1:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Line: Kentucky +6.5
Kentucky looks to close out the most successful season of Wildcat football since 1984 when Josh Allen and Benny Snell lead them into the Citrus Bowl for a matchup with former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions. Allen will play as he brings a close to his award-winning season with the intent of going out a winner. Penn State’s Trace McSorley is looking to do the same after playing through some rough moments this season.
Key matchup: Benny Snell should be able to pick up some good yardage against a Penn State defense that ranks 71st in the nation against the run. If he can slip by a sturdy defensive line, Snell can wiggle his way by Penn State’s linebackers for some good chunks. Before clamping down on Maryland in their season finale, Penn State had given up at least 100 rushing yards in eight straight games as teams have gashed them on the ground at times this season.