No conference takes pride in its accomplishments quite like the SEC. This bowl season, however, the SEC was forced to balance a stockpile of quality wins and achievements with some tough losses. The SEC actually broke even in the win and loss columns this bowl season after Alabama was defeated by Clemson in the national championship game. The SEC came down the finish line of the bowl season on a losing skid of two games, with both division champions going down in defeat in the final two games of the bowl season: the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship game.
As we continue to roll through the bowl season on a conference by conference basis, it has come time to dig into the good, the bad, and the ugly from the SEC.
The SEC enjoyed going 3-1 against the Big Ten and winning a couple of New Years Six bowl games as the highlights of the bowl season. Dan Mullen led Florida to a convincing 41-15 victory over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Any time an SEC team gets the best of Jim Harbaugh, the win is warmly accepted throughout the conference down south, and this was a no-doubt-about-it result as the Gators charge forward.
Kentucky also made some school history with a 10-win season after hanging on to defeat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. Kentucky’s 27-24 victory was much more lopsided than the final score, and was masked by a fourth-quarter rally by the Nittany Lions that made this game closer than it should have been. Auburn also absolutely clobbered Purdue in the Music City Bowl, 63-14, and Texas A&M blew away NC State, 52-13, in the Gator Bowl.
LSU may have had the most notable bowl victory for the SEC though, as the Tigers topped UCF, brought an end to the UCF winning streak, and prevented the Knights from being able to lay claim to a national title with a second straight bowl victory over an SEC team. LSU’s 40-32 victory over the Knights in the Fiesta Bowl even came with a short-handed Tigers roster, and Ed Orgeron will take it.
In the College Football Playoff, Alabama took down Big 12 champion Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray in the Orange Bowl semifinal, 45-34. Unfortunately for the SEC, the good news ended there.
Although the SEC had one more team in a New Years Six bowl game and Alabama played for the national championship, the losses suffered in both games were surprising in how they went down. Georgia was outclassed in the Sugar Bowl by the Texas Longhorns from the start of the game. Don’t let the 28-21 final score fool you: that was a bad loss for Georgia in the bowl game that is essentially the SEC’s Rose Bowl. For a team that had players chirping on Twitter mocking Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff misfortune, that was a disappointing thud for a team that couldn’t back up their smack talking.
And then there was Alabama. Any season that ends playing for a national championship against a team as strong as Clemson cannot be labeled a disappointment. It’s not often Alabama and Nick Saban run into a buzzsaw, but that appeared to be the case against the Tigers in the National Championship game in Santa Clara. Alabama suffered the biggest loss of the Saban era and the loss dropped the SEC to .500 in the entire bowl season. That made this the third straight bowl season without a winning record since the SEC went 9-2 during the 2015 bowl season.
SEC bowl season records the last five years:
* Does not include Alabama-Georgia championship game
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) January 8, 2019
The SEC went 1-2 against the ACC and 1-3 against the Big 12. Those are two conferences the SEC is perhaps most vulnerable against and can least afford to show any weaknesses to when given the opportunity. While the SEC can still boast about their 3-1 mark against the Big Ten, the ACC and Big 12 are a different story given the geographic landscape. The ACC shares the same recruiting soil for the most part. Although Clemson is on a different playing field than the rest of the ACC, the ACC will take a 2-1 record against the SEC every time it can. The Big 12 going 3-1 against the SEC, including the marquee matchup in the Sugar Bowl between Texas and Georgia, helps counter Oklahoma’s loss to the Tide. The playing field was leveled a bit this bowl season, as the results seemed to show.
Despite some of the low points this bowl season, it would be silly to suggest the SEC is dropping off in any capacity. If anything, the conference will continue to get stronger in 2019. Alabama’s not about to fade away by any stretch of the imagination, and Georgia will continue to be loaded despite a good amount of roster turnover this offseason. Florida should be on the rise, and Texas A&M could be moving in a very positive direction as well.
The SEC will have a handful of intriguing games next season in regular season play. Auburn opens the season in Arlington against Oregon. LSU will visit Texas and Missouri will host West Virginia in Week 2. Also in Week 2, Tennessee hosts BYU and, not to be overlooked, Texas A&M will visit the new defending champions Clemson. Georgia will get a chance to play Notre Dame later in September with the Fighting Irish coming to Athens on Sept. 21.
The power conferences may be on as level a playing field as they have been in years, but the SEC will have their opportunities to regain the upper hand with the schedule next season.