Campus Corner

SEC bowl rundown: What to watch for in the conference’s 10 bowl games

Coach Nick Saban’s No. 2 Alabama team is a heavy favorite to beat No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl thanks to a powerful run game and the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense, which allows only 14.4 points per game.
Coach Nick Saban’s No. 2 Alabama team is a heavy favorite to beat No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl thanks to a powerful run game and the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense, which allows only 14.4 points per game. The Associated Press

Bowl seasons have kicked off for the Southeastern Conference, which established a new benchmark by sending 10 teams to bowl games for the third consecutive season, a first in college football history.

Missouri, 5-7, which had a high enough APR to participate in a bowl game despite a losing record, declined a postseason invitation.

Still, here is a rundown of the bowl games involving SEC teams:

Music City Bowl

Texas A&M, 8-4, vs. Louisville, 7-5

When/where (TV): 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville (ESPN)

Series history: A&M leads 3-0

Last meeting: A&M 28-10 (1994 in Louisville)

The line*: Louisville by 4  1/2

Statistically speaking: Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, who combined to complete 232 of 404 passes for 2,896 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, both chose to transfer after the regular season ended. Murray is transferring to Oklahoma, while Allen reportedly is considering Houston, the Sooners, Colorado State and Nebraska.

Breakdown: Jake Hubenak, a junior college transfer, will make his first start for Texas A&M. During limited action, Hubenak only completed 12 of 27 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown and interception. That means the Aggies — who have a solid receiving corps led by Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones — almost certainly will rely heavily on 1,000-yard back Tra Carson and the run game. Sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett might have to be spectacular to give A&M a shot at pulling the upset.

Prediction: Louisville 28-13

 

Citrus Bowl

No. 19 Florida, 10-3, vs. No. 17 Michigan, 9-3

When/where (TV): 12 p.m. on Jan. 1 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando (ABC)

Series history: Michigan leads 2-0

Last meeting: Michigan 41-35 (2008 Capital One Bowl)

The line*: Michigan by 4

Statistically speaking: Florida junior running back Kelvin Taylor needs only 15 yards to crack 1,000 for the season. He has 13 touchdowns, but averages only 4.0 yards per carry.

Breakdown: Points will be at a premium. Florida boasts the No. 9 scoring defense in the country (16.5 ppg) and Michigan’s ranks No. 11 (17.2). Of course, the Gators’ offense has sputtered since quarterback Will Grier’s PED-related suspension after the Missouri game. Florida has scored 20 points or less in four of the last five games. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have scored fewer than 23 only twice, a season-opening loss at Utah and a season-closing loss against Ohio State.

Prediction: Michigan 20-10

Sugar Bowl

No. 16 Mississippi, 9-3, vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State, 10-2

When/where (TV): 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans (ESPN)

Series history: Mississippi leads 2-0

Last meeting: Mississippi 21-7 (2010 Cotton Bowl)

The line*: Mississippi by 7

Statistically speaking: Quarterbacks Chad Kelly of Mississippi and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State have enjoyed fantastic passing seasons, but Kelly is the far bigger running threat with 427 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Breakdown: First team to 40 points wins. Oklahoma State averages 41.2 in the defense-optional Big 12, while Mississippi averages 40.3 in the generally stingy SEC. The Rebels also boast a considerably better defense — or at least they did before defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche got himself suspended for the bowl game after a bizarre marijuana-related arrest (after he fell out a fourth-story hotel window into a bush) in Atlanta.

Prediction: Mississippi 41-38

TaxSlayer Bowl

Georgia, 9-3, vs. Penn State, 7-5

When/where (TV): 11 a.m. on Jan. 2 at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN)

Series history: Penn State leads 1-0

Last meeting: Penn State 27-23 (1983 Sugar Bowl)

The line*: Georgia by 6  1/2

Statistically speaking: Once considered a possible franchise quarterback in the NFL, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg averaged a meager 6.9 yards per attempt and completed only 53.3 percent of his passes this season.

Breakdown: Former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin leads Penn State into action against Mark Richt-less Georgia. Richt and the Bulldogs parted ways, but new coach Kirby Smart isn’t around yet as he stayed on to coach Alabama’s defense during the College Football Playoffs. The Nittany Lions struggled to produce offensively, ranking 101st at 23.7 points this season. That could be a problem against a Bulldogs defense that ranked 10th, allowing only 16.9 points this season.

Prediction: Georgia 23-14

Liberty Bowl

Arkansas, 7-5, vs. Kansas State, 6-6

When/where (TV): 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 2 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis (ESPN)

Series history: Kansas State leads 3-2

Last meeting: Arkansas 29-16 (2012 Cotton Bowl)

The line*: Arkansas by 13

Statistically speaking: Senior quarterback Brandon Allen has quietly had a fantastic season, completing 224 of 334 passes (65.1 percent) for 3,125 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 165.2 passer rating is sixth in the nation, while running back Alex Collins sits 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,392 yards rushing and 11th with an Arkansas record 17 rushing touchdowns.

Breakdown: Arkansas averages 115 more yards per game than Kansas State, which ranks 100th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 3.9-yard average per rush. The Wildcats lost 59-44 against Texas Tech, which also beat Arkansas 35-24 back in September. The Razorbacks have won five of six after a 2-4 start to the season and have averaged 46.5 points during that span. The Wildcats didn’t score more than 45 in any game this season.

Prediction: Arkansas 45-28

* Betting lines as of Dec. 28

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