Bowl season officially kicks off this weekend as college football looks to provide its final act of the 2012-2013 season through a collection of 35 bowl games. Alabama will be looking to stretch the SEC’s run of consecutive national championships to seven when they take on top ranked Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. Here is a ranking of all nine bowl games featuring SEC teams in the order of which games should feature the most excitement.
1) Discover BCS National Championship
January 7, 2013
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
The Fighting Irish look to cap an undefeated season with the school’s first national championship since 1988 and ninth national title since 1936. The Fighting Irish are the only bowl eligible team to have made it through the season undefeated and will look to pass their final challenge by defeating SEC superpower Alabama. Alabama will be seeking their third national championship in four years. Both these teams share the same formula for success, winning games behind dominating defenses, power running games, and serviceable passing attacks. This matchup might just come down to which quarterback is able to not make the big mistake. Alabama starter AJ McCarron has a record of 24-2 as a starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide and will surely benefit from having played in the national championship the year before. Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson has been playing much more consistent for the Fighting Irish down the stretch, turning the ball over only once in the last three games. He can expect to face his toughest challenge in the BCS National Championship as Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a reputation as an elite game planner who is 4-1 in bowl games as the head coach at Alabama.
2) AT&T Cotton Bowl
January 4, 2013
No.9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s omission from the BCS sees the Sooners pitted against former Big 12 rival Texas A&M in this year’s AT&T Cotton Bowl. Texas A&M freshman sensation and Heisman award winner Jonny Manziel took the nation by storm, scoring a total of 43 touchdowns during a season that was nothing short of spectacular. He also broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season, and maybe most impressively, did it against a schedule that featured three defenses ranked in the Top 10 nationally in yards against. Manziel threw for 3,419 through the air while rushing for 1,181 and averaging over six yards a carry on the ground. Expect plenty of offensive fireworks, as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for 3,989 yards on the season and has the Oklahoma passing attack ranked fifth nationally in yards passing per game. Both schools have scored 40 or more points in a game this season on seven different occasions so this game should feature one of the more active scoreboards during the bowl season. Oklahoma is the only school in the nation that will have faced all three Heisman trophy finalists (Manziel, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, and Kansas State’s Collin Klein) in the 2012 season.
3) Outback Bowl
January 1, 2013
No. 10 South Carolina vs. No. 18 Michigan
There might not be a better player-for-player matchup offered this bowl season than the Outback Bowl’s offering of South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney pitted against Michigan quarterback/running back Denard Robinson. Robinson will be closing out his amazing college career back in his home state of Florida and will look to put the final touches on an electrifying career. Clowney ranks second in the country in sacks, and was selected as the SEC defensive player of the year as voted on by SEC coaches. This SEC/Big 10 matchup pits a true traditional power in Michigan against an emerging player out of the premier football conference in America in the University of South Carolina. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier became the South Carolina football program’s all-time winningest head coach in the Gamecock’s 27-17 win over in state rival Clemson in their regular season finale and looks to lead South Carolina to back-to-back 11-win seasons. A win over Michigan would be Spurrier’s third bowl win with the Gamecocks during his eight year tenure there, giving him the school record for most bowl wins in school history as well.
4) Chick-fil-A Bowl
December 31, 2012
No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 8 LSU
This matchup features two programs with the same mascot (Tigers), share the same nickname for their home stadiums (Death Valley), and even have “Tiger Rag” as their fight songs. Whether you like offense or defense this bowl matchup will feature both. LSU, the 11th ranked scoring defense in the country giving up only 17 point per-game, will be led by the junior defensive end tandem of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery . Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd ranks fourth nationally in passer rating and took home 2012 ACC Offensive MVP honors after racking up 4042 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns. Clemson failed to win either one of their two games against ranked opponents during their regular and will be looking for a signature win against a Top 10 nationally ranked SEC opponent. LSU may feel hard done by slipping all the way down the SEC bowl pecking order after a 10-2 season that only featured losses to Alabama and Florida but still secured a marquee opponent in Clemson in what looks to be one of the more appealing bowl matchups of the postseason. This year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl is one of only four bowl games that features two teams ranked inside of the Top-15 of the current BCS Standings.
5) Capital One Bowl
January 1, 2013
No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska
Georgia was five yards away from playing Notre Dame in the National Championship but a loss in the SEC Championship for the second consecutive season sees them headed to Orlando to play in the Capital One Bowl against a Nebraska team also coming off a loss in their conference championship. Georgia freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have to be excited to take on a Cornhusker defense that gave up 539 yards rushing in their 70-31 loss to Wisconsin their last time out. Gurley has been the most successful freshman running back at Georgia since Hershel Walker and the Freshman All-American will be looking to carry the success he’s experienced in his first year of college football into his first ever bowl game . However, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense has to like their chances going against a Georgia defense that also struggled in their last outing. The Bulldogs gave up over 500 yards against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, including 350 yards on the ground. With Martinez’s big play potential (he scored on an 76-yard scramble in the Big 10 championship), expect to see Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones close to the ball anytime Martinez tries to scramble. Jones, the SEC defensive player of the year by the Associated Press, is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss with 22 ½ and is also credited with seven forced fumbles.
6) Allstate Sugar Bowl
January 2, 2013
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville
The Gators defeated six teams currently ranked in the Top 10 of the BCS and their lone loss was a 17-9 loss to Georgia (another team ranked in the Top 10) in which the Gators fumbled on the one yard line inside the final three minutes of the game. That lone loss to Georgia kept the Gators out of the SEC Championship game and has them playing in New Orleans rather than in Miami. Florida has been successful behind a power running game averaging just under 200 yards per-game and a stonewall defense that ranks third nationally in points against. Louisville will be playing in their first BCS bowl game since 2006 and should be boosted by Head Coach Charlie Strong’s decision to sign an extension following the Cardinals 10-2 season. Strong, a former Florida Gator defensive coordinator, will need a big game from sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who could jumpstart a potential Heisman campaign in 2013 with a breakout game against the Gators on such a national stage. Bridgewater led the Cardinals to their BCS run by defeating Rutgers in what was essentially the Big East Championship, 20-17. In that game Bridgewater threw two second half touchdown passes, despite playing with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle. It will be interesting to see what he does for an encore against one of the nation’s most elite defenses in Florida.
7) Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
December 31, 2012
NC State vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt should enter their Music City Bowl game riding a wave of momentum. The Commodores are bowling for the second consecutive season for the first time in school history and their 8-4 record is the most wins at the school since 1982. Vanderbilt also won five conference games for the first time since 1953. For all intents and purposes this has been an absolutely spectacular season for Head Coach James Franklin and the Commodores program as he team closed out the season by winning their final six games including a 41-18 demolition of instate rival Tennessee. A win in the bowl game may just vault Vanderbilt into the Top-25 at seasons end. NC State enters the game having endured a roller coaster season that saw the firing of Head Coach Tom O’Brien at the conclusion of the season. Dana Bible will serve as the interim coach in what will be more like a road game than a bowl game, with the game taking place in Nashville. North Carolina State senior quarterback Mike Glennon has plenty of big play potential and established himself as one of the most proficient quarterbacks in the ACC by throwing 30 touchdowns in 2012. Expect the Wolfpack to test the Vanderbilt secondary early and often by allowing Glennon to air it out all over the field in what will be his last chance to improve his draft status come May.
8) TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl
January 1, 2013
No. 20 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
The Northwestern Wildcats will be looking to secure their first bowl win since winning the 1949 Rose Bowl when they take on the Mississippi Wildcats on New Year’s Day in the TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl. Northwestern held leads against both Nebraska and Michigan in the fourth quarter but we unable to secure victories in either game, costing them a chance to represent the Legends Division in the Big 10 Championship game. Their 9-3 record is still their best record during the seven year tenure of Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. The backfield duo of quarterback Cain Kolter and second-team All-Big Ten selection running back Venric Mark will both need big games in order for the Wildcats to be successful. Mark ranks ninth nationally in all-purpose yards per-game averaging 170 total yards a game. Mississippi State All-American and Jim Thorpe award winner Johnthan Banks will be a key member responsible for stopping the Northwestern offense. The Wildcats don’t throw often but they will still need to be aware of Banks who has big play potential. Mississippi State will be looking for their second Gator Bowl win in two years. The Bulldogs started the season 7-0 and rose as high as 11 in the BCS Standings before losing four out of their last five, including a 41-24 loss to rival Ole Miss in the season finale. A win in the Gator Bowl would reignite some momentum on the recruiting trail and into 2013 for Dan Mullen and his Bulldog staff.
9) BBVA Compass Bowl
January 5, 2013
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze has been a revelation in his first year in charge in Oxford. Freeze took over a program on a 14-game conference losing streak and proceeded to lead the Rebels to their first bowl game in three seasons. This is another bowl game that should feature explosive offensive potential. For Ole Miss, the sophomore pass-catch combination of quarterback Bo Wallace and Donte Moncrief has proved a successful for the Rebels as Moncreif ranks fifth in the SEC in receiving yards with 948 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Pitt Panthers finished the season winning four out of their remaining six games to become bowl eligible. One of their two losses included a triple overtime 29-26 loss to top-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend. Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri has been much more efficient than last season and has the longest active streak in the country of passes without an interception with 270 straight passes without a pick. Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham had a great bounce back season after suffering a season ending ACL injury the year before and broke the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. The difference in this game may be on the defensive side of the ball. Pittsburgh’s defense allows only 19.7 points a game while Ole Miss has allowed an average of 28.5.