The satisfaction of reaching a bowl game varies among programs across the SEC and college football. Having the luxury to virtually prepare for next season with a postseason game to foreshadow is how some teams may approach the bowl season as in Auburn, LSU and Tennessee returning its starting quarterbacks for next season with a talented enough roster to make an impact. Other teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State look to provide a proper send off to two of the nation’s most efficient passers along with a couple of other all-conference performers.
The once dominant SEC, yes I used that in the past tense, has taken a step down this season with underperformance and the lack of big quarterback play. The conference usually hangs its hat on its successful bowl showing and looks to capitalize on some favorable matchups heading into the new year. Making the conference look good is one thing, but individually some teams need a good showing to help boost the program’s image or to continue to ride its success. Here is the breakdown of which games I view are most important to the programs and teams individually regarding the current status of the team.
#10. Tax Slayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State
With the departure of Mark Richt and the absence of eventual head coach Kirby Smart, this game is really just something to enjoy on your New Year’s Day hangover. The Bulldogs still without all-conference runner Nick Chubb can reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons. But yet, Bulldog fans wanted Richt out and the demands were met. Welcome to college football, folks!
Game Details: Jan. 2 at Noon EST on ESPN // Jacksonville, FL // EverBank Field
#9. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan
Frankly, just getting to a mid-tier bowl in his first season as head coach, Jim McElwain has already had a successful inaugural season in Gainesville. With quarterback issues and an inconsistent offense, not much is expected from this Gator squad on New Year’s Day. Amazingly making it to the SEC Championship Game with 10 wins, the Gators have already reached its peak this season and getting to 11 wins is just a luxury. Having that opportunity alone tells you what a fine job McElwain has done this season or the lack of a strong East division or a little bit of both.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ABC // Orlando, FL // Orlando Citrus Bowl
#8. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State
A pseudo fumble play essentially eliminated them from going to Atlanta for its first ever SEC title game appearance and the Rebels will settle for second place in the SEC with a Sugar Bowl berth. The game is important to many in the game but from an outsiders’ perspective the game will just be entertaining to watch as we know the program is in good hands with or without a win here. One thing is for certain though: NFL scouts will be aplenty.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // New Orleans, LA // Mercedes Benz Super Dome
#7. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State
Having won its past two bowl games versus the Big 12, the Razorbacks are prone to having hot finishes as of late. The key to ending this game with a win is to carry the victory over to next season. Arkansas dominated a declining Texas squad a season ago, but failed to keep the momentum into the 2015 season. The importance of this game is to win, but to also deliver a bright spot to the 2016 season without Brandon Allen.
Game Details: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m. EST on ESPN // Memphis, TN // Liberty Bowl
#6. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. NC State
Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the always highly competitive West division in the preseason and managed to come away with eight wins. Finding a way to get to eight wins was huge for this program and compliments Dan Mullen’s ability to hang in there with some of the top teams in the division. With Mullen’s name being tossed around for some coaching jobs it’s unsure to note how comfortable Mullen is staying in Starkville for a longer period of time. I’m guessing a win here sure would help. Oh, and we’ll miss you Dak!
Game Details: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // Charlotte, NC // Bank of America Stadium
#5. Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech
Pretty much having to “rehire” Les Miles as its head coach, LSU has the opportunity to get to nine wins in what has been a very interesting and lopsided season. With a win here, it gives LSU officials that doubted the direction of the program the chance to not say, “I told you so,” with a loss here motivating that comment. Regardless, LSU has the opportunity to capitalize on its impressive amount of bowl victories in its history currently at 23 wins.
Game Details: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN // Houston, TX // NRG Stadium
#4. Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern
What more positive things can we say about this Tennessee program with Butch Jones? We’ve tried to embrace the new culture but the wins and intensity has yet to stick. Jones isn’t on his way out, but if an unattractive loss came to the Big Ten’s Vanderbilt, there will be some heavy heat on the program heading into 2016, but I don’t have to warn you about that happening.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at Noon EST on ESPN 2 // Tampa, FL // Raymond James Stadium
#3. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville
The offensive schemes in this matchup of Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino are intriguing enough without whatever is going on in College Station at the moment. First off, the Aggies are going to have to find a quarterback to start the game and Sumlin will need to find a way to distract viewers and followers from the dark cloud looming over the campus. A win would of course help the rumors and exaggerations from spreading even further.
Game Details: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN // Nashville, TN // Nissan Stadium
#2. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis
The punishment of finishing with an underwhelming 6-6 record is a bus ride two hours up the road to take on the number one rated NFL draft quarterback Paxton Lynch (good luck with that). Gus Malzahn is 0-2 in bowl games at Auburn and both losses have come when failing to hold fourth quarter leads. Malzahn’s seat is getting warm and another bowl loss, even without much of a defensive staff, would be an extremely disappointing outcome and would create some murmurs throughout the fan base.
Game Details: Dec. 30 at Noon EST on ESPN // Birmingham, AL // Legion Field
#1. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
We knew Alabama would get here somehow to be the lone team to represent the SEC. The importance of this game falls on the shoulders of the SEC and the Alabama program itself. The SEC’s stance on this game is hoping to at least have Alabama win for a chance to win another national championship for the conference. As for Alabama, the loss to the later national champion Ohio State did not settle well in Tuscaloosa and if the Tide were going to drop another, I imagine there would be some uncomfortable feelings toward the football program.
Game Details: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN // Dallas/Arlington, TX // AT&T Stadium