The SEC Bachstory will be a weekly SEC recap posted every Monday morning breaking down all the big events from the previous weekend. In order to eliminate all confusion, the Bach in Bachstory is pronounced like back (Back to the Future, The Empire Strikes Back, Back in Black), you get the picture. There are a lot of great bowl games this year and like the normal Bachstory I will not be able to hit on every team and every game. This a small SEC bowl preview, I want to hit on the games I like, the games I don't and of course the BCS Championship game.
The SEC Bowls I love
Each bowl season is different, but this year there seems more games than usual that I absolutely love. This might be the best slate of Bowl games for SEC teams in years and it includes a number of games with ranked higher competition for the SEC, expect the SEC to have another great record after the last game has been played. There are two games that caught my eye and look to be instant classics. The first one is the Peach Bowl with Virginia Tech matching up against Tennessee on New Year's Eve. I have a soft spot for the Peach Bowl originally being from Atlanta and it is hard not to like Virginia Tech ending their season the same way it started, in the Georgia Dome against an SEC team. The Tennessee defense is not as good as Alabama's, which had their way with Tech, but it is very strong up front and they have a dominant player on each level. Dan Williams, Rico McCoy and Eric Berry are forces in their positions of the Vols defense and they should match up very well with the predictable Hokie offense.
The other game I love is the Outback bowl between Auburn and Northwestern. Two spread offenses, two suspect defenses and it looks like Raymond James stadium has one of the more underrated bowl games of the season. Auburn played very well early in the year mostly because they were healthy and the lack of depth didn't hurt as bad in games 1-5 compared to games 6-12. Give Gus Malzahn a month to prepare for a bowl game and he should be able to pull up some additional tricks and formations to throw off the Wildcat defense. But this game is not going to be an easy one for Auburn, Northwestern has had an up and down season, but down the stretch they ended their year with some very good wins. They defeated Iowa and Wisconsin, two ranked teams, in November while Auburn's only win in November was Furman. The Tigers lost 5 of 6 SEC games and the Wildcats won their last three Big Ten games.
There isn't space to go into depth on every game, but as an SEC fan you have to be fired up about the match-ups between LSU/Penn State, Georgia/Texas A&M, Ole Miss/Oklahoma State, and South Carolina/UCONN. There are a lot of pretty interesting story lines and exciting players from the other conferences to keep an eye on and we will talk more about them later in the month.
The SEC Bowl I don't love
ACC/SEC match-ups always have a lot of regional excitement, but the Music City bowl isn't doing much for me with a rematch of the 2006 game between Clemson and Kentucky. This is not a knock at Kentucky at all, a fourth straight bowl game for the Wildcats is huge and Rich Brooks did an amazing job this year, but it would have been nice to see the Wildcats play someone else in their third trip to Nashville in four seasons. Clemson brings some offensive star power with speedsters CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford, but it is a little disappointing for both teams to be playing in this game. Kentucky had their eyes on a bigger bowl game but fell to the "basketball" school stigma in the SEC's 7-5 mess. Clemson was screwed by a retiring Bobby Bowden and ACC bowl alliances allowing the division winners to fall way too far. Both teams are happy to be in the postseason, but probably not overly excited to be playing in Nashville against each other.
The SEC Bowl I am intrigued by
We have an eerily similar situation brewing in the Sugar bowl this year and if it wasn't for the senior leadership on the Gators team I would be calling for a Cincinnati upset today. But Tim Tebow going out losing his last two college games is something I can't see happening, but the disappointment the Gators will be carrying into New Orleans will be palpable. If you think that Florida is going to walk into this game and steamroll over the "lesser" conference Champion, you are sorely mistaken. Last year Alabama went into the Sugar bowl overconfident and hurting after missing out on an opportunity to play in the National Championship game.
Alabama was without their best player, Andre Smith, who was suspended for illegal contact with an agent and Alabama was not prepared to play a motivated Utah team. This year we have nearly the same situation with a hurt Florida team settling for the Sugar bowl after National Championship aspirations were dashed in the SECCG. One of their best players, Carlos Dunlap, will likely not be traveling to the game with his indefinite suspension due to a DUI last week. Tebow will have them ready to play, but will it be enough to defeat a very motivated team from the Big East who is unbeaten and ready to prove they deserved more than first place vote in the Coaches poll.
The SEC Bowl that Matters Most
It is hard to go this long without mentioning the BCS Championship game between Alabama and Texas, but the most important SEC bowl will be taking place in Pasadena and for the fourth year in a row the SEC will be a part of the biggest bowl game in the country. There are two points I want to make about this game, the first is how much we are going to hear from Kirk Herbstreit the next month about how the underdog in this game gets tired about hearing how bad they are going to lose and rises up to win the game. That isn't going to happen this year. Alabama is too good, too deep and too well coached to allow it to happen and anytime you give Nick Saban time to prepare for any team, he wins. Alabama is one of the most physical SEC teams in years and Texas is, well, soft.
The Longhorns have and always will be a soft team under Mack Brown. I can't explain it, but maybe it is because football is so big in Texas and the players are treated better than the President of the United States, but they are not physical and if you punch them in the mouth they fold. It happens to nearly every one of their NFL Players and I expect it to happen against Alabama as well. To adjust a quote from the great Pat Dye, "Texas isn't man enough to beat Alabama." The other note I want to mention is going to be difficult for a lot of SEC fans to accept and understand, but if you love the SEC, you need to pull for Alabama in this game.
That may be sac religious for some fans, so for you guys I will just tell you not to watch the game. But for the SEC as a conference, a fourth straight BCS National Championship is only going to do better things for the conference. Right now the SEC champion will always get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a BCS title game/Final Polls and another win in the game will further cement the leagues legacy as the dominant program in college football. I said this last year and I will say it every year that the league has a team in the big game. It is good for the conference to win National Championships, set your hatred aside for the bowl season and focus on the bigger picture. College football is cyclical, teams that are up go back down and the same goes for conferences. The SEC will lose a championship game at some point in our lifetimes, you shouldn't hope for it though.
4 Downs with the Bowls
First Down – Muschamp vs. Saban
The storylines about the coaching match-ups in the BCS Championship game are numerous but there is one that stands out the most. Former LSU and Miami Dolphin Defensive Coordinator under Nick Saban, Texas DC and HC in waiting Will Muschamp, will face his former boss in Pasadena. Muschamp has gone up against Saban once already while he has been the Alabama head coach; he was the Auburn defensive Coordinator in 2007 when the Tigers beat the Tide 17-10. Muschamp was part of Saban's first National Championship while at LSU and he has gone on to be one of the most coveted Head Coach prospects in the country even as the Longhorn Head Coach in Waiting.
The coaching connections don't stop with Saban and Muschamp though; both defensive coordinators in this game ironically are former Georgia Bulldogs with Muschamp graduating in 1994 and Alabama DC Kirby Smart graduating in 1998. Add in the fact that Alabama has never beaten Texas; they are 7-0-1 all time against the Longhorns and this will likely be a match-up between the top two finishers in the Heisman (expect Texas QB Colt McCoy and Alabama RB Mark Ingram to finish 1 and 2 in the Heisman race, no clue as to who will be 1 and who will be 2). This will be first time in four consecutive BCS Championship games for the SEC that the SEC will be going in as the number one team in the country. The SEC has been favored but they have always been the ranked second in the BCS. It will be interesting to see how Alabama handles that pressure and how Will Muschamp's defense tries to handle a very physical Alabama offense.
Second Down – Off Topic, but I want to talk Fiesta
I want to go off topic for a little bit to discuss the travesty that has happened in the Fiesta Bowl this year. Do not believe for one minute what the talking heads are telling you about how amazing this game will be and how exciting it is to have two undefeated teams playing in Arizona. It is an insult to both Boise State and TCU to be forced to play in their own sandbox while the big boys do their own thing. This has nothing to do with my issues with Boise State this year or any disrespect to the "underdog" Non-BCS programs, it has everything to do with the fact we all wanted to see these two schools go up against a BCS program and see how they do.
If you disagree with me let me ask you a question, since the NCAA Basketball tournament began a play in game how many times have you watched that game. Degenerate gamblers please do not answer; I want to know how many of you fans out there that actually fills out an office bracket pays attention to the game between team 64 and 65 to determine that final team in the brackets. This game is televised on ESPN each year, but no one pays any attention to it because it is David vs. David. Without Goliath as part of the equation the game completely loses all of its excitement and what we now have with TCU and Boise is the New Mexico Bowl in a bigger stadium. The underdog is something this country loves, but that is not what we have in the Fiesta Bowl.
Both of these two programs would have benefited greatly by playing against a BCS opponent. If Iowa would have played Boise State in the Fiesta everyone fan in the country would have wanted to see that Hawkeye defense against that great Boise offense. If Georgia Tech played TCU in the Orange Bowl we would have had two teams with a common opponent, Clemson, facing off. TCU's physical defense against Paul Johnson's option attack would have been a fun match up to dissect the next month, but instead the Non-BCS gets screwed worse than not being able to play for a championship. They don't get the opportunity to play for respect. My opinion of either program won't change a bit when they win this game. A win will be meaningless to TCU or Boise and that is a disservice to those two schools.
Third Down – What's Record got to do with it?
One thing is made painfully obvious each and every bowl season and that is that your record and head to head wins have nothing to do with what bowl game your team will be playing in. There are a lot of unhappy programs right now who feel they should be playing in better bowl games but are relegated to the Birmingham's and Shreveport's of the SEC bowl tie-ins. There is no way to figure it out, but it is pretty surprising when teams like Georgia and South Carolina win their rivalry games, end up with the same record as 6 other SEC teams and get the second to last and last bowl selections. Is it fair, no…Is there a better way to assign bowls, nope.
Bowl selections are based on how many tickets your program can sell and the last time your program played in that game. It is all about money and college football fans hate to hear that, but like all big business, money is what drives it. The Outback bowl has to consider taking a South Carolina team that played there last year, Tennessee/Georgia who play there very often or an Auburn team that hasn't played in Tampa since 1996. They picked Auburn. The Peach bowl has to decide if having UGA play in their backyard is better than a UT team that didn't play in a bowl game last season. It isn't a science, but the drama of trying to figure out where your team's reward is located is part of why college football is great.
Fourth Down – From the Gut SEC Predictions
Briefly looking at the SEC Bowl games this year, I have some quick off the cuff predictions to which games I expect the SEC to win and which ones I expect them to lose. These picks will obviously change over the next couple weeks but less than 24 hours after the games have officially been announced, this is how I see them.
BCS Championship – Alabama 34 Texas 20
Sugar Bowl – Florida 35 Cincinnati 31
Citrus Bowl (Capital One) – Penn State 24 LSU 20
Outback Bowl – Auburn 38 Northwestern 35
Cotton Bowl – Ole Miss 31 Oklahoma State 24
Peach Bowl (Eat Mor Chikin) – Virginia Tech 20 Tennessee 13
Music City Bowl – Kentucky 27 Clemson 24
Liberty Bowl – Arkansas 45 East Carolina 28
Independence Bowl – Georgia 31 Texas A&M 30
Papa Johns Bowl – South Carolina 24 UCONN 10
Just a reminder, I want your emails. Tell me where I'm wrong, where I'm right and where you think I am full of it. Your emails can shape what I should be writing about and if you don't tell me, I won't change. E-mail me Brian Harbach