The first college football playoff is set and the bowl games have all been announced. Leading up to the games S&E Nashville will get you ready for the excitement of bowl season and let’s you know what to expect in each game. We start with the College Football Playoff Semifinal match ups and the 11 other bowl games that feature Southeastern Conference teams.
New Orleans, La./ Mercedes-Benz Superdome
January 1 – ESPN
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State
What to watch for: Okay, so it’s not the dominant Alabama team with the lock-down defense and an offensive line full of sure-fire NFL stars, but the Crimson Tide do have the best coach perhaps in the history of college football, and a wide receiver in Amari Cooper who, right now, is about as unstoppable as any wide receiver who ever played college football. The Crimson Tide will be favored against an Ohio State team that many feel doesn’t deserve to be here, but consider this: with a third-string quarterback leading the way, the Buckeyes just posted what may have been the most impressive victory that any college team posted this season in a 59-0 demolition of a good Wisconsin team. And if Saban’s the best coach in college football right now, then right behind him is OSU’s Urban Meyer, and we’ll get to see those two renew a rivalry that dates back to Meyer’s days at Florida. This being the playoff and all, it was already must-see TV anyway, but now, it’s potentially epic.
Pasadena, Calif./ Rose Bowl
January 1 – ESPN
Oregon vs. Florida State
What to watch for: The football gods must have been looking out for Florida State as much as the Tallahassee legal system has been looking out for quarterback Jameis Winston (evidently, he wears his red jersey off the practice field, too), as the Seminoles won seven games by six points or less. We can’t remember a team that had this whole “just win when it counts” thing more down pat than the ‘Noles do, but FSU isn’t nearly as good as last year, and Winston, last year’s Heisman winner, is light-years behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota when it comes to avoiding mistakes on the field, too (Mariota threw all of two interceptions this season). But here’s the thing that’s not being talked about: the Oregon defense, which struggled big-time earlier in the year, is now playing at an elite level the last three weeks, and that makes the Ducks a scary match for anyone.
Birmingham, Ala./ Legion Field
January 3 – ESPN
Florida vs. East Carolina
What to watch for: With Florida coach Will Muschamp now gone, defensive coordinator D.J. Durbin gets a one-game crack at the helm until Jim Mcilwain takes over for good. The Gators are very talented defensively, and that matchup against ECU quarterback Shane Carden, one of the best in the land, is worth watching.
Jacksonville, Fla./ EverBank Field
January 2 – ESPN
Tennessee vs. Iowa
What to watch for: Historically speaking, getting to a bowl game at 6-6 wouldn’t be a big deal for the Vols, but with the program caught in a down cycle longer than anyone anticipated, UT hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2010 and hasn’t finished with a winning season since 2009, and so this qualifies. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, had one of the most disappointing seasons in all of college football; with a schedule that was a whole lot less challenging that most Power Five conference teams faced, the Hawkeyes seemed to have a good chance of double digit wins, but instead, they’ll limp into Jacksonville at 7-5. And speaking of limping, that’s exactly what the Vols, bruised and battered just about everywhere on the field, have done plenty of lately. Whoever wants this one the most probably wins it, and based on the way the season played out, that might be the Vols.
Tampa, Fla./ Raymond James Stadium
January 1 – ESPN
Auburn vs. Wisconsin
What to watch for: If you like old-school, ground-and-pound football, this is the game you’ll want to watch. Auburn had a shot at a national title coming into the season, but the nation’s most brutal schedule was too much to overcome. Wisconsin, with the nation’s best running back in Melvin Gordon, was inexplicably AWOL for its Big Ten title tile with Ohio State. Auburn’s had trouble stopping people defensively and the Badgers average about seven yards per carry, and while Wisconsin’s defense was great statistically, it really struggled with the better teams on its schedule. Despite the disappointments on both sides, this should be one of the better bowl games.
Orlando, Fla./ Florida Citrus Bowl
January 1 – ABC
Missouri vs. Minnesota
What to watch for: Perhaps no two teams were more underestimated, week-in and week-out, than these two. Missouri was written off for dead after losing in Week 4 to an Indiana team that ended its season 4-8, as Tiger quarterback Maty Mauk was positively dreadful during the middle of the season, but Mizzou chose the path less traveled in this era of offensive wizardry (that being defense and special teams) to shock everyone and win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division crown with a 7-1 league record. Meanwhile up in the frozen tundra, coach Jerry Kill quietly led what looked like an average Minnesota team to an 8-4 mark, which included road wins at Michigan and Nebraska. Speaking of coaches, I’ll bet you didn’t realize that Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, if he wins this one, will have averaged exactly 9.5 wins over his past eight seasons. You’ll have a tough time finding a bowl game matching two more underrated coaches than this one.
Miami Gardens, Fla./ Sun Life Stadium
December 31 – ESPN
Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
What to watch for: Two of the country’s most surprising teams face off in a game featuring two of the better dual-threat quarterbacks (MSU’s Dak Prescott vs. Tech’s Justin Thomas). Mississippi State would certainly appear to have the edge when it comes to talent, but Tech’s triple-option attack, led by coach Paul Johnson, has always been a great equalizer.
Atlanta, Ga./ Georgia Dome
December 31 – ESPN
Ole Miss vs. TCU
What to watch for: This may win the award for “closest thing to a playoff game without actually being one; TCU certainly had a strong case for making the playoff even if it it didn’t, ranks second in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings, just two spots ahead of the Rebels. Horned Frog coach Gary Patterson coaches defense about as well as anyone, and though Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is better known for offense, it was the “Land Shark” defense that paved the way for his team’s great season.
Charlotte, N.C./ Bank of America Stadium
December 30 – ESPN
Georgia vs. Louisville
What to watch for: How will Georgia’s up-and-down season close? Will the Bulldogs clamp down against Louisville as they did in absolutely destroying both Missouri and Auburn, or will they roll over and request a belly rub like they did in the Florida and Georgia Tech games? Statistically speaking, Louisville’s defense is one of the best in the country, as is wide receiver DeVante Parker, but UofL will be playing without starting quarterback Will Gardner and other than a pair of nice wins over 7-5 Notre Dame and Boston College on the road, weren’t overly impressive most of the year.
Nashville, Tenn./ LP Field
December 30 – ESPN
LSU vs. Notre Dame
What to watch for: This could easily be called the “What Might Have Been?” bowl. What if Notre Dame hadn’t been down several key players to suspensions from the start of the season, and had been able to hang on to a late lead vs. Florida State in Tallahassee? As for the Tigers, how could might they have been had they gotten anything out of the quarterback position for much of the year? Yet, because of the way everything went down, the Music City gets to see two teams that didn’t seem to be in play for this spot in the pecking order for most of the season.
Houston, Texas/ NRG Stadium
December 29 – ESPN
Arkansas vs. Texas
What to watch for: Might we call this the “Just Happy to Be Here Bowl” since, at midseason, both teams seemed to be long shots for bowl games? After losing three straight close games to SEC West teams, the Razorbacks did something nobody saw coming, shutting out LSU and Ole Miss back-to-back to get bowl eligible in Week 11. On the other side, a 3-5 Texas team was staring down a schedule that included road trips to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, plus home games with West Virginia and TCU, and yet managed to win three of those to get here. Not bad, considering first-year coach Charlie Strong went through all kinds of turmoil, from losing a starting quarterback to booting all kinds of key players before and during the season in an effort to get control of a ship that had been steering out of control under Mack Brown. And back to the Razorbacks, now that coach Bret Bielema has established a defense to go with a monster offensive line, this sophomore- and junior-dominated squad is not a team anyone much wants to play. Given what things are in Austin in Fayetteville at the moment, perhaps instead, we should call this the “Better Days Are Ahead Bowl.”
Memphis, Tenn./ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
December 29 – ESPN
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia
What to watch for: Both teams had uneven seasons, but both can sneak up on you any given day; WVU single-handedly kept Baylor out of the playoff with its victory over the Bears in Morgantown, while A&M pulled one of the stunners of the year in winning at Auburn. For more fun, two of the nation’s more offensive-minded coaches in A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and the Mountaineers’ Dana Holgersen match wits here.
Shreveport, La./ Independence Stadium
December 27 – ABC
South Carolina vs. Miami (Fla)
What to watch for: Maybe nobody in the country had more of a “did I really just see that happen” season than South Carolina. The Gamecocks, a preseason top-10 team loaded with experienced players everywhere, started their season by getting completely embarrassed by Texas A&M at home, blew late leads to Kentucky and Tennessee in the most unlikely of fashions, and ended the year by losing to a Clemson team it had absolutely owned the last five years in their biggest rivalry game. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, seemed to be coming on at mid-season as they rode a three-game winning streak which nearly became four, but the ‘Canes couldn’t hang on late at home for a win over Florida State. From there, the ‘Canes seemed to throw in the towel, losing by double digits to mediocre Pitt and Virginia teams. At the end of it all, both teams finished 6-6. Hey, somebody has to win this game, but will anybody really care?
Check out what to watch for in all the other bowl games this year here.