Let’s give Urban Meyer a day off and look at nine of the SEC bowl games. We’re not going to include the BCS championship game between Alabama and Texas today. We’ll have plenty of time to write about that later.
Clemson 21, Kentucky 13 (Music City): We may have seen Kentucky’s Rich Brooks coach his last game. If so, that will be a shame because Brooks has done one of the great coaching jobs in this league, getting the Wildcats to four straight bowls, winning three. With QB Morgan Newton, WR Randall Cobb, and TB Derrick Locke all returning, there is a future if Joker Phillips takes over.
Georgia 44, Texas A&M 20 (Independence): Mark Richt has now won 90 games in nine years as Georgia’s head coach. Now he faces the biggest offseason of his time in Athens as he must hire a new defensive coordinator and develop a starting quarterback for 2010. This was a very good win to start that process.
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Chick-fil-A, Thursday): Both teams will want to run the ball and play defense. Don’t ask Jonathon Crompton to do too much against a defense ranked sixth in the country. Tennessee RB Montario Hardesty (1,306 yards rushing) vs. Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams (1,538) will be worth watching. I’m giving a slight edge to Virginia Tech, because DC Bud Foster will force Crompton to make plays. Virginia Tech 17, Tennessee 14.
Auburn vs. Northwestern (Outback, Friday): Auburn’s offensive balance will be too much for the Wildcats. The Tigers scored 30 or more points in seven of their 12 games. If freshman running back Onterio McCalebb comes back for this game at full speed, Northwestern won’t be able to stop them. Auburn 31, Northwestern 21.
LSU vs. Penn State (Capital One, Friday): Look at the record and you’ll see that Penn State only beat one team (Northwestern) in the Big Ten with a winning record. LSU has too many athletes and wants to get to 10 wins. LSU 28, Penn State 14.
Florida vs. Cincinnati (Sugar, Friday): This looks like a repeat of the Georgia-Hawaii Sugar Bowl blowout of 2007. Aside from the emotion of Urban Meyer leaving/not leaving, Florida is just too athletic, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati does not have its head coach, the interim head coach is leaving after this game, and the defense is not very good. They had to outscore people all season. It is SEC power and speed against a finesse team. While the Meyer flip-flop may be criticized elsewhere, it has served to refocus the Florida team after the loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Florida 38, Cincinnati 14.
Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State (Cotton, Saturday): Based on preseason expectations, Ole Miss underachieved in 2009. The loss to Mississippi State was a huge disappointment and probably kept the Rebels out of a Florida Bowl. Now they are in the Cotton for the second straight season. The key is whether or not an Oklahoma State rushing defense (No. 6 nationally at 87.67 ypg, but that figure is misleading because Cowboys are 93rd in passing defense) can control Dexter McCluster. If McCluster goes over 100, the Rebels win. Ole Miss 24, Oklahoma State 20.
Arkansas vs. East Carolina (Liberty, Saturday): Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett will use this game to stage his run at the Heisman Trophy in 2010. The key will be the Arkansas defense, which was last in the SEC, allowing 401.8 yards per game. East Carolina, coached by Skip Holtz, beat a high flying quarterback (Houston’s Case Keenum) for the Conference USA championship. Holtz has 22 seniors on this team which represents his first signing class. This will be a very good game. Let’s go against the grain and pick the Pirates. East Carolina 31, Arkansas 30.
South Carolina vs. UConn (Papajohns.com, Saturday): After three straight losses to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida, South Carolina salvaged its season with an impressive win over Clemson (34-17), which played in the ACC championship game. South Carolina is a very young team with 15 freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the two deep. Coach Steve Spurrier believed that this year was going to turn a corner from a talent standpoint. South Carolina needs to win this game to set the table for next season. UConn has been through a tough season with the death of teammate Jasper Howard. The Huskies have a great running game with junior Jordan Todman (1,152 yards) and senior
Andre Dixon (967). South Carolina 24, UConn 20.
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