SEC Football Postseason: Ranking all 10 Bowl and Playoff Matchups


The SEC is sending 10 teams to bowl games this season. Some postseason matchups are poised to produce some excitement — others, not so much.

The 2015 college football regular season has come to an end and both the bowl and playoff matchups are assigned.

The postseason kicks off on Dec. 19 with the inaugural Cure Bowl in Orlando and ends with the national championship in Glendale, AZ on Jan. 11.

RELATED: CFP: Clemson Would be Alabama’s Biggest Test

Meanwhile, the SEC begins its bowl season on Dec. 29 when Texas Tech meets LSU in the Texas Bowl.

The league has a chance to send a team to the College Football Playoff national championship for the first time if Alabama can survive Michigan State.

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The SEC may have finished last year’s postseason with a disappointing 7-5 overall record, with the West accounting for all five losses. But the games were (usually) at least competitive and exciting.

Folks south of the Mason-Dixon line are hoping for comparably compelling performances this season — only with more favorable outcomes this time around.

Here’s how Southbound and Down ranks this year’s bowl matchups in terms of projected game quality.

*All times Eastern.

1. Goodyear Cotton Bowl (Playoff Semifinal)

Arlington, TX | AT&T Stadium
Dec. 31 at 8 PM, ESPN

This year’s Cotton Bowl matchup pits two teams of similar play styles. Neither Michigan State nor Alabama are afraid to open up the playbook for their respective quarterbacks. But an old-fashioned ground-and-pound, ‘win the game with your defense’-style is where both the Spartans’ and the Crimson Tide’s success stems.

The month off should benefit quarterback Connor Cook and the Spartans — whose grueling schedule clearly took its toll near the end of the season, especially in the Big Ten championship game. Cook’s health on Dec. 31 is critical as the Crimson Tide’s secondary has been spotty at times. What’s particularly paramount is Sparty’s ability to keep Cook upright against arguably the best defensive front in the country.

For Alabama, quarterback Jake Coker has shown tremendous growth as the season progressed.  But the bread and butter for the Crimson Tide offense has been — and will continue to be — the formidable ground game imposed by running back Derrick Henry and the offensive line.

It should be a physical defensive struggle between the Big Ten and SEC powers. Expect a tight, low-scoring battle that could be decided in the final minutes of the game.

2. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

Orlando, FL | Orlando Citrus Bowl
Jan. 1 at 1 PM, ABC

Who needs offense? Another defensive battle is expected when Michigan meets Florida in a not-so-neutral Citrus Bowl matchup on New Year’s Day.

The Wolverines were one of college football’s biggest surprises this season, improving mightily under the command of coach Jim Harbaugh in his debut season. Two of Michigan’s three losses — including the crazy last-second loss to Michigan State — were decided by a touchdown or less. In the span of just one season, Harbaugh turned a decent defense into a powerhouse and transformed an inept offense into a group that could find pay dirt consistently.

With that said, the Wolverines could use some help up front, which could be a huge problem going up against a tenacious Florida defensive line. The Gators held opponents to a meager 16.5 points per game this season — and a similar performance against Michigan could elevate Florida to a Citrus Bowl victory.

But the Gators need some help from their offense.

Quarterback Treon Harris has been atrocious in his final three games and he faces another tough assignment with the Wolverines’ defense — which only allows 4.4 yards per play — looming on New Year’s Day.

3. Allstate Sugar Bowl

New Orleans, LA | Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Jan. 1 at 8:30 PM, ESPN

Both the Ole Miss Rebels and the Oklahoma State Cowboys have become strangers to the Sugar Bowl. The last trip for Ole Miss was nearly half a century ago (1969); Oklahoma State’s latest visit goes back even further to 1945. Oddly enough, these two programs have only met in Cotton Bowl clashes.

Nov 22, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Ole Miss Rebels quarterback Ryan Buchanan (9) passes during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas defeated Mississippi 30-0. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss will have played in back-to-back New Year’s Six games, but coach Hugh Freeze will look to do better than last year’s embarrassing 42-3 Peach Bowl loss to TCU.

Coach Mike Gundy, on the other hand, managed to turn a mediocre 7-6 Oklahoma State team in 2014 to a 10-2 conference contender in 2015 — collecting its fourth double digit-win season in the last six years. But if the Cowboys are to knock off a surging Ole Miss squad, they’ll need some certainty at the quarterback position. Sophomore Mason Rudolph suffered a foot injury after losing to Oklahoma in the season finale. Rudolph is still expected to play, but senior J.W. Walsh is expected to handle a fair share of snaps as well.

Arguably the most intriguing matchup between the Cowboys and Rebels is the high-powered Ole Miss aerial attack — directed by QB Chad Kelly and WR Laquon Treadwell — against the Oklahoma State secondary.

The Cowboys’ defense has been prone to giving up big plays this season, but coordinator Glenn Spencer has done an excellent job wreaking havoc around the line of scrimmage and creating turnovers.

4. Outback Bowl

Tampa, FL | Raymond James Stadium
Jan. 1 at Noon, ESPN2

Northwestern was another one of the Big Ten’s pleasant surprises, quietly manufacturing a 10-win campaign this season (including a 16-6 win over No. 6-ranked Stanford).

But the Wildcats will certainly have their hands full against a red hot Tennessee. The Volunteers closed out the season with five consecutive victories. In addition, each of their four losses came by a touchdown or less.

Surprisingly, Northwestern’s defense has been its strength all season — holding opposing offenses to just 4.48 yards per play and 3.45 yards per carry. That defense will be tested on Jan. 1 when it’ll be tasked with trying to slow down Tennessee’s backfield duo of Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd.

Despite the Vols’ tendency to blow late-game leads, it’s hard to envision the Wildcats — with their lack of offensive firepower — keeping this one close if Tennessee jumps out to an early advantage in the Outback Bowl.

5. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Houston, TX | NRG Stadium
Dec. 29 at 9 PM, ESPN

Aside from the 19-6 win over rival Texas A&M in the last regular season game, LSU’s ending to the 2015 season was borderline disastrous. Before their meeting with the Aggies, the Tigers had lost three straight games and coach Les Miles’ seat was scorching.

Now, LSU has a few answers heading into the bowl season. Miles will return to Baton Rouge and a complete offensive facelift is expected — but not before the bowl matchup against Texas Tech.

Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (who’s averaging 158.3 yards per game) and the offensive line will face one of the worst running defenses in the country. The Red Raiders allow an average 271.8 yards per game on the ground and Fournette likely won’t help that statistic.

But Texas Tech can counter LSU’s ground game with an offense that’s averaging 46.6 points per game. The Tigers’ secondary has been vulnerable in defending the aerial attack — which could be a problem against the prolific Red Raider offensive trio composed of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, running back DeAndre Washington and receiver Jakeem Grant.

6. TaxSlayer Bowl

Jacksonville, FL | EverBank Field
Jan. 2 at Noon, ESPN

The Penn State-Georgia matchup certainly looks stellar on paper. The on-field play, on the other hand, may not be all that exciting.

Both teams struggled to find a true offensive identity all season — but for different reasons.

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  • Georgia lost its Heisman-contending running back Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee and never could get the passing attack going under first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, regardless of who it was handling the snaps.

    Meanwhile, the offensive line was Penn State’s Achilles’ heel all year and quarterback Christian Hackenberg never developed into a consistent thrower in coach James Franklin’s scheme.

    Both teams had no choice but to make some personnel changes.

    John Donovan was fired as the Nittany Lions’ play-caller and former Georgia coach Mark Richt was let go after an unimpressive win over rival Georgia Tech, leaving receivers coach Bryan McClendon to lead the Bulldogs in the TaxSlayer Bowl as interim coach.

    Points will be scarce in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville on Jan. 2.

    7. Birmingham Bowl

    Birmingham, AL | Legion Field
    Dec. 30 at Noon, ESPN

    The Birmingham Bowl features another matchup between two programs going through key personnel changes. Memphis lost its head coach to Virginia Tech and Darrell Dickey will serve as the team’s interim coach for the bowl.

    Coaching uncertainty surrounds Auburn as well, as defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left to be the head coach at South Carolina.

    Additionally, the Tigers (of the SEC) were one of the biggest disappointments this season. After being picked in the preseason to win the SEC and make a College Football Playoff appearance, Auburn finished the season dead last in the West (2-6 in conference) and just barely reached bowl eligibility.

    Auburn’s defense — which ranked near the bottom of the league in defending the pass — will be tasked with trying to slow down Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.

    Things may not go well for the (Auburn) Tigers in their return to Birmingham.

    8. Belk Bowl

    Charlotte, NC | Bank of America Stadium
    Dec. 30 at 3:30 PM, ESPN

    This year’s Belk Bowl matchup features a highly underrated quarterback battle between Mississippi State‘s Dak Prescott and Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State.

    This is the final game of both quarterbacks’ respective collegiate careers and it’s an opportunity to avenge losses to their biggest rivals in Week 13.

    The Wolfpack allowed 20 passing touchdowns scores this season and they’ll certainly have their hands full with Prescott and the Bulldogs’ talented crop of receivers. For NC State, fullback Jaylen Samuels may be the most versatile threat (315 rushing yards and a team-high 64 catches).

    We’re poised for a high-scoring affair in Charlotte; the winner will end a successful season on a high note.

    9. Franklin Amer. Mort. Music City Bowl

    Nashville, TN | Nissan Stadium
    Dec. 30 at 7 PM, ESPN

    It’s tough taking some of the bowl games seriously — especially since there’s 41 of them this year. But the postseason is an excellent opportunity for teams to develop young players and build momentum to carry over to the next season.

    Both Music City Bowl qualifiers will look to do just that on Dec. 30.

    Louisville ended its regular season with a huge comeback win over in-state rival Kentucky thanks to freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson — who likely secured the starting spot. The bowl game will be good practice for Jackson and his deficient offensive line for the future. But in the meantime, the Cardinals must find a solution up front before facing Texas A&M’s defensive line — headlined by end Myles Garrett and true freshman tackle Daylon Mack.

    Similar to Louisville, the Aggies enter the postseason with a number of unknowns offensively. Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both started for A&M at times this season, but neither emerged as a definitive starter. However, both Allen and Murray announced their intents to transfer earlier this month, leaving Jake Hubenak as the only quarterback on the roster with a scholarship.

    How the Aggies respond to the QB departures will be something to keep an eye on in Nashville.

    10. AutoZone Liberty Bowl

    Memphis, TN | Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
    Jan. 2 at 3:20 PM, ESPN

    The Arkansas Razorbacks and the Kansas State Wildcats last met in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, but there’s still some familiarity between the two programs. Though it was a relatively short tenure, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was once the co-defensive coordinator under Kansas State coach Bill Snyder from 2002-03.

    Now, after starting the season 1-3, Bielema has his Razorbacks trending in the right direction — winning five of their last six games to finish 7-5 overall. Credit quarterback Brandon Allen and the 1,392-yard running back Alex Collins for their contributions towards the late-season turnaround.

    Kansas State’s offense, however, has struggled mightily and suffered key injuries this season. The Wildcats are only averaging a meager 4.94 yards per play.  If the Hogs play inspired football, it’ll be tough for the ‘Cats to stay within striking distance.

    This year’s Liberty Bowl could be one of the more lopsided games this postseason.

    Next: Power Ranking the SEC East Head Coaches

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