Dec 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tre Mason (12) celebrates with head coach Gus Malzahn after winning the 2013 SEC Championship at Georgia Dome. Auburn defeated the Missouri Tigers 59-42. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Bowl Matchups: Nation's Best Conference Tested Again

In what many are claiming to be a “down” year in the SEC, seven teams managed to slide into the final BCS ranking of the season. Ten teams are bowl eligible, and with SEC bowl matchups now set, the conference will–once again–have a shot at defending their proverbial crown as the nation’s premier league.

For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC will put two teams into BCS bowls, with the Alabama Crimson Tide set to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl and the Auburn Tigers in pursuit of the conference’s eighth straight BCS National Championship in Pasadena on January 6th against the Florida State Seminoles.

Throughout the rest of the conference, the SEC’s merits will be tested in high profile matchups with the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC.

Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels will kick off SEC bowl action with a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. The Rebels stumbled down the stretch in a loaded SEC West, but they’ll have a chance at an eighth win in Nashville.

Facing Paul Johnson’s triple option attack is never an easy task, but with three weeks to prepare and as athletic of a front seven as any team in the nation, it’s a good matchup for Ole Miss.

The following afternoon the Mississippi State Bulldogs will hope to finish up their season with a winning record with a win over Rice in the Autozone Liberty Bowl. Rice surprised everybody with a 10-win season that they capped with a win over Marshall in the Conference USA championship.

Typically, when you see a C-USA team matched up with an SEC team in a lower tier bowl game, you expect to see fireworks, but this Rice team is actually built on a defensive unit that ranks 33rd in the country in scoring defense. Mississippi State will be favored, but this could be a potential slip up game for the conference.

Later that night, Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies will take on the Duke Blue Devils in a surprising matchup of Top 25 teams. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is my pick for coach of the year (sorry, Gus) after leading Duke to their first 10-win season in history.

However, a matchup with a dynamic offense doesn’t suit the Dukies too well (as evidenced by FSU’s romp in the ACC title game). I like Manziel and A&M to get their ninth win in Atlanta.

On New Year’s Day, the SEC will square off with the Big Ten in three bowl matchups that could really set the tone for the conference as a whole heading into the BCS games.

The Georgia Bulldogs will get the day started when they take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Gator Bowl. In a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, Georgia will be heavily favored and might have a chance to end Bo Pelini’s tumultuous tenure in Lincoln.

An hour later, the LSU Tigers will take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl while the South Carolina Gamecocks simultaneously tee it up against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bowl.

Les Miles apparently loves himself some Tampa. So everybody expect some sweet keychain photos of the LSU gang this year from Busch Gardens.

However, with LSU so enthused about their Florida vacation, it will be interesting to see if the Tigers can get up for a matchup with Iowa, who is playing some pretty good football coming off a romp of Nebraska. If they show up prepared, I like LSU by a couple of scores, but this also has all the elements to a nice little upset. The Big Ten could steal one here.

A couple of hours down the road, South Carolina will have their hands full with the Badgers in one of my favorite SEC bowl matchups of all. Despite a coaching change, Wisconsin looks as Wisconsin-y as ever, while South Carolina quietly went about their business in 2013, narrowly missing out on a BCS bid.

However, it’s not as if South Carolina has nothing to play for. The Gamecocks have an opportunity to win 11 games in a season for a third consecutive year after never having won more than 10 in their program’s history.

On Jan. 2, the Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. And if all goes according to plan, this will be the game that the SEC’s dominance is judged upon.

Alabama will be huge favorites, and if they show up with a chip on their shoulders, things could get ugly in the Superdome. But, if Alabama is flat, the Sooners could steal the game and throw a significant wrinkle into the conference’s narrative.

The next day, the Big 12 and SEC will matchup again in the Cotton Bowl when the Missouri Tigers take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in what should be a shootout. If Wisconsin and South Carolina are the old-fashioned dustup we all expect, this has to be the absolute antithesis.

Missouri lost in a shootout to Auburn, just missing out on a national title shot as Malzahn and Auburn pulled away in the fourth quarter. However, I still like their matchup against Oklahoma State. I’ll be parlaying the over and Mizzou in this one.

Then, on Jan. 4, the Vanderbilt Commodores take on the Houston Cougars in the “We Don’t Really Care, But There’s Nothing Better To Do On Saturday At Noon” bowl. In all seriousness, though, James Franklin has done a commendable job at Vandy, and the chance to win nine games for a second straight year should give Vandy enough motivation to get a W in Birmingham.

Finally, there’s the BCS National Championship Game (obligatory nod to Vizio). The Auburn Tigers will have a chance to continue the SEC’s run of dominance in the national title game against favored Florida State.

It’s an interesting matchup that pairs a team that played a suspect schedule and absolutely dominated with a team that played a loaded schedule and narrowly escaped with just one loss. I’ll give Auburn and Gus Malzahn credit for what they’ve been able to do all season, but I don’t like their matchup with Florida State’s talent-loaded defense.

The Seminoles have NFL-caliber talent throughout their two-deep, and it’s hard to imagine Auburn lining up in their updated version of the Wing-T and jamming it down their throats. But, then again, that’s exactly what I thought about Alabama, and they jammed it down their throats anyway.

All totaled, 10 bowl eligible teams should keep SEC fans pretty busy this year, and in a “down” year, I still like the SEC to go something like 7-3 this bowl season.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Auburn Tigers Georgia Bulldogs Louisiana State Tigers Mississippi State Bulldogs Missouri Tigers Ole Miss Rebels SEC South Carolina Gamecocks Texas A&M Aggies Vanderbilt Commodores

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