In & around SEC football: Bowl Previews I

December 23, 2020 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Staff Correspondent

SEC title game recap
Alabama jumped out to a 35-17 halftime lead and held on for 52-46 victory over Florida last Saturday (Dec. 19) to secure its 28th Southeastern Conference championship. Mac Jones threw for 418 yards and five touchdowns, while DeVonta Smith caught 15 passes for 184 yards and two scores as both players strengthened their Heisman Trophy campaigns. However, running back Najee Harris stole the spotlight as he rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns while catching five passes for 67 yards and three more scores. The Gators battled back in the second half and cut the lead to 35-31, but the Alabama offense kept applying pressure and responded with a score every time Florida closed the margin. Alabama earned the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff and they will face No. 4 Notre Dame in the first semifinal on Jan. 1, 2021.
Auburn coaching carousel
After a nine-day search featuring plenty of drama and speculation, Auburn found its next head coach. The Tigers hired Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin to replace Gus Malzahn. Harsin spent seven years as Boise State’s head coach, and he compiled a 69-19 record at his alma mater. Harsin also coached one season at Arkansas State, where he, ironically, replaced Gus Malzahn. The 44-year old Harsin has no ties to Auburn or the SEC, but he’s led one of the most consistent programs in the country in Boise over the last seven seasons.
SEC rankings
1. Alabama (11-0)
2. Texas A&M (8-1)
3. Florida (8-3)
4. Georgia (7-2)
5. Auburn (6-4)
6. Missouri (5-5)
7. LSU (5-5)
8. Ole Miss (4-5)
9. Arkansas (3-7)
10. Kentucky (4-6)
11. Tennessee (3-7)
12. Miss. State (3-7)
13. South Carolina (2-8)
14. Vanderbilt (0-9)
College Bowl Previews and Predictions
Friday, Dec. 25
Camellia Bowl
Marshall vs. Buffalo (-4.5). Marshall’s undefeated season ended with back-to-back losses to Rice and UAB, so the Thundering Herd are looking for a positive end to a successful season. Meanwhile, Buffalo lost in its conference title game to Ball State in an upset, which ended the Bulls’ perfect season. Regardless of the outcome, both teams overcame plenty of hurdles for good seasons in 2020. Prediction: Buffalo 31, Marshall 30.
Saturday, Dec. 26
Cure Bowl
Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina (-7.5). This is perhaps the most anticipated bowl game outside of the playoff matchups. The Chanticleers are 11-0 and in the midst of the best season in school history, while Hugh Freeze has Liberty at 9-1 with upsets over Atlantic Coast Conference teams. These teams have been among the best stories in the sport this season, and Coastal Carolina has a chance to finish the year ranked in the top 10. Prediction: Coastal Carolina 45, Liberty 41.
SERVPRO First
Responder Bowl
Louisiana vs. UTSA (+14). Louisiana head coach Billy Napier was one of several coaches who interviewed for the Auburn vacancy but will returning to Lafayette for his fourth season. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 9-1 this season, including an upset win over Iowa State in the season opener. UTSA has won three consecutive games, and the Roadrunners are searching for the first bowl win in school history. Prediction: Louisiana 38, UTSA 24.
LendingTree Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (-3.5). The Hilltoppers and the Panthers will meet in Mobile, and both teams are searching for their sixth victory of the season. Western Kentucky won three straight games to improve to 5-6 on the year, while Georgia State knocked off rival Georgia Southern and South Alabama to move to 5-4. Prediction: Georgia State 32, Western Kentucky 29.
Tuesday, Dec. 29
Cheez-It Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Miami (+2). This is the only non-New Year’s Six bowl game featuring two ranked opponents, and this has the potential to be a shootout in Orlando. Miami ended the season with a 62-26 loss to North Carolina, but the Hurricanes still had a successful 8-2 campaign. Oklahoma State just missed out on a Big 12 title game berth, but Mike Gundy’s team is 7-3 and searching for its fourth bowl win in the last five seasons. Prediction: Oklahoma State 41, Miami 38.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas vs. Colorado (+9.5). Despite flirtations with Urban Meyer, Texas has decided to retain Tom Herman for at least one more season. The Longhorns are 6-3 but are not close to contending for a national title, and frustrations are mounting in Austin. Meanwhile, Colorado has been a pleasant surprise under first-year coach Karl Dorrell, and a win over Texas would move the Buffaloes to 5-1 on the year. Prediction: Texas 34, Colorado 22.
Wednesday, Dec. 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin (-7). The Badgers have uncharacteristically struggled in 2020, and they are only 2-3 in this abbreviated season. Wisconsin’s offense lacks the dominant rushing attack from previous seasons and had to pause its season for two weeks due to COVID-19. Wake Forest is 4-4 on the year, and head coach Dave Clawson is searching for his fifth straight winning season with the Demon Deacons. Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Wake Forest 20.
TransPerfect
Music City Bowl
Iowa vs. Missouri (+14.5). Despite a 5-5 record, there have been plenty of positives in Eli Drinkwitz’s debut season at Missouri. The Tigers still don’t have the roster capable of competing at the top of the SEC, but they’ve competed and put together a solid season to build on for the future. Iowa has won six straight after an 0-2 start, with five of those wins by double digits. Prediction: Iowa 26, Missouri 19.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Florida (-3). Two weeks ago, Florida had an opportunity to play itself into the College Football Playoff. A struggling LSU team upset the Gators at home, however, and Florida could not pull off the upset over Alabama in the SEC title game. This is Dan Mullen’s best team thus far, but the Gators have an opportunity to finish the season on a three-game losing streak. Oklahoma’s season has been on the opposite trajectory. The Sooner struggled early on and lost two regular season games, but they’ve since rebounded and won seven straight, including the Big 12 championship. Prediction: Oklahoma 39, Florida 34.