SEC Bowl Preview

The Southeastern Conference has nine teams in bowl games this year, and the SEC should do pretty well. The big question is whether Florida should be expected to upset Ohio State to win the national championship, although Alabama fans are, rightfully, concerned primarily about the Independence Bowl contest against Oklahoma State.

We'll get to that Alabama bowl game, but first a look at the national championship contest:

BCS Championship Game: Florida vs. Ohio State

Matchup to watch: Florida DL vs. Ohio State OL

Statistically, these teams are nearly mirror images of each other, even though they use completely different offensive and defensive systems to achieve results. Ohio State is 15th in total offense and 13th in total defense, while Florida is 21st in total offense and 10th in total defense. The big disparity on the numbers comes when you look at big plays behind the line of scrimmage. Florida ranks 54th in sacks and 60th in tackles for loss. But Ohio State is 10th in both categories. Even more interesting is that Ohio State is 10th in quarterback protection (sacks allowed), while Florida lags severely behind, at 49th. That number is even more troublesome for Florida given that Gator quarterbacks are often running with the football, and running plays are exempt from being counted in sack statistics, even when the quarterback ends up tackled behind the line of scrimmage. The coaching edge goes to Ohio State, and the talent is about equal. Florida has a very good chance to win this game, but the Buckeyes should enter a solid favorite. Ohio State 24, Florida 14

Gator Bowl: Georgia vs. Virginia Tech

Matchup to watch: Georgia QBs vs. Virginia Tech secondary

Again, the bowls have given us a good matchup, as Virginia Tech brings the nation's top-rated defense to face a Georgia team that boasts the 9th-best defense in the country. Virginia Tech has given up double digits in points only five times this year and has pitched four shutouts. The Hokies also have the top-rated pass defense in the country, and that's not good news if you're a Bulldog fan. Matthew Stafford's interception total is already double his touchdown total and that won't get any better in this game. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, needs a solution for an offense that has been completely terrible in 2006. The Hokies rank 95th in total offense. This one will be the game to watch if you like old-fashioned defensive slugfests. Virginia Tech 10, Georgia 6

Music City Bowl: Clemson vs. Kentucky

Matchup to watch: Clemson passing game vs. Kentucky secondary

The Wildcats should be congratulated for getting back to the postseason, but this is not the time to be trying to fix the secondary. Unfortunately, that's where Kentucky finds itself – ranked 118th out of 119 teams in pass defense – and facing a Clemson offense that can be dangerous when it is able to mix run and pass. Clemson has struggled to a ranking of 74th in passing offense, but the Tigers boast the fifth-best rushing offense in the country. Kentucky is even more one-dimensional, ranking 9th with the pass but only 101st in rushing offense. This is just a bad matchup for Kentucky, but the Wildcats will certainly be more excited to be in this game. Clemson is here because the Tigers failed to live up to expectations in 2006, as many figured the Tigers for national title contenders. Kentucky is here because it overachieved. But Tommy Bowden has been tough in bowls over the years, and Clemson is simply the better team here. Clemson 27, Kentucky 17

Liberty Bowl: Houston vs. South Carolina

Matchup to watch: Houston offensive skill talent vs. South Carolina DBs and OLBs

Here's one that many might not know: Houston has 10 wins already in 2006. The Cougars are 10-3, and boast one of the most electric offenses in Division-IA. The question here is just how well does Houston match up against a team with SEC talent. They Cougars got only one chance to test themselves against anything approximating a SEC team – a 14-13 loss Sept. 30 to a floundering Miami team. Houston's offense is well balanced; the Cougars are 6th in total offense, 12th in passing offense and 29th in rushing offense. But with South Carolina quietly getting better on offense, the Cougars might find themselves in a shootout. Houston doesn't have the greatest athletes, which should give South Carolina the edge. Then, it becomes a question of coaching, and Steve Spurrier is better than Art Briles, even though Briles looks like a star of the future. South Carolina 38, Houston 31

Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Penn State

Matchup to watch: Tennessee RBs vs. Penn State front seven

These two teams are made for each other; neither has been consistent, the offenses have underachieved relative to their talent, and defense will likely prove to be the determining factor in who wins. Penn State has no explosiveness through the air, but the Nittany Lions plod well on offense, while using a stifling defense to put up scores that look like something out of the 1950s. Tennessee has more offensive skill talent, but the Volunteers have done a sorry job of utilizing what's in their backfield this year. The Vols ranked just 94th in rushing offense in 2006. Penn State's Joe Paterno is set to make his coaching return in this game after he was injured on a sideline play late in the year, but whether that will mean something or just be a distraction is unknown. Look for Tennessee's running backs to find just enough holes for the Vols to pull one out by the skin of their teeth. Tennessee 16, Penn State 13

Independence Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State

Matchup to watch: Alabama RB Kenneth Darby vs. OSU rush defense

The Cowboys ranked just 83rd against the run in 2006, and Alabama goes into this game promising to run the football more and open the playbook up a bit. This may prove to be the hardest bowl game to figure, as Alabama is in the middle of a coaching change, while Oklahoma State has been the poster boys for inconsistency. The Cowboys can score points (8th nationally) and run the football well, but haven't thrown it consistently and have displayed a tendency to choke away close games. If Alabama is serious about running the football more, and Kenneth Darby has a big game, it isn't likely that Oklahoma State's offense can consistently penetrate Alabama's tough defense. If Alabama is forced to throw it all the time, however, the Crimson Tide will probably finish the 2006 season with a losing record. Alabama 23, Oklahoma State 13

Cotton Bowl: Auburn vs. Nebraska

Matchup to watch: Nebraska front seven vs. Auburn play-action pass game

Nebraska is all about finesse these days – finesse offense, finesse defense and finesse results. These are the teams Auburn usually chews up and spits out. Offensively, Nebraska has been balanced and impressive. Defensively, though, the Cornhuskers are also balanced – balanced on the poor side of the ledger. With middling numbers such as 43rd in rush defense, 89th in pass defense and 70th in total defense, the Huskers won't have much for Auburn unless the Tigers forget to show up on defense themselves. Don't bet on Auburn making that mistake. Auburn 27, Nebraska 17

Capital One Bowl: Arkansas vs. Wisconsin

Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's focus vs. Arkansas' coaching circus

Arkansas had a potentially great season going, then allowed intra-team politics and some strange coaching decisions on the part of Houston Nutt to put the Razorbacks on the verge of mediocrity despite the Hogs' 10 wins. In Wisconsin, Arkansas gets an opponent that leads the nation in pass efficiency defense, is 2nd in pass defense, 23rd in rushing defense and 3rd in both scoring defense and overall defense. Arkansas runs the ball very well, but hasn't been throwing it effectively. On top of this, Arkansas is now embroiled in a controversy that has pitted coach against coach and player alike. Arkansas isn't in a good place mentally right now, while Wisconsin comes in having lost only to Michigan in 2006 and determined to prove the Badgers belong in the sport's upper echelon. Look for another Arkansas sleepwalk. Wisconsin 28, Arkansas 17

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Matchup to watch: LSU OL and DL vs. Notre Dame OL and DL

This will be trench warfare, and the team with the better performance up front on both lines of scrimmage should win the game. Notre Dame is much better coached and the offensive skill talent isn't that far off, but LSU is far bigger, stronger and faster on both lines of scrimmage. If it isn't the physical advantage that might make the difference, it will be the matchup of head coaches, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and LSU's Les Miles. In that matchup, Notre Dame leads by a mile. Whether it's enough to overcome the physical disadvantage the Fighting Irish face, however, is unknown. Look for Notre Dame to come up with several big, exciting plays, but LSU should prove to be more consistent in the end and able to control the ball and the clock late in the game. LSU 30, Notre Dame 24


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