The Music City Bowl was overjoyed to get two teams of such quality. Auburn began the season in the thick of the BCS banter, but found themselves fortunate to even land a bowl berth. Wisconsin had some higher aspirations as well, but couldn't close the deal. Wisconsin lost four Big 10 games by a total of 21 points. A few breaks here or there and they could have landed in a much higher bowl.
The Badgers are 7-1 in bowl games under head coach Barry Alvarez. Alvarez will be going for victory #100 during his tenure at Wisconsin. He has become one of the most consistent coaches in the conference. His offense is led by WR Lee Evans. Evans leads the nation in receiving yards per game. This game, in most respects, will be won or lost on the Tigers' ability to slow Evans down. It will be quite a chore for the AU defense.
Auburn will look to run the ball, run the ball and run the ball. Jason Campbell will have to make a few plays, but the gameplan going in will certainly be to win the time of possession. Carnell Williams will be the focus of the Tigers and there may be a wrinkle or two added to the offense, but this one, in a lot of ways, will be old school SEC football. Pound the ball and play solid defense. As much as I would like to see Auburn hit a home run from the leadoff position in the SEC's lineup, I expect Wisconsin to reopen the same old wound in the secondary. Auburn will need some turnovers to win this one, but to date Wisconsin has proven to be the better team. It will be a close one, but the Badgers should pull this one out.
Wisconsin 24 Auburn 20
Arkansas vs. Missouri
This game may be the best game on TV during New Year's Eve. Arkansas and Missouri both showcase dynamic quarterbacks which could cause this bowl to be a track meet. This one should be extremely fun to watch and is very evenly matched. The Mizzou Tigers are not very long in the teeth when it comes to defense and the Razorbacks have given up more than their share of points as well.
Matt Jones, who is 2nd in the SEC in passing efficiency, will be called on to drive the Hogs wild. Jones has shown marked improvement in his playmaking and decision-making ability. His task will be made easier by Cedric Cobbs, the SEC's leading rusher. Cobbs has finally broken through after teasing the Hog faithful most of his career. Arkansas will look to make this a battle of attrition behind Shawn Andrews. If Arkansas controls the clock and the pace of the game, they have an excellent chance of bringing this one home.
Missouri will not be outdone in the playmaking department. Super sophomore QB, Brad Smith will bring his circus act to Shreveport looking for another highlight reel. Smith is a threat both running and passing and is more athletic than Jones and has better speed. While Jones is deceptively fast, Smith is just down right fast. The Hog linebackers must stay at home or Smith will be in the secondary before they get their mouthpieces in.
I like Arkansas in this one mainly from a leadership and experience stand point. This will be a huge game for both teams, but the seniors from Arkansas have played in a ton more meaningful games than Missouri has. Late in the game when the game is in the balance, Arkansas will make the plays and Mizzou will be left to plan for next year, which should be even more exciting.
Arkansas 31 Missouri 27
Florida vs. Iowa
Of the games on the SEC's bowl schedule, this one, in my opinion, is not as even as the rest. Florida just has superior talent. Chris Leak is as good as any freshman QB in the SEC's storied history. Leak has played better and better as the season has gone along. A more than adequate performance at Baton Rouge resulted in LSU's only loss this season. A play or two here or there and Florida would have played in the SECCG.
Iowa is led by their defense and has a host of playmakers. They do get after the QB and will have to bring their best effort of the season if they are to win this one. I like Florida for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is that Iowa lacks firepower on the offensive side of the ball. Their attack has been very vanilla at times and they must be more imaginative if they have any hopes in this game. This is Florida's game to lose, and despite a little drama here or there they will win this one, by probably the most comfortable margin of any SEC school this bowl season.
Florida 31 Iowa 14
Georgia vs. Purdue
Georgia played in their 2nd consecutive SEC Championship game this season, which is proof positive that the Bulldogs are poised to be a force in the SEC East for quite some time. The loss of D.J. Shockley may have been a blessing in disguise. Head man Mark Richt tried to juggle a two QB system and in most cases it backfired. David Greene had a nice season this year, but not the Heisman type season many expected. As a result, Greene will be back for his senior season for a run at the Heisman and another SEC title.
Purdue was an eyelash away from being 10-1 and in the thick of the BCS race. An early loss to Bowling Green and an overtime loss to Ohio State cost the Boilermakers from making a run for the roses. This Purdue team is extremely talented and posses the ability to beat Georgia. They must find a way to slow David Pollack down. Pollack is undecided about his senior season and will look for a showcase quality performance to tip the scales.
The last time these two schools got together Drew Brees led the Boilermakers to a 25-0 lead only to see Quincy Carter bring the Bulldogs all the way back to win the contest 28-25. This game has similar possibilities, but lacks the marquee QB match-up. I like Georgia in this one because of coaching. Joe Tiller has done a great job at Purdue, but Mark Richt is, in my mind, a better motivator. Richt could just play the game film of the blowout loss to LSU and that should be motivation enough.
Georgia 27 Purdue 17
Mississippi vs. Oklahoma State
Fresh off a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation, Eli Manning will look for career bowl win number two in this year's Cotton Bowl. Manning wraps up a career with the Rebels that saw him break most school passing records. Considering the hype and pressure put on this young man, he has performed admirably. Many of the Manning family fans had penciled in two or three trips to the SEC championship game and a Heisman or two when Eli signed with the Rebels. To date, the University of Mississippi is the only school in the SEC West that has never appeared in the conference championship game. The bigtime was not to be, but Manning does have the Rebels in a New Year's bowl game for the first time in decades.
Oklahoma State will counter the Manning led offense with some firepower of their own. WR Rashaun Woods is the most decorated and highly accomplished receiver in school history. While OSU does not have a defensive playmaker to stop Manning, Um does not have a defensive back that can stay with or slow down Woods. Woods should have plenty of opportunities to make plays against the Rebel secondary. It will be interesting to see if OSU will play more of a ball controlled offense to keep Manning on the sidelines.
The Cowboys have been feast or famine this season when it comes to the scoreboard. In nearly every contest the 'Boys have either blown out the opposition or have been blown out of the stadium. This game will more than likely not be close either way. With a month off to prepare and with Eli Manning closing out the Manning era in college football, I like the Rebels in this one. I think the Rebs have gameplanned well all season and this game should be no exception. They have a tendency to play up or down to the level of competition. I think the Rebs will be way up in this one and should score some points. The Reb defense played as well as anyone down the home stretch, so I think that probably continues into the Cotton Bowl.
Mississippi 31 OSU 21
Tennessee vs. Clemson
The Peach Bowl features two teams that were on fire in their final few games. Tennessee won out to win a share of the SEC East crown and Clemson rallied behind their Coach, who had been under intense pressure to win. Clemson scored a total of 129 points in their last three games, including wins over Florida State and arch-rival South Carolina. The Clemson administration has since offered Tommy Bowden a lengthy extension and a new vote of confidence.
Tennessee has been unable to step to the forefront since the departure of Steve Spurrier. The burnt orange nation has to be a little tired of being the bride's maid. The Vols are relegated to the Peach Bowl once again and with the departure of Casey Clausen pending, one must wonder when will Tennessee get it going? Look for the Vols to pound the ball to set up the play action and play solid defense. Their defense will be tested supremely by Whitehurst and company.
Clemson makes its first return to the Peach Bowl since their 1999 loss to Mississippi State. Clemson has a very unique brand of offense. The incoming player brings in the formation to the huddle and once everyone is set, the play is signaled in from the sidelines. Don't be alarmed if you see the whole team looking to the sidelines on a critical play. It's not an audible; it's just that the offensive staff wants to see the defensive formation before calling their play.
I like Clemson in this one because they have been playing inspired football since rumors began to circulate about Bowden's job. I think they have the athletes to match Tennessee, but can't afford to get in a slugfest. I'm not sure Tennessee can afford to get in a track meet either. If Clemson starts fast you better watch out.
Clemson 28 Tennessee 17
LSU vs. Oklahoma
LSU has had a dream season. It seems nearly all the breaks have fallen their way - Hawaii and Syracuse winning on the final Saturday, the BCS computers, and Doug Buckles foot. When LSU first hired Nick Saban away from Michigan State, many stated that OU is where LSU wanted to be. While LSU doesn't have the tradition the Sooners do, they do have the resources. LSU fans are fanatical, almost to a fault. The Tiger faithful can raise money with the best of them. There can't be very many schools who make more from their licensing contract than the Tigers do. The fan support has always been there, but things are now at a fever pitch.
OU will look to capture their second national championship under Bob Stoops and for the first time in a long time made many prognosticators look good with their pre-season picks for #1. OU's Jason White collected some postseason hardware since his meltdown versus K State, including the Heisman. The Heisman jinx has been talked about fruitlessly for years. I don't believe in it and you can even ask Carson Palmer, last year's Heisman winner what he thinks. If anything, the Heisman puts a bigger target on White's back. LSU will be up for the game and for good reason: It's isn't every year you get to play against a Heisman winner for the National Championship.
OU made their way to New Orleans on Saturday and LSU on Sunday. The lone advantage I gather from the game being in the big easy is that LSU can go to Bourbon Street anytime they want to. For the Sooners, this may their first time in the crescent city. Distractions must be avoided and a lot of times the temptations of college life are far too great when you mix in alcohol and all the sin one city can afford. I will be shocked if OU doesn't have someone get into a little trouble. You can be sure that if anything happens the local media will be all over it.
LSU will be without a couple of players, including Shyrone Carey due to a ticket scalping scandal. Carey is still slowed by a knee injury and wasn't expected to see much playing time, but it's still a distraction. The good news is that happened so long ago the Tigers will be over it well before gametime.
I like OU in this one for a couple of reasons. They are the best team in America despite the play in the Big 12 championship game. I picked OU way back in July and they looked dominant most of the season. I'd like to see LSU win for my many friends and neighbors who live their lives through the Tigers. I hope the Mississippi River bridge won't be crowded with people debating whether to jump or not after OU wins. I expect the OU offense to get it going, but LSU to still hold them under 20. I don't think LSU can score more than 20 unless they get a special teams touchdown, which is highly probable. Look for the kickers to miss a FG or two as most of the kickers that have played on the new turf in the Superdome have had problems on kicks over 35 yards.
OU 17 LSU 13
Well folks, that will do it for the Robertson Report for this season. I'll be around and will have an update or two before the season starts again. I cannot begin to express the sincere gratitude for the support you all have shown to me since my father was diagnosed with cancer. There have been dozens of e-mails and a thread on the message board. I thank you all and ask for your continued prayer and support. My dad, Freddie Robertson, a 1968 graduate of MSU, will undergo surgery to remove a kidney and his gall bladder. Initial reports are that the cancer is contained in his kidney and the surgery should be enough to remedy his situation. I would like to thank you all for the overwhelming love and support you have offered. We need it. This has been a very scary time and we have all drawn much closer because of it. I will never forget the way that you all reached out to help support me through this ordeal. I count you all as family and I hope to be able to return the favor to each and every one of you should you ever need it.
Man it's great to be a Bulldog!
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.