SEC takes bowl lumps, is it down this year?
“Surely this game is in the bag for LSU” were my thoughts at the time.
Well, a couple of different times throughout the game, actually. But Clemson kept proving me wrong.
First, it was LSU taking an early 7-0 lead less than a minute into play. Then it was LSU leading 24-13 at the end of the third quarter. Then it was second-and-2 at the LSU 47 with less than two minutes to go and the Bayou Bengals leading 24-22.
Finally, it was when LSU just needed to stop Clemson on fourth-and-16 from Clemson’s own 14-yard line. No way the Bayou Bengals don’t seal the win here, right?
Lesson learned: Just because the SEC is the top conference in the land, don’t discount non-SEC teams in bowl games. There’s a reason Clemson was ranked No. 14 in the BCS standings. LSU found out all too well that when you let a team like that hang around, it can get you beat.
The SEC is currently 5-3 in bowl games and is awaiting the results of Monday’s BCS national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame. Despite its reputation as the cream-of-the-crop college football conference, the league has certainly taken a few lumps during the bowl season.
In Florida’s case, it was a one-sided knockout of a fight. Despite a couple of late touchdowns, the Gators looked hapless against a Louisville team that lost two games in the Big East this season.
Yes, that’s right. No. 3-ranked Florida, whose only blemish in SEC play was an eight-point loss to SEC East champion Georgia, was knocked around for three and a half quarters by No. 21-ranked Louisville. For context’s sake, the Cardinals entered the game as a two-touchdown underdog to the Gators.
Mississippi State’s performance against Northwestern in the Gator Bowl was, to say the least, uninspiring. Gone was the “We Believe 8-0 Hail State” mantra that made the rounds on social media leading up to the matchup with Alabama. Including that game, the Bulldogs went 1-4 in their last five games of the regular season before their 34-20 loss to Northwestern. After beginning the season with a bang, Mississippi State ended it with a whimper.
Even some of the SEC’s victories have not been easy. South Carolina narrowly pulled out a win against Michigan on a last-season touchdown drive. Georgia gave up 443 yards against 10-4 Nebraska in a 45-31 Capital One Bowl win.
Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that several SEC teams have won convincingly this winter. Vanderbilt (surprise, surprise), Ole Miss and Texas A&M all looked good in their bowl matchups. But two of the country’s top 10 teams — LSU and Florida — were beaten in games they were favored in. Two others, South Carolina and Georgia, looked vulnerable. All of this has brought up chatter among national media pundits as to whether or not the SEC is “down” this year.
Not to take credit away from the teams that won their bowl games, but I’d say no. Even if some of the league’s better teams got beaten, the SEC is still a tough grind week-to-week.
Anything can happen when you pit two good teams against each other in a bowl game. When you look at the fact that six teams — Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M — were able to finish the regular season ranked in the top 10, I’m not sure you can call it a down year.
All eyes will be on Alabama Monday night to see whether the Crimson Tide can maintain the SEC’s streak of national champions. If Alabama were to lose, the chatter of “down year” will likely intensify. If the Tide wins, people will likely see the SEC’s bowl losses as mere bumps in the road to maintaining dominance.
Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.