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As we look toward the bowl games that SEC teams are participating in this month, a few games outside of the Playoff stand out. We know that Alabama and Georgia will compete in the semifinals, but a number of SEC teams are looking to close out the season strong with intriguing matchups.
The Florida Gators will take on UCF in Orlando, which is fantastic for fans that have wanted to see this intra-state matchup for a while now. The Gators finished 6-6 on the season, so they were placed in a lower tier bowl game, but we now get to see an in-state clash, thanks to the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa. It’s unfortunate that Dan Mullen won’t be facing Gus Malzahn in this game, which would’ve been a fun matchup for UCF fans. Both of these teams have struggled this season, but the Gators haven’t looked like a legit team since the Kentucky loss. But at least we get this game now, and it should be intriguing. The best part about this game is that both of these teams won’t need any extra motivation. I am legitimately excited to see how this one plays out, even if it is a bowl game that many folks outside of Florida aren’t excited about.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
We are getting South Carolina versus North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Thank goodness. If that bowl game has to have an SEC and ACC team, we might as well get a border game. Shane Beamer finished the season 6-6 with wins over Florida and Auburn, which was a nice way to finish the month of November (besides the loss to Clemson). The Gamecocks are playing inspired football, which would’ve been hard to say when the season began. We will see which quarterbacks play for each team, as Sam Howell made it clear he wants to play for the Tar Heels. As for the Gamecocks, either Zeb Noland or Jason Brown will take the snaps. But either way, we should get two teams that are playing for their fan bases, as both teams and both coaches — especially Shane Beamer — look to set the tone for 2022.
Arkansas and Penn State. Talk about two teams finishing in completely different fashion. We’ve got a Razorback team that seems to be on a roll right now, winning eight regular season games, while the Nittany Lions finished the year 2-5. It’s been amazing to see Sam Pittman turn this Arkansas team around. The Razorbacks won all three trophy games against Missouri, LSU and Texas A&M. Now, they have a chance to finish the season strong by beating James Franklin’s squad, which looked pretty bad to close out the season. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the defensive unit as well as how Arkansas plays with K.J. Jefferson on offense. The Hogs deserve to be playing a bowl game in Florida, and the fan base is excited for the trip to Tampa. Keep an eye on this one, as I know I’ll be watching.
I really don’t care to watch this matchup between Kentucky and Iowa. No offense to the Wildcats, but this game feels like it shouldn’t be really close, even though it could turn into an ugly classic. Sometimes you just have to watch, so maybe keep this one on in the background.
In my opinion, the Sugar Bowl has a chance to be one of the best bowl games this season. The matchup between Lane Kiffin’s offense and Dave Aranda’s defense will have me glued to this game. We’ve seen what Matt Corral has accomplished in Oxford, leading his team to a 10-win season and bringing excitement to the Rebel fan base. Both of these coaches are building their programs back up to prominence, with Baylor winning the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma State in thrilling fashion. The Superdome will be packed, as both fan bases make the trip to New Orleans for one big party on Bourbon Street. That excitement level will carry over to the game. I am looking for this game to be a shootout with an electric atmosphere. I don’t expect many opt-outs from players in this game, as the Sugar Bowl is a great way to end the season. Now, with the news that Ole Miss OC Jeff Lebby is on his way to Oklahoma, this game becomes more intriguing from an offensive standpoint, even with Lane calling the plays.
Music City Bowl
Lastly, can Tennessee finish out the season on a high note? The Vols finished the year with seven wins and will be playing in front of a predominantly Tennessee crowd in Nashville. But Purdue fans will probably travel well, giving fans a cold but exciting environment. As for on the field, David Bell and George Karlaftis are still questionable now that they’ve declared for the draft. Tennessee CB Alontae Taylor has already announced he will forgo the Music City Bowl as he rehabs a foot injury and prepares for the Senior Bowl. But we will get the opportunity to see Hendon Hooker and the Vols offense in action against a Boilermaker team that did upset Michigan State. I am curious to see the offensive game plans for both, knowing the defenses have struggled at times this season. But sign me up for some Jeff Brohm versus Josh Heupel action in Nashville. This game could also set the tone for Josh Heupel and the 2022 season.
That sums up some of the intriguing bowl games I am looking forward to featuring SEC teams. I know there are others, but these stand out the most right now, outside of the Playoff. We will keep you updated on all the SEC news leading up to each game and the highly anticipated College Football semifinals.
Follow along on Twitter: @TreyWallace_