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The SEC East wrapped up the regular season on Saturday, with a few teams capping off successful seasons. The East will be represented by Georgia next weekend in Atlanta, while one team finishes off a coaching search. As we wrap up the weekend, we’ll also take a look at bowl eligible teams and potential destinations. Of note, The SEC finished the regular season with a record-high 13 bowl-eligible teams.
We started the day in Atlanta, as the Dawgs made their first of two trips to the city on Saturday. It was pretty much a home game, as Georgia Tech fans sold off all their tickets to Georgia fans. A big day for Stetson Bennett, as he finished the day 14-20 for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Dawgs were dominant on defense, again, as they held the Yellow Jackets to 166 total yards of offense. The Dawgs rushed for 208 yards with third and fourth stringers getting a lot of work.
This was the first undefeated regular season for Georgia since 1982, as they finished 12-0. The Bulldogs will now turn all of their attention to Alabama, who they will face next weekend for the SEC Championship. Linebacker Nakobe Dean summed it up best, when discussing the undefeated regular season. “What we have done in the regular season is all good, but if we don’t finish it the right way, none of it matters.” Get ready for a huge buildup, as Georgia looks to finally get over the hump and defeat the Tide in Atlanta.
Well, we thought the game in Gainesville would be interesting, but I didn’t expect it to come down to the final minute. Florida State and Florida were looking to become bowl eligible on Saturday as they faced off in The Swamp. Things got off to a hot start for Emory Jones, as he threw a TD pass on the opening drive. But, it went all downhill for the QB after that play, throwing three interceptions in the first half and being replaced by Anthony Richardson. The Gators held a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter, before the Seminoles scored two TD’s in the fourth quarter — thanks to the worst onside kick I’ve ever seen, the Gators took a knee and became bowl eligible with the win.
The Florida football program has been a mess for the past two months, but they are somehow going bowling after all. It sounds like Anthony Richardson will be returning in 2022, as he said postgame. “I’m a Gator,” Richardson responded when asked about his future.
As for the head coaching position, look for that to be wrapped up in the next few days, as AD Scott Stricklin has zeroed in on his guy, which could be announced as Billy Napier. Anything can happen, so wait until the contract is signed. The Gators will go bowling, most likely in a game like the Liberty Bowl or the Texas Bowl. The SEC bowl committee will take notice that Florida fans most likely won’t sell a lot of tickets, which will put them in one of the lesser bowls, which they deserve with their record.
Heading up to Knoxville, as Tennessee hosted Vanderbilt, looking for their seventh win of the season.
The Vols led 7-0 early on, thanks to a Theo Jackson pick-six, but the offense was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season. It didn’t take them long to fix that, as Jabari Small and Cedric Tillman got into the end zone. Speaking of Tillman, he became the first Tennessee player since 1995 to have six consecutive games with a receiving touchdown. The offense was rolling behind Hendon Hooker, who finished 156 yards passing, with 106 of those yards going to Cedric Tillman. Tennessee rushed for 285 yards and the offense was just too much for Vanderbilt.
Now, the Vols will prepare for a bowl game. After finishing the year with seven wins, this could put them in contention for a postseason game in Florida, depending on how the bowl committee negotiates each squad. If playing in Florida doesn’t happen, look for the Vols to play in either the “Duke’s Mayo Bowl” in Charlotte, The “Gator Bowl” or “Music City Bowl.” Either way, this team is bowling and exceeded expectations this year and will be setup for a nice 2022 season, especially if Hendon Hooker returns. As for Vanderbilt, they finished the year 2-10 and will have a lot of work to do in regards to the roster for next season. This team could really use some transfer portal help, especially if Clark Lea plans on being in Nashville for a while.
In Columbia, the Gamecocks hosted Clemson, looking to snap a six-game losing streak.
Well, things didn’t go according to plan for South Carolina, all night. The Tigers led 17-0 at halftime and never looked back. The Gamecocks struggled all night to get anything going on offense, as they finished the game with only 43 rushing yards. It wasn’t much better through the air, as Jason Brown and Zen Noland finished with a combined 163 yards passing. Simply put, this was a disaster for Shane Beamer, especially given how they had a great opportunity to snap that losing streak, which is now at seven games. Clemson rushed for 265 yards, while only passing for 99 yards, which the Gamecocks couldn’t take advantage of.
Now, South Carolina must regroup, having already clinched six wins and bowl eligibility. Overall, this season should be looked at as a success for Beamer and they’ll get a few more weeks of practice, in bowl preparations. I could see the Gamecocks or Missouri playing in the Birmingham Bowl, as these bowl reps will be focused on how many tickets can be sold.
We ended the night in Louisville, as Kentucky was looking for its ninth win of the season. This game felt like it was over at halftime, as the Wildcats led 24-7, with QB Will Levis taking over. The Kentucky quarterback had three rushing touchdowns in the first half alone, making the Louisville defense look horrid. It didn’t end in the first half for Levis, as he rushed for another touchdown in the third quarter. He finished the night with 149 yards passing, 113 yards rushing and four touchdowns, destroying the Cardinals with his legs. Oh, Chris Rodriguez rushed for 121 yards and one touchdown. This game was disturbingly ugly, with Kentucky winning 52-31.
As for where the Wildcats will go bowling, there are a few options. The most logical choice would be the Outback Bowl in Tampa, which would be a great spot to end the season. The other option could be the “Duke’s Mayo Bowl” in Charlotte, as Kentucky fans will end up bringing a good amount of fans to whichever city they end up in. But, those two make the most sense. Don’t rule out a long shot appearance in Orlando, but that seems like a stretch.
Just remember, outside of the “New Years Six” bowl games, the bowl committee will focus on rewarding teams with better records, with the few games in Florida. But, it will also focus on how many tickets each school can sell, especially coming off last season, where Covid limited ticket sales. These bowl games are trying to make as much money as possible, so one bowl might take a school like Tennessee, who will sell 25,000 tickets, over a school like Mississippi State or Missouri, who might not sell as much. Either way, 13 SEC schools are bowl eligible, so everyone won’t be happy.
Follow along on Twitter: @TreyWallace_