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The 2021 Bowl Season has come to an end for the SEC East, with the division finishing 2-3 in the postseason, while Georgia still has a National Championship to play for. I think we all predicted at least one loss in these games, but a few teams ended up looking worse than expected.
I know a lot of folks don’t put much emphasis on these games, but they do give us a decent look into the future of the programs. Let’s start off by going through my winners of bowl season and look at where teams stand heading into 2022.
Alright, if you would’ve told me before the season that the Gamecocks would finish the year by beating North Carolina with a former Graduate Assistant and wide receiver playing quarterback, I’d have called you crazy. But that’s exactly how it went down in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Both Zeb Noland and DaK Joiner threw touchdown passes in the 38-21 pummeling of the TarHeels, finishing the season 7-5. Congrats to Shane Beamer and his squad for bringing some excitement back to Columbia, especially landing transfers Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner for the 2022 season. Finishing the 2021 season with wins of Florida, Auburn and North Carolina looks good on paper, just for the names alone. Now, they return multiple playmakers next season and a coaching staff that can use this momentum during winter workouts. Nice job, Beamer.
The Wildcats finished off the 2021 season with a win against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl, driving down the field and taking the lead late. A tremendous year from Wan’Dale Robinson was capped off with 170 yards receiving in the bowl game, which could most likely be his last game at Kentucky. Credit to Mark Stoops for leading this team to another 10-win season, the second in four years. There were a few hiccups this year, but the Wildcats will return some key weapons for 2022, along with a nice recruiting class. The defense played well, led by Josh Paschal and will look to build upon the successful year. If Stoops can continue getting this type of effort out of his team, the Wildcats will have an opportunity for another special season in 2022. Well done, Kentucky.
A thrashing of Michigan in the Orange Bowl has propelled Georgia to the National Championship game, with a rematch against Alabama. After finishing the regular season 12-0, the Dawgs dropped the SEC Championship game, leaving many to wonder if this team could bounce back from a loss. Leave it to Stetson Bennett to bounce back from a mediocre game in Atlanta and look phenomenal against the Wolverines on Friday night. If this team can bring the same type of performance to Indianapolis, they should leave as National Champions. Bennett was fantastic throwing the football and the running backs did enough to make the Crimson Tide much more nervous about this rematch with the Dawgs. Well done to Kirby Smart and his staff for having this team ready to go mentally, as that first loss of the season didn’t turn into another.
Yes, the Vols lost their bowl game against Purdue 48-45, but the officiating sure didn’t help this team on that blown call at the goal line. I still feel like Tennessee comes out of this game with momentum heading into 2022, especially with the offensive firepower. The return of Hendon Hooker at quarterback and Cedric Tillman at wide receiver will only add to the expectations for Josh Heupel in year two. This football team was absolutely depleted heading into this season, lacking depth at multiple positions. But, they found a way to win seven games and look impressive in the process against some quality teams. Honestly, I didn’t see the Vols play a bad game this season, but had talent issues at certain spots come back to haunt them. If Josh Heupel and his staff can find a few WR’s and some help on defense, this team has the opportunity to win eight games next season. Well done to this staff and players for putting together a solid season in Knoxville.
Now, let’s take a look at a few disappointing teams of 2021.
I have no idea what Missouri was doing on defense this season, but I do know that every opposing team was ready to run the football all over the Tigers. If you want to talk about a huge disappointment, this defense is right up there. Opposing teams didn’t have to throw the football against the Tigers, as every game was an opportunity to set school records for rushing yards. The Tigers offense didn’t help either, as Connor Bazelak could never get on track at quarterback, thanks to some of Eli Drinkwitz’s play calling. The Tigers better hang a picture of RB Tyler Badie in their building, because if not for him this team might’ve won three games. As we enter 2022, Drinkwitz is looking to revamp the offense, behind quarterbacks Brady Cook or Tyler Macon, as Bazelak entered the transfer portal. This staff better fix that defense, or they will need to score 40 points a game next season to keep pace. The Tigers loss to Army in their bowl game.
Congratulations to the Gators for moving on from Dan Mullen, as this team fell apart after the Kentucky loss. The loss to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl was the capper on a rough 2021 season. The flip-flopping at certain positions, especially at quarterback, didn’t help the Gators and neither did the coaching. The return of Anthony Richardson for 2022 should be fun to watch, while they also added Ohio State transfer Jack Miller. The hiring of Billy Napier should bring a spark to the program, but they’ve got a ways to go when it comes to reestablishing themselves on the national level. They will return some key defenders in 2022, which should help early on, but this staff has work to do in changing the culture in Gainesville.
They didn’t qualify for a bowl game and looked rough for most of the season. Good luck to Clark Lea in turning that program around. I like the guy and he recruited pretty well for the 2022 class, but they have a huge hole to climb out of.
I am already looking forward to the 2022 season, even though this wild one just ended. Maybe someone can give Georgia a run for its money next year, or maybe not.