The SEC’s bowl pairings will be all about the quarterback matchups.
As soon as the conference’s bowl assignments started rolling in on Sunday afternoon, the theme quickly became apparent, because the SEC’s defenses will go against some of the nation’s top signal-callers.
Check out this list of top QBs from ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating metric:
No. 1 Baker Mayfield of Big 12 champion Oklahoma, who leads everyone with a 91.6 QBR. Facing Auburn in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
No. 3 Lamar Jackson of Louisville (86.6 QBR), the likely Heisman Trophy winner. Facing one of the SEC’s top defenses, LSU, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
No. 4 Quinton Flowers of South Florida (86.0), the American Athletic Conference's offensive player of the year after setting numerous school and conference records. Taking on Will Muschamp’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the Birmingham Bowl.
No. 6 Jake Browning of Washington (84.1), the Pac-12 champ. Gets the pleasure of squaring off against Alabama’s fearsome defense in Atlanta in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Those are just a few of the featured matchups, but nearly every SEC bowl game features an opposing quarterback with an impressive resume and shifty moves.
There’s the Josh Dobbs-Tommy Armstrong Jr. shootout when Tennessee faces Nebraska in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, capping the careers of two well-respected senior starters.
There’s Justin Thomas (a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014 who has 562 this season) piloting Georgia Tech’s tough-to-defend option rushing attack against another run-dominant offense from Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
There’s dynamic dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz (945 rushing yards, including a season-high 170 in the regular-season finale against TCU) leading Kansas State against Texas A&M’s porous run defense in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
Continuing the trend is Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans (3,309 passing yards, 759 rushing, 37 total touchdowns), who will play in the Belk Bowl against an Arkansas defense that has given up more than its share of big plays.
Even in the St. Petersburg Bowl, Mississippi State will go against a Miami (Ohio) team that became the first ever to start 0-6 and then reach bowl eligibility by winning its last six games. Leading the charge was quarterback Gus Ragland (1,274 passing yards, 15 TDs, 0 INTs), who sat out the first six games after tearing his right ACL in April, only to recover by midseason and pass for 380 yards and three touchdowns in the 21-20 win over Ball State that got the RedHawks to six victories.
This has unquestionably been a down season for the SEC, as every team behind Alabama in the conference standings has at least four losses. There are five four-loss teams, in fact.
However, the SEC still matched its own NCAA record (set in 2014) by sending 12 teams to the postseason once 5-7 Mississippi State got in because of its APR score. That means another NCAA record that the SEC set last season – nine wins in one postseason – will be in play.
The SEC teams will surely come in as the betting underdog in several of these bowl matchups, though, largely because of the quality of the offenses they will face. If the conference’s teams are to come anywhere near that record of nine victories, they’ll get there by slowing down some of the nation’s top quarterbacks. It won’t be easy.
College Football Playoff at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Louisville
Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Nebraska
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. South Florida
Camping World Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. N.C. State
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Miami of Ohio