SEC Revelations: LSU, Arkansas as bowl-victory locks; Ole Miss must defend SEC’s honor
Here are five detailed revelations about the SEC West teams before bowl action, as we slough through that stretch of football inactivity — otherwise known as mid-December.
For the time being, we’ll avoid discussing the ramifications of Robert Nkemdiche’s crazy-bad weekend in Atlanta, with the future NFL star falling from an Atlanta hotel room and then getting cited for marijuana possession.
1. For the Texas Bowl, it’s a given LSU will break its five-game streak of scoring less than 30 points
Forget how LSU holds middling averages of 16.5 points in its last four games.
Forget how the Tigers currently own the nation’s 110th-ranked passing offense — at just 173 yards and 1.1 touchdowns per outing.
Forget how LSU ranks just 70th nationally in scoring.
And forget how the Tigers currently stand 72nd in red-zone efficiency (along with Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Arizona) — with a blah conversion rate of 83.3 percent.
None of this should matter … when Texas Tech comes next on the docket.
To characterize the Red Raiders’ defense as “generous” would be a loose term. They currently rank 124th in scoring defense (42.6 points per game), 124th in third-down defense, 125th in rushing defense (272 yards allowed per outing) and 126th in total defense (540.2 yards).
And for those keeping track … there are only 127 FBS programs.
In other words, Texas Tech isn’t built to beat balanced teams, especially ones with top-notch defenders (like LSU). Against four ranked opponents this year — at the time of the meetings — the Red Raiders averaged 42 points against TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma … and still lost by an average of 21!
Think about that.
The long-term history play doesn’t support a Red Raiders upset, either.
Of Texas Tech’s eight meetings against SEC foes from the last 20 years (excluding Missouri and Texas A&M as Big 12 members), the program has a 1-7 record and an average point differential of minus-12.
The only real drama here: Predicting how many rushing yards LSU tailback Leonard Fournette — fresh off his Heisman-finalist snub — collects against Texas Tech. Given the super sophomore’s per-game average of 158.2 rushing yards … the “over-under” for the bowl lies in the 186 range.
And even that’s a conservative listing.
2. It’s up to Ole Miss to defend the SEC’s honor in the Sugar Bowl
The above statement might read a little harsh, since the Rebels haven’t even played in the Sugar Bowl since January 1970 (Archie Manning’s junior season).
But this is a crucial time for the SEC. The conference hasn’t claimed a national title in three long years (sarcasm alert), and it hasn’t enjoyed a Sugar Bowl victory since Tim Tebow’s final collegiate game (January 2010 — Florida over Cincinnati).
What’s more, on paper, Oklahoma State might be the weakest team participating in the New Year’s Six bowls (Orange, Cotton, Rose, Fiesta, Peach, Sugar).
With the Big 12 championship on the line a few weeks ago, the Cowboys dropped their final two games at home — by a composite score of 103-58; and for the season, Oklahoma State ranks 95th in total defense (yielding 430 yards per game), 86th in scoring defense (29 points per game) and 91st in pass defense (244 ypg).
And if Ole Miss needs any extra motivation for this one, head coach Hugh Freeze can simply dial up film of the Rebels’ 42-3 drubbing at the hands of TCU in last season’s Peach Bowl.
On that miserable day, the Rebels accounted for only 10 first downs and 129 total yards against TCU. Perhaps worse, they had more turnovers than actual points. It was the ugliest bowl matchup in a holiday season full of unexpected blowouts.
3. Listen to your heart when placing a Liberty Bowl wager
This one screams ARKANSAS when lamenting the following factoid:
Of its last eight games, Kansas State has surrendered a staggering average of 204 rushing yards to the opposition. On the flip side, Arkansas currently ranks 39th nationally in rushing, racking up 193 ground yards per outing.
This one screams OVER (currently at 62 1/2 points) when perusing the pre-bowl betting lines:
Since Oct. 24, the previous six outings involving Arkansas had an average cumulative tally of 78.8 points. In that same span, the six games involving Kansas State had an average cumulative tally of 62 points.
And there’s this: The last four winners from the Liberty Bowl (Cincinnati, Tulsa, Mississippi State, Texas A&M) scored at least 30 points in victory … and the average cumulative tally was 78.6 points.
Perhaps we should call Vegas, huh? Sixty-two seems impossibly low for a matchup with few defensive talking points.
4. Auburn might have stumbled onto the ideal opponent for the Birmingham Bowl
At 6-6 for the season (last-place finish in the SEC West), the Tigers weren’t exactly in a position of power to dictate terms for bowl action — regarding opponent or venue.
All things considered, though, Auburn has been dealt a favorable hand.
Yes, the Tigers won’t experience the thrill of playing in a warm-weather or tropical venue, nor were they assigned a plum spot in the TV totem pole of bowl time slots for Dec. 30 (noon EST on a Wednesday). And from a snub perspective, Auburn stands as the only SEC bowl representative to draw a Group Of Five opponent (albeit from a respectable conference).
But the positives still outweigh the negatives here:
a) Auburn should be sky-high for the challenge of facing Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who could be the top passer selected in next year’s NFL draft. Conversely, Lynch and the Memphis coaches must get creative to outsmart/outperform an Auburn defense which allowed three or more touchdown passes just once and only three outings of 300-plus passing yards.
b) Against the premier American Athletic Conference teams (Houston, Temple, Navy), the Memphis offense produced so-so averages of 22 points and 387 total yards.
c) Auburn has averaged 228 rushing yards in its last four games, including the Iron Bowl loss to Alabama. On the flip side, during the regular season, Memphis surrendered multiple rushing touchdowns to the opposition seven times.
From an intangible standpoint, though, Memphis likely has the edge. Even with a 9-3 overall record and a convincing victory over Ole Miss (which beat Auburn on Halloween), the Vegas bookmakers still have a bottom-feeder club from the SEC West as 2 1/2-point favorites in the bowl.
5. The SEC should take great pride in being the last Power 5 conference to start bowl action
The Pac-12, arguably the nation’s best football conference last year, will incredibly play in five bowl games before any SEC program suits up; and that includes the absurdity of Utah — ranked No. 3 nationally in late October — playing on Bowl Opening Day (Dec. 19) … or 10 days before LSU tackles Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.
(In fairness, the Utes are undoubtedly super-pumped for their Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl clash with BYU, their most loathsome rival. The two schools previously met for 91 straight years, from 1922-2013.)
Consider the above nugget to be additional proof of how the SEC and Big Ten are the true media darlings of the TV and corporate worlds. Yes, the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC boast some amazing programs in the college landscape; but from a time-tested perspective, the SEC and Big Ten seldom draw the short end of the stick during the holidays.
On the down side, husbands and boyfriends in the South cannot use the “SEC bowl” excuse in the days immediately before and after Christmas, when confronted with honey-do lists from their wives and girlfriends.
All 10 games featuring SEC members — from the Birmingham Bowl (Auburn versus Memphis) to the Cotton Bowl (Playoff semifinal, Alabama versus Michigan State) — will be compressed into one dizzying 60-hour stretch.
Which brings us to this: Here’s hoping you didn’t commit to any grand plans on New Year’s Eve, at least before the national-semifinal pairings were announced. A large handful of fine-dining restaurants and ballrooms in the South — particularly Atlanta — don’t offer bar-area TV sets as sidebar entertainment.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.