Later this week, the bowl season kicks off for the SEC with three games.
On Friday, Mississippi State faces Wake Forest in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. And on Saturday, Vanderbilt takes on Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, while Auburn meets Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Who in the SEC has the most to prove this season in the bowl games? And we’re talking head coaches, assistant coaches, players, teams and particular units on teams.
Here’s a look:
South Carolina: Don’t bother looking up South Carolina’s bowl record. It’s ugly. Try 4-12 all-time, and the Gamecocks have lost four of their last five, including three straight. They’ve played some real stinkers in the postseason, too. Steve Spurrier has knocked down a lot of barriers at South Carolina. Here’s a chance to knock down another one against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He and his ball team need to prove they can get it done in the postseason.
Alabama: Second chances are rare in college football. The Crimson Tide are getting one in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game against LSU. There was a lot of chatter coming out of Tuscaloosa the first time about Alabama being the better football team despite what the scoreboard said. Well, this time, there’s a lot of chatter nationally about the Crimson Tide not belonging in the national title game. There’s only one way to quell that.
Mississippi State: It wasn’t a bad season in Starkville. Unfulfilling is probably a better way to put it. The Bulldogs had high expectations, but wound up 6-6. It’s true they were a few plays away from being 8-4, but they didn’t make those plays. Making them against Wake Forest in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl and completing a second straight winning season would make everybody in Bulldog Land feel a lot better.
Bobby Petrino: It’s not so much that Petrino has a lot to prove. After all, he’s turned Arkansas into one of the SEC’s elite programs in four seasons. But here’s a chance to get to 11 wins and do it against a top-10 team — Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. The Hogs have lost five of their last seven games to top-10 opponents. If they’re going to take that proverbial next step, this is the kind of game they need to win, and a victory would generate a ton of momentum heading into next season.
James Franklin: The coach has already done what nobody (outside the guys in that Vanderbilt locker room) expected -- he's guided the Commodores to a bowl game. But if they don’t win it against Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, it’s just going to go down as another losing season, which would be the 28th at Vanderbilt in the last 29 seasons. The difference between winning and losing this game for Franklin and the Commodores is huge.
Alabama's place-kickers: Not much needs to be said here. If the Crimson Tide had made a couple of field goals back on Nov. 5, they would be unbeaten right now. Cade Foster is the one who’s struggled the most, but he handles the longer attempts. In Jeremy Shelley’s defense, he ended the regular season by making his last four attempts. Alabama fans hope they’re saving up all their big kicks for the Big Easy.
Jordan Jefferson: There are a lot of folks who don’t think the LSU quarterback can beat Alabama standing in the pocket and throwing the ball. Obviously, a big part of Jefferson’s game is running the ball. But something says Alabama will be a bit more prepared for the option this time. If LSU is going to win its second national championship in five years, Jefferson will have to make a few big plays in the passing game.
Isaiah Crowell: For a true freshman who flirted with 1,000 yards in the regular season, Crowell sure has been a lightning rod. He still has a lot of growing up to do, but the talent is there to be a great one in a long line of great Georgia tailbacks. Maybe he'll put it all together for four quarters in the Outback Bowl versus Michigan State.
Auburn's defense: Not that head coach Gene Chizik is prone to point the finger, but if he’s looking for somebody to blame about the way Auburn plays on defense after the Chick-fil-A Bowl, he’ll have to point it at himself. Chizik is in charge of the Tigers’ defense for the bowl game, and this is their last chance to get that sour taste out of their mouths from the regular season. Auburn was one of two SEC teams to give up an average of 400 yards per game and allowed 34 or more points in seven of 12 games.
Florida's offense: Charlie Weis has taken off for Kansas, meaning Brian White moves in as the Gators’ interim offensive coordinator. He could be auditioning for the full-time job. The thing he has going for him is that it can’t get much worse than the regular season. Not counting the Furman game, the Gators scored more than one offensive touchdown in a game only once in their last seven contests. The other bit of good news is that Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey should both be as healthy as they’ve been.