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Thursday, January 13, 2011
Best and worst of the SEC bowl season

By Chris Low

Let’s review some of the highs and lows of the SEC bowl season:

Best performance: Without defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s dominance up front, Auburn doesn’t win the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. It’s that simple. Oregon coach Chip Kelly conceded after the game that the Ducks simply couldn’t block Fairley, who disrupted just about everything Oregon tried to do with three tackles for loss, including a sack, and a forced fumble.

Chris Relf
Bulldogs QB Chris Relf won MVP honors for his performance in the Gator Bowl.
Best out-of-nowhere performance: It wasn’t completely out of nowhere because Mississippi State’s Chris Relf improved as a passer this season. But he put on a clinic in the Bulldogs’ 52-14 rout of Michigan in the Progressive Gator Bowl. Relf finished 18-of-23 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 30 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown, earning Gator Bowl MVP honors.

Best team defensive performance: Led by linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s three tackles for loss, Alabama held Michigan State to minus-48 yards rushing in the Crimson Tide’s 49-7 blistering of the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl. It was the second lowest opponent rushing total in school history for the Tide.

Worst luck: South Carolina’s freshman sensation, Marcus Lattimore, was knocked out of the game on the Gamecocks’ first possession when he was blasted by Florida State’s Greg Reid. Lattimore was taken to the hospital with a cut to his mouth and a concussion. He never returned and the Gamecocks never recovered, losing 26-17 to the Seminoles in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Worst officiating: Go back and count the officiating blunders and/or questionable calls at the chaotic end of Tennessee’s 30-27 overtime loss to North Carolina. At the very least, the Tar Heels should have been penalized 15 yards (not 5 yards) there at the end of regulation before the game-tying field goal.

Best defensive game plan: Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof had more than a month to come up with a plan to at least slow down an Oregon offense that was supposedly unstoppable. Well, Roof went one better than slowing down the Ducks. His defense held them to 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

Worst field: How can the field that the national championship game is played on be so slick? It was like an ice rink out there with all the players slipping on the turf at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Best freshmen: LSU had three interceptions in its 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and all three were by freshmen -- Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Worst catch: Any of the six drops by Arkansas players in the 31-26 loss to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Best throw: Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett dropped one in beautifully to Jarius Wright for a 22-yard touchdown to pull the Hogs within 31-21 in the third quarter.

Worst throw: Mallett's interception off his back foot, ending the Hogs' comeback bid.

Best run: Auburn freshman running back Mike Dyer simply wouldn’t go down (even if most everybody else thought he was down) on a 37-yard run to set up the Tigers’ game-winning field goal. Dyer actually landed on an Oregon defender, but no part of his body ever touched the ground. He jumped up and kept running and wasn’t tackled until he got to the Oregon 23-yard line.

Best no-show: Georgia was there in body alone, as the Bulldogs went through the motions and dropped an embarrassing 10-6 decision to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Best interception: Florida senior safety Ahmad Black went out in style and sent his coach, Urban Meyer, out in style with an 80-yard interception return to seal the Gators’ 37-24 victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Best special teams: John L. Smith’s special-teams units were on top of their game in the Sugar Bowl. Zach Hocker made all three of his field goal attempts, including a 46-yarder and 47-yarder. Punter Dylan Breeding dropped four punts inside the 20, including three inside the 10, and Colton Miles-Nash blocked a punt in the final minutes to give the Hogs a chance to win the game.

Worst decision: Georgia coach Mark Richt opting to kick a field goal down near the goal line on the Bulldogs’ first possession told you all you needed to know about the Bulldogs' state of mind for that game.