College football’s bowl season kicks off this Saturday with two games, and to little surprise most of the talk again this winter is about the SEC’s dominance of the sport. That conference goes for its seventh straight national championship on Jan. 7 when No. 2 Alabama faces No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami. As good as the unbeaten Irish have been this season, especially on defense (which has allowed nine total offensive touchdowns), it tells you all you need to know about the perceived power of the SEC that the Tide are 10-point favorites.
Since the turn of the century, the SEC has had by far the most bowl teams as well as the most wins. Last year, the conference’s nine bowl teams went 6-3 and this year the book lists the SEC’s total at 6, with the over a -130 favorite. Somewhat amazingly, all nine SEC bowl teams are favorites. In addition to Alabama you have:
- Vanderbilt -7 against NC State in the Music City Bowl
- LSU -4 versus Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl
- Mississippi State -2 against Northwestern in Gator Bowl
- South Carolina -5 versus Michigan in Outback Bowl
- SEC runner-up Georgia -10 against Big Ten runner-up Nebraska in Capital One Bowl
- Florida -13 versus Louisville in Sugar Bowl
- Texas A&M -4.5 against former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl
- Mississippi -3.5 versus Pittsburgh in BBVA Compass Bowl
That’s some serious strength. Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State team is currently tied with the Big East’s Rutgers for the longest active bowl winning streak at five in a row. The Bulldogs face a Northwestern team that has not won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl (Northwestern also has never been to men’s NCAA basketball tournament), losing nine straight.
Is it conceivable for the SEC to run the table? With nine teams in, it’s unlikely. The last conference to do so with a minimum of five teams was the Pac-10 in 2008-09. How will A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Heisman winner, fare against the Sooners? There used to be a thing known as the Heisman Curse in bowl games, but Heisman winners have won three straight bowls.
Looking for a wise bet? Consider the Mountain West. It has finished with the best bowl mark (4-1) in three of the past five seasons. Last year it wasn’t a BCS conference that won the Bowl Challenge Cup, but Conference USA and the Mid-American, which both went 4-1. The SEC has never won the Bowl Challenge Cup, which was created by ESPN a decade ago as pseudo-competition between conferences.
The conference with the best mark in the BCS era in bowls is the beleaguered Big East at 43-27 (.614 winning percentage). The Big East may or may not even be in existence after this season with Pitt and Syracuse headed to the ACC and Rutgers soon after heading to the Big Ten.
The biggest underdog on the 2012-13 bowl schedule is the Big Ten’s Purdue at +17 against the Big 12’s Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Boilermakers fired head coach Danny Hope after the regular season and hired Kent State’s Darrell Hazell. He will coach the Golden Flashes in their bowl and Purdue receivers coach Patrick Higgins will lead the Boilermakers against OSU. More than a few schools will be led by interim coaches in bowl games.
The ACC’s Duke ended the longest bowl drought of any BCS conference team, making the postseason for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils haven’t won a bowl since 1961 and are seven-point underdogs in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte against Cincinnati.
The smallest spread of any bowl? Baylor-UCLA in the Holiday Bowl and Iowa State-Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl are both pick’em games at the book. The Liberty Bowl is a rematch of a Week 1 game, won by the Cyclones at home 38-23.
The book also offers a prop on the highest number of points scored by any team in a bowl game this year, set at 62.5, with the over a -130 favorite. Both teams could score that many in the Holiday Bowl. Baylor is No. 1 in total offense nationally but second-to-last in total defense. The most points scored in any bowl last year was 70 by West Virginia in a rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Those Mountaineers put up 70 again during this regular season against Baylor. That Baylor-UCLA matchup has the highest total of any bowl at 79.5. The TCU-Michigan State Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl currently has the smallest total at 41, just a half point less than the national title game.