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New Year’s Day Bowl Games preview, viewing guide, and why-to-watch: Ess Eee Cee!

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It’s a conference-heavy schedule as we get to the more prestigious games

NCAA Football: Georgia at Notre Dame
Poor Jacob Eason. You’re not getting that job back.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Years Eve to you all! I hope 2018 gets off to an auspicious, safe start for everyone. And, of course, let’s hope Alabama’s season lasts for 8 more days.

For conference partisans out there, the Big 10 is killing it this season. Sitting at 7-0 in bowl play, the results have not been illusory either. In some cases, the B1G has had a favorable coaching matchup (Ohio State,) the better set of coaches (Purdue,) the most raw talent (Penn State,) or a fraud opponent (Northwestern.) But, you’ve also gotten bolts from the blue where, say, an offensively-challenged Wisconsin takes to the air and lights up a team that was the Playoff darling with two weeks remaining in the season (seriously, Richt. Retire your knock-off chain.) The league has upgraded its coaching significantly the past few years and it is paying dividends in the post-season.

For those curious about the SEC? Well, God’s Conference has a 1-3 record as we ring in 2018. Predictably, the two Eastern frauds teams lost. The galling, but in retrospect maybe most predictable, outcome was Texas A&M dropping the year’s derpiest shootout to Wake Forest. Look, we’ve Stanned for the Deacs all year, but not a single kid in Winston-Salem is going to be playing in the NFL: That was a despicable showing, Aggie. Mississippi State has been the lone bright spot, winning a shootout against Louisville where freshman Keytaon Thompson out dueled Lamar Jackson (seriously, Thompson has a ton of upside. I’m not 100% sold that Nick Fitzgerald can hold him off to keep the starting job.) Tomorrow the West takes center stage as the big money bowls roll around. The SEC was light on quality middle-class teams in 2017, but the 8+ game-winning top of the conference was very good. Like the Big 10 earlier in December, a lot of New Years’ matchups are favorable for the SEC, and Greg Sankey’s cabal has a puncher’s chance to rebound and go 6-3 this Bowl season.

For yet another year, yeesh, we’re not even going to talk about the Pac 12. But, the other elephant in the room, aside from many of Georgia’s wins being diminished, has been the disappointing play of the ACC. The SEC’s coastal cousins have been downright average. So far, the ACC is 4-5 in bowl play, but four-of-five of those losers were regular season CU victories that bolstered Clemson’s No. 1 ranking: Louisville, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami. Clemson’s regular season foes are 5-4 in the post-season so far, with South Carolina and Auburn left to play. Tossup, in other words. By comparison, Alabama’s bowl opponents are 3-1 in postseason play, with Auburn and LSU left to play (and otherwise-eligible Ole Miss sitting it out). Clemson has plenty of quality wins to be sure, and no one is at all doubting their place among the nation’s best (though I have consistently ranked Oklahoma No. 1, because the Big 12 is simply better this season, and it has borne that out in the bowl season). But maybe — just maybe — Alabama’s fewer wins over conference bowl teams are against better squads than Clemson’s conference bowl teams? Just some food for thought.

Anyway, hydrate in advance (Pedialyte is the pro-move here,) and eat plenty of protein today (carbs are terrible if you’re dipping into the sauce.) Here’s your New Years Bowl Schedule.

Michigan (-7.5) at South Carolina - Outback Bowl

Mon, Jan 1, 12:00 PM ET ESPN2/WatchESPN

There’s a lot of similarities between the 2017 Gamecocks and Wolverines. Both have had quietly-efficient years on the ground; both are stout up front, but have had issues in the secondary; both have struggled in the passing game; both have beaten decent teams, but neither have been particularly competitive against elite opponents. ‘Cocks running back Rico Dowdle, gone since Tennessee, won’t be back, and now 12-game starting guard Donnell Stacy is out for the game. This enlarges the slim advantage of the Wolverines, where the UM front seven should be able bottle up the Gamecocks running game. The x-factor here is Jake Bentley: If USC’s signal-caller can limit mistakes and hold serve against UM’s running game, the Gamecocks can squeeze a close W out of this. For Michigan, Brandon Peters looks to be the best of a bad set of options at quarterback. I think USC can win; but I wouldn’t bet against Michigan forcing enough mistakes by a limited USC offense to get Harbaugh the victory.

Florida v Michigan
What bowl game did Florida go to? I forget.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

#12 UCF at #7 Auburn (-9.5, 67) - Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl

Mon, Jan 1, 12:30 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

There’s a lot to like about the freewheeling, undefeated AAC champions: UCF’s speed, brashness, its ability to convert mistakes into points, and its offense that never takes its foot off the gas. Fortunately for viewers, all of that led to some jawing by UCF players about its team speed...and doing so against an SEC team. If you wanted to wake up a disappointed Auburn squad that may have sleepwalked through this one, the Knights couldn’t have picked a better way to get the Tigers’ full attention. They have it. There are things not to like as well: for starters, the Knights’ 78th-ranked defense with the 92nd-ranked defensive line and its 63rd-ranked run defense. Throw in a 98th-ranked offensive line that is only 86th in the country in standard down success and a truly detestable 118th in power conversions, and it leads one to suspect it’s going to be a long, long day against one of nation’s best sets of offensive/defensive lines. UCF has a passable good secondary, and it avoids giving up many sacks. Jarrett Stidham is competent enough to win his share of battles, but the Tigers are likely turning to Kerryon Johnson for this one in any event: Gus has never failed to RTDB against outmatched opponents. Call it an SEC homer hunch, but Auburn. Big.

#14 Notre Dame at #17 LSU (-3, 51.5) - Citrus Bowl

Mon, Jan 1, 1:00 PM ET ABC/WatchESPN

Derrius Guice is probable, but that’s no sure thing: He’s been banged up off and on all season. Arden Key is out on the other side of the ball. Three other defenders and two more players along the Tigers’ offensive line are questionable. Hell, Ed. Suit me up; I have some eligibility left. The Tigers’ injuries give the Fighting Irish a chance here, or may except for its own injuries: no fewer than five pass-catchers are down and out for this one. The ND strength is its offensive line and ability to run the ball, but that coincides with the very thing LSU is built to contain. And, let’s be honest, in a game where quarterbacking is iffy, Brandon Wimbush vs. LSU’s secondary is a bad matchup for the Irish. While Danny Etling won’t wow you, he’ll avoid msitakes that give away the game and make just enough throws to D.J. Chark to threaten ND’s secondary. Notre Dame did not finish the season like you’d want to see, getting blasted on the ground by Miami and Stanford, and struggling in wins against Wake Forest and Navy. That’s bad news for the Domers, who are likely to see LSU running backs platooned against them all day, even if Orgeron and Matt Canada hate one another at the moment. It won’t be pretty, but LSU should be physical enough to get the win.

#3 Georgia at #2 Oklahoma (+2.5, 60) - Rose Bowl CFP Semifinal

Mon, Jan 1, 5:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

Go back and look at the tape from Iowa State’s October win over Oklahoma. ISU didn’t win with alchemy, smoke and mirrors, or risk-taking. The Cyclones won by playing sound in the secondary, getting the defense off the field on third down, limiting big ground gainers, pounding the ball, and making timely completions of their own: it was, in short, old-fashioned high-percentage football...and it was kryptonite to the Sooners. What ISU was, Georgia is in spades. It will come after Baker Mayfield with a ferocious pass rush. The Dawgs will platoon one of the nation’s deepest, most talented corps of running backs. It will shut down the run and prevent Mayfield from making huge plays with his legs when the coverage is there. It will play to eliminate mistakes in the passing game. And, while Georgia has only has slight above-average special teams (45th), that is better than Oklahoma who sits at 68th in the nation. In sum, if Georgia limits mistakes and big plays, if Georgia’s defense gets off the field while keeping the chains moving when they have the ball, then a repeat of OU’s previous playoff experience will manifest as old man football prevails. ARP ARP ARP.