The bowl smorgasbord is about to kick off for the SEC.
Starting Thursday with Tennessee against North Carolina in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, there will be 10 bowl games involving SEC teams over the next 12 days.
Who has the most to prove this bowl season in the SEC (players, coaches and teams)? Here’s our top 10 list:
1. Florida coach Urban Meyer: His overall career at Florida may be unmatched with the two national championships and three BCS bowl victories in six seasons. But it all unraveled for the Gators this season, particularly on offense. Here’s a chance for Meyer to get that bad taste out of his mouth and go out a winner over the iconic Joe Paterno and Penn State Nittany Lions in the Outback Bowl.
2. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are just 4-11 all-time in bowl games and have generally been pretty lousy in the postseason, and that goes back way before Steve Spurrier showed up in Columbia. Still, the Gamecocks’ last two performances in bowl games were beyond embarrassing. It’s time they showed up for a bowl game and played well, especially coming off such a breakthrough season and getting to the SEC championship game for the first time in school history.
3. LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton: The Tigers have been subpar on offense each of the last two seasons. They were 11th in the SEC in total offense this season after finishing last a year ago. Crowton would seem to be hanging by a thread. He needs to come up with a good game plan against Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl and will have to do it without the Tigers’ leading rusher, Stevan Ridley, who’s been ruled ineligible pending an appeal.
4. South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia: Garcia has been the poster boy for the Gamecocks’ struggles in bowl games the last two years. He was much more consistent this season, and the Head Ball Coach would like to see that same consistency from him against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In his last two bowl outings, Garcia is a combined 25-of-56 for 208 yards, four interceptions and no touchdowns.
5. Georgia coach Mark Richt: The truth is that Richt has a lot to prove -- period. There’s no debating that the program has slipped the last couple of years. The question is: Can he get it back to where the Bulldogs are winning SEC championships again? Richt deserves the chance to right the ship. But a loss to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the program’s first losing season since 1996 would almost certainly set up one of those win-or-else seasons for Richt next year.
6. Alabama: It’s not often that one of Nick Saban’s teams underachieves, but the Crimson Tide did just that this season when you consider how many future first- and second-round draft choices are on this team. Not only that, but Alabama completely imploded in the second half against Auburn, blowing a 24-0 lead. Here’s one last chance for the Crimson Tide to play a 60-minute game.
7. Florida quarterback John Brantley: There’s still a chance Brantley may transfer. He said he will talk it over with his parents after the bowl game. As quarterbacks go this season in the SEC, Brantley was probably the most disappointing when you consider the steep expectations. In his defense, the Gators’ spread offense was a terrible fit for him. It would still be nice to see him throw the ball with some confidence in the Outback Bowl.
8. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof: Disregard the numbers when you analyze Auburn’s defense. The Tigers’ defenders will tell you they’re not about numbers. They’re about making clutch plays, and they’re about winning. Roof’s challenge is to at least slow down Oregon’s fast-break offense in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. And to do that, the Tigers will have to keep the big plays to a minimum. They gave up 23 touchdown passes this season, which was the second most in the SEC.
9. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray: The true freshman from California was one of the main reasons the Vols came charging back from the dead in November with four straight wins. He threw 12 touchdown passes in those four wins, albeit against weaker defenses. North Carolina has one of the better defensive backfields Bray has seen this season. He can really put a nice bow on this season, both for himself and the Vols, by lighting up the Tar Heels in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
10. Alabama running back Mark Ingram: We’ll never know for sure how much Ingram was bothered by the torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery and caused him to miss the first two games. The fact is that Ingram doesn’t make excuses. That said, he wasn’t the same player this season. Some of that may have been his injury. Some of it was the way defenses loaded up on Alabama’s running game, and the Crimson Tide also had some injuries in their offensive line down the stretch. Either way, Ingram will be primed for what will likely be his final game in an Alabama uniform.