This hasn't been the best end to a football season for the SEC in a while.
Only ten of the 14 teams made bowls, down from 12 last year. There was the aborted coup against Les Miles at LSU and Georgia pushing out a guy who won at least nine or ten games nearly every year for 15 years. The hiring season wasn't terribly exciting, with two more former Nick Saban assistants getting SEC East jobs and the third open post being a coordinator promotion. The conference lost the coaching cycle decisively to the ACC, which imported a proven winner (Mark Richt), one of the best mid-major coaches (Bronco Mendenhall, a .700 winner at BYU), and a couple of the brightest up-and-comers (Justin Fuente, Dino Babers).
Bowl games ultimately should mean nothing, but they could help things feel a little better going into the offseason. Here are some things to shoot for.
At least .500 against other Power 5 conferences
The early bowls have mostly been composed of Group of Five teams, but there have been a few P5 matchups. The ACC has a win over the Big Ten thanks to Duke beating Indiana, the Big Ten has a win over the Pac-12 due to Nebraska taking down UCLA, while the Pac-12 has a victory over the ACC via Washington State knocking out Miami (FL). Like the SEC, the Big 12 hasn't had a league member play a bowl yet.
The SEC has one matchup with a Group of Five team, Auburn's Birmingham Bowl appearance opposite Memphis. The other nine games are against the Power 5: two games versus the ACC, three against the Big 12, and four with the Big Ten.
It would be nice for the conference to leave the postseason without a losing record in any of those sets. Not only would achieving that goal ensure a winning record overall, but it would ensure that no other conference has an ultimately meaningless upper hand on the SEC heading into the narrative laboratory that is the offseason.
Win a New Year's Six Bowl
During the SEC's streak of seven straight BCS championships, the conference's BCS representative that wasn't coming home with the crystal football still tended to fare nicely. Only four conference members lost BCS games in that seven year period, and one of them was LSU to Alabama. Another victory over the conference, Ohio State's over Arkansas, has since been vacated thanks to the Buckeyes playing players who should've been suspended. That only leaves 2008 Alabama's loss to Utah and 2012 Florida's loss to Louisville as permanent stains from that era.
Since then, it hasn't gone so well. The SEC is 0-5 in the big money bowl games in the past two seasons, and three of the losses have come by 14 points or more. Winning the biggest bowls used to be something the conference could crow about, but now it's a point of embarrassment.
If Alabama and Ole Miss both lose their CFP games, it would continue that bad winless streak. It also would require a couple of big upsets, as the Tide is a 9.5-point favorite over Michigan State and the Rebels are a touchdown favorite over Oklahoma State. And speaking of point spreads...
Finish above .500 against the spread
We report on point spreads on this site purely for entertainment purposes, but they do at least offer a way to calibrate expectations courtesy of people who aren't in the bag for one particular team or conference.
As of today, here are the consensus point spreads for the conference's ten bowl games:
|Texas||LSU||Texas Tech||LSU -7|
|Belk||Texas A&M||Louisville||UL -4.5|
|Music City||Mississippi State||NC State||MSU -5.5|
|Cotton||Alabama||Michigan State||Bama -9.5|
|Citrus Bowl||Florida||Michigan||UM -4.5|
|Sugar||Ole Miss||Oklahoma State||Miss -7|
|TaxSlayer||Georgia||Penn State||UGA -6.5|
|Liberty||Arkansas||Kansas State||Ark -13|
Now, even if you don't care one iota about betting, just review those lines. The SEC team is the favorite in eight of the ten. It would be possible for the conference to achieve this goal by going 6-4 against the spread and 4-6 in the actual games, but that's threading a needle. If the conference goes above .500 against the spread, it's likely to be well above .500 overall thanks to how large some of those lines are. Arkansas winning by ten, Alabama and Tennessee each winning by seven, and Ole Miss winning by a field goal would all be good wins while also being losses against the spread.
Six of the SEC teams would need to win by seven or more points to cover, so a good record against the spread would likely mean a decent number of comfortable wins. A decent number of comfortable wins would help the conference get some momentum towards next year in the court of public opinion, if not on the field given that bowl games have zero predictive power.