Apart from the three College Football Playoff games, bowls don’t mean much. We reference the Sugar Bowl of Jan. 1, 2019. Texas upset Georgia. This was hailed — even Sugar MVP Sam Ehlinger gave voice to it — as Exhibit No. 357 that Texas Was Back. For the 357th time, that claim was summarily debunked.
In Week 2 this season, the Longhorns lost at home to a different SEC team. Yeah, that team was LSU, which would soon stamp itself as the best in the land, but still. Texas went 7-5 over its regular season in a Big 12 that, as we’re about to see, was no great shakes. As for Georgia …
The Bulldogs again went 11-1, again won the SEC East, again lost in the conference championship game and again headed for New Orleans to face another Big 12 opponent on New Year’s night. This time they won without undo strain. So if, 366 days later, we re-scan the 2019 Sugar Bowl for big-picture ramifications, we’d find none. And here’s where I hop off the soapbox and haul out the abacus.
Bowl standings aren’t really a thing. Nobody gets a trophy for finishing first, though the SEC is always happy to pat itself on the back, but we all pay attention. This year’s board is incomplete — a few lesser bowls remain, and LSU will meet Clemson on Jan. 13 in a game that does count — but not much is apt to change from here on. Without further ado, here’s how the Power 5 leagues have fared.
SEC: 6-2. Best win: Hard to pick against LSU beating Oklahoma 63-28 in the CFP semi, though Alabama handling Michigan in the Citrus was fun for all SEC zealots who hate Jim Harbaugh. And Kentucky beating Virginia Tech in the Belk behind the outrageous Lynn Bowden — a converted receiver making like Lamar Jackson — was quite something. Worst loss: Auburn losing to Minnesota in the Outback, a result that took a bit of the glow off what had been a strong season at a needed time for Gus Malzahn.
Pac-12: 4-3. Best win: Can’t argue with Oregon beating Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose, though special mention goes to Washington’s 38-7 dismissal of Boise State in Las Vegas, a game that saw outgoing coach Chris Petersen lead his soon-to-be former team over his formerly former team. Worst loss: USC was crushed 49-24 by Iowa in the Holiday, making us wonder yet again what the Trojans see in Clay Helton, but the booby prize goes to Utah’s 38-10 thrashing by five-loss Texas in the Alamo. Lest we forget, the Utes would have grabbed the CFP’s No. 4 had they beaten Oregon. What might the score of an LSU-Utah semi been — 95-10?
Big Ten: 4-4. Best win: Minnesota beating Auburn came at a fine time, arriving on a New Year’s Day that saw Michigan fall to Alabama and Wisconsin lose in the Rose. Worst loss: Ohio State outgained Clemson by 99 yards in their semifinal and seemed the stronger team for most of the night, but the Tigers somehow won. The Buckeyes will grouse forever about the targeting call — though it seemed a textbook case — and the overturned fumble/touchdown, but their greater ire should be directed toward a first half that saw Ohio State assume a 16-point lead that coulda/shoulda been twice that much.
ACC: 4-5. Best win: Clemson over Ohio State was the most gripping semifinal ever. (Georgia’s overtime win over Oklahoma had been the leader in the clubhouse.) Louisville beat Mississippi State in the Music City, and the ACC always takes a yellow highlighter to any victory over a Just Means More rep. So don’t mention Virginia’s Orange loss to Florida around John Swofford. Worst loss: Miami fell 14-0 to Louisiana Tech, not to be confused with Louisiana State, in the Independence, prompting coach Manny Diaz to fire offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Diaz himself mightn’t be long for the job. He just went 6-7 in Year 1 with losses to Georgia Tech, Florida International, Duke and now La Tech.
Big 12: 1-5. Best win: Technically the only win — Texas over Utah. Worst loss: It didn’t augur well when Notre Dame destroyed Iowa State 33-9 in a noon game Dec. 28; no sooner had the Camping World ended than Big 12 champ Oklahoma was trailing LSU 49-14. Baylor’s performance against Georgia wasn’t that awful, though the Bears trailed 19-0 at halftime and managed 295 yards over four quarters. The only major conference without a win in a CFP game needed Texas to keep it from going 0-for-bowl-season. Whoa, Nellie.
Before we leave, some local updates. The ACC Coastal — Georgia Tech’s division — was won by a seventh different team (Virginia this time) over seven different years. Virginia was beaten by Florida in the Orange; Virginia Tech lost to Lynn Bowden; Miami was shut out by La Tech. Pitt beat Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane. North Carolina might have announced its presence as 2020 Coastal front-runner — not that the Coastal hews to form — with a 55-13 victory over Temple in the Military.
As for the SEC East: Georgia finishes 12-2 and Florida 11-2; it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which one of them doesn’t win the division next season. Kentucky followed the 10-3 of 2018 with a surprisingly upbeat 8-5, though Bowden will be taking his many talents to the NFL. Tennessee is favored by three points over Indiana in the Gator tonight, and if you envisioned the Volunteers reaching any bowl after losing their opener to Georgia State … well, you weren’t me.
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