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Top Bowl Games

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ranking the top ten ACC/SEC bowl games.

1. Capital One Orange Bowl (CFB Playoff Semifinal): Georgia vs Michigan
This, surprisingly, will be just the second-ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Wolverines. The head coaches, Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh, will be squarely in the spotlight. This look likes a matchup of strength-vs-strength as Georgia's third-ranked rush defense, led by Bednarik Award winner Jordan Davis, will be tested by a Michigan ground game that leads the Power Five in rushing yards. Up front, the Bulldogs and Wolverines both rank in the national top ten in sacks allowed; Georgia will have to limit the impact of Michigan edge-rusher Aiden Hutchinson, the recent Heisman Trophy runner-up.

2. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (CFB Playoff Semifinal): Alabama vs Cincinnati
A game for the history books, the defending national champions will welcome the undefeated Bearcats to the playoff as the first Group-of-Five team to advance. While matchups like this have long been hypothesized and debated, now college football gets to see. The Crimson Tide have to know how good Cincinnati is. Heisman Trophy-winner Bryce Young leads Alabama forward with 43 touchdown passes compared to just four interceptions. His record-setting performance in an SEC Championship Game triumph over Georgia is a big reason why the Crimson Tide are here.   

3. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs Baylor
After great seasons, the Rebels and Big XII Champion Bears, fresh off their dramatic win over Oklahoma State, will meet in New Orleans in the best non-playoff pairing of this bowl season. While their were initially coaching rumors around both Lane Kiffin and Dave Aranda, the two coaches now lead their teams forward with considerable momentum. In addition to star quarterback Matt Corral, Ole Miss actually leads the Power Five with 224.25 rushing yards per game. Baylor, paced by Abram Smith, has been one of the nation's best running teams, too, at 215.15. A win would give the Rebels a new single season program record.

4. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Pittsburgh vs Michigan State
Two of the best players in all of college football will square off in quarterback Kenny Pickett for the Panthers and running back Kenneth Walker for the Spartans. Pickett recently finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy and Walker finished sixth. Expect lots of big plays and lots of points in Atlanta. The winner here, between teams who were part of the national narrative during the year, will likely finish the season ranked in the top ten. 

5. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Texas A&M vs Wake Forest
An intriguing matchup between SEC and ACC teams, both the Aggies and Demon Deacons were in the national top ten this season. One of the top games-within-the-game of the year will occur when Wake Forest has the football. Quarterback Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons currently rank 5th in the country with 41.2 points per game, while Texas A&M is third in scoring defense at 15.9 points per game allowed. 

6. Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson vs Iowa State
The Tigers were projected as a College Football Playoff lock back in the pre-season and many pundits had the Cyclones in the final four as well. Clemson and Iowa State were ranked first and seventh, respectively, in the initial rankings. Relatively quietly, the Tigers have won five games in a row, while the Cyclones enter with three losses in their last five. Clemson's second-ranked scoring defense will be a major challenge for Iowa State stars Brock Purdy and Breece Hall.  

7. Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl: Florida vs UCF
Already a sell-out, the in-state storylines, for this Tampa showcase, are obvious. Though it wasn't a banner season for either the Gators or the Knights, there is a spotlight on and an energy to this matchup. The talking points are clearly already there. Florida and Central Florida have played just twice all-time, with the last meeting coming in 2006.  

8. Outback Bowl: Arkansas vs Penn State
Another contest pairing teams who were in the national top ten during the regular season, these two programs have, surprisingly, never before played. Expect this game to be won at the line of scrimmage as the Razorbacks rank 12th nationally in rushing offense and the Nittany Lions gave up only nine rushing scores all year.

9. Duke's Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs South Carolina
Charlotte awaits as a fitting host for this border battle. Star quarterback Sam Howell will lead the Tar Heels against a defense, for the Gamecocks, that ranks in the top ten nationally against the pass. The winner gets local bragging rights and gets to call themselves "Carolina".

10. SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Louisville vs Air Force
It's been a historic season for Cardinal quarterback Malik Cunningham, who has scored 37 total touchdowns. The Falcons, meanwhile, lead the nation in rushing with an astonishing 342 yards per game. There will likely be plenty of highlights here.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports