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As these words are being written, the Sugar Bowl between Georgia and Texas has yet to begin. So whether the Southeastern Conference's 11 bowl teams finish with a 7-4 mark or a 6-5 record won't be known until after this column is due. (Silly deadlines.)

But regardless of whether the Bulldogs win or lose against the Longhorns, the SEC has acquitted itself pretty well overall during this bowl season. Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M all won easily. Kentucky and LSU proved toughest when it mattered most. And among the losers, only South Carolina looked as if it would rather have been anywhere but the Belk Bowl during its listless 28-0 loss to Virginia.

So what have we learned as we await Monday night's College Football Playoff title game between top-ranked and defending national champ Alabama and No. 2 Clemson?

For one thing, all those points the Big 12 teams score against each other during the regular season may be more a testament to their offensive brilliance than a general aversion to defense.

After all, a Vanderbilt defense that had held four of its previous 12 opponents to 14 or fewer points and had fallen only 22-17 at Notre Dame — which reached the CFP unbeaten — gave up 45 to Baylor in the Commodores' seven-point Texas Bowl loss.

Missouri, which entered the Liberty Bowl having surrendered 17 or fewer points to four of its final five SEC foes, watched Oklahoma State score 38 in its five-point loss to the Cowboys.

Even Bama, which raced out to a 28-0 Orange Bowl lead against Oklahoma, ultimately gave up 34 points in its 11-point national semifinal win over the Sooners.

Thankfully for the SEC, the Big Ten proved to be a much less sturdy foe. Florida routed Michigan 41-15 in the Peach Bowl. Kentucky shrugged off being a 6.5-point underdog to Penn State well enough to hold off the Nittany Lions 27-24 in the Citrus Bowl. And Auburn ended a somewhat disappointing 7-5 regular season with a preposterously easy 63-14 victory over Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

Yes, the Big Ten had its moments. Ohio State looked the way Ohio State fans always think it's supposed to look while rolling over Washington in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin so humbled Miami coach Mark Richt that he retired following that 35-3 loss to the Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. And Iowa saved at least a little face against the SEC by holding off Mississippi State 27-22 in the Outback Bowl.

Then there was the Atlantic Coast Conference, which not only had Clemson humble Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl but also had Virginia embarrass the Gamecocks and Duke crush Temple 56-27 in the Independence Bowl. Of course, it also had North Carolina State blasted 52-13 by SEC member Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl.

One side note regarding Duke: Given that former Tennessee assistant David Cutcliffe has guided the formerly woeful Blue Devils to six bowl games in the past seven seasons, winning the last three in a row, does anyone not think the Volunteers should have hired him over both Derek Dooley and Butch Jones and paid him at least $4 million a year? You think the Big Orange Nation would be sitting at home for a second straight bowl season with Coach Cut on the clipboard?

One team that won even when it lost almost certainly was Central Florida, which had its 25-game winning streak come to an end in Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl against LSU but proved by its 40-32 loss that it clearly deserves to be mentioned among the best teams in the country. Especially since the Knights were without gifted quarterback McKenzie Milton, who suffered a gruesome leg injury late in the regular season.

As any Auburn fan who attended last season's stunning Peach Bowl loss to UCF will tell you, Milton is a game-changer of the highest order. With him on the field against the Bayou Bengals, the Knights might well have begun next season on a 26-game winning streak.

One trend that needs to be lost is that of players sitting out bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft, which is really about not risking injury. The NCAA needs to have an insurance policy in place before the next bowl season that allows schools to purchase one-month policies that would pay handsomely if a player deemed by the NFL to be draft-worthy is injured either in practice or a bowl game.

If nothing happens and the player reaches his NFL dream, the player could pay the school back for that one-month policy through his NFL signing bonus. If he is injured, the school's health insurance would cover all medical costs and the policy would pay him a minimum of one season or a maximum of two at the rate commensurate with where the league projected him to go in the draft.

Why is this important? West Virginia, one of the highest scoring teams in college football, scored only 18 points in its bowl loss to Syracuse, mostly because quarterback Will Grier skipped the game to prepare for the draft.

Thankfully, no players from Alabama or Clemson are expected to skip Monday night's championship game because they need to focus on the draft. And with everyone available on both sides, this feels like Clemson will win its second CFP crown in three years rather than the Crimson Tide winning their third in four.

Either way, as the bowls already have shown, while every conference has had its moments this season, the two best leagues fittingly have their conference champs playing for No. 1. And with both Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence back next season, the more things change the more they should stay the same at the top of the game.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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