Clear Your Schedule – SEC 2014, Bowl Games (Part 1)

By Brian Wilmer -

This is a tough time of the year for writers like myself.  It seems as though every storyline has been dissected, sliced and diced in every form imaginable, leaving no stone unturned.

Then, something like this happens:

I, uh…okay.  Though I won’t erupt in chants of “S-E-C! S-E-C!” as some did on Twitter, I’ll simply say that there were many semesters in which many reading this — and hell, possibly even some writing it — would have enjoyed a 2.57 GPA.  The fact that it’s the highest ever for a semester in Ole Miss’ football history, though…party on, I guess.

Anyhow, back to business.

The SEC has graced us with five bowl games which we’ll cover in this space, hopefully with some angles we’ve not yet visited.  No promises, though.  On to the postseason — after this trivia question, of course!

(Note:  Remember that any games between the SEC and ACC in which the ACC is listed as the home team will appear in the ACC version of Clear Your Schedule.)

SEC Trivia, Bowl Games (answer at the end of the column):  Of the first six SEC teams to play this postseason (South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss), which team has the most bowl appearances, and what is their record in postseason play?

Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)

Duck Commander Independence Bowl
South Carolina (6-6, 3-5 SEC) vs. Miami (6-6, 3-5 ACC)
3:30pm Saturday, 12/27 | Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA | ABC

  • No love for Shaq:  It was reported early Tuesday morning that South Carolina wideout Shaq Roland had left the team and would not be traveling to Shreveport.  The junior from nearby Lexington has 26 grabs for 356 yards and four end zone trips this season.  It is widely assumed — though not confirmed — that he will enter the NFL Draft.  Roland’s third receiver role will likely be filled by senior Damiere Byrd, among others.  The Gamecocks’ top two receivers, Pharoh Cooper and Nick Jones, have combined for 99 receptions, 1456 yards and 13 touchdowns.
  • Your defense is offensive:  South Carolina’s defense has — fairly, for the most part — been much-maligned this season, and will have to perform a nearly-Herculean effort to slow down Hurricanes beast Duke Johnson.  Carolina is 107th in the land in rushing defense, allowing 214-plus rushing yards per game.  Johnson averages just shy of seven yards per carry, and has shattered the 1,500-yard plateau on the season.
  • Prolific passers:  Both South Carolina and Miami feature solid pocket quarterbacks.  The Gamecocks’ Dylan Thompson became USC’s single-season passing leader this year, throwing for 3,280 yards on a 248-for-417 performance.  Thompson’s 24 passing touchdowns compare nicely to Brad Kaaya’s 25 for Miami.  Kaaya was named the ACC Rookie of the Year this season, coming on nicely after some season-opening struggles in a loss to Louisville to become a top-20 performer in several categories.  Kaaya has completed 202-of-345 passes for 2,962 yards this year.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  This might be one of the highest-scoring games of the SEC bowl docket, if not the entire postseason.  A key stop late might win it.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
West Virginia (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. Texas A&M (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
2:00pm Monday, 12/29 | Liberty Bowl Municipal Stadium, Memphis | ESPN

  • More like “efense”:  Neither A&M nor West Virginia possesses a very potent defensive club.  West Virginia is ranked in the high-fifties to anywhere in the sixties in all defensive categories, while A&M has two units (total defense and rushing) ranked lower than 100th among FBS schools.  Both teams have individual defensive stars, however.  Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett ranks second in the SEC in sacks with 11 and is tied for seventh in tackles for loss with 12.5.  West Virginia defensive lineman Shaq Riddick, a transfer from Gardner-Webb, ranks fifth in the Big 12 with seven sacks, registering ten tackles for loss.  Garrett was named second-team All-SEC and made the all-freshman team, while Riddick was this year’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
  • Trying for milestones:  Texas A&M has never won more than three consecutive bowl games in their school history.  A victory over the Mountaineers would snap that record.  Kevin Sumlin would also have the largest win total (28) in his first three years of any Aggie coach with a win.  Finally, Aggie wide receiver Josh Reynolds is attempting to break the single-season touchdown reception record (12).
  • What a rush:  West Virginia’s sports information department notes that the Mountaineers have beaten opposing teams 69 percent of the time (82-of-119) when outrushing them over the last 119 games.  WVU has actually outrushed their foes 83 times during that period.  A&M’s rushing offense ranks 91st among FBS teams, gaining just 142.8 yards per game.  WVU ranks 42nd in rushing offense at 187.5 yards per game.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Yet another high-scoring game with little defensive acumen.  The SEC may not have done A&M any favors by vetoing a matchup with Texas.

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas (6-6, 2-6 SEC) vs. Texas (6-6, 5-4 Big 12)
9:00pm Monday, 12/29 | NRG Stadium, Houston | ESPN

  • Not a bad consolation prize:  Though it was initially suggested that Texas would play Texas A&M, the SEC allegedly vetoed that matchup.  What we got, though, was a clash of former Southwest Conference members that is steeped in history.  The Longhorns have defeated Arkansas 56 of the 77 times they’ve played, including the most recent two (2004 and 2008).  It has been 14 years since the schools faced off in a bowl game, which was won 27-6 by Texas (2000 Cotton Bowl).
  • Born to run:  Arkansas was the only FBS team with two 1,000-yard rushers at the running back position in 2014.  Jonathan Williams (fourth, 1,085 yards) and Alex Collins (fifth, 1,024 yards) both ranked among the top five rushers in SEC play, combining for 23 touchdowns.  The Longhorns are 1-3 when allowing 200 yards or greater to opposing rushers, with the only victory coming against West Virginia.  The Mountaineers rushed for exactly 200 yards in that 33-16 loss.
  • Fabulous five:  Tyrone Swoopes became just the fifth Longhorn QB in history to throw for greater than 2,000 yards and rush for greater than 200 in a single season.  Swoopes was not even the starter when the season began, but he has still managed to throw for 2,352 yards and 13 scores this year.  Swoopes also has nearly 300 yards rushing, helping to bolster a Longhorn rushing offense paced primarily by Malcolm Brown (683 yards, 6 TD).

Print that, tweet that, whatever:   The history behind this game and the matchup make this one to watch.  This has all the makings of a four-quarter slugfest.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
#22 LSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. Notre Dame (7-5)
3:02pm Tuesday, 12/30 | LP Field, Nashville | ESPN

  • Performing in tandem:  Notre Dame plans to play two quarterbacks against the Tigers.  Everett Golson is a top-15 passer this season, throwing for 3,355 yards for the Irish in 2014.  Golson has also found the end zone eight times on the ground among his 277 yards rushing.  Backup Malik Zaire appears to be Golson’s heir apparent; however, the sophomore has completed just 9-of-20 passes this season for 170 yards.  Zaire has also carried 11 times for 91 yards and a score.
  • Rebounding nicely:  After being shut out 17-0 by Arkansas on November 15 — one of two consecutive ranked opponents the Razorbacks blanked — LSU defeated Texas A&M 23-17 in their season finale on November 29th.  The Tigers won four of their final six after a 41-7 thrashing at the hands of Auburn on October 4th.
  • But on the other hand:  Notre Dame is currently in the throes of a four-game losing streak.  The Irish have also lost five of their last six.  Only a 49-39 victory over Navy on November 1st resides in the left-hand column for the Irish since October 11th.  Losses to Florida State, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC have derailed what was a 6-0 start for Notre Dame.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  As great as Golson is, it’s tough to see Notre Dame winning here, particularly in a QB platoon.  LSU ranks 3rd in scoring defense.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
12:30pm Wednesday, 12/31 | Georgia Dome | ESPN
#9 Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3 SEC) vs. #6 TCU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)

  • Irresistible force, immovable object:  This game features the increasingly-rare matchup between top teams on either side of the ball.  Ole Miss ranks first overall in scoring defense, allowing just 13.8 points per game.  TCU, on the other hand, is second-best in scoring offense, scoring a dizzying 46.8 points per game.  Ole Miss is a top-30 defensive unit by every major measure, while TCU is a top-35 offensive club.
  • Running things against ranked teams:  Each team’s opponent will be the fourth top-ten team they have faced this season.  The Horned Frogs have victories in two of the previous three meetings, with the only loss coming in a wild 61-58 decision against Baylor.  That loss was the only blemish for Gary Patterson’s club in five games against top-25 teams.  Ole Miss was also 2-1 against top-ten clubs, as Hugh Freeze’s Rebels beat Alabama and Mississippi State, with their lone loss a 35-31 defeat to Auburn.
  • Third time’s a charm:  TCU will look to claim their first-ever bowl victory against the Rebels in three tries.  Ole Miss won the now-defunct 1948 Delta Bowl and 1956 Cotton Bowl.  Those two wins came by a combined five points (13-9 in the Delta Bowl and 14-13 in the Cotton Bowl).

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Ole Miss responded from being an afterthought and smoked their in-state rival.  Will TCU come out ready to go or feeling snubbed?

Trivia answer:  I asked earlier:  Of the first six SEC teams to play this postseason (South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss), which team has the most bowl appearances, and what is their record in postseason play? 

Georgia has the most bowl appearances of any of these teams (49).  They are 27-19-3 in bowl games.

Questions? Comments? Leftover egg nog? Follow Brian on Twitter @sportsmatters!