Texas Teams Go Bowling – A Preview of the Week Ahead
Its a very busy week for many of Texas’ college football programs, with Texas, Texas Tech, Rice, Texas A&M, North Texas, Baylor and Houston all taking part in the pageantry of Capital One Bowl Week. Here’s a preview of what to expect:
Valero Alamo Bowl: San Antonio, TX
The Teams: Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)
The Date: December 30th at 7:45 PM on ESPN
The Favorite: Oregon
Player to Watch: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon- Everyone’s Heisman front runner until November fell out of the race entirely after two rough losses to Stanford and Arizona. A large chunk of Oregon’s struggles in those two losses can be attributed to a sprained knee that limited Mariota’s mobility down the stretch. Still, Marcus played a pretty convincing pocket passer while injured, waiting until 5 days before Thanksgiving, (3 months into the season) to throw his first interception. A month of rest might be just what Mariota needed to regain his September form. This could spell trouble for a Texas defense that has struggled against dual threat QBs (i.e. BYU’s Taysom Hill).
Why You Should Care: This year’s Alamo Bowl will be the curtain call to what has been one of the most decorated coaching careers in recent memory. Love, hate, admire or despise him, Mack Brown has been one of the most influential sports figures of the past two decades. As an Aggie, I grew up cursing the silvery-tongued devil from Cookeville, Tennessee, but my bitterness has since melted into a heartfelt respect. It’s a shame that Brown’s final game as the headman at Texas is being overshadowed by the debate over who should assume his succeed him. Mack Brown deserves better than he’s gotten this year, and college football is worse off without him. The Longhorns are huge underdogs in this game (predicted to lose by an average margin of 22 points by ESPN). The Ducks are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. You’d have to journey out into the far reaches of the universe to find someone who hasn’t heard of the proficient Oregon offense. To watch it operate at max efficiency is to watch Picasso paint a masterpiece or a polar bear hunt baby seals. It’s a thing of awe-inspiring, enigmatic, terrifying beauty. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu leads a very underestimated Duck defense that has adapted nicely to compliment their high flying offense.
Prediction: The Ducks will set a new bowl record by wearing 5 different uniforms. Texas will take advantage of Oregon’s changing room timeouts and make it a closer game than most expect. Oregon wins, 42-31.
National University Holiday Bowl: San Diego, CA
The Date: December 30th at 11:15 on ESPN
The Favorite: Arizona State
Player to Watch: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State- Sutton was named the Pat Tillman PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. A tank in the trenches, Sutton was the anchor for a Sun Devil defense that led the conference in sacks and forced turnovers. A consensus All-American, Sutton also became the first Sun Devil to win the Morris Trophy (best PAC-12 lineman) twice.
Why You Should Care: After climbing as high as 10th in the polls, Tech completely imploded after losing to 38-30 to Oklahoma in mid-October. That aside, coach Kliff Kingsbury has been able to stir some life into a Red Raider team who grew stale under Tommy Tuberville. Kingsbury helped to take Tech back to their roots, orchestrating an aerial attack that ranked 2nd in the nation. Of course, most of the offense was conducted on the field by 2013 Big XII offensive freshman of the year, Baker Mayfield, who surprised most everyone by announcing he planned to transfer. The reins will instead be handed over to either Davis Webb or Micheal Brewer. The hiring of Kliff has also led to spike in female interest in the program. The devilishly handsome head coach has caused an estimated (by me) 273% increase in interest among the teenage girl demographic. Speaking of devils, Arizona State is looking to reach 11 wins for the first time since 1996. The PAC-12 South champions lost the conference crown to Stanford, but remain huge favorites against Tech. ASU should tread carefully, however. In the 2004 Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech took on Cal team that ranked 4th in the country. Mike Leach’s Raiders (7-4 at the time) took down the Golden Bears (10-1) by a score of 45-31.
Prediction: Last year, Texas Tech’s Raider Red won Capital One’s Mascot of the Year competition. That’s kind of adorable until you realize he is based loosely on the bands of pillaging hoodlums who took what they wanted in the lawless west. Of course, things are even worse in Tempe, where they chose to immortalize Satan himself. And we wonder why society has fallen to where it is now. Sun Devils win 48-35.
The Date: December 31st at 5:00 pm on ESPN
The Favorite: Mississippi State
Player to Watch: Charles Ross, RB, Rice- Rice’s senior running back helped lead a rushing attack that ranked 16th in the nation with 240.2 yards per game. Ross ran for solid 1,252 yards and 14 TDs on the season. Before this year, the Owls last 1,000-yard rusher was Trevor Cobb in 1992 (a year before I was born).
Why You Should Care: The last time Rice won an outright conference title was in 1957. The number one song that year was Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” and Dwight D. Eisenhower was our president. A win for the Owls will set the school record for wins in a season at 11. So pardon the Owls for being a little excited about appearing in this year’s Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs are a little less enthused, cruising in with a 6-6 record. After a long season of fighting for their life in the loaded SEC West, Mississippi State isn’t easily intimidated. This is the 4th consecutive bowl appearance by the Bulldogs (a school record), who will essentially have home field advantage (Starkville is only 3 hours from Memphis). The over under on how many “More Cowbell” jokes will be made during this game is right around 6 million.
Prediction: Fun Fact: Bulldogs are incapable of reproducing naturally. They all have to be artificially inseminated (that’s why they’re so expensive). That has nothing to do with the outcome of the game, but it is worth noting. Rice pulls off the upset, 35-27.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Atlanta, GA
The Teams: Texas A&M Aggies (8-4) vs. Duke Blue Devils (10-3)
The Favorite: Texas A&M
Player to Watch: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M- I feel pretty confident in saying that there will never be another college football player like Johnny Manziel. The electrifying undisputed champion of Halloween and Spring Break has proven to be pretty outstanding on the football field as well. A magician in the pocket, defenses swear he has the ability to teleport out of trouble. Will he be able to bounce back from the two tough road losses that ended the Aggie’s season (LSU & MIZZOU)? Or will his nagging shoulder injury continue to limit the A&M’s play calling options? Either way, it’s safe to say that what ever happens will be must watch TV. It always is when Johnny Football’s involved.
Why You Should Care: Poor Duke defense. After facing Jameis Winston and the Seminole offense in the ACC Championship, they draw the no less prolific A&M offense. The Blue Devil offense on the other hand, they should be able to breathe easy knowing that they get to face a paltry Aggie defense that struggled to stop national powers like Rice and Sam Houston State. Texas A&M had a bit of a disappointing season, losing all four of their games against ranked opponents in a year where a lot of analysts had them pegged as a dark horse national title contender. They’ll face a scrappy Duke team that has far exceeded expectations while setting the school record for wins and capturing the ACC Coastal division title. They’re lead by their incredibly underrated head coach, David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe made a name for himself calling plays for a young Peyton Manning at Tennessee.
Prediction: The Blue Devils proved they had some fight in them, as they were the only team all year to shut out Florida State in the first quarter. They then went on to prove they still lack the talent to compete at a high level by getting blown out the rest of the game. A&M wins in a shootout (the only kind of game they’re capable of playing), 51-42.
The Date: January 1st at 1:00 pm on ESPN U
The Favorite: North Texas
Player to Watch: Caleb Herring, QB, UNLV- The senior signal caller from Moreno Valley, California completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,522 yards and 22 TDs (14 of them to WR Devante Davis).
Why You Should Care: After a nine-year postseason hiatus, North Texas now finds itself in a peculiar position, the favorite in a bowl game. The Mean Green managed to double their win total from last season on the back of a strong defensive unit that gave up an average of 11.4 points between October 12th-November 9th. They’ll be tested by a balanced Rebel offense that averaged 242.4 yards passing and 181.4 yards on the ground. UNLV is appearing in their first bowl since they played in their home Las Vegas Bowl in 2000. These teams have played each other 4 times before, with the Rebels winning all four. North Texas has never won a game in the legendary Cotton Bowl. They have a chance to rewrite history with a win on New Year’s Day.
Prediction: This is the 100th year of North Texas Football. It’s a shame that Mean Joe Green used up all his eligibility in the late 60s. Maybe he can just stand in the tunnel and hand out Coca-Cola’s to North Texas players after the game. Mean Green wins it, 28-17.
The Date: January 1st at 9:30 PM on ESPN
The Favorite: Baylor
Player to Watch: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor- Petty was originally committed to play in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee, but that was before Lane Kiffin took the helm and proceeded to completely ignore the 3-star prospect from Midlothian. Baylor called, talked Bryce into gray shirting, and the rest is history. It took Bryce Petty 5 years to start for the Bears, but he’s sure tried his damnest to make the most of it, leading the Bears to their first ever BCS Bowl. Lane Kiffin is now gainfully unemployed.
Why You Should Care: Baylor exploded on the scene this year, rising from depths of the unranked to capture the school’s first conference title since they won the SWC in 1980. Anxious to prove themselves against an established power, the Bears instead had to settle for UCF as their opponent. The Knights upset Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals to en route to winning the American Conference and punching their first ever ticket to a BCS Bowl. While this is one of the least sexy BCS games in recent memory, it will feature some spectacular quarterback play. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles has been steadily climbing most experts’ draft boards and looks posed to make a run at being a first round pick come April. Bortles and the aforementioned Petty have combined for 7,124 yards passing and 52 TDs on the year. The Bears are far from a one trick pony. Their rushing attack is led by the nautically named Lache Seastruck and ranked 11th in the country. This could be the last game the Bears play with Art Briles on the sideline, as many believe the “Eyes of Texas” have fallen upon him. Briles could be rolling in green and wearing orange very soon.
Prediction: Baylor’s offense is scary, but still not as dangerous as a real bear. Bears are terrifying creatures. UCF should be glad that all actual bears are barred from competing in the NCAA. Bears win 48-27.
The Date: January 4th at 2:00 pm on ESPN
The Favorite: Vanderbilt
Player to Watch: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt- The SEC’s all-time leader in receptions finished 4th in the FBS in receptions (107) and 7th in receiving yards (1,334). Matthews will return to his home state of Alabama for this year’s Compass Bowl.
Why You Should Care: How impressive has James Franklin been at Vandy? The Commodores just posted their first back-to-back 8 win seasons since before the Great Depression (1927-28). Franklin has been able to draw elite talent like Jordan Matthews and (current St. Louis Ram running back) Zac Stacy despite having to adhere to Vanderbilt’s strict academic standards. Oh, and he plays in the SEC. The Cougars arrive in Birmingham after losing 3 of their last 4 games in November. Their lone win was a 34-0 shellacking of rival SMU. Houston started true freshman John O’Korn at quarterback. He rewarded their trust by throwing for 2,889 yards (3rd among true freshman). Sadly, he fell just short of some really great corn puns (ex. Can O’Korn or Jimmy Crack Korn).
Prediction: This will be a surprisingly fun game to watch with trick plays, lead changes, and last second dramatics. Unfortunately, the majority of the country will miss it after they falsely assume all the regular bowl games are over. Vandy wins it 42-38.