2014 College Football Bowl Season Preview, Part 4

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope you all had a safe and fun Christmas day with friends, family, and very small amounts of Knicks or Lakers basketball. To catch up on the previous installments of this series previewing all of the bowl games, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 which takes us through Saturday evening and the National University Holiday Bowl. Once again, each bowl game’s preview will include the following:

Bowl Title
Team (Record, Conf. Record) vs. Team (Record, Conf. Record)
Day of the Week, Date at Time ET/Time PT
Stadium (City, State).
TV: Network (Commentators).
Radio: Radio Network, if applicable (Commentators).

Series History

Coaching Comparison
…as well as some information and insight, and my pick.

Now let’s take a look at the six games taking place on Monday and Tuesday, the 29th and 30th.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M Aggies (7-5, 3-5 in SEC) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5, 5-4 in Big 12)
Monday, December 29 at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, TN).
TV: ESPN (Clay Matvick, Anthony Becht, and Dawn Davenport).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Mark Neely, Ray Bentley, and Niki Noto).

Series History: Though West Virginia is a member of the Big-12, the conference that Texas A&M used to be a part of, this will be the first ever meeting on the gridiron between the two schools.

Coaching comparison:
50-year old Kevin Sumlin is in his 3rd season with Texas A&M with a record of 27-11 (.711). With a win, Sumlin and the Aggies will have bowl victories in four consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.

43-year old Dana Holgorsen is in his 4th season as the West Virginia head coach with a record of 28-22 (.560). After guiding the Mountaineers to a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl win in his first year in Morgantown, Holgorsen’s teams have failed to win more than seven games in each of the following three years.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen will lead the Mountaineers into Memphis seeking their eighth win of the season.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen will lead the Mountaineers into Memphis seeking their eighth win of the season.

This spring, Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns following the Aggies 9-4 season. Despite losing their mythical quarterback, the Aggies opened the year at No. 21 in the AP poll and proceeded to rattle off five victories to start the year including two against conference foes. Over those first five wins, A&M averaged 51.2 points and a margin of victory of more than five touchdowns. The good times didn’t last however as the Aggies ran into a three-game buzzsaw of Top 15 ranked conference opponents culminating in a 59-0 smackdown at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide. There would be another flash of success – a 41-38 win at then-No. 3 Auburn – but two home losses in conference to end the season means Texas A&M heads from College Station to Memphis instead of somewhere more glorious. The Aggies formula for success is quite predictable – airing the ball out, period. No defense (449 yards allowed per game, 102nd in FBS), no running game (142.8 rushing yards per game, 91st in FBS), just a ton of throwing the ball (306.4 passing yards per game, 12th in FBS). 6’3″ freshman Kyle Allen supplanted sophomore Kenny Hill as the starter at the end of October and completed 61.3% of his passes while throwing for 764 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions over the last four games of the season. Three different Texas A&M wide receivers – 6’4″ sophomore Josh Reynolds, 5’11” freshman Speedy Noil, and 6’0″ senior Malcome Kennedy – all have at least 500 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The offensive success has also been keyed by a stout offensive line that features 6’5″ 300 lbs tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (All SEC second team) and 6’4″ 325 lbs guard Jarvis Harrison, both ranked in the Top 3 at their position among NFL Draft prospects by Mel Kiper Jr.

West Virginia began the season unranked for the second year in a row and their first test proved too tough as they lost 33-23 to No. 2 Alabama. The Mountaineers would bounce back quickly with wins in six of their next seven – the loss coming to No. 4 Oklahoma – including three road wins and a victory over No. 4 Baylor. November proved cruel for the Mountaineers as they lost three of their last four and will now look to finish the year with eight wins for the first time in four years. Much like the rest of their Big 12 brethren, West Virginia’s greatest strength was their passing game (314.6 yards per game, 9th in FBS; 65.4% completion percentage, 12th in FBS) led by 6’2″ senior Clint Trickett. Trickett will not be playing Monday though, as he announced his retirement after multiple concussions just three days before the game. 6’0″ sophomore Skyler Howard will take the snaps for WVU after throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions in the Mountaineers last two games. He’ll have two stud receivers to throw to; 6’3″ senior Kevin White, a Biletnikoff Award finalist and All-Big 12 first team selection who finished with 1,318 receiving yards (7th in FBS) and nine touchdowns, and 5’9″ senior Mario Alford whose 10 receiving touchdowns were the most in the Big 12 conference.

Dylan’s Pick: There is not only similarity between these two programs (both are in Top 15 in FBS in passing yards per game) — there’s also familiarity as Dana Holgorsen spent two seasons as Sumlin’s offensive coordinator at Houston, while Texas A&M OC Jake Spavital worked for Holgorsen at both Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The difference lies in just how awful the A&M defense is – they allowed no less than 23 points to each FBS opponent this season –  bad enough that defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was fired after the regular season. I’m rolling with Coach Holgorsen and the boys from Morgantown. West Virginia, 42-30.

Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma Sooners (8-4, 5-4 in Big 12) vs. No. 17 Clemson Tigers (9-3, 6-2 in ACC).
Monday, December 29 at 5:30 PM ET/2: 30 PM PT
Orlando Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL).
TV: ESPN (Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).

Series History: Oklahoma leads the all-time series 2-1, though Clemson won the last time the two teams met — coincidentally also in the Citrus Bowl in 1989.

Coaching Comparison:
54-year old Bob Stoops is in his 16th year as the Oklahoma head coach with a record of 168-43 (.796). The Sooners have reached gone bowling in every season under Stoops and a win this season will mean bowl triumphs in five of the last six years.

45-year old Dabo Swinney is in his seventh year and sixth full season at the helm of the Clemson Tigers with a record of 60-26 (.698). With a win, the Tigers will reach the 10-win mark for the fourth consecutive year.

You remember when Melvin Gordon went next level and set the single game rushing record vs. Nebraska? Yeah, well the next week Oklahoma freshman RB Semaje Perine broke that record in a 44-7 rout of Kansas.

You remember when Melvin Gordon went next level and set the single game rushing record vs. Nebraska? Yeah, well the next week Oklahoma freshman RB Semaje Perine broke that record in a 44-7 rout of Kansas.

Oklahoma started the year ranked 4th in the AP Poll and were picked by many to make the first playoff, if not win it all. Things were looking good heading into October as the Sooners were 4-0 with wins over two power five conference opponents. But after three losses in five games and an end-of-season defeat at the hands of rival Oklahoma State, OU is left as one of the most disappointing teams in college football. Part of that disappointment is fueled by sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight who threw for only 2,197 yards and 14 TDs. The Sooners pass defense was also lackluster (272.7 yards allowed per game, 115th in FBS), made up for only by the run-stoppers up front (109.6 yards allowed per game, 10th in FBS). Look out for freshman Samaje Perine, a 5’11” 243 lbs RB who set the single-game rushing record Nov. 22 against Kansas with 427 rushing yards. Perine fueled a Sooners running game that averaged an FBS-best 375.8 yards on the ground per game over their last five contests.

Oklahoma will be going up against something they haven’t seen in the Big 12: an elite defense. Ranked 1st in FBS in yards allowed per game (259.6) and 6th in points allowed per game (17.6), the Clemson is led by four All-ACC first team selections including two senior linebackers — 6’2″ 245 lbs Stephone Anthony (9.5 tackles for loss) and 6’3″ 235 lbs Vic Beasley whose 11 sacks helped him earn first team All-American status. On offense, look out for the dual-threat at wide receiver of 6’3″ sophomore Mike Williams and 5’11” freshman Artavis Scott who combined for 1,769 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

Dylan’s pick: I’m not convinced Bob Stoops will be able to get his kids up for this game, and even if he can I don’t think they can get past the fierce Tigers defense. I’m going with Clemson, 24-10.

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas Razorbacks (6-6, 2-6 in SEC) vs. Texas Longhorns (6-6, 5-4 in Big 12).
Monday, December 29 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
NRG Stadium (Houston, TX).
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, and Tom Luginbill).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Adam Amin, John Congemi, and Kayce Smith).

Series History: These two teams have a long and storied history due to their time together in the Southwest conference from 1915-1991. Texas leads the all-time series 56-21, though the two teams have split the last ten meetings.

Coaching comparison:
44-year old Bret Bielema is in his 2nd season as the head coach at Arkansas with a record of 9-15 (.375), though his Razorbacks have improved from 3-9 to 6-6 in one year and many experts think they’re poised for another big step in 2015. Prior to joining Arkansas, Bielema spent seven years as the head coach at Wisconsin where he led them to Big Ten titles in each of his final three seasons.

I'm serious here guys -- it's crazy to me that Strong is 10 years older than Bielema.

I’m serious here guys — it’s crazy to me that Strong is 10 years older than Bielema.

54-year old Charlie Strong (wait a second, Charlie Strong is 10 years older than Bret Bielema? No way…) is in his 1st season as the head coach in Austin after working on coaching staffs at some of the best football programs in the country. Those programs include Florida (1983-84, 1988-89, 1991-94, 2003-09), Notre Dame (1995-98), and South Carolina (1999-02).

In 2010 and 2011, Bobby Petrino guided Arkansas to double digit victories and big name bowl games. The Razorbacks haven’t come close to that since, though Bret Bielema was able to get his team to a bowl game for the first time in three years. To say the Razorbacks had a brutal schedule would be an understatement as they played eight games against teams in the Top 20, finishing 2-6 in those games. Those two wins were the high point of the season as they shutout LSU and Ole Miss by a combined 47-0. Arkansas is powered by a phenomenal two-pronged rushing attack – 6’0″ 225 lbs junior Jonathan Williams, a second team All-SEC selection, and 5’11” 215 lbs sophomore Alex Collins – both finishing with over 1,000 yards and 11 rushing TDs. The quality Arkansas running game is complemented by a Top 25 run defense (124.0 yards allowed per game) led by an All-SEC first team selection in 6’2″ 231 lbs senior linebacker Martrell Spaight (8.5 TFL and 3 turnovers forced) and 6’3″ 270 lbs senior defensive end Trey Flowers (13.5 TFL and 5 sacks), Mel Kiper Jr’s No. 8 DE.

From 2001-09, Mack Brown led the Longhorns to double-digit win totals including the 2005 national championship. Things tailed off toward the end though, and now Charlie Strong and Texas are seeking their first bowl win over an SEC opponent since the 2003 Cotton Bowl (35-20 win over LSU). Like their opponent, the Longhorns struggled against a difficult schedule as they finished 1-5 against ranked opponents including a 31-26 loss in the Red River Shootout to No. 11 Oklahoma. The Longhorns best weapon on offense is 6’2″ senior WR John Harris who became only the 6th player in UT history to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Harris will be going to work against a Razorbacks secondary that is without CB Carroll Washington and S Rohan Gaines, both suspended for an unspecified violation of team policy.

Dylan’s Pick: Charlie Strong’s kids have been faced considerable adversity this season, the least of which includes seeing their numbers pared down by Strong himself. I expect Strong to end up successful in Austin, but the Razorbacks running game will be too much to handle. Arkansas, 31-17.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-5) vs. No. 23 LSU Tigers (8-4, 4-4 in SEC)
Tuesday, December 30 at 3 PM ET/Noon PT
LP Field (Nashville, TN).
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, and Jessica Mendoza).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Mark Neely, David Diaz-Infante, and Dawn Davenport).

Series History: This will be the 11th meeting between the two teams with each having won five games. LSU has won each of their two bowl games against Notre Dame, however, including the 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Coaching comparison:
53-year old Brian Kelly is in his fifth season as Notre Dame head coach with a record of 44-20 (.688). Kelly has experienced success at all of his coaching stops including Grand Valley State (2 Division II Championships), Central Michigan (4 wins to 6 wins to 9 wins and a Motor City Bowl appearance in 3 years), Cincinnati (34-6 and two BCS bowl appearances), and now Notre Dame (first Fighting Irish coach to go to bowl games in each of their first five years).

61-year old Les Miles is in his 10th season as LSU head coach with a record of 103-28 (.786). Miles has led the Tigers to three BCS bowl appearances including winning the 2007 national championship game.

Though their season may not have been as great as some in recent memory, LSU proved they are still rock solid at home, taking down then No. 3 Ole Miss in Death Valley on October 25.

Though their season may not have been as great as some in recent memory, LSU proved they are still rock solid at home, taking down then No. 3 Ole Miss in Death Valley on October 25.

Notre Dame opened the season as the No. 17 team in the country and rattled off six straight wins including a 31-0 throttling of Michigan and a 17-14 win over No. 14 Stanford. They went down to Tallahassee as the No. 5 team in the country, lost a close one 31-27 to Florida State and finished the year with four straight defeats including a 43-40 overtime loss at home to Northwestern. The Fighting Irish’s strength is in their passing game which includes three notable weapons. First, 6’1″ senior QB Everett Golson who returned to the Fighting Irish this season and totaled 3,355 yards (15th in FBS) and 29 touchdowns (12th in FBS) to go with eight rushing touchdowns. Golson’s top target was 6’1″ sophomore William Fuller who finished the year with 1,037 receiving yards (24th in FBS) and 14 TDs (3rd in FBS). Protecting along the offensive line for the Fighting Irish is 6’5″ 254 lbs senior TE Ben Koyack, ranked 8th at his position by Mel Kiper Jr. Despite his gaudy numbers, Golson committed 22 turnovers including throwing 14 interceptions, leading Brian Kelly to announce that 6’1″ sophomore Malik Zaire will split time with Golson at QB in this game.

LSU also opened the year with high expectations, ranked No. 13 in the country and winning their first three games including a 28-24 nailbiter against No. 14 Wisconsin. Four conference losses, including a 41-7 defeat at No. 5 Auburn, marked the downfall for LSU’s season as they look to end the year on a high note following their win at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day. The Tigers struggled offensively this year (383.4 yards per game ranked 80th in FBS) but saw a bright spot in 6’1″ 230 lbs freshman RB Leonard Fournette who finished with 891 yards and eight TDs. The Tigers also have a couple of standouts on their offensive line in 6’5″ 321 lbs senior tackle La’el Collins (All-SEC first team) and 6’6″ 320 lbs junior Vadal Alexander, both ranked in the Top 10 at their position by Mel Kiper Jr. On defense, LSU held opponents to 162.3 yards per game (4th in FBS) and their secondary features the likes of junior CB Jalen Collins and senior CB Ronald Martin.

Dylan’s pick: There’s talent on both sidelines and reasons to think either team could win, but it’s hard to get over the fact that Notre Dame has lost their last four games. I don’t think they snap out of it now. LSU, 27-14.

Belk Bowl
No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs (9-3, 6-2 in SEC) vs. No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (9-3, 5-3 in ACC).
Tuesday, December 30 at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT
Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, NC).
TV: ESPN (Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer, and Cara Capuano).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Tom Hart, Matt Stinchcomb, and Dari Nowkhah).

Series History: This will be the first ever matchup between the Bulldogs and Cardinals.

Coaching comparison:
54-year old Mark Richt is in his 14th season as Head Coach at the University of Georgia with a record of 135-48 (.738). The two-time SEC Coach of the Year (2002, 2005) is one of only seven SEC coaches to win 10 or more games in four consecutive seasons (2002-05).

53-year old Bobby Petrino is in his 1st year of his second stint as Head Coach at Louisville. Petrino has been on a road of redemption and recovery since 2011 when he was involved in a motorcycle accident and it was revealed he’d been having an affair with assistant and former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, leading to Petrino’s ouster.

Georgia's running backs (From left); Sony Michel, Todd Gurley, and Nick Chubb. Combined, the three make up the 12th best running game in the country. Photo courtesy of  Logan Booker/Bulldawg Illustrated.

Georgia’s running backs (From left); Sony Michel, Todd Gurley, and Nick Chubb. Combined, the three make up the 12th best running game in the country. Photo courtesy of Logan Booker/Bulldawg Illustrated.

Despite three losses the Georgia Bulldogs have had a great season, remaining in contention for an SEC Championship appearance until the last week of the season and their 30-24 overtime defeat against the No. 16 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Despite the loss against their in-state rival, the Bulldogs finished 3-2 against ranked opponents and had the 8th highest scoring offense in FBS at 41.7 points per game. That offense was powered by a running game that featured 6’1″ 226 lbs junior Todd Gurley who – despite playing in only six games due to suspension and then later a torn ACL – finished with 911 yards and nine TDs. Gurley posted minimums of those 911 and 9 in each of his three seasons at Georgia and though he’s departing for the NFL, the Bulldogs have another great RB in 5’10” 228 lbs Nick Chubb. Chubb, the SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC first team selection, finished with 1,281 yards and 14 TDs (12 rushing). On defense, the Bulldogs linebacker corps of 6’2″ 237 lbs senior Ramik Wilson (No. 6 inside linebacker according to Mel Kiper Jr.), 6’4″ 230 lbs sophomore Leonard Floyd (No. 2 outside linebacker according to Mel Kiper Jr.), and 6’2″ 231 lbs senior Amarlo Herrera (All-SEC first team selection) combined for 10 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. Those LBs, along with senior CB Damian Swann (All-SEC second team selection), helped Georgia hold opponents to 158.4 yards per game (2nd in FBS).

2014 would see great change for the Louisville Cardinals. QB Teddy Bridgewater departed for the NFL and head coach Charlie Strong left for Texas. Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky to complete his redemption by returning to his former post at Louisville, and Bridgewater was replaced by 6’5″ sophomore Will Gardner (1,669 yards and 12 TDs) whose season ended after tearing his ACL on November 8 at Boston College. Instead of Gardner, the time at QB will be split by 6’2″ freshman Kyle Bolin (381 yards and 3 TDs in the Cardinals win over Kentucky to end the season) and 6’3″ freshman Reggie Bonnafon (who was knocked out early in that game against the Wildcats). The Cardinals defense was among the best in the country at both stopping the run (93.7 rushing yards allowed, 3rd in FBS) and the pass (25 interceptions, 2nd in FBS). Of note on that defense is 6’4″ 252 lbs senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, an All-ACC first team selection who finished with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Another defensive standout for Louisville is first team All-American Gerod Holliman, a 6’2″ 213 lbs sophomore safety who led the nation with 14 interceptions.

Dylan’s pick: This game has all the makings of a great one. Both teams have talent all over the field, and the coaching connections are deep. Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham spent four years in the same position at Georgia, the last of which was a massive failure, and Bobby Petrino’s time as the head coach of Georgia’s NFL team was similarly awful. Without Michael Dyer however, I don’t think Louisville will be able to keep up with the Bulldogs. Georgia, 38-21.

Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland Terrapins (7-5, 4-4 in Big Ten) vs. Stanford Cardinal (7-5, 5-4 in Pac-12)
Tuesday, December 30 at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT
Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, CA).
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, Greg McElroy, and Shelley Smith)
Radio: ESPN Radio (Roxy Bernstein, Tom Ramsey, and Dave Shore).

Series History: This will be the first ever game between the Terrapins and the Cardinal.

Coaching comparison:
56-year old Randy Edsall is in his 4th season as Head Coach at Maryland with a record of 20-29 (.408). Edsall has spent significant time at two other programs; including his time as a quarterback at Syracuse, Edsall spent 15 seasons with the Orange. Prior to moving to College Park, Edsall was the head coach of the UConn Huskies from 1999-2010 with a record of 74-70 and a 3-2 bowl record.

42-year old David Shaw is in his 4th season as Stanford Head Coach with a record of 41-12 (.774). In each of his first three seasons, Shaw had finished with at least 11 wins and a BCS bowl appearance, this year marking a significant dropoff for his Cardinal squad.

Stanford ended their season with a triumphant win over the No. 8 UCLA Bruins, 31-10 in Pasadena. Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images.

Stanford ended their season with a triumphant win over the No. 8 UCLA Bruins, 31-10 in Pasadena. Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images.

Maryland began their first season as members of the Big Ten conference with wins in four of their first five games including road wins against South Florida, Syracuse, and Indiana. They would alternate wins and losses over their final seven contests with continued success on the road late in the season (20-19 win at Penn State, 23-16 win at Michigan). Maryland’s unimpressive offense (352.1 yards per game ranks 106th in FBS) is centered around 6’3″ senior C.J. Brown who not only finished with more than 2,000 passing yards but was also Maryland’s leading rusher (more than 500 rushing yards and seven TDs on the ground for the third straight year). Also of note for the Terps is 6’0″ junior kicker Brad Craddock whose field goal percentage of 94.7 was the best in FBS.

Coming off an 11-3 season and a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2013, Stanford opened the year as the No. 11 team in the country. The 2014 regular season would be a disappointing campaign for the Cardinal as they finished 1-5 vs. ranked opponents, though they did end the year with road victories against rivals Cal and UCLA. David Shaw’s defense is among the best in the nation (4th in FBS with 287.4 yards allowed per game, 2nd in FBS with 16.0 points allowed per game) and they’re led by two seniors who were All Pac-12 1st team selections. 6’6″ 295 lbs defensive end Henry Anderson finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss while 5’11” safety Jordan Richards finished the season with three forced fumbles and three interceptions. 6’4″ 228 lbs senior QB Kevin Hogan improved his accuracy over last season, completing 65.7% of his passes, throwing two less interceptions, and rushing for three more touchdowns than in 2013.

Dylan’s Pick: Randy Edsall and the Maryland Terrapins ended up with a solid record in their first season in a traditionally tough Big Ten conference, but they’ll be no match for a Stanford team that is playing what amounts to a home game as Levi’s Stadium is only a 22 minute drive from their home field of Stanford Stadium. Stanford, 28-7.

This takes us through Tuesday, December 30th. Part 5 should arrive Tuesday, and will cover the games on New Years Eve as well as the non-playoff New Years Day games.

– Dylan


About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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