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Liberty, Chick-fil-A Bowl Previews – 12/31/13

liberty chickfila logosA happy and safe New Year’s Eve to everyone out there.  After a solid win by Ole Miss yesterday, the SEC is off to a 1-0 start this bowl season.  Two more games today… which we preview… right now.

 

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Mississippi State (6-6) vs Rice (10-3)

TV:  4:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Mississippi State -7

Current Line:  Mississippi State -7

Cool Factor:  Meh.  Sorry, but this game rarely has a cool factor.  In most years, one of the SEC’s stragglers goes up against the champion of Conference USA.  The SEC’s reputation is on the line, though it’s a little unfair considering the matchup.  Mike Slive’s league is 4-1 versus C-USA in Liberty Bowls since 2006, but the games have always been close.  Carolina over Houston 44-36.  Mississippi State 10-3 over UCF.  Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19.  Arkansas 20-17 over East Carolina.  And UCF 10-6 over Georgia.  Pay attention, MSU.

What’s At Stake:  Dan Mullen’s popularity.  There was a widening gap between the pleased and displeased in Starkville this season.  An end of the year win over hated Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl seemed to shift the crowd back in Mullen’s direction.  A fourth consecutive bowl trip — for the first time in school history — didn’t hurt, either.  But make no mistake, there are some in the MSU camp who want wins over SEC teams with winning records.  Many believe Mullen cannot get the Bulldogs to the next level.  If State gets fried by Rice in front of a cowbell-ringin’ crowd today, State will finish 6-7 on the year.  If that happens, this offseason could be a noisy one in the Magnolia State as MSU fans debate the direction in which their program is moving.

Keep An Eye On:  The battle in the trenches.  Rice boasts the 15th best ground attack in the nation (240.1 yards per game).  The Owls ran for 306 yards versus Texas A&M back in September.  MSU has America’s 49th best rushing defense (allowing just 151.0 yards per contest).  However… five times State allowed a team to average more than five yards per rush against them (Arkansas, Alabama, Bowling Green, LSU and Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 40 attempts).  We should know early on whether Rice’s ground game is good enough to challenge State.  On the season, the Fighting Pilafs have gained 4.97 yards per carry in the first halves of games and just 4.39 yards per carry in second stanzas.  Typically, the best rushing teams wear foes down in the second half.  Rice’s numbers suggest that if the Bulldogs hold their ground early, it’s unlikely — barring turnovers — that the Owls will be able to make a charge late.  Rice topped the 250-yard mark through the air just twice all season.  So focus on how well MSU stuffs the run early on.

Hidden Tidbit:  Rice is going for it’s 11th win overall and it’s 10th win in 11 games.  The Owls’ win total is impressive, but that tally includes some close calls with weak teams (18-14 over FAU, 30-27 over Tulsa in overtime, 27-21 over UT-San Antonio and 37-34 over UAB in overtime).  The Owls did hang 31 points on Texas A&M’s porous defense in their season opener (losing 52-31), but Dak Prescott and the MSU offense should be able to put up enough points to win this one.  After all, Mullen has made a career of beating smaller programs… and Ole Miss.  (State’s six wins this season came over Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas and the Rebels.)

Prediction:  Mississippi State 30, Rice 24

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Texas A&M (8-4) vs Duke (10-3)

TV:  8:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Texas A&M -11.5

Current Line:  Texas A&M -12.5

Cool Factor:  If you like offense, this one figures to have lots of it.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if A&M/Duke come close to the point total of the last college football game played in the Georgia Dome (102 points in Auburn’s win over Missouri).  The Blue Devils had a below average ACC defense this season (allowing 24 points per game and 419.8 yards per contest).  The Aggies’ defense cost them a shot at greater glory (30.9 points per game allowed and 460.3 yards allowed per contest).  We still wonder what happened to all the A&M fans who bashed us in the preseason for daring to suggest this year’s team wouldn’t have the success of last year’s team, but that’s neither here nor there.  Expect points aplenty in Atlanta.

What’s At Stake:  Once again, the SEC’s reputation is at stake.  The Chick-fil-A Bowl — which will become the Peach Bowl again starting next season — enjoys the #2 selection from the ACC and the #5 pick from the SEC.  Like the Liberty Bowl, this really isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.  But if Duke wins, that won’t stop the masses from saying the Southeastern Conference is overrated.  (Unfortunately, when you have to win all of your bowl games every season just to silence the doubters, eventually you’re going to slip up.)

Keep An Eye On:  The Johnny Manziel-to-Mike Evans connection.  Reports claim they’ll both turn pro at after this game and it’s hard to blame them.  Manziel passed (3,732 yards) and ran (686 yards) his way to New York for another Heisman ceremony (after winning the trophy last year).  Evans (1,322 yards and 12 TDs) developed into one of the nation’s top wideouts.  What more do they have to prove at the college level when injuries are becoming more and more common?  Sure, it’d be fun to see these guys stick around the SEC (especially since Manziel has displayed a new level of maturity since August), but no Aggie fan should begrudge either young man for jetting if that is indeed his next action.  So enjoy one last Manziel/Evans show tonight while you can.  Years from now, folks will still be talking about extraordinary college skills of Johnny Football.  You can say you watched what should be his final scintillating performance in the collegiate ranks.

Hidden Tidbit:  If Duke is to upend A&M they’ll need a big day on special teams.  And that’s entirely possible.  The Blue Devils rank #8 in the nation in both kick returns (25.0 yards per) and punt returns (14.5 yards per).  DeVon Edwards led the ACC in kickoff returns averaging 31.0 yards per return and taking two to the house.  Jamison Crowder was second in his league in put returns (16.0 yards per return) and he scored two TDs as well.  Texas A&M wasn’t bad in kick coverage (third-best in the SEC), but they finished 13th in the league in punt coverage surrendering 10.4 yards per return.  Having coached at Tennessee where General Robert Neyland’s game maxims are gospel, expect David Cutcliffe to remind his Duke team to “press the kicking game,” where the breaks are made.

Prediction:  Texas A&M 48, Duke 38

 


2 comments
NikkiFree
NikkiFree

@MrSEC Never mind. I read somewhere else will be the Chickfila PEACH Bowl...not just Peach Bowl.It's for consistency.

NikkiFree
NikkiFree

@MrSEC Why is the Chickfila Bowl going back to Peach Bowl next year? Too much pub abt the gay stuff from Chickfila or what?

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