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Sugar Bowl Preview – 1/2/14

44940aIt was another good New Year’s Day for the SEC as the league took two out of three from the Big Ten and moved to 5-1 overall this bowl season.

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl

#3 Alabama (11-1) vs #11 Oklahoma (10-2)

TV:  8:30pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Alabama -14.5

Current Line:  Alabama -17

Cool Factor:  Are you kidding?  These are two of the winningest programs in college football history — Bud Wilkinson, Bear Bryant, Barry Switzer, Gene Stallings, etc.  The schools have met just five times previously.  Bob Stoops has stated that the SEC isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and benefits from “propaganda.”  It’s a duel between two coaches who’ve captured BCS crowns.  Take your pick, folks.  While certainly not the most important bowl game this season, the Sugar Bowl might boast the most attractive matchup in terms of history, different regions of the country being represented, name brand value and the like.  Assuming it’s a good game, this one will likely earn the highest ratings of the non-title game bowls.

What’s At Stake:  The legacy of Alabama’s senior class.  The fourth-year seniors have already captured two BCS crowns.  Any fifth-year graybeards have a third title of which to boast.  But this season was supposed to be a cakewalk to a third title in a row and a fourth in five years.  A bungled last-second decision on the part of Nick Saban — really, a 57-yard field goal attempt? — and a once-in-a-lifetime play by Auburn slammed the door shut on Bama’s championship dreams.  Now, 20 years from now, this group will be rightly viewed as one of the biggest collections of heroes in college football history, but if they lose to the Sooners tonight, you better believe there will be a chunk of the spoiled Crimson Tide fanbase who dismiss them.  Anyone have much good to say about the 2008 team that suffered its first loss of the season in the SEC title game to Florida and then went on to get rolled by Utah in that season’s Sugar Bowl?  Fans of all sports are fickle and — at least in the immediate aftermath — a team is only as good as its last game.  If Bama loses, quickly head yourself over to Twitter to just watch the reaction.

Keep An Eye On:  Bama’s psyche.  In 2008, the Crimson Tide went in the tank after losing its first game.  Andre Smith’s surprising suspension was a gut punch before the Sugar Bowl.  And it was apparent the guys in crimson weren’t exactly fired up to face Utah.  Well, there have been no distractions during this year’s bowl run-up and it’s difficult to imagine anyone not getting up for a game with Oklahoma.  But the way Alabama lost its last game, who it lost to, and the fact that it had come to tantalizingly close to fulfilling what many saw as its destiny could cause a bit of a hangover for a team.  We suspect Saban will have his group properly motivated, but until the first five or six minutes play out… there will still a scintilla of doubt.

Hidden Tidbit:  Stoops has said his starting quarterback will be a gametime decision.  Whoever gets the start will lead the nation’s 48th best scoring offense (31.8 points per game) against a defense that’s allowing just 11.3 points per game (#2 in the country).  Oklahoma should have its hands full putting point on the board.  But it’s on defense where the Sooners will have to win this one.  Stoops’ team boasts the Big 12′s best defense overall and third best rush defense.  They must — must — stymie the Tide ground attack (third best in the SEC at 212.0 yards per game).  Bama’s magic number is 125.  With AJ McCarron under center Alabama is 42-1 when it gains 125 rushing yards.  The Red Elephants are just 4-5 when they don’t hit the 125-mark.

Hidden Tidbit #2:  Keep an eye on the special teams matchup in this one.  Alabama led the SEC in punt returns (running three back for scores) and finished third in kickoff returns (with one TD).  Oklahoma was ninth in the 10-team Big 12 in punt coverage and eighth in kick return defense.  Bama, meanwhile, will need to keep an eye on Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders who’s returned two punts for touchdowns himself.  Both teams have also blocked three kicks/punts this season.

Hidden Tidbit #3:  Teams can give up yards all day and all night, but if they keep the other team out of the end zone, they’ll win.  Alabama’s red zone defense was the best in the SEC and third best in America allowing a score on just 63.6% of red zone possessions (and just 50% of those possessions ended in touchdowns).  Oklahoma’s offense ranked seventh in the Big 12 in red zone scoring and just ninth in terms of converting red zone trips in TDs.

Prediction:  Alabama 31-17

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Nick Saban’s New Alabama Deal Reportedly Worth More Than $7 Million Annually

nick-saban-money-bags-150x150All the speculation about Nick Saban and the University of Texas can stop now.  The coach is staying at Alabama – and getting a nice raise for doing so.

The Tuscaloosa News says Saban’s new deal will pay him between $7  million and $7.5 million annually. Alabama released a statement from Saban Friday night.

 

We are very pleased to have this agreement completed. (Wife) Terry and our family are very happy in Tuscaloosa. It has become home to us. This agreement allows us to continue to build on the tremendous success that we have enjoyed to this point — successes that have transcended the football field. We are excited about the future and the University of Alabama is where I plan to end my coaching career.

“We are committed to continuing the work that we have been doing in the community as well as at the university. We are also excited about the opportunity awaiting us on Jan. 2 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the University of Oklahoma and hope to send this year’s tremendous senior class out in the proper way.”

 

Internet rumors and Twitter chatter had linked Saban to the job at the University of Texas in recent weeks.  But Mack Brown is still the coach in Austin (at least for now).  News of Saban’s deal reached the Longhorn State just minutes before Brown spoke at the team’s annual banquet Friday night.

So why did Saban wait until Friday to pull the trigger on this deal?  ”It’s not that complicated, ” writes Kevin Scarbinsky. “Saban wasn’t out recruiting all day Friday. He was finally in his office, tending to paperwork and other business.”

Saban had previously signed an extension in March that would keep in Tuscaloosa through the 2020 season. ESPN says the new deal was first reported by Kirk Herbstreit. This marks the third time his contract has been altered or extended since coming to Alabama.

We here at MrSEC.com  never thought Saban was leaving – and said so as recently as Thursday afternoon. But quite a few reporters and sites were on the Saban to Texas bandwagon.  AL.com calls out seven of them who were just plain wrong.

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The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of This Year’s SEC Bowl Slate

04-the-good-the-bad-and-the-uglyTen SEC squads are heading to bowl games this holiday season.  That’s one more from a season ago, two more from the 2011 season (when the league consisted of just 12 schools).  Both Missouri and Texas A&M are going bowling this year, so you could easily say that they’re the reason the league has 10 teams in bowls and will have 10 hauls of bowl cash to split evenly among the league and its members (there are 15 slices to the SEC revenue pie).

For those who hate having the SEC’s games all bunched together and overlapping, you’re out of luck.  The league knows that most fans watch bowl games on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and they partner with bowls accordingly.  They also know that by “roadblocking” across the dial on New Year’s Day afternoon, it’s almost impossible to evade Mike Slive’s league.  That’s not fun for fans who’d like to see all of the SEC games, but it is smart marketing.

Below we give you a quick take — with a cinematic theme — on each of the SEC’s 10 bowl games.

So here come the good, the bad and the ugly…

 

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Nashville, TN

Dec. 30th, 3:15pm ET

Ole Miss (7-5) vs Georgia Tech (7-5)

The Good:  Take your pick — Hugh Freeze’s high-speed offense versus Paul Johnson’s old school triple-option… or the fact that these teams used to be conference rivals.  We’ll go with the latter because it’s a better story.  Before the days of schedule rotation, the Rebels and Yellow Jackets were both in the SEC but seldom faced one another.  In fact, Tech won their two SEC meetings in 1956 and in the 1953 Sugar Bowl.  The last meeting between the schools was a 1971 Peach Bowl win by Ole Miss.  Matchups we rarely see are a good thing.

The Bad:  This one will likely be trumped by the Alamo Bowl (Oregon versus Texas).  Here’s betting Mississippi and Tech fans will both be tired of hearing Mack Brown promos by the time the Music City Bowl broadcast ends.

The Ugly:  If the Rebels can hold up against the Johnson’s triple-option, there could be an ugly mismatch in the passing game.  Ole Miss ranked #3 in the SEC this season in passing offense.  Georgia Tech’s pass defense finished at #13 in the 14-team ACC.  In their last game out, the Rambling Wreck lived up to its name by allowing first-time Georgia starter Hutson Mason to complete 22-of-36 passes for 299 yards and two scores.  If Bo Wallace improves over his Egg Bowl performance, the Rebels should have the aerial weaponry to swat the Yellow Jackets.

 

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Memphis, TN

Dec. 31st, 4:00pm ET

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

The Good:  Mississippi State is going bowling for the fourth straight season.  We all know there are more bowls now than ever before (and the number will jump to 39 bowls next year), but this is history for a State program that’s traditionally been an SEC cellar-dweller.  Kudos on another round of holiday football.

The Bad:  When folks look at the SEC’s bowl record at year’s end, few make note of the fact that lesser-seeded SEC teams are often facing higher-seeded teams from other leagues.  MSU was arguably the 9th or 10th best team in the SEC this season.  Rice is the champion of Conference USA.

The Ugly:  In a perfect example of how the bowl has worked since its inception, a 6-6 MSU team was tabbed for this Memphis trip over an 8-4 Vanderbilt team because… Cowbell-totin’ State fans helped break the Liberty Bowl’s attendance record back in 2007.  Said it before; will say it again: Bowls are about tourism.  Period.

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Atlanta, GA

Dec. 31st, 8:00pm ET

#21 Texas A&M (8-4) vs #24 Duke (10-3)

The Good:  In its perfect New Year’s Eve timeslot, the Chick-fil-A Bowl usually draws in plenty of viewers.  That’s good news for A&M and even better news for a Duke program that’s trying to establish itself.  The last collegiate performance by Johnny Manziel should have viewers tuning in, too.

The Bad:  Plug your ears, Vandy fans… No one ever wants to play a service academy of a high-academic school in a bowl game.  If you beat Duke, Northwestern or Vanderbilt, so what?  And if you lose to them, you never hear the end of it.  Sorry, but those are the facts and Texas A&M fans would have probably preferred to play a Virginia Tech or Miami from the ACC.

The Ugly:  Defense.  Duke ranked 12th in the ACC in total defense.  A&M ranked 14th in the SEC.  A month after Auburn and Missouri burned up the rug in the Georgia Dome, the Aggies and Blue Devils might trade points with equal vigor.

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SEC Bowl Goals Should Include More Variety

gfx - honest opinionWith conferences eagerly working to line up and lock in partnerships with bowls for the 2014-19 cycle, the slate of games for 2013 — the last year of the current cycle — was released by the Football Bowl Association yesterday.

The dates and times for the SEC’s games are as follows (all times Eastern):

 

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Nashville, TN

Monday, 12/30, 3:15pm

SEC versus ACC

 

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

Shreveport, LA

Tuesday, 12/31, 12:30pm

SEC versus ACC

 

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Memphis, TN

Tuesday, 12/31, 4:00pm

SEC versus Conference USA or AAC (old Big East)

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Atlanta, GA

Tuesday, 12/31, 8:00pm

SEC versus ACC

 

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

Jacksonville, FL

Wednesday, 1/1, 12:00pm

SEC versus Big Ten

 

Capital One Bowl

Orlando, FL

Wednesday, 1/1, 1:00pm

SEC versus Big Ten

 

Outback Bowl

Tampa, FL

Wednesday, 1/1, 1:00pm

SEC versus Big Ten

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl

New Orleans, LA

Thursday, 1/2, 8:30pm

SEC versus BCS qualifier

 

AT&T Cotton Bowl

Arlington, TX

Friday, 1/3, 7:30pm

SEC versus Big XII

 

BBVA Compass Bowl

Birmingham, AL

Saturday, 1/4, 1:00pm

SEC versus AAC (old Big East)

 

Ten bowl partners.  Three games against the ACC.  Three games against the Big Ten.  Not a single game outside the SEC footprint.

Our take?

 

Quit Boring Everyone!

 

For the love of all that’s holy, is there no way to shake things up a bit?  (Of course there is and we’ve talked about it before… but it’s not going to happen.)

Earlier this week, SI.com’s Stewart Mandel tried to piece together what the next cycle of bowl games might bring us.  His SEC projections were: Sugar, Capital One, Outback, Gator, Belk (in Charlotte), Music City, Meineke Car Care of Texas (in Houston) and then possibly the Liberty, AdvoCare v100, or the-bowl-soon-to-be-known-as-the-bowl-previously-known-as-the-BBVA Compass Bowl.  The SEC will also have an occasional path to the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens.

That’s two new games on a regular basis.  The Belk Bowl is at least technically outside the SEC’s borders, though not by much.  Unfortunately, it will likely feature yet another SEC/ACC clash.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas will probably be another matchup against the Big XII.  It would be played indoors at Reliant Stadium.

As for the carry-over games, the Sugar will match the SEC against the Big XII when not part of the College Football Playoff.  The Capital One will still be an SEC/Big Ten game.  Ditto the Outback Bowl.  The ACC and Big Ten will flip-flop sending teams to the Gator and Music City bowls to face the SEC.

Yawn.

Sorry, but that’s still pretty blah.  There’s not a single matchup with the Pac-12.  And unlike the Big Ten’s national bowl lineup — which will stretch from Yankee Stadium to Florida to San Diego — the SEC continues to stick within its own region come the holidays.

We get that shorter travel makes things easier on SEC fans, but couldn’t one long-distance bowl be added to the schedule?

It looks now like the ACC will be facing the Big Ten in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.  Aren’t there some SEC fans out there who would have liked to see the SEC and Big Ten trade in the Gator Bowl for a cold-weather date in the house that replaced the House that Ruth Built?

And while Juarez, Mexico has gone from tourist destination to crime capital, fans staying on the US side of the border in El Paso might have enjoyed seeing an SEC squad face a Pac-12 team once a year.  Instead, the ACC will keep its slot against the Pac-12 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

The SEC knows how to make money and it knows how to win bowl games.  If only the league knew how to excite its fans come bowl season.  The same ol’ same ol’ just doesn’t get the job done.

 

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SEC Bowl Schedule In Detail

Yesterday we noted that the Football Bowl Association had finalized its 2012-13 schedule of postseason games.  We provided you with a link to the master list as well.

But a few of you asked for an SEC-only breakdown of the games, so below are the contests that feature SEC tie-ins (including the BCS Championship Game which has basically become an additional SEC bowl).

We include day, date and time as well as broadcast network and the opponent’s conference affiliation.  Print it, save it, post it on the fridge:

 

Friday 12/28, 2:00pm ET on ESPN — AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

SEC vs ACC

 

Monday 12/31, 12:00pm ET on ESPN — Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

SEC vs ACC

 

Monday 12/31, 3:30pm ET on ESPN — AutoZone Liberty Bowl

SEC vs C-USA

 

Monday 12/31, 7:30pm ET on ESPN — Chick-fil-A Bowl

SEC vs ACC

 

Tuesday 1/1, 12:00pm ET on ESPN2 — TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

SEC vs Big Ten

 

Tuesday 1/1, 1:00pm ET either ESPN or ABC — Capital One Bowl

SEC vs Big Ten

 

Tuesday 1/1, 1:00pm ET either ESPN or ABC — Outback Bowl

SEC vs Big Ten

 

Tuesday 1/1, 8:30pm ET on ESPN — Allstate Sugar Bowl

SEC vs BCS Foe

 

Friday 1/4, 8:00pm ET on Fox — AT&T Cotton Bowl

SEC vs Big 12

 

Saturday 1/5, 1:00pm ET on ESPN — BBVA Compass Bowl

SEC vs Big East

 

Monday 1/7, 8:30pm ET on ESPN — Discover BCS National Championship Game

SEC? vs SEC? (Hey, it happened last year.)

 

Thoughts:

* As a new bowl day dawns in 2014, here’s hoping the SEC can dump a game against the ACC and pick up a game with the Pac-12.  All the SEC’s existing bowl tie-ins go bye-bye in two more years.  So movement/change is possible/likely.

* The SEC and Big 12 will launch the “Champions” Bowl in 2014 either as a stand-alone event or as a re-branded, rebuilt Sugar or Cotton Bowl.  When the playoff was first rubber-stamped, most believed that a merger was in the offing, probably with Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium-based Cotton Bowl.  Since then, however, it’s looking increasingly like the conferences will indeed create the game on their own and bid it out to a different city each year.  Stay tuned.

* If the SEC and Big 12 want to partner up on another bowl game, St. Louis makes a heckuva lot of sense and there’s no question that city’s sports commission wants in on the bowl action.  If not the Big 12, then The Gateway to the West would serve as a good meeting ground for the SEC versus Pac-12 game we suggested above.

* The rationale behind the SEC and Big Ten scheduling three games opposite each other on New Year’s Day is obvious.  It’s called “roadblocking” in the television industry and it creates the impression that both leagues own New Year’s Day.  No matter where you flip from noon to 3pm ET, you’re probably going to see SEC and Big Ten teams.  But that doesn’t make it any better for the fans of those leagues who have to decide which game to watch, while missing out on two others.

* Here’s hoping the trend of non-BCS bowls being played between New Year’s Day and the BCS title game — I’m looking at you AT&T Cotton and BBVA Compass — will die out with the new playoff.  That’s probably not likely to happen, but here’s hoping.

 

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Allstate Tailgate Tour Info

The tour will be giving away 15 pairs of Allstate Sugar Bowl tickets in Fayetteville this weekend.
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UA Bowl Tickets Sold Out

Arkansas
Content provided by The Slophouse.

FAYETTEVILLE - The University of Arkansas has already sold out its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.

The school received more than 24,000 pre-orders during a two-week span. Donors to the school’s athletic foundation and season-ticket holders should all receive tickets to the game, according to a press release, but all others will likely be left out in the cold.

“The demand for tickets to the Allstate Sugar Bowl has been far greater than the tickets we were allotted by the bowl game,” Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long said in a release. “We appreciate the tremendous response from the Razorback fans.”

No tickets are listed for sale on the Sugar Bowl’s official website, though several online ticket sites such as StubHub.com have tickets listed for the game.

For more visit WholeHogSports.com. You can follow Matt Jones on Twitter @NWAMatt.

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UA Sugar Bowl ticket allotment sold out

Arkansas has sold out of its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
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Student ticket information for Allstate Sugar Bowl

An online random drawing will be used to allocate student tickets for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
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Arkansas to play in Allstate Sugar Bowl

Razorbacks make the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) appearance in school history
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