SEC: Dana Holgorsen

Ranking the SEC bowl games

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
10:00
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1. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

This game is the top one for obvious reasons, primarily, it’s the one bowl game involving the SEC that has real stakes -- the winner goes to the national championship game. If the College Football Playoff semifinal wasn’t strong enough for you, it matches two of the most well-known head coaches in the game right now, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Those two did battle before when Meyer was at Florida, so the reunion should be plenty compelling.

2. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

This is the only other SEC bowl that matches up two top-10 teams. TCU was one of the teams left at the altar by the selection committee, so it’s probable that the Horned Frogs would like to stomp a highly-regarded SEC team to make a statement. Ole Miss has had an impressive season and can secure only its seventh 10-win campaign in school history and its third since 1971.

3. Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

It’s the Grantham Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s current team (Louisville) takes on his previous team (Georgia). It’s a safe bet he’d like to have his unit excel en route to a Cardinal win. The Cardinal defense is sixth nationally in yards per game allowed (293.2) but it’ll get tested by the Georgia running game, led by freshman sensation Nick Chubb (1,281 yards), who leads Georgia’s 12th-ranked rushing attack (255 yards per game).

4. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

You have two of the nation’s top rushing teams as well as two pretty good running backs in this one. There’s the nation’s top individual rusher, Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon (2,336 yards) against Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482) who leads the SEC. Wisconsin averages a whopping 314 rushing yards per game, third in the nation while Auburn posts a hefty 258.5 (11th).

5. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

If you like scoring, you’ll enjoy this one. Both teams average more than 33 points per game and they each throw it around a lot, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. There are familiar faces on the coaching staffs as well. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen worked for Kevin Sumlin for two seasons at Houston and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked for Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia before going to A&M. It’s Air Raid everywhere.

6. Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

He wasn’t a Heisman finalist but Dak Prescott was in the Heisman conversation for much of the season. It’s definitely worth tuning in to see Prescott and his partner-in-crime, running back Josh Robinson, who is aptly nicknamed “Bowling ball.” Georgia Tech is worth a watch for traditionalists, as the Yellow Jackets run the triple option well: just ask Georgia (who they beat in overtime) or Florida State (a team they stayed step-for-step with for much of the night).

7. Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

Long live the Southwest Conference. This is a throwback battle if there ever was one. These teams are both in the top 30 nationally in defense, each allowing fewer than 350 yards per game. The job Bret Bielema has done to get the Razorbacks to a bowl this season is noteworthy, while Charlie Strong seems to be laying the foundation for future success at Texas. Also, Strong has history in Arkansas -- he was born in Batesville and played for Central Arkansas. He said Tuesday this will be the first time he’ll root against the Hogs.

8. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Considering the profile of these two programs, you wouldn’t expect this game to be this far down the list. While the two teams have strong histories, this season hasn’t been stellar for either. There’s plenty of intrigue, though, from getting to see LSU’s star freshmen (Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams, etc.) to the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, where Brian Kelly has opened up competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. For what it’s worth, Les Miles said bowl prep will also be an important evaluation time for his quarterbacks, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

9. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota

This one may not have the sizzle on the surface but it matches two quality teams, both ranked in the Top 25. Missouri features two of the league’s best pass-rushers, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Those two are worth watching alone, even if the Tigers’ offense isn’t always. Minnesota features one of the nation’s top rushers, running back David Cobb, who is ninth in rushing yards this season (1,548).

10. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina vs. Miami

This game could become a feeding frenzy for Miami running back Duke Johnson, who is 12th in the country in rushing yards (1,520). South Carolina allows 214.4 rushing yards per game, 107th nationally. But the Gamecocks can score plenty of points, they average 33.3. Keep an eye on Pharoh Cooper, a dynamic receiver and returner who can do it all, including pass, and has 1,164 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns this season.

11. TaxSlayer Bowl: Tennessee vs. Iowa

Tennessee is thrilled to be in a bowl. You might even say they’re happy. It’s the first time in a bowl since 2010 for the Volunteers. There’s still a long way to go to get this proud program back to where it wants to be but they’re moving in the right direction. The Vols have a ton of talented freshmen on the roster who played key roles this season and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who came on strong late in the season, seems to have a bright future in Knoxville.

12. Birmingham Bowl: Florida vs. East Carolina

Any time you go into a game with an interim coach, it’s not ideal. That’s what the Gators have to do after firing Will Muschamp. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as the interim coach. For Florida fans, this is a chance to scout a future opponent -- the Gators and Pirates meet Sept. 12 next season. East Carolina brings a high-powered offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who is second nationally in passing yards (4,309). That should be a good test for a talented Florida defense. The continued development of true freshman quarterback Treon Harris is also worth keeping an eye on.
Jake Spavital worked under Dana Holgorsen for four years, from Houston to Oklahoma State to West Virginia. So with the Texas A&M offensive coordinator set to face West Virginia and his former mentor in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Spavital and Holgorsen, the Mountaineers' head coach, are having some fun with this looming rendezvous.

First, Spavital delivered a quick reminder to his old boss that he should be cautious in his preparation for the Dec. 29 game. Holgorsen, who remembers Spavital from the coordinator's not-so-glamorous days as a graduate assistant with the Cougars and Cowboys, was hardly worried. Of course, Spavital was not going to let his old superior put him in his place, firing back in grand fashion, with help from Jay Gatsby. Game on, indeed. The game should be a fun one. But the lead-up will not be without its share of highlights, either.
They might need some extra electricity in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, because the scoreboard probably will be in frequent use.

Texas A&M and West Virginia have never met on the football field in their respective histories, but that will change on Dec. 29 when the two clash in Memphis. Though they’ve never played, there are definitely similarities between them and some familiarity between members of the coaching staffs.

The similarities exist primarily with offensive philosophies. Each team is known for scoring a lot of points and throwing for a lot of yards. Both team’s offenses are rooted in Air Raid principles, and the Aggies and Mountaineers both rank in the top 12 nationally in passing yards per game (West Virginia is ninth, averaging 314.5 yards per game; A&M is 12th at 306.4).

That isn’t a coincidence because of the relationships that previously existed between the head coaches. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen served as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s offensive coordinator in Sumlin’s first two years as a head coach in Houston, from 2008 through 2009.

Holgorsen left Houston after the 2009 season to accept the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State and took a young graduate assistant named Jake Spavital with him to Stillwater. When Holgorsen went to West Virginia, Spavital joined him there to coach quarterbacks for two seasons before Sumlin hired Spavital at Texas A&M after then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left Aggieland to accept the Texas Tech head coaching job.

The Liberty Bowl will serve as a reunion of sorts for the offensive trio, as well as other assistants who crossed paths with them.

For the Aggies (7-5), the season didn’t go as one might expect after their scorching 5-0 start, and there were many ups and downs throughout the journey. They made a quarterback change (Kenny Hill to Kyle Allen) and after the regular season finale, Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after three seasons (linebackers coach Mark Hagen is serving as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl).

But Sumlin is aware of Texas A&M’s history, which doesn’t include an Aggie team that won four consecutive bowl games. It is the motivational factor that Sumlin will be preaching to his team throughout bowl practices and will be a carrot to dangle for the departing senior class that wants to leave a legacy.

“It’s a huge opportunity for our team to win a bowl game in four consecutive seasons, which is something we’ve never done in 119 seasons of football at Texas A&M,” Sumlin said in a statement after Sunday’s bowl announcement.

The Aggies also could use the positive momentum from a win. Losing three consecutive games to close out the season would be a bad way to end the year and with expectations expected to be raised in 2015, a positive result would be helpful as they look forward. Next season will be year four in the SEC for Sumlin and the Aggies and it will be a pivotal one for sure.

A win over a quality Big 12 team like the Mountaineers would serve Texas A&M well as it closes out 2014.
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The list of reasons why the Florida head coaching job is so attractive is awfully long, but the biggest reason is recruiting.

Texas might produce more Division I prospects, and you can find high concentrations of talent in California, but if you want to find difference-makers -- the kind you need to win the SEC and the national championship -- you head to the Sunshine State. The University of Florida sits in the heart of the highest quality and quantity of high school football talent in America, and to win big the Gators must hire somebody who can tap into that local pipeline. Will Muschamp’s replacement must beat Florida State and Miami regularly for these players and also keep Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and others from poaching players away.

It’s a tall task indeed, but here are top 10 candidates who would make sense at Florida because they have the recruiting chops to be successful.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze has proven he can win recruiting battles against the SEC heavyweights.
1. Hugh Freeze
Head coach, Ole Miss

Freeze might be tough to pry away from Oxford because of his close ties to the state of Mississippi and the fact that he still has more time left with the vaunted 2013 top-five recruiting class he brought in to Ole Miss. But from a recruiting standpoint, it’s hard to think of somebody who would be in a better position to lure talent to Gainesville. Freeze already knows how to recruit in the cutthroat SEC and has recruited against the big dogs with a lot of success in Florida since he arrived at Ole Miss.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- LSU coach Les Miles could feel it. His players could feel it. The West Virginia crowd, once silent, rose up into a chorus of roars.

They waved their gold towels furiously. This was the momentum shift they had waited for all game long. West Virginia had just closed the gap on No. 2 LSU to 27-21 with 1:16 to play in the third quarter -- the closest the Mountaineers had come to the Tigers since early in the second quarter. West Virginia has been a team of fits and starts this season -- so perhaps this was it. Perhaps the Mountaineers were about to begin their roll.

Corey Smith kicked off. Morris Claiborne fielded the ball at the 1. Ahead of him, he saw blockers line up. Claiborne knew he had to redeem himself from what he called a terrible first half -- he got beat on a touchdown, got flagged for a personal foul. He was fighting a cold, too, his raspy voice a dead giveaway.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerWest Virginia's offense didn't score again after Morris Claiborne returned a kickoff for 99 yards and a touchdown late in the third quarter.
He took off, a few steps here a few steps there. Alluding one tackler here, another there. And then he was off. In the span of 16 seconds, the West Virginia crowd fell silent again. The Mountaineers players hung their heads. Claiborne returned the kick 99 yards, and LSU romped 47-21 on Saturday night. LSU ended the game with 21 unanswered points, an emphatic answer to yet another challenge thrown their way.

"We knew we had to do something," Claiborne said. "It just so happens we broke the kick."

The Tigers sit 4-0 today, having beaten three ranked teams on the road. They have withstood the strongest test of any team in the country, with a quarterback thrown into the starting job just before the season began. These Tigers are resilient, yes. But they are also unquestionably good, able to beat teams in a variety of ways. Whatever it takes to win.

"Our guys seem to answer the bell, enjoy a competitive environment." Miles said. "I feel comfortable going on the road and playing with this team. I think if we continue to improve, continue to do the things we're capable of, somewhere down the road, we'll stake a claim on something important."

West Virginia and its fans came ready to play. Miles described the raucous scene in Morgantown this way, "They were having a football party and invited us. I knew our guys would show up."

Play got chippy early on with a few personal fouls. LSU running back Spencer Ware said the West Virginia players were talking trash, and that served as extra motivation. But the gulf between the best team in the SEC and what many believed was the best team in the Big East was apparent almost from the outset.

The Mountaineers punted on their first drive, and LSU scored on its first drive, easily marching down the field. West Virginia has the type of offense that can serve it well in a shootout. But it does not have the type of team that can survive four turnovers. There is not a team out there that is likely to survive that.

LSU turned those mistakes into 21 points. West Virginia was forced to pass because it faced such big deficits throughout the game. Geno Smith threw a school record 65 times, completing 38 of his passes for 463 yards and two touchdowns. Tavon Austin made a huge impression on Miles, with 187 yards receiving on 11 catches. But the Mountaineers had 22 runs, an imbalance that cannot be ignored.

"There were a couple of times I thought we had momentum," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We did some good things offensively and defensively, but you can't beat a good team by doing that. You can talk about 500 yards if you want to, but the only thing I'm going to talk about tomorrow is four turnovers. Three out of our four games we had zero turnovers."

Special teams were a killer, too. On Claiborne's kickoff return, Holgorsen said, "We just didn't block anybody, it's plain and simple. We didn't tackle."

In addition to that, LSU punter Brad Wing averaged 48.7 yards a punt and landed all six of his punts inside the West Virginia 10-yard line. West Virginia had 10 penalties for 73 yards, double what LSU had. When you make so many mistakes, you are going to have a hard time beating anybody, let alone the No. 2 team in the nation.

Speaking of that ranking, a case can be made for LSU to be No. 1 with the stretch of ranked teams it has beaten on the road. It was a popular post-game question, one that everybody deflected.

"I don't know. I can't say," LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said. "We've beaten some good teams so I think we're up there. We've just got to keep working hard each and every week. We're up there for sure."

The goal is not to be No. 1. But to be No. 1 at the end of the season. Miles loves the road identity of this team, and he knows it will only serve it well as the heart of SEC play approaches. The Tigers have answered all their tests for now. But there will be plenty more down the road.

"I like the position we're in," Miles said. "I don't think we're the best team in the country. There's that hope and that want and desire for this team."

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