2014 Liberty Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and Texas Bowl Previews

December 28, 2014
By K. Becks

Von Hugendong Year 8 Update:

The current leader is still my dad, who jumped out to a huge lead after the first day and has held on to the top spot ever since. I sit in third place, already having lost a lot of points and simply hanging on and hoping that people begin to lose some important games as well.

Fortunately, those who decided not to rearrange any of their confidence points are already at 19.

Monday brings almost all day action, with three games on the slate.

Let’s take a look at the matchups taking place on December 29.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Monday, 2 PM ET – ESPN)

Offensive powers in Texas A&M and West Virginia will square off in Memphis Monday afternoon, but there will be uncertainty as to what to expect from at least one of these teams. West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett announced his retirement last week due to multiple concussions and will not play in this game. Neither of these teams closed the season well, so it should be interesting to see which will be more excited to be playing in this game.

Both teams will throw the ball around in this one, but West Virginia is likely the team with less confidence that this gameplan will pay off. Without Trickett, the Mountaineers will start sophomore Skyler Howard, who saw two full games of action in Trickett’s absence at the end of the regular season. While Howard looked capable (five touchdowns and zero interceptions), Texas A&M is going to dial up plenty of pressure to try to prevent him from finding a rhythm. The Aggies were fourth in the SEC with 32 sacks and that pressure is one of the few ways that Kevin Sumlin’s defense was able to slow down opposing offenses this season. On their offensive end, the Aggies have been good but not great with freshman Kyle Allen behind center. Allen has thrown an interception in all but two games that he has played this season and must face one of the more experienced secondary corps in the country. It would not be surprising if turnovers kept the Mountaineers in this one.

At one point this season, these two teams had a couple of the best quarterbacks in the country. Now both Clint Trickett and Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill are out of the equation for this game, so season statistics can only be taken with a grain of salt. While West Virginia’s pass defense would have been one of the worst in the SEC, it was one of the best in the pass happy Big 12. Additionally, the Mountaineers should be more excited to be playing in this game after missing the postseason last year. I have West Virginia for 20 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 34-27 West Virginia

Russell Athletic Bowl

#17 Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Monday, 5:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Playing in Orlando on December 29 is far from where the Sooners thought they may be headed at the beginning of this season, so it will be interesting to see how Oklahoma responds in this one. Clemson is right about where most pundits predicted it would finish, so the Tigers can’t be too bummed about playing a perennial Big 12 contender for their postseason reward.

Injuries have taken a toll on the Sooners in 2014 and that will be a major storyline affecting this game in particular. With quarterback Trevor Knight running back Samaje Perine questionable for this one, Oklahoma could be without a major portion of its offensive production. Clemson is also hurting and starting quarterback DeShaun Watson is questionable with a knee injury, but backup Cole Stoudt was originally the starter so playing him isn’t devastating news for the Tigers. If it comes down to two backup quarterbacks, Clemson’s defense is better equipped to disrupt any sort of rhythm that Oklahoma may be able to establish offensively. The Tigers are No. 5 in the nation with 44 sacks and have a defensive stud in defensive hybrid Vic Beasley. The senior was instrumental in containing Braxton Miller in the Orange Bowl last season and will be called upon to step up here as well.

The Sooners were crippled by a poor pass defense this season, but that may not affect them as much if Stoudt ends up playing for Clemson. At the same time, Oklahoma may need to rely on its defense more than usual if its offensive stars are unable to go. If this game comes down to defensive stops, Clemson should win. Since the Tigers are the favored team anyway, I have them for 31 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-21 Clemson

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Arkansas vs. Texas (Monday, 9:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Former Southwest Conference rivals will crack pads in Houston on Monday night, a decent replacement in the absence of Monday Night Football this week. Both teams finished the year 6-6 but are also playing well as of late despite dropping the final game of the regular season. Arkansas is making its first bowl appearance under Bret Bielema while the same is true of Charlie Strong at Texas.

The Longhorns have to like the improvement from Tyrone Swoops at quarterback, but Texas is still a run first offense. Unfortunately, backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray will have to find space against the No. 3 rush defense in the SEC. Arkansas shut out LSU and Ole Miss in consecutive weeks, a feat that would have been impressive for any SEC team, let alone one that finished 6-6 and didn’t win a single conference game last season. On offense, the Razorbacks also like to get things started on the ground and have an even more dangerous two-headed monster than the Longhorns. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins are No. 4 and 5 in the SEC in rushing yards per game and have ignited an Arkansas offense that is deceptively potent. A complete effort on defense will be needed from Texas in order to keep Williams and Collins from running wild.

It has been an interesting situation in Austin the past few years and it is unclear whether Coach Strong’s coaching philosophy has the program headed in the right direction. This game could give an indication, as the Razorbacks are a team on the rise that is definitely trending upwards with Bielema at the helm. I think that Arkansas is a bit too talented defensively and should be extremely excited to be playing in the postseason, making this a tough game for Texas to win. Stranger things have happened, but I have the Razorbacks for 36 points in this one.

My Pick: 21-16 Arkansas

If you’d like to share your opinion on Around The Corn for any of the upcoming bowls, shoot me an email with your thoughts and prediction to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. You can also like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two days before the game is to be played, I can assure you that your thoughts will show up in an article.

- K. Becks

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