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Toyota Keys to the Mercari Texas Bowl: Arkansas Razorbacks

John Harris
Houston Texans Analyst & College Football Expert
Football with Friends Podcast

 

Once it appeared as if college football would occur in 2020, many looked at the diabolical schedule in front of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Those same people thought 1st year coach Sam Pittman would be lucky to win a game, much less survive the season. Yet, the Hogs were seven points (and a couple of bad officiating calls) away from finishing 6-4 in Pittman’s first season. Now, Pittman’s Hogs and the fan base weren’t doing cartwheels over how the season ended with four straight losses, but, again, Arkansas let wins over LSU and Missouri slip through their hands in the final minutes of each game.

The truth about 2020 is that Arkansas showed that the future would be brighter than it’s been in quite some time in Fayetteville. Wide receiver Treylon Burks is quite possibly the best receiver in the nation not named DeVonta Smith. He was named a 2nd Team All-SEC receiver as a true sophomore and will return in 2021. Junior running back Trelon Smith is a dangerous ball carrier, especially in a bowl game when teams haven’t tackled anyone in a couple of weeks. Quite frankly, this is a talented squad that gets one final opportunity to build toward, hopefully, a more normal 2021 in Razorback Land.

Let’s take a look at Arkansas’ Keys to the Game against TCU.

2020 Schedule (3-7)
L, Georgia 37-10
W, @ Mississippi State 21-14
L, @ Auburn 30-28
W, Ole Miss 33-21
L, @ Texas A&M 42-31
W, Tennessee 24-13
L, @ Florida 63-35
L, LSU 27-24
L, @ Missouri 50-48
L, Alabama 52-3

Arkansas OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Per game - 151.3 ypg (8th in the SEC)
  • Passing Yards Per game - 240.2 ypg (7th)
  • Total offense per game - 391.5 ypg (8th)
  • Turnovers lost - 13 (6 INT, 7 Fumbles lost)

 

Projected Arkansas starting offense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
QB - Feleipe Franks (2,107 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown)
RB - Trelon Smith (134 attempts, 710 yards, five touchdowns)
WR - Trey Knox (seven receptions, 70 yards)
WR - Treylon Burks (2nd Team All-SEC - 51 receptions, 820 yards, seven touchdowns)
WR - Mike Woods (32 receptions, 619 yards, five touchdowns)
TE - Blake Kern
LT - Myron Cunningham
LG - Brady Latham (Freshman All-SEC)
C - Ty Clary/Ricky Stromberg (missed finale with concussion)
RG - Beaux Limmer/Ty Clary
RT - Dalton Wagner

Other Key Offensive pieces
TE - Hudson Henry (Freshman All-SEC - missed last 2 games - 16 rec, 92 yards, one TD)
WR - Tyson Morris (seven receptions, 67 yards, one touchdown)
QB - K.J. Jefferson (one start v. Missouri - 18 of 33, 274 yards, three touchdowns, 32 yards rushing, one rushing touchdown)
RB - T.J. Hammonds (14 attempts, 101 yards)

Keys to winning for the Razorbacks offense

  1. Hoping TCU gets lost in the Woods - Everyone by now knows the greatness that is Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks. He’s going to be a first rounder in the NFL Draft whenever he’s eligible. Because Burks casts such a huge shadow, for good reason mind you, fellow receiver Mike Woods often gets lost in the shuffle. If TCU doesn’t respect the game breaking ability of Woods, he can make that Horned Frog defense pay. Woods averages, AVERAGES, a whopping 19.3 yards per catch. He’s strong and has the size to be a problem for the TCU defensive backs in any area on the field. He can make it happen after the catch, turning into a high quality running back once he has the ball in his hands. Not surprisingly, he just doesn’t get the attention and that’s a real shame.

  2. Returning home - The top two Razorback running backs during 2020 were Houston products so a homecoming was due to happen in the Mercari Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. However, a few weeks back, Stratford High School product Rakeem Boyd opted out of the remainder of the 2020 season. That left powderkeg Trelon Smith, a Cypress Ridge High School product, to take over as the top Hog ball carrier. Smith is tough on opposing defenses due to his diminutive stature (5-9, 185), but his short area quickness and explosive burst are tough on defensive fronts, especially when those fronts haven’t been on the field in a few weeks. The TCU front isn’t heavy, but it’s light on its feet and seemingly the right type of front to slow Smith. However, I wouldn’t count on it being easy, given Smith’s ability to make anyone miss anywhere on the field.

  3. Frankly, it’s Franks - It’ll be the last college game in the long career of Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks. He has truly preserved through injury, a transfer and being banged up throughout the last half of 2020. TCU has some edge speed, in particular Ochaun Mathis, that can make life tough on Franks in the play action/dropback games. If the Hogs stay out of 2nd and long/3rd and long, though, Franks should be able to get time to find Burks/Woods/Blake Kern all over the field.

Arkansas DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 192.1 ypg (12th in the SEC)
  • Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 259.6 ypg (10th)
  • Total offense Allowed per game - 451.7 ypg (11th)
  • Turnovers generated - 18 (13 INT, 5 Fumble recoveries - Arkansas is +5 in TO margin)

Projected Arkansas starting defense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
DE - Eric Gregory (27 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
DT - Isaiah Nichols (24 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks)
DT - Jonathan Marshall (6.5 TFL - tied for second on the team in 2020)
Jack - Dorian Gerald/Zach Williams (3.0 sacks combined)
WLB - Bumper Pool (2nd Team All-SEC - 101 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 0.5 sack)
MLB - Grant Morgan (1st Team All-SEC - 111 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, one pick six)
CB - Montaric Brown (31 tackles, one INT, six PBU)
S - Jalen Catalon (2nd Team All-SEC - 99 tackles, 2.0 TFL, three INT, four PBU, two FF)
S - Joe Foucha (60 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, two INT)
Nickel - Greg Brooks Jr. (missed most of last game v. Alabama)/LaDarrius Bishop
CB - Nick Turner (true freshman - started last game v. Alabama - seven tackles)

Other Key Defensive pieces
LB - Hayden Henry (will miss first half due to targeting in last game v. Alabama in 2nd half)
CB - Hudson Clark (47 tackles, 1.0 TFL, three INT)
DT - Julius Coates (18 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks - missed Alabama game)
DB - Myles Mason (22 tackles, 0.5 TFL - started last two games of season)

Keys to winning for the Razorbacks defense

  1. JC #1 - I unabashedly love defensive back Jalen Catalon. If Tyrann Mathieu is the Honey Badger, Catalon is the Son of the Honey Badger. The redshirt freshman ATTACKS the ball at all times and does the same to anyone in a different colored jersey. He’s just 5-10 and 189 lb. but he plays like he’s the second coming of a Sean Taylor/Mathieu/Eric Berry safety mashup. He was named a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist and will eventually be named a Freshman All-American. There’s little question that he’s needed against TCU’s top rated running game. He more than likely will play near the box for much of the game to help slow fellow freshman TCU running back Zach Evans and quarterback Max Duggan.

  2. Bumper Morgan - I’m sure at some point during this season, I called either Grant Morgan or Bumper Pool, Bumper Morgan because the two Razorback linebackers play nearly the same type of game. The only way to tell them apart is the numbers - Morgan is 31 and Pool is 10. Neither one weighs more than 220 lb., regardless of what the roster might read, but the two have insane first step quickness, combined with anticipation of what the offense is planning to do. TCU’s run game is the best in the Big 12 and Arkansas’ run defense was in the bottom three of the SEC. As such, these two need some help from the big fellas up front to allow them to attack the line of scrimmage to keep Evans, Duggan and the TCU ball carriers from getting to open space in a hurry.

  3. Scars - In the final two games of the season, the Arkansas defense was shredded by Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak and Alabama Heisman Trophy contender Mac Jones. It precipitated a number of different changes in the Hogs secondary. If those two games left scars in the back end, TCU quarterback Max Duggan is going to successfully dial up some deep shots to receiver Quentin Johnston and company against man coverage. But, if the Hogs front can handle the run game on early downs to keep the Hogs out of disadvantageous coverages on 2nd and/or 3rd down, it’ll help that secondary immensely.
Team Alert

Toyota Keys to the Mercari Texas Bowl: TCU Horned Frogs

John Harris
Houston Texans Analyst & College Football Expert
Football with Friends Podcast

The TCU Horned Frogs were a bit of a mystery heading into the 2020 season. They had a handful of star players at key positions - Max Duggan at quarterback (although he wasn’t healthy to start the year), Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington and First Team All-Big 12 linebacker Garret Wallow. However, the Horned Frogs needed to rely on some incoming youth on offense and speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball.

By November/December, it all really came together in a win over Oklahoma State that assured Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs a winning season if they could beat Louisiana Tech in the finale. The 52-10 whitewash of the Bulldogs capped a three game winning streak and a closing stretch in which TCU won five of its last six. 

TCU is coming to Houston with a ton of confidence. Lat’s take a look at TCU’s Keys to the Game against Arkansas.

2020 Schedule (6-4)
L, Iowa State 37-34
W, @ Texas 33-31
L, Kansas State 21-14
L, Oklahoma 33-14
W, @ Baylor 33-23
W, Texas Tech 34-18
L, @ West Virginia 24-6
W, @ Kansas 59-23
W, Oklahoma State 29-22
W, La. Tech 52-10

TCU OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Per game - 214.7 ypg (1st in the Big 12)
  • Passing Yards Per game - 196.3 ypg (8th)
  • Total offense per game - 411.0 ypg (7th)
  • Turnovers lost - 14 (5 INT, 9 Fumbles lost)

Projected TCU starting offense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
QB - Max Duggan (led the Horned Frogs in passing and rushing in 2020)
RB - Zach Evans (54 rush attempts, 415 yards, four touchdowns)
RB - Darwin Barlow (73 rush attempts, 428 yards, four touchdowns)
WR - Quentin Johnston (22 receptions, 487 yards, two touchdowns)
WR - Taye Barber (31 receptions, 318 yards, two touchdowns)
TE - Carter Ware/Pro Wells (13 receptions, 195 yards, three touchdowns)
LT - T.J. Storment
LG - John Lanz
C - Coy McMillan
RG - Blake Hickey
RT - Esteban Avila

Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - Derius Davis (15 receptions, 209 yards, one touchdown)
WR - Blair Conwright (17 receptions, 207 yards, one touchdown)
WR - Mikel Barkley (seven receptions, 33 yards)
RB - Emari Demercado (46 rush attempts, 199 yards)
RB - Kendre Miller (54 rush attempts, 388 yards, two touchdowns)

Keys to winning for the Horned Frog offense

  1. Chip on their shoulders - Playing in a bowl game can be seen as a reward for some or drudgery by others. TCU is playing its best football of the year at the end of the season and that could bode very well heading into a matchup with a SEC team. Furthermore, for this offense, not one Horned Frog was named to the 1st or 2nd All-Big 12 Team at season’s end. It’s not the most dynamic offense in the world, but the run game produced well over 200 yards per game on the ground. As such, if this offensive unit brings that NRG Stadium-sized chip on its shoulders to NRG Stadium, it’s going to be a motivated offensive unit to say the least.

  2. Handle 42 - One of the more unsung players in the nation is Arkansas defensive tackle #42 Jonathan Mitchell. TCU does a number of different things in the run game so it doesn’t have to be a full-on, bare knuckled brawl against Marshall all game long. But, there will be times when the Horned Frog interior must move him off the ball to keep the run game moving smoothly. If Marshall stonewalls the TCU interior, Arkansas linebackers Grant Morgan (1st team All-SEC) and Bumper Pool (2nd team All-SEC) will run to the football unabated all night long. That can’t happen if TCU plans on rushing near its season average of 214 yards per game.

  3. Deep to Q - Both teams have dynamic, BIG downfield threats and, for the Horned Frogs, it’s freshman Quentin Johnston. Against La. Tech, TCU quarterback Max Duggan hauled off and threw it as far as he could on a go route to Johnston. The freshman star was interfered with during the play, fought it off, kept his eyes on the throw and made a sterling catch which turned into a touchdown to give TCU a 17-0 lead. Arkansas defensive backs have been up and down in coverage all year and they’re going to struggle with Johnston’s size and length. That’s something TCU’s offensive coaching staff and Duggan must exploit in the passing game.

TCU DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 127.5 ypg (4th in the Big 12)
  • Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 223.4 ypg (5th)
  • Total offense Allowed per game - 350.9 ypg (4th)
  • Turnovers generated - 12 (8 INT, 4 Fumble recoveries - TCU is -2 in TO margin)

Projected TCU starting defense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
DE - Ochaun Mathis (2nd Team All-Big 12)
DT - Terrell Cooper
DT - George Ellis
DE - Khari Coleman (Co-Freshman Defensive Player of the Year)
MLB - Dee Winters
SLB - Garret Wallow (1st Team All-Big 12)
CB - C.J. Ceasar
S - La’Kendrick Van Zandt 
S - Ar’Darius Washington
S - Trevon Moehrig (1st Team All-Big 12)
CB - Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1st Team All-Big 12)

Other Key Defensive pieces
CB - Kee’yon Stewart
S - Nook Bradford

Keys to winning for the Horned Frogs defense

  1. THT - The TCU Horned Frog defense has faced its share of great receivers in 2020, but TCU star cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, in particular, will need to be at his best when facing Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks. This is the type of matchup that a star like Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson, desires. The TCU star cornerback is a glue factory, in the mold of former TCU All-American defensive back Jason Verrett, sticking to receivers of all shapes, sizes and speeds. Hodges-Tomlinson is only 5-9, 177 lb., but he’s quick and tough at the catch point. Regardless of Burks’ size (6-3, 232), THT will be TNT all night long against one of the most physically gifted receivers in the nation.

  2. Run, Forrest, Run - One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump and one of Gump’s greatest assets was the ability to run for days and his speed. The TCU linebackers are like Gump in that they can run all day long, led by Garret Wallow - 2x 1st team All-Big 12 honoree. The way that Wallow and Dee Winters can fly to the ball makes things tough for any running game because they can run behind zone blocks or they can run to a point on the frontside and make tackles before blocks can develop. They don’t allow interior blockers to get hats on them because of their speed. That can disrupt the Arkansas run game for sure.

  3. O - The O stands for Ochaun Mathis, 2nd Team All-Big 12 defensive end. Mathis finished a half a sack away from being tied for the conference lead in sacks. He had 9.0 on the season and it seems as though he’s just scratching the surface of his prodigious talent. He’s long and extremely difficult to get hands on, in either the run and pass game, so he’ll certainly be a focus of the Arkansas run game/pass protection in this matchup.
Team Alert

OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY AND TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY ACCEPT BIDS TO PLAY IN ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS TEXAS BOWL

Coaches to Discuss Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl in Conference Calls Today

HOUSTONOklahoma State and Texas A&M have accepted bids to play in the 2019 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl. Oklahoma State will represent the Big 12 Conference and Texas A&M will represent the Southeastern Conference. The 2019 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl will be played on Friday, Dec. 27, at 5:45 p.m. CT at NRG Stadium. The game will air on ESPN and ESPN Radio, as well as locally on SportsRadio 610 (KILT-AM).

“We are thrilled to announce the 2019 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas A&M Aggies, two excellent institutions from the Big 12 and SEC,” remarked Board Chair June Deadrick. “The Bowl has grown into one of the largest annual events in our community and we’re excited to welcome these teams to Houston. We look forward to hosting the teams and their passionate fan bases for a festive bowl week of Texas-themed events that will culminate at NRG Stadium on Friday, December 27.”

This will be the first time Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have met in a bowl game since the 1981 Independence Bowl, where the Aggies defeated the Cowboys 33-16. The two programs have played each other 27 times, and Texas A&M currently leads the series with a 17-10 record. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M first met in 1913 when Oklahoma State won 3-0. Their last meeting occurred in 2011 when the Cowboys came out on top, 30-29.

Ticket prices for this game range from $35-$200 and may be purchased online at www.academytexasbowl.com or www.ticketmaster.com, on the phone at 832-667-2390 or in person at the NRG Stadium box office inside Bud Light Plaza. Special group packages are available by calling 832-667-2390. Fans can also call 832-667-2160 for more information on suites and premium hospitality. To date, nearly 50,000 seats have been sold for the 2019 game.

The 2019 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl will mark Oklahoma State’s first appearance, and the school’s first time back in Houston since 2002. The No. 25 ranked Cowboys became bowl eligible this year after defeating Iowa State in the regular season. With a history of 29 bowl game appearances, the Cowboys are currently 19-10 in postseason play after last year’s win over the Missouri Tigers in the Liberty Bowl. In their 14th season under head coach Mike Gundy, the Cowboys finished the regular season 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big 12 conference.

This will be Texas A&M’s third appearance in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl. The Aggies competed in the 2016 Texas Bowl where they came up short against Kansas State, 33-28 and before that in 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas where they defeated the Northwestern Wildcats. This year, the Aggies became bowl eligible after defeating Mississippi State in the regular season. Texas A&M has participated in 40 bowl games and hold a 18-22 postseason record after last year’s win against NC State in the Gator Bowl. In their second season under head coach Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies finished the regular season 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Southeastern conference.    

Conference Call Information

The head coaches for Oklahoma State and Texas A&M will conduct conference calls this evening to discuss the 2019 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl. Oklahoma State’s Head Coach Mike Gundy will be available at 5:30 p.m. CT and Texas A&M’s Head Coach Jimbo Fisher will be available at 5:45 p.m. CT.

Phone Number: 1 (800) 747-5150

Participant PIN:  6672050

Availability:            

  • Oklahoma State University Head Coach Mike Gundy at 5:30 p.m. CT
  • Texas A&M University Head Coach Jimbo Fisher at 5:45 p.m. CT

ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS TEXAS BOWL

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl is owned and operated by ESPN Events and managed locally by Lone Star Sports & Entertainment. The Bowl will showcase teams from the Big 12 and the SEC, two of the country’s premier conferences. The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl has been a tremendous success both on and off the field over the years. The game has ranked fifth in attendance since 2014 behind only the Rose, Peach, Cotton and Sugar Bowls in that time. In terms of its community impact, the bowl has generated an average of $50 million annually for the Houston economy and through its relationship with DePelchin Children’s Center, its official charitable beneficiary, more than $1.6 million in financial support has been donated to the city’s oldest children’s charity.

ESPN Events
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a large portfolio of 34 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes three Labor Day weekend college football games, the FCS opening-weekend game, 16 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, a college softball event and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 375-plus hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in Albuquerque, Birmingham, Boca Raton, Boise, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Montgomery and Tampa, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.

For more information, visit the official websiteFacebookTwitter or YouTube pages.

CONTACTS:

Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl Contact: Allie LeClair, (832) 667-2050 or allie.leclair@houstontexans.com

###

Team Alert

JOHN HARRIS: 2018 ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS TEXAS BOWL PREVIEW

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl is like the objects outside a car mirror...closer than it appears. It’s coming fast and furiously and we can’t wait. The Vanderbilt Commodores will make their first trip to play in the bowl while the Baylor Bears make their first trip to NRG Stadium since 2010 when Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III was under center. In that matchup, RGIII, as he’s affectionately known, and Baylor lost to an Illinois team that featured current Houston Texans star Whitney Mercilus.

Regardless, these teams each finished the year 6-6, but they both won week 13 games that earned them bowl eligibility. The Bears knocked off Texas Tech in Arlington 35-24, while Vanderbilt beat in-state foe Tennessee for the third year in a row to earn a trip to Houston. The Commodores were 3-5 with four games left in the season and a bowl trip looked bleak. But, head coach Derek Mason’s ‘Dores won three SEC games down the stretch to get to those magical six wins. This was also a Vanderbilt team that took Notre Dame, 2018 Playoff participant, to the final gun in South Bend.

Baylor’s season hung in the balance in a late season game against Oklahoma State. After consecutive losses to Texas and West Virginia, Baylor faced the Cowboys in Waco; it was a game in which Oklahoma State led throughout but couldn’t put the Bears away. Down by three late in the game, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer threw the game winning touchdown to Denzel Mims to beat the bowl bound Cowboys. Mims finished the season as the team’s second leading receiver behind Jalen Hurd, who will miss the bowl game due to an injury he suffered in the finale against Texas Tech. Mims, though, led the team in receiving touchdowns with eight and none bigger than that one against Oklahoma State. Mims will face Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams in one of the most interesting matchups of NFL talent on the field.

For Vanderbilt, quarterback Kyle Shurmur had a tremendous season. He threw for 2,844 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In his final regular season game as a ‘Dore, he completed 31 of 35 passes (88.6%!!!) for 367 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, in his last five games, he threw nine touchdowns with just one interception and it was no coincidence that Vanderbilt won three of four to close the year in large part because Shurmur took his game to a different level.

It’s an NFL building so I’m going to be focused on some future NFL talent as well. Mims, Williams and Shurmur should all play at the next level in due time. Vanderbilt receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney are definitely candidates in the future as they still have one year of eligibility remaining. Baylor defensive end James Lynch, just a sophomore, has a bright future to say the least. He was a freshman All-American and led the Bears in sacks as a true sophomore this season.

These teams have only met twice in their history and the third one should be a fun one in Houston. Don’t miss it.

By: John Harris

Houston Texans

Team Alert

JOHN HARRIS' THOUGHTS ON THE CHASE FOR THE REMATCH IN THE BIG 12

Heading into the first Saturday in November, the Chase for The Rematch in the Big 12 is still hot and heavy. Chase for The Rematch? Well, of course. The Big 12 plays nine conference games, a true round robin, so no matter which two teams tangle in Arlington for the Big 12 Championship game, it’s going to be a rematch.

 But, I digress.

 The Big 12 squads have seemingly separated themselves amongst the ten team group. There’s Tier one - the top three teams, consisting of West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas. There’s tier two - the bowl eligibles with a few upsets to their name - Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Finally, there’s tier three - there’s still a chance for a bowl - TCU, Kansas and Kansas State, all 3-5 on the season.

 The top three team round robin continues with a matchup between West Virginia and Texas in Austin on Saturday. Round one of the round robin took place in Dallas earlier in October as the Texas Longhorns held on for a classic win over the Oklahoma Sooners. A West Virginia win over Texas could set up a weird situation for the Big 12. If the Sooners and Mountaineers win out heading into their Thanksgiving Friday November 23rd meeting, there’s a chance they could meet in back-to-back weeks - once in Oklahoma and the following week in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington.

 Now, West Virginia visits Texas this Saturday, then faces TCU (home) and Oklahoma State (away) before Oklahoma comes calling. The Sooners face Texas Tech (away), Oklahoma State (home) and Kansas (home) before heading to Morgantown. Two teams stand in the way of a rematch at the end of the Big 12 campaign IF West Virginia wins this weekend - Iowa State and Texas. If West Virginia wins out, loses to Oklahoma in the regular season finale, Iowa State will rematch with Oklahoma if ISU wins out (which would include a win over Texas in Austin). If Oklahoma wins out, loses to a 7-1 West Virginia squad, the Texas Longhorns will rematch with West Virginia if the Longhorns win out.

 Now, Texas Tech plays both Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks IN LUBBOCK, so the Red Raiders can throw a serious monkey wrench into The Rematch. Tech lost to Iowa State and West Virginia already, but wins over Texas and Oklahoma could start us down a path of tiebreakers that I don’t even want to consider at this point.

 At least we have the month of November to figure it all out.

Team Alert

JOHN HARRIS ASKS WHICH TEAM WILL FINISH THIRD IN THE SEC

Who’s number three?

 It’s not an often asked question, but it’s evident that Alabama and Georgia, last year’s College Football National Championship combatants, are the two best teams in the SEC.

 By a LONG shot.

 So, which team is third? Why does that matter, really?

 Well, New Year’s Day Six bowl games seem to love SEC teams.

 In 2014, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama earned invitations to the NYD Six games. In 2017, three teams also were invited - Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. So, the third place team in the conference will earn consideration for a New Year’s Day Six invitation.

 And, that team would be?

 Well, there are three teams at 5-1 right now. Kentucky lost last week at Texas A&M after an undefeated 5-0 start. Running back Benny Snell was bottled up and the weaknesses on offense were exposed by a stout A&M defense. Kentucky also must tangle with Georgia in a few weeks, but that game is in Lexington and the remainder of the schedule is more than manageable in the SEC East. So, the Cats will be in the mix.

 Florida is also 5-1 and trounced LSU in Gainesville. The defense is fantastically lights out, but offensively there are still some serious rough spots. The only real challenge on Florida’s schedule the rest of the way is a visit to Jacksonville on October 27th for the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, the annual get together with the University of Georgia. Similarly to Kentucky, the Gators don’t have a ranked team on the schedule not named Georgia the rest of the season. So, Florida should stay in the mix, regardless of its loss to Kentucky earlier this season.

 LSU is 5-1, but the schedule is a wee bit more difficult and by saying a wee bit, I really mean A LOT in the SEC West. The Tigers struggled on offense in Gainesville last week and lost to the Gators...and now face #2 Georgia this weekend. Then, they face #24 Mississippi State next week and #1 Alabama three weeks from Saturday. They’ll close the season at College Station where the Aggies have played well this season.

 Speaking of the Aggies, could it be Texas A&M? The 4-2 Aggies still have road trips to Mississippi State and Auburn, but the way its defense is playing right now, it’s going to be a tough squad to beat anywhere. It may come down to a visit from LSU in the finale for that overall third spot in the conference. The Aggies have faltered in the second halves of seasons for the past five years so not many will take them seriously until Jimbo Fisher’s team proves them wrong.

 Mississippi State and Auburn are 4-2, but they both have Alabama remaining on the schedule, plus Mississippi State has LSU and Auburn has Georgia as well.

 Nothing is clear cut in the SEC. Except at the top. Alabama and Georgia rule the roost while 12 other teams fight for the next rung down, one that might be ultra-important come bowl season.

Team Alert

RED RIVER SHOWDOWN: JOHN HARRIS' KEYS TO THE GAME

It doesn’t matter which one comes first for most people. However, if you bleed crimson and cream, you’ll think OU v. Texas takes place in Dallas this weekend, but if you’re burnt orange all the way, it’s Texas v. OU in the Cotton Bowl. Regardless of your allegiance, this Red River Rivalry is back. As such, the world seems to be back on its axis as these days as the two Big 12 powers will meet on Saturday, both undefeated in Big 12 play.

 

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, although he sat out the first series of the Baylor game last weekend, turned in a magnificent performance against the Bears. He accounted for seven touchdowns, throwing six, and totaling 494 yards of total offense. He’s stepped into the void left by 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and kept the Oklahoma offensive engine running at an insanely high level.

 

The story for the Longhorns has been a feisty defense that has given up less than 17 points per game in its four wins. Safety Caden Sterns is a true freshman play maker who will be a key for the Longhorns defense against the powerful Oklahoma offense. Last week, it was talented defensive end Charles Omenihu who starred, posting two sacks and three tackles for a loss in a win over the Kansas State Wildcats.

 

So, what are my Keys to the Game?

 

For Oklahoma…

 

  1. Find different ways to get the ball to Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown - that’s probably the one guy that Texas doesn’t match up with really well. Cornerback Kris Boyd is a better matchup on Sooners receiver Cee Dee Lamb, so Brown is a bit of a wild card. Sterns may see Brown a few times, but the more unique ways that Brown can get the rock, the better for OU.

 

  1. Never quit on Ehlinger - Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger isn’t the best thrower, nor is he wildly accurate or productive through the air, but he will make a play and is tougher than a $2 steak. He will hold the ball longer than he should but that also makes him ultra-dangerous when he extends plays. The Sooners defense can’t get lazy once plays are extended thinking Ehlinger is tackled or bottled up.

 

For Texas…

  1. Surprise everyone with a downfield passing attack - Look, the Longhorns have one of the most talented pair of receivers in the Big 12 in Lil’ Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, but they need more down the field targets. Last week, Ehlinger threw 36 times (completing 29) for only 207 yards. The two stars combined for nine catches but for only 91 yards. The Sooners secondary isn’t blessed with superstars so Ehlinger must push the ball downfield to his two NFL-bound stars.

 

  1. Pocket Murray better than Mobile Murray - Murray is far from the biggest player on the field but he’s magical with the way he can get out of the pocket and create. If Texas plans on taking home a W to Austin, it MUST force Murray to stay in the confines of the pocket. Spy on him. Rush only three. Play basketball on him, mirroring him, instead of truly rushing the pocket. Whatever the Longhorns must do to keep Murray from taking one step out of the pocket, they must execute every single pass play. Then, when he eventually leaves the pocket, make him pay. Be the most physical unit at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Team Alert

John Harris on the Texas v. Missouri Matchup

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl is set and it renews two former acquaintances – the Texas Longhorns and the Missouri Tigers. These two have met 23 times, with the majority of those coming from years 1996 to 2011 when they were both members of the Big 12. In 2012, though, Missouri moved to the SEC and these two haven’t faced each other since.

Much was expected of the Longhorns in 2017 as head coach Tom Herman took over the University of Texas program. Yet, the year was filled with ups and downs as Herman tried to put his stamp on the program. The Longhorns were a first down away from finishing 7-5, on track for a potential eighth win in the bowl game. However, an interception opened the door for Texas Tech to sneak in and escape out of Austin with the Longhorns’ possible seventh win. As such, the Longhorns come into this one looking to avoid seven losses in a season for the fourth consecutive season. It’s also a return for Herman back to Houston and to NRG Stadium where he led the Houston Cougars to an upset of the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff.

For Missouri, a bowl game was a distant blip on the radar screen as late as middle of October. Then, the Tigers got hot. After a 53-28 loss to the playoff bound Georgia Bulldogs, Barry Odom’s Tigers were 1-5. To get to six wins, the Tigers had to beat Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did, in addition to Idaho and U Conn. They ran the table, averaging nearly 50 points a game in the process. Quarterback Drew Lock lit up the airways, completing 58.2% of his passes for 3,695 yards and 43 touchdowns. Yes, FORTY THREE touchdowns…in a season.

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl will be one of the most intriguing bowl games, given the winding paths that these two teams followed to get to Houston on December 27, 2017.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

John Harris: Championship Weekend is Upon Us

Championship weekend is upon us and it’s going to be one heck of a weekend. The CFP Final Four came a bit more into focus the past weekend, which then sets the dominoes in motion for bowl appointments, most importantly for all of us in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl (the Bowl).

The Playoff seems clear to me at this point.
The winner of Auburn-Georgia in the SEC Championship game is in the Playoff.
The winner of Miami-Clemson in the ACC Championship game is in the Playoff.
If Wisconsin wins, it’s in the Playoff.
If Oklahoma wins, it’s in the Playoff.

Now…
If Wisconsin loses, the Committee has to compare Alabama’s and Ohio State’s resumes, which isn’t going to be easy.
If Oklahoma and Wisconsin both lose, then Alabama and Ohio State may both be in.
If Oklahoma loses but Wisconsin wins, then Alabama seems to be the next best option to go in with Wisconsin, ACC winner and SEC winner.

In summation on the playoff, here are the possibilities as I see them ACC winner, SEC winner, Wisconsin & Oklahoma ACC winner, SEC winner, Wisconsin & Alabama ACC winner, SEC winner, Ohio State & Oklahoma ACC winner, SEC winner, Ohio State & Alabama

The entire situation is fluid, honestly. What if Wisconsin loses to Ohio State 38-37 in the wildest game of the day? Could the Committee take both Ohio State and Wisconsin? Probably not, but then again, who knows?

Now, how does this all impact the Academy Sports + Outdoor Texas Bowl. Well, on the Big 12 side, if TCU beats Oklahoma, then the Big 12 will more than likely get two teams in New Year’s Day Six Bowls. With two teams in New Year’s Day Six games, it moves every Big 12 team up in the pecking order, so to speak, which takes away an option from the Bowl. But, if Oklahoma wins, TCU may not be able to hold a spot in the top 12-14, which could keep it from getting a New Year’s Day Six bid. For the Bowl, that’s a great thing. For TCU and the Big 12, not so much, I suppose.

On the SEC side, with Alabama at 11-1, the conference is 99.9% guaranteed to get at least two teams in New Year’s Day Six games. A third team getting invited, like in 2014 (Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss), will create a domino effect for the Bowl, moving every team up in the pecking order.

So, even though the picture is clearer at the top, in some respects, the results on Championship weekend have far ranging effects for all bowls, including the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bowl on December 27th.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

Texas Longhorns and Their Long Road to Bowl Eligibility

After Maryland put a 50-burger on the University of Texas to start the season, there were major concerns in Austin that it would be a loooooong season for first year head coach Tom Herman. No one, and by no one, I mean NO ONE, saw that coming. Maryland had (most of its firepower was lost to injury this season) a ton of weaponry that it sprung on the Texas defense and it was a horrid look for the Longhorns to start the 2017 campaign, especially so after allowing opponents 31.5 points per game in 2016.

Fast forward about 12 weeks or so and take a look at the Texas Longhorns defensive unit now. After Maryland’s 50 point output, the Longhorns defense has yielded just over 20 points a game, which is a near impossibility in the offensively potent Big 12. It held nearly every offense on its schedule under that unit’s scoring average, with one unusual exception (Kansas). Against West Virginia, the Longhorns held West Virginia to a measly 56 yards on the ground (WVU averaged over 160 yards per game heading into the game) and 295 yards of total offense. The win over West Virginia also made the Longhorns bowl eligible after being shut out of a bowl in 2016.

The play of the Longhorns defense saved the season, so to speak. The offense had moments of brilliance this year, but it’s been inconsistent to say the least. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has turned around defenses at nearly every single stop on his coaching journey and now he’s done it in Austin as well. Because of the play of the Texas defense, Orlando, Herman and the Longhorns will be playing a 13th game this season and that’s certainly a step in the right direction.

By: John Harris