Texas A&M v. West Virginia
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium — Memphis, TN
December 29, 2014 — 2:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
For the first time since 1988, the Liberty Bowl will feature two teams from Power Five conferences after years of serving as a launchpad for budding mid-major powerhouses. It’s one of the oldest games on the bowl calendar, having debuted in 1959 in Philadelphia. The game moved to Memphis in 1964, where it has been played ever since. The game is one of the better-attended December games, drawing over 50,000 fans every year since 1997. You could certainly find far worse ways to spend your Monday than the first of three Big 12-SEC showdowns this postseason.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
The Aggies certainly started the season looking like a contender for the SEC West, showing little if any dropoff after the end of the Johnny Manziel era in College Station. Texas A&M was 5-0 at the end of September… and then three straight losses against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama dispelled the myth that Kevin Sumlin’s crew was a legitimate threat to the established pecking order. Kenny Hill looked like the answer in September as Manziel’s replacement under center, but his early promise sputtered and gave way to Kyle Allen. Despite the revolving door, A&M was ranked 12th nationally in passing yardage. They needed it, as the run game accrued less than 150 yards per outing. The defense was hardly of the quality we have come to expect from SEC squads, surrendering more than 27 points per game as the Aggies finished the regular season 7-5 and under .500 in conference play.
West Virginia was one of the teams that replaced Texas A&M in the Big 12 when the Aggies moved with Missouri to the SEC three years ago. The Mountaineers have had mixed results since the realignment, going 7-6 in their first season and plummeting to 4-8 last year. This season saw more mediocrity, as WVU knocked off Baylor and nearly upset both TCU and Kansas State but finished with five losses. The offense is better balanced than the one Texas A&M brings to Memphis, with a decent multi-threat running game bolstering a top-10 passing attack. But West Virginia will start sophomore Skyler Howard at quarterback instead of Clint Trickett, who announced his retirement on Boxing Day after failing to recover from his fifth concussion in the past 14 months. Howard has thrown for nearly 500 yards and five touchdowns without a pick in his relief performances for Trickett this season.
What is Likely to Happen
Both teams were relatively close in scoring categories, with nearly identical net scoring margins of a touchdown a game. The loss of Trickett could affect the Mountaineers, though Dana Holgorsen can use tailbacks Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood to ease Howard’s transition to full-time starter. West Virginia’s defense is far better positioned to stop Texas A&M, with the Aggies far less successful at running the ball and suffering their own quarterback issues. Both teams had horrible turnover margins (Texas A&M at -7, West Virginia at -15), but the Mountaineers had the better secondary. The A&M quarterback of Sumlin’s choice is going to have a rough go of things in Memphis, with the opportunistic WVU defense getting a couple of picks and Holgorsen generating a smart offensive plan to best utilize the talent available.
West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 34