Texas A&M Aggies vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (-3.5, 67 o/u)
The Autozone Liberty Bowl features two 7-5 teams going head to head as the Texas A&M Aggies take on the West Virginia Mountaineers (2:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, December 27, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis).
Both the Aggies and Mountaineers looked like top teams at one point or another this season, but neither was able to play its best consistently. West Virginia went 5-4 in Big 12 play on the year. The Mountaineers started the season 6-2, with very respectable losses to Alabama (33-23) and Oklahoma (45-33), and they became a much-feared opponent in the Big 12 after downing then-No. 7 Baylor, 41-27, in Morgantown.
However, after beating OK State the next week, West Virginia dropped three straight (to TCU, Texas, and Kansas State) and plummeted in the rankings. The Mountaineers nearly knocked off then-No. 5 TCU, despite being 5.5-point home dogs, but fell 31-30 to the Horned Frogs. That game was one of the rare occasions when the Mountaineers defense looked leagues better than the offense. The offense turned the ball over five times, but the D held the potent TCU offense in check for the majority of the game and forced two turnovers of its own.
Led by QB Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers offense was usually reliable this season. West Virginia comes into the Liberty Bowl with the ninth-best passing offense in the nation, and averaging 33.2 points per game (38th in the nation).
West Virginia hasn’t fared well in bowl games, historically, going 14-18 all-time. The Mountaineers failed to qualify last year and lost the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl to Syracuse. Their last bowl win was back in 2010 when they prevailed over Clemson in the Orange Bowl with Geno Smith at the Helm.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen sees the Liberty Bowl as just the latest tough game for his seasoned squad.
“We faced a very challenging schedule this season with five Top 12 teams and playing a tough opponent like Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be yet another challenge this year,” Holgorsen said. “We had a good season and getting to play in a bowl game is a great way to reward our players, especially our seniors. We will prepare hard for this bowl game and try to finish this season on a strong note.”
Texas A&M went 3-5 in the gruelling SEC and ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak, dropping games to Missouri and LSU. Their best win on the year was a 41-38 triumph at then-No. 3 Auburn.
Like the Mountaineers, the Aggies also have a great passing offense, averaging 306.4 yards per game (12th in the nation). At the start of the year, the Aggies passing game was led by Heisman hopeful Kenny Hill. However, Hill struggled in a few big games – and had some off-field issues – as was replaced by freshman Kyle Allen as starter for the last four games of the year.
The Aggies are 16–19 in bowl games, but have won the last three in a row. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is excited as the prospect of a school-record fourth.
“It’s a great honor to be selected to play in the Liberty Bowl against a great opponent in West Virginia,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “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. I’m excited for our team to get a chance to experience Memphis, and I’m sure it will be a popular destination for our fans.”
The Mountaineers are 3.5-point favorites at the moment, and the high-scoring teams have over/under at a high 67.
(Photo credit: StuSeeger (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode].)