The Big 12 bowl season kicks off on Monday afternoon, when West Virginia (7-5) meets Texas A&M (7-5) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
While both teams had identical overall records in the regular season, the Mountaineers fared a little better in the Big 12 than the Aggies did in the difficult West Division of the SEC. West Virginia finished tied with Oklahoma, both with 5-4 records, for fourth place in the Big 12. Texas A&M went 3-5 in conference play in the SEC.
West Virginia took a big hit on offense when it was announced on Friday that senior quarterback Clint Trickett would not play in his final game as a collegian because of a concussion he suffered on Nov. 20 against Kansas State.Nov 29, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Skyler Howard (3) looks to pass while Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya (5) defends his receiver at Jack Trice Stadium. The Mountaineers beat the Cyclones 37 – 24. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Trickett was ninth nationally in passing yards per game (298.6). He threw for 3,285 yards, which ranks 10th in the nation, and 18 touchdowns. Sophomore Skyler Howard will replace Trickett as the Mountaineer starter in the Liberty Bowl.
Howard played in three games this season and started the final game of the regular season against Iowa State. Howard completed 21 of 40 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 Mountaineer win over Iowa State.
West Virginia likes to throw the football, but also gets good production from its running game. The Mountaineers average 187 yards per game on the ground, the bulk of which comes from sophomore Rushel Shell.
When the Mountaineers go to the air, senior wide receiver Kevin White is the primary Target. White ranked No. 5 in the country in catches per game (8.9) and sixth in pass-receiving yards (1,318). The speedy Mario Alford is also a popular target, averaging almost six catches and 74 yards per game.
Alford is also a potent weapon on special teams. He ranks second in the nation with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. And speaking of special teams, the Mountaineers have a very good field-goal kicker in sophomore Josh Lambert. Lambert is No. 1 in the nation, averaging 2.25 made field goals per game.
Texas A&M struggled mightily down the stretch this season, losing five of its last seven game. A major factor for that was the Aggies inability to stop the run and their own inconsistency in running the football.
In their seven wins this season, Texas A&M averaged 183 yards on the ground, with junior running backs Trey Williams and Tra Carson leading the way. In their five losses, however, the Aggies averaged just 83 yards rushing as a team.
Freshman quarterback Kyle Allen replaced Kenny Hill after Hill was suspended for two games two-thirds into the season. Allen’s passing numbers aren’t as impressive as Hill’s, which puts even more pressure on the A&M run game. Allen has completed 61 percent of his passes, but is averaging just 128 passing yards per game.
Who Will Win and Why: Texas A&M 30, West Virginia 20 – The difference in this game will be at the quarterback position. With Clint Trickett out for West Virginia and sophomore Skyler Howard starting just his second game and on the biggest stage of his career, the advantage in this game tips to the side of head coach Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies. This game will be won by the better offense, not on defense.