Bowl season is a time to shine for many college athletes.
With a national audience laser-focused on the last bit of college football of the season, if a player explodes it’s very easy to get attention.
Tom Brady torched the Alabama defense in the 2000 Orange Bowl. His 369 passing yards helped Michigan upset the Crimson Tide in overtime and helped lay the groundwork for his selection in the sixth round and eventual climb to the top of the NFL quarterback echelon.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow needed no extra fanfare, but still posted his best statistical effort as a college quarterback in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. He threw for a career-high 482 yards and completed 31 of 35 passes to push the Gators past Cincinnati.
With Brady and Tebow as predecessors, emerging during bowl season with career efforts can transition into fantastically good things for the future.
Here are eight SEC stars that could be ready to explode during their bowl game:
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
It’s difficult to imagine the aura of Leonard Fournette glimmering any brighter. But it definitely can.
First, the LSU running back was the perceived front-runner for the Heisman early in the season and felt snubbed that he wasn’t even invited to the final ceremony. He’ll use that as motivation.
Fournette will also benefit from facing Texas Tech’s run defense that ranked dead last in the Big 12 (271.8 yards per game) and 126th nationally. In three of Texas Tech’s final five games, the Red Raiders allowed at least 300 yards rushing, and Texas pasted 403 on that porous unit in the final regular season game of 2015.
2.Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
– What an impressive career quarterback Dak Prescott put together at Mississippi State. He should go out with a bang in his final game with the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State finished the season ranked third in the SEC and 33rd in the country with 451.4 yards per game. The Bulldogs we’re also terrific in the red zone, converting 90 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line into scores (13th nationally, best in the SEC).
We know Prescott’s offense can churn yardage and it’s deadly in the red zone. We also watched the Wolfpack give up 23 scores in 27 opponent’s trips to the red zone, which ranked ninth in the ACC. Mississippi State should put up a bunch of points.
3.Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M
– Way back in Week 1 of the season, Texas A&M tangled with Arizona State … the Sun Devils had a terrible time protecting their quarterback from Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Once Garrett established himself – with two quick sacks – as the unstoppable pass-rushing force he is, Arizona State adjusted gave extra attention to slowing him down.
Hall erupted for four sacks.
Louisville was worst in the ACC this season, allowing 43 sacks. Believe it or not, only one team in the country (UTSA) gave up more sacks this season. There’s an extremely good chance that Garrett – who was recently named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year – will feast on Louisville quarterback for bowl dinner. But once the Cardinals make in-game adjustments to fend off Garrett, Hall should step in and continue eating.
4. Kelvin Taylor, Florida
– If you take away Taylor’s 8-yard showing against the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game, the Florida running back finished the season well. At season’s end he was 10th in the SEC in rushing, but posted four 100-yard games or better in the last five of the regular season.
He’ll face a Michigan defense that was brutalized by runners late in the season.
Michigan finished sixth in the Big Ten against the run (122.6 yards per game), but gave up two 300-yard games or better in its final three matchups. Ohio State pasted 369 ground yards on Michigan (214 from Ezekiel Elliott and 139 from quarterback J.T. Barrett) and Indiana rushed for 307, 238 coming from running back Jordan Howard.
Since we’re on the subject of running quarterbacks … Barrett’s great rushing game versus Michigan, remember … Florida quarterback Treon Harris could do some damage. Raise your hand if you’re one of the many who has begged Harris to run more frequently. He may do just that on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl.
5. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
– What do you think would make the SEC’s leading passer (311.7 passing yards per game), Chad Kelly, extremely happy during bowl season? Facing Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 is a good guess.
The Cowboys lost their last two games and their defense gave up 45 points to Baylor then 58 to Oklahoma. If Kelly hasn’t started drooling yet, look at this.
Oklahoma State finished the season ranked 6th in the Big 12 and 92nd nationally in pass defense. The Cowboys even gave up at least 396 yards through the air three times in their last five games.
6. Sony Michel, UGA
– Huge output for UGA running backs in bowl games is not a new thing. Nick Chubb ran for 266 yards on Louisville in last year’s Belk Bowl and Todd Gurley put up 183 all-purpose yards on Nebraska in the 2013 TaxSlayer Bowl.
Expect a similar kind of day from Sony Michel on Jan. 2 when UGA faced Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The Nittany Lions allowed a 149.8 rushing yards per game (8th in Big Ten, 47th nationally) this season and have allowed at least 188 yards on the ground in four of their last six contests. Michel finished the year on a high note, with three games of 132 yards or more rushing over his last four. He also finished sixth in the SEC with 1,076 yards.
7. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
– No SEC quarterback in 2015 threw more touchdowns that Arkansas’ Brandon Allen (29) or had a higher passer rating. The senior’s 165.18 passer rating not only led the conference, but landed him at No. 8 nationally.
The Razorbacks are in good hands under center, and have the luxury of facing a Kansas State defense that’s been given points away lately through the air.
The Wildcats finished ninth in the Big 12 versus the pass (283 yards per game) and have allowed 12 passing touchdowns in their last five games. Allen can also feel relatively safe, potentially aggressive, in exploiting this weakness because Kansas State has only picked off four passes this season and just one since Oct. 10.
8. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
– Since Michigan State finished second against the run (113.1 yards per game) in the Big Ten this year and ninth versus the pass (229.8 yards per game) it seems natural to imagine Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker airing it out a bit more in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31.
But don’t expect offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to get too far away from running back, and Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry as his gameplan masterpiece. Henry will be highlighted … but Coker is going to have to sling a few balls down the field.
Enter Calvin Ridley.
No one in the SEC caught more passes of 50 yards or more than Ridley (four) did in 2015. He also finished fifth in receiving yards per game (68.7) and seems like the perfect candidate for Kiffin to find a way to exploit the back end of the Spartans’ secondary.