Every year the bowl season presents us with a new set of heroes.
Sometimes it is not a team’s star player who steps up and comes through with the big play that makes a difference between winning and losing. A team can expect that its main playmakers are going to continue to produce in the bowl season the way they did in the regular season. However, it will not be a surprise that if somewhere between the SEC’s first game in the Music City Bowl and the last game in the BCS National Championship game some unlikely heroes step up, much like Lerentee McCray did for Florida in the 2011 Gator Bowl.
The Gators blocked a punt and McCray picked up the football and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown in Florida’s 37-24 win over PennState. In three years prior to that Outback Bowl, McCray had a total of 16 career tackles and no touchdowns when he made the big play.
So who are the candidates your might want to keep and eye on in the SEC’s bowl season this year? They are out there waiting; good players who sometimes take a back seat to higher profile teammates but could be the key to a bowl victory.
Here are some of those players who could be waiting for their big moment in the spotlight.
The man to watch on Alabama’s team is not exactly an unknown player, but he seems to fly under radar. Who is it? Try Kevin Norwood. The junior receiver is the second leading receiver with 26 catches for 395 yards, a 15.1 yard per catch average. He had two touchdown receptions against Auburn and two against Western Kentucky. Notre Dame will be concentrating on containing freshman sensation Amari Cooper, which may present Norwood the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Vanderbilt will play the SEC’s first bowl game of the season against NC State in the Music City Bowl and junior defensive back Andre Hal could be a big thorn in NC State’s side. Hal has had a good season with 47 tackles, the sixth highest total on the team. He’s also had two tackles for loss. Bu Hal’s biggest contribution is his pass defense. Hal is tied for the team lead with two interceptions but he had broken up 11 passes and defended 13, both of which lead the team. In the bowl game, Hal could be NC State quarterback Mike Glennon’s biggest nightmare.
Ole Miss will play Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl and a player who could influence the game in a big way is junior wide receiver Korvic Neat. He’s only 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds, but he plays huge and can turn a game in different ways. He’s caught 23 passes for 244 yards, has one rush for 39 yards and returned 13 punts for 60 yards. Neat has the potential to be a big-play man for the Rebels against the Panthers.
Mississippi State can expect quarterback Tyler Russell to have a big game when the Bulldogs play Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, but could it be that backup quarterback Dak Prescott comes up with a key play? There are other candidates for the Bulldogs but Prescott could be in the best position to make a big play to help out. Coach Dan Mullen said last week that he will have packages in place to utilize Prescott’s talents against the Wildcats. It is not like Prescott is a stranger to the Bulldogs’ offense. He was 18 of 28 passing for 194 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. He also rushed for 98 yards on 30 carries and scored four touchdowns.
LSU has a New Year’s Eve date with Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and LSU is stacked with playmakers on both sides of the ball. It’s not easy to find a lesser known player on this team so we are going to have to go with a defensive starter who doesn’t get the headlines that some of his higher profile teammates do. Look for safety Craig Loston to have a big game. Loston, a 6-2, 205 junior, had 48 tackles, including three for losses, in the regular season. He also had three interceptions, one of which he took back 100 yards for a touchdown.
When Texas A&M plays Oklahomain the Cotton Bowl all eyes will be on Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Oklahomaquarterback Landry Jones and for good reasons. But if the Aggies are to polish off an 11-win season, it will take a collective effort by every one on the Texas A&M defense. One man who could step up and be a big factor if the Aggies are to contain Jones will be 5-10, 193-pound senior defensive back Steven Terrell. Terrell has 58 tackles this season, including four for losses. He tied for the A&M lead with two interceptions, which he returned for 58 yards, and he broke up five more passes and forced two fumbles.
The Florida Gators will meet Louisvillein the Sugar Bowl and a player who could have a big hand in several aspects of the game is Andre Debose. He can catch passes — he had two receptions for 11 yards in the regular season. Debose can run, he had two carries, but the biggest way he can change the game is with his kick returns. Debose returned 10 punts for an average of 9.3 yards per return and has 386 yards on kick returns.
Georgia came so close to reaching the national championship game but still came up with a nice consolation prize — a trip to the Capital One Bowl to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Georgia has established playmakers on offense and defense, but a player that has gotten overlooked during Georgia’s 10-2 season run is 6-2, 216-pound cornerback Sanders Commings. During the season the senior had 43 tackles, three passes intercepted, two passes broken up, one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovered.
South Carolina, like Georgiaand MississippiState, drew a Big Ten opponent for the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks will take on the Michigan, giving the Wolverines the unique scheduling quirk for a Big Ten team of opening and closing the season against an SEC opponent. The South Carolina defense will need to contain the Michigan offense and the biggest names on that unit are Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Shaq Wilson. But another name who could step into their spotlight against Michigan is DeVonte Holloman, a 6-2, 241-pound senior. Holloman has 54 tackles this season, including seven for losses. He also had three interceptions, four passes broken up and one fumble recovered.
So when the bowl season gets into high gear, look for some of these players to play key roles in the outcomes of games.