Five SEC players with the most to prove this bowl season
With the regular season officially in the rear view, most SEC teams only have one more chance to make a statement in 2014 before entering the abyss that is the offseason.
Seniors will be competing to end their careers with a victory. Talented underclassmen will aim to impress pro scouts, and the players returning next year will look to impress their respective coaches before spring practice begins in a few months.
There’s plenty at stake in each of the 12 bowl games involving an SEC team, but a handful of stars from throughout the conference have far more to prove than the rest of the pack.
Here are the players with the most on the line in this year’s bowl games:
5. Joshua Dobbs: Tennessee was a sputtering 3-5 team when Dobbs took over as the starting quarterback, and the dynamic dual-threat signal caller led Tennessee to a 3-1 finish, earning the Vols a trip to their first bowl game since 2010. He was as dynamic as any player in the SEC in his first two starts against South Carolina and Kentucky, but appeared much more human in starts against Missouri and Vanderbilt to end the season.
There aren’t many productive quarterbacks returning in the SEC in 2015, but Dobbs is one of the few who is. He’ll have a chance to lead Tennessee back to the top of the East next season if he can play like one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and a strong showing in this year’s bowl game could be the perfect jumping-off point.
If Dobbs can carry positive momentum into spring practice, the Vols offense could reach new heights in 2015. But if he’s smothered by a talented Iowa defense ranked among the top 20 in the nation, it could set his development back to an extent.
Dobbs’ success next season won’t hinge entirely on his performance in this year’s bowl game, but he has a lot to prove and a lot to gain/lose heading into next season with his play in this year’s postseason.
4. Trey Flowers: Arkansas’ senior defensive end was superb in 2014, even if his numbers don’t show it. He was as impactful as any defensive lineman in the conference, and closed the year with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as the leader of a defense that posted two shutouts in its final three games of the year.
However, the recent releases of the Associated Press and SEC Coaches’ All-SEC teams prove Flowers remains under-appreciated for his work in the trenches. He was not listed anywhere on the AP’s first or second teams, and he was a mere second-teamer on the coaches’ ballot.
Flowers will move on to the NFL next season, but if pro scouts view him the same as the media and the league’s coaches, he could be in desperate need of a signature game in the Texas Bowl (against the Texas Longhorns) to prove his worth.
3. Shane Ray/Markus Golden: Ray and Golden formed the best defensive end tandem in the SEC this season, but a poor showing against Alabama in the SEC championship game left a sour taste in the mouths of both ends, as well as fans who appreciate hard-nosed defense. Ray was ejected from the game in the first half for targeting, negating any impact he might have made as an SEC Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Golden was quiet in Ray’s absence, failing to record a sack, tackle for loss or quarterback hurry.
Both players will need to rebound from lackluster performances in the SEC title game with strong showings against Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl.
Golden is a senior headed to the pros after this season, and Ray, a junior, could potentially follow him if his draft stock appears high enough. If both players want to be remembered for their excellence along Mizzou’s defensive line and not for their worst game of the year against Alabama, they’ll need to make an impact against a Gophers team that allowed just 19 sacks all season.
2. Dak Prescott: Evaluating the success of Dak Prescott’s junior season all depends on who you ask. It’s inarguable he had the best statistical season of any Mississippi State quarterback ever, but it’s also fair to say that’s setting the bar pretty low.
Some think he was snubbed by being left out of the pool of Heisman finalists, and many of those same opinionated people would also say he was worthy of being named the SEC’s first-team quarterback by the AP and the league’s coaches.
Others would say Prescott was rightfully left off the final Heisman ballot, wrongfully named a finalist for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Awards, and incorrectly placed ahead of Alabama’s Blake Sims as the SEC’s top quarterback in the eyes of coaches and the media.
Prescott will have one final chance to prove how good he actually is in Mississippi State’s high-profile Orange Bowl showdown against Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve. More importantly, he’ll have one final chance to impress pro scouts before deciding whether he’ll forgo his senior season at Mississippi State to enter the NFL draft. His reputation, and a big heap of NFL money, will be at stake in this game, and it will be up to Prescott to rise to the occasion.
1. Kyle Allen/Anthony Jennings: Allen and Jennings have both been involved in quarterback battles at Texas A&M and LSU this season. Allen, a freshman, spent the first two-thirds of the season on A&M’s bench before being called upon to replace Kenny Hill as the starter for the Aggies final four games. Jennings, a sophomore, spent most of the year as LSU’s starter, but was removed from a few games and was benched in the Tigers showdown with Auburn in favor of freshman backup Brandon Harris.
Both Allen and Jennings must prove to their respective coaches they can be the quarterbacks of the future for their programs, and this year’s bowl games are their last chance to do so. Hill seems to have fallen out of favor with Kevin Sumlin and the A&M coaching staff, but his gaudy numbers early in the season speak for themselves. Jennings struggled for much of the season, and Harris is a former five-star recruit still awaiting his turn to lead the Tigers.
For now it appears Allen will return as the starter next season, while Les Miles may reassess his quarterbacks when the season ends. A strong showing by either Allen or Jennings in this year’s bowl games could cement them as the starters for their teams next season, but a poor showing, especially from Jennings, could be the final nail in the coffin regarding their chances to start next season.