Five Players to Watch During the SEC Bowl Games

Five Players to Watch During the SEC Bowl Games

The SEC will kick off its bowl season the day after Christmas. The 12 different bowl games will stretch from Dec. 26th to Jan. 2nd, and if Alabama can get past Washington, SEC play will continue all the way to Jan. 9th. The SEC had nine bowl victories last year. This year though the conference is largely in a position it isn’t used to: the underdog.

Only five of the 12 SEC teams are favored, so it’ll be interesting to see if the likes of a young, scrappy Gamecock can hang with the toughness and speed of the Bull….if the daunting Tiger can stop the most athletic Cardinal in the land…and if the Gator can put an end to the Hawkeye in its own habitat.

These bowl games are key for future development and the career of many SEC players. Here is our list of the five players to watch during the SEC bowl games.

(1) Jalen Hurts: QB, Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, AL – NOVEMBER 26: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide passes against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Jalen Hurts had a very memorable opening game against USC in the Tide’s first game of the season. The true freshman quarterback fumbled the snap and lost the possession. Since then, all he’s done is throw for over 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns and rush for over 800 yards and 12 TDs. Had it not been for the slew of other candidates, we may have seen this mighty freshman make his way to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Now, he’ll have his hands full with a Washington defense that hasn’t allowed more than 28 points all year and hasn’t given up more than 18 in their last four. This game (possibly two games) will give the promising freshman more exposure playing on bigger stages, which he’ll need at a place like Alabama. A good performance against Washington, and then either Ohio St. or Clemson, will propel Hurts into the off-season and have him well on his way to a possible New York trip in 2017.

(2) Derrius Guice: RB, LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA – NOVEMBER 19: Florida Gators at LSU Tigers; LSU Tigers running back Derrius Guice (5) rushes the ball.(Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Leonard Fournette’s announcement that he’ll forego the Citrus Bowl against Louisville, all Cardinal eyes now turn to stopping Derrius Guice. This is nothing new though. Fournette has only played in seven games this year due to injury, rendering Guice the team’s leading rusher. This year as a sophomore, Guice had triple the rush attempts than he did behind Fournette as a freshman. He racked up 1,249 yards and 14 rushing TDs in the backfield spotlight.

Guice will undoubtedly get the bulk of the carries against the Cardinals in their match up on Dec. 31st. A good performance against a Louisville defense that can be stingy at times will help LSU in their effort to take down the Cardinals.

(3) Jake Bentley: QB, South Carolina

GAINESVILLE, FL – NOVEMBER 12: Jake Bentley #4 of the South Carolina Gamecocks in action during the game against the Florida Gators. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

As you’ve probably heard many times by now, Jake Bentley was supposed to be in high school this year. Bentley graduated early and followed his father, Gamecocks running backs coach Bobby Bentley, to Columbia. Many thought Bentley would red-shirt this year. But after a 2-4 start and not a lot of progress offensively, the red-shirt was burned. All the young QB did then was take Columbia by storm. Bentley started his first game for the Gamecocks on Oct. 22nd against UMass and threw for just over 200 yards and two TDs. He also led the Gamecocks to what was the highlight of their 2016 year, a big upset over SEC East favorite Tennessee on Oct. 29th.

As expected of a young QB though, Bentley has struggled against tougher defenses. Against Florida, he completed barely 54% of his passes and threw one INT, and in an injury-shortened game against Clemson he completed only seven passes for 41 yards and one INT. The good news for Bentley and SC fans? This South Florida defense would not be considered “tougher.” The Bulls give up 31 pts. per game on average. For the Gamecocks to win, they may need to just outscore the Bulls, and Bentley may be the man to help them do it.

(4) Myles Garrett: DE, Texas A&M

AUBURN, AL – SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Sean White #13 of the Auburn Tigers is sacked by defensive lineman Myles Garrett #15 of the Texas A&M Aggies. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

Myles Garrett has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks since 2014 when he registered 11 sacks as a freshman. Twenty sacks later, Garrett is now looking forward to what could very well be his final game as a College Station tenant. Though he hasn’t officially declared for the draft yet, Garrett sits at or very near the top of most mock draft boards.

Garrett has had a good season by anyone’s standards. He recorded 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL despite missing three games due to injury. An almost one sack per game average helps one see just how dynamic this edge rusher can be. He already has NFL scouts drooling. A good showing against Kansas St. in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl will have them paddling upstream through their own saliva.

(5) Nick Fitzgerald: QB, Mississippi St.

08 October 2016: Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) scrambles from the pocket during the Auburn Tigers 38-14 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. (Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

To say Mississippi St. QB Nick Fitzgerald had a breakout year is an understatement. Fitzgerald split time with Damian Williams early in the season, but has taken the majority of the snaps for the Bulldogs since their Sept. 24th win over UMass. Fitzgerald has very quietly racked up 1,243 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs. Not only can the QB run, but he’s a threat through the air as well. Fitzgerald threw for 21 TDs and was just 19 yards away from throwing for 2,300.

He’ll be facing a Miami (OH) team that began the season 0-6 then ended with six straight wins. The only Power Five opponent the RedHawks faced this year was Iowa in week 1. They gave up 45 points. While this is a much improved team since then, Nick Fitzgerald still seems poised to have a great offensive showing against the RedHawks.

 

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