Monday December 29th, 2014

The fireworks started the second West Virginia was paired with Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. A former Big 12 team facing a new Big 12 team is enticing enough. When the coaching staffs are as close and familiar as Kevin Sumlin’s and Dana Holgorsen’s are? Then you have the recipe for points. Lots and lots of points. Eventually the Aggies came out on top, 45-37, to grab a bowl win in Memphis.

Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital spent four years at three different schools learning from Holgorsen, and Sumlin and Holgorsen coached together at Houston. The closeness led to some lighthearted trash talking on Twitter, and it wasn’t surprising to see it boil over into the game itself.

So when Aggies student assistant Mike Richardson hit two West Virginia players and was sent to the locker room for the second half or when Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews was ejected for targeting or when West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert was hit in a relatively sensitive area on a field goal attempt, it looked like a rivalry that wasn’t a rivalry but probably should be.

The Aggies got a masterful performance out of freshman Kyle Allen, marking for a full circle start and finish for Texas A&M’s quarterback play this season. At the start of the year when Kenny Hill went off on South Carolina, fans raved that the Aggies had their new star quarterback. The quarterback has changed, but the optimism remains much the same for Allen.

Hill crashed and burned over the course of the year, bringing Allen into the mix. The true freshman, who had been competing for the starting job in the fall, handled his playing time well, going 2-2 in his four starts, including four touchdowns in a win against Auburn and three scores in the Aggies’ Nov. 15 loss to Missouri.

The five-star pro-style quarterback out of Scottsdale, Ariz. showed an ability to improvise on broken plays and good arm strength when he stepped up in the pocket against the Mountaineers. On one play in particular, with Texas A&M trailing 27-21 late in the second quarter, Allen did a spin move and ran 14 yards, diving into the end zone to give the Aggies the lead. They wouldn’t trail for the remainder of the game.

Allen finished 22-of-35 for 294 yards with four passing scores to go with that rushing touchdown. His late-season success has to make Texas A&M fans excited heading into next season. Granted, Sumlin still has to find the right fit at defensive coordinator after firing Mark Snyder following a loss to LSU on Nov. 27.

Forget the Money Signs and the nicknames. With the defensive talent of guys like Myles Garrett, all those offensive skill players that Sumlin has been bringing in and the potential emergence of Allen, it’s not a far cry to think Texas A&M will compete in the (crowded) SEC West next season.

• ELLIS: Penn State returns to postseason with dramatic Pinstripe Bowl win

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