December 23, 2014

There's nothing more TCU can do to prove it belonged in the first College Football Playoff, but another explosive performance from the nation's No. 2 scoring offense could make it feel better about being snubbed.

Putting up another big point total might not be so easy against the country's stingiest defense.

Playing their postseason game a day earlier than they'd hoped, the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs try to make a statement in the Peach Bowl against No. 9 Mississippi on New Year's Eve in Atlanta.

Third in the CFP rankings after a 48-10 thrashing of Texas on Thanksgiving, TCU (11-1) closed its regular season Dec. 6 with a 55-3 rout of Iowa State in which it gained 722 total yards.

Good, but not enough in the committee's eyes for the Horned Frogs to secure a spot in the playoff when the final rankings were released a day later. They dropped from third to sixth, while Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor - which beat TCU on Oct. 11 - jumped one spot apiece.

"We've been talking about TCU since Oct. 28, it's been fantastic," athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "We wanted college football to be at the forefront of America and it has been. It's not time to panic. I thought the committee did a phenomenal job. Would we have liked to be in the four? Absolutely."

Instead of playing on New Year's Day, TCU will settle for its first trip to the Peach Bowl.

"We feel like this is a playoff game," said coach Gary Patterson, who signed an extension through 2020 to stay in Fort Worth. "Ole Miss was as high as third in the nation, they play at a very high level."

The Rebels (9-3) were third in the AP poll for three consecutive weeks before falling at LSU on Oct. 25, but it was a 35-31 loss to Auburn a week later - and star receiver Laquon Treadwell's fractured tibia - that ruined their national title hopes.

Ole Miss was still feeling the effects three weeks later in a 30-0 loss at Arkansas in its next SEC game, but recovered for a 31-17 Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State that knocked its biggest rival out of the playoff picture.

That was enough to get coach Hugh Freeze, who totaled 13 regular-season wins in his first two years at Oxford, a four-year extension that will pay him $4.3 million annually in an SEC where he now sees the Rebels being able to contend regularly.

"It's a difficult task in this league, but I think we've proven that we can be competitive and relevant," Freeze said.

Freeze's defense should give the Rebels a decent chance at a seventh straight bowl victory. Ole Miss allowed an FBS-low 13.8 points per game, was 13th in opponent yards per play (4.6) and 11th in third-down defense, getting off the field 68.9 percent of the time.

Only San Jose State allowed fewer touchdown passes (six) than the Rebels' eight, and Ole Miss' TD-to-interception ratio of 0.42 was by far the best in the nation. Nine of those 19 picks came from 5-foot-9 cornerback Senquez Golson, a consensus first-team All-American.

Unfortunately for Golson and the Rebels' defense, there's not really one of Trevone Boykin's targets to settle in on. The 6-foot-4 Josh Doctson had team highs of 59 catches, 959 yards and nine touchdowns, but Deante' Gray snagged eight TDs and Kolby Listenbee averaged 18.7 yards per reception for an offense that scored 46.8 points per game.

It's been the emergence of Boykin in Sonny Cumbie's offense that's really made the Horned Frogs click. The junior, who threw seven TDs and seven INTs last season and ultimately lost his job, threw 30 touchdown passes, ran for eight more and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2014.

"He's in a situation now, where he's one of the frontrunners going into next year," Patterson said. "It's all how you finish, not how you start. ... I think (this game) is a really good stage for him moving forward to show what kind of player he is. His best advertisement is himself. He can be his best press release."

Boykin joined Heisman winners Marcus Mariota (2014), Johnny Manziel ('13, '12) and Robert Griffin III ('11) as the only QBs with 3,700 yards passing and 600 rushing in a single season over the past six years.

"Going into this game, you have to have really good pocket awareness," Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "... Spread offenses, they like to get you out in space and make you tackle. We're a good tackling defense. We don't give up many yards after the catch. We don't give up many big plays. We rush the quarterback. We stop the run. It's going to be a good challenge for us with all the stuff they present on offense. If everybody stays locked in on defense and we do what we have to do, I think we'll be fine."

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace earned a little Heisman buzz himself in the middle of the season after throwing for 17 touchdowns and averaging 9.1 yards per attempt during his team's 7-0 start. But he struggled down the stretch without Treadwell, completing just 55 percent of his passes with five TDs and five interceptions in the final five games.

Wallace finished with an SEC-high 25 passes of 30 or more yards, and he found a new favorite target in the season's final month. Tight end Evan Engram caught 18 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown in three November games.

Ole Miss has won its first two bowls - the Music City and BBVA Compass - under Freeze, and hasn't lost a postseason contest since 2000.

TCU, which lost to LSU last August in its first game against an SEC opponent since 2003, has won six of its last eight bowls under Patterson.

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