Ole Miss defense braces for TCU in Peach Bowl

CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — Mississippi and TCU were part of the playoffs story in 2014. Each team was part of the chase. Each team fell short of the coveted semifinals.

The Peach Bowl on Wednesday provides an opportunity for No. 6 TCU (11-1) and No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3) to cap a top-10 season with a win, even though they’re not part of the playoffs.

Ole Miss beat No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 4 and rose to No. 3 before losing three Southeastern Conference games late in the season. The Rebels finished the regular season by beating No. 4 Mississippi State.

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TCU had a strong case for inclusion in the inaugural four-team playoff. It was ranked No. 3 by the selection committee before crushing Iowa State 55-3. The Horned Frogs, Big 12 co-champions, tumbled to No. 6 in the committee’s final ranking while Ohio State moved into the semifinals.

As if the Horned Frogs didn’t already have a point to prove, they’ve been asked this week if they’re intimidated to face a SEC team in SEC territory. The Peach Bowl is played in the Georgia Dome, also the site of the SEC championship game.

“You said SEC country?” asked TCU center Joey Hunt. “I don’t know. We brought the Big 12 country. We’re just ready to play. I mean, I’m loving that it’s like an away game. I’m loving the atmosphere. The SEC atmosphere is bigger than the Big 12. It is what it is, but I don’t think anybody is scared up here.”

TCU running back Aaron Green was asked if the SEC setting was intimidating.

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“No. Thanks for asking,” Green said.

The strength-against-strength matchup to watch is the Ole Miss defense, which leads the nation by allowing 13.8 points per game, against TCU’s high-scoring offense. The Horned Frogs, led by quarterback Trevone Boykin, average 46.8 points to rank second in the nation.

Boykin finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting after passing for 309.5 yards per game.

“I don’t know that we’ve played a team that has the tempo and the athleticism at the skill positions, that combination that TCU does,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Tuesday. “I’m not quite sure we have faced that exact combination yet.”

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Some things to watch in the Peach Bowl matchup:

GOOD COMPANY: Boykin (6-2, 205) is a threat as more than a passer. The junior, who runs for 53.5 yards per game, is on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average more than 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing. The other two were Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel.

NAME GAME: There was another step in the evolution of the bowl’s name this year. It has progressed from Peach Bowl to Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to Chick-fil-A Bowl in recent years. Finally, as being one of six bowls included in the playoffs rotation, the official name again is Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The game will have its first semifinal following the 2016 season.

NEW CONTRACTS: Each coach was recently given a raise. Freeze earned a raise of more than $1 million. He will earn a base salary of $4.3 million next season. TCU, a private school, didn’t release details of Gary Patterson’s new deal that athletic director Chris Del Conte said extends “through the end of the decade.” Patterson already was one of the Big 12’s highest-paid coaches with a salary of about $4 million this season.

WELCOME BACK: This isn’t the Rebels’ first trip of the year to Atlanta. Ole Miss opened the season by beating Boise State 35-13 in the Georgia Dome. “We started in Atlanta and now we’re going to finish in Atlanta and hopefully we can finish with a win,” said Ole Miss defensive back Mike Hilton.

TEXAS COMPARISON: Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said that among SEC teams, the TCU attack compared most closely with Texas A&M because of the spread formations, sets with empty backfields and big, athletic receivers.

“To me, we play great receivers every week,” Wommack said. “Not to take anything away from TCU, but in our league we see the best, I think, of everything almost every week, and it’s consistent, whether you’re playing Texas A&M or Auburn or LSU, those types of people.”