NCAA Football

Holiday Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule and Prediction for Nebraska vs. USC

The 2014 Holiday Bowl should be one of the most exciting non-New Year's Day games of the season, as a prolific USC aerial attack takes on Nebraska's punishing ground game in a potential shootout that shouldn't have trouble captivating the nation.

Nebraska is led into the game by its 17th-ranked rushing attack. The Cornhuskers have been an extremely well-rounded team this season; however, they suffered a disappointing conclusion to their regular season, dropping games to Wisconsin and Minnesota before just barely edging Iowa in the finale. That led to the firing of head coach Bo Pelini.

USC's potent passing game has torched plenty of squads in 2014, capping off the regular season with a decisive 49-14 victory over Notre Dame. Although, the Trojans have been inconsistent this year, collapsing in all phases of the game against Boston College, Arizona State and UCLA. Consistency will be necessary to close out the year with a win over a tough Nebraska team.

So, will the high-flying Pac-12 squad best the ground-and-pound style of the Big Ten representative? As we await the answer to that question, here's a look at the game's viewing information, updated odds and final prediction.


Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, CA

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 62
  • Spread: USC -7


Preview and Prediction

Nebraska has been riding senior running back Ameer Abdullah all season long. The talented ball-carrier rushed 237 times for 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on the year. However, his production dropped off significantly over the season's final four games, as he eclipsed the 100-yard mark once and scored one touchdown in that span.

Abdullah was part of the Heisman discussion early in the season, eclipsing the 200-yard mark three times and scoring 14 rushing touchdowns in a five-game span. Unfortunately, he was set back with a knee injury the following week against Purdue and didn't appear to be back in form until the final game of the season.

The Cornhuskers must get Abudllah going early and often against a very good USC defense that ranks 27th in the nation against the run, allowing an average of 132.5 yards per game. Still, the Trojans have been exposed by a strong running game before, and rest assured Nebraska is closely taking a look at how Boston College managed to rack up 452 rushing yards on USC.

USC's recipe for success will be maintaining a balanced offense that features both quarterback Cody Kessler and running back Javorius Allen.

Kessler has been one of the nation's most prolific signal-callers this season, completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 3,505 yards, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. He concluded the regular season in a big way, torching Notre Dame for 372 passing yards and six touchdowns.

Much of Kessler's success can be attributed to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The junior pass-catcher has been putting on a clinic all season long, racking up 97 receptions for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns. He finished his season with a bang, eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark five times in his last six games.

This passing offense will be tested by the Cornhuskers. Nebraska boasts the nation's 26th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 196.3 yards per game. Although, some of that can be due to playing in the run-heavy Big Ten, as Nebraska is also allowing an average of 12.33 yards per completion.

Still, getting Allen going out of the backfield will be necessary to help open up passing lanes for Kessler. Allen is averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season, rushing 250 times for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. A dual-threat back, he's also racked up 40 receptions for 442 yards and another score.

Stopping the run isn't a strong suit for the Cornhuskers, as they rank 77th in the nation and allow an average of 176.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.67 yards per carry. If Allen can get off to a hot start, the Trojans offense will be difficult to slow down.

While both of these teams are dynamic in their own right, the upper hand here has to go to USC. The Trojans are the more well-rounded of the two teams, and their versatility will prove to be the difference-maker in the Holiday Bowl.

Prediction: USC 38, Nebraska 28


All team statistics and rankings courtesy of and current as of December 26.

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Independence Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule, Prediction for Miami vs. South Carolina

The 2014 Independence Bowl features two of the nation's most enigmatic teams in Miami and South Carolina.

The Hurricanes have produced a roller-coaster season, looking great in games against Duke, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, but struggling in contests against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh. Miami rode a solid running game and defense through most of the season, but it fell apart late, losing its final three contests and finishing with a 6-6 record.

South Carolina earned a preseason top-25 ranking, but that didn't last long after a Week 1 drubbing at the hands of Texas A&M. Still, the Gamecocks managed to produce several good performances this season, highlighted by a 38-35 victory over Georgia. This has been a solid offensive team this year, but it's defense has given up plenty of points en route to a 6-6 standing.

Both of these teams are coming off losses, and each would love to finish their respective disappointing seasons on a high note by winning the Independence Bowl.


Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61
  • Spread: Miami -3.5


Preview and Prediction

If Miami is to come away with a big win against South Carolina, it needs to get running back Duke Johnson going early and often. He's been the team's offensive catalyst this season when given the opportunity.

On the season, Johnson has carried 218 times for 1,520 yards, an average of 7.0 yards per rush, and 10 touchdowns. A viable receiver out of the backfield, he's also reeled in 33 catches for 370 yards and three additional scores.

Consistent production has made Johnson so valuable this year, as he's averaged no less than 4.5 yards per carry in any single contest. Unfortunately, his usage hasn't been as consistent. He rushed just 18 times while quarterback Brad Kaaya attempted 45 passes in a 35-23 loss to Pittsburgh to end the regular season.

Considering South Carolina owns the nation's 107th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 214.4 rushing yards per game and a total of 28 rushing touchdowns, the Hurricanes would be wise to ensure Johnson gets a very healthy workload.

Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson has been a little erratic this season. He's thrown for 3,280 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he's accompanied those numbers with 11 interceptions. The senior struggles more when asked to pass more often, throwing eight interceptions in the seven games he attempted 37 or more passes.

Making matters worse for Thompson, Miami owns the nation's 10th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 184.1 yards per game through the air. While Miami has been solid against the run as well, ranking 38th in the nation in that category, South Carolina needs to get its ground game going to circumvent a strong secondary.

The Gamecocks have two very talented backs in Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds. Both are averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry this season, and considering the strengths and weaknesses of its upcoming opponent, South Carolina should be aiming to produce more of a run-heavy offense on Saturday.

This one all comes down to the matchups. The way things currently stand, Miami appears more capable of exploiting South Carolina's weaknesses than the other way around. Expect a big day from the Hurricanes backfield, as they take the Independence Bowl.

Prediction: Miami 31, South Carolina 24


All team rankings and statistics courtesy of and current as of December 26.

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Pinstripe Bowl 2014: Full Predictions for Boston College vs. Penn State

There won't be any baseballs on the field at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Football will be played in The House That Ruth Built this weekend, as Boston College squares off against Penn State in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The field made the successful transition from baseball to football, as the Nittany Lions' official Twitter account posted:

This year's installment of the Pinstripe Bowl features two teams with two competing strengths. The Eagles run the ball extremely well. The Nittany Lions defend the run extremely well—better than anyone else in the country, in fact.

Will the Eagles be able to muster any offense if Penn State can shut down the run game? You'll have to tune into the game to find out. In the meantime, check out some predictions below.


Penn State Will Stifle Ground Game

Penn State was tops in the country against the run, allowing a measly 84.6 yards per game. Despite BC's success on the ground (251.8 yards per game), one would think that it'd lead to an alteration of the game plan heading into play.

Andy Gallik, a senior offensive lineman, told Spencer Fordin of that the Eagles will stick to the same strategy that got them here in the first place:

"We're going to run the ball just like we always have. We're going to run it right at them, and we feel like that's how we're most comfortable and most effective. That's going to set up passing situations where Tyler Murphy is going to make a lot of plays for us. It's going to be a really tough game."

BC has run for over 3,000 yards as a team this season. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry and scoring 29 touchdowns, seven different ball-carriers have contributed to the offense's success.

Leading the way is Murphy, a senior who thrives as a dual-threat quarterback. He rushed for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per rush. 

But Jon Hilliman is also a threat, having scored 12 touchdowns in as many games.

Regardless, no team in the country is better prepared to face the Eagles' run game than the Nittany Lions.

They've allowed just 247 rushing yards in their past three contests. That's largely because of three stalwarts on the defense, as Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald writes:

"Mike Hull, the Big Ten linebacker of the year, is the central nervous system of this elite unit. Hull led the Lions with 134 tackles with 10.5 for a loss. [Head coach James] Franklin employs a 4-3 defensive formation and Hull is flanked on the second layer by sophomore Brandon Bell and junior Nyeem Wartman."

The linebackers will prove instrumental to Penn State's success against BC on the ground. While BC's stellar offensive line will work to block off the oncoming defensive linemen, it will be up to the linebackers to find holes and get into the backfield.

Of course, a linebacker also must be left to spy on Murphy, as he'll take off on plays that aren't designed runs. He takes what the defense gives him, and his ability to adapt to pressure is unmatched by most in the nation.

But the linebacking unit of Penn State is a surer bet than BC's run game. A general rule of thumb is that defense wins championships. The Nittany Lions aren't playing for anything too prestigious on Saturday, but their defense will carry them in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Look for them to hold BC far below their season average of 250-plus yards on the ground.


Neither Team Will Score Over 21

Penn State's defense isn't the only suffocating unit in this matchup. We'd be remiss to not give BC any recognition.

As the accompanying graphic shows, BC's defense also ranks highly. The Eagles aren't as well-rounded as the Nittany Lions, but the unit is still one of the stronger ones around. That means offense will be at a minimum.

Let's go back to Penn State's defense for a moment. Assuming the team successful stops the run, the only worry is Murphy as a passer. That's something he's just pedestrian at. He completed just 56.9 percent of his passes on the year for 1,526 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Shutting down the run forces BC to pass, and the Eagles won't be able to win if that's the case. Murphy is a talented athlete, but he's not the type of quarterback you can lean on to win games with his arm.

He isn't capable of making all the passes required of a top-notch quarterback. Keep him in the pocket, and you'll find success as a defense.

On the other side, Christian Hackenberg has been even more unimpressive. He completed only 54.4 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Granted, he spent most of his time scrambling around because his young offensive line had problems preventing pass-rushers from getting into the backfield.

Neither Hackenberg nor Murphy scream "difference-maker" as a quarterback.

Assuming BC holds its own against the run game of Penn State—who only averaged 103.7 yards per game on the ground—this could very well be a game decided by a defensive score.



All things considered, this is going to be one heck of a game.

There's a place for offensive shootouts, like the one we saw in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl between Western Kentucky and Central Michigan.

But a matchup that pits two defensive powerhouses together will always have a place during bowl season. Penn State and BC are two of the more well-known programs in the country, and they'll put on a show for those in attendance and those at home.

Hackenberg and Murphy are not good passers, but it'll ultimately come down to which quarterback can make the throws necessary to sustain drives and score touchdowns.

Hackenberg's tendency to throw multiple interceptions in a game (something he did five times this season) puts Penn State at a disadvantage. All it takes is one score to win a game, and it's clear that BC's persistence running the ball will eventually open something up in the passing game.

All Murphy needs to do is convert on a few passes here and there.

Prediction: Boston College 17, Penn State 16


Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn 

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Military Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule, Prediction for Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Expect to see a big clash of styles when the Cincinnati Bearcats face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2014 Military Bowl.

Cincinnati enters the contest with a 9-3 record and riding a seven-game winning streak. The Bearcats struggled at times on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season, but their offense carried them through, scoring at least 34 points in six of their last seven games.

Virginia Tech hasn't been able to get much going on the offensive side of the ball this season, but it has been very sound defensively, allowing an average of just 20.4 points per game. While the Hokies just barely made the postseason at 6-6, their crowning achievement in the regular season came in the form of a 35-21 victory over Ohio State.

Will Virginia Tech's defense continue to step up, or will Cincinnati's offense rise to the occasion? Before we receive the answer to that question, here's a look at the game's viewing information, updated odds and final prediction.


Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51
  • Spread: Cincinnati -2.5


Preview and Prediction

Quarterback Gunner Kiel has been the driving force for the Cincinnati offense this season. He's completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year, leading the Bearcats to the nation's 12th-ranked passing attack.

Kiel is surrounded by a deep receiving corps, as Mekale McKay, Shaq Washington and Max Morrison have all accumulated more than 40 receptions this season. The reliable Washington leads the group in catches with 61, while McKay has been more of a big-play threat, leading the team with 690 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Cincinnati's passing attack is very potent, but it will be severely challenged on Saturday. The Hokies own the nation's 15th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 186.8 yards per game through the air. One big reason for the team's success against the pass has been a phenomenal pass rush that has accumulated 46 sacks this year, ranking second in the nation.

Although, Cincinnati's offensive line has been very good in pass protection this season, allowing just 16 sacks, so expect a big battle in the trenches in the Military Bowl.

If Virginia Tech is going to generate offense, it must be through the air. The Hokies haven't been able to get anything going on the ground this season, and their best hope remains on the arm of quarterback Michael Brewer.

The junior signal-caller completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,598 yards and 17 touchdowns this year; however, he's also tossed 14 interceptions. Although, 10 of those picks were thrown over his first five games, and he showed better ball security over the second half of the season.

Cincinnati has been dreadful against the pass this year, ranking 109th in the nation and allowing 266.3 yards per game, as well as 21 passing touchdowns in just 12 contests. They're coming off a 38-31 victory over Houston after allowing 360 passing yards to Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr.

While the Bearcats have been prolific at times on offense this season, going up against a Virginia Tech defense that ranks 16th in yards allowed and 18th in points against won't lead to many points. Meanwhile, Brewer and Co. have the ability to completely take advantage of Cincinnati's porous secondary, gain an early lead and maintain it with solid defensive play.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24


All team statistics and rankings courtesy of and current as of December 26.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Alabama vs. Ohio State

Many are expecting Alabama to cruise to victory over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. However, the outcome of this highly anticipated showdown will come down to a few key battles.

While football is a team sport, each person on the field has to do his job to help win a game. In a tough matchup like this one, a few players have an even bigger role to take on the tough challenges of All-Conference players at just about every position.

These players in particular will have to do their jobs to help their team win in the College Football Playoff.


Cam Robinson vs. Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa might just be a sophomore, but he has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season.

Senior Bowl director Phil Savage had great things to say about the Ohio State defensive end:

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted that most of the country agrees with the player's abilities on the field:

Along with tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. This will be a serious challenge for all of Alabama to try to handle in the Sugar Bowl.

While right tackle Austin Shepherd will see a lot of Bosa, the real challenge will be whether freshman Cam Robinson can live up to the challenge on the left side of the line. The Louisiana native has done a great job of protecting Blake Sims' blind side to this point, but stopping Bosa will be another story.

If he can't contain the All-American, the Crimson Tide will have a tough time moving the football in this one.


Devin Smith vs. Landon Collins

Ohio State doesn't always have the most consistent offense, but it can score in a hurry with a big play from out of nowhere. In a lot of cases, Devin Smith is the one coming through with a long touchdown.

Smith finished the Big Ten Championship Game with three scores, each of which going at least 39 yards. Although he only has one game of more than four receptions, he has an incredible eight catches for over 40 yards on the year.

If he is able to break a few of these against Alabama, the Buckeyes will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

The person capable of stopping this is Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins. While he likely won't be lining up directly opposite Smith, he will need to cover the field to prevent any open opportunities down the field.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes he has this ability:

Collins will have a lot of responsibilities in this game, but one of the safety's biggest jobs will be to keep anyone from getting any easy touchdowns.


Ezekiel Elliott vs. Reggie Ragland

The pressure is certainly on quarterback Cardale Jones in this game, but the Ohio State offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott. Going into the bowl game, he has 1,402 rushing yards on the year, including 220 in the Big Ten game.

Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner explained his thoughts on the young running back, via Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated:

All the ingredients were there. We just had to wait and see what happened. [...] 

He was very talented and explosive, but he was obviously young and, playing wise, inexperienced. We had to see how he would handle those situations -- the week-to-week grind and the physical stress that puts on you.

It will take the entire front seven to help contain Elliott in this game, but Reggie Ragland will be the one expected to do the heavy lifting. The linebacker might not have the same press as past Alabama defenders like C.J. Mosley or Rolando McClain, but he still ranks second on the team with 88 tackles.

Ragland has the ability to cover sideline to sideline, and he has to prove it to slow down the rushing attack and keep the Buckeyes off the scoreboard.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Oregon vs. FSU


While dozens of players will help decide the 2015 Rose Bowl, a few key performances will make the real difference in this one.

Florida State and Oregon have taken different paths to the national semifinals, but there is no denying the amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Many of these players will be competing on Sundays in the future with others being stars at the college level.

This game will come down to which big-time players can win their individual battles to help give their team an advantage. Here is a look at the biggest matchups to watch in the Rose Bowl.


Hroniss Grasu vs. Eddie Goldman

Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman was injured against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and it almost cost the Seminoles the game. The Yellow Jackets were able to run all day long without a force causing problems in the middle.

The good news is he should be healthy in the Rose Bowl, which is bad news for the Ducks. 

Of course, one person that can take the tackle out of the game is Oregon center Hroniss Grasu. The second-team AP All-American has been a major part of the team's success this season with his ability to control the offensive line and clear space in the middle.

Unfortunately, he has been out since injuring his foot on Nov. 8. The hope is he can return for the upcoming game and help lead the Oregon offense the way he has earlier in the year.

If only one of these two players is healthy, it will give their team a huge advantage in this one. If both are in the game, however, the winner of this will have a big impact on Oregon's rushing attack.


Rashad Greene vs. Troy Hill

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the top cornerbacks in the nation for Oregon, but he will miss the Rose Bowl after suffering a knee injury in practice.

As a result, Troy Hill will have to step up to be the No. 1 option in the Ducks secondary. While the senior has been overshadowed by his teammate in the past, he still has the ability to shut down an opponent's best player.

Matt Prehm of 247 Sports thinks Hill has this type of talent:

Still, this will not be an easy task against Rashad Greene. The senior has been one of the most productive players in college football over the past two years, and this season ranks eighth in the nation with 1,306 receiving yards.

Greene has become a game-changing player and a reliable option for Jameis Winston whenever Florida State needs a big play.

Hill needs to find a way to slow down Greene and limit the Seminoles' best option in the passing attack.


Marcus Mariota vs. Jalen Ramsey

Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota has put together an outstanding career at Oregon and this season has separated himself from the rest of the country. This year, his efficiency has been through the roof with 38 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Besides his physical abilities, Mariota helps himself by doing his research on his opponents. The bad news is he sees a real challenge in Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey, via Natalie Pierre of

I mean, Ramsey, if you just watch him on film is one of those types of guys that will single-handedly turn a drive and stop it. He's a great player, he's gonna make his plays; we just gotta continue to be ourselves and try to execute against those guys.

Ramsey is one of the best defensive playmakers in the nation and he always has a way to be near the football. He heads into the bowl season with 75 tackles, including three sacks and 9.5 for loss. He also makes a huge impact in the passing game with two interceptions and 13 passes defended.

Quarterbacks always have to know where he is on the field in order to be successful.

Mariota is arguably the best player in the nation at any position, but even he can end up struggling if he isn't ready for Ramsey.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets 12/26/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Denver Nuggets looked to bounce back from a recent rough patch on Friday when they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets had dropped two straight and faced the T-Wolves, who had dropped six straight and 12 of their last 13. 

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Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for NC State vs. UCF

The North Carolina State Wolfpack raced out to an 18-point lead behind a highlight-reel effort from quarterback Jacoby Brissett and hung on to beat Central Florida 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

The star junior transfer from Florida stole the show for much of the game. Then, a thunder-and-lightning rushing attack from Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes stretched the lead. 

NC State needed every bit of the cushion, too, as UCF quarterback Justin Holman led the pesky Knights back, but an onside kick wasn't recovered late, and the Wolfpack capped their comeback season with an 8-5 record. The Knights fell to 9-4.


NC State Game Analysis

Pass Offense

Brissett continued the resurrection of his career to cap off a season that saw him throw 23 touchdowns and just five picks. As he has much of the year, Brissett evaded pressure with his nimble feet, stepped up in the pocket and found various receivers for big gains. He was calm, poised and competitive.

Though he didn't put up massive numbers, he was extremely effective, and he had a near-perfect game other than taking a sack at the end of the first half that cost the Pack points.


Run Offense

Following a stagnant first half when it seemed Brissett was the only real ground threat, the Pack found their sea legs after the break. In a dominant third quarter, Thornton and Dayes combined to take UCF out of the game.

The duo wound up rushing for 174 combined yards, and Brissett added more than 30 of his own. Dayes had two scoring runs, and the Pack wound up with 187 rushing yards. The 3.8 average wasn't great, but there were big plays all night.


Pass Defense

Justin Holman got his passing yards and (frustratingly) had three touchdown passes to Josh Reese, but the Pack did get an interception from Josh Jones. Also, Holman threw the ball 53 times, but he was nowhere near completing 50 percent of his passes and still didn't get to 300 yards. Yeah, there were some big plays NCSU would like to have back, but it was still a stellar performance.


Run Defense

Any time you can hold a rushing offense as good as UCF's to fewer than 100 yards, that's a strong showing. Star runner William Stanback wound up with just 12 carries for 38 yards as the Pack took UCF's running game completely out of the game.


Special Teams

As excellent as Niklas Sade was, he gets docked a little for missing the 47-yard field goal that would have iced the game and put it out of reach. Yeah, that's a little tough to dock a kicker for missing one so long, but that was a big one, and he's the best kicker in the history of the school. Wil Baumann averaged 46.5 yards over four punts. All in all, a good night.



Dave Doeren had a perfect game plan for the first three quarters, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up some really stellar play calls that worked. But it's frustrating when a coach gets ultra-conservative at the end of the game, and it nearly cost him. Doeren was just trying to hang on at the end. Ultimately, his team did, so it's all good.


UCF Game Analysis

Pass Offense

There were times on Friday night when Justin Holman showed flashes of NFL potential.

Then, there were others where he looked like an unseasoned sophomore. Holman is an immense, unpolished talent, and he nearly led his team back. But he had some terrible overthrows, and he also was intercepted once on the night. It really could have been twice.

All in all, it was a nice performance in his first bowl start, but it wasn't good enough. He'll be back.


Run Offense

This was pretty much a disaster. The NC State defense was stellar all night in the front seven, to the point where UCF coach George O'Leary abandoned the run totally. With the Knights down by 18, he went exclusively to the air, and any hope for balance was lost. They finished with 82 yards and a 2.9 average.


Pass Defense

Too many times, there were breakdowns and busts in a secondary that had been among college football's best this year. Brissett bought time with his feet, and the Knights defensive backs didn't stick with plays. On one quick-strike drive in particular that eventually made the score 31-13, UCF was just lost in the backfield. That can't happen against a quarterback as good as Brissett.


Run Defense

The strength of UCF's team was very strong in a first half where it took over the game at times in the front seven. But when the Wolfpack charged out of the locker room after halftime, they pummeled the Knights with Thornton and Dayes, and there was no answer. They flat-out won the game on the ground in the third quarter, and they made UCF like it.


Special Teams

It was pretty much a flawless game from a special teams standpoint as Shawn Moffitt made both his field goals, and Caleb Houston averaged 42.8 yards per punt. The Wolfpack had just one opportunity to return a kick all night. UCF was stellar here.



O'Leary is known for being a very good game-day coach, but Doeren had his number tonight. With the game being virtually in UCF's backyard, you'd have expected the Knights to come out fired up, ride the crowd momentum and soar to their third consecutive 10-win season.

Instead, they were flat defensively, and it took them too long to wake up. Like most O'Leary-coached teams, they didn't quit and they were right there in the end, but there were too many lapses for this to be a good grade.


Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players. 

In 2014, this premise continued. Players such as Jaleel Wadood and Kenny Young saw extensive time as true freshmen. 

This piece won't look at the freshmen who've played this year—but rather it will focus on those freshmen who redshirted this past year. 

Five youngsters in particular will be analyzed. Enjoy this piece on the potential future stars of the UCLA football program.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players...

Begin Slideshow

NC State vs. UCF: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl

The North Carolina State Wolfpack cashed in at the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl with a 34-27 win over the University of Central Florida Knights on Friday night.

In the first half, quarterback Jacoby Brissett victimized the Knights with his elusiveness and abilities as a dual threat. Brissett's play and some inaccuracy from his counterpart, Justin Holman, helped to push the Wolfpack to a 17-10 halftime lead. 

Holman was only able to complete 23 of 53 pass attempts. He threw three touchdowns, but he undershot and overthrew receivers on a regular basis.

To Holman's defense, he was under duress the entire night. The Knights' offensive line didn't do a great job protecting him. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly.

After the break, NC State's potent running game led to some separation between the teams, though UCF would battle back late.


How It Was Settled

The Wolfpack running backs got involved early, but they did damage through the air before their legs made a mark. On a halfback option, Shadrach Thornton tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to give NC State the 7-3 lead in the first quarter.

Check out the play in The Score's tweet:

The Knights responded with a strong drive that culminated in Holman's six-yard strike to Josh Reese. The score briefly gave the Knights the lead in the second quarter. Before halftime, the Wolfpack would regain the lead and never relinquish it.

Brissett kept plays alive throughout a beautifully crafted drive. The junior quarterback hit Johnathan Alston for a 37-yard touchdown pass that made the score 14-10 in NC State's favor. For the game, Brissett completed 15 of 26 passes for 262 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pack Pride has a clip of the play:

Chip Patterson of CBS Sports admired Brissett's performance in the first half:

Niklas Sade would add a field goal to give the Wolfpack the seven-point advantage at intermission. 

After the break, the Wolfpack run game started to chew up the Knights defense. Speedy Matt Dayes was the primary culprit. You won't find many collegiate running backs who hit the hole as quick or as decisively as Dayes.

This electric 24-yard run (via Pack Pride) gave NC State a 14-point edge:

Dayes finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

The Wolfpack would blow the lead up to 34-13, but they ultimately settled for the seven-point win as the Knights added two fourth-quarter scores to make it interesting.

NC State finishes the season at 8-5. Head coach Dave Doeren engineered a huge turnaround from the 2013 season, when the Wolfpack won just three games. With a good number of sophomore contributors like Dayes returning, as well as Brissett, 2015 looks promising for the Wolfpack.

ACC Now provides comments from Doeren, who reflected on the season after the win:

This is a team that could potentially challenge the Florida State Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

UCF drops to 9-4 and wraps up a solid season with a disappointing ending.

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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly Updates Quarterbacks, Injuries, Depth Chart

After a three-day holiday break, Notre Dame arrived in Nashville Friday for final preparations for next Tuesday's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against No. 24 LSU (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Irish held their first of four practices Friday evening leading up to the game, with head coach Brian Kelly addressing the media afterward. 

As it has been for most of Kelly's five seasons at Notre Dame, the quarterback position is the big story. Junior Everett Golson was benched during the regular-season finale against USC, with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire providing a bit of a spark in the second half.

Both will play against the Tigers, but Kelly wasn't quite ready to declare a starter Friday evening.

"I haven't made the decision on who the starter is yet," Kelly said. "Both are getting quality reps. I probably have to make it here in the next 24 hours. They're both going to play, and I'm just going to have to just get a feel for it and the flow of the game."

Having to juggle multiple quarterbacks is nothing new to Kelly.

"I've done it several times over several years," Kelly said "I've gone into playoff games when I was in Division II and had to run option with a guy that couldn't throw it. We can do a lot of things with two quarterbacks. It can be pretty exciting."

Zaire has shown a stronger grasp of the zone-read element of Kelly's offense than Golson has. While Zaire and Golson don't present the stark contrast in styles that Golson and Tommy Rees did, the two are far from mirror images of one another.

"It opens up everything," Kelly said. "Everything is available to you. You're going to see the best from both of them."

The only notable injury updates were regarding senior offensive tackle Christian Lombard and defensive tackle Sheldon Day. While Kelly did not rule out Lombard for the game, his outlook was pessimistic for the chances of the third-year starter playing in his final college game.

"He's been fighting a back injury, and it's flared up," Kelly said. "He's been limited in practice. He's been a warrior for us. He would definitely play if he was physically able to. That's a major question mark for us."

If Lombard can't go, redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey will make his first career start at right tackle.

The news was much more positive on defensive tackle Sheldon Day. After missing the last two-and-a-half games with an MCL injury, the junior is expected to be close to full speed against LSU.

"Sheldon Day will play," Kelly said. "We'd like him to play every play. We don't think that's realistic. If we can get between 40 and 50 plays, I think we'd be ecstatic."

With first semester grades finalized in the past week, Kelly said that no players were ineligible for the game due to academics. 

Despite being the healthiest of the four position groups on the Irish defense, the two safety spots has been a revolving door this season for Note Dame.

Junior Elijah Shumate and sophomore Max Redfield are the most talented players at the position on the Irish roster, but they have struggled to stay on the field at times this season. Kelly said both will start and raised the bar for their level of play.

"We still need to see more," Kelly said. "We have higher expectations for Elijah, and we have higher expectations for Max. They know it. I've met with them individually. [Defensive coordinator] Brian [VanGorder] has met with them. They know what they need to do."

Notre Dame has faced just one SEC opponent in the last eight seasons—Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Did Kelly call on former assistant Butch Jones, now the head coach at Tennessee, for some advice on LSU?

"No," Kelly said. "We've talked, because the families are close, but more Christmas stuff than football."

Notre Dame returns to the practice field Saturday. LSU will arrive in Nashville Saturday afternoon and practice Sunday and Monday leading up to Tuesday's game.


Note: All quotes from Brian Kelly were obtained firsthand.

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Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Rutgers vs. North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights steamrolled the North Carolina Tar Heels, 40-21, in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

Driven by a powerful offensive line, Rutgers racked 340 rushing yards during the impressive victory, which capped the program's first season in the Big Ten at 8-5. North Carolina dropped to 6-7 with the loss.

Pass Offense: Gary Nova connected on seven of 14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and the senior could've had higher marks without a couple drops. During the latter half, however, Nova threw three should-have-been interceptions that UNC mishandled.

Run Offense: Robert Martin raced to a career-high 202 yards and one touchdown, while Josh Hicks added a career-high 100 yards and two scores. If two running backs setting "career-high" marks doesn't explain Rutgers' success enough, well, both of Nova's 30-plus-yard passing touchdowns were a result of play-action calls.

Pass Defense: The Rutgers pass rush simply dominated UNC's offensive line. Darius Hamilton was the only Scarlet Knights player to record a sack, but Marquise Williams was constantly pressured and forced to throw mostly checkdowns because of great coverage by the secondary.

Run Defense: Run defense was Rutgers' glaring issue, considering the Tar Heels managed 219 yards on the ground. However, since the Scarlet Knights offense continued to build a nearly insurmountable lead, North Carolina couldn't rely on their backs.

Special Teams: Kyle Federico connected on two field goals (19, 31 yards) but missed one of his five extra points. Punter Joey Roth averaged 44.7 yards per kick, and the coverage team held dynamic returner Ryan Switzer to five yards on three attempts.

Coaching: Kyle Flood utilized a perfectly timed fake punt, which sparked Rutgers during the third quarter and effectively sealed the game. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen capped his first year at the school by calling an outstanding game for Nova and Co.


Pass Offense: Marquise Williams terribly underthrew Mack Hollins on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Switzer was called for a pass interference on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Jack Howard was flagged for OPI in the end zone after catching a touchdown. It just wasn't the Tar Heels' day through the air.

Run Offense: T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood found running room and combined for 172 yards, and Williams scampered for 64 if a 13-yard sack is ignored. Logan averaged 9.6 yards per first-down attempt (8 CAR, 77 YDS), but Carolina failed to capitalize on that success.

Pass Defense: The Tar Heels secondary allowed too many open receivers, even if a throw ultimately became an incompletion due to poor placement or a drop. Although Nova only completed nine of of 20 passes, six gained 19 yards or more.

Run Defense: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the UNC run defense. Rutgers manhandled the Heels up front, smashing its way to 8.2 yards per rushing attempt and scoring three touchdowns. The 340 yards allowed was only the fourth-worst season performance.

Special Teams: North Carolina blocked a punt and recovered two onside kicks, but the poor plays heavily outweighed the favorable. In addition to Thomas Moore pushing a 31-yard field goal wide right, Nick Weiler and Joey Mangili combined to manage just 31.2 yards over five punts.

Coaching: Larry Fedora called a disastrous fake field goal, both in design and execution. Then, he actually attempted a field goal down 20 points—a truly horrific decision. From top to bottom, UNC wasn't ready for the Quick Lane Bowl. And it showed.


Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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West Virginia and Florida Players Among Those Injured in Christmas Eve Shooting

Florida freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson and West Virginia freshman wideout Jacky Marcellus were reportedly injured during a shooting on Christmas Eve in Immokalee, Florida.

Kristine Gill of the Naples Daily News reported that Jackson, Marcellus and Marcellus' brother, Jackinson, were shot by an assailant(s) in a red car. Meanwhile, Christina Lusby of WINK News in Fort Myers, Florida, reported that one or two men walked up on foot and fired shots into the automobile carrying the three former Immokalee High School teammates.

"It just happened so fast," said Jackinson Marcellus, who was hospitalized on Friday after getting shot below his eye, per Gill. "I looked left to see him fire."

According to a police spokeswoman, Jacky Marcellus and Jackson were discharged from the hospital after suffering minor injuries. WINK News' Chelsa Messinger reported that bullets grazed both players during the shooting:

Police in Collier County, Florida, continue to investigate the shooting and haven't made any arrests yet.

Jacky and Jackinson Marcellus and Jackson were all in Immokalee to celebrate Christmas.

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Rutgers vs. UNC: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Quick Lane Bowl

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights capped off a successful debut season in the Big Ten with Friday's 40-21 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

In the process, senior quarterback Gary Nova exploited a defense that entered the contest ranked 119th, going 9-of-20 for 184 yards and two scores.

ESPN College Football tweeted the final score and pertinent numbers:

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, Rutgers was far from the favorite entering Friday's showdown:

Even without leading rusher Desmon Peoples, the freshman duo of Josh Hicks and Robert Martin led the way for the Scarlet Knights on the ground with 202 yards and a score and 100 yards and two scores, respectively. Both found the end zone in the second quarter to help build a 23-0 halftime lead that would prove insurmountable.

Nova, who threw for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this year, got things started with an opening drive that spoke volumes to the game's eventual course. He led the Scarlet Knights down the field 75 yards on just five plays and then hit Andre Patton for a 34-yard touchdown.

Jason Radowitz of summed up the precision of the offense:

The floodgates opened shortly thereafter.

Hicks reached the end zone first on a dash from 21 yards out to cap off a 91-yard drive in just seven plays. Martin followed him on the next drive with an eight-yard score of his own to make it 20-0.

As many—including Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media—could see, Rutgers appears to have some burgeoning talent in its backfield:

North Carolina proved worthy after halftime, though.

Junior Tar Heels signal-caller Marquise Williams was one of the nation's more underrated dual-threat quarterbacks this season, thanks to 2,870 yards and 20 touchdowns with another 737 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

The Charlotte native put that on full display right out of the break by leading a 12-play drive capped off by a quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to 23-7.

As WCHL 97.9 FM's Matt Oakes noticed, though, the Rutgers' defensive front overwhelmed UNC's line for most of the night: 

After a brief flirtation with competitiveness, North Carolina's defense once again collapsed.

The Tar Heels score to start the half woke up Nova, too. The senior hit Andrew Turzilli for a 34-yard score before Martin broke free for a 28-yard touchdown near the start of the final frame, bringing it to 37-7.

To their credit, the Tar Heels then made an epic run to improve upon the lopsided 40-7 score. In fact, they recovered not one, but two onside kicks in the span of a couple of minutes while posting 14 points.

ESPN's Dustin Fox wondered if another bowl classic was set to unfold:

Williams hit Jack Tabb for a touchdown, and then backup Mitch Trubisky tossed a touchdown to Kendrick Singleton to make it 40-21. That proved to be the end of the spark, as the drive after the second successful onside kick ended with a pass out of the end zone on fourth down.

For some, the conference implications of the Rutgers win are noteworthy, as CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli explained:

The triumph means Rutgers can now turn a confident eye toward next season. Peoples and other offensive weapons will be back in the fold, as will dominant nose tackle Darius Hamilton, who recorded a sack and shut down a fake field goal Friday. The importance of Hamilton's return after Friday's defensive performance is not lost on coach Kyle Flood.

"He's a great player for us and will be a great leader for us going forward next year with the experience he's had with the three years he has been here," Flood told reporters before the game.

Things are bleaker for North Carolina, a trendy preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal division before finishing the regular season at .500. Coach Larry Fedora faces a serious rebuilding task now that the program's record has dipped in each of the past two campaigns.


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Outback Bowl Dinner for Wisconsin and Auburn Includes 2,400 Pounds of Meat

They grow 'em big in Wisconsin, and the SEC boys down South are no scrubs either. As such, the Outback Bowl provided the Wisconsin Badgers and Auburn Tigers (who will face off on New Year's Day in Tampa, Florida) with plenty to eat for a special dinner before the game. 

The Auburn Gold Mine Twitter account tweeted out details of the feast:

Outback Bowl dinner for Auburn & Wisconsin: 750 pounds of steak, 900 lbs. of ribs, 750 lbs. of chicken, 1,600 shrimp, 1,200 lbs. cheese cake

— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) December 26, 2014

Wisconsin redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Walker Williams sure seemed to enjoy himself:

After 2 chicken breasts, 4 steaks, 2 side salads, potatoes, shrimp, an onion bowl, and cheesecake im gunna throw in the towl #outbackbowl

— Walker Williams (@W_Squared2) December 26, 2014

Apparently playing in a bowl sponsored by Outback Steakhouse has its perks.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for NC State vs. UCF

The Central Florida Knights and the North Carolina State Wolfpack will meet in the St. Petersburg Bowl for one of the more intriguing early matchups of the bowl season.

Both teams are riding little surges, as the Pack dominated rival North Carolina 35-7 to close the season at 7-5 in coach Dave Doeren's second year in Raleigh. Meanwhile, Justin Holman's crazy Hail Mary upset East Carolina and gave UCF a share of the American Athletic Conference crown.

Even though Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are no longer roaming the field for the Knights, they finished 9-3 and are back to play another power-conference program.

This one looks like a toss-up that could go either way. One program is established and looking to be thought of among the giant killers while the other is a middling ACC program on the rise. 

It should be a good football game, and we'll get started at about 8 p.m. Check back here for live blogging, highlights and analysis.

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After Up-and-Down Career, Longhorns Seniors Can Redefine Legacy in Texas Bowl

Anyone who has played at an elite level of athletic competition does not play to lose. In fact, many competitors do not handle losing very well.

Unfortunately for the Texas Longhorns, losing has been all-too familiar for the senior class.

The 2011 recruiting class suffered a lot of losses before ever stepping foot onto the 40-acres. After the Longhorns went 5-7 in 2010, former head coach Mack Brown was forced to replace six assistant coaches, most of whom were responsible for recruiting the now-senior class.

But the Longhorns stuck together, signed their letters of intent and went into their careers with the goal of changing the course of the Texas football program.

Four years have passed, and the goal appears to be incomplete.

"It's been tough," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said of all of the ups and downs he has experienced during his time playing for the Longhorns.

"It's hard when you have guys that just come in for a bit and you don't really know much about them, don't know what they plan on doing. But at the same time, you've just got to go out and play. We were put in these spots. We've just got to go out and do what we do and just go out and have fun."

Diggs and other defensive players know better than anyone how difficult it is to adjust to change, especially when it comes to coaches. The senior committed to Texas with the hopes of playing for former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Diggs never started a down with Muschamp as his coach.

He then learned the tendencies of Muschamp's replacement, Manny Diaz. But Diaz struggled to put together a solid defense and was eventually fired after the Longhorns gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU in 2013.

In came Greg Robinson, a former Texas assistant coach and former head coach of Michigan. Robinson helped rebuild the Longhorns defense only to be sent packing when Brown was fired following the 2013 season.

Now the seniors will end their time in Austin with Vance Bedford as their leader. The former Texas defensive back is relatable to the players and has helped formulate one of the nation's top defensive units in college football.

Diggs is thankful for the opportunity to play for his new coach and how his career could change the future of Texas football.

"I really wouldn't change anything because if you change, maybe we wouldn't have these guys right now. I'm just blessed for the opportunity to be able to come back and play for these guys," Diggs said. "I think everybody will always remember this senior class and everything we've been through.

"We went through it when the staff changed the first time when we were getting recruited. I went through the defensive coordinator getting fired after the first game of the season. But we've been really resilient, and we stuck through it all as a class."

The Longhorns have a chance to end their careers on a high note with an upset victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.

If you are reading this, you might be thinking, "How can a win over a 6-6 opponent define the legacy of the seniors?" It's a valid question and almost seems depressing for Texas fans to think this class' legacy is on the line against a .500 team.

But the big-picture aspect of the senior class' legacy is something one cannot ignore.

The class is the definition of what it means to fight through adversity, and it's an even better description of resiliency.

There were many times where the seniors could have given up on the season, mainly when the Longhorns were sitting at 3-6 heading into November.

But quitting was never an option for the seniors, and the rest of the team needs to battle to give the senior class what it deserves: a win in their final game at Texas.

"I think we're a prime example of sticking together through it all and continue to strive," said Diggs. "We want to be the class to do great things and get this thing turned back around."


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Reasons Why Alabama Will and Won't Beat Ohio State

Nobody is really giving Ohio State much of a chance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Bleacher Report has Alabama in a close one. All of ESPN’s SEC writers are picking Alabama. All but one of Sports Illustrated’s experts picked the Crimson Tide. Las Vegas oddsmakers have Alabama by nine points.

You get the picture.

Still, college football teaches us seemingly every day not to put any kind of stock into this pontificating and postulating. In fact, last time Alabama played in the Superdome, it was a 17-point favorite and ended up losing.

So, as if it really needed to be said, this game could go either way.

Here, we’ll present a couple of reasons for why Alabama will and won’t beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

Begin Slideshow

WVU QB Clint Trickett Retires from Football Due to Multiple Concussions

Having suffered five concussions in a span of 14 months, West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett retired from football on Friday.

The Mountaineers announced that the senior will walk away from the game, per's Jake Trotter. Trickett is not leaving football altogether. He may replace his cleats for a clipboard as he hopes to become a football coach.

Trickett thanked WVU fans on Twitter after the announcement was made public:

Trickett suffered a concussion in what proved to be a 26-20 loss to Kansas State back on Nov. 20 and hasn't returned to the field since. On Dec. 18, he received medical clearance to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29, but head coach Dana Holgorsen announced on Friday that Trickett would be out, per Greg Madia of

Then came Trickett's retirement.

He revealed that two of the five concussions weren't revealed to the West Virginia medical staff, and he accepts full responsibility for his actions, per Allan Taylor of's Kevin Van Valkenburg wonders how many players have acted similarly in regard to hiding concussions:

Trickett acknowledged that in order to become a football coach, he needed to retire before the damage to his body was irreparable:

Should Trickett become a coach, he'd be following in the footsteps of his father, Rick, who's an assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Florida State.

Between his time at Florida State and West Virginia, Trickett threw for 5,837 yards and 32 touchdowns.

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