NCAA Football

USC Star Su'a Cravens Ready to Cap Monster Season with Happy Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO — Forget falling snow: The 75 degrees welcoming USC football to its first Holiday Bowl practice Wednesday at San Diego State made for Trojans sophomore safety/linebacker Su’a Cravens’ ideal winter wonderland.

“It’s good to be in California,” Cravens said. “Glad to not be in another state around Christmastime.”

A native Southern Californian, Cravens should feel right at home with conditions like these at the holiday season. He played his prep football at Vista Murrieta High School in the bedroom community of Murrieta, California.

That’s just a short trek from San Diego up Interstate 15, a roadway that passes near where Cravens and the Trojans conclude the 2014 season Saturday at 8 p.m. ET against Nebraska.

Cravens exudes California swagger, right down to the tattoo of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on his arm.

But had fate twisted another way, Saturday’s Holiday Bowl would have a much different feel for Cravens.

“I was planning on taking an official visit to Nebraska my junior year [at Vista Murrietta],” he said. “But it didn’t quite work out.”

Nebraska worked to establish a recruiting pipeline into Southern California under its previous coaching regime.

Bo Pelini’s gone now,” Cravens said of the Cornhuskers head coach who recruited him, fired last month. “But I’ve got a former teammate on Nebraska, [offensive lineman] Corey Whitaker, so it’s going to be fun to see him.”

Things may not have worked out for Nebraska, but they certainly are for both USC and Cravens, as his second season in the program comes to an end.

Cravens earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition this season, racking up 62 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions—one of which went for a touchdown.

Of Cravens’ many contributions to the Trojans this season, the most significant may be one that stat sheets cannot fully quantify. He played a variety of spots for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, primarily nickelback or strong-side linebacker, depending on the need at any given snap.

And while his original head coach at USC—Lane Kiffin—is gone, the Trojans’ current staff has an obviously high opinion of what Cravens brings to the team.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said earlier this season that “[continuing] to recruit players like Su’a,” meaning versatile defenders who can seamlessly switch roles against hurry-up offenses, is imperative for competing in the Pac-12 Conference.

But against Nebraska, Cravens leads the USC defense against an opponent known for a much more traditional style, predicated on establishing All-American running back Ameer Abdullah on the ground.

“You said it: Run the ball,” Cravens said of Nebraska’s game plan. “They’ve got a big [offensive] line and they’ve got a very good running back [in Abdullah].

“We’ll do everything we can to shut down the run game,” he added. “And hopefully it will turn into a game where they’re playing catch-up and have to pass the ball.”

No matter if the Cornhuskers go to the run or the pass, however, Cravens will be on the field. That’s a certainty regardless of where the Trojans are playing—though doing so in California makes this particular matchup a little sweeter.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.

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USC Star Su'a Cravens Ready to Cap Monster Season with Happy Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO — Forget falling snow: The 75 degrees welcoming USC football to its first Holiday Bowl practice Wednesday at San Diego State made for Trojans sophomore safety/linebacker Su ’a Cravens’ ideal winter wonderland...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Hawaii Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Fresno State vs. Rice

Rice 16, Fresno State 6 — Mid 3rd Quarter

College football fans will get to open just one present from under the bowl tree on Christmas Eve night, as Fresno State takes on Rice in the sunny setting of the 2014 Hawaii Bowl.

The Bulldogs pulled the rare feat in 2014 of making a bowl despite finishing with a sub-.500 record. It's usually impossible due to teams needing at least six of 12 regular-season wins, but Fresno State is 6-7 after falling to Boise State in the Mountain West championship.

Rice won six games all in a row at one point but has dropped two of three to close the season. The Owls will also try to end an 0-6 all-time record against Fresno State, which they previously played in the WAC.

If you like defensive showcases, this might not be the game for you. Rice allowed 76 points to Louisiana Tech in its final regular-season game, and Fresno State allowed over 45 four times on the year. 

Tune into ESPN at 8 p.m. ET to catch the game, or stay updated with live updates below.

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Florida State vs. Oregon: Who Is the Better 2nd-Half Team?

With nine come-from-behind victories this season, it would seem as though the third-ranked Florida State Seminoles are the best second-half team in the nation.

But is that really the case? Perhaps it is the second-ranked Oregon Ducks, Florida State’s Rose Bowl opponent, that are the team to beat in the second half.

While there are tons of intriguing Rose Bowl storylines, most notably a meeting of the past two Heisman Trophy winners, one that has been overlooked is how differently these two conference champions have won this year.

The Ducks are perhaps the best front-runners in the entire country and usually play the first half of games as if they were lightning shot out of a cannon. When they’ve had a lead this year, they’ve pummeled opponents into the ground and left no doubt as to whom the better team was.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles have played the role of the cardiac kids. Fans of Florida State have purchased a controlling share of the Lipitor market in the process. The Noles have made a habit of waiting until the second half or fourth quarter to inflict pain on their opponents and ultimately spoil upset after upset.

This phenomenon is even more interesting when you consider that during Florida State’s national title run last season, they played more like the 2014 Ducks than the 2014 Noles.

Both teams have found great success in the second half of games this season, and it is highly likely that the Rose Bowl will be decided in the last 30 minutes.

So, which semifinalist is the better second-half team?

 

More Points!

All college football teams are bound to fall behind in a couple of games during the course of the season, even the very best squads. In fact, as Nicole Auerbach of USA Today explained on Dec. 3, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State trailed in a majority of their games this season.

However, the difference between Bama, Oregon and Florida State is the margin by which the Noles have had to come back from.

Even the best teams in college football get behind in games. Alabama has trailed in eight of 12 games this season — the same number as Florida State — and Oregon has been down seven times. The difference comes in the margins. Alabama's average largest deficit is 6.4 points, and Oregon's is 7.1. Florida State's is 14.1.

Including the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech, the Noles have had nine come-from-behind victories this season. In Auerbach’s piece, John Ewing, the director of research and analytics for Prediction Machine, explains just how unlikely it is that the Noles are still undefeated this season.

According to John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics for Prediction Machine, Florida State was the projected winner 83% of the time in all of its games, and even considering the games in which opponents had leads in the second half, no team was ever more than 75% likely to win its game against Florida State. Still, there was only approximately a 1-in-10,000 chance that Florida State should still be undefeated considering the team's tendency to trail so many opponents, Prediction Machine found.

While Florida State was almost always favored to win ballgames in which the team tailed, the probability that it would actually win each and every one of those games is bordering on a statistical anomaly.

So, how have the Seminoles been able to dominate the last 30 minutes of games this season? Well, it all starts with 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the FSU offense.

In the first half of games this season, Florida State is averaging 16.6 points per half—ranked No. 37 in the nation. In second halves, FSU is averaging 17.5 points—ranked No. 18. While an extra point of offense per half may not sound like a lot, it is.

On average, FBS teams have averaged 14.6 points per first half this season. Comparatively, teams have averaged just 13.3 points per second half this season.

Florida State is different. It is one of the few teams in college football that average more points in the second half than in the first. Moreover, the Noles are also scoring four more points in the second half than the average FBS team.

But how do those statistics compare to the Ducks? Oregon has one of the most prolific offenses in college football and is led by 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The Ducks rank No. 3 in the country in points per game and total offense this year. Moreover, they rank No. 5 in first-half points with 24.2 and No. 3 in second-half points with 20.8.

Oregon clearly has the far superior offense and is averaging 11.5 more points per game than Florida State.

The Ducks are outscoring FSU by more than a touchdown in first halves this year and by 3.3 points in second halves, despite the fact that Oregon’s offense has taken its foot off the gas in multiple games this season due to insurmountable leads.

However, Oregon’s offense “slows down” in the second half. Florida State’s offense has gotten better as the game has gone along.

Additionally, FSU knows how to win close games in the fourth quarter. If a similar situation were to occur in the Rose Bowl, one would think FSU would be more apt to deal with that scenario.

By my calculations, the Ducks have only been in four games this season in which their opponent was within two scores of them going into the fourth quarter.

In those four contests—against Michigan State, Washington State, Arizona and Utah—the Ducks have averaged 14.5 points in those fourth quarters and have allowed just six points per fourth quarter. Even in their loss to Arizona, the Ducks won the fourth quarter 10-7.

Oregon’s offense is just as potent as any in college football, and it’s clear it dominates the Seminoles in terms of points per half. However, there is something to be said for teams that get better as the game goes along.

Florida State is flat out a better team in the second half than it is in the first half. But is FSU's offense really better than Oregon in the second half of games this season? The statistics would suggest that it's not.

 

First-Half versus Second-Half Defense 

Despite the fact that the Ducks rank No. 84 in total defense and No. 103 in passing defense, they’ve done a relatively good job of keeping opposing teams out of the end zone, especially in the first halves of games this year.

In total, Oregon is allowing 22.5 points per game this season, which ranks No. 29 in the country. Statistically, Oregon’s defense has gotten off to strong starts this season and has allowed an average of 10.7 points per game in the first 30 minutes of games this season—ranked No. 16 in the country.

Over Oregon’s past five games, the Ducks defense has allowed a paltry 5.8 points per first half, including a total of six points over the past three games.

While Oregon’s defense has been very solid in the first half of games this season, the D has taken some hits in the final 30 minutes.

Oregon ranks No. 52 in the country in terms of points allowed per second half this year. On average, the Ducks have allowed 12.6 points per second half. While that number is still above the national average of 13.3, the Ducks are still allowing almost two more points in the second half than in the first.

So how does Florida State’s defense compare to Oregon’s?

In terms of points per game allowed, the Ducks and Seminoles are basically identical. Florida State is ranked just behind the Ducks at No. 30 and is allowing 23 points per game this year. Moreover, Oregon’s defense has allowed 35 touchdowns this year—ranked No. 29—and FSU has allowed 36 touchdowns—ranked No. 33.

You would think based on Florida State’s propensity for comebacks that its second-half defense would be far superior than its first-half D. You would be correct.

In the first half of games this season, FSU’s defense is ranked No. 67 in points allowed with 14.5, which is just a hair better than the national average of 14.6.

However, the Seminoles defense has shined in the second half this year. It's allowing a minuscule 9.4 points per fourth quarter this year—ranked No. 13 in the nation. Furthermore, Florida State’s defense is allowing 3.2 fewer points than Oregon’s defense in second halves this year and 3.9 fewer than the national average.

Oregon and Florida State’s defenses are almost identical; however, it’s very clear which defense is better in the first half and which is better in the final 30 minutes.

 

The Heisman Winners

While defense, production out of the backfield, coaching, turnovers and a host of other factors will help determine which team advances to the national championship, the Rose Bowl ultimately will be won by the quarterback who gets the job done in the second half.

Let’s start with the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.

Mariota’s offense scores more points in the first half, which is partially due to the fact that he and his starters often sit out large portions of the second half. That being said, Mariota’s second-half passing numbers are actually much more efficient than those in the first half.

Mariota’s passer rating in the second half of games this year is 208.95, which is far and away the best in the nation.

Moreover, he is completing an ungodly 75.4 percent of his passes in the second half, which ranks No. 2 in the country. Yes, Mariota has more passing touchdowns in the first half (21) than he does in the second (17), but he’s been more efficient with the ball, which could be huge against Florida State.

The most obvious difference between Mariota’s first- and second-half performance this year has been in the running game. In the first half of games this year, Mariota has rushed 78 times for 511 yards—an average of 6.55 yards per carry—and nine touchdowns.

In the second halves, he has dialed down the running game. So far this year, Mariota has 39 carries for 158 yards (4.05 YPC) and five touchdowns in the second half of games.

This is not to say Mariota is a worse overall player in the second half. He’s not. Mariota has been equally as good in both halves. He's just done more damage with his legs in the first half and has been more efficient with his arm in the final 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the other Heisman-winning quarterback in this matchup has performed much better in the second half of games this season. By Jameis Winston’s incredibly lofty standards, his performance in the first half of games this season has been an unmitigated disaster.

Not only has Winston thrown the most first-half interceptions in college football (13), but he has also registered a 137.37 quarterback rating—ranked No. 73 in the country—and has only completed 62.9 percent of his passes. You don’t need to look much further to see why the Seminoles have struggled as a team in the first half of games this season.

However, Winston has been great in the second half this season, which is one of the reasons why FSU has been able to overcome nine significant deficits. On average, Florida State is outscoring opponents by 8.1 points in the second half this year.

Winston has the fourth-most second-half passing yards this season (1,769) and has only thrown four picks, which is a bit high by national standards but low in comparison to his interception percentage.

Winston has thrown 10 second-half touchdowns and completed more than 68 percent of his passes—a 5.5 percent improvement over his first-half completion percentage this season.

Mariota’s performance in second halves this season is still superior to Winston’s; however, Winston gets much better as the game goes along, as does his defense. The Ducks may have the slight edge in the second half due to the performance of their offense, but there’s no denying the fact that Florida State is a dominant second-half team.

The 2015 Rose Bowl will come down to what happens in the second half. There will be no running away and hiding by either team unless something really crazy happens.

Oregon’s offense is clearly superior in both halves this season, and its defense outranks Florida State’s in the first half as well. However, Florida State’s offense improves in the second half of games while Oregon’s declines, and FSU has one of the strongest second-half defenses in the nation.

So who’s the better second-half team? It’s too close to call.

 

Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Jim Harbaugh: Michigan Desperately Wants Him, but Is the Feeling Mutual?

The Michigan Wolverines have won more games than any other team in college football history, but they have fallen out of prominence recently.  Their Brady Hoke experiment didn’t work out, and now they are scouring the coaching carousel looking for someone to replace Hoke, who was fired on December 2.

They haven’t tried to hide the fact that Jim Harbaugh is their top candidate.  The former Michigan quarterback, Harbaugh brought unprecedented success to a Stanford program that was a perennial loser for decades.  Then, he became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and promptly led them to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons.

Michigan has already offered Harbaugh a very lucrative contract, reportedly a six-year, $48 million deal per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.  That annual salary of $8 million would immediately make him the highest-paid coach in all of college football, a perk that would be hard to pass up.  They also gave Harbaugh a shoutout on Twitter, wishing him happy birthday on December 23 when he turned 51.

Even 49ers general manager Trent Baalke confirmed Michigan’s interest in Harbaugh during an interview on radio station 95.7 The Game (via The Wolverine).

Ever since Lloyd Carr left Michigan after the 2007 season, the Wolverines have been struggling to uphold their sterling tradition and prestige.

Rich Rodriguez took over for Carr, and he and Hoke each did their fair share of damage to the program. Now Michigan is in dire need of someone to transform U-M back into a winner.

If Harbaugh does anything, it’s win.  He has proved throughout his career that he is a winner.  He is one of the most intense and passionate coaches around, and a startling story of Harbaugh while he was at Stanford recently reported by Max Cohen of The Michigan Daily is a perfect example.

According to Cohen, Harbaugh rubbed a Stanford player’s blood on his face like war paint to show that he wanted badly to be on the field with his team.  Say what you want about this incident, but it’s the epitome of intensity.

Michigan needs that type of coach pacing its sideline in 2015.  Harbaugh has everything that would turn the Wolverines into championship contenders.  He is a U-M alum, so he is aware what it is like to be part of the tradition.  He is extremely competitive, and he would do everything in his power to win games.  He has national appeal due to his past success, and he would recruit with outstanding aplomb.

But if there is anything that makes the Michigan fans hurt worse than the team’s mediocre play in recent years, it’s that Ohio State has been tremendously successful since it hiredUrban Meyer.

Harbaugh is Michigan’s Urban Meyer, someone who can come in and change the culture and win quickly.

So it’s crystal clear that Michigan desperately wants and needs Harbaugh, but does Harbaugh want and need Michigan?

That is the million dollar question and one that can only be answered by the coach himself.  He is almost surely going to leave the 49ers on a sour note, as they are reportedly going to fire Harbaugh within 48 hours after the team’s final game against the Arizona Cardinals, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

There is likely to be a host of other NFL job openings at season’s end, including the Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears, and if Harbaugh feels like he wants to remain a pro coach, he will unquestionably be at the top of almost every team’s list.

Harbaugh’s competitive nature might keep him in the NFL too.  His brother, John, has a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens as does the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll.  Carroll and Harbaugh have a well-documented rivalry that goes back to both coaches’ college coaching days, Carroll at USC and Harbaugh at Stanford.  Whether the animosity started with their angry handshake after Stanford beat USC 55-21 in 2009 or some other time is unknown, but it has to be hard for Harbaugh to see Carroll as a Super Bowl-winning coach.

But Carroll also won championships at USC, and that is something that Harbaugh has never experienced.  He has never reached the pinnacle, college or NFL, and he is going to have to decide if Michigan or some other pro job gives him the best chance to finish the season ranked No. 1.

This will definitely be one of the most interesting stories in sports for the near future.  Harbaugh and Michigan is a terrific match, and it has already made an outrageous offer that would make Harbaugh a very rich man, but money is not going to be the deciding factor.

Harbaugh will be well compensated wherever he ends up, and where he ends up will depend on if he would rather pursue a national championship at Michigan or a Super Bowl in the NFL.

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Central Michigan Comes Up with Potential Game-Tying TD on Hail Mary, Laterals

When a team needs a touchdown on the final play of a game, it usually resorts to either a Hail Mary or a short pass followed by a series of laterals. Central Michigan found a way to combine the two strategies to get the job done.

Central Michigan trailed Western Kentucky 49-42 with one second remaining in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and needed 75 yards to tie the game.

Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush connected with Jesse Kroll on a Hail Mary. Then, a series of laterals began. Titus Davis was the one who eventually found his way into the end zone, which was his fourth touchdown of the game.

The wild touchdown capped off an insane comeback by Central Michigan. The Chippewas had trailed the Hilltoppers 49-14 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, they did not complete the comeback.

Feeling lucky, Central Michigan went for the win. Cooper's fade pass to the back of the end zone fell incomplete on the two-point conversion, putting an end to the wild game.

With the 49-48 victory, Western Kentucky got its first bowl win in school history.

[cjzerovids]

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Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky: 2014 Bahamas Bowl Score, Twitter Reaction

Central Michigan did everything possible to climb back into the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, but it wouldn't be enough. A late Hail Mary that went for a touchdown gave the Chippewas a chance, but Western Kentucky shut down a two-point conversion for the 49-48 win.

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty capped off his memorable season with the Christmas Eve bowl victory. The senior finished the game with five passing touchdowns after leading the nation during the regular season.

ESPN College Football provides the final play and result from Nassau, Bahamas:

Doughty shined on the big stage by throwing for three or more touchdowns in his ninth game this season. Going 31-of-42 for 486 passing yards, Doughty connected with five different players for touchdowns, including Willie McNeal, who had 155 receiving yards.

Doughty's numbers alone in the last three games are more than several programs on the entire year, via ESPN Stats and Info:

Prior to the game, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos spoke about the caliber of quarterback his team would be facing, via Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun:

I think he is the best (quarterback) we’ve played all year. ...He doesn’t get rattled. He gets hit a lot and you can’t tell from play to play because he doesn’t get nervous in there. His posture is very good in the pocket. He’s not a great runner, but he’s strong and can extend plays a little bit. He understands what they are doing really well offensively and they do a good job with him.

The first drives for both teams ended well with two consecutive passing touchdowns. Doughty connected with Jared Dangerfield for a 14-yard touchdown, while Cooper Rush's strike to Titus Davis for 21 yards ended in the end zone.

Rush finished the game with a more impressive stat line than Doughty at 28-of-45 for 493 passing yards, 25 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers were overshadowed by Doughty, but Rush ended a great sophomore season with optimism for the future.

His seven touchdown passes tied a bowl record, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Focus noted:

After the first drive, it was nearly all Hilltoppers to close out the half. Doughty finished the half with five passing touchdowns and nearly had a rushing touchdown that was called back and eventually run in by Leon Allen.

College GameDay provided a look at his first-half statistics:

Allen's numbers also helped make history along with Doughty, as Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News pointed out:

The blowout was already in full effect at the point, but Central Michigan wouldn't just lie down for the second half. The Chippewas chipped away at the lead as Rush led three fourth-quarter drives that resulted in passing touchdowns.

Davis caught another three touchdowns along with his 142 total yards, while Courtney Williams hauled in his second of the day after tallying one during the second quarter. However, the deficit was just about insurmountable at that point, and Western Kentucky held on late.

Smith described the atmosphere in Nassau at the end of the game:

The last-ditch Hail Mary toss by Rush was lateraled multiple times before Davis scored a touchdown. However, the two-point effort meant the Chippewas would fall short of the epic comeback.

Despite the disappointing finish for Central Michigan, the program still has plenty of potential for next season. Rush will lose his top two receivers and tight end Deon Butler, but he still has several young targets who can fill in those roles.

Having Doughty back for another year of eligibility means the Hilltoppers have their best offensive weapon back in the fold. Having two running backs in Allen and Anthony Wales back, WKU's offense promises to be just as exciting next year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Santa Claus Delivers Scholarship to Western Michigan Walk-on

Given that it's the holiday season, there was only one way for Western Michigan to present walk-on Grant DePalma with a scholarship.

Santa Claus crashed a Broncos team meeting and handed coach P.J. Fleck a present. That's when Fleck called fellow linebacker Austin Lewis up to the front to give DePalma a life-changing gift.

Santa never disappoints.

[Bronco Video, h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Dalvin Cook Linked to Aggravated Assault Investigation: Latest Details, Reaction

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is being investigated as an associate in an aggravated assault incident by Tallahassee police following a July situation.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy first reported the case:

The Tallahassee Police Department also issued a statement confirming the veracity of the case, citing an ESPN FOIA request regarding Florida State football players. Public records show ESPN requested potential arrest records of 360 Florida State athletes though Cook is the only one named. Another closed case involving an unnamed former player was also mentioned, but the TPD declined to offer the student-athlete's name or give case details.

"We are committed to ensuring that every citizen of this community, including our university students, know that we take every report of possible criminal activity seriously," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said. "We also have an obligation, under state law, to respond to national media requests such as this and have done so professionally and with a commitment to openness.

Cook, a true freshman from Miami, rushed for 905 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. He was named the ACC Championship Game Most Valuable Player after rushing for 177 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in the Seminoles' 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. As the season has progressed, Cook has taken an increased role and for large chucks supplanted senior running back Karlos Williams.

The Seminoles' level of knowledge about the case is unclear. According to records released, Cook is listed as an "associate" in an altercation where two men brandished firearms at another resident. Aggravated assault cases involving guns in Florida are subject to a minimum three-year prison sentence if found guilty. 

The case against Cook is still ongoing. Neither DeLeo nor the Tallahassee Police Department offered further details on the investigation.

Florida State has not indicated whether the case will affect Cook's status for the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles play Oregon at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Jim McElwain's Doug Nussmeier Hire at Florida Does Not Inspire

The pieces of new Florida head coach Jim McElwain's coaching staff are coming together, and the latest one to be added to the puzzle is a familiar face.

Doug Nussmeier—who helped lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national title in 2012—has joined McElwain's staff in Gainesville as the new offensive coordinator of the Gators, according to Gatorzone.com, fresh off a rather unsuccessful one-year stint on Brady Hoke's former staff at Michigan.

"I’m excited to reunite with Coach Mac—we obviously have a long history and share similar philosophies," Nussmeier said in a quote emailed by Florida. "I’m honored to join The Gator Nation and work for one of the most storied programs in all of college football."

A home run hire? Hardly.

It's more like a bloop single.

Nussmeier's Michigan offense finished next-to-last in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game), and 11th in yards per play (5.32). Quarterback Devin Gardner threw 15 picks and only 10 touchdowns, and backup Shane Morris wasn't much better, throwing three interceptions without finding the end zone once.

His work at Alabama was better.

The Crimson Tide finished sixth in the SEC in total offense in 2013 (454.1 yards per game) and second in yards per play (7.15), and quarterbacks combined to throw more than 30 touchdown passes in each of his two seasons. For comparison, Florida didn't combine to throw 30 touchdown passes over the last two seasons combined (27).

That's great, but is a coach who wasn't exactly missed when he left the SEC the first time really he who Florida needs to run the offense?

Nope.

The Gators program became synonymous with stale offenses under former head coach Will Muschamp, and fixing that very issue was the primary reason Saban brought in Lane Kiffin to follow Nussmeier at Alabama.

Crimson Tide tight end Brian Vogler told B/R's Lars Anderson in November that a more open offense and more fun are two primary differences between Kiffin and Nussmeier's offenses at Alabama.

We're having more fun this year and coach Kiffin is a big reason why. He's opened up the offense. He really understands what players do well and he puts them in positions to succeed. And having him on the field has been key because he listens to us during games and takes our suggestions. It makes all of us feel like we're really part of the offense and part of something special.   

"Opening things up?" "Having more fun?"

Those sound like the exact things that McElwain needs to remedy in Gainesville, not replicate.

Plus, the timing of this hire is bizarre.

Scott Roussel of FootballScoop.com said on his radio show (3:20 mark) on Sunday that Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier was the name to watch, but that, obviously, nothing could transpire until after Alabama's playoff run ends.

So why Nussmeier, and why now?

It's not like he's a fresh name on the coaching scene. He had been available ever since Hoke was fired on Dec. 2, and it's not like he was getting any top head coaching offers during the holiday season.

Did something change in Florida's search that forced Florida to land on Nussmeier? If he was the top choice all along, what took so long?

Florida isn't getting a fresh start with Nussmeier, it's getting more of the same, just with a slightly different twist.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

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Clemson Football: Burning Questions Ahead of the Tigers' Bowl Game

The Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners are set to square off in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 29, but there are many questions surrounding the matchup.

A very good Oklahoma offensive line will face one of the best defensive lines in the country, so this game could be won or lost in the trenches.

The ultimate question mark for the Tigers is the offense. Without Deshaun Watson—who will miss the bowl game due to ACL surgery—the unit hasn’t performed well, but the Tigers will likely have to find a way to score points.

This is an Oklahoma offense that averages almost 40 points per game, and recently injured quarterback Trevor Knight will be available for the bowl game.

Let’s take a look at the burning questions ahead of the Tigers’ final game.

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Alabama Football: The Return of Bo Scarbrough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Arguably the biggest news to come from Alabama’s pre-Christmas Sugar Bowl practices had nothing to do with anything that will affect that actual game, or any other game the Crimson Tide may play this postseason.

No, it came in the form of a 6’2”, 235-pound running back, an early Christmas present, if you will, for Nick Saban and his Alabama team.

Bo Scarbrough was going through drills with the running backs on Dec. 16, finally academically eligible after a whirlwind clearing process.

Scarbrough, a 5-star athlete originally from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge High School, transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior year. He had been committed to Alabama’s 2014 class since September 2012.

He was announced as a member of that class on national signing day, but never showed up on campus. Saban in early August said that Alabama had an appeal in place that “will take some time.”

That process appears to be behind Alabama now.

“Once a guy finishes all the things that he has to do by NCAA rules and is admitted to school, he's eligible to practice,” Saban said after that first day of Sugar Bowl practice. “He can't play. So while we're practicing here, he can participate in practices. This was his first day.”

Like Saban said, Scarbrough won’t be able to play with the team in New Orleans, or travel at all, but he can practice, giving himself a leg up even on class of 2015 early enrollees.

And looking at the roster, Scarbrough may have a chance to come in and play right away in 2015.

Scarbrough is an electric athlete and could succeed at a number of positions.

His primary options are likely on offense, at running back, wide receiver or H-back.

He likely is at running back right now out of necessity. Alabama lost Kenyan Drake for the year to a leg injury, and the team has been limiting T.J. Yeldon to give him a little bit more rest after a grueling season.

So it’s a numbers game for Scarbrough right now. Derrick Henry, Jalston Fowler and Tyren Jones are Alabama’s fully healthy backs right now, leaving few options for scout team work. Scarbrough was wearing Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s No. 15, so he’s already contributing in some fashion.

“Bo looked pretty good,” Fowler said after that first practice. “Those fresh legs were moving today. Everybody was just out there today, 'There goes those fresh legs.' He was moving so fast. And everybody else was just like—it was crazy though.”

But come 2015, he’ll have a lot of options.

He could end up settling in at running back. Yeldon is expected to go pro as a junior, as has become a trend for running backs looking to get to the next level with as little wear and tear as possible.

That would leave Henry, Drake and Jones as returning backs with significant game experience. And there’s somewhat of a long shot that Drake could turn pro, too, not wanting to risk another injury like Vinnie Sunseri the year before him.

Scarbrough could find a way to crack that kind of a running back rotation.

He could, though, have better luck at receiver.

Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff winner Amari Cooper is another expected early draft entrant. Around him, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones will be out of eligibility. That means Alabama will be looking to replace its top three wide receivers.

The next three options there currently on the roster would likely be ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black and Cam Sims. Those three have seen some playing time in spots this season when the previous three have been hurt or just for some fresh legs. But none of those options is a proven, slam dunk lock for playing time next year either.

Scarbrough could step in and have an impact in some sort of way.

If he wanted to make a fairly drastic change, he would probably have the most opportunities as a tight end or H-back.

Senior tight end Brian Vogler will be gone, and O.J. Howard is the only consistent option right now behind him.

On signing day, Alabama listed Scarbrough at 235 pounds. Alabama doesn’t have a tight end on its current roster listed at under 240 pounds. Scarbrough would have to add some mass as well as significantly hone his blocking if he wanted to play at that position. But it could offer him the quickest route to playing time.

If Scarbrough makes an impact on the team for the Sugar Bowl, it will be behind the scenes, giving the defense a talented, if raw, athlete to go up against in its on-campus preparations.

But 2015 will be his first crack at a tangible impact. And he will have plenty of options to do so.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The One Player Each Big Ten Team Will Miss Most in 2015

No matter who declares (or doesn't declare) for the 2015 NFL draft, the Big Ten is set to lose a fair amount of talent.

Decisions from projected first-round picks such as Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun could change things, but the senior class was strong enough that each team will sorely miss at least one player regardless of how the early-entry process plays out.

This list separated the "most missed player" from the "best player" by accounting for context. If a team is losing its best player at a position where it doesn't have a logical replacement, its best player might also be its most missed.

But if it's losing its best player at a position where it does have a logical replacement, he might not be.

We also made an effort to only include seniors and players who have declared for the NFL draft, so as not to be presumptuous.

Sound off below and let us know whom you would add!

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After Another Fall from Grace, Does Michael Dyer Have a Future in Football?

Some players aren't made for college football. Louisville running back Michael Dyer fits that description.

That's not an indictment on Dyer. The NCAA system is such that it demands athletes take care of athletics and academics at the same time—or at least enough to get by. That's not for everyone, for one reason or another. The issue is that there's no alternative, no semi-pro league. 

Universities like Louisville and Dyer's former stop, Auburn, have the resources to make sure football players can at least be eligible; the rest, short of cheating, is up to the player himself.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Dyer didn't hold up his end of the deal and has been ruled academically ineligible for the Belk Bowl against Georgia. 

The only thing that means is that Dyer's college days are officially over. His future in the pros? He still has a say in that. 

From the moment Dyer arrived at Auburn in 2010, his physical gifts were evident. The former No. 1 running back recruit—as listed by 247Sports—was built beyond his years and ready to shoulder a rushing load as a freshman. 

His impact was immediately felt for the Tigers. The play Dyer will be remembered for most was his game-changing 37-yard run against Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. With 2:13 remaining and the score tied at 19, Dyer appeared to be tackled but instead got up and ran to the 23-yard line. Three plays later, Auburn kicked the game-winning field goal. 

The moments of Dyer's college career since have been mostly negative. He was suspended by Auburn in December of 2011 for failing a drug test and left the program shortly thereafter. A brief stint at Arkansas State also ended when Dyer was dismissed from the team following a traffic stop in which he was caught going 96 mph in a 70 mph zone with marijuana and a gun in the car.

Another stop at Arkansas Baptist seemed to get Dyer on the right track before resuming his football career at Louisville under former coach Charlie Strong. 

"He's excited to have an opportunity to resume his career," Fitz Hill, the president of Arkansas Baptist and Dyer's mentor, told George Schroeder of USA Today in 2013. "Many people doubted that Michael would ever make this comeback, and it's here."

Strangely enough, given everything he's been through away from the field, the NFL might actually be the best thing for Dyer. The typical line of thought is that professional athletes have to act like professionals, but sometimes, the pros can actually force players into becoming professionals. 

For one, the NFL life is a football-first one. That's clearly Dyer's M.O. Secondly, whichever team does take a chance on Dyer will have a close eye on him. The kind of mentoring and monitoring Dyer will receive in the league might just be what he needs. 

And a team will take a chance on him whether in the draft or as an unsigned free agent. He's physically ready to go, and his mileage as a running back is low considering he spent four years playing college football. His 154 carries at Louisville over the past two seasons, for example, is half of what Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had this year alone (309 carries). 

Yes, Dyer has red flags that may keep him from being drafted high, if at all, and could eventually be his downfall. Being ruled academically ineligible for his last college game is not among the more pressing ones. 

He'll get a shot somewhere. The question is whether Dyer can avoid any more problems in the future. Here's hoping that he can. 

It's easy to tear someone down for their mistakes, and Dyer has earned more than his fair share of criticism for his. But at the receiving end of each of those criticisms is a human being trying to, hopefully, improve his/her life. 

Dyer's life was not made for college, but that doesn't mean it can't be made for the next level. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

If Jim Harbaugh Turns Michigan Down, Where Should Wolverines Go Next?

Everyone’s thinking about what could be if—and ultimately when, depending on whom you ask—Jim Harbaugh decides to leave the San Francisco 49ers for Michigan.

Everyone’s in love with the potential homecoming tale—the one in which the former Wolverines star quarterback finds his way back to Ann Arbor and restores order to a once-proud football program.

But what if he doesn’t?

What if Harbaugh opts to stay in the NFL?

Chicago could be a landing spot. So could Oakland. He’s one of the most sought-after coaches in the game, college or professional, so he’s in charge. He has the power to pick his next destination.

It’s just a matter of when he plans to announce his intentions and publicly commit to a new team.

“Whatever’s next for him, he’ll do great there,” said his brother, John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, during an interview with Comcast SportsNet Baltimore.

He could turn around the Raiders. He could do wonders for the Bears, too.

But he would instantly resurrect the Wolverines without even wrinkling his khakis.

However, should the worst happen...

 

More with Les

As the obvious No. 2, and one-time No. 1 prior to former coaches Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez, Les Miles makes a lot of sense on several levels.

For starters, he has the attractive, but no longer necessary, Michigan background. He played for Bo, and he probably knows the culture and expectations just as well as Harbaugh.

Miles’ success—a national championship and three SEC West titles since 2007—at LSU has been nothing short of spectacular, although it’s often taken for granted by a difficult-to-please fanbase.

During a recent interview with XM Radio’s Jack Arute, Miles was asked for his input regarding the open position at Michigan, one which has been tied to Harbaugh for months. Harbaugh reportedly received an offer reaching upward of $8 million per year.

Miles offered little more than a “go get ‘em, Michigan” to Arute.

"The only thing I can tell you is I'm so for Michigan," Miles replied (via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press). "They have a process, they're going to go through it. They'll get a great coach. I wish them the very best."

Despite shooting down rumors and publicly removing himself from the speculation, Miles would be an ideal fit for the Wolverines—not just a perfect second option to Harbaugh. Either way, whether with Miles or Harbaugh, Michigan would get its man.

Really, it boils down to interest and likelihood.

Tuesday could be decision day. In fact, Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner wouldn’t be shocked if a press conference were called to introduce the next head coach at Michigan—which will probably be Harbaugh, he says.

However, Miles’ Tigers play Notre Dame that day in the Music City Bowl. Should they lose, The Mad Hatter could feel some heat.

He’s already been excused by The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais, who encourages the “underappreciated” coach—one who’s qualified for 10 consecutive bowls (6-3)—to pursue other options.

A loss to the Irish could send him out of Baton Rouge and into the open arms of Ann Arbor—she’d welcome one of Bo’s boys any day, any time.

Miles would be a home run hire for athletic director Jim Hackett. 

 

Playing the Field

For what it’s worth, Odds Shark lists Miles as the 5-2 favorite, Tennessee’s Butch Jones at 7-2, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy at 7-2 and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano at 9-2.

However, there has been a buzz surrounding a few other high-profile college and NFL coaches, with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen being among the most popular.

In 2009, his first year in Starkville, Mullen coached the Bulldogs to a 5-7 record. The next year, they went 9-4 and won the Gator Bowl. Since then, they’ve won at least seven games and have posted a 3-1 bowl record. This past season, he guided Mississippi State to new heights—No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Despite losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs finished as one of the country’s best.

Mullen’s ability to recruit in the dog-eat-dog SEC has been just as impressive as his ability to compete with the big boys in the West division; he’d be one hell of a hire for Hackett, too.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, probably the most unlikely, has been mentioned as a potential suitor for Michigan, and so has Buffalo’s Doug Marrone, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.

Payton wouldn’t be a consolation prize. He’s a proven winner at the highest of levels, evidenced by his 11- and 13-game win stretch from 2009 to 2013. The Super Bowl XLIV ring helps, too. Things have gotten difficult this season in the Big Easy, so Payton may look around for new digs.

But they probably wouldn’t be in college.

Marrone seems to be just a name—nothing more, nothing less.

Sure, it’s Harbaugh or bust. Hackett and Michigan have made it so—the birthday wishes on Twitter say everything. He's the one, has been the one and will be the one until he says otherwise. But Miles and Mullen would fit; they are the obvious second, third, fourth and fifth choices. 

Payton wouldn't be bad. 

Anyone beyond them isn't worth entertaining. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

After years of being listed among the top head-coaching targets in college football, Pat Narduzzi has finally landed a program of his own. The Michigan State defensive coordinator was named Pittsburgh's head coach Wednesday, as expected, ending more than a decade of grooming under Mark Dantonio.

ESPN's Joe Schad announced that the contract is done:

Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more detail:

Narduzzi, 48, takes over the Panthers program from Paul Chryst, who was named Gary Andersen's replacement at Wisconsin this month.

A 2013 recipient of the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach, Narduzzi joins a program that's struggled to find itself in recent seasons. Chryst landed the Wisconsin job despite posting a 19-19 record, and he's the second straight head coach to bolt for greener pastures. Todd Graham, Chryst's predecessor, left for Arizona State after a lone 6-6 season.

The Panthers have not had more than seven wins since 2009. This season, they were plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and a defense that ranked 73rd in FBS, per Football Outsiders' FEI-plus ratings. Pittsburgh managed to sneak into bowl eligibility with wins over Syracuse and Miami to close its season, and it plays Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2.

While the program has increasingly been seen as a coaching stepping stone, Narduzzi might be the perfect man to bring the Panthers instant success. He has been one of the nation's best defensive coordinators for more than a decade, following Dantonio from Cincinnati to East Lansing.

At Michigan State, the Spartans were consistently among the nation's best defensive attacks. They've finished inside the top five of defensive FEI-plus three of the last four seasons, though they dropped to No. 24 in 2014

"In regards to Pat, I think he's been up there and talked about quite a lot," Dantonio told reporters of his top lieutenant becoming a head coach, "and I've continually said it's going to happen at some point in time. When that point in time happens, it's going to be right for him, and he's going to be prepared."

The Panthers are hoping Narduzzi's defensive background can help solve their recent woes. Pittsburgh has not had a top-25 unit since 2009.

On offense, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful. Quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and top receiver Tyler Boyd are all due back for their junior seasons in 2015 and should lead one of the ACC's most promising units. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore and has a bruising style not unlike former Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell.

Pittsburgh, on the surface, will likely take on a Michigan State-lite feeling, with Voytik doing his best Connor Cook impression. It's unclear at this time if Narduzzi will be allowed to bring anyone from the Spartans staff along with him to Pittsburgh, though it's likely at least a couple of guys will tag along for the ride.

If the result looks anything like the job Dantonio's done at Michigan State, Pitt could be on its way to a renaissance. If not, well, recent history says Narduzzi will probably trip, fall and find his way to another high-profile gig anyway.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Gary Patterson Wins 2014 Associated Press Coach of the Year Award

TCU Horned Frogs head football coach Gary Patterson was voted 2014 Associated Press College Football Coach of the Year Wednesday, according to AP reporter Ralph D. Russo.

Patterson also won the award in 2009, making he and Nick Saban the only two head coaches to ever take home the honor twice. At just 54 years old, there is plenty of time left to win another as well.

TCU Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Mark Cohen shared more information on Patterson's success:

Despite his excellent performance in 2014, Patterson deflected praise and put it on his team when speaking to Russo, saying, “The head coaches get too much attention. That means really that you had a good team. Good players and really a great coaching staff.”

TCU finished the season with an 11-1 record and amassed an impressive 8-1 record in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 4 in the nation going into the last week of the season, but the College Football Playoff voting committee decided to put the Ohio State Buckeyes into the semifinals instead.

Patterson has kept his team focused all season, and the setback of being passed over for the playoff could result in a lackluster performance from TCU in the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss on New Year’s Eve.

After watching Patterson win the coach of the year award, though, he will be expected to help lead his team to a marquee bowl victory.

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bahamas Bowl 2014: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky Live Score, Highlights

The 2014 Bahamas Bowl between the Central Michigan Chippewas and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers is set for a noon ET kickoff Dec. 24.

Central Michigan (7-5, 5-3 MAC) must overcome the absence of leading rusher Thomas Rawls, who was declared academically ineligible and did not make the trip.

Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 C-USA) boasts the No. 6 scoring offense in the nation, spearheaded by quarterback Brandon Doughty (44 touchdowns) and running back Leon Allen (1,490 yards, 14 TDs).

ESPN will broadcast the matchup. Bleacher Report will provide scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Schedule and Predictions for Upcoming Action

If you're an absolute college football fanatic, then every day from Dec. 22 to Jan. 4—except for Christmas—is a holiday because a bowl game awaits to siphon off any free time not spent with family, friends or at work (although some of those activities will inevitably get combined).

There are 31 bowl games total remaining, and although it's hard to find a rooting interest in many of the games whether it's due to a team's poor finish, a lack of rivalry or just general post-regular season apathy, the action will play out and give observers one last look at teams that will never again exist in their current form.

BYU-Memphis probably didn't sound like a hot ticket to many sports fans when the bowl games were announced, but the two teams combined for 103 points and plenty of fireworks in a Memphis overtime victory.

Here is the updated schedule for the remaining bowl games, complete with predictions for every contest, followed by a closer look at one of the most intriguing non-College Football Playoff matchups to take place in the coming days.

 

Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2 SEC) fell off the national radar after losing to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29, and Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC) never really piqued much interest until they had a shot at knocking off an undefeated Florida State in the ACC title game, but these two teams are more than just also-rans and offer a uniquely competitive matchup that should make for some rough and rugged television viewing.

The Orange Bowl might lack some of its usual luster in the eyes of most fans since it isn't hosting a College Football Playoff game, but that doesn't appear to be an issue for this Mississippi State squad. The Orange Bowl still holds weight.

"We felt this was an unbelievable destination for us to go to," said Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, via The Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com) "If you went and asked all our players to what bowl game they wanted to go, this would be their No. 1 choice."

Fans who've become numb to the explosion of spread offenses and hurry-up, no-huddle attacks can take comfort in settling into the rhythmic, languid pace of the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense, the masterwork of head coach Paul Johnson. 

Who gets in on this multipronged running attack? Just about everyone who doesn't start off each play with a hand on the ground.

Eight different Georgia Tech players racked up at least 200 rushing yards this season, with quarterback Justin Thomas leading the way with 965 rushing yards. Georgia Tech finished second in the nation at 333.6 rushing yards per game. 

When this offense is flowing, it's poetry in motion although running into the teeth of the Bulldogs 25th-ranked rushing defense might see the works gummed up a bit more than usual. The Yellow Jackets faced just two teams that proved to be stauncher against the run than Mississippi State this season: Clemson and Virginia.

Fortunately, Georgia Tech controlled the clock and won both of those games handily behind strong performances from senior running back Synjyn Days and big-play specialist Broderick Snoddy (10.1 yards per carry this season).

The Bulldogs will need big games out of junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney, a strong, disciplined tackler, and defensive lineman Preston Smith, who led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss, per CFBStats.com.

When Mississippi State is on offense, you have the pleasure of watching one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks in Dak Prescott, who could be playing his last game as a Bulldog if the NFL wants him enough. According to The Clarion-Ledger's Michael Bonner, Prescott has received a draft grade from the NFL although he won't reveal the results and remains committed to the task at hand.

"I'm not even focused or paying attention to it," Prescott said, via Bonner, "I'm just worried about Georgia Tech and getting this Orange Bowl win."

The Orange Bowl could be a spectacular sendoff for Prescott, a player who was relatively unheralded prior to this season and brought more attention to Starkville than just about any other player in the program's history.

Ball control will be key for the Yellow Jackets, as Prescott is liable to have a huge game against their soft defense. Georgia Tech ranked 77th in passing efficiency defense and 68th in rushing defense, per NCAA.com.

Florida State's Jameis Winston torched Georgia Tech for 308 yards and three touchdowns in the ACC title game and didn't even establish the threat of running the ball on his own. Prescott and tailback Josh Robinson could prove to be quite a headache for defensive coordinator Ted Roof.

This game could very well come down to special teams. Georgia Tech needs to keep the ball away from Mississippi State and run their offense the way they see fit. It appears they have the weapon to do so, via The (Macon, Georgia) Telegraph's Stan Awtrey:

Georgia Tech ranks dead last in the ACC for the number of punts. The Yellow Jackets have kicked it away only 29 times, 15 fewer than No. 2 Florida State. That number is so low because the offense has been effective at keeping the ball and converting on third downs.

Ryan Rodwell has delivered when needed. He has averaged 40.8 yards per punt, with a long kick of 55 yards. Only two of his punts have resulted in a touchback, and 13 times he has placed the opposition inside the 20. Seven of his kicks have been fielded with a fair catch.

There is plenty for Georgia Tech fans to feel hopeful about heading into this contest, but this game might mean too much to a Bulldogs program that doesn't get too many chances to shine in the national spotlight. Look for Prescott to put in another spectacular performance, leaving fans wondering if it is the last chapter in what should be an unassailable legacy at Mississippi State.


Prediction: Mississippi State 34-28 Georgia Tech

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1 Player to Watch in Every Remaining College Football Bowl Game

It is here, and it is glorious. We’re talking about the 2014 college football bowl season, of course. Ten games in, the postseason football buffet has already produced fantastic finishes, slobberknockers and postgame fisticuffs. And that was just the Miami Beach Bowl!

Starting Friday, 28 bowl games remain on the schedule, plus Jan. 12’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, which will pit the winners of the Rose and Sugar Bowls. You know you’re watching that game. But why should you watch the other 28?

We’re here to help you out. We’ve identified a player to watch in every remaining bowl game. They’re interesting for a variety of reasons, be it skill, chasing records or just importance to the game at hand. Regardless, they’re worth watching.

*Stats for this article were obtained from ESPN.com and individual schools’ statistical websites.

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