NCAA Football

College Football Conference Power Rankings Post Bowl Season

Florida State beat Auburn, 34-31, in the final BCS National Championship Game on Monday evening, snapping the SEC's seven-year reign with the crystal football.

But did it stop the SEC's reign atop the final conference power rankings?

During the last half decade, calling the Southeastern Conference the best in college football has become second nature. The other BCS leagues were always jockeying for second-best, playing on a different, lesser field.

Is that still the case, though? Even after Auburn and Alabama both went down in their BCS bowls, against teams from the ACC and Big 12? Did any conference do enough to raze the SEC's pedestal?

Here's a final look.

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Breaking Down FSU's Game-Winning Drive

The Florida State Seminoles got the ball back with 1:19 to play and 80 yards to go, needing a touchdown to win the BCS National Championship. The team that many people questioned in the clutch would have to prove the doubters wrong if it wanted to hoist the crystal football.

That is exactly what Jimbo Fisher's team did, marching down the field in methodical fashion to score a touchdown and put away Auburn, 34-31 in Pasadena. Fisher bested Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, and in the end, Fisher's team beat out Gus Malzahn's for the coveted trophy.

Florida State started on its own 20-yard line, looking for a way to kick-start its drive. The answer was the game's leading receiver, Rashad Greene. The quick hitter out of this formation gave quarterback Jameis Winston a little confidence and helped get the positives flowing for an offense that had been up and down all night.

Fisher followed up the quick hitter with another quick-ball-out situation for Winston. Auburn's front four had been getting pressure all night, and the sustained success in the FSU passing game had come not from going over the top but from quick passes that allowed the offense to get into a rhythm.

Unlike in most of the game, this slant to Greene would turn into a big play on the strength of a missed tackle. Auburn tackled well in space for much of the BCS Championship Game; however, poor angles led the two Tigers defenders to collide, while Greene squirted out for 49 yards.

After getting gashed and failing to bother Winston two plays in a row, Johnson dialed up the pressure by adding two rushers to the mix in an effort to rattle the Heisman winner. In response, Fisher called a double screen. Kenny Shaw went into motion and ran a wide receiver screen to the left of Winston, and Devonta Freeman set up with the offensive line for a running back screen to the right.

Auburn's Kris Frost, who played a solid game, showed athleticism in rerouting from the blitz to track down Freeman and make a tackle for a gain of just six yards. The screen was set up to go for a touchdown, if Frost had not redirected and used his speed to get to Freeman before the back could get started down the field.

That's three plays, three passes and three completions for Winston, who could not seem to find his targets earlier in the game. On the fourth play, the Seminoles went right back to the well with double slants.

The play worked earlier in the drive to Greene, who went for 49 yards after he slipped two tacklers. This time, Auburn's linebacker, after showing blitz, expanded to stop the quick hitter to Greene, which left the inside slant to Shaw unoccupied and yielded an easy first down.

On the next play, Winston went back to the well again, trying to hit Greene who was moving across the field on a shallow snag route, but the pass fell incomplete. What Winston did not see was a wide-open Freeman, who blew past Frost after stalling in the line to check for pass protection assignments.

After missing the running back in the interior, Winston found him on the checkdown to get to the sideline and put the Seminoles at 3rd-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Of course, the short distance for the first down and ultimately the end zone would be short-lived, thanks to a quick delay-of-game penalty for Winston.

The pass interference on the next play would be the most controversial call of the contest.

All game, the Big Ten officiating crew had let the teams play. The officials let close pass interference calls go on both sides. FSU and Auburn both got away with penalties, including a couple of facemasks and a horse collar that went without flags. Although the refs threw a flag on Freeman's celebratory act, they did not penalize Auburn's Tre Mason for a spike and Heisman pose on a later touchdown.

Given the way the passing game had been officiated all evening, the flag on Auburn's Chris Davis was somewhat questionable. Yes, there was early contact when Davis worked his guide hand on Greene's back in an effort to remain in contact as he swatted at the ball with his other hand. However, it was no more contact than when Jalen Ramsey collided with Auburn's Sammie Coates, which drew no flag.

With the penalty assessed, Florida State only had one thing left to do: find its way into the end zone from the 2-yard line. The 'Noles lined up in big personnel, while Auburn stacked the box and left Kelvin Benjamin outside against Davis.

The big redshirt sophomore climbed the ladder, and both Benjamin and Winston went from not performing up to expectations to being heroes who brought home a title.

This Florida State team answered the bell. In the very situation that people worried the Seminoles would have no answer for, Winston and his teammates prevailed. The 'Noles put it in the haters' faces—no close games all year, no problem.

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College Football: Who Will Be the Best Team in Alabama in 2014?

Will Alabama’s unproven talent be able to measure up to Auburn’s returning experience in 2014?

Coming off the highest-stakes Iron Bowl in series history, the question—which already hovers 365 days a year in Alabama—takes on greater national meaning. 

The two teams met on Nov. 30 with the SEC West in the balance. As it turned out, Auburn’s win propelled the Tigers—with help from Michigan State—into the BCS National Championship Game and ultimately mere seconds away from its second BCS title.

Picturing a similar scenario wherein the Iron Bowl determines the 2014 SEC West doesn’t require an abundance of imagination.

Auburn should be the better team from start to finish next year, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to another win over its nemesis.

With 2013 Home Depot Coach of the Year Gus Malzahn at the helm, Auburn fans have reason to believe their program is just beginning a spectacular run of its own.

Much of Auburn’s talent should return in 2014 as well, led by quarterback Nick Marshall and potentially the entire starting offensive line. Heisman Trophy finalist running back Tre Mason could also choose to return, but seems more likely to declare for the NFL.

Those quick to point out Auburn’s passing deficiencies in 2013 should remember that Marshall has yet to go through a spring practice with Malzahn. Rather than allowing Marshall to progress as a passer during the season—and incurring losses along the way—Malzahn chose to accentuate the Tigers’ strengths, focusing primarily on the run.

Look for Malzahn to install a more sophisticated passing game not so dependent on vertical passes next season.

Auburn’s returning talent seemingly matches up perfectly from a timing perspective with cross-state rival Alabama.

The Crimson Tide graduates quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.

It could also lose several additional key starters who seem likely to forego their senior seasons in favor of the NFL Draft. The list could include offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan.

Don’t shed too many tears for Alabama coach Nick Saban, though.

Thanks to his superb recruiting since setting foot in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide never lacks for talent. Saban currently has Alabama in line to win the 247 recruiting crown again this year.

Coaches all over the country would love the problem of having to replace someone of Mosley’s ability with a five-star stud like Reuben Foster.

The quarterback situation isn’t as clear, though rumors of Florida State backup Jacob Coker leaving the Seminoles to play right away at Alabama persist.

Even Saban, though, seems likely to take a step back while breaking in key starters and a new quarterback.

Malzahn’s team across the state knows the feeling.

The Tigers had to navigate a reasonable early season schedule while figuring out exactly how the coaches could manage to the team’s strengths.

Auburn, of course, won the Iron Bowl, but wasn’t really the “best team in Alabama” for the entire season.

Rather, it was a team that improved and hit its peak at the right time to the point that it could trade punches with—and ultimately defeat—the top-ranked Crimson Tide inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

A similar situation could easily unfold next year.

However, once Saban and his staff get a grip on how to best coach their new collection of players, the Crimson Tide should be hitting on all cylinders by Nov. 29 when Auburn comes to town.

Giving a new quarterback the luxury of being able to hand the ball off to superstar running back T.J. Yeldon and beastly freshman Derrick Henry certainly helps.

Team a dominant run game with Kirby Smart’s ability to simply reload on defense, and forecasting a quick coming-of-age team becomes simpler.

Inexperience could cost Alabama. Road contests at Ole Miss and LSU, especially, loom as potentially difficult tests.

If Alabama can limit its number of missteps, it will find itself in the heart of the College Football Playoff conversation.

Auburn followed a similar blueprint by putting itself in contention for the BCS Championship Game.

The 2014 Iron Bowl might well determine which elite Alabama team reaches the Playoff.

Auburn will be the better, more consistent team in 2014.

None of that matters on Nov. 29, when it battles Alabama inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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News and Notes from Jimbo Fisher's National Title Presentation Press Conference

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The final press conference of the BCS era took place on Tuesday morning, as Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was presented with national championship trophies from the Associated Press, FWAA and National Football Foundation.

How did Fisher celebrate? What did he think of quarterback Jameis Winston's performance? Was Auburn stealing signals?

Let's take a look at some of the final storylines from the final game of the BCS era.

 

Celebrate Good Times

A bleary-eyed Fisher took the stage at the Marriott, fresh off a few hours of sleep and a private celebration.

There was no wild party for the Seminoles' head coach. No private team function at the hotel. No confetti—well, except the small bit leftover from the Rose Bowl field.

Fisher and his inner circle stayed in his hotel room and reflected on what he just accomplished.

"We enjoyed it a little bit last night," Fisher said. "Mainly just come back and had family, and we didn't leave the room, and my mom and my family, my brothers, my friends, and my wife and my kids."

Just how subdued was the celebration?

"We just sat in the room and I half fell asleep, to be honest with you," Fisher said.

I'd say a nap is a deserved after that wild finish.

 

Jameis Winston Saves the Day

Winston's performance in the BCS National Championship Game didn't start out well. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was rattled by an Auburn defensive front that was able to bring pressure and get him off of his launch point early.

He settled down when it mattered most, though, leading his team on an 80-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to give the Seminoles the 34-31 win. 

Winston and the rest of the Seminoles overcame adversity on the field and played their best game of the season.

"The goal was to play our best game on Monday, and you're going to hear me say something that may sound funny to you. I think we did," Fisher said. "I thought our quarterback and our team, and overall—we all played the best game because it wasn't necessarily our 'A' game. We felt jitters, we felt guys wanting to win too much, become outcome oriented and just didn't do some things they did."

 

So, About That Offseason

Now that Winston has won the Heisman Trophy, capped off a 14-0 season and won the national title as a redshirt freshman, what will he do for an encore?

Maintaining a level head is job No. 1. 

Winston is draft-eligible after next season, and will have a full year of people telling him just how great he is before making the decision to jump to the NFL or stay in Tallahassee.

"I think he'll handle it very well. The thing about Jameis, he's a team-oriented guy and he's not worried about the NFL or anything else," Fisher said.

So just how sure is Fisher that Winston may jump? He joked with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd that a jump after the 2014 might not be in the cards.

"Don't assume, Dennis," Fisher said. "You know what assume stands for." 

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Florida State made a subtle adjustment in the second half vs. Auburn when it gave its reserve quarterbacks towels to hide its offensive play calls. Fisher had a hunch that Auburn had caught on to some of its signals, which allowed its defense to be a step ahead.

"They had some of our signals a couple of times," he said. "That's our fault."

Dirty? No, and Fisher agrees.

"You've got to change them, constantly rotate them, being able to get them in different ways. That's part of the game. I don't have a problem with that," he said.

 

Injured Reserve

The wild 18-point comeback and a fourth quarter that included 31 combined points took a toll on the head Seminole himself. 

Fisher was asked if he hurt himself on Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 4:31 left that gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead.

"I did pull a hamstring, but it wasn't on Kermit," Fisher said. "It was on Rashad Greene when he got horse-collared...badly."

Something tells me that crystal football he's bringing home from Southern California is the perfect remedy for a pulled hammy.

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

 


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BCS Championship 2014: Plays That Decided the National Championship

The BCS went out in style on Monday night. The Florida State Seminoles' 34-31 win was one of the most thrilling championship games you'll ever see. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles completed their perfect season by beating a tough and resilient Auburn Tigers team in Pasadena.

There were tons of big plays, but these are the ones that made the Seminoles' title a reality.

 

Marshall Misses an Opportunity

Florida State had to overcome an 18-point first-half deficit to emerge victorious. Before it began its resurgence, an underthrown ball from Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall gave the 'Noles a break.

Check out Marshall failing to get the ball to a wide open Ricardo Louis in the middle of the field. 

This should have been a touchdown. Instead, the Tigers had to punt and Florida State took an early 3-0 lead.

Obviously, Auburn would take control of the game and build a lead, but this was a missed opportunity to make the hill steeper for the Seminoles to climb.

 

Parkey Leaves it Short and Wide

In the second quarter, Cody Parkey missed a 33-yard field goal. Auburn was up 14-3 at the time, but again, this was yet another missed opportunity to pile on.

 

Well-Timed End Around

Just before the end of the first half, the Seminoles were trying to mount a drive. It appeared as though Auburn had forced another Florida State punt. Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher decided to be daring. He faked the punt and ran an end around with Karlos Williams.

The play went for seven yards and extended the drive.

 

Winston is Rumbling and Stumbling

The run by Williams helped set up Winston's rumbling 21-yard scramble that led to a much-needed touchdown before the half. Devonta Freeman's score made the game 21-10 and gave Florida State confidence heading into the second half.

 

Marshall's Poor Decision

After a third-quarter field goal, the 'Noles had cut Auburn's lead to 21-13.

Marshall was good most of the game for Auburn, but this ill-advised throw into double coverage was intercepted by P.J. Williams.

 

Abrams in for the Score

The pick set up this 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram. After the extra point, the lead was trimmed to one, at 21-20.

Auburn's vicious running attack had many of the Florida State defensive linemen worn down. Even with reserves on the field, the Seminoles were able to hold the Tigers to a field goal on the drive after the Abram touchdown.

 

Levonte Goes to the House 

With the score 24-20 Auburn, Levonte Whitfield turned on the jets. He took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the Seminoles their first lead since the first quarter. Florida State led 27-24 with just 4:42 remaining.

 

 

Rashad Greene Turns the Curl into Something Big

After a methodical drive was punctuated by a 37-yard touchdown run from Auburn's Tre Mason, Florida State again trailed 31-27. With just 1:19 remaining in the game, Winston and Co. started their game-winning drive.

The Heisman Trophy winner hit Rashad Greene on a curl route. Greene made a move and turned it into a 49-yard completion. Not enough people are talking about how huge that play was.

 

Hurtful Penalty 

From there, this costly pass interference call against Chris Davis put the ball on the 2-yard line. Davis was a hero in the Iron Bowl with his "Kick-6" return, but he had muffed punts and this key penalty in the BCS title game.

 

Benjamin Goes High

Davis' penalty set the table for the game-winner to Kelvin Benjamin. The 6'6" sophomore is a red-zone threat waiting to happen once he gets to the NFL.

Almost no one like the BCS, but almost everyone had to love this game—except Auburn fans of course.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

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Jameis Winston and Florida State Will Be Favorites to Win It All in 2014-15

The Florida State Seminoles are the final BCS National Champions, and they have to be the early front-runners for next year's title as well.

It's tough to repeat in any sport. It's probably even harder in the realm of collegiate athletics, but with 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate, Jameis Winston, head coach Jimbo Fisher and a talented core returning, the 'Noles are looking pretty good for the 2014 season.

Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports isn't ready to call them the favorites, but he thinks they will at least be very tough to beat. He writes:

With four spots available for a playoff spot next season, Florida State should start high enough in the rankings to put themselves in a good position to grab one of the spots. Can they be as dominant as they were on a weekly basis in 2014? The odds would suggest not, but they will still be a darn tough team for most teams to beat.

Here's a look at the 'Noles on both sides of the ball next season.

 

On Offense

Turnovers on the offensive side of the ball could be an issue for the Seminoles in 2014. Junior offensive lineman Cameron Erving, one of three junior running backs (James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams) and junior tight end Nick O'Leary could leave the team for the NFL.

Senior receiver Kenny Shaw and center Bryan Stork are surely gone, but the Seminoles will still have protection and weapons to boost Winston.

Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene should be back. He and sophomore Kelvin Benjamin will be the leaders of a fierce and experienced receiving corps. Freshman Levonte Whitfield is very dynamic, and he proved that with his 100-yard kickoff return in the BCS title game.

It seems only a matter of time before he becomes a consistent playmaker from the line of scrimmage, as well as on special teams. 

Perhaps not all three junior running backs will bolt. Whomever stays will likely be the feature back for Florida State in 2014.

The offensive line is one of the biggest concerns. The Seminoles allowed more than two sacks per game this season. In the first half against Auburn, Winston was under durress.

If Erving joins Stork in the NFL, it will make the job of protecting Winston harder.

That being said, Florida State has players who are seemingly capable of stepping in for Stork and Erving—should he leave.

Juniors Tre' Jackson and Austin Barron are likely to return. That duo combined with sophomore Ruben Carter will help to maintain the chemistry of the unit.

 

On Defense

The Seminoles' defense was nasty in 2013. They had the third-ranked defense in the nation this season.

An already stellar unit could be even better next season. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and third-year linebacker, Christian Jones are probably going to the next level, but Florida State is deep, athletic and well coached. 

Underclassmen like Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr., Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe are superstars waiting to explode. That group combined for 8.5 sacks heading into the title game. Based on pure potential, they have the talent to make Florida State even tougher to beat in 2014.

 

Jimbo is Back

The Seminoles were able to accomplish everything they did this season in large part due to the direction of Fisher. With the 48-year-old signing an extension to remain the Seminoles head coach for at least three more years, the future looks especially bright for Florida State.

Fisher has built this program to withstand the attrition. He told Bob Ferrante of Fox Sports: 

We had 11 guys drafted last year, 14 guys signed pro contracts. We're able to come back with the senior leadership and some young guys that incorporate the program and our assistant coaches. And that's what we want. We want to be a program, not a team.

Per 247 Sports, the 'Noles have the fourth-best recruiting class this year. Expect to see the program stay in the top five or higher for the next three to five years—at least.

 

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Auburn vs FSU 2014: Breaking Down Wild BCS Title Finish

The BCS National Championship game between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers had one of the wildest finishes since Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns past the USC Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but so much happened at the end that it's almost hard to keep track of.

Despite being down 21-3 in the first half, the Seminoles found a way to come back and win 34-31 over the Tigers. Jameis Winston was named the MVP of the game, completing 20 of his 35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Tre Mason was also terrific for the Tigers, however, putting up 237 total yards and two touchdowns.

The fourth quarter is where things got interesting. Down 21-13, the Seminoles were able to drive down the field with Winston capping off the drive with a 11-yard touchdown to Chad Abram. Down two, the Seminoles could have gone for a two-point conversion, but a rather controversial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Devonta Freeman forced them to kick an extra point instead.

AL.com's Andrew Gribble gave us Nick Saban's reaction to the penalty.

After a 22-yard field goal from Auburn's Cody Parkey, it was 24-20 for the Tigers, meaning that the Seminoles had to score a touchdown to go ahead. It didn't take long for them to do that, as Levonte Whitfield was able to burn past Auburn on this exciting 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The return left a lot of time for the Tigers to drive down the field, and they did just that. They were able to go on a drive that lasted more than three minutes and went 75 yards, ending on this 37-yard touchdown from Mason to put Auburn up 31-27 with just 1:19 remaining.

But Winston wouldn't go down quietly. He led his team down the field before finally finding Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone for the two-yard score to help give the Seminoles the national title.

According to ESPN, Winston went six-of-seven for 77 yards and that touchdown on the game-winning drive, proving to the nation that he could step up when it mattered.

Overall, it was an incredible ending to a great game, and it's one that Florida State fans likely won't ever forget.

Note: All videos courtesy of ESPN.com

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Love It or Hate It, BCS Format Delivered More Often Than Not

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The BCS was more than a grand experiment. It was a bold attempt to break with college football's past, a system that was designed to remove the "mythical" prefix from the "national championship" through a novel concept of settling the title debate on the field.

By and large, the BCS was a success.

"I’m proud of our track record and I’m proud of the BCS," executive director Bill Hancock said Monday morning at the annual awards breakfast of the Football Writers Association of America. "It matched No. 1 and 2, enhanced the regular reason, improved the bowl system and introduced new schools to top-tier bowl games."

The BCS era ended Monday night with a spectacular finale at the Rose Bowl, in which Florida State overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat Auburn, 34-31, to complete a perfect season. While Hancock called the 16-year run "a golden era for college football," I probably would stop a bit short of that, even though you can count me as a late convert.

In the initial years, the BCS was fraught with problems. The first seven years of the BCS were wracked with controversy, as I've chronicled in the ongoing review series. The cause of all that could be squarely placed on one single thing—the convoluted first version of the BCS standings.

There was the Miami-FSU controversy in 2000, Nebraska fiasco in 2001 and then the mother of all debacles in 2003 when No. 1-ranked USC was left out of the BCS title game. The standings would undergo four revisions in five years until it settled on the final format in 2004.

That's when the BCS wised up. It quit monkeying around with the standings. And when Hancock, who built his reputation by running the NCAA basketball tournament for 13 years, came on board in 2005, the BCS finally had a trusted spokesman. It stopped knee-jerk reacting to every complaint or grievance and just let the public judge it on the outcome that was produced.

In that regard, the last nine years of the BCS, which began on the same Rose Bowl field with a different epic finish—Texas' 41-38 victory over USC—were better than just qualified success. There were minor controversies but no major meltdowns, and the championship matchups proved mostly just.

Had the BCS just used its final formula for all 16 years...heck, had the BCS just matched the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in both the AP and coaches' polls every season, it never would've had to experience the massive growing pains of its initial years.

And now, as the BCS is consigned to the ash heap of history, to be replaced by the College Football Playoff next season, its legacy will remain unsettled for some time. Was it a stepping stone toward a multi-team playoff that inevitably will go from four to eight to even 16? Or was it the best college football could've done, leaving CFP and its successors to only ruin the best regular season in sports?

This much we do know: For better or worse, the BCS made an enormous amount of cash for college football's major conferences and their members, and raised the sport's profile manifold, as it is now only second to the NFL in America.

Without the BCS, there would never have been the 12-year, $7.3 billion contract ESPN signed to bankroll the CFP. The "golden age" of college football indeed.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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What Charlie Strong's Hire Means for Texas Recruiting

Charlie Strong has left Louisville to become the 29th head coach at Texas.

Strong left the Cardinals after four seasons, leading them to four consecutive bowl appearances, including a huge upset win over Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.

Strong brings a tough attitude to the Longhorns; he is known for his hard-nosed style of coaching and being a relentless recruiter.

What does Strong's hire in Austin mean to recruiting for Texas going forward? What are current commits saying? How are top targets reacting to Strong? Where will this recruiting class end up?

Bleacher Report's Reese Waters spoke with Horns247 recruiting analyst Jeff Howe (@JeffHowe247) to break down the latest with Texas recruiting.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Bidding Farewell to 2013: The Year of the Underdog in College Football

Florida State may have emerged as the victors of the 2014 BCS National Championship, but there’s no doubt about who the 2013 college football season really belonged to: the underdogs.

In fact, BCS title runner-up Auburn was a mere 1:15 away from adding an exclamation point at the end of that statement.

Sure, the Seminoles seemingly restored order, snuffing out the Tigers’ magical season, 34-31, in one of the most thrilling national title matches ever. However, who can honestly say they pegged Auburn to even make it to this point?

If you recall, this was a team that was coming off a 3-9 season in 2012—winless in SEC play—and getting acquainted to a new head coach.

Next thing you know, the Tigers string together 12 wins, go 5-1 against Top 25 opponents and capture an improbable SEC title. More impressively, the team did it all with pretty much the same cast of characters from a year ago.

Somehow, first-year head coach Gus Malzahn took an Auburn offense akin to a busted up Honda Civic and fixed it up into a Ferrari.

Typically, such a transformation would be considered mind-boggling. But in 2013, we’ve come to recognize it as the norm.

From the opening kickoff to the Tigers’ last-ditch laterals in the final seconds of the BCS title game, underdogs had their handprints all over this college football season.

The FCS drew first blood back in Week 1 when two of their schools—North Dakota State and Eastern Washington—escaped with victories. The Bison rallied from a 21-7 deficit to shock 2012 Big 12 champion Kansas State, 24-21, while the Eagles became just the third FCS school to beat a Top 25 opponent, knocking off then-No. 25 Oregon State, 49-46.

Georgia Southern would later add its name to the list, embarrassing national powerhouse Florida, 26-20, in Week 13. The kicker: The Gators fell short even without conceding a single completion.

But upsets were aplenty in the FBS as well.

However, it wasn’t all negative, as several programs made significant turnarounds in 2013.

Aside from Auburn; Missouri, Duke, Arizona State, Michigan State and Baylor all had renaissance years. The six teams finished with a combined record of 68-15.

In comparison, they combined for a mark of 37-39 in 2012.

Three of those teams—Auburn, Michigan State and Baylor—emerged as conference champions while the other three made an appearance in their respective conference title games.

Furthermore, three mid-major conferences boasted success stories of their own. Bowling Green (MAC), Rice (C-USA) and Fresno State (MWC) all captured outright conference titles for the first time in over two decades. In the Owls’ case, it was the program’s first conference crown since 1957.

But the underdogs weren’t content with just a starring role in the regular season, they wanted the spotlight during the bowl schedule as well.

And it’s hard to argue that they didn’t have it.

Out of the 35 bowls, the underdogs finished 16-19, via VegasInsider.com. That’s up from the 11-24 mark they had in each of the two previous bowl seasons and the 10-23 record from 2010-11.

More impressively, things took quite the turn in 2014:

That success only increased during the BCS bowls:

While victories from Clemson (+3) and Michigan State (+7) weren’t all that surprising, the same can’t be said about the accomplishments of heavy underdogs UCF (+16.5) and Oklahoma (+17). Both teams were expected to lose by two touchdowns and that was being generous.

Instead, the Knights and the Sooners each played the role of David to perfection, knocking down their respective Goliaths with authority.

Although Auburn fell just short of its ultimate goal on Monday night, the team’s performance served as the metaphorical cherry on top of a phenomenal season for all underdogs. One that will surely have heavy favorites in future seasons thinking twice before taking their opponents lightly.

History will look back at the Tigers as the losers of the 2014 BCS National Championship.

But to underdogs all across the nation, the 2013 Auburn football team will be forever remembered as hope that anything truly is possible.

 


All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Best Tweets from Florida State vs. Auburn for the BCS Championship

We saw the final BCS title game on Monday night, and boy was it a great one. 

The Florida State Seminoles took down the Auburn Tigers in the most entertaining championship game of recent memory. Freshman quarterback and the most recent Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, led the Noles to victory with a touchdown pass in the final minute of the game, wrapping up a historic night for Florida State.

It was the largest comeback in championship history, and was the storybook ending FSU was hoping for. 

They were far from the favored team in this matchup, but proved able to take down the dynasty that the SEC was building after they claimed four straight titles. Lee Corso always believed in them, however.

If you missed the game or stopped watching after the first half, then you missed out as it was a truly a tale of two halves with this one. In the beginning, Auburn dominated, which only brought out some struggling faces from the Seminole fan base.

The tides started to turn for Winston and his squad in the second half, and it all started with the freshman. On this, his 20th birthday, Winston fought tooth and nail to will his team back in this game. He ran the ball, he threw the ball and he hit a picture-perfect Heisman pose.

Winston's heroics were highlighted by his game-winning touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin, a moment that will forever live in college football history (although Nick Marshall wasn't too amused by it).

 

 

The game was over. Florida State had won.

The celebration began for the Noles as players, coaches and fans all stormed onto the field. One of the most meaningful embraces of the night came when Winston and his head coach, Jimbo Fisher, met in the middle of the field.

This game marked the first time a non-SEC team defeated an SEC team in a title game in over 15 years. Although the confetti that rained down was Seminole colors, one could argue that the true winner of Monday night's game was a member of the New England Patriots.

Winston was able to finish on top this season amidst all the criticism, and completed arguably the best freshman season anyone's ever had. It's a little too early to call him a legend in my opinion, but he did have one hell of a year.

Given the fact that Fisher just inked a new contract extension and Winston's college career is just beginning, this might not be the last time we see these two hold a crystal football. 

It's also rather plausible that Auburn will return to the big game as well. A good chunk of their starters will be returning and they will have another year with Gus Malzahn under their belt. Both teams will be dangerous moving forward and will both be in contention next year. 

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Players Who Helped or Hurt 2014 NFL Draft Stock in BCS National Championship

The Florida State Seminoles emerged victorious over the Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship, but several players on both sides boosted their NFL draft stock in the process.

As Tigers running back Tre Mason had a massive game, he and his top offensive lineman will see their stock soar. FSU's elite wide receiving corps saw two players secure big performances as well.

The two biggest boosts might have come along the teams' defensive fronts, as both Dee Ford and Timmy Jernigan turned in exemplary efforts.

Click on for a breakdown of how the NFL draft stock changed hands at the Rose Bowl.

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Florida State's BCS National Championship Shirts Had Auburn Winning

Hopefully, Florida State fans that rushed to buy a BCS National Championship T-shirt on Monday night double-checked the score on the shirt before purchasing one.

The shirt that was being sold at Florida State’s Seminole Shop had Auburn winning 34-31 instead of the other way around. 

Don't fret, FSU fans—the shirt's design has since been fixed.

Thanks to Lost Lettermen for the photo. 

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Tim Tebow Proves He Has Potential as ESPN College Football Analyst

Tim Tebow made his official debut as a college football analyst for ESPN as part of its coverage of the BCS National Championship on Monday afternoon.

And as with everything else that he has ever done since his freshman year at Florida, Tebow was both heavily scrutinized and praised by different media outlets.

Was he perfect? No. Was he nervous? Clearly. But what his analysis on point? Yes, it most certainly was.

All in all, Tebow proved, if nothing else, that he knows how to break down the game of college football—was that ever in doubt?—and that he looks especially dapper in a grey suit and purple tie. Here's a quick clip via ESPN:

Dropping the word "homeostasis" obviously earns Tebow a few brownie points, but the stammering afterward shows that even he was surprised he got the word out correctly. Other than the fact that it's really not necessary—camaraderie would have worked just fine—it can throw off the audience as well.

But let's be honest, it was certainly much better than his first appearance as a member of the New York Jets:

Putting aside both the pauses to search for words and attempts to overachieve, Tebow's overall analysis was spot on. While he spent much of his first appearance talking about his time as a college football player, that won't last long.

One of the best pieces of analysis that Tebow gave before the BCS National Championship kicked off was when he said the Auburn running game would stay simple and have success. Thanks to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, here is the quote from Tebow himself:

They only run a few plays, but they run them from a lot of different formations, and they disguise them very well. They run counter, they run power, they run jet sweep and they run inside zone. They've done those plays thousands and thousands of times. So when you're coming into a game with a lot of pressure, a lot of hype, a lot of nerves, it's easy to do something you've done (a lot), rather than going into a game with a lot of adjustments and a lot of new plays. That's why I think they'll come out playing fast.

Literally the first play of the game was Auburn running back Tre Mason rushing for 11 yards on a simple formation. The final touchdown of the game for the Tigers came on a bruising rush by Mason to put them back on top.

Though the Tigers weren't able to pull out the game, Mason finished with 195 rushing yards and two total touchdowns thanks, in large part, to several rushes out of the power formation and multiple sweep plays. Needless to say, Tebow was right on point that Gus Malzahn would simply play his game.

Then there was Tebow's prediction of the final score of the game, also provided by Goodbread:

Auburn might be a team of destiny, but tonight, Florida State is deeper from top to bottom. When Jameis Winston and Telvin Smith's leadership in the fourth quarter, I think they win 35-31.

OK, wait a minute. The actual final score was Florida State coming out on top 34-31. In a game where nearly every analyst predicted for both teams to surpass 40 points—myself included, predicting a final of Florida State 56, Auburn 45—Tebow missed in his prediction by one point.

Apart from just his evaluation of the outcome or how he believed the Tigers would attack Florida State in the biggest game of their season, Tebow showed that he is comfortable with the microphone and should make for a great analyst on the SEC Network when it officially kicks off on Aug. 28.

No analyst is perfect and certainly not on their first day. But with time and coaching, the former Heisman winner and NFL journeyman certainly has a shot at making a career out of being an analyst. It should be exciting to watch.

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fact: Florida State set a new single-season FBS scoring record with 723 points. The previous high was 716 points by Oklahoma in 2008. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: Natalie Pierre

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Michigan Football: Wolverines Can't Afford to Sleep on Dennis Norfleet in 2014

At 5’8” and 175 pounds, Dennis Norfleet doesn’t embody a typical college running back.

In fact, the Michigan Wolverines junior-to-be doesn’t resemble a Big Ten runner, let alone one who his program is known for—a 200-pound bruiser with adequate speed and downhill tendencies.

Norfleet is completely the opposite, actually.

Shifty, elusive and incredibly difficult to tackle, he’s nearly impossible to spot on the field during live action. What he lacks in size is more than made up for with his 4.39-second 40-yard dash speed.

Whether through punt returns or screen passes, Norfleet’s well-rounded skill will benefit Team 135 next fall.

But he can do more than that, and offensive coordinator Al Borges would do himself a favor by further incorporating the former 247Sports 4-star prep into the game plan.

 

Top Gear Norfleet

If Norfleet was a video game character, he’d be Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s famous 16-bit blue blur. Instead of tearing up landscapes looking for gold coins, Norfleet flies down sidelines looking for touchdowns.

So far, he’s yet to return a punt for six points. But it’s going to happen. Just wait.

Prior to Michigan’s 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to K-State, Borges praised Norfleet’s abilities and work ethic, telling reporters (via MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner) that the former Detroit Martin Luther King star would quickly adapt to the role of pass-catcher instead of ball-runner:

He's a ball of energy. He's getting better all the time, he's quick as a cat. Always a full-speed effort, he blocks hard.

With Dennis, once he really gets acclimated to the position, he's going to be a really good slot (receiver).

Using Norfleet everywhere is the best course of action. Full of potential, he’s too athletic to peg into one hole. He’s a running back by trade, but he’s more than suited for the position vacated by senior Jeremy Gallon, who had a record-setting 2013.

Versatility is a plus.

Borges’ scheme would flourish with Norfleet manning two spots during any given drive. Should Borges dial up a pass on first down, Norfleet would be a phenomenal option out of the backfield; he doesn’t necessarily have to take the line of scrimmage in order to be an effective receiver.

That being said, he’d be just as effective in the slot position—that’s where his lack of size would quickly become an advantage. Crossing routes would likely be his best friend. He’s too short to be a legitimate deep threat.

However, he perfectly fits into plans as a combo-back/receiver. Call him Michigan's Swiss Army Knife of the gridiron. 

 

By the Numbers

Note: The above video shows Norfleet during his junior year at MLK. Despite being a few years old, the video serves as a reference to Norfleet's overall skill set. 

According to ESPN, Norfleet averaged 23.5 yards per kick return (long of 44), putting him within the top 50—barely, he was No. 49—in that category.

On the surface, Norfleet’s punt-return average was horrible—a mere 0.3 yards per touch. However, he only fielded three punts. A threat to take it to the house at nearly every turn, given more opportunities, Norfleet could rake in about 20 yards per attempt.

In 2013, North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer led the FBS with an average of 20.1 yards per return (25 attempts).

Further demonstrating his athleticism and ability to change games, Norfleet, when gauging total offense, was good for 13.25 yards per play, according to CFBStats.com.

Perhaps a more accurate gauge of his threatening tendencies, Norfleet’s all-purpose running average of 19.5 yards per play commands immediate attention.

Norfleet wasn't a major component of Team 134's overall scheme. But that should change in 2014. Replacing Gallon at the slot will be a task, but fueling a backfield that's saying goodbye to Fitz Toussaint will also be a goal for Norfleet, one of the most underutilized players in college football. 

 

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

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USC Football Recruiting: 8 Current Commits Who Will Contribute as Freshmen

Earlier this week, I published a slideshow which outlined five of the biggest offseason concerns for new Trojans head coach, Steve Sarkisian.

One of those concerns listed was the need for Sarkisian to identify true freshmen who could contribute immediately for USC in 2014.

The reason for Sark to find those youngsters who can see the field early is obvious to any fan of the program, and it has everything to do with the sanctions that have been imposed by that—ahem—August college governing body, the NCAA.

Operating with a reduced roster, USC will need to get healthy bodies on the field of play this season, and that includes as many true freshmen as possible.

This slideshow will look at some of these recruits who have given USC their verbal commitment and the likelihood of their playing in 2014.

Can the Trojans count on these young players in a year when they might be needed badly?

Time will tell, but here are some likely candidates to help out the men of Troy.

 

Note:

Profiles are provided by Scout.com, and this list does not include Austin Maloata, Malik Dorton and Uchenna Nwosu, all of whom are listed as "soft verbals."

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USC Football Recruiting: 8 Current Commits Who Will Contribute as Freshmen

Earlier this week, I published a slideshow which outlined five of the biggest offseason concerns for new Trojans head coach, Steve Sarkisian ...

Begin Slideshow

Tim Tebow Nearly Predicts Final BCS Championship Score; Freak out Accordingly

Like giddy kids on Christmas morning, ESPN couldn't wait to bust out its new toy and play with it. Apparently, this version of Tim Tebow might be able to foretell the future. 

Deadspin's Timothy Burke did what he does best and caught a small but extremely interesting slice of the big game Monday night. That video was picked up off YouTube by Complex Sports, so we tip our hat once to both. 

As for details, it's really quite simple. Tebow, with his ability to see through time like many of you peek out the window, nearly hit the bull's-eye when it came to the final score of the BCS National Championship Game, which ultimately saw Florida State beat Auburn, 34-31. 

As you will see and hear in the video above, Tebow offers his assessment prior to kickoff: "With Jameis Winston and Telvin Smith's leadership in the fourth quarter, I think they win 35-31."

That's scarier than the first time I realized I paid money to watch Paranormal Activity—spooky, even. 

If Tebow were allowed to continue, he might have regaled the audience with what they were going to have for dinner that night, or perhaps given us the results of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. 

Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch reported on Dec. 30 that ESPN had hired the former NFL quarterback to join its SEC Network. 

ESPN wasted no time in getting its favorite athlete onto the air, featuring him in an odd Trent Dilfer vignette that insinuated Tebow had finally turned a corner and was closer than ever to being the NFL quarterback that general managers would want on their rosters. 

And then ESPN had Tebow offer his opinions ahead of the BCS championship game. For lack of a better word, Tebow was, well, swell

He was informative, concise, charming and assertive—if not just a touch nervous. When you consider one of his first assignments was to analyze the biggest college football game of the year, he did a darn good job. In fact, we are confident this Tebow guy will excel in his new gig. 

If you weren't already sold, NFL.com's Chase Goodbread went through some of Tebow's pregame assertions and matched them with the end result. The verdict? Tebow no longer has any accuracy issues.

There is no need to play another season. We now have the Tebow machine to spit out the results well ahead of time. 

 

Hit me up on Twitter

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FSU vs. Auburn: How Game Compares to Other BCS Championships

It wasn't the best BCS Championship game. It wasn't the most bizarre. And it certainly wasn't the most hyped or compelling matchup coming in.

Heck, for large portions of the game, it wasn't even that captivating. But oh, that finish. Florida State's 34-31 victory over Auburn was highlighted by the team's 21 fourth-quarter points (and 10 from Auburn), leading to one of the finest quarters in the history of the BCS national championship.

It had a little of everything. Jameis Winston added to his legend, leading Florida State to a comeback win and capping his Heisman season. There were memorable plays—Kermit Whitfield's kick return, Tre Mason's tackle-breaking touchdown run just minutes later—memorable players and, finally, the end of the SEC's domination atop the college football world.

And, if nothing else, we'll always remember this game as the swan song of the BCS, as college football finally reverts to a playoff system starting next season.

So how do we judge it amongst the other BCS title games?

Sure, this game can't compare to the 2005 championship between Texas and USC, arguably the greatest game in college football history. In that back-and-forth contest, Vince Young led the Longhorns past Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and the insanely talented Trojans, 41-38.

Keep in mind that USC went into the season as the No. 1 team and Texas was No. 2, and it stayed that way the entire season. Or that USC had two Heisman winners (Leinart and Bush). Young won it on a touchdown scamper with seconds remaining, capping off a night when he accumulated an amazing 467 yards from scrimmage, including 200 rushing yards and three rushing scores.

In every sense of the word, it was epic. And it is unquestionably the finest BCS Championship game ever.

This game didn't have the incredible ending of the 2002 iteration between Ohio State and Miami, either. That game went into overtime, was affected by a terrible pass interference call in the end zone and had a pretty shocking result. Miami was chock-full of future NFL players and had won the title the year before.

On most lists of BCS title games, this one would justifiably earn the No. 2 ranking.

As bizarre games go, the 2010 BCS Championship between Cam Newton's Auburn and Chip Kelly's Oregon takes the cake. While the game itself wasn't terribly memorable, the key play on the final drive was Michael Dyer's long run after the entire stadium thought he had been tackled. 

Play to the whistle, kids.

There were more hyped matchups: Obviously, USC versus Texas. Wire-to-wire No. 1 Florida State in the 1999 championship game against Michael Vick's Virginia Tech. Alabama and LSU playing in a rematch two seasons ago, even if that matchup earned the nation's ire.

But let's be honest, those were clearly the two best teams in the country.

While Winston seems destined to be a star, we've seen bigger ones on this stage (at least at that time in college football). Newton. Vick. Tim Tebow. Leinart, Bush and Young.

But when you add everything together, this was a top-three BCS championship. Texas and USC can't be touched, while the finish and upset of Ohio State defeating Miami will always be iconic. But after that, the fourth quarter of this year's BCS Championship vaults it to the No. 3 spot.

A last-second, game-winning touchdown. A fourth quarter that saw three lead changes. A kick return for a touchdown. The Heisman winner leading his team to three touchdowns down the stretch. 

It was one of the finest quarters you'll see, and despite being a less-than-thrilling matchup in the pantheon of great college football games, it turned out to be an excellent contest. Remember this game fondly, folks—in a see of underwhelming BCS Championships, this game was pretty special.

 

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