NCAA Football

Rose Bowl Performance Has Connor Cook Poised to Be Big Ten's Best QB in 2014

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook just put the nation on notice with his monstrous performance in the Spartans' 24-20 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Get used to seeing Cook in the spotlight, and don't be surprised if he emerges as the Big Ten's best signal-caller in 2014.

The sophomore from Ohio, who's rated by CBS Sports as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL draft class, torched the Stanford Cardinal defense to the tune of 332 yards, a season high, and two touchdowns. 

Those numbers are the best that any Big Ten quarterback has put up in the bowl season so far, with only Braxton Miller from Ohio State left to play. 

With Miller graduating, the stage is set for Cook to take the throne as the conference's best gunslinger. 

In all honesty, he was widely underrated in the 2013 season. He didn't have a single multi-interception game all year, he threw for at least 200 yards eight times and had seven games with two or more touchdown passes. 

In the Big Ten, among quarterbacks who attempted at least 300 passes (seven players), Cook threw the fewest interceptions with just five. 

Before the Rose Bowl, his best showing was against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship, when Ohio State was one win away from a national title berth. 

In that game, Cook threw for a then-season-high 304 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 34-24 win. 

Among Cook's competitors for the title of the conference's best quarterback will be Christian Hackenberg from Penn State, Nate Sudfeld from Indiana and either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris, whoever ends up winning the Michigan job in the offseason. 

But all of those teams are on a downslide, while Michigan State is looking like a possible national title contender next season. 

If the Spartans want to have a chance at playing for a national title next season, it'll be Connor Cook to take them there. 

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Texas Football Recruiting: 10 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

The high school football all-star games are about to kick off with Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game and Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. These two games bring in the best high school prospects in the country and will feature a handful of the top targets making their college decisions live on TV.

The University of Texas has offered more than 30 athletes competing in the two all-star games, but nine of those either plan to commit to Texas or are still in the mix to land on the 40 Acres.

Here's a look at whom to watch in the high school all-star games.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Conservative Cardinal Own Worst Enemy vs. Michigan State

Stanford hasn’t lost much in the three seasons David Shaw has been head coach. The Cardinal’s 24-20 loss against Michigan State in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl was just their seventh in Shaw’s tenure, but a recurring critique from the more recent Stanford stumbles is the coach’s offensive play-calling.  

Shaw didn’t deviate from the game plan that carried Stanford to a second consecutive Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance. The Cardinal stepped up toe-to-toe with Michigan State’s ballyhooed defense for a throwback slugfest, and the Spartans punched just a little bit harder.

Aside from Tyler Gaffney’s 47-yard carry in the first quarter and touchdown rush on the game's opening drive, Michigan State showed exactly why it’s the nation's premier rush defense by rendering Gaffney a non-factor much of the day.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Gaffney carried 24 times for 91 yards, a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. Take away his big gainer, and his average was half that. 

When Gaffney couldn't get free taking handoffs from quarterback Kevin Hogan, Shaw lined the running back up in a single wing, or Wildcat. The formation has been a point of contention between Shaw and his naysayers for all three of his seasons leading the Cardinal. 

Gaffney defended the Wildcat just this week when asked at his Rose Bowl press conference, per GoStanford.com

"I love the [W]ildcat," Gaffney said. "It gives you an opportunity to be an athlete. You get the ball, you see there's not just one hole drawn up. There can be multiple. You hit it with everything you've got and hope for the best."

Gaffney was Stanford’s top offensive playmaker throughout 2013. He led the way for the Cardinal with 1,618 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns coming into the Rose Bowl. Shaw chose to stick with the one who brought him to the dance.

But while rushing Gaffney behind Stanford's outstanding offensive line pounded speed-based Oregon and blitz-happy Arizona State into submission, Michigan State gave no quarter. 

Going away from Gaffney offered the Stanford offense no relief, however.

On Stanford's final possession and facing 3rd-and-2, a Gaffney rush out of a shotgun handoff fell short. In a jumbo package on fourth down, Shaw called fullback Ryan Hewitt's number. It was Hewitt's first carry of the game, and Stanford's last offensive snap of the season. 

That Stanford’s five losses in the last two seasons have all been by single digits makes it easier to put every decision under a microscope. Such was the case in a 20-17 loss at USC on Nov. 16, as well as a 27-21 defeat at Utah on Oct. 12. 

The narrative in those Pac-12 tilts, however, was that Shaw went away from Gaffney in calling for Hogan to pass more. He threw 27 passes at Utah and 25 at USC, including a critical red-zone interception in the latter.

Hogan passed 18 times against Michigan State, completing 10, including his first attempt, a 43-yard connection with Michael Rector. Hogan also found Devon Cajuste on a 51-yarder in the third quarter.

Otherwise, big plays were hard to come by against Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" secondary. 

Stanford receivers dropped a few passes. Hogan's lone interception went through Rector's hands and landed in Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes'. It was a difficult play for Rector in double-coverage, but as indicative of Stanford's inability to mount much offense as Gaffney's snuffed-out rushes. 

Certainly some of the Cardinal's offensive anemia is due to the conservative approach. 

But play-calling was not the only reason Stanford lost. Hardly. 

The Spartans defense answered the bell against a stout offense and lived up to its billing. The offense also found a way to do just against against a Stanford defense that played admirably and kept a Cardinal victory within reach. 

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook stepped up against the outstanding Cardinal defense, sustaining drives with his poise in the pocket. 

When Stanford's pass rush reached Cook—and it happened often—he was able to get the ball out quickly. He was also unfazed by throwing a first-half interception returned for touchdown. 

The Spartans made more plays than Stanford, something that has happened all of seven times in Shaw's career. But with an offseason to marinate on his team's Rose Bowl loss, Shaw will have an opportunity to make additions to his playbook to perhaps bridge that gap.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Conservative Cardinal Own Worst Enemy vs. Michigan State

Stanford hasn ’t lost much in the three seasons David Shaw has been head coach. The Cardinal’s 24-20 loss against Michigan State in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl was ...

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Rose Bowl 2014: Mark Dantonio Takes Place Among College Football's Elite Coaches

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has become one of college football's elite coaches almost overnight. A 24-20 win over David Shaw's Stanford program in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday solidifies his standing among the best in college football.

He has turned into the Spartans' best coach since 1953—even better than Nick Saban, Duffy Daugherty and Denny Stolz when they were in East Lansing.

And he's done it by building his team into a legitimate national title contender. The only issue with an elite status is that Texas could come calling, and Michigan State needs to make sure he's locked up for years.

There's a group of talented coaches out there known as college football's elite. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong, David Shaw, Jimbo Fisher and now Mark Dantonio are just a half-dozen members in this elite group.

These coaches have been built up their teams and turned them into conference champions and national title contenders. Dantonio has done just that in East Lansing. In fact, he's taken a team that was 4-8 the year before he took over and turned it into one that could have been in the national title game in 2013.

But this all started when he took over the job in 2007. Since then, Michigan State has been in a bowl every single year. After a mediocre first three years under Dantonio when the Spartans went 7-6, 9-4 and 6-7 and lost in bowl games each year, they took a massive leap into a regular conference title contender.

Over the past four seasons, the Spartans have won 11 games or more three times. They have won two conference titles and their division within the conference once. On top of that, they've won three of their past four bowl games.

Great coaches take mediocre teams and build them into squads that are in the national title conversation. With Michigan State at 13-1 and winning the Big Ten Conference in 2013, it would have been a primary target if Florida State had lost to Duke in the ACC title game. Michigan State would have also been a prime candidate for the new College Football Playoff that is coming in 2014.

Dantonio's Spartans aren't mediocre anymore. They aren't even close. And that's a testament to their head coach. A head coach who led them to their first Rose Bowl berth—and victory—since 1988. This Rose Bowl win is just an exclamation point to the job that Dantonio has done—an elite one.

 

Could Texas come calling?

Speaking of mediocre programs that need some coaching help, Texas is in the middle of a long coaching search. While it would be a long shot for the Longhorns to offer the job to Dantonio, he would be a great fit for the role of Mack Brown's successor.

Dantonio understands how to build a defense that can compete with anyone and slow down even the best offenses. With Texas' resources, it could easily pay for any sort of buyout that would be in Dantonio's new contract, according to an ESPN report.

Texas should try to sign Dantonio to a contract before Michigan State can extend him. Unfortunately, the Longhorns won't have the same foresight to hire a defensive-minded head coach from Michigan State whom LSU had back in 2000. That time, the coach was Nick Saban.

 

All stats used are either from ESPN or CFBStats.com. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.

Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.

Follow @ScottCarasik

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Rose Bowl: Are Michigan State Spartans Legit National Title Contenders in 2014?

For Michigan State fans, it's bittersweet to wonder what might have been; to picture what might have happened without a few phantom pass-interference calls at Notre Dame in September. But it's fun as heck to wonder what might be.

The Spartans beat Stanford, 24-20, in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night, refusing to be content with merely playing in Pasadena for the first time since 1988. A four-point margin was hardly indicative of the performance, either. They physically dominated a team that was billed as physically dominant, and they did so on both sides of the ball.

By every objective metric, 2013 was a rousing success for Michigan State—especially on the heels of last year's star-crossed 7-6 campaign, when five conference games were lost by 13 total points. The Wolverines' little brother is all grown up, and given the direction of this program, it's fair to question its ceiling.

Can this team contend for a national title next season?

The upcoming offseason will be an important one in East Lansing. First and foremost, the Spartans need to ensure that they retain head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. The former is rumored to be a candidate for the Texas opening (via Josh Slagter of MLive.com)—perhaps you've heard about it—and the latter has already been offered (and rejected) a head-coaching job for a team, Connecticut, that played in the Fiesta Bowl just three short years ago.

Still, both men seem genuinely committed to building up this program, and even though loyalty means little in the sordid world of college football, Dantonio's recent extension is a very good sign that he will stay. And if the band stays together in 2014, why can't MSU compete for a spot in the first College Football Playoff?

The losses on defense will be felt, but Narduzzi's return would be more important than that of any player. Guys like Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Darqueze Dennard cannot be replicated, but the Spartans have dealt well with personnel losses these past few years. There's no reason to expect anything different.

Remember, after all, that before winning the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013, Dennard himself was replacing a Michigan State legend in Johnny Adams. There were questions about how this defense would fare after losing its best pass-defender, along with important front-seven players like William Gholston.

It seems to have turned out just fine.

Trae Waynes was one of the breakout stars in the Big Ten this year, and just like Dennard, he should thrive with a promotion to No. 1 cornerback. The same goes for almost every position on Michigan State's defense.

Narduzzi keeps this cupboard well-stocked; as long as he remains in East Lansing, the defense will be good enough to compete for a Big Ten championship. The real question comes on the other side of the ball.

To that end, Michigan State's fate rests squarely on the arm of rising junior quarterback Connor Cook, who ended the year with two very strong performances against Ohio State and Stanford. He was so-so for most of the season—remember, Michigan State scored just 14 points against Purdue in October—but appeared to turn the corner late, once the team was officially "his."

He needs to carry that momentum into the offseason while challenging himself to get better. This cannot be the extent of his potential. The ranking will certainly improve after the Rose Bowl, but Football Outsiders' F/+ still placed MSU as the No. 51 offense in America during the regular season.

Since that statistic was initially recorded in 2007, no national champion has finished with an offense below No. 5, checking in with an average of No. 2.5. Half had the top-ranked offense in the country.

Defense alone might win Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but balance wins crystal-football trophies. Especially if the defense takes a slight step back next season, the offense must find a way to catch up. Cook will be back. Running back Jeremy Langford will be back. Of the 18 Spartan players who caught a pass this season, 17 are underclassmen.

If Cook can make the "leap" and the coaching staff remains intact, this team is good enough to beat every team on its schedule—even a slate that includes a road trip to Oregon and a visit from Ohio State in 2014. The advantage is clearly in Michigan State's favor, especially with Michigan mired in such a funk.

After Wednesday's game, Dantonio spoke of being satisfied with his team's "completion," according to ESPN Big Ten. That's all well and good for now, but the Spartans' ascent is not yet complete. Starting next season, this squad will have a target on its back and goals that exceed winning the Rose Bowl.

But that's a good problem to have.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Michigan State Saves New Year's Day for the Big Ten

The Big Ten started New Year's Day 1-2, and Michigan State went down 10-0 early to Stanford in the Rose Bowl—if you listened closely you could hear the eulogy of the Big Ten being typed out all over the country once again.

Instead, the Spartans found 17 unanswered points and took down No. 5 Stanford, 24-20, in the Rose Bowl.

Suddenly 2-2 on New Year's Day has a lot nicer of a ring to it than the typical 1-3 and an offseason of asking questions about the future of the Big Ten and where it is all going wrong for the conference. 

Those who doubted it could happen can be forgiven; after all, we've been here plenty of times before—with the Big Ten starved of a win in the Rose Bowl for the majority of the past decade.

The Big Ten did hold a 1-9 record entering the 100th Rose Bowl this year, after all.

Following a quick 10-0 Stanford lead in the first quarter, the "here we go again" feelings seemed appropriate.

Cue the heartbreak and long offseason of Big Ten bashing. But then Michigan State woke up—or more appropriately, MSU quarterback Connor Cook woke up. 

Cook, the sophomore quarterback who was overshadowed all month by the talk of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, had the game of his young career for the Spartans. 

He completed 22 of 36 passes for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns. The only blemish on his near-perfect night was an interception that ended up going for a 40-yard pick-six the other way, making it 17-7 Cardinal. 

Like all good quarterbacks do, Cook put the mistake in the rearview mirror quickly and led his team to another victory over a supposedly better team. 

For all that Cook did, perhaps the most fitting moment of New Year's Day across the Big Ten took place on the biggest play of the Rose Bowl. 

With Max Bullough suspended, his replacement, Kyler Elsworth, would make the ultimate save. 

Stanford faced a 4th-and-1 with under two minutes remaining, only to see a play to fullback Ryan Hewitt be stuffed short of the needed yardage by an airborne Elsworth. 

With the win, Michigan State saved the Big Ten from becoming the brunt of all jokes, although some have found a way to rain on the parade already. 

Somewhere Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is having the last laugh, popping champagne bottles and handing out high-fives—and he has Michigan State to thank for making New Year's Day a success instead of the usual dismal failure for his conference. 

Now, perhaps the Big Ten can go forward and actually put up a winning record in the not-too-distant future.

Crazy idea, right?

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Auburn vs. FSU: Top NFL Prospects in BCS National Championship Game

Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston might be the best player on the field for the BCS National Championship Game, but his standing as a redshirt freshman will push the exploits of some talented NFL prospects to the forefront.

Both Auburn and Florida State feature NFL talent with the potential to be taken in the early rounds of May's 2014 NFL draft. Winston will get his turn as a touted NFL prospect next season, but for now, that honor belongs to a few other competitors in the BCS title game.

This contest has the capability to be one of the better bowl games of the season, and expect the following NFL prospects to leave their marks on the outcome.

 

Greg Robinson, OL, Auburn

Greg Robinson often gets overlooked in an NFL draft that will likely see offensive lineman Jake Matthews taken within the top five. To be honest, Robinson's ceiling is nearly just as high as Matthews'. One NFL scout is particularly high on Robinson, telling Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

He's a stud. Left tackle. You're talking about a ton of athleticism, size, strength. He's not getting a lot of attention because people don't realize he's a redshirt. Not quite sure why (Gene) Chizik redshirted him. I think that was a big mistake. He's in the top 10, 15 easy if he comes out.

Robinson can make a name for himself on Jan. 6 on college football's biggest stage. While offensive linemen aren't generally fun to watch, you'd be foolish not to respect the work they do in the trenches on a weekly basis.

The way he fights on every snap to create gaps for his running back or seal up holes for quarterback Nick Marshall is a sight to behold. He'll be showing that off against an aggressive front of the Florida Seminoles on Monday.

He figures to be an early first-round pick, and the New York Giants at No. 12 have an obvious need for a young lineman to protect Eli Manning. Pairing Robinson with 2013 rookie Justin Pugh would create a nice tandem for the Giants moving forward.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Kelvin Benjamin's athleticism and propensity to get open in the red zone make him a candidate to get selected outside of the top 20 on draft day.

He had a breakout season in 2013, and not just because Winston was throwing him passes. He progressed from being just a possession receiver in 2012. In total, he brought in 50 receptions for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He's a serious threat in the vertical passing game, which makes him the perfect fit for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 24. Alex Smith could use another weapon in the passing game alongside Dwayne Bowe.

Auburn will have difficulties matching up with Benjamin, and that makes him a candidate to perform well and improve his draft stock. Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel broke down Benjamin's advantage:

Given his size and physicality, Benjamin creates headaches for smaller corner backs in jump-ball situations. Auburn’s starting corners, Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy, are 5-foot-11 and 5-foot-10, respectively, so they give up half a foot to Benjamin.

Look for him to shine against the Tigers in the BCS title game.

 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist and dynamic rusher, likely won't hear his name called in the first round. In fact, it could be several rounds before he gets the call.

NFL teams will be tentative to select him. One NFC general manager told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com that Mason is a product of Auburn's system: "He's a solid runner, but my gut is the offense is really the engine that drives the production."

Regardless, Mason is explosive. He's exciting enough that a NFL team would be willing to take a chance on him in the fourth or fifth round.

Just take a look at his numbers this season. He totaled 1,621 yards on 283 carries and found the end zone 22 times. Yes, Auburn is a run-first team that possessed a strong offensive line to pave the way for big runs, but that doesn't stop the fact that he averaged 5.7 yards per rush.

Yards and touchdowns aside, it is hard to argue with that type of efficiency.

A team like the Cleveland Browns or Giants could take a flier on him late. He's a high-upside pick with good potential because of his speed and quickness.

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Spartans Coach Mike Dantonio Dodges Gatorade Bath, Talks Rich Homie Quan

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had quite an interesting few minutes after his team wrapped up a 24-20 victory in the 2014 Rose Bowl.

First, he successfully managed to dodge a Gatorade bath:

The coach wasn't done having fun.

Rich Homie Quan was on the Michigan State sideline during the game, so Dantonio decided to pay tribute to the rapper during a postgame interview by dropping a "Some Type of Way" reference:

Nicely done.

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Stanford vs. Michigan State: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Rose Bowl

In a Rose Bowl that featured two hard-nosed running games, it was a quarterback who led his team to victory.   

Game MVP Connor Cook threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns, as No. 4 Michigan State overcame an early 10-point deficit and stuffed No. 5 Stanford on a late drive to cap a 24-20 win in the 100th Granddaddy of Them All on Wednesday afternoon.

It wasn't always pretty. 

With just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cook made a poor decision under pressure, dumping the ball into the hands of Stanford's Kevin Anderson, who returned the interception 40 yards into the end zone to put the Cardinal ahead, 17-7. 

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was uncharted territory for the Spartans in 2013. 

But the sophomore Cook refused to fold. On the very next possession, he connected on plays of 24, 11 and 37 yards before finding Trevon Pendleton in the end zone, as the Spartans marched 75 yards in 1:39 to cut the lead to three before halftime.

The Spartans continued to control both sides of the ball, eventually taking their first lead at 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Stanford never really looked comfortable against an equally physical team and couldn't lead the comeback.

The Cardinal exploded out of the gates with a dominant first quarter, but in rare fashion for a David Shaw-coached team, they struggled to run the ball after that, wasted opportunities on defense and committed eight penalties. They had a chance to win in the final minutes but went four-and-out when the Spartans stuffed them on two runs. 

For Mark Dantonio, who is reportedly in line for a big raise, per ESPN.com's Joe Schad, the late fourth-and-one stop is a fitting cap to a tremendous season that was powered by an incredible defense. This is the Spartans' first Rose Bowl win since 1987. 

It is also a win that will give the Spartans a boost in the postseason polls (via Bryan Fischer): 

 

Player Grades

Kevin Hogan, Stanford: C+

Kevin Hogan, you just can't make plays like this:

The junior QB throws a nice deep ball, as he proved on the next drive with a 51-yard strike on the money to Devon Cajuste, but that interception was a horrendous decision and largely sums up his forgettable night. 

His final numbers weren't terrible (10-of-18 passing, 143 yards), but Hogan could just never get in a rhythm against the Spartans defense. 

 

Connor Cook, Michigan State: A-

Cook was far from perfect on the night. At times, he made poor decisions and forced throws into tight coverage. One of those went for a pick-six, and his final line could have looked much worse if Stanford didn't drop a couple of interceptions.

Still, at the end of the day, he showed great resiliency, made some tremendous plays, put up big numbers against a very stout defense (completed 61.1 percent of his throws for 9.2 yards per attempt) and played confidently:

Arguably the best game of his career in the 100th Rose Bowl. Not bad. 

 

Shayne Skov, Stanford: A

Shayne Skov was everywhere. As the game wore on, it appeared as though he was actually playing every position on defense.

The senior linebacker made plays all over the gridiron. He flew to the ball for tackles, consistently caused pressure in the backfield and forced a key fumble in the red zone late in the third quarter. 

Skov had a tremendous season, and this was an appropriate collegiate swan song. 

 

Michigan State Front Seven: A

Not one individual player here, obviously, but the Spartans' entire front seven deserves credit. The defensive line controlled the trenches for much of the game and the linebackers got impressive penetration on running plays. 

After Tyler Gaffney tallied 68 yards on his first five carries, his next 19 went for just 23. Put it all together, and he finished with 3.8 yards per carry. Against a smash-mouth team like Stanford, the Spartans defense was terrific.

A game-winning stand cemented the fantastic performance.

 

 

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Michigan State Stuffs Stanford on 4th Down to Win 2014 Rose Bowl

Down 24-20 to Michigan State with just over three minutes left in the 2014 Rose Bowl, Stanford needed 66 yards to win the game.

With everything on the line, the Cardinal called three straight running plays to set up a crucial 4th-and-1 from their own 34-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. Both teams took a timeout leading up to the play.

When it came time to run the play, the Spartans stuffed Cardinal back Ryan Hewitt before he got to the first-down marker.

It came down to power against power. Michigan State's defense was able to jump over Stanford's offensive line and make the play. From there, a few kneel-downs ended the game.

The fourth-down stop was an incredible way to end the 100th Rose Bowl.


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Ty Montgomery Injury: Updates on Stanford WR's Knee and Return

Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery left the Cardinal's Rose Bowl matchup against Michigan State and is unlikely to return after sustaining what appears to be a left knee injury.  

ESPN's Joe Schad reported that Montgomery was wrapped in ice on the sideline, and the prognosis for Wednesday's contest did not look good:

Stanford WR Ty Montgomery consoled by teammates after left knee wrapped in ice. Appears done for day.

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 2, 2014

Jon Wilner of the Mercury News had official word from Stanford on Montgomery's status:

Stanford official statement on Montgomery: "He will be re-evaluated soon." No other info.

— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) January 2, 2014

Montgomery sustained the injury on a kickoff return following a score that put the Spartans up 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. Although there was seemingly nothing atypical about the play, which featured a Montgomery return to the Stanford 30-yard line, the junior wideout was in obvious pain and laid on the field for multiple minutes.

He was then tended to by the Stanford medical staff before being taken off the field while putting little weight on his left leg. The severity of the injury is unknown at this time, and will likely take further testing to figure out its full extent.

Before going down, Michigan State had done a surprisingly solid job of keeping Montgomery in check. He had only three catches for 21 yards, as the Cardinal passing game struggled mightily. Looking for back-to-back Rose Bowl victories for the second time in school history, Stanford had been rendered mostly ineffective by a stout Spartans defense.

Montgomery had been the team's most explosive weapon on the outside all season. He came into January having set career-highs in catches (58), yards (937) and touchdowns (10). Without Montgomery, the onus will be on quarterback Kevin Hogan to find his secondary targets.

With the way the game has gone thus far, though, that task is going to be awfully difficult.

 

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Ty Montgomery Injury: Updates on Stanford WR's Knee and Return

Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery left the Cardinal's Rose Bowl matchup against Michigan State and is unlikely to return after sustaining what appears to be a left knee injury...

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Stanford Band Forms 'Snapchat' Logo During Rose Bowl Halftime Show

Halftime shows continue to sweep the nation. 

Stanford's marching band took advantage of its time on the national stage and formed the "Snapchat" ghost logo at halftime of the Rose Bowl, providing the country with another unique look at marching band formations.

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Michigan State's Connor Cook's Terrible Pass Turns into Pick-6 for Stanford

Michigan State was looking to score a touchdown to take a lead into halftime against Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but quarterback Connor Cook threw a terrible pass that turned into a pick-six.

Stanford's Kevin Anderson took the pass 40 yards for the touchdown, giving his team a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter.

The Cardinal defense pressured Cook, which caused a poor throw. His pass never came close to reaching a receiver, allowing Stanford to extend its lead to 10 points right before the half. 

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Texas A&M Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

Bleacher Report brings constant news, updates and analysis on Texas A&M's 2014 recruiting class, ranging from the quarterback position to the secondary. Each section will be consistently updated through national signing day this February. 

 

*All rankings and information courtesy of 247sports.com.

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Connor Shaw Cements South Carolina Legacy in Capital One Bowl

So many times over the last three years, South Carolina has won football games largely because of the efforts of quarterback Connor Shaw.

Thus, it was only appropriate that Shaw conclude his college career with a virtuoso performance that not only won yet another game for the Gamecocks, but also sealed his status as the greatest quarterback in school history.

In his final college game, Shaw completed 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, rushed 16 times for 47 yards and a touchdown and caught a nine-yard touchdown pass in South Carolina's 34-24 Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

It was an absolute slam dunk that he earned Capital One Bowl MVP honors.

He ends his career with a record of 27-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback, the most victories and by far the best winning percentage in school history among quarterbacks who have won at least 20 games.

However, listing his career statistics is an almost mind-numbing enterprise that, in fact, does him a grave disservice because it limits the scope of his accomplishments.

Shaw's legacy transcends statistics. More impressive than the numbers is the manner in which he produced them—like playing on a bad knee and throwing three touchdown passes in a comeback victory over Missouri earlier this season.

Then, there are simply intangible, hard to describe moments in a game where Shaw shows his magic—a timely scramble for first-down yardage or a seemingly impossible completion on fourth down.

He is a playmaker with an uncanny instinct for improvisation, like the play against Wisconsin where he dropped back, took off as if he was running and lobbed the ball at the last second over the heads of defenders to a wide-open Jerell Adams for a critical first down.

Like a true maestro, Shaw has the uncanny ability of lifting up those around him, making them better and orchestrating a team effort that is nearly impossible to stop.

Those around him rise to the occasion—like receivers Bruce Ellington and Shaq Roland did against the Badgers.

Ellington caught six passes for a career-high 140 yards, and Roland caught a career-high six for 112. Each receiver had at least two receptions where Shaw threw the ball where only they could catch it.

And they did.

Not only that, but Ellington also threw the touchdown pass to Shaw off a reverse—a bit of trickery from South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Not surprisingly, Shaw, a perfectionist at quarterback, ran a perfect route and caught a perfect pass from Ellington.

For his entire career, Shaw has been an overlooked talent, playing in the shadow of more heralded teammates like former Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore and All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

It was nice to see Shaw end his career with an effort that the entire college football world couldn't help but notice.

There may be more to come from Connor Shaw.

Some NFL team will give him a shot, if nothing more than as a training camp arm.

Don't be surprised if Shaw works his magic and turns it into more.

After what he has accomplished, only a fool would bet against him.

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Miami Football: 5 Best Moments of 2013

The Miami Hurricanes' 2013 campaign ended on a sour note, but a few moments highlight the 'Canes' 9-4 season.

Al Golden's team caught the nation's attention, defeating in-state rival Florida before the Gators had many key players fall to injury.

Though questions about the coaching staff arose by the end of the season, Golden has this team headed in the right direction. Miami started 7-0 for the first time in 10 years and won nine games for only the second time since 2005.

And when a program is improving, the players are making some things happen that are worth revisiting.

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Jadeveon Clowney's 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Declaring After Capital One Bowl

Welp. That sure didn't take long. Within seconds of the final whistle of South Carolina's 34-24 victory over Wisconsin, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked the question that has been on everyone's mind for months: Will he enter his name into the 2014 NFL draft?

The answer: an emphatic "Yes sir."

"It's been great. We've put everything into this," Clowney said, per CBS Sports' Will Brinson. "I'll miss everything about Carolina. I love it here."

This, of course, is about as surprising as a rash of DUI arrests on New Year's Eve.

Everyone knew Clowney was declaring—we just didn't know how soon or how he would do it. Barring catastrophic injury (and maybe even then), Clowney declaring for May's draft was about as close to a sure thing as you can get in college football.

What comes next, however, is the far more interesting question.

The reason everyone so expected Clowney to declare is because, at this time a year ago, we were still reacting to The Hit. You know, the time Clowney burst through the Michigan offensive line, collapsed a rushing play almost at the handoff, barreled through Wolverines running back Vincent Smith like a blow-up tackling dummy, and then caused and picked up a fumble to give the ball back to the Gamecocks.

It came in a season where Clowney set single-season sacks records at South Carolina, but that hit was his lasting legacy. 

SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays" had to retire it because it won the "best of the best" vote so many times. Multiple highlights of said hit have more than a million views on YouTube. Clowney's hit was his version of Bo Jackson breaking a bat with his knee, his LeBron James scoring 25 straight points against the Detroit Pistons.

Like James and Jackson, Clowney was viewed as the prototype. A human specimen specifically designed to do right and kill everything on the football field. He would have been the No. 1 overall pick last year without question if he'd been eligible.

But, despite avoiding any major injuries and looking like the exact same player, there are few more polarizing prospects in this year's class. 

What gives?

Well, let's get this out of the way first: Clowney is still going to be a top-five selection. Teams still marvel at his combination of size, athleticism and strength. When engaged, there are few players in college football history who have been better at affecting a game from the three-point stance. He's a marvel to watch, and he has the type of infectious personality that could make him a franchise cornerstone.

We won't need the Caveman to tell us he's All-Pro linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Yet the man who once seemed predestined to be the No. 1 pick in 2014 will have to play the catch-up game to regain his spot. That distinction will likely belong to Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose grip on the top spot has become something of a stranglehold. The Houston Texans need a franchise quarterback after their dumpster-fire duo of Matt Schaub and Case Keenum—to go from 12-4 division champions to 2-14 top-pick holders requires a special level of putridity. 

It's fair here to say that being taken first overall doesn't necessarily require being the best player. Quarterback is the most important position in football, and if you have the chance to grab someone at that position who can be a franchise guy, you take it; solid defensive ends are readily available in free agency. I also still have Clowney as the No. 1 prospect on my draft board.

But the reality is that Clowney wouldn't have to scramble had his 2013 season not been a complete and utter disappointment.

He finished with three sacks, 10 fewer than in 2012 for those who don't feel like doing math on a holiday. 

And it's not just that the numbers weren't there. The scary perception going on about Clowney now can be boiled down to an October quote from his head coach (via Josh Kendall of The State):

Effort. It's been the word hanging over Clowney's head since we all decided as a nation that he was out of shape for South Carolina's season-opening win over North Carolina. The reactionary sports kingdom, watching Clowney on his first national showcase since The Hit, deemed his performance unworthy. He was fat and happy with praise. He was saving his body for the NFL. He looked like someone who didn't remotely want to be wearing a Gamecocks jersey.

This would all be laughably written off as narrative if some of it didn't show up on film. Clowney did take plays off. There were times when he'd just disappears for quarters on end, as if we were all supposed to forget this athletic freak was on the field.

"What you're seeing right now with Jadeveon, you're starting to have questions about really what is he motivated by?" ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said recently, per the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson

There are many excuses that could be written for Clowney's down season. He was facing double- and at times triple-teams while playing in the toughest conference in the nation. He battled through a series of injuries all season, a knee on top of ribs on top of a shoulder.

Those were all contributing factors, and smart teams will focus on those before casting any aspersions on a 20-year-old kid they just spent the past 12 months fawning over.

That said, "effort" is one of those unteachable traits that scare teams to death. You can't coast on talent the same way on Sundays—everyone is super awesome at playing football. When deciding between a Bridgewater or a Clowney, sometimes it's the tiniest swing factors that take a team in one direction.

Clowney's stock is slightly down because of that perception, and merely because of situation. The Texans have J.J. Watt. The St. Louis Rams have Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Defensive end is not a priority for either team. It seems that the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 are the first possibility, though it would shock no one if St. Louis decided to deal that selection.

And I suspect the team that drafts Clowney won't have many complaints. As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, Clowney showed just how dominant he can still be without sacking a quarterback against Wisconsin:

Anything can happen between now and May. Clowney's measurables at the combine will be something to watch, as a freakish performance could cause the Texans to consider a Long-Clowney pairing or a disappointing one could cause more handwringing.

The reality, though, is that Clowney is still the player he's always been. He "disappointed" only because of the absolutely unrealistic expectations his play caused.

He's not the Human Hit Parade like we all wanted, but don't be surprised when we're all marveling at this kid on Sundays—no matter where he winds up.

 

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for UCF vs Baylor

The final showdown on New Year’s Day is the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. UCF and Baylor will battle it out starting at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Bryce Petty and the Bears’ high-powered offense have been a treat to watch throughout the year. However, one shouldn’t sleep on Blake Bortles and the Knights. After all, they did upset Teddy Bridgewater earlier in the season when nobody gave them a chance.

Bortles is gaining a great deal of buzz for the NFL draft, and his performance in the Fiesta Bowl will be heavily scrutinized. Of course, he does still have the option to return to school.

Art Briles vs. George O'Leary should be a fantastic showdown, as both head coaches aim to win a BCS Bowl for the first time in each of their school’s history. There's a lot on the line tonight! 

Keep it locked right here with Bleacher Report for live score updates, highlights and much more! 

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