NCAA Football

Sun Bowl: Pros and Cons of UCLA QB Brett Hundley Declaring for the NFL Draft

Quarterback Brett Hundley and his UCLA Bruins will play Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl on Tuesday. Nothing has been made official, but in some minds, this could be the last game of Hundley's career, even though he's just a redshirt sophomore.

Hundley is a highly sought-after NFL prospect, and he could stand to make a lot of money by declaring for April's draft. But head coach Jim Mora Jr. is hopeful that he won't, telling reporters at a Sun Bowl press conference that he doesn't think Hundley will declare, according to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times.

Despite Mora's hopes, however, there is still a very real chance that Hundley leaves. There are several distinct reasons imploring him each direction, arguing for both sides. Whether he stays or he goes, it would be understandable from his point of view.

Here are the reasons why. 

 

PROS

The pros of joining the pros are obvious. Hundley is in a position where he could make a lot of money—and soon. Pick apart his game all you like: Someone is willing to pay him next season.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, at least two teams would have Hundley as the No. 1 quarterback on their board, ahead of presumed favorite Teddy Bridgewater:

Schefter's report sparked a little bit of backlash from the draftnik community, which has come to a general consensus on Bridgewater as QB No. 1. Rotoworld's Josh Norris thinks the tape speaks for itself:

Still, it only takes one team falling in love with you to become a top-10 pick. If there are personnel men out there who value Hundley as the top QB, this would seem a good time for him to declare. Otherwise, there's nowhere for his stock to go but down.

[Matt Barkley nods head in agreement]

The NFL rookie pay scale has been dropped in a big way, so Hundley doesn't stand to make Sam Bradford money. But there are still millions of dollars staring him down.

Unless he thinks he would fall out of the first round—which is doubtful for a quarterback with his ceiling and (relative) track record—returning to school would represent a major financial risk. He'd be one hit away from mortgaging his future.

Can anyone be rightfully expected to do that?

There's also the "trial by fire" theory. Hundley is a rare physical specimen, possessed of a rocket arm, good size and plus athleticism. But he's yet to master the mental part of the game (at least on a consistent basis). He still forces too many throws, and he's not always consistent from week to week.

Some might argue that, because of these flaws, he actually needs another year of college experience, but others might argue the opposite. What better way to learn the game than playing it at the highest level? His learning curve might plateau against Pac-12 defenders. If he truly wants to learn how to play quarterback at an NFL level, he needs to start practicing against NFL competition.

Joining the league right now would give Hundley an immediate paycheck and a better chance—arguably—to work toward reaching his potential. Those are reasonable causes for declaring early and leaving Westwood.

 

CONS

The cons of Hundley leaving start with the argument issued above. Some think that playing against NFL competition can help a young quarterback's development, but there are numerous cases of the opposite effect.

Look at someone like Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted No. 10 overall in 2011—roughly where Hundley might go—on the basis of potential. Gabbert was productive in college, sure, but he was billed as a guy just scratching the surface of his skill. With tools like his, there was no way a good NFL coach wouldn't be able to make him into a weapon.

Guess what happened? He hasn't become a weapon. Thus far, Gabbert's NFL career has been little more than a punchline, a tale of foreboding told by general managers during the pre-draft process. He was thrown into the dark, deep waters of the league before he was ready, and he's been worse off because of it.

Instead of learning to swim, he flailed for a while, then sunk.

The same thing could (potentially) happen to Hundley if he declares before his time, especially given his sophomore tape. Though he can make a wide array of difficult throws, Hundley doesn't jump off the film as a guy who is ready to make the leap, according to B/R's Matt Miller:

This is also a very deep year for quarterbacks, which could make it a bad time for Hundley to declare. The rookie pay scale is married to where a player gets selected, so Hundley could stand to make a lot more money in a weaker quarterback class.

Last year, for example, Hundley might have been the first quarterback off the board, ahead of Florida State's E.J. Manuel, who wasn't a can't-miss prospect. But this year, he'd have to contend with Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and even deep sleepers like David Fales.

In a vacuum, Hundley's stock has nowhere to go but down next year. Relative to those around him, however, that isn't quite the case. Hundley could plateau as a prospect and still go higher in 2015 than he could in 2014. It all depends on how the rest of these quarterbacks perform in the pre-draft process.

Is Hundley willing to take that risk?

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Sun Bowl: Pros and Cons of UCLA QB Brett Hundley Declaring for the NFL Draft

Quarterback Brett Hundley and his UCLA Bruins will play Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl on Tuesday. Nothing has been made official, but in some minds, this could be the last game of Hundley 's career, even though he's just a redshirt sophomore...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Jimbo Fisher's New Contract at Florida State Shows Coaches Are in Charge

How big is the Texas job? A fourth head coach just agreed to a new contract, basically, in response to being connected to it. 

Warchant.com reported Monday night that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has signed a new contract to be Florida State's head coach for the next five years. Word first broke just before the ACC championship game in early December that Fisher had agreed in principle to a new deal

Fisher is reportedly set to make $4.1 million a year, though no buyout figure was given. Briles, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Auburn's Gus Malzahn have also agreed to new contracts recently in light of their name being floated out there with Texas. 

Fisher's contract may temper rumors connecting him to Texas, but they won't outright kill them. Over the weekend, The Dallas Morning News named Fisher as one of four coaches Texas athletic director Steve Patterson is focusing on to succeed Mack Brown. The other three were Baylor’s Art Briles. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Louisville’s Charlie Strong. 

Including Fisher's name in the conversation makes sense; he has the Seminoles playing for a BCS National Championship against Auburn next month. 

Fisher's new contract doesn't change the fact that it would behoove Texas to call him and gauge his interest. Aiming high should be encouraged when making an investment as big as finding a new coach. And if Texas has to pay an enormous buyout along the way, it will. As Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman tweets, the process isn't really over until it's over:

Does that mean Fisher is Austin-bound? Not in the slightest. With the roster he has now and the recruiting efforts being put in, he has what looks like a machine in Tallahassee capable of competing for championships for years to come. 

That's going to make Fisher a target of coaching searches. While Seminole fans may never fully breathe easy because of it, having a spotlight on your head coach is the biggest compliment a program can get. 

The best Florida State can do—the best any program can do—is try to make its in-demand coach happy. Fisher's new deal is reportedly "incentive laden," and Bud Elliot of Tomahawk Nation reports that Fisher's assistants will receive more money:

Ponying up for assistants is crucial, especially considering Fisher had to replace seven of them last offseason. A new coaching staff could have meant a dropoff for Florida State. Instead, the Seminoles had their best season since 1999 when they beat Virginia Tech for the BCS title. 

Also consider Bret Bielema's move from Wisconsin to Arkansas a year ago, one that could have appeared lateral from the outside in. Yet, Bielema was losing assistants more often than he would have liked in Madison. In a longform feature from Grantland, Bielema explained that the inability to properly pay those assistants was the reason behind the turnover: 

Typically, they also offered promotions. Position coaches became coordinators. Coordinators became head coaches. Some jumped to the NFL. "You want your assistants to move up," Bielema says. "But you want it to be a hard decision. You want them to only be willing to leave if they're walking into a dream situation. You don't want money to ever be a factor." In his last three years in Madison, Bielema lost 12 assistants. Every winter, he spun it to the media as a positive. But every spring, he wondered how his new staff would jell.

While it's impossible to determine what motivates Fisher, what is known is that Florida State is paying him and his staff for results—with a little bit of fear of losing them mixed in. Fisher, Briles, Saban and Malzahn are coaches with different styles, but they have one thing in common: They're getting the resources and institutional support to win. 

In-demand coaches like Fisher can leverage for more money any way they want, whether it's for them, assistants or facilities—and it doesn't even mean they'll stay at their current job.

Hypothetically, say Fisher goes to Texas and fails miserably. It's Texas that will have footed the gigantic bill for that experiment. The same thing goes if Fisher suddenly, and inexplicably, stumbles at Florida State. 

The best example of coaches benefiting from the frenzy of the moment is Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who signed a lucrative $39 million deal after the 2009 season when he took the Hawkeyes to the Orange Bowl. The real kicker is Ferentz's buyout, which is 75 percent of his remaining salary.

If Iowa is ever unsatisfied with Ferentz, and his 27-23 record since '09 would certainly warrant that sentiment, it's basically stuck with him. 

Not that Fisher's situation is like Ferentz's, but it's a cautionary tale nonetheless. 

There are examples of both success and failure, but if a coach is sought after, he possesses the power to get what he wants. Fisher is only the latest example. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval

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Army All-American Bowl 2014: Complete Breakdown of Each Team

The Army All-American Bowl annually showcases America's top football talent. The 2014 edition occurs at 1 pm. EST on Saturday, Jan. 4 on NBC and features outstanding collegiate prospects on both sides of the ball.

This game dates back to 2000, highlighted by future NFL stars like LeSean McCoy, Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson. We examine the outstanding players who aim to add to proud history while representing the East and West squads.

 

 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Don't Be Fooled by Similarities, Alabama Won't Suffer Letdown

Alabama planned on being in a BCS bowl following the 2013 season, just not this one.

The Crimson Tide will play Oklahoma in Thursday night's Allstate Sugar Bowl. Or, as it could be known, "the scene of the crime."

Then-No. 4 Alabama was blown out 31-17 on Jan. 2, 2009 by then-No. 6 Utah in a setting that is eerily similar to the one it will step into against the Sooners.

That Crimson Tide team entered the SEC Championship Game undefeated with hopes of a crystal football, only to see those hopes dashed 31-20 by then-No. 4 Florida and quarterback Tim Tebow.

This year's team entered the final week of the regular season with an unblemished record again with the No. 1 ranking and again squared off with the No. 4 team in the country. The opponent—intra-state rival Auburn—was different, but the result and heartbreak were the same—if not more pronounced—following the 34-28 loss to the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

So is head coach Nick Saban's crew primed for a letdown?

Not a chance.

This isn't the same Alabama team as the one following the 2008 season. That team wasn't properly "Saban-ized." This team is.

It takes on the persona of its head coach and fights every day against perfection—not the other opponent.

"We come to practice every day, and we are out there to get better," quarterback A.J. McCarron said in quotes released by the Sugar Bowl. "We aren't just going through the motions."

Is McCarron going to suddenly lose sight of that goal in his final game with the Crimson Tide?

Nope.

This is the same guy who, late in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game up 42-14 on Notre Dame, got into a shoving match with senior center Barrett Jones over blocking assignments.

In my best Allen Iverson voice, "we're talking about blocking assignments."

The quarterback of the defense is also making sure that his team doesn't suffer the same Sugar Bowl fate of the 2008 team. Linebacker C.J. Mosley—the 2013 Butkus Award winner—is also focused on perfection.

"We have to make sure that everyone is staying focused - the main thing is that when we get to practice we are doing the same things that we have done all year," he said in quotes released by the Sugar Bowl.

Don't fall into the trap of labeling this game as a potential letdown. The only letdown Alabama has suffered over the last three seasons was the first quarter against Texas A&M last season, when Johnny Manziel punched the Tide in the mouth and then hung on for a win.

Aside from that, the Crimson Tide has been up for every game. Sure, they lost games over that stretch, but it wasn't due to lack of preparation. They just got beat.

If that happens on Thursday, so be it. But it won't be due to lack of preparation or focus. There's nothing to suggest this team will do that only in one game in the same venue from five years ago.

That seems a bit silly, doesn't it?

 


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AdvoCare V100 Bowl 2013 Arizona vs. Boston College: Live Score and Highlights

The nation's two most productive running backs highlight Tuesday's AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., which pits Arizona (7-5) and Boston College (7-5) in a Pac-12/ACC clash at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Boston College senior Andre Williams, the Doak Walker Award winner and a Heisman Trophy finalist, has rushed for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey has gained 1,716 yards and scored 17 TDs a year after leading the FBS with 1,929 yards.

Beyond the standout backs, the game features a pair of up-and-coming programs under relatively new leadership.

BC's first-year coach, Steve Addazio, took a team that went 2-10 in 2012 and got it into a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Arizona is making a bowl for the second straight year under Rich Rodriguez, the first coach in school history to lead the Wildcats to postseason appearances in each of his first two seasons.

The game will be shown live on ESPN, but stick with us for all of the latest tweets, GIFs, videos, updates and real-time analysis of this New Year's Eve clash.

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Auburn Football Recruiting: 11 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

Most Auburn football fans already have all of their attention turned to Jan. 6 and the Tigers' upcoming BCS National Championship Game against Florida State.

Before that game concludes the 2013-14 college football season, though, there two other games on the horizon that Auburn fans will find worth watching, as future Tigers shine in the nation's two premier high school football all-star games.

The country's best high school players—both committed and still up for grabs—will be showcased over the next few days in the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

In the Under Armour All-America Game, most of the Auburn commitments and targets will be wearing red helmets and playing for Team Highlight. A few others will be donning "Hyper Green" helmets and playing for Team Nitro.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl will split its teams as East and West, with East wearing black and West wearing yellow.

 

All ratings via the 247Sports' Composite system. All recruiting information via 247Sports.com and AuburnUndercover.com unless otherwise noted.

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Updates on Jimbo Fisher and FSU Agreeing to Contract Extension

Fresh off leading Florida State to its first BCS National Championship Game since the 2000 season, Jimbo Fisher has agreed to a contract extension the Seminoles hope will lead to many more conference and national titles.

Seminoles.com Managing Editor Brandon Mellor confirmed the contract extension and provided a statement from Florida State Athletic Director Stan Wilcox:

Official: Jimbo Fisher has signed a contract extension to remain #Noles head coach until at least January 2019.

— Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor) December 31, 2013

Statement from #Noles Athletics Director Stan Wilcox on Jimbo Fisher’s new contract: pic.twitter.com/fLkyI4LoOv

— Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor) December 31, 2013

Ira Schoffel of the Tallahassee Democrat previously reported that Fisher, 48, inked the extension as the Seminoles were preparing to board their flight for the BCS national championship game matchup against Auburn. Others, including Gene Williams of Warchant.com, also confirmed the extension. 

Additional terms of the contract have not yet been officially disclosed. It was previously reported, per Schoffel, that the two sides had reached an agreement on Dec. 7. Under that rumored pact, Fisher was said to have signed a new five-year deal that would pay him upwards of $4 million per season. According to Schoffel's report, details of the agreement are expected to be announced at a press conference in California Tuesday evening when the team arrives.

Fisher's current contract calls for an annual salary of $2.75 million, ranking him 21st in the nation, per USA Today. Using 2013 salaries as a baseline, the new deal would place Fisher near Michigan's Brady Hoke and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. 

Based on Fisher's last two seasons, it's hard to argue against him getting a massive raise. A year after leading the Seminoles to their first BCS bowl victory in more than a decade—a decisive Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois—he topped that by turning in the school's first undefeated regular season of the new millennium.

Florida State (13-0) heads into its Jan. 6 matchup versus the Tigers as one of the most dominant teams in recent college football history.

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, the Seminoles have defeated their opponents by an average of 42.3 points per game. No team has even come within single digits, with Florida State ranking second in points scored (53 per game) and first in points allowed (10.7 per game).

Fisher was actually disappointed to have the four-week layoff between the ACC Championship Game and National Championship Game, telling the Associated Press (via The Washington Post): 

I would have been tickled to death to play the very next week after we played Duke, we were playing so well. When you have those delays, the key is getting that timing and rhythm back. But the key is you can’t be ready to quick. You’ve got to time that thing up to hopefully hit it right in stride.

Fisher hasn't had much trouble getting his teams ready for bowl games. The Seminoles are undefeated in their three postseason opportunities under Fisher, who took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden in 2010. 

In four seasons, he has compiled a 44-10 record while winning two conference championships and three ACC Atlantic Division titles. Fisher was even rumored to be a possible target for the University of Texas opening. NFL Network's Gil Brandt notes that the Longhorns' ship has now sailed:

Jimbo Fisher's extension with #FSU bad news for #Texas, which was all set to make super strong push for its No. 1 candidate.

— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 31, 2013

It seems almost quaint to think that, with the program scuffling in the final years under Bowden, many wondered whether Fisher would have the chops to rebuild it to national prominence. This extension proves school brass was right all along.

 

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Jameis Winston Loses Arm-Wrestling Competition to a Man in a Fedora

Losing hurts, but losing to a man in a fedora chips away at the soul.

Jameis Winston suffered a unique brand of defeat this week after engaging in an impromptu arm-wrestling competition with an unknown man in a houndstooth hipster hat.

J. Camm of BroBible spotted the video, and while the footage doesn’t exactly provide a panorama of this challenger, he’s described on YouTube as a “5'11", 163 lb. Jewish Father.” Why his religious background matters in the context of an arm-wrestling competition is known only to the uploader.

The video is a grainy affair, showing Winston and Mr. Fedora (possibly Andre from The League) squaring off at a small table in an open lobby area. Onlookers watch as the two grasp hands and go about the burly business of attempting to pin the other man’s arm to the table.

Unfortunately for the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he “loses” the match to this unknown quantity sporting a trendy, bucket-style hat. 

One can imagine it was a difficult loss to stomach for Winston, considering he's 6’4”, 227 lbs. and can throw footballs anywhere you need them on the field. 

Perhaps it was the challenger’s mind games that turned the tide against the Heisman winner.

“Oh, you’re the quarterback?” the man asked before taking him down.

That’s how you get into the head of a young superstar—don’t acknowledge the greatness. Also, it's likely that Winston’s challenger was arm-wrestling for pride.

Judging by the look of the video and its running off-camera commentary, it could be that Mr. Fedora’s son stood by filming the entire thing on a portable toaster. We might also presume he was wearing a smaller, more adorable fedora.

Either way, it was an admirable display, Jameis. Just don’t do anything to tire that arm out before Jan. 6. 

 

I know it was you, Andre.

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Florida State vs. Auburn Hype Tape: Get Ready for the 2014 BCS Championship

The last national championship of the BCS era is here with Auburn taking on undefeated Florida State. The Tigers surged in the last few weeks of the season, but the Seminoles dominated every team they played.

Heisman winner Jameis Winston looks to top off an incredible season with a national championship, but will Auburn pull out some more miraculous plays to take home the crystal football?

Watch the video and get fired up for what will be an epic showdown.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Big Ten Football: 3 Reasons Why the B1G Bowl Season Will Be a Colossal Dud

Some things are just given in sports. The Chicago Cubs not making the World Series, the Cleveland Browns missing the playoffs and the Big Ten laying an egg during bowl season. Already 0-2 after losses by Minnesota and Michigan, the nightmare scenario is unraveling for the conference once again.

Of course the apologists will say that the lower-tiered bowls are meaningless. This is nonsense.   The Wolverines and Golden Gophers are not good teams and neither are most of the other teams in the Big Ten. It is that simple.

Others will argue that fans in the Big Ten root for their teams, not the conference. Give it a break. Sure, nonconference and bowl losses by other teams are not shared, but the abundance of losses over the last three years has been embarrassing for everyone. Consequently, any significant achievement made in conference play is immediately ridiculed. 

New Year’s Day provides an opportunity to restore some pride. It could also deliver another round of humiliation.   Odds favor the latter, which will further cement the widespread opinion that the Big Ten is no longer relevant in the FBS.

No conference takes more pride in sticking it to the Big Ten than the SEC. Few things get under the skin of Big Ten fans more than the SEC chant. Most will say they hate it because they feel SEC fans are taking credit for something not earned. The real reason is the chant represents something they don’t have: championships.

Granted, Ohio State won the BCS title in 2002 and Michigan captured the AP Championship in 1997. Bravo. The SEC has nine in the same time period and two more if you go back another six years.

Maybe a few of these titles were handed to the SEC on a silver platter, but most were earned. 11 titles in 20 seasons don't represent a fluke. The SEC’s best took care of business when it mattered most.

Over the last 10 years, the Big Ten is 10-13 against the SEC on January 1, which is hardly lopsided. Many Big Ten fans will point to this record as proof that the SEC is not as deep as proclaimed. The issue, though, is Ohio State’s two BCS Championship losses. These blowouts highlighted the SEC’s superiority over the Big Ten, and the conference has been in defense mode ever since.

The real dagger may not be the losses to the SEC but instead the 1-9 record in the Rose Bowl since 2001. It is no secret that the Big Ten measures itself by the outcome of this game. After dominating in the 1990s, the conference has had trouble winning the “Granddaddy of Them All,” over the last decade.

A win by Michigan State won’t immediately repair the Big Ten’s image, but it would be a step in the right direction. To really make a statement, the conference needs to go 2-1 against the SEC in the Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl and Capital One Bowl, and for Ohio State to win the Orange Bowl.

There is an important issue beyond the bowl games. A new era is beginning next season when the Football Bowl Subdivision will finally have a postseason playoff. The four teams will be selected by a 13-member committee. Humans will decide who will play in the College Football Playoff. Perception will be a factor in determining the teams. Right now, the Big Ten is vulnerable.  Finishing with a winning bowl record will help ease the negative opinion that surrounds the conference.   

Unfortunately, the conference will be lucky to win one game, let alone three or four. Here are three reasons why the Big Ten will struggle in its remaining bowl games.

 

Quarterback Play

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III and Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock are all average quarterbacks that no respectable defense fears.

Quarterback Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Joel Stave 2,414 20 12 Ron Kellogg III 919 6 3 Jake Rudock 2,281 18 12

*Statistics provided by NCAA.com

The glaring statistic is the excessive interceptions which are shocking considering the Badgers, Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes are all good at protecting the quarterback.

The game plan is simple. The Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Tigers will load the box to stop the running game and force Stave, Kellogg III and Rudock to win the games with their arms. When this happens, the games will be over because these quarterbacks are mistake-prone. 

 

Ohio State’s Defense

Concerns were already high on how the much-maligned secondary could handle Clemson’s passing offense that averages 329.3 yards per game. With star defensive end Noah Spence potentially out for a personal reason and cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Curtis Grant nursing injuries, the Buckeyes might be in deep trouble.

Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant form one of the nation's premier wide receiver combinations. On the season, Watkins has 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Bryant has 39 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns. Their size and speed will test the Buckeyes defense all night. 

There is a glimmer of hope considering that Florida State and South Carolina had little trouble slowing down Clemson’s potent attack, but the Buckeyes secondary is not on the same level. Stopping Watkins may mean having to play press coverage or just double-teaming him. This will leave the defense vulnerable, but that is the risk it needs to take to win the game.

The best bet for Ohio State to win the game is to ride running back Carlos Hyde. Clemson’s rush defense allows 152.6 yards per game, so Hyde should have a field day if given the chance. The question is whether or not coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have the will to chuck the system and just hand the ball to Hyde.

 

Stanford’s Ground Game

Stanford and Michigan State are so similar it is scary. Both teams have outstanding defenses and strong rushing attacks. Neither team has a glaring weakness.

  Rushing Defense Passing Defense Scoring Defense Rushing Offense Passing Offense Scoring Offense Turnover Margin Stanford 91.2 247.8 18.6 210.9 202.2 33.2 -1 Michigan State 80.8 167.4 12.7 182.2 202.5 29.8 +14

*Statistics provided by NCAA.com

They share one common opponent in Notre Dame. The Cardinal beat the Fighting Irish 27-20, and the Spartans lost 17-13. Michigan State is a different team now than it was on September 21, so reading into that loss is a stretch.  

What might be important in predicting the outcome of this game is the overall strength of schedule for both teams. The Pac-12 is clearly better than the Big Ten this year. UCLA, Washington and Arizona State beat Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin respectively on September 14. The Cardinal beat UCLA, Washington and Arizona State this year. Coupled with the win over Notre Dame, the edge favors Stanford since its road to the Rose Bowl was more challenging.

Of course this is speculation, but there is cause for concern. Are Michigan State’s defensive statistics inflated because it played inferior opponents compared to Stanford? Probably.

Stanford is going to do what Ohio State failed to do against Michigan State. Feed running back Tyler Gaffney the ball in the fourth quarter. On the season, Gaffney has rushed for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Cardinal will take advantage of the absence of standout linebacker Max Bullough by pounding the ball until the holes open late in the game. 

 

Analysis

Finding a win for Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa is difficult, but history suggests one of these teams will win. Ohio State has the offense to beat Clemson, but its defense is a huge liability. The loss of Bullough will hurt Michigan State.

Fans want to believe that the teams will do well, but only Ohio State and Wisconsin will win, leaving the Big Ten with a 2-5 bowl record. It is a shame that the revenue dominance of the conference has not led to strong performances on the field. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has laughed all the way to bank, but the fans have been left defending the indefensible. The conference is terrible.

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ASU Player Tries to Return Muffed Punt the Wrong Way

Never take the path of least resistance. 

Arizona State’s Alden Darby made a heads-up play against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl Monday night, but he ended up running the wrong way with the ball.

The bizarre incident was spotted by Kiley Kmiec of Next Impulse Sports and began after two Texas Tech players muffed a punt near their own 40-yard line. The loose ball bounced in Darby’s direction, and the ASU safety grabbed it and began running.

The entertaining part—he was running in the wrong direction.

A GIF of the incident was crafted by @CJZero. It’s something you can see over and over and still not quite understand.

GIF via @CJZero

Darby pivoted in the direction of his own end zone and began searching for daylight. His teammates were all around him, waving frantically toward Tech’s end zone, to no avail. 

The ASU safety made several moves in the wrong direction before being brought down by Lloyd Carrington and a pair of Red Raiders. To be clear, Carrington is a defensive back for ASU. He helped bring down his own teammate. 

It was that kind of night for the Sun Devils, which went on to lose to 37-24 to the Texas Tech. Darby and the ASU secondary just couldn’t contain the Red Raiders passing game, surrendering 403 passing yards and four touchdowns to Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb. 

Something seems really wrong with Alden Darby tonight. Been out of position all night long, running backwards, etc.

— Matthew Vincent (@Mister_MVP) December 31, 2013

Alden Darby recovered he ball and was clearly confused on which way to return the ball. Could've returned it to the house. #ASU #HolidayBowl

— Ben Haber (@HaberBen) December 31, 2013

While it may appear as though Darby cost his team an easy six points by running the wrong way, that would not be the case. NCAA and NFL rules state that a player on the kicking team cannot advance a muffed punt after recovery, so Darby's awkward return was more embarrassing than harmful.

Look on the bright side, Sun Devils fans. He could’ve went full “Wrong Way” Parker and returned it 60 yards the other way.

At least Darby was brought down quickly. That’s the silver lining in this playbook. Rimshot.

 

Join me on Twitter for more awful ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ puns.

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ASU Player Tries to Return Muffed Punt the Wrong Way

Never take the path of least resistance. Arizona State’s Alden Darby made a heads-up play against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl Monday night, but he ended up running the wrong way with the ball...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Rose Bowl 2014: Players to Watch in Stanford vs. Michigan State

Don't expect many hijinks when the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans (12-1) and the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) square off in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl.

Wednesday's West Coast matinee (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) will feature two of the nation's most physical teams who like to pound the ball on the ground and hit hard on defense.

There will be several individual stars on display in Pasadena, including some with bright NFL futures.

Here's a look at four of the top players who will step between the lines on New Year's Day in what promises to be an entertaining Rose Bowl.

 

RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford

Tyler Gaffney is the definition of a workhorse in college football.

Stanford has relied on the senior tailback all year, as his 306 carries make him one of five FBS players to have racked up at least 300 rushing attempts. He has totaled 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2013, wrapping things up with a 22-carry, 133-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 38-14 win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.

Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times recently noted Gaffney's unique path to his senior season after he sat out 2012 to pursue a baseball career:

Stanford Coach David Shaw had kept in touch with Gaffney during baseball season, sending him occasional texts to congratulate him on a game-winning hit or other milestones. Shaw would teasingly say, 'You've got one more year left,' privately believing Gaffney would give baseball at least two years before perhaps returning.

But one day Shaw checked his phone and saw a text from Gaffney.

"It said, 'Hey, Coach, can we talk?'" Shaw recalled. "I knew what it was. He has a love and passion for the game of football and he couldn't wait to come back and play."

He doesn't have breakaway speed, but Gaffney is a tough runner between the tackles. It will be interesting to monitor the battle in the trenches, as the powerful Stanford offensive line will face a talented Michigan State front seven.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is an efficient player under center, but expect the Cardinal to use Gaffney to try and wear down a rugged MSU defense that ranks second in rushing yards allowed per game (80.8) and fourth in points allowed per game (12.7) nationally.

 

CB Darqueze Dennard, MSU

The Michigan State defense suffered a big loss recently when leading middle linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for undisclosed team violations.

Still, the Spartans are littered with talent up and down their defense, and Darqueze Dennard figures to have the brightest NFL prospects of them all. In his most recent mock draft published on Dec. 30, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports pegged Dennard as the No. 10 overall pick in the draft while Rob Rang had him going No. 11.

Dennard has made quite a name for himself since high school, as noted by Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:

Dennard will be MSU's biggest weapon against Hogan, who put up solid numbers (2,487 passing yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs) for Stanford in 2013. The 5-foot-11, 197 cornerback could spend a lot of time matched up with speedy top Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery (58 catches, 937 yards, 10 TDs).

Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who used to coach with the New York Jets, likened Dennard to NFL star Darrelle Revis, per Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"He locks people down," Bloomgren said. Opposing receivers rarely make much yardage on him. "Not many people even catch the ball on him," he said.

Dennard and his opposite number, Trae Waynes, allow their teammates to often commit nine players to stopping the run, Bloomgren said. "Not many people in college football - or any level - can do that."

The former Jets assistant coach said Dennard "does for their defense what (All-Pro) Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York."

Dennard's talents have already been recognized, as he won this season's Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. Now he gets a chance to prove himself in the Granddaddy of Them All.

 

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford

Before bowl season started, menacing linebacker Trent Murphy led the nation with 14 sacks en route to being named a second team All-American.

The 6'6", 261-pound edge-rusher in the 3-4 defense was one of four Cardinal defenders to make the Pac-12 First Team, along with linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and safety Ed Reynolds.

As Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News noted, Murphy has developed quite the reputation among his teammates.

"He's actually softened up since he got here,'' Skov said. "He was like a wolf that's brought into the pound and, surrounded by other dogs, becomes more like one of them.''

The dogs thought enough of the wolf to name him a captain for the 2013 season. Always one of the last players off the practice field, Murphy is polite to a fault, self-deprecating and introspective. He even has "a goofy side,'' according to Skov.

But when the fifth-year senior steps on the field and flips the switch, destruction is sure to follow. His nickname is Yeti, for the Abominable Snowman.

Murphy will be tasked with trying to break through a stout MSU offensive line that has enabled quarterback Connor Cook to put up efficient numbers (2,423 passing yards, 20 TDs, five INTs) this season. The Spartans have allowed just 13 sacks in 13 games, so Murphy's abilities will be tested on Wednesday.

 

RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

Jeremy Langford is MSU's answer to Gaffney.

The Spartan was overshadowed by other Big Ten tailbacks like Ohio State's Carlos Hyde this year, but still is one of the nation's most prolific backs with 1,338 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He enters the game with a streak of eight straight 100-yard games, as noted by David M. Lombardi of KNBR:

Langford capped off the year with a 24-carry, 128-yard, one-touchdown performance against OSU in the Big Ten championship game, leading MSU to a 34-24 victory to knock the Buckeyes out of the national championship picture.

Per another Los Angeles Times report from Klein, Langford sounds like he's taking a blue-collar approach to the Rose Bowl:

"Go get the four yards that we need,” Langford said. “I might not be biggest but I’m going to run with power and I play the whole game. Take no plays off blocking or running. I grind.”

That's the right kind of mindset for Michigan State heading into its formidable matchup with Stanford, which gives up 91.2 rushing yards per game to rank third-best in the nation. 

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Top Storylines That Will Decide UCF vs. Baylor

The No. 15 UCF Knights and No. 6 Baylor Bears will collide in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl after both finished the best seasons in their respective histories.

Not only that, the showdown in Glendale, Ariz., is the first BCS berth for both schools. While this seems like a recipe for a boring game, it will be anything but as two of the nation's top offenses and quarterbacks square off in a contest sure to be one of the bowl season's highest-scoring affairs. 

Like any prolific matchup, there are a few storylines in the Fiesta Bowl fans must be intricately familiar with to fully grasp how things may unfold.

 

Can the UCF Offensive Line Keep Blake Bortles Upright?

UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles is one of college football's best signal-callers (more on that later), but he cannot be effective from his back.

The Knights offensive line has had a rough go of it as of late. Bortles was sacked a total of seven times in the team's first seven games but wound up on his back 14 times in the team's last five—11 came in a horrible three-game stretch.

That is a downward trend that must improve immediately if Bortles is to keep up with the nation's top-ranked offense that scores an average of 53.3 points per game. Senior Justin McCray says the issue certainly is not chemistry, as captured by Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:

I think we've grown a lot together. Just with techniques and just as a unit, getting in watching film together, we came together great as a unit. When [my time at] UCF ends, that's not going to be the end of this line, I'm going to be good with these guys for the rest of my life.

Whatever the issue, keep a close eye on the beef up front when UCF has the ball.

 

What Impact Will Tevin Reese Have?

Senior Tevin Reese is only the second-leading receiver for Baylor with his 33 receptions for 824 yards and eight scores.

But Reese missed the last four games of the season due to injury. His jaw-dropping 25 yards-per-reception average helped propel the Baylor offense, while his absence was apparent in the final four games.

Reese is back on track and ready to recapture the minds of Baylor fans, as he told the media per Nick Canizales of KCEN:

The return of Reese adds another dimension to the nation's best offense—his elite speed can stretch the UCF defense deep and create opportunities for others. 

The Bears will need him to be effective from the opening gun considering the Knights rank in the top 12 with an average of 19.6 points allowed per game.

 

Which Elite Quarterback Can Score the Most?

At the end of the day, the focus will be on the quarterbacks, as many consider the Sugar Bowl to be the best quarterback matchup of the bowl season.

The aforementioned Bortles is coming on strong as an NFL prospect after an impressive year in which he threw for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Baylor's Bryce Petty, formerly a Heisman contender, has already declared his intention to return to school next season. He threw for 3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2013.

Petty understands that this is a major opportunity for both quarterbacks, as he told Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:

Definitely, that’s just a chance for me to prove who I am. As far as being in Waco we might not get all the national attention, neither does UCF. I think it’s a great match for both of us to kind of put our skills up there and let everybody see who Bryce Petty is and who Blake Bortles is.

Fans will not want to miss this. Petty and Bortles both have plenty to prove, and a marquee win over one another, not to mention in one of the season's biggest bowls, is the ultimate goal. Both will surely be on top of their game, which is nothing but a good thing for fans.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Key Players Who Will Decide Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Two traditional powerhouses are set to collide when the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide meet in the 2013-14 Sugar Bowl.

While not the sexiest of matchups because both sides enjoy keeping the ball on the ground and playing sound defense, it is difficult to find a bowl game between two more dominant schools. The contest marks the Crimson Tide's third straight BCS berth, while it is No. 9 for the Sooners—which is the second most all time:

Despite such prestige, fans may find it difficult to identify the key players because these teams do not tout typical collegiate air-raid attacks with multiple high-profile superstars.

No, this game will be much more grounded, where only a few players will truly dictate the outcome.

 

Trevor Knight and Blake Bell, Quarterbacks, Oklahoma

Perhaps no player better understands the importance of this game than Oklahoma freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, as he told the media, per the team's Twitter account:

Knight better also understand he is part of a quarterback rotation that is meant to keep the Crimson Tide guessing during its preparation for the game. Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel outlined the approach, per the team's website:

Well, we mixed and matched. Some of it was planned and some of it wasn’t. You’ve got a couple of different injuries that happened the last two or three weeks of the season and you try to put those guys in the position to look successful. We’ll have a mixture of a little bit of everything at the Sugar Bowl to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game.

The Sooners have used Knight in tandem with Blake Bell in recent weeks. They took a three-quarterback approach by adding Kendal Thompson to the mix during a 33-24 victory over Oklahoma State to close the season.

Bell has been the primary man under center in 2013 as noted by his 1,648 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. Knight has seen more time near season's end and has 471 passing yards and five scores but also serves a dual-threat role with his 438 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The Alabama defense has had to prepare for both quarterbacks over the course of the last month, not knowing who will see the majority of the playing time. That advantage makes Bell and Knight two of the most important players on the field in New Orleans.

 

AJ McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama

This year's Heisman runner-up has much to prove in his final collegiate game. AJ McCarron is headed for the 2014 NFL draft, but before doing so, he must avoid an upset at the hands of the Sooners.

At the same time, McCarron must prove to all onlookers that he is not simply propped up by the extreme talent around him.

It is simple to slap the "game manager" label on McCarron. He threw for 2,676 yards and 26 scores to five interceptions as a senior but has plenty to prove in his final act.

The Oklahoma defense, which ranks in the top 25 with an average of 21.3 points allowed per game, will surely key on McCarron as the focal point of its plan. Not only does McCarron have to rise above for his own personal reasons, he must do it for his team to win.

 

Brennan Clay, Running back, Oklahoma

Oklahoma senior running back Brennan Clay is the wild card not receiving much publicity.

Clay had an underwhelming 913 yards and six touchdowns this year, but it is important to understand one thing—when Clay is on, he is on. Check out his three best games this season:

Those are scary numbers and any Alabama fan viewing them would be wise to remember Auburn's Tre Mason torching the Crimson Tide defense for 164 yards and a touchdown in the SEC Championship.

Sure, Alabama ranks No. 2 overall with just 11.3 points allowed per game, but Mason showed the unit can be vulnerable on the ground.

Not only must the Crimson Tide prepare for multiple quarterbacks, the unit also must prep for a back in Clay who can break a game open with apparent ease.

 

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Rose Bowl 2014: Players to Watch in Stanford vs. Michigan State

Don't expect many hijinks when the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans (12-1) and the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) square off in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl. Wednesday's West Coast matinee (5 p...

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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Staff Is Finally Taking Shape

With the news that USC Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian has secured the services of tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, per USCTrojans.com, there only remain a few spots open on his inaugural 2014 staff.

Among those assistant gigs that need filling are offensive line and strength and conditioning coaches, and it appears that Sark has zeroed in on who will fill those spots.

It is being reported that Ivan Lewis, the strength and conditioning coach at Washington will assume that position at USC:

#USC officially announced the hiring of Ivan Lewis as strength and conditioning coach.

— USC Football News (@USCFootballNews) December 31, 2013

Lewis is known as a well-respected coach and strong motivator who gets things done, and with a depleted roster facing Sark in 2014, knowing that his athletes are in prime shape will be greatly appreciated.

However, while strength and conditioning is an integral part of a solid football program, as units go, the offensive line is absolutely crucial to a team's overall success.

And it is at this unit that Sark appears to have pulled off an absolute coup when it comes to the coaching of the "big uglies."

USC Trojans.com is reporting that San Francisco 49ers offensive line Coach Tim Drevno will take over as O-line coach for the Trojans in 2014.

USC's official website also tweeted the following:

Sarkisian has also brought in Marques Tuiasosopo (from UW) to coach tight ends and Tim Drevno (from the 49ers) as the offensive line coach.

— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 31, 2013

With this hire, Sark will have secured the services of one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the game today.

Drevno shared offensive line coaching duties with Mike Solari while at San Francisco but has over 20 years of collegiate experience including stints at Stanford, UNLV and San Jose State.

Sark has now taken care of an important assistant position, and this hire is even more crucial with the Trojans expected to sign up to six offensive line recruits in this year's class.

The new head coach can turn his attention now to the last available spots on his staff, and perhaps one of those will be defensive line where Trojan fans are holding their breath that Ed Orgeron will have a change of heart and come back to USC.

But even if this doesn't work out, Sark is assembling a fine group of assistants, and USC fans should feel very good about how their football team will be coached in 2014 and beyond.

Follow me on twitter: @RickMcMahan 

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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Staff Is Finally Taking Shape

With the news that USC Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian has secured the services of tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, per USCTrojans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Sugar Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

After Auburn returned a field goal and ended Alabama's hopes of a national title, the Crimson Tide were relegated to the Sugar Bowl and a date against Oklahoma. 

This isn't particularly good news for either school. 

Although the Sugar Bowl is nothing to sneeze at, it isn't going to leave a lasting impression on Nick Saban's resume. Not that anyone should expect Saban to demand anything other than his players' best.

The lack of a shot at a national title doesn't appear to have hurt fan interest for the Tide: 

Saban is 5-1 in bowl games at Alabama, and this Crimson Tide squad is just as talented as the last two, which went on to win national championships. This year's squad was just not quite as lucky. 

That is why Alabama's inclusion in this game is bad news for Oklahoma. The Sooners will not bring the same talent level to the Superdome. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops did his part to put a positive spin on the matchup, though:

The Sooners battled through inconsistent quarterback and defensive performances. They did, however, end the season in good form. They posted a three-game winning streak that included a season-ending 33-24 triumph over Oklahoma State. 

If the Sooners have used the momentum from their late stretch of success to fuel a good month of practices while Alabama has spent more time lamenting missed opportunities, perhaps an upset will be in store. 


When: Thursday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La. 

Watch: ESPN 

Betting Line: Alabama -15.5, according to Bovada on Dec. 30 

Injury Report (via USA Today)

 

Key Storyline: Who Will Step Up Under Center for the Sooners?

On the season, the Sooners are 90th in the nation in yards per pass attempt, and it's not like they have been playing the nation's fiercest defenses. The Big 12 has seen improved defense over the past few seasons, but it's still a friendly place for quarterbacks. 

As a result of those struggles, the quarterback position has been a bit of a revolving door, and three quarterbacks threw more than a pass against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma's last game. 

Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson combined for just 5-of-16 passing with no touchdowns and an interception. Luckily for the Sooners, Blake Bell came in and went 10-of-16 for 140 yards, and he threw the game-winning touchdown.

We will see if Bell or any of the other quarterbacks will keep a hot hand rolling against Alabama. This is not Nick Saban's most intimidating defense, but it is very good. Alabama is 21st in the nation in yards allowed per pass, and its 10 interceptions are one more than the nine touchdown passes it allowed. 

Prediction: Alabama 38, Oklahoma 20

Oklahoma will keep this game close early with some inspired play. The Sooners will begin to wilt, however, as Alabama continues to grind out yards and points and the Sooners are forced to try and keep up. This will lead to a second half dominated by Alabama. 

 

All stats via CFBStats.com.

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