NCAA Football

2015 5-Star DT Jacob Daniel Decommits from Washington Via Twitter

As Steve Sarkisian carries on in his transition from Washington to USC, the Huskies continue to feel the brunt of his departure on the recruiting front.

Sark already brought composite 4-star defenders Claudeson Pelon and Jonathan Lockett to Southern Cal, both of whom had ties to UW. Now, the Huskies have lost another prized recruit, Jacob Daniel, a 247Sports 5-star defensive tackle for the 2015 class.

The Clovis, Calif., native announced his decommitment on Twitter Tuesday afternoon (h/t Matt Prehm, 247Sports):

247Sports rates Daniel as the No. 5 defensive tackle for 2015.

While the 6'4", 298-pound defender hasn't switched his commitment to USC, some predict that it might only be a matter of time before he does. His two latest forecasts on the 247Sports crystal ball have him headed to Troy, along with Sarkisian.

However, Daniel did leave the door open as he begins the next chapter of his recruitment. Immediately after announcing his decommitment, he said that he still loves UW.

It might now be up to new Washington head coach Chris Petersen to build a relationship with Daniel and bring him to Seattle. Since Daniel is just a junior, he'll have plenty of time to do so before the 2015 signing period.

Daniel was one of just two commitments for 2015 for UW and leaves the Huskies with just one verbal for the class: composite 3-star offensive tackle Trey Adams.

The 2014 class is also looking relatively bare for Washington. As of Daniel's decommitment, the Huskies boasted just eight verbal commitments.

None of those commits are defensive linemen, though they are targeting former Boise State commit Greg Gaines on the middle of the defensive front.

The push and pull between Sarkisian and Petersen will certainly be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 5-Star DT Jacob Daniel Decommits from Washington Via Twitter

As Steve Sarkisian carries on in his transition from Washington to USC, the Huskies continue to feel the brunt of his departure on the recruiting front...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Chick-Fil-A Bowl 2013 Duke vs. Texas A&M: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Aggies

Texas A&M and Duke are locked in a battle at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, GA. 

4th Quarter: Duke 41, Texas A&M 38

For the full box score, check out NCAA.com

First-half analysis for the Texas A&M Aggies

Pass Offense: Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel needs to get more protection from his offensive line to make more quality throws. Give credit to Duke's secondary for sticking on the Texas A&M receivers. Manziel completed 18 of 25 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. 

Run Offense: There were not any big runs in the first half. Manziel is doing a solid job of scrambling outside of the pocket and finding open space for rushing yards. The Aggies have rushed for 79 yards on 17 carries. Texas A&M needs better run protection in the second half. 

Pass Defense: Duke's pass offense is getting exactly what they want through the first half. The Aggies need to do a better job of containing Blue Devils WR Jamison Crowder. Quarterback Anthony Boone finished the half 13-of-17 passing for 230 yards and two touchdowns. 

Run Defense: There aren't many positive things to say about the Texas A&M run defense either. The Aggies haven't been able to stop Duke on 4th-and-short yardage. The coaching staff needs to make some adjustments on the run defense at halftime. 

Special Teams: A big blocked punt by the Blue Devils' special teams put themselves in great field position. Texas A&M needs a big kick return in the second half. 

Coaching: The A&M coaching staff needs to figure out a way to stop Duke's offense. Duke has scored five touchdowns and one field goal on six drives. 

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Georgia Football: 4 Ways Hutson Mason Can Take Advantage of the Blackshirts

The Gator Bowl is right around the corner and the Georgia Bulldogs are looking to get their second straight win over Nebraska.

And in order for them to do that, they will need Hutson Mason to have a big day under center.

Mason played well against Georgia Tech and with a month to prepare with the first-team offense, he should improve. However, he is going against a Nebraska defense that while is not the unit what it was back in the '90s, it can still make plays, especially in the secondary.

Here are four ways Mason can take advantage of the Blackshirts.

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2013 Sugar Bowl: 4 Reasons Alabama Offense Will Shred Oklahoma Defense

One of the more intriguing storylines in Alabama’s upcoming matchup against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl will feature a potent Tide offense going against a stout Sooners defense. 

Nick Saban’s offensive attack averaged nearly 450 yards of total offense this season and scored nearly 39 points per game. Meanwhile, Bob Stoops’ troops led the Big 12 in total defense, allowing just 336 yards per contest. That figure that placed them 14th nationally in that category, according to cfbstats.com.

The Sooners will present a stiff test, but there are four reasons why the Tide offense will move the ball and put up points when the two teams collide on Thursday night.

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UCLA Is Trending Up at the Right Time, but 2014 Will Be True Test for Bruins

UCLA has its first 10-win season since 2005, reaching the milestone Tuesday, Dec. 31, in a 42-12 rout of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. 

Aside from reaching 10 wins at the same bowl game as the 2005 Bruins, this UCLA season ends on a different trajectory. The program hit the double-digit benchmark twice previously in the BCS era, and each campaign—1998 and 2005—was the culmination of an era. 

After going 10-2 in 1998, the next six UCLA teams went 4-7, 6-6, 7-4, 8-5, 6-7 and 6-6. In the six seasons between the Bruins' 10-2 finish in 2005 and head coach Jim Mora's arrival before the 2012 campaign, UCLA never won more than seven games in any one year. 

Mora immediately adjusted both attitudes and expectations, and the result is a 19-8 record through two seasons. 

Perhaps nowhere was UCLA's refocus under Mora more evident than the Sun Bowl. Last year, the Bruins slogged into the postseason after the disappointment of losing the Pac-12 Championship game, then were promptly blown out of the Holiday Bowl by streaking Baylor, denying UCLA a 10th victory. 

For the Bears, the Holiday Bowl foreshadowed the Big 12 Conference championship that was to come in 2013. 

The Holiday Bowl rout also carried UCLA into 2013, as Mora detailed to reporters last week. 

"[The Holiday Bowl loss] created a real motivation for us going into the offseason," he said, per The Orange County Register. "It's carried through this season. Our guys are really focused on...trying to find a way to get win No. 10."

Ten wins is a nice number and a new standard in the Mora era, but it's not an endgame. 

This time, 10 wins are less signifying of a destination and more of a pit stop for UCLA. With Mora behind the wheel, the Bruins are cruising and gaining speed. Next stop is 2014 with a roster heavily stocked with returning talents—and very little time on the road.

The Bruins faced a bear of a schedule in 2013, drawing Pac-12 heavyweights Stanford and Oregon away from home—in consecutive weeks, no less—as well as rival USC. All three come to the Rose Bowl in 2014. 

Chief among the Bruins returning for next year is linebacker Myles Jack, the transcendent two-way star who won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. 

Jack's offensive load will be significantly lightened with a healthy stable of running backs operating under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. In fact, Jack's time as a two-way player may have come to an end, but that's for the best for UCLA. 

Jack will take up the mantle likely first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Barr carried as the leading playmaker for the Bruins defense. But that doesn't mean Jack's time reaching the end zone is over, as Virginia Tech learned firsthand. 

No Bruin caused Virginia Tech more problems than quarterback Brett Hundley, whose NFL decision in the coming days will shape UCLA's expectations for 2014. 

The redshirt sophomore had arguably the best game of his career, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns and passing for two more scores. Should Hundley test the NFL draft waters, his second passing score will accompany many a TV analyst's breakdown on the quarterback's arm strength. 

UCLA faithful in attendance at the Sun Bowl let Hundley know he's welcome back for another year, as Los Angeles Daily News reporter Jack Wang notes via Twitter. 

Mora has also made his hope for another year of Hundley abundantly clear. There's no doubting how important Hundley is to UCLA's plan for a season that could exceed all expectations this program's had in recent memory.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Is Trending Up at the Right Time, but 2014 Will Be True Test for Bruins

UCLA has its first 10-win season since 2005, reaching the milestone Tuesday, Dec. 31, in a 42-12 rout of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Is Frank Beamer the Right Man to Coach Virginia Tech into the CFB Playoff Era?

It's been a while since Virginia Tech has been, well, Virginia Tech. The program that Frank Beamer built from the ground up has been mediocre at best over the last few years and was just smacked with another dose of reality in the 42-14 loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl. Fans are ready to hit the panic button, especially with the bowl system being introduced next season.

If there's ever a time to make a coaching change, now would be it. If the program truly believes the 67-year-old coach has lost his magic and can no longer keep Virginia Tech competitive, it's the perfect opportunity to start over with a younger coach who can bring in fresher ideas. It'd be similar to what Texas just did with head coach Mack Brown.

The only problem here is that Virginia Tech isn't Texas. There was no Darrell Royal or anybody successful before the current legendary coach stepped onto the scene. Before Beamer, Virginia Tech was an independent team just happy to qualify for a bowl game every once in a while. A couple of decades later, Beamer has the program in a position to compete for big boy bowls and national titles.

The question is: Who?

Virginia Tech would be wise to stick with Beamer. 

Beamer is the only coach who has consistently succeeded at Virginia Tech. There's no guarantee another coach will be able to hop on board and have the Hokies back atop the ACC. Sure, Virginia Tech has reached a bowl game every year since 1993 and has established itself as a respectable football program, but a lot of that was accomplished by one guy. Making a head coaching change would be removing that guy from office.

On a smaller scale, it's like asking the Chicago Bulls to replace Michael Jordan. Penn State recently had to replace Joe Paterno, and they ended up hitting the lottery by landing Bill O'Brien, but that was a once in a lifetime hit. Nowadays, programs are making coaching changes every few years because they can't get the hire right. Bringing in a new coach is scary, especially when it'd be the first head coaching change since 1987.

It's also important to note that other programs in the ACC are improving drastically. Florida State is back to being an elite program, Miami is making strides, Clemson and North Carolina are on the map, and that doesn't include Louisville entering the conversation next season. This is a competitive conference that would need somebody who could win right away. After all, you wouldn't replace Beamer and allow multiple years of rebuilding. 

But who?

Virginia Tech is not only in a difficult conference, but it's also only been relevant under Beamer's watch. The lack of consistent success and knowing that recruiting is difficult, isn't going to attract a top-tier coach to takeover. Yes, the Hokies recruit well, but they recruit strength in numbers rather than landing countless elite prospects.

Virginia Tech would pretty much be rolling the dice with a new coach, which is what it is doing by keeping Beamer on the sidelines any longer. However, Beamer does have 224 career wins under his belt and has 13 seasons with double-digit victories. The Hokies have no choice but to ride it out and hope he can figure things out.

The unknown is a scary place. A place that Virginia Tech should try to avoid as long as possible. 

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Virginia Tech vs. UCLA: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Sun Bowl

If the 2014 Sun Bowl was the last collegiate game for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, he put on a grand final act. His play was instrumental in the Bruins' 42-12 victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Tuesday. 

The redshirt sophomore could bolt for the NFL in May or return to UCLA for at least one more season.  

The Hokies had no answers for the scrambling ability of the Bruins' star in the first half. Hundley ran all over them, including this 86-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA the lead.

In the second half, Hundley hurt the Hokies with his arm. He had 387 total yards (226 passing and 161 rushing) and four touchdowns (two passing and two rushing).

UCLA's defense took over for him in the second half.

Jordan Zumwalt's huge hit knocked Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas out of the game late in the second quarter. Zumwalt was flagged, but the hit looked legal in the replay. You be the judge.

Thomas didn't return and any chance for the Hokies to win this game went out the door.

Mark Leal relieved Thomas, but he was grossly ineffective. He made a few decent plays, but he also had a few perplexing ones. This ridiculous decision led to a pick-six from super freshman, Myles Jack.

Jack is a complete stud and a future superstar on the college level, but this was a gift. Tech was completely overmatched in this one, especially once they fell behind.

Check out the grades for the key players in this rout.

 

Brett Hundley, A-

Although he missed a few throws early, his running ability gave his team the lead in the first half. In the second half, his two touchdown passes put the game away.

He still needs some refinement, but at 6'3", 225 pounds with amazing athleticism and a strong arm, Hundley is a big-time prospect. Don't be surprised if you see him selected in the first eight picks—should he leave UCLA. Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times thinks that Hundley looks like a pro quarterback:

 

Logan Thomas, Incomplete

He had a decent first half as a runner. Just before Zumwalt knocked him out of the game, Thomas had produced this awesome run.

He completed 3-of-11 passes for 46 yards and rushed for 50 more before leaving the game. Had he not been injured, the game could have been closer, but chances are UCLA still would have won. Following the game, Thomas spoke about the injury (via Hokies Journal):

 

Jordan Zumwalt, A-

His big hit was the biggest defensive play of the game. Zumwalt also had 10 tackles and an interception. He may have to watch himself on the next level, though. The Bruins senior linebacker seems destined to wind up on Roger Goodell's hit list for helmet-to-helmet infractions.

Nonetheless, he played big in his final game for the Bruins.

 

Myles Jack, A-

 

Jack was all over the field. He made his share of big plays, including the pick-six. The future is exciting for this young linebacker.

 

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Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Capital One Bowl 2013: Biggest Challenges for South Carolina and Wisconsin

The 2013 Capital One Bowl features a couple college football powerhouses in South Carolina (10-2) and Wisconsin (9-3), and both teams face significant challenges in the upcoming contest. 

The Badgers are coming off a disappointing 31-24 loss to Penn State to close out the regular season on Nov. 30. The team has made it to the Rose Bowl the past three years (losing all three times), and it was a disappointment to miss out on another chance at a BCS bowl game.

However, safety Dez Southward made it clear in a recent interview that the Badgers will be approaching this game with full focus, as noted by Kevin Chroust of the Associated Press, via Yahoo! Sports:

We're not taking this game lightly at all. This is an enormous game. Just because it's not the Rose Bowl, just because it's not a BCS bowl game, it doesn't mean the opponent is not the same caliber. That's the case with South Carolina. They're above and beyond almost anybody we've played this year.

South Carolina lost just two games all year—both coming against ranked SEC teams—and finished the season with an impressive 31-17 win over Clemson, which was the No. 6-ranked team in the nation at that time. 

Though the two teams finished the season 10 spots apart in the final BCS rankings, they both feature special traits that could ultimately lead to victory. With that in mind, here's a look at the biggest challenge for both teams.

 

Wisconsin Must Rattle the Unflappable Connor Shaw

South Carolina won 10 games this year in large part because quarterback Connor Shaw proved to be one of the most unflappable and reliable quarterbacks in the nation. 

The senior signal-caller's final stats don't jump off the page, as he passed for just 2,135 yards with 21 touchdowns, adding another 511 yards and five touchdowns running the ball.

However, Shaw remarkably threw just one interception all year long. It occurred in the team's loss to Tennessee, which proved his worst performance of the year. The Volunteers had him on the run all game long, which forced him into many a bad throw. 

His ability to keep drives alive with both his arm and his legs helped the Gamecocks put together one of the finest seasons of any team in the nation. 

After Shaw led a three-point, double-overtime victory over Missouri on Oct. 26, Alex Brown of Optimum Scouting remarked on his toughness, competitiveness and poise:

For Wisconsin, it's going to take a relentless effort by the team's pass-rushers to keep Shaw from efficiently running South Carolina's balanced offense. It's easier said than done, however, because the senior has seen it all before and isn't easily rattled. 

 

South Carolina Must Clamp Down on Wisconsin's Potent Rushing Attack

South Carolina's defense was formidable in 2013, finishing the regular season as the No. 13-ranked scoring defense in the nation (20 points allowed per game). Led by pass-rusher extraordinaire Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks allowed just 202.8 passing yards per game and just 13 total passing touchdowns.

But the team was exposed a few times against top rushing attacks and finished the season allowing 4.05 yards per carry, 142.3 yards per game and 16 total rushing touchdowns. 

Wisconsin's offense could give South Carolina's defense some big problems.

Led by Melvin Gordon and James White, who combined for 2,803 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns this season, the Badgers finished the year as the nation's No. 8-ranked rushing offense, averaging 283 yards per game.

Clowney talked about the upcoming challenge, via Chroust: "They can run the ball pretty well. They'll try to pound it at us. We've got to be ready to stop the run. I think they pass the ball a lot more than you expect. They do a lot of play-action pass."

That play-action passing game won't be hardly as effective if Clowney and his defensive teammates can shut down Gordon, White and Wisconsin's rushing attack. Should this occur, then South Carolina should be able to cruise to victory. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Under Armour All-America Game 2014: Top 10 Uncommitted Playmakers to Watch

The 2014 Under Armour All-America Game is an opportunity for college football fans to catch a glimpse of their favorite program's incoming freshman phenoms. The event, which begins at 4 p.m. Thursday on ESPN, features future Wolverines, Trojans, Gators and Bulldogs.

But not every recruiting process is complete at this point.

Several stars are still determining their ultimate collegiate destinations. Here we rank the top 10 uncommitted prospects scheduled to play Saturday.

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Orange Bowl 2014: Ohio State Will Get Glimpse of Future on Defense

Ohio State's defense has been the topic of much consternation over the past month-plus, thanks to subpar efforts against Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back games. 

Come the Orange Bowl, some will get their wish, as Ohio State's defense is about to look a lot different than it has all season long. 

For some, it couldn't be much worse than giving up over 1,000 yards and 75 points in a two-game span. 

With those kinds of results, could the young replacements really do much worse?

We're about to find out. As many as four changes are in store from the defense that took the field in the Big Ten Championship game. 

Some of the changes are due to injury situations, and others are because of the flu bug going around the Ohio State locker room, but perhaps the biggest blow comes not from injury or sickness, but from an issue away from the game of football. 

Ohio State's best pass-rushing threat, Noah Spence, didn't make the trip to South Florida with the team and may not be able to be in attendance due to what the team is describing as a "personal issue."

Couple that with the news that Bradley Roby isn't a for sure go thanks to a bone bruise in his knee, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern, and you have two of the most important pieces against the high-powered Clemson passing attack missing. 

That means it could be on sophomore Armani Reeves to tackle the tough task of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (85 receptions, 1,237 yards, 10 touchdowns). 

Watkins is nothing but confident about his abilities and the matchup against either Roby or Reeves.

"I think I’m the best receiver in the nation and I think cornerbacks should have their chance," said Watkins, according to cleveland.com. "Overall I think I can’t be guarded, that’s just my mindset. But it’s definitely fun going against great cornerbacks."

Reeves has played in 12 games this season, making 22 tackles and recording seven pass breakups along with eight passes defended. Not bad, but he also hasn't taken on the combination of speed and size that Watkins possesses. 

As for the help a pass rush gives defensive backs, according to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, the team is working to get Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller (no, not the band, you're better than that joke...but I'm clearly not) ready to go against the Tigers. 

Marcus and Miller have combined for 27 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks this season. There's talent there, but it's a big step up from playing in situational roles to being expected to play nearly every down. 

The positive news is that Roby may still end up playing in the Orange Bowl, but according to Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, it could be a case of mind over matter for the star cornerback(h/t to Eric Seger of The Lantern): 

You’d have to ask the doctors. I mean, there’s—there’s a lot of injuries that—you know, it’s not an exact science. I always tell those guys, a mind is a powerful thing. A doctor can tell you one thing or a trainer can tell you one thing, but what’s in your mind and how well you can heal and what you can do is probably as powerful as anything. So we don’t really know.

Even if Roby sees the field, there will be other changes behind him, as Tyvis Powell gets the start at safety and highly touted freshman Vonn Bell gets the start at the nickel spot

Senior linebacker Curtis Grant is also an injury concern, dealing with back and ankle injuries that have bothered him off and on all season long. 

Yes, Ohio State will be playing nickel most of the game, trying to matchup with what Clemson likes to do offensively. 

What remains to be seen is if the changes in the secondary allow for better play by the defense overall or if it's a case of too little, too late for Ohio State. 

For those hoping the future is brighter than the 2013 season looked on defense, Ohio State will give you a good glimpse of what's to come—it just may not be ready to challenge a top15 opponent just yet though. 

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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5 Keys to an Iowa Hawkeyes Victory in 2014 Outback Bowl

After a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2012, the Iowa Hawkeyes are returning to a January bowl game for the seventh time in the last 12 years. This time, it's against the No. 16 LSU Tigers in the Outback Bowl.

Hawkeye fans are excited and will fill up Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Day. According to Andrew Logue of The Des Moines Register on Hawk Central, Iowa was only 600 tickets shy of selling its quota of 11,500 as of Dec. 27.

While Iowa is a 7.5-point underdog (per VegasInsider), Kirk Ferentz is 4-1 against current SEC teams with the Hawkeyes. That includes their dramatic victory over the Tigers in the 2005 Capital One Bowl when Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway as time expired.

For the 8-4 Hawkeyes to bring a fourth trophy back to Iowa City this season, they will need to overcome an LSU team that is 21st in scoring at 37 points per game and 30th in scoring defense at 22.7 points.

How can Iowa pull it off?

(All 2013 statistical rankings are courtesy of NCAA.com unless noted otherwise. All rankings are valid as of Dec. 30.)

 

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Texas Longhorns Football: Charlie Strong and the Latest on the Coaching Search

One day after the final game of the season and Mack Brown's career, athletic director Steve Patterson is busy on the search for the next football coach of the University of Texas.

Per a report on Orangebloods.com by columnist Chip Brown, Patterson flew to meet with current Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

One high-level source said Patterson on Tuesday flew to an undisclosed location to interview Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who has received a high recommendation from the search firm Korn/Ferry, which is assisting in the hunt for Mack Brown's replacement.

Strong seems to be a "strong" candidate for the head coaching job at Texas. He has been in coaching since 1983 and has lots of assistant experience. Strong took over Louisville in 2010, winning the 2013 Sugar Bowl and the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl.

Strong has three losses in the last two years while coaching star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a successful career. The Cardinals also finished the 2013 FBS overall rankings third in points against with 12.2 per game.

Also per Brown's report, the athletic director of Texas has interviewed Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and has interest in Michigan State's Mark Dantonio. And outside of Patterson's camp, there seem to be "billionaire donors" that are interested in other, bigger names. This is per Brown's report:

A group of billionaire donors appear ready to make their case for Florida State's Jimbo Fisher as the next coach at Texas. Even though Fisher signed a new contract extension at FSU that will take his salary to $4.1 million, the new deal has no buyout, two sources confirmed.

What should be known is that Patterson is now hot on the search for the right fit for the Longhorns football program. While other alumni and donors appear to have specific wants in terms of coaching, Patterson will ultimately make the final decision along with his search committee.

Many names will be thrown out within the next week, but a decision is expected by January 15.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Top 5 Moments of the Mack Brown Era

The Mack Brown era at Texas came to an end in the Alamodome Monday night, but the ending was not the storybook finale some Longhorn fans were hoping to see.

The Oregon Ducks sent Brown off into the sunset with a 30-7 defeat in the Valero Alamo Bowl. With all of the negative comments made over the last four seasons, it's time to take a look at the top five moments of the Mack Brown era in Austin.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Key Matchups and Players to Watch in Intriguing BCS Clash

If you like smashmouth football, proud football programs and solid defense, well, you are going to love Michigan versus Stanford in this year's Rose Bowl.

The similarities between these teams are readily apparent. Stanford rushed for 210.9 yards per game; Michigan State ran for 182.2. Michigan State held opponents to just 12.7 points per contest, fourth in the nation, while Stanford allowed just 18.6, 10th in the country.

And both ended the national title hopes of prominent programs this year, with Stanford beating Oregon in early November and Michigan State knocking Ohio State out of the title game in the Big Ten Championship.

So with so little to distinguish these teams, what key matchups will decide this old-fashioned, physical contest? Which players will need to step up for their team to win?

Let's find out.

 

Mike Sadler, P, Michigan State

Yes, a punter.

Sadler was excellent for Michigan State this season, averaging 42.3 yards per punt. In a game that could very well be decided by the battle of field position, burying Stanford deep inside of their own territory would provide the team with a serious advantage.

 

The Trenches 

Let's call a spade a spade—this game will absolutely be won in the trenches.

Michigan State's best unit on offense is its offensive line. Defensively, they are loaded across the board, but they are impossible to run against. Of course, Stanford's line play has become the staple of the program, ensuring a battle between the big nasties on both sides of the ball. 

SI.com's Pete Thamel believes Stanford's "innovation" along the offensive line is one of its biggest successes:

[W]ith a surplus of blue-chip players destined for NFL careers, and with creative schemes that deploy as many as nine offensive linemen at once, Stanford is showing that imaginative line play isn't necessarily a paradox.

Fitting for a school where ingenuity is intertwined in its ethos, Stanford has managed to challenge the boundaries of position group often perceived as primitive. The Cardinal have used at least six offensive linemen on a majority of their plays this season, and they've evolved to the point that formations with seven and eight offensive linemen have become the norm.

Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren talked about the schemes: "I don't know that anyone is doing it to the degree we are. We've had people copy us, video games have added our formations and everyone has invited me to speak at clinics."

It won't be sexy, but you can bet there will be some strategy at play and serious hitting going on between these lines on both sides of the ball.

 

Trent Murphy, Linebacker, Stanford

With 58 tackles, 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss, few players on either side of the ball have the potential to make as much of an impact as Stanford's All-America linebacker, Trent Murphy.

With a nasty streak and a habit of playing in an opponent's backfield, he'll be sure to introduce himself to Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford early and often.

 

Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford vs. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

While Stanford has leaned heavily on running back Tyler Gaffney quite heavily this season—1,618 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns—the running lanes will be more narrow against a tough Michigan State front seven. That means Montgomery is going to have to win the battle on the outside.

Montgomery has been quite good this year, with 58 receptions for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns, making himself Stanford's go-to guy in the passing game. But getting open against Dennard is another story altogether. 

The senior cornerback, All-American and Jim Thorpe winner quite literally cuts the field in half, as opposing quarterbacks simply don't throw his way. His four interceptions may not catch your eye, but the fact that the receiver he's blanketed often isn't heard during a broadcast is all you need to know.

Montgomery is a big, physical receiver who will try to use his body to jockey for position and keep the chains moving. But if Dennard completely takes him out of the game, Stanford's passing game will suffer, and Michigan State will have one less aspect of the Stanford offense to concern themselves with. 

 

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Speaking of Cook, the sophomore has emerged as a steady presence at quarterback this season, finishing with 2,423 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. With a solid running game, and arguably the nation's best defense, his task has been simple—manage the game and hold onto the ball.

But against Stanford, the running game will likely be less effective than usual and Stanford will dial up the pressure in obvious passing downs. Cook is going to have to make plays with his arm down the field at some point, and if he does—and if he can continue to avoid the turnover bug—the Spartans have a great chance to steal a win.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Viewing Info, Game Time and Prediction

Of all the BCS bowl games, the Orange Bowl will likely be one of the most exciting matchups thanks, in large part, to both teams' offenses. While many old school football fans might crave the hard-nosed matchup of games like the Rose Bowl, this one is sure to offer two teams looking to finish with 40 or more points.

The Ohio State Buckeyes finished No. 3 in points scored and boast the third-best rushing offense this season. The Buckeyes not only posted 10 games with 40 or more points, but also held opponents to 20 or less in six contests.

As for the Clemson Tigers, spreading the ball around through the passing game is what got them to the Orange Bowl, and what will have to get going in order for them to pull out a win. Averaging 329.3 passing yards per game, the Tigers finished 11th in the country through the air and averaged the ninth-most points on the year.

With just one game remaining for both teams on the season, here is a look at the 2014 Orange Bowl and a prediction for what will be the penultimate BCS bowl game.

 

Viewing Information

When: Friday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. EST

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Stream: WatchESPN

 

Prediction

Clemson is putting together a great season in Tajh Boyd's final college season and likely Sammy Watkins' final campaign as well. The two have connected 85 times for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, which accounts for over one third of Boyd's passing yards this year.

With another weapon through the air in Martavis Bryant (39 receptions, 800 yards, five touchdowns) and on the ground with Roderick McDowell (956 rushing yards, 5.4 ypc, five touchdowns), the Tigers certainly have the weapons to compete with the Buckeyes.

But the Ohio State offense is one that not only dominates its opponents, but simply controls the game with its rushing offense. Both Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde have over 1,000 rushing yards and a combined 24 touchdowns this season.

Miller missed interviews with the media on Tuesday morning because of a flu bug, but he appears to be fine, according to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch:

The difference in this game will be the defense of Ohio State. Led by linebacker Ryan Shazier, a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Buckeyes have a good defense that has been shelled as of late.

The Buckeyes were crushed by Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the Big Ten Championship Game. Expect this game to be the Buckeyes' bounce back game with the unfortunate team on the other end being Clemson.

Coach Urban Meyer spoke about the defense needed to step up to Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, saying that he believes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell will turn it around, "It's certainly not what we expect. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Luke Fickell. He's a very unselfish coach, a very good coach and we're going to get this thing fixed."

The ACC as a whole is enjoying one of the best years in their history, but the success of teams in the regular season hasn't always boiled over to the bowl season. Thus far, the ACC is 3-4 in bowl games with two more to be played before BCS bowls officially begin.

With two teams from the ACC earning BCS berths, there is reason to believe both teams could tip the scales and make this year even more memorable. Unfortunately, they will be 0-1 in BCS games before the national title game is played.

Prediction: Buckeyes 42, Tigers 35

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Chick-fil-A Bowl 2013: Most Important Keys for Duke vs. Texas A&M

The Chick-fil-A Bowl features a Duke team that exceeded expectations by reaching the ACC Championship Game going up against a Texas A&M squad that is more talented but struggled to elevate its level of play in big games.

Of course, most of the eyes tuning in to the game will be doing so to check out what Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel will do in what could be his final collegiate game. While he wasn't able to capture the Heisman Trophy again, he put together another terrific campaign.

He will be the center of attention not only for the viewers but also for Duke if it has any plans of ending its memorable season on a high note. Let's check out the most important key for both sides as bowl season finally begins to heat up.

 

 

Duke: Get Pressure on Johnny Manziel

Manziel is going to make plays. In two seasons, he's racked up over 9,500 total yards of offense and 88 touchdowns. Duke's job on defense isn't to completely shut him down; it's just to make sure he doesn't completely dominate the game to the point where the Blue Devils offense doesn't have a chance.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe spoke about Manziel via Dan Woken of USA Today:

It's pretty incredible when you look at his two-year totals and numbers he's been able to put together. The excitement meter in the way he plays takes it through the roof. To become somewhat legendary in one year puts you right at the top of the ladder in the historical sense of what an individual player has meant to college football.

The biggest key to limiting Manziel's impact is getting consistent pressure on him, even if it means sending a couple extra pass-rushers. At the very least, they have to line up and give off the impression of a blitz before dropping into coverage.

It's crucial because when Manziel gets time to stand in the pocket for more than a few heartbeats, he's going to find a way to make something happen. Whether it's a throw downfield or taking off and using his legs, he's a special playmaker, which is why Scouts Inc. ranks him among the top five at the position assuming he enters the 2014 NFL draft:

But if Duke can get some pressure on him and force quick decisions, that's when it can force mistakes. Manziel threw five interceptions over the final three games of the regular season. If Duke can pick off a couple passes, it should be in business.

It starts with Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx. If they can spend a lot of time in the backfield, it should have a trickle-down effect throughout the defense.

 

Texas A&M: Establish Running Game Early

Since the final scoreline read 45-7, it's easy to forget Florida State and Duke were tied at zero after the first quarter of the ACC title game. It wasn't until the Seminoles started focusing on the ground game in the second quarter that things started to open up offensively.

The Aggies should learn from that and come out looking to get things going with the rushing attack. Perhaps an expanded workload for Trey Williams, who's averaging over seven yards per carry in limited duty, is in order.

But even if they want to stick with the committee approach they used all season, the plan remains the same. Williams, Ben Malena and Tra Carson should have little trouble finding running room against a middling Duke defense.

Once they establish the run with the backs, then things should really open up for Manziel to start working his magic both through the air, especially if Duke doesn't focus extra attention on Mike Evans while trying to stop the run, and on the ground.

Ultimately, it's a game Texas A&M should win, but it must play better than it did in previous games against ranked opponents. A strong rushing attack should build the foundation for exactly that.

 

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AdvoCare V100 Bowl: B.J. Denker Shows Arizona's More Than Just Ka'Deem Carey

When Arizona football was brought up nationally in 2013, chances are the words "running back" and "Ka'Deem Carey" quickly followed it. After Arizona's 42-19 win over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, there's now another name people may remember—B.J. Denker. 

Denker, the Wildcats' senior quarterback, came in with not much publicity to his name, completing a decent 60.5 percent of his passes for just over 2,200 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions heading into the bowl game. 

On New Year's Eve, Denker made one last happy memory in 2013 for Wildcats fans and himself. He finished his day passing 17-of-24 for 276 yards and two touchdowns and added 13 carries for 49 yards and one touchdown. 

It was perhaps the most unlikely of scenarios for how the Wildcats would win this game, especially considering two facts: 

  • Denker had thrown two or more touchdown passes just three times all season
  • His last game was a 50 percent, 175-yard, three-interception effort against rival Arizona State

Denker's 276-yard performance was the second-best total of his career, only topped by a 363-yard effort against USC.

The highlight of the day may have been this ball fake that would've made the best of point guards jealous: 

Perhaps the best piece of news in Denker's performance was what he was able to do it alongside freshman wide receiver Trey Griffey, the son of former Major League Baseball great Ken Griffey Jr. 

Griffey made his first-ever touchdown grab a spectacular one: 

He then doubled his career tally later in the contest, finishing the game with three catches for 41 yards and the two touchdowns. 

Denker wasn't the only story in this game for the Wildcats, as Carey outdid the Doak Walker Award winner, Andrew Williams of Boston College. 

Carey wound up with 165 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns, while the Wildcats defense bottled up Williams for the most part, holding him to just 75 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown.  

Come tomorrow, the questions of Carey's NFL future will be the hot topic in Tucson, but for one day, Denker was the one who deserved all the headlines. 

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AdvoCare V100 Bowl: B.J. Denker Shows Arizona's More Than Just Ka'Deem Carey

When Arizona football was brought up nationally in 2013, chances are the words "running back" and "Ka'Deem Carey" quickly followed it...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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