NCAA Football

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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Oregon's Nick Aliotti Leads an Impressive Defensive Stand at the Alamo Bowl

They say you are only as good as your last game. If that is true, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is finally due the respect that is usually reserved for the Ducks' high-flying offense...

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Oregon's Nick Aliotti Leads an Impressive Defensive Stand at the Alamo Bowl

They say you are only as good as your last game. If that is true, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is finally due for the respect that is usually reserved for the Ducks' high-flying offense.

A week ago, Aliotti wasn't even on the media's radar as they began coverage in anticipation of Monday's Valero Alamo Bowl. The looming departure of Texas head coach Mack Brown was the dominant story in the weeks leading up to the game.

As he has done during the majority of his coaching career at Oregon, Aliotti took a backseat to a more media-friendly narrative leading up to the game. 

With all the hoopla surrounding Brown and the Texas coaching search, Aliotti quietly prepared his oft-overlooked defense. Once the game started, it was the outgoing Oregon coach who had the bigger impact on the field.

On a night when the Oregon offense was mostly out of rhythm, it was Aliotti and the Oregon defense which kept the Ducks' lead at a comfortable margin all night.

Aliotti announced last week that the matchup with Texas would be his final game before retirement. After a dominant effort from his defense on Monday night, the Ducks made sure their undervalued and sometimes maligned coordinator went out on a high note.

Usually it is Oregon's high-flying offense which keeps Aliotti and his defense out of the spotlight. In front of the second-largest crowd in Alamo Bowl history, the Ducks made sure their defense and its longtime coordinator took a backseat to no one. 

For the first time since a 7-6 loss to Harvard in the 1920 Rose Bowl, Oregon held a bowl opponent to seven points or less. Other than a one-yard quarterback sneak from Texas quarterback Case McCoy late in the first quarter and the ensuing point after, the Ducks didn't allow another point.

Against the Ducks, the Longhorns had as many punts as they did points. Texas punter Anthony Fera totaled 295 yards on seven attempts, outgaining his own team's offense by 59 yards.

Other than running back Malcolm Brown, who ran for 130 yards on 26 carries, the banged-up Longhorns were lifeless on offense. The Ducks shut down the weapons that Texas was able to put on the field, and when they didn't, the Longhorns shot themselves in the foot by dropping a handful of passes.

Texas is far from the offensive juggernaut that it was during most of the Mack Brown era, but it is still a talented group capable of putting points on the board. That being said, the Ducks never allowed the Longhorns to utilize that talent and smothered them from the opening kickoff.

It started on the game's third play when safety Avery Patterson snared a tipped pass from Texas quarterback Case McCoy and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. It continued when linebacker Derrick Malone intercepted a McCoy pass and returned it 38 yards for a score with nine minutes remaining in the game.

Unfortunately for Texas, the Oregon defense didn't let up until after it stopped Texas on a fourth down in the red zone with 3:23 remaining in the game. Between the opening kickoff and the fourth-down stop, the Ducks allowed just 236 yards of offense. 

The Ducks weren't able to turn their own 469 yards of offense into touchdowns as the Texas defense was up to the challenge of facing the Ducks and their high-powered offense. It didn't matter. On just two plays, the Oregon defense doubled the scoring output of the entire Texas team.

On the night when the Ducks set a school record for total yards in a season, the defense nearly outscored its much more famous teammates. The Ducks were held to one offensive touchdown and four field-goal attempts in five trips inside the Texas 25-yard line.

Aliotti has coached football for 38 years, including 24 with the Ducks. Fans and boosters have had a love-hate relationship with the outspoken coach during his tenure in Eugene. He never flinched when his job was thought to be in jeopardy, and he always stuck to his plan.

In recent years, the Ducks have acquired the type of athletes which have allowed Aliotti's aggressive style to thrive. On Monday night, one of the most talented groups in his 17 years as Oregon's defensive coordinator put on a clinic against one of college football's most storied programs.

Texas played hard and wanted to win the game for its legendary coach, but the Longhorns ran into a better team. Oregon also had a much-loved coach taking part in his last game, and it made sure the swan song for both coaches was controlled by a bunch of Ducks.

Oregon played as well as it ever has on defense under Aliotti against a team the caliber of Texas. Two interceptions, two sacks and two defensive touchdowns all led to a second bowl win against the Longhorns since the 2000 season.

Entering the game, the Ducks were facing many questions regarding their motivation as they prepared for their first non-BCS bowl game since 2008. As the emotional leader of the coaching staff for many years, Aliotti wasn't going to allow the Ducks to come out flat.

Maybe he had no intention of lighting a fire under his team, or perhaps the savvy veteran had this ace up his sleeve all along. Regardless of when the announcement came or why he decided that it was finally time to retire, Aliotti had one last game to coach.

Simply put, he and his players painted a masterpiece for the Ducks in San Antonio. Going out with a big win on the strength of his defense against a program like Texas is surely something he will recall fondly when looking back on his career.

He always wanted to do it his way and did just that. His style of play-calling was sometimes infuriating for fans and sometimes brilliant. Regardless of how it was classified, Aliotti never allowed an opposing quarterback or offensive coordinator to be comfortable when facing the Ducks.

With more than two decades of service as a member of the Ducks' coaching staff and as a part of the Oregon community, Nick Aliotti should be remembered as one of the key pieces in the development of the Ducks-heavy sports culture in Eugene

It wasn't always pretty on the defensive side of the ball, but Aliotti stuck with his vision, and it eventually worked out. Throughout the majority of his tenure with the Ducks, it has been the Oregon offense receiving all of the attention, but the defense has been as much a part of Oregon's monumental rise.

Maybe it was meant to be, or maybe it is a coincidence. Either way, the longtime architect of Oregon's defense saved his best for last, and it came at the Alamo.

With a defensive effort for the ages, the Oregon players shown how much they respect and love Aliotti as a coach and a mentor.

He has always been held in high regard within the program, but after the Alamo Bowl, Aliotti should finally receive the respect from Oregon fans which he has always earned but never truly received. 

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Holiday Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned from Arizona State vs. Texas Tech

The Holiday Bowl might not have the same prestige of a New Year's Day bowl game, or of one of the games involved in the soon-to-be-dead BCS or the soon-to-be-born College Football Playoff.

But the late-December game in San Diego somehow proves to be one of the most entertaining of each bowl season, and this year was no different thanks to Texas Tech's surprising 37-23 upset of Arizona State.

The game had many great things happen for Tech (8-5), as well as some not so good occurrences for the losing Sun Devils (10-4).

Check out what we think were some of the most important things we learned from the 2013 Holiday Bowl.

Begin Slideshow

Jace Amaro Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Sorry, NFL defensive backs and linebackers. Jace Amaro is coming to the NFL. 

Shortly after Texas Tech's win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night, the freakishly gifted tight end announced he would forego his senior season and enter the 2014 draft in May. 

Mike Graham of The Dallas Morning News has the news:

Amaro talked about his decision via Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:

Operating primarily as the slot option in the Red Raiders' Air Raid spread offense, Amaro put up some silly production in 2013. In 12 regular season contests, he pulled in 98 passes for 1,240 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

After tallying over 100 yards in the first half against the Sun Devils, he set the record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end, per Texas Tech Associate Director of Communications Scott Lacefield:

James Casey's lack of consistent NFL success proves that collegiate production doesn't necessarily translate, but Amaro is a special prospect. 

FOX Sports Southwest's David Ubben notes the high praise that Amaro receives from coaches throughout the Big 12, calling him the "real deal":

Standing at 6'5" and weighing 260 pounds, Amaro shouldn't be as talented of a receiver as he is. Nevertheless, despite his frame, he is a polished route runner and has tremendous hands.

He still needs improvement in the run-blocking game. But a player his size with the versatility to line up all over the field along with the agility and speed to make plays consistently like a wide receiver is rare—and increasingly valued in the NFL.

In fact, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, it's even comical watching players attempt to defend him:

CBS Sports, ESPN Scout Inc and Rotoworld's Josh Norris all rank North Carolina's Eric Ebron as the top tight end ahead of Amaro, but at this point, it's nothing more than splitting hairs when it comes down to separating the two. 

Both players look like future stars, and we know now both players will be a part of the 2014 draft. 

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Reliving Texas Longhorns Football Coach Mack Brown's Final Night

Mack Brown's career didn't start at the University of Texas, but by the looks of it you would have never guessed he coached anywhere else. On December 30, 2013, Brown put on and took off the headset one last time.

He started his coaching career at Florida State University working with wide receivers. He got his first head coaching job with Appalachian State. He even was the offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma. After multiple 10-win seasons at the University of North Carolina, Brown was hired by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds to coach the Horns football team.

And the rest is history.

So here's Brown's final night. The Longhorns played the University of Oregon Ducks in the 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl.

Bevo started the evening off with a slight modification to his wardrobe. The longhorn changed the lettering on his halter from "BEVO" to "MACK" via @darrenrovell.

Brown entered the football stadium one last time as the Texas head coach. He waved at fans captured by @MaxOlson.

The Longhorns took the field and Brown got one last pregame interview with ESPN's Holly Rowe. The game was underway, and it wasn't going in favor of the Longhorns. Here's Brown leaving the huddle after coaching up the offense; photo embedded below.

Then halftime came with the Longhorns down 20-7. The Texas band spelled out "Mack" via @thesean.

The second half got underway and the Longhorns couldn't get it together. Then in the fourth quarter, Case McCoy threw his second pick which was returned for a second touchdown. Here was Brown's reaction via gifsection.com.

Anti-Texas fans were slowly getting sad that Brown's career at Texas was coming to an end. @soonrtillidie reacted to Brown's last 15 minutes with:

Then the game ended. Texas lost 30-7.

ESPN made sure to cut to the fan-made signs. Here's a "Thanks for the memories Mack!" sign captured by @FakeWillie.

Lots of memories from Brown throughout his career. And here's more fans thanking Brown in the embedded photo below.

Brown went to sing the "Eyes of Texas" one last time. He got one final hook'em with his wife Sally via @YahooDrSaturday.

He then got a chance to address his team. The man, who famously addressed the Longhorns championship team after the 2006 Rose Bowl, got one last postgame meeting with the 2013 team captured by @MBTexasFootball.

And then Brown got to do what he was so good at for years. Addressing the media. Photo via @JeffBlogwell.

And as a bonus, Bevo didn't want to leave the Alamo Dome. Via @LonghornNetwork.

Thanks for the memories, Mack. You built Texas back up from the ground since taking over in 1997, and you created the "Texas standard." You've made an impact on so many young student-athletes' lives. And for that, you will always be remembered as a Texas Longhorn legend.

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Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Holiday Bowl

The Texas Tech Red Raiders jumped out to an early lead over the No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils in the 2013 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., and never looked back en route to a 37-23 victory.

The Red Raiders were able to amass 484 yards of total offense to the Sun Devils' 412. Perhaps most impressive was the strong defensive showing by Texas Tech, which limited Arizona State to a 6-of-19 mark on third down—a jarring stat considering the Sun Devils entered the game with a top-10 offense.

Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde summed up the lopsided and unexpected outcome nicely:

The star of the show for the Red Raiders was quarterback Davis Webb. His 403 yards and four touchdowns led the way, while his favorite target and potentially NFL-bound tight end Jace Amaro caught eight passes for 112 yards.

Arizona State's junior quarterback Taylor Kelly was ineffective through the air, throwing for just 125 yards and a pick. But Kelly made up for his lack of production through the air on the ground as the team's leading rusher with 25 carries for 135 yards and a score.

Kelly and the offense started the game at a deficit and were simply unable to catch up.

Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense scored on its first four drives of the game—all via touchdown passes by Webb. He found Rodney Hall for a one-yard score on the opening drive of the game and hooked up with Jakeem Grant from 18 yards out to make it 13-0 shortly after.

After two Arizona State field goals from Zane Gonzalez, Webb once again took control of the game with his pretty display of passing that led to his third touchdown pass, this time to Bradley Marquez with 14:30 left in the second quarter. He then found Grant for their second touchdown connection to make it 27-6 with 10:08 to go in the second quarter.

Got all that? CBS Sports summed up the shocking development best:

But then Arizona State found life as Texas Tech receiver Jordan Davis fumbled a punt:

This allowed the Sun Devils to score their first touchdown of the game after a D.J. Foster 20-yard touchdown rush with 7:52 left in the second quarter:

With the score 27-13 at the half, things appeared to be suddenly swinging in Arizona State's favor. Kelly came out to start the second half and led the Sun Devils down the field six plays before he took it in himself from 44 yards out to make it 27-20.

Just 11 seconds later, the Sun Devils were once again in a 14-point hole after Reginald Davis took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to the house. The teams then traded field goals the rest of the way to end the late-night affair, 37-23.

 

Key Player Grades

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: A

What more can be said about Webb? The freshman was electric all night long against a weak Arizona State defense.

Webb was laser-sharp and utilized the quick attack to great efficiency. He saw the entire field all night and had no issues picking apart an exhausted Sun Devils defense.

 

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: C

For one reason or another, the Sun Devils stayed away from the passing game most of the night, but credit Kelly for coming through on the ground.

Kelly was playing from behind all night but did a quality job of taking what the defense gave him. As far as offensive bright spots go for the Sun Devils, the junior signal-caller was about it.

 

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech: A

Amaro put an emphatic exclamation point on what was likely his final game at the collegiate level with his gaudy statistics.

While the Sun Devils defense makes a habit of making offensive players look great, Amaro rose above and beyond while leading the team in receptions and yards.

Not only that, Amaro broke the NCAA record for receiving yards by a tight end, as the bowl's Twitter account captured:

To summarize, Amaro finished a winner and record-breaker. Not a bad way to potentially go out.

 

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How George Whitfield Became Johnny Manziel's Mr. Miyagi

On a night where champagne bottles pop and young and old celebrate another year in the books, it's only appropriate that Johnny Manziel, college football's ultimate showman, gets the New Year's Eve stage to himself one last time. 

In all likelihood, Manziel is playing his final college football game before entering the NFL draft. While the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and 2012 recipient didn't lead Texas A&M to a BCS Bowl, he put together another season filled with eye-popping highlights that only a quarterback with freakish athleticism, sandlot skills and the guts of a cat burglar can pull off.

Yet those trademark Johnny Football plays, the ones that go viral on YouTube or get featured on SportsCenter, do a disservice to the quarterback Manziel has become. And while he's still college football's best known rock star, after the craziest offseason in college football history, Manziel got down to business and just played football. 

No Twitter. No controversies. Just football. 

A year after he spun and juked his way into the hearts of college football fans as the first freshman to win a Heisman, Manziel needed to conquer an opponent that even he couldn't sidestep: himself. 

But after an offseason filled with controversy, we saw a more refined version of Johnny Football in 2013. 

And George Whitfield is a big reason for that. 

***

Whitfield is one of the few coaches who can understand Manziel's meteoric rise. Not just because he worked with the young quarterback before he was known by his nickname, but because just a few years ago, Whitfield was training Pop Warner and Junior High quarterbacks. Like Johnny's friend Drake would say, they both came from the bottom.

"A fourth grader literally asked his mom if she would give me a chance," Whitfield said. "And then it kind of snowballed a bit. As I was working with him, I’d get calls from other Pop Warner and Junior High families and coaches about working with other kids."

After retiring from an arena football career, Whitfield spent six months working his way through San Diego youth leagues before his father challenged him to go all-in on his passion. 

"True be told, once arena ball was done I wanted to go to law school," Whitfield said. 

But instead of the LSAT, Whitfield went to school on the evolution of quarterbacking, packing his life into a suitcase as he took a crash course on the ever-changing position. 

"I traveled the country. I went to about eight universities and worked their summer football camps," Whitfield said. "Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tressell, Mack Brown, Nebraska, Pitt, Coach Tressel at Ohio State, Coach Neuheisel at UCLA, just traveling all summer. I didn’t even go home for about five or six weeks.

"I needed to hear what college coaches were stressing and coaching and teaching and I tried to take it all and bring it back home."

Whitfield worked double time at those camps. He'd work his drill while watching out of the corner of his eye as a coach ran another. Each day he'd fill pages of a notebook he carried in his back pocket, jotting thoughts or drills or coaching tips he found interesting.

As offensive systems were exploding, Whitfield was in perfect position to grasp everything. He picked the brains of the coaching community while cataloging different teaching techniques. He became a curator, taking an academic approach with his findings, spending weeks determining how he'd teach different aspects of the position. 

"That kinda got the wheels going and thinking more along the lines of curriculum," Whitfield said. "Different ways to chart progress. I’m from a family of teachers and my dad’s a principal. So in a sense I went through it to teach it."

Perhaps the biggest break Whitfield got on his way up the coaching ladder was an unpaid internship with the San Diego Chargers. Then offensive coordinator Cam Cameron gave Whitfield the opportunity to see behind the curtain of an NFL program, an experience Whitfield compared to letting a science teacher roam NASA. Whitfield watched the Chargers draft and groom quarterback Philip Rivers. 

"He’s a rookie and I’m a rookie. And we both got a chance to go through that together," Whitfield said. 

The knowledge learned during that season in San Diego gave Whitfield the confidence to open Whitfield Quarterback Academy. Two years later, Whitfield was preparing undrafted quarterback Hunter Cantwell for the NFL.

A year later, Cantwell's agent had another client in need of some private training: Suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Six months later, Cam Newton came calling. Then Andrew Luck. Then Manziel. 

"Up until Ben, I had only worked with elementary, junior high, high school and young college quarterbacks. I had never worked with anyone as big as him," Whitfield said. "And then it goes, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Every guy after can look at you and point to a guy that he automatically verifies and you don’t even have to say anything because they trust you." 

All of a sudden, Whitfield was one of the premiere names in the world of quarterbacking. And that got the attention of the Manziel family, whose son was spending his freshman season at Texas A&M redshirting for then coach Mike Sherman.  

"Coach Whitfield's name just kept popping up," Manziel said. "Cam Newton kept popping up. Ben Roethlisberger, big names just kept popping up. It was more what I was looking for in a quarterback coach."

To here Whitfield tell it, his relationship with his star pupil came by chance. And mostly because Manziel's mother Michelle wouldn't take no for an answer.

"We weren't going to take any more guys, but she kept calling," Whitfield told TexAgs.com.  

***

That Manziel and Whitfield met when they did was incredibly lucky. A decade earlier, Johnny Manziel might not be a household name. He might not even be a quarterback. But as athletes like Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt wreak havoc on opposing offenses, coaches have opened up to the idea of putting an elite athlete at the quarterback position.

"It’s not just that the best athletes want to play quarterback, it’s the revelation that the best athletes are being allowed to," Whitfield said. "Now we’re saying, just give us the best weapon that we can possibly have."

Manziel's athleticism had been on display since he was dazzling fans at Kerrville Tivy High. But tightening up the fundamentals of quarterbacking was the biggest challenge for Whitfield, who needed to harness the athleticism that Manziel had used so freely, forcing the young quarterback to retain the demands of his position when chaos breaks loose.

"You want to rep and work with these guys at such a frequency so the training is in the veins," Whitfield said, talking about the offseason work he put in with Manziel. "So it’s just instincts now, so they’re not counting steps like they’re dancing or something like that."

Whitfield's training techniques are unorthodox. They're a product of his environment and the freedom that comes with coaching without needing to kowtow to conventional wisdom. He'll use tennis racquets to simulate a defensive lineman's arms or throw bean bags at quarterbacks to improve their pocket presence. He spends hours with his quarterbacks up to their knees in the Pacific, using the push and pull of the water to better prepare his students for games. 

"It provides instability. It forces you to deal with all those unknown factors," Whitfield said.

Manziel's 2013 season serves as validation for Whitfield's teaching methods. Manziel stayed athletic in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, a focal point not just for Whitfield, but for NFL scouts wondering if Manziel could do more than just run. His improved footwork helped show enough arm strength to bolster the belief that he could make the throws needed to succeed on Sundays. And his knowledge base grew exponentially as defenses spent months preparing game plans to stop Johnny Football. 

Manziel upped his completion percentage and quarterback rate. He threw more touchdown passes and cut back on his rushing attempts. He spent the season doing everything skeptics wondered possible, making the third-year quarterback confident that he's ready for the next challenge. 

"You take everything into account. But more than anything, ‘Are you ready for the next level?’ That’s the big thing. In my mind, I think I am," Manziel told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"In my mind, I feel like I’m playing, for the most part, at a really high level of football. I’m putting the ball where I want it to be, and I’m throwing it with a lot of velocity. In my mind, I think I am."

 ***

Manziel and Whitfield's work is only just beginning. Once the quarterback makes his move to the NFL official, he'll likely start a full-time regimen with Whitfield in San Diego. Together, they'll prepare Manziel for an even more intense microscope, as NFL teams try to decide whether or not to invest millions of dollars in an unorthodox franchise quarterback. 

There's no better time in the game's history for a quarterback like Manziel to succeed. 

"He has a style about him that I call the Russell Wilson effect," Elite 11 coach Yogi Roth said. "It’s changed every level of football. His success with the Seahawks, it’s let people say, 'Wow, Johnny’s not 6’3”, 230, he can play!'"

Roth's worked with both Manziel and Whitfield in a career that also included coaching quarterbacks for Pete Carroll at USC. In between doing announcer work for the Pac-12 Network, traveling the globe and writing best-selling books, Roth has kept a close eye on the changing face of offenses, and sees Manziel as the evolutionary next step. 

"It’s no longer just, we’re going to make you a pocket passer. We’ll develop that part of your game, but still don’t lose the stinger that you have when you can make plays. And that balance and that communication is really where George has become an expert."

Before Manziel sets off for the unknown, he'll have another opportunity to shine at a level where he's become one of the sports' all-time greats.

Thanks to an era perfectly suited for his talents, and a coach who has perfected how to maximize them, Manziel's curtain call in the Chick-fil-A Bowl should be appointment viewing for college football fans everywhere. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter. 

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Arizona State's Uninspired Holiday Bowl Performance a Black Eye for Pac-12

In losing 37-23 to Texas Tech, the Arizona State Sun Devils gave the Pac-12 its second loss of the bowl season. For a team that finished the season as Pac-12 South champions, boasting a 10-3 record and a No. 14 BCS ranking, the loss in the Holiday Bowl certainly was a major blemish to a conference that entered the game riding high.

For the Sun Devils and the Pac-12, it is more than just the loss that is the problem. Rather, it is the manner by which Todd Graham's team went about losing the game that creates the black eye for the league.

On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona State found a myriad of ways to help Texas Tech put points on the board. The Sun Devils gave up extended, methodical drives to the Red Raiders. Graham's team also gave up explosive plays for big scores.

Offensively, the Sun Devils could not get out of their own way. A team that was without Marion Grice, Arizona State showed sparks of success but was unable to sustain the positives and put together a legitimate threat.

Even with quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back D.J. Foster both going over 100 yards on the ground, building continuous success escaped Sparky.

Failure to consistently convert third downs was a big killer for Graham's team as the Sun Devils failed to pick up first downs in two-thirds of those situations, going 6-for-19.

For all of the bad that Arizona State exhibited in the ballgame, things were compounded by just how outstanding one of the Pac-12's top three teams made the middling Big 12 opponent look. A Texas Tech team with a first-year head coach, one of its big contributors at quarterback transferring and riding a five-game losing streak looked to be world beaters in San Diego.

Quarterback Davis Webb through for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Jace Amaro did what he's done all season—prove to be a matchup nightmare for the opposition. Kliff Kingsbury's team handled the blitz well, hit its spots in the passing game and carved up the Sun Devils defense.

In the Pac-12, this is nothing new, as B/R Pac-12 lead writer Kyle Kensing pointed out, this has become a sort of tradition for the conference in San Diego. Thus, after a season where it seemed the Pac-12 truly improved and was pushing toward the top of the sport, Arizona State's loss leads to folks, such as Brian Ethridge of Bear Truth, pointing out that perhaps the league is overrated.

This was the Big 12's last hurrah in the Holiday Bowl. Next season, the game will host a Big Ten and Pac-12 matchup, as the Big 12 went out with a bang. Another 7-5, middling team takes down a ranked Pac-12 opponent as a parting gift.

On the Pac-12 side of things, this loss takes some wind out of the league's swelling sails. Heading into the playoff cycle, where conference perception will continue to play a critical role, bad losses are black eyes the league can ill afford.

With Arizona, UCLA and Stanford still set to play, the Pac-12 can end on a strong note, but a divisional champion being trounced by a less than stellar Texas Tech is not a good thing.

With the losses of players like Grice, Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, Arizona State will have some big shoes to fill in 2014. For the Pac-12, the rebuilding will have to come with getting wins to end the bowl season, something Arizona State failed to do in a big way.

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Arizona State's Uninspired Holiday Bowl Performance a Black Eye for Pac-12

In losing 37-23 to Texas Tech, the Arizona State Sun Devils gave the Pac -12 its second loss of the bowl season. For a team that finished the season as Pac -12 South champions, boasting a 10-3 record and a No...

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Alamo Bowl 2013 Oregon vs. Texas: 10 Things We Learned in Longhorns' Loss

Led by Marcus Mariota, the No. 10 Oregon Ducks were impressive in blowing past Texas by a 30-7 margin in Monday's Alamo Bowl.

The same cannot be said for Case McCoy's Longhorns.

In Mack Brown's final game as their head coach, the 'Horns were unable to compete with the Ducks for 60 minutes. Mariota supplied 386 of their 469 offensive yards, nearly doubling the 236 that Texas mustered.

The loss was Texas' fifth of the season, all by 20 points or more, and somewhat validates the decision to move on from Brown.

Like the rest of the season, this was a disappointing finish for the Longhorns.

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Breaking Down USC's New Coaching Staff

Steve Sarkisian has almost finished assembling a new coaching staff at USC, aside from the defensive line coach and special teams coach positions. Save for wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton, Sarkisian has essentially cleaned house at USC.

On Monday night, the university announced three new hires, per the team's official Twitter account, in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo and offensive line coach Tim Drevno. Wilcox and Tuiasosopo coached under Sarkisian at Washington, and Drevno comes to the college ranks from the NFL, leaving the San Francisco 49ers. 

As they begin their first season at USC, let's take a look at the new hires and what they bring to the table.

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Breaking Down USC's New Coaching Staff

Steve Sarkisian has almost finished assembling a new coaching staff at USC, aside from the defensive line coach and special teams coach positions...

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Baylor Won't Overlook UCF Defense

Scottsdale, AZ — No. 6 Baylor (11-1) will face off in the desert with underrated No. 15 UCF (11-1) in the  Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.

Both will play in their first BCS bowl game in school history. Baylor won 11 games for the first time and clinched its first outright conference title since 1980 when it was a part of the Southwest Conference. UCF, on the other hand, won 11 games and its second conference title in four years.

Baylor has the best offense in the nation and is averaging an astounding 53.3 points and 624.5 total yards per game. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears will be overconfident when they take the field on Wednesday night, though.

“They bring a lot to the table. They’re very talented, very disciplined,” starting Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said about the UCF defense. “Whenever you have that, it makes it tough.”

Head Coach Art Briles went on to say, “They do a great job schematically defensively. They don’t get themselves out of position with alignment.”

UCF has held its opponents to 19.6 points per game (12th in the nation) and 116.5 rushing yards per game (13th in the nation) this season. 

Explosive redshirt junior running back Lache Seastrunk will have his work cut out for him, as he will look to maneuver his way through a stingy Knight rush defense. Seastrunk mentioned, “You got to be poised, focused and confident.” 

UCF has all-conference playmakers in quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson on the offensive side, but it will be critical for the defense to step up and keep Baylor off the scoreboard. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Longhorns AD Steve Patterson Wants New Head Coach by January 15

With the Mack Brown era officially over in Austin after a loss to the University of Oregon in the 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas Longhorns athletic director Steve Patterson wants a new head coach for the football team by January 15.

Texas football and Big 12 beat writer Max Olson of ESPN.com reported Patterson's expectations 45 minutes before the game via Twitter:

The clock is now officially on for the Longhorns in regard to finding a new head coach. Rumors are going to be flying off the walls as coaching changes begin to happen in the NFL and as bowl games in the NCAA start coming to an end.

Is a guy like Nick Saban of Alabama still in play? College football analyst Paul Finebaum cites Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News as having a source who believes Saban could still make his way to the Longhorns' campus. Finebaum tweeted:

If you're the Texas Longhorns, who is on your radar? A school like Texas certainly draws in all sorts of names, but nothing is set in stone. The search committee for the new coach, led by Patterson, will be spending many hours trying to find the right fit for the prestigious job.

Having a search committee is nothing out of the norm, as a group was once formed to find Brown 16 years ago. This was best explained by B/R's Taylor Gaspar in her December article on the new committee:

When Texas fired John Mackovic in 1997, the school assembled a search committee that ultimately helped land Mack Brown. Former Texas regent Don Evans addressed his involvement in the committee that was responsible for hiring Brown. So a message to those concerned about this committee: Calm down. Search committees are normal in college sports.

The first two weeks of the new year should be interesting for the Longhorn faithful. Be advised of random Twitter users and message-board posters claiming to have "sources." It's very unlikely for a strong search committee to prematurely spill details of the next coach without actually reaching a new deal.

Whom do you think the search committee will go after? Leave a comment or two in the comment section below, but please don't just only name the top three coaches in the NCAA as replacements. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina: Whose 2014 Recruiting Class Is Better Right Now?

Wisconsin and South Carolina will duel in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. The Gamecocks come into the game as the more stable program under Steve Spurrier, while the Badgers are guided by first-year head coach Gary Andersen.

Spurrier is one of the best to do it as a coach and recruiter, but Andersen is also doing well on the recruiting trail. The game should be a physical one, but the real fight is deciding who has the better recruiting class right now.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Alamo Bowl 2013: Greg Robinson Has Chance to Remain Texas' Defensive Coordinator

Defense was a major liability when Texas began the 2013 season at 1-1. In Mack Brown's final game as head coach, however, defense was reason the Longhorns had the slightest chance to upset Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. 

Texas didn't, of course. The Ducks won 30-7 and Brown ended his 16-year career in Austin in the loss column.

But the defeat can't be pinned on Greg Robinson's defense. Texas allowed just one touchdown to Oregon: a 16-yard shovel pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota to receiver Josh Huff. In fact, the 'Horns had the play well-covered, but Huff broke a couple of tackles on a fine individual effort. 

Other than that quick scoring drive—the Ducks covered 88 yards in 1:24—Oregon failed to get in the end zone and was forced to attempt four field goals. Freshman Matt Wogan made three, with the fourth one bouncing off the right upright. 

Texas gave up yards—469 to be specific—but when it mattered, the defense tightened up.

Simply put, it played more than well enough to win the game. As B/R's Michael Felder tweets, it was an energized effort from start to finish. 

Now, go back to Week 2, when Texas lost 40-21 to BYU and gave up a whopping 550 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired a day later and Robinson, a former DC for the 'Horns in 2004, was promoted from an administrative role. 

The turnaround under Robinson has been nothing short of amazing, especially considering the injuries. Defensive tackle Chris Whaley and linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond are just some of the players who were lost for the season due to injuries. 

During a six-game winning streak, Texas gave up just 22 points a game and was much better against the run. The Longhorns improved at every level, all the way down to the tackling problem that had plagued them for the past two years. 

Robinson can just coach a defense. He simplified the scheme from Diaz's blitz-happy philosophy, and the results followed.

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat went on to become the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year too. Robinson even put Jeffcoat at middle linebacker in a 41-16 win over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving with outstanding results. 

Imagine if Diaz had been let go after last year and Robinson had a full offseason with his players. 

Even in two losses at the end of the season against Oklahoma State and Baylor, Texas' defense wasn't as problematic as it had been previously. Senior quarterback Case McCoy threw a combined five interceptions to one touchdown in those games. 

It's unrealistic to expect a defense to pitch shutouts when it's on the field all the time and/or backed up in its own territory. 

Against Oregon, McCoy threw two pick-sixes, technically accounting for more points for Oregon than his own team. 

Freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who had his redshirt burned earlier this year, wasn't any better. He finished 1-of-6 passing for eight yards and was promptly returned to the sidelines after a three-and-out. 

Without McCoy's interceptions, the Alamo Bowl is possibly 16-7 and a completely different game. 

Hiring Robinson two games into the season may not have saved Brown's job, but it proved to be the smartest move he made. 

It's also why Robinson should get some consideration by whoever takes over the Texas job next.  

It's common for a coach to come into a new job and clean house, and there's a good chance that happens with Texas. For all anyone knows, Robinson may be ready to move on to something else. 

However, Brown was adamant about Robinson being the team's defensive coordinator—not the interim defensive coordinator—when he was promoted in September. That decision was met with cynicism, especially given Robinson's recent track record at Michigan and Syracuse, but it turned out to be the right call. 

The job Robinson has done flies under the radar because the 'Horns finished 8-5 and got pounded in all their losses. But anyone coming in as the next coach will know Robinson deserves to be evaluated to see if he should retain his job. 

It doesn't mean Robinson will be retained, but it wouldn't be a shocker if he is either. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football Recruiting: 14 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

For the Miami Hurricanes, the 2013 season is officially in the rear view. Al Golden and his squad wrapped up the year with a 9-4 record, winning the final two ACC games but falling in the Russell Athletic Bowl to the Louisville Cardinals, 36-9.

Of course in the world of college football, the "season" is now year-round with recruiting taking on a whole new meaning. Miami currently has 29 verbal commitments and what Rivals.com ranks as the No. 4 class. There are also a few on-the-fence recruits remaining who could help the Hurricanes close strong.

Later this week some of the nation's best high school athletes will compete in both the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday and Army All-American Bowl come Saturday. 

Miami has a handful of committed players who will be suiting up, as well as some recruits the Hurricanes are chasing down the stretch.

Read on to find out who is solid, who could be Coral Gables-bound and who might shock the world, pulling out a "U" ball cap on national television in the coming days. 

All rankings courtesy of Rivals.com. Stats provided by 247Sports.com, MaxPreps.com and ESPN.com. 

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Alamo Bowl 2013: Rushing Marcus Mariota Is High-Stakes Game for Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ran with supreme confidence in the Ducks’ 30-7 Alamo Bowl win over Texas on Monday. His 15-carry, 133-yard performance demonstrated the kind of dangerous weapon he can be when unleashed in the run game, but it also exhibited the kind of double-edged sword a coach faces when turning a dual-threat quarterback loose.

Head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost unveiled a game plan that called on Mariota, typically a complementary piece in the run game, to operate on designed carries early and often.

Texas’ struggles with mobile quarterbacks this season necessitated the strategy. A month of recuperation time for Mariota made it possible.

A left knee injury suffered in the final stretch of Oregon’s schedule limited Mariota’s productivity, in turn eliminating a vital portion of the Ducks’ offensive strategy. The result was Oregon’s two worst offensive performances of the season, and its only two losses.

His health was no issue in San Antonio. He took to the Alamodome without a knee brace and showed none of the hesitation evident in his performances at Stanford and Arizona. Both his 15 carries and 133 yards were season highs.

Still, there were a few hold-your-breath moments against Texas. Mariota came up gingerly, rubbing his leg after one big gain. After losing his helmet on a few plays earlier in the game, the quarterback had his cap ripped from his head on a red-zone possession in the second half.

He endured, which Oregon will need throughout next season.

There arguably were not two more dynamic playmakers in college football this season than Mariota and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

For a second straight year, both recorded eye-opening statistics as both passers and ball-carriers. However, unlike 2012, injury slowed each. The two were noticeably limited in the final month, the rigors of weekly abuse evident.

Running wild after a month of time off is one thing. Replicating his Alamo Bowl performance—which was one of Mariota’s best two-way showings in his career—amid the grind of a regular season is a more difficult proposition.

Mariota and Manziel aren’t alone, as some of college football’s most notable dual-threat quarterbacks have battled injuries in their college careers. Baylor’s 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury.

Few programs understand the sting of losing a leading playmaker like Oregon, after presumptive 2007 Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon went down late in the season. With him went the Ducks’ BCS Championship aspirations.

Of course, these are extreme instances. And indeed, being overly conservative with a player can be equally detrimental to a team’s performance.

For coaches like Helfrich with an explosive, two-way quarterback like Mariota, determining how and when they’re used in the run game can be a high-wire act.

Mariota is the centerpiece of Oregon’s very realistic championship aspirations in 2014—but only if he’s healthy, as he was Monday vs. Texas. Likewise, he’s only captaining a championship-caliber offense when he’s free to play the style that suits him best, as he was in the Alamo Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alamo Bowl 2013: Rushing Marcus Mariota Is High-Stakes Game for Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ran with supreme confidence in the Ducks’ 30-7 Alamo Bowl win over Texas on Monday...

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