NCAA Football

Oregon vs. Texas: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Alamo Bowl

Many thought No. 10 Oregon, a legitimate national championship contender before losing two games in November, would lack motivation during the Alamo Bowl against unranked Texas. 

Someone forgot to tell the Ducks. 

Mark Helfrich's squad out-gained the over-matched Longhorns, 469 yards to 236, en route to a dominant 30-7 win at the Alamodome on Monday night. 

Alamo Bowl MVP Marcus Mariota was at the forefront of the offensive assault for the Ducks. He looked a little rusty in the passing game at times, but still managed to throw for 253 yards and a touchdown. The QB was most dangerous on the ground, though, rushing for 133 yards on 15 carries.

If you noticed the lack of touchdowns in Mariota's final line and are wondering where Oregon's points came from, look no further than Texas quarterback Case McCoy. 

The up-and-down senior threw two pick-sixes on the night—one to Avery Patterson to start the scoring in the first quarter, and one to Derrick Malone to seal the blowout in the fourth quarter:

In a sense, it was the perfect sendoff for Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who is now off to enjoy retirement after 21 total seasons with the Ducks (over three separate stints) and 36 overall as a coach. 

As for legendary Texas head coach Mack Brown, who was coaching in his final game with the Longhorns, the farewell wasn't nearly as sweet.

No matter the rocky finish, though, it was an absolutely marvelous career at Texas for Brown:

A one-yard McCoy touchdown plunge after an impressive 16-play, 79-yard drive brought the Longhorns to within three at 10-7 after the first quarter. But the Ducks reeled off 20 straight points from there, as six of Texas' next seven drives went for less than 15 yards.

Oregon may not have been looking to see its season end before the new year, but the comprehensive win is another sign that the Ducks remain a consistent force in college football—likely finishing in the top 10 for the fourth consecutive year. The Ducks' Twitter account provided a cool infographic of the big win:

 

Player Grades

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: A

Well, I guess he's healthy. In the last five games of the regular season, Mariota combined for just 89 rushing yards (which counts sacks), but on Monday night, he tallied an impressive 133 on the ground, ripping off seven runs of 10 or more yards. 

The sophomore QB looked a bit inconsistent throwing the ball at times, yet he still managed to complete 69.2 percent of his throws for 9.7 yards per attempt. His explosiveness in the running game was what made the Ducks so difficult to stop while on offense:

Mariota did cramp up at times, and talked about it after the game via Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com:

Unfortunately for Pac-12 defenses, the ever-dangerous Mariota is coming back next season.

 

Case McCoy, Texas: D

Well, that wasn't pretty. 

There's only so much McCoy can do when his receivers are seemingly dropping every other pass, but he never looked comfortable in the pocket and threw two interceptions that each resulted in six points for Oregon.

In the end, he finished eight-of-17 for 48 yards, giving him an average of 2.8 yards per attempt. Yuck. Moving on.

 

Josh Huff, Oregon: A

The Longhorns had no answer for the Houston native, who finished with 104 yards on five grabs. He was the epitome of a big-play threat, too, as four of those receptions went for at least 20 yards.

And the fifth, which went for 16, was his most impressive of the night:

In a closer game, Huff would have put up some video-game numbers, but he'll have to settle for this:

 Huff wanted to talk about his QB after the game via Moseley: 

Malcolm Brown, Texas: A-

Brown put on display what downhill running is all about. Whether it was an inside run or a stretch to the outside, he patiently stayed behind his blocks and exploded forward when a hole developed. 

Moreover, his importance to the offense was clear from the beginning.

After Texas' first two possessions ended in an interception and a three-and-out, the Longhorns turned to Brown for their longest drive of the season:

Nine of those 16 plays—including the first five—went to Brown, and he took five of them for at least seven yards and three for first downs.

A big deficit meant the Longhorns couldn't continue to pound the ball to Brown, but he still tallied an impressive 130 yards on 26 carries (5.0 YPC). 

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Ole Miss Football: Grading Robert Nkemdiche's Freshman Season

After some ups and downs with a season full of hype and expectations, a year of football is in the books for Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche

That means it's time to grade the superstar freshman's first year playing under the bright lights on Saturdays.

When grading a freshman, the best things to look at are how he impacted each game, how he improved week by week as he adjusted to the college game and how he handled the hype of being the No. 1-rated prospect of the 2013 class. 

 

Impact

Nkemdiche started in Week 1 and immediately began to make an impact. He showed his freakish athleticism by registering two tackles—one for a loss—and a pass breakup. He also showed his ability to carry the ball by converting on a fake punt. 

Throughout the year, Nkemdiche moved around the entire defensive line and even lined up at linebacker in some games, making him one of the most versatile players on the team. 

Four times this season, he registered four or more tackles in a game, including three times against SEC opponents. He often drew multiple defenders to try and stop him, as he was one of the biggest threats on the field. 

Against Mississippi State, he again showed his prowess in the running game with four carries for 21 yards. That's right, one of Ole Miss' best defensive lineman averaged 5.25 yards per carry in a game this year. 

This year, it seemed like wherever you looked, Nkemdiche was on the field making big plays for the Rebels. Although he was limited against Alabama and struggled to contain Johnny Manziel (who had over 450 total yards against Ole Miss), overall, Nkemdiche was one of Ole Miss' best weapons on defense this year. 

Grade: B+

 

Improvement

For most first-year guys around the nation, the name of the game is improvement. There are always struggles that come with adapting to the college game, but learning and making strides is what defines a good freshman player. 

Nkemdiche had a downswing midseason when he didn't register a tackle against Alabama, missed two games due to injury and was ejected against Arkansas. But he bounced back by registering 10 tackles over his last three games and even had those four carries for 21 yards in the regular season finale against Mississippi State. 

But perhaps the best mark of Nkemdiche's improvement is how well he played in the Music City Bowl. Not only did he have a sack, but according to Ben Garrett of the Ole Miss Spirit, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said that the bowl game was Nkemdiche's best game of the year. 

Clearly, the future is bright for Nkemdiche at Ole Miss. And the improvement he showed this season is proof of that. 

Grade: A

 

Handling the Hype

It's certainly not easy being hailed as the top recruit in the country. But those are the cards that Nkemdiche was dealt and forced to deal with this year. 

Overall, Nkemdiche handled the hype well. He played quality football through most of year despite missing two games due to injury, and he lived up to the hype of his ability by being one of the most dominant players for Ole Miss. 

Probably his biggest setback was against Arkansas. That game saw Nkemdiche get ejected for violently shoving Arkansas offensive tackle Dan Skipper to the ground. Maintaining one's composure is part of handling the hype of being one of the most focused-on players in the country, and that ejection was a huge slipup. 

The ejection hurts Nkemdiche here, but throughout the season he dealt with the hype just fine. He made freshman mistakes at times, but who doesn't in college football? 

Grade: B-

 

Overall

Nkemdiche proved this season that he is poised to be one of the nation's most dominant defensive lineman. Although he didn't put up gaudy numbers, he proved he's a versatile player, a freakish athlete and a great addition to the Rebels. 

He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and finished the regular season with 29 tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for loss. 

Not bad for a guy who just finished his first year playing college football in the country's best conference. 

Grade: B+

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Army All-American Bowl 2014: 10 Sleeper Recruits You Need to Know More About

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is taking place on Saturday, but a good portion of the action has already started. The week of practices leading up to the game features some matchups recruiting fans can only dream about.

However, while the opportunity to see 5-star recruits battle each other for several days is great, sleepers also have a platform to prove they belong. 

Heading into Saturday's game, there's several recruits you need to know about who have not been in the spotlight as much as they deserve.

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

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Bowl Schedule 2014: Breaking Down Top Remaining Clashes

The 2013-14 bowl season is well under way, and the remaining games on the schedule promise to be some of the top clashes of the entire year.

The slate of games from Dec. 31 through the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6 feature strong teams and compelling matchups that will leave college football fans on the edge of their seats. There are games that you simply won't want to miss.

Those can't-miss matchups will be the talk of the office in the days following, and you definitely don't want to be the one who missed out on the action.

Here are your top games to watch, along with viewing information and a brief breakdown. 

 

Capital One Bowl

A strong South Carolina defense takes on a potent Wisconsin run game in the Capital One Bowl, and on paper, it looks as if it could be a tossup.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White were unbelievable as a duo this season. They combined for over 2,600 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, and Gordon knows that he and the other big-time players need to step up if the Badgers are going to win.

The Gamecocks and their No. 14-ranked defense will have to force Joel Stave to lead the offense. The Wisconsin quarterback took a backseat in terms of production to Gordon and White this season. If South Carolina can limit the tandem on the ground, the Badgers will have to lean on Stave to put points on the board.

South Carolina will be able to put up enough points to win if they can prevent Gordon and White from finding paydirt. Stave likely won't account for more than a touchdown or two himself, and that's the type of outcome the Gamecocks will be planning for.

This will be a dogfight, but the running game of Wisconsin is too good to be completely silenced. They should come out on top.

 

Rose Bowl

The battle between Michigan State and Stanford figures to be one of the top games of the new year.

Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Connor Cook (Michigan State) will need to stay hot after both performed admirably in their conference championship games. Neither the Cardinal nor the Spartans will rely on their passers to win, but they will need each one to make a few plays with his arm.

By the time the game rolls around, both coaching staffs will have had 25 days to prepare for their opponents. This will be a huge advantage for the defenses.

While the Spartans defense is an overall better unit (with arguably one of the top defensive prospects in the nation in Darqueze Dennard), Stanford's defense is also a strong unit. They'll need to put pressure on Cook from the beginning and force him to lean heavily on running back Jeremy Langford.

Stanford can severely limit Michigan State's attack if it can turn their offense into a predictable unit.

Stanford has the experience at the BCS level to take care of business. It will be an exceptionally well-fought game by both sides, but the Cardinal won't let this opportunity slip away.

 

 

Orange Bowl

Braxton Miller (the passer) needs to show up against Clemson. While Miller (the runner) is a great weapon on offense, Ohio State will need the complete quarterback to score against a tough Tigers defense.

The Buckeyes' quarterback was just 8-for-21 for 101 yards and a touchdown through the air against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Those numbers against Clemson will likely result in a loss for Ohio State—period.

You can be sure that Clemson is preparing for the dual-threat quarterback. Via Brandon Rink of TheState.com:

Clemson makes no bones about its pressure prowess: No. 1 in tackles for loss (113) and No. 22 in sacks (33). But facing this kind of attack throws a wrench into the typical plan.

Putting the pressure on Miller from the start should bring good results for the Tigers defense. If he's pressured, it'll be difficult for him to stand in the pocket and make plays with his arm. This will flush him out of the pocket and into a place where he'll be vulnerable to blitzes on the outside or incoming defenders.

Miller can't win the game for the Buckeyes by himself on the ground. He'll need to incorporate his weapons through the air to make it happen. Clemson won't let that happen, though. They'll take care of business in the Orange Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Music City Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned in Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech

Led by junior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Ole Miss Rebels defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 25-17 in the 2013 Music City Bowl.

Wallace accounted for 342 yards (256 passing, 86 rushing) and three touchdowns, and the Ole Miss defense made two key late-game stops to seal the game.

Darren Waller hauled in a 72-yard touchdown for Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack was held in check by the Rebels defense.

Ole Miss finished the year at 8-5, Georgia Tech ended at 7-6, and the Music City Bowl taught us a few lessons along the way.

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Texas Longhorns Band Pays Tribute to Mack Brown at Alamo Bowl

The 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon will be the final game of Texas head coach Mack Brown's career, so the Longhorn Band decided to pay tribute to the coach by spelling out his name on the field during halftime.

Brown is nearing the end of his 16th season as coach of the Longhorns. He led the team to a BCS National Championship in 2006.

Thanks to @LukeFritz64 for the photo, and hat tip to ESPN's Darren Rovell for the find.

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Oregon's Josh Huff Celebrates TD with 'Show Me the Money' Gesture

Receiver Josh Huff is playing his final game for the Oregon Ducks, and he is on his way to going out with a bang against the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl.

The senior celebrated his 16-yard touchdown late in the first half by doing the "show me the money" gesture.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota perfectly executed a shovel pass, and Huff did the rest:

Huff's touchdown marked the first time the Oregon offense found the end zone all night, but it gave the Ducks a 20-7 lead heading into halftime.

Of course Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel made this celebration popular earlier this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chick-Fil-A Bowl 2013: Top Storylines Heading into Texas A&M-Duke Clash

The No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies will square off against the No. 24 Duke Blue Devils in the 2013 Chick-Fil-A Bowl in what figures to be an exciting matchup featuring two struggling teams looking to right the ship.

Texas A&M (8-4) closed their season on a two-game losing streak. LSU and Missouri bested them in those two games, but the Aggies had been firing on all cylinders in weeks prior. All four of the Aggies' losses came against the four Top 25 teams they faced this season, and they'll be looking to buck that trend against Duke.

The Blue Devils are coming off a blowout loss to the Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game. At 10-3, Duke put together one of its best seasons in school history on the gridiron. Their other two losses came back-to-back against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, but they did take down Virginia Tech and Miami—both ranked teams at the time.

This matchup figures to be one of the more exciting games of the bowl season. Be sure to tune in at 8 p.m. ET on New Year's Eve on ESPN, and pay attention to the following storylines while viewing.

 

Johnny Manziel and Mike Evan's Last Go-Around

Gil Brandt of NFL.com reports (via Will Brinson of CBSSports.com) that Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans will leave Texas A&M to declare for the NFL draft following the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Manziel will likely be a top 10 selection in the draft (the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 and the Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 are potential landing spots), while Evans could easily go in the top 15 after Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins is off the board.

With this bowl game being their last go-around in an Aggies uniform, expect the two to go out in style. Manziel and Evans worked well together through the entirety of the season, and Duke will likely fall victim to a few big plays over the top of their secondary.

At 6'5", Evans has the ability to out-jump nearly every defensive back matched against him. Couple that with his deceptive speed to get behind the back of those defenders, and you've got yourself the complete package.

Expect Duke to throw two defenders at him at all times. If he makes plays, then the Aggies' chances of winning go way up.

 

Manziel's Last Audition for NFL Squads

In what will be Manziel's last audition for the NFL, look for him to exploit the Blue Devils' defense.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe told the Associated Press (via SportingNews.com) just what he expects from last year's Heisman winner:

He's an outstanding quarterback...He's not just an athlete. He beats you in a lot of different ways. Certainly he's got a great receiving corps. His ability to create plays is second to none. In my lengthy career I really haven't seen a player that creates and ad-libs as well.

Even though Duke appears prepared for the challenge, Manziel may still prove too much to contain. If they try to limit him through the air, he'll kill them on the ground. Needless to say, the opposite also holds true.

A poor showing in this bowl game could very well be the difference between Manziel going No. 3 to Jacksonville or later on in the first round. Several teams are in the market for quarterbacks in the first round, but there's no doubting the fact that Manziel would like to hear his name called earlier rather than later.

 

Can Duke Continue Successful Season?

Duke put together arguably its best season on the football field. Their 10-3 record was highlighted by wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, but losing against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game is currently the low point.

While their team peripherals were average across the board (they rank anywhere from No. 47 to No. 62 in terms of passing yards, rushing yards, points allowed and points scored), their consistency as a team is what propelled them to new heights.

Duke is new to this kind of stage, but playing against the Seminoles likely helped them to gain some needed experience.

It'll be interesting to see how they fare against Manziel. Jameis Winston lit them up in the ACC title game, but Manziel is not the same offensive threat. He's still a great quarterback, but there's a reason Winston won the Heisman this year and Manziel didn't.

Containing Manziel is the key. If they can do that, they'll win the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

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Bishop Sankey Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

The allure of the NFL has captured another Washington Huskies offensive player. 

Just a couple of days after tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins announced he would forego his senior season, dynamic junior running back Bishop Sankey did the same on Monday night, Dec. 30.   

ESPN's Joe Schad has the news:

Former Washington star quarterback (and now former coach) Marques Tuiasosopo was quick to offer his words of encouragement for Sankey:

Standing at 5'10" and weighing 203 pounds, the junior out of Spokane carved up defenses in 2013.

Despite receiving just four carries in a blowout against Idaho State and tallying just 22 rushing yards in a dreadful team performance against Arizona State, he finished with 2,174 total yards from scrimmage (1,870 rushing) and 21 total touchdowns. 

He led the Pac-12 in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards from scrimmage, and before the poor outing against the Sun Devils on Oct. 19, he was generating buzz as a dark-horse Heisman contender. 

Sankey does a good job of staying behind his blocks and exploding through the holes, and as he showed off in the Fight Hunger Bowl, he has some impressive elusiveness:

CBS Sports ranks Sankey as the No. 3 running back and No. 54 overall prospect, but the general consensus seems to be that he is destined for the third round. 

According to the junior himself, via the Seattle Times' Adam Jude, he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft evaluation board.

“It’s pretty much what I expected,” Sankey noted of the grade, per Jude. 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller agreed with the evaluation, giving Sankey a No. 94 overall ranking with the concern that he "doesn't break tackles or pick up yardage after contact and will struggle to find openings once in the NFL."

No prospect comes without weaknesses, however, and Sankey—as he has shown over the past two productive seasons—has the potential to become one of the best running backs out of this class. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl 2014: Key Storylines for Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Two of college football's most storied programs will clash on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in New Orleans when the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) face the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Coaches Nick Saban and Bob Stoops also have some high-profile history against each other, as Saban's LSU team beat Stoops' Oklahoma squad in 2004 in New Orleans for the national title. So, what does Thursday's big BCS showdown have in store?

Here's a look at three of the top storylines heading into the contest.

 

Alabama Trying to Rebound against Upstart Oklahoma

These two teams enter the Sugar Bowl on opposite ending notes to the regular season.

Alabama had bigger aspirations of a national championship until their heartbreaking 34-28 loss to the Auburn Tigers in an all-time classic Iron Bowl. Oklahoma, meanwhile, defeated Oklahoma State 33-24 in an entertaining Bedlam rivalry game, but it still enters this tilt as a massive underdog.

As of Monday afternoon, VegasInsider.com pegged Alabama as a 16-point favorite, giving the Sugar Bowl one of the biggest spreads of any bowl game this winter.

Cliff Kirkpatrick of USA Today recently spoke to Alabama head coach Nick Saban and some of his players about how they're approaching this contest after the Iron Bowl disappointment:

"I think for all of us, it's sort of a respect thing," tight end Brian Vogler said of the Sugar Bowl. "We want to go out and prove to people that we're one of the best teams in the country. ... We may not be in the national championship, but we are in a BCS game, and we have a (chance) to show people our abilities."

While Oklahoma certainly faces an uphill battle against one of the nation's most complete teams, the Sooners were underdogs heading into Bedlam against OSU but rose to the occasion to pull off a victory. It's been a while since either of these teams have played a game, but it will be interesting to see if there are any lingering affects of the regular-season finales.

 

Sooners Riding Strength of Running Game

If there's one area where Oklahoma can feel confident heading into the Sugar Bowl, it's the rushing attack.

The Sooners ranked 18th nationally, averaging 235.8 yards per game, behind bell cow Brennan Clay (913 yards, five TDs). Oklahoma's attack took a big hit in November when second-leading rusher Damien Williams was dismissed from the team, but the Sooners still have some big threats on the ground.

Perhaps, the one that will be most effective for the Sooners will be quarterback Trevor Knight, who averaged 84 rushing yards on 13.3 attempts in the final three games of the season while splitting snaps with fellow QB Blake Bell.

Alabama has been exposed by dual-threat quarterbacks this season, as Johnny Manziel accounted for 464 yards passing and 98 yards rushing in a 49-42 win against Texas A&M and Auburn's Nick Marshall ran for 99 more against the Crimson tide in the Iron Bowl.

Clay recently compared Knight to both Manziel and Marshall, per Mike Herndon of AL.com:

With such a mismatch on paper, the Sooners will likely have to get creative in the running game to grind out a victory. Leading receivers Jalen Saunders (56 catches, 654 yards, six TDs) and Sterling Shepard (44 receptions, 540 yards, six TDs) are quality options on the outside, but they shouldn't be counted on to expose Alabama's pass defense, which ranked fourth nationally (166.3 yards allowed per game).

Alabama is also stiff against the run (11th, 108.3 yards allowed per game), but Oklahoma needs to try and attack the Crimson Tide's front seven on Thursday.

 

How Will AJ McCarron's Career End?

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron missed out on a chance to lead the Crimson Tide to their third straight national championship this year, but he still has a chance to wrap up his impressive college football career with another BCS victory.

Entering play Thursday, McCarron already holds school records in wins (36), passing yards (8,632) and passing touchdowns (75), while cementing himself as one of college football's most effective players. This year, he passed for 2,676 yards with a 67.6 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. It's the efficiency and smart decisions with the football that have enabled McCarron to have such success, as he threw three picks in September and two in a 20-7 win over Mississippi State but has been otherwise spotless.

Aside from his college football legacy, McCarron is also trying to prove that he can translate his skills to the next level, with Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reporting he has an outstanding invite to play in the Senior Bowl:

He might not have the gravitas of Tim Tebow or other past Heisman winners, but McCarron has carved out a nice SEC legacy of his own. The senior doesn't have much to prove at this point, but a win against a talented Oklahoma defense that ranked 22nd in points allowed per game (21.3) would be great for his NFL resume as he prepares for April's draft.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Music City Bowl: Ole Miss Proves It Is Ready to Make a Run at SEC West

Ole Miss didn't make the gigantic leap into SEC west contention in Year 2 under head coach Hugh Freeze, but the momentum of the program is still headed in the right direction.

After a few speed bumps along the way, of course.

The tastes from a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season and a two-game losing streak to close the season were wiped away on Monday afternoon, as the Rebels topped Georgia Tech, 25-17, in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Quarterback Bo Wallace completed 22-of-32 passes for 256 yards, 86 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

In the process, he joined some rather prestigious Ole Miss company.

Bo Wallace sets Ole Miss school record for total yards in a season, eclipsing Eli Manning’s previous record set in 2003.

— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) December 30, 2013

It was a statement win for the Rebels.

Without second-leading rusher Jeff Scott, they sliced and diced the Yellow Jacket defense—which entered as the nation's 22nd-best defense—to the tune of 477 total yards.

On top of that, Ole Miss held the Jackets—which came in with the nation's fourth-best rushing offense (311.67 YPG)—to just 151 yards on the ground.

They're still building. 

Wallace will be back at quarterback in 2014, as will wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and, perhaps, rising senior Donte Moncrief if he doesn't jump early. Sophomore running backs Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers gained plenty of experience this season when Scott was banged up; and that young and talented defense is only going to get better with another year of work.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche—who moved back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end this season—will get a full offseason to focus on defensive tackle duties, safety Tony Conner came on strong during his true freshman season and linebacker Serderius Bryant should be back for his senior season in Oxford.

Plus, the SEC West is going to be up in the air next season.

If nobody leaves early, Auburn will return all but one player on its offensive two-deep next season; but five seniors off of its defense. Alabama and LSU will be hit hard by graduation and possibly the draft, and Texas A&M will likely have to replace the most dynamic player in college football when Johnny Football exits stage left.

Does that mean Ole Miss will be a favorite?

Of course not.

That'd be a giant leap forward, not the logical next step.

But it took a small step forward this season—a season that included a home win over LSU. Another step forward next season gets them in the discussion, and for Ole Miss, that's a great place to be considering where they were towards the end of the Houston Nutt era.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Holiday Bowl 2013 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Live Score and Highlights

The highest scoring game so far in the 2013 bowl season produced 93 points. That record might be in jeopardy when the potent offenses of Arizona State (10-3) and Texas Tech (7-5) clash in the National University Holiday Bowl at 10:15 p.m. ET Monday in San Diego.

The Pac-12/Big 12 tussle has traditionally been one of the more entertaining pre-New Year's Day bowl games, and this year's matchup should be no exception. Even though both teams are coming in off losses (with Texas Tech riding a five-game skid following a 7-0 start), the long layoff and extra time to tinker with schemes should make for plenty of fireworks.

ASU won the Pac-12's South Division, but then fell 38-14 at home to Stanford in the conference championship game on Dec. 7. Tech's last outing, on Nov. 28, was a 41-16 setback at Texas.

The game is being shown live on ESPN, but stick with us here for real-time updates, analysis and commentary, not to mention plenty of pics, tweets, GIFs and video from Qualcomm Stadium.

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BCS National Championship 2014: Biggest X-Factors for Auburn and Florida State

Auburn and Florida State will bring plenty of star power to the BCS National Championship, but some under-the-radar players will tip the outcome.

X-factors can swing games because stars are supposed to deliver huge performances. When (not if) Jameis Winston and Tre Mason carry their respective offenses at the Rose Bowl, it will surprise no one.

Rather, the guys who step up to complement or counter the greats around them deserve notice. With one game deciding the final BCS champion, an unexpected career night can earn a given player and his team a place in college football history.

 

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Fun fact: Did you know that the Seminoles, sporting the 2013 Heisman winner under center, bother to run the ball?

It's true, because Devonta Freeman provides the perfect support to Winston's aerial attack.

At 5'9", 205 pounds, Freeman is an absolute load to bring down, capable of pounding the ball between the tackles or bouncing outside and punishing smaller defenders. That physical running style has earned him a hard-fought 5.3 yards per carry this season, as well as 13 rushing touchdowns due to his red-zone proficiency.

He can also catch the ball a little bit out of the backfield, tacking on 19 catches for 257 yards and another score to his 953 yards on the ground. If that weren't enough, he's superb in pass protection, bringing the same mean streak from his run game to make him an every-down back.

That makes him an excellent safety valve for Winston. If Auburn can manage to bother Winston, Florida State has a dependable second option it can fall back on.

 

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn

You might think the Tigers have a potent passing game, since you associate Auburn with this play:

However, that's by no means the case. Nick Marshall joins Mason as one of two 1,000-yard rushers on this Auburn team, but he has thrown for just 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Auburn does not want to get into a shootout because gunslinging is not its signal-caller's strong suit.

Against Winston, balancing the offense with some effective passing will be necessary to keep up. That means Marshall is going to need help from Sammie Coates.

It's a major red flag that Auburn's leading receiver only has 38 catches, but he has maximized those opportunities, turning them into 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He's 6'2", but the sophomore has the speed to beat the secondary deep and the strength to shake off defensive backs trying to take him down.

Auburn must have that dimension in its game to win, and Coates is one of the few Tigers who can offer it.

 

Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State

While Winston put his physical gifts to work on the offensive end, Telvin Smith has anchored the defense with experience and a nose for the ball.

The senior linebacker weighs just 215 pounds, but that hasn't stopped him from making plays all over the field. Smith leads the Noles with 61 tackles, has gotten into the backfield for 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks and has picked off three passes, two of which he has returned for touchdowns.

That pedigree makes the task of him tracking down Mason, who is only 10 pounds lighter than Smith, less tenuous than it might have been otherwise. But even at his small size, Smith has the relentlessness and the tenacity to take on and take down the Heisman nominee.

Smith's passion is infectious, and the more big plays he makes, the more Florida State is going to get fired up. Auburn's blockers need to get to the second level and keep him away from the ball-carriers, or else the Seminole defense could overwhelm the Tigers.

 

Chris Davis, CB, Auburn

Again, you might not know everything Chris Davis can actually do on a football field if you have only seen this:

Yes, Davis returns punts, which made him an appropriate choice to position deep on that field-goal attempt. In addition to that instant classic against Alabama, he is averaging 20.1 yards on 14 punt returns, one of which he also took back for a touchdown. 

But his biggest impact comes on defense, where he makes outsized contributions for a cornerback. Lining up at the nickel, he is constantly making plays in the middle of the field, leading the Tigers with 65 tackles and tying Jonathon Mincy with 11 pass defenses.

His do-everything approach to the secondary will be vital against a Florida State offense that stretches opposing DBs to their breaking point. If Davis can hold up, he can help Auburn get the upper hand it needs on the No. 1 team in college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tim Tebow Is Making the Right Decision Becoming an Analyst

Tim Tebow is returning to college football.

It isn't exactly the comeback he had in mind, but the former Florida Gators and Denver Broncos starting quarterback will officially join the SEC Network, according to Nate Scott of USA Today.

The two-time SEC Champion will join a new show on the SEC Network called "SEC Nation" as an analyst. Tebow confirmed the reports as he tweeted his feelings about the situation on his official account:

After being cut most recently by the New England Patriots, Tebow has been given offers by an Italian league team and KISS's Arena Football League team, but has yet to sign another contract in the NFL.

Tebow will begin his new position with ESPN starting on Jan. 6 as part of its coverage of the BCS Championship Game. While it certainly isn't what Tebow or his fans wanted, the return to college football as an analyst is the best decision for the 26-year-old quarterback.

During his, thus far, short four-year career in the NFL and four years with the Gators, Tebow proved he had an immense knowledge of the game. Though his physical play on the field at the NFL level was often criticized, his understanding of football at the college level led to him winning the 2007 Heisman Trophy.

Tebow's previous tweets revealed that he hasn't given up on his dream of once again becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL, and Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted that there is a clause in his contract that kept his options open to returning to the league:

While the jokes about Tebow likely will not go away, the fact that he knows the game of football is not debatable. The former Gators quarterback who won not only the Heisman but also a national championship with the team, knows how the SEC and college football as a whole work.

Whether or not he ever returns to the NFL to pursue a career as a starting quarterback, his return to college football is not only a great decision for the SEC Network, but for Tebow's career as a whole.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Top NFL Prospects to Watch in Holiday Bowl

The 2014 Holiday Bowl pits No. 16 Arizona State against Texas Tech on Monday, Dec. 30, but it really won't be much of a competition.

The 10-3 Sun Devils should have no problem disposing of the 7-5 Red Raiders. ASU's No. 9-ranked offense will have a field day against a Red Raiders defense that checks in at No. 90 in the nation. Most of the bowl games feature quality matchups, but this one will certainly miss the mark.

Regardless, there are plenty of top NFL prospects featured in the Holiday Bowl that will be looking to make a good impression in their last on-field audition prior to the NFL draft in May.

Sure, pro days and the NFL Scouting Combine await them in the future, but production in games is ultimately what teams should be judging before making their selections. Look out for the following prospects to leave their marks on the game.

 

Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State

Marion Grice was the epitome of a dual-threat weapon for Arizona State this season, as the senior running back showed his versatility by posting solid numbers both on the ground and in the air.

He just missed out on a 1,000-yard rushing season, totaling 996 yards on 191 carries, 14 of which resulted in touchdowns.

In the passing game, he and quarterback Taylor Kelly established great chemistry and took advantage of defenses through checkdowns and plays in the middle of the field. Grice had 50 catches for 438 yards and six touchdowns.

He rarely carried more than 20 times per game this season, but in the four games he did, his lowest rushing total was 84 yards against Wisconsin. While that number may seem low, he made up for it by finding the end zone four times. Always active in the passing game, Grice failed to top 100 total yards just three times this year.

In the late second or early third round, Grice can be a quality pick for teams in need of running back help.

 

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Tight end Jace Amaro was unbelievable this season for the Red Raiders. He hauled in 98 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns, with 36 catches, 445 yards and three touchdowns coming against teams in the AP rankings.

The NFL today loves big-play tight ends. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis and Jordan Cameron are some of the top playmakers for their respective teams, and it's their potential in the vertical passing game that makes them such big threats to opposing defenses.

Chris Steuber of CSNPhilly.com praises Amaro's natural talents:

Whether he's in the slot or on the perimeter, Amara has the ability to exploit a defense with his natural receiving skills and vision. If Amaro decides to cash in on his breakout season, he could land in the first round...

Late in the first round would be the perfect spot for Amaro. The New England Patriots are a natural fit considering their love of the two-tight-end set, but there are various teams that will likely be enamored with this player's ability to stretch the field from the tight end position.

With a big game in the Holiday Bowl, Amaro might even find himself within the top 20 on draft day.

 

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

Need help in the trenches? Then look no further than defensive tackle Will Sutton. The 6'1", 288-pound tackle is a candidate to go sometime in the second round because of his explosiveness on the defensive line.

Sutton is deceptively quick for such a compact player, and his relatively shorter size allows him to get through gaps in the offensive line that bigger defenders would have difficulties penetrating. 

He posted 44 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception on the season as a result. Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com points out just why those numbers are down from last season, however:

He's returned, added the weight and kept most of his quick first step, but teams have keyed in on him more than they did last season—which is why his numbers are down.

Sutton has the quickness to play defensive end if he sheds some weight, but that's not to say he can't be a successful DT in the NFL.

As a second-round value selection, NFL teams would be smart to pick up the ASU product.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alamo Bowl 2013 Oregon vs. Texas: Live Game Grades, Analysis for the Longhorns

Texas 7, Oregon 10—1st Quarter

Case McCoy puts Texas on the board with a one-yard sneak to cap a seven minute drive. Malcolm Brown has already carried it 13 times for 60 yards.

Follow this page for live updates and the grades for Texas' positional units after each half of play.

Be sure to follow the box score at NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Best New Year's Day Memories of the BCS Era

New Year's Day is the pinnacle of college football, and though the two best teams have squared off several days later in recent years, January 1 is the one day you don't want to miss.

The Rose Bowl is the highlight of the day, and it's usually surrounded by several intriguing SEC-Big Ten matchups along with a second BCS tilt later at night.

Given the sheer number of great players and great teams coming together in one, glorious, 12-hour span, madness is going to happen. And what a journey the special day has taken us on throughout the BCS era.

If you're a fan of a team fortunate enough to play on New Year's Day, you probably have your own set of memories that stand out above any other. But we've collected some of our favorites over the past 15 seasons, and they're now part of college football lore.

So take a look at the 10 Best Memories from New Year's Day games in the BCS era, and feel free to share some of your own as well!

 

All stats via ESPN unless otherwise noted.

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The Top 25 College Football Stadiums to Visit Before You Die

Behind every great college football team is a great college football stadium.

Whether it’s the 12th Man of Texas A&M or the atmosphere of Death Valley for LSU, most of the game’s best teams benefit from having one of the best game-day experiences in the nation. Fans are screaming, the place is packed, and even the most uninterested attendant will have a great time.

But no stadium is built equally.

Fortunately, B/R has compiled a list of the top 25 stadiums to visit before you die.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 9 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

It's high school all-star game season, and coach Butch Jones' third-ranked Tennessee football recruiting class will be well-represented. Future Volunteers will be all over the field in the two major postseason games, as well as in two more that you'll be able to watch.

Six Vols commits were invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and two more will participate in the Under Armour All-America Game.

The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl will feature three UT commitments, and the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl will have at least seven future Vols playing.

This is a public relations dream for Jones, a salesman who is trying to get his message out to difference-makers who can help turn around the program. Having their names and the "Power T" flash across living room screens all over the country is a big recruiting tool.

It also doesn't hurt that so many Tennessee commits will be in the ears of their peers, telling them all about the Vols.

Let's take a look at the UT commitments and targets you should watch in the upcoming games.

All rankings and statistics courtesy of the 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Alamo Bowl 2013 Oregon vs. Texas: Live Score and Highlights

Keep it locked right here as we bring you live coverage of the Oregon Ducks and Texas Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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