NCAA Football

Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin Has Chance to Make National Statement Against SEC

Wisconsin has traded the familiar sights of Disneyland and the Rose Bowl for Disney World and the Capital One Bowl, yet its goal is still the same—make a national statement. 

In each of the last three Rose Bowls, the Badgers proved they could compete with anyone. That's all well and good, but in college football close doesn't count for much, and Wisconsin failed to win all three attempts at the Rose Bowl. 

It lost to No. 3 TCU in 2011, No. 5 Oregon in 2012 and No. 6 Stanford in 2013. 

So, as No. 9 South Carolina stands in front of them at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day, don't expect the Badgers to be intimidated in the least. 

Do expect them to be hungry to go out winners for a change, after seeing the last three senior classes leave empty-handed. According to Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal, it's all the motivation guys like James White need heading into the Capital One Bowl.

Since I’ve been here, I haven’t won a bowl game and I really haven’t done much in a bowl game...It’s definitely important for me and the rest of the seniors to go out here and work hard and put on a great performance.

Wisconsin has been close to breaking through the glass ceiling of being considered an elite team for four years now.

It now has an opportunity to put itself on the map in its next two games, as they also take on LSU to open 2014.

But Wisconsin must take care of part one before it worries about part two. 

That's a task easier said than done, especially when you look at the matchup between the efficient Gamecocks' quarterback Connor Shaw and UW's secondary. 

It's a fact not lost on Badgers secondary coach Ben Strickland, according to Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal

As a whole, we have to be different to win this ballgame...We can’t just line up and play and expect for those guys on the offensive side not to pick us apart. So, we’ve got to be different in what we’re doing from a scheme standpoint (and) a different mentality approach as well, to make sure our kids are locked in and ready to execute at a high level.

Wisconsin's season finale against Penn State didn't go the way anyone wanted in the cardinal and white, as the Badger secondary gave up 339 yards and four touchdowns through the air. 

Yet statistically speaking, the Badgers have been one of the best teams in college football against the pass. They rank sixth in passer efficiency (105.22) and 12th in passing defense (192.7 yards per game) nationally. 

Additionally, this unit has given up just 12 passing touchdowns on the year—tied for the lowest in the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks present a whole different level of challenge though, as they will be just the fifth opponent Wisconsin has faced to rank in the top 50 nationally in passing. 

Shaw comes in with 21 passing touchdowns to just one interception, so the Wisconsin secondary will need to be on the mark in order to make part one of their statement a success.

Wisconsin's chances against the South Carolina passing attack could come down to a very intriguing matchup between wide receiver Bruce Ellington and UW's standout freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton. 

Shelton's first year saw him get named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media, and for once the 5'9" corner won't be tasked with covering a much taller receiver, as Ellington is all of 5'9" himself. 

If Shelton can shut down Ellington, it makes the game much easier for the rest of his teammates and the big goal just that much more likely—getting to 10 wins. 

Hitting that mark for the third time in four years won't hurt Wisconsin's chase for nationally elite status either, and even for the seniors who are departing it's an important goal. 

"This game is very important to us," said senior linebacker Chris Borland. "Getting a 10th win against a great team would say a lot, validate a lot. Our last performance wasn't us." 

Getting that 10th win would not only tie this senior class for most wins in a four-year span, but also could serve as a launching point for bigger things ahead. 

Wisconsin capping off one season with a win against a top SEC foe is one thing, but doing that and taking on LSU to open its next season is a task that will make the nation sit up and take notice.

Now all that's left is for Wisconsin to go out and win both of those games. 

Do so, and the Badgers will not only have back-to-back wins over top SEC foes but the respect that comes with it. 

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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Michigan Football: Which QB Will Start in 2014: Devin Gardner or Shane Morris?

Shane Morris stepped in for the injured Devin Gardner for Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl but who will start at QB for the Wolverines in 2014?

Gardner was solid at QB in 2013, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 21 TDs. He was also a threat on the ground, racking up 11 rushing TDs. Morris saw action in two other games this season in addition to starting the loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. 

Watch Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee predict who will start at QB for the Wolverines in 2014. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Georgia Tech Fake Punt May Be the Worst Attempt Ever

The element of surprise can help a team win a game. When it doesn't work, however, it can turn into an ugly play.

Late in the second quarter of the Music City Bowl on Monday, Georgia Tech tried to trick Ole Miss with a fake punt. It wasn't a terrible call on 4th-and-11 given that it came on the Rebels' side of the field. However, the execution was as bad as it gets.

Punter Sean Poole got tripped up by the turf monster before he even got to the line of scrimmage, and Ole Miss took over on downs.

The Yellow Jackets were fortunate that the Rebels missed a field goal on the ensuing drive, keeping their deficit to 13-7.

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Alamo Bowl 2013 Oregon vs. Texas: Live Game Grades and Analysis for the Ducks

The Oregon Ducks and Texas Longhorns are currently locked in a battle in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

1st Quarter: Oregon 10, Texas 7

For full stats, go to NCAA.com.

 

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Alamo Bowl 2013 Oregon vs. Texas: Live Game Grades and Analysis for the Ducks

The Oregon Ducks and Texas Longhorns are currently locked in a battle in the Valero Alamo Bowl . 2nd Quarter: Oregon 10, Texas 7 For full stats, go to NCAA.com ...

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Connor Cook's Journey from the Bench to the Rose Bowl

Connor Cook's journey from platooning also-ran to Rose Bowl starter began where it so nearly ended: on the sideline of the field at Notre Dame Stadium.

Trailing the Fighting Irish 17-13 with just over two minutes on the clock, head coach Mark Dantonio benched his sophomore starter, opting to let senior Andrew Maxwell lead the all-important drive. Maxwell started for Michigan State's woeful offense in 2012 and won the job out of fall camp, so it wasn't an out-of-left-field decision.

It also didn't work.

Maxwell's drive went backwards, petering out the same way Michigan State's offense had all afternoon. The Spartans lost their first and only game of the season that day and appeared to be mired in a vicious cycle of quarterback mediocrity. But then someone finally stepped up. And Cook made sure it was him.

"After the Notre Dame game, I had a meeting with Coach Warner," Cook told Josh Slagter of MLive.com, referring to offensive coordinator Dave Warner. "He just said you can be so much better if you just take your time, don't rush and go through your progressions and trust your offensive linemen."

"I was getting more comfortable in my role."

That last part became clear. Jilted by Dantonio on the biggest stage, Cook looked within himself to get better instead of lashing out or sulking. Two weeks later, on the road in the Big Ten opener against a very good Iowa defense, Cook was a different quarterback entirely. The Spartans gained more than 400 yards and won by 12 points.

The quarterback controversy was over.

It didn't stop there, either. Michigan State's offense kept getting better each week. Against all odds, it suddenly turned into a competent and competitive outfit. Under Cook's renewed guidance, it has moved the ball well enough and scored enough points to run the table in the Big Ten...without winning a single game by fewer than 10 points.

There were some bumps in the road along the way, no doubt.

Cook and the offense stalled at home against Purdue on Oct. 19, scoring just 14 points against a team that allowed 55 on three different occasions this season (and generally couldn't stop a nosebleed upside down). The defense needed to save MSU with a shutout, which is precisely what it did.

But those hiccups have been few and far between. Bad as it was, the no-show against Purdue appears to be the exception that proves the rule. In their other eight conference games, the Spartans have gained 6.33 yards per play. 

Clemson, which is widely regarded as one of the best and most explosive offenses in America, averaged 6.28 for the year.

More important than numbers, though, Cook has stepped up when his team needed it most. Stages don't come much bigger than the Big Ten Championship Game, which was played in the NFL confines of Lucas Oil Stadium and directly impacted the national title hunt. All Ohio State needed to do was slow down Cook and the Spartans offense. If it could, it would play for the ultimate prize.

It couldn't.

Cook played the best game of his career against the Buckeyes, helping the Spartans gash OSU's defense for 438 yards and 34 points. He finished with 304 passing yards and was named the game's MVP. Afterwards, he preened around the field with a thick red rose in his mouth, grinning from ear to ear and jesting with the crowd. He was finally at ease.

"This wasn't the first week where we heard people say negative things about us as an offense," said Cook, according to CBSSports.com. "I think we were underdogs in the majority of the games we played this year. It really didn't affect us."

Au contraire, Mr. Cook. Being an underdog could not have affected you more—both as a team and as an individual. The moment you were benched at Notre Dame, the second Maxwell's drive came up short, both you and your offense were cast aside as frauds. Since that moment, you have proven to be anything but.

That can't be a coincidence.

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

The 2014 Rose Bowl features two of the nation's most respected programs, as Stanford (11-2) and Michigan State (12-1) will compete in "The Granddaddy of Them All" on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. 

Stanford carries a three-game winning streak into the upcoming contest, having knocked off conference rival Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.    

Michigan State was nearly flawless in 2013, losing but one game to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish early in the season. The Spartans have rattled off nine straight wins since then, most recently taking it to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

Participating in a BCS bowl game comes with its perks and challenges. Here's a look at a few players and coaches from both teams enjoying a gorgeous day at Disneyland, which is right around the corner from the Rose Bowl:

Long before the whistle blows for the opening kickoff, however, those happy smiles will turn into game faces. It's going to be a slobberknocker of a contest, as the two teams both feature punishing defenses and powerhouse running games. 

Here's a look at when and where to catch the action, along with betting information and injury reports for both teams. 

 

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 42.5 points
  • Spread: Michigan State (+6.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

How Will Michigan State Handle Stanford's Offense Without Max Bullough?

Michigan State's defense finished the regular season ranked No. 2 against the run (80.8 rushing yards allowed per game) and was the No. 4-ranked scoring defense (12.7 points allowed per game). 

Senior linebacker Max Bullough had a lot to do with both numbers. He's the face of the defense, and the Spartans have relied on him time and time again in 2013 to come up with big plays in critical situations.

Unfortunately, he was suspended by the team for the Rose Bowl, as noted by Brett McMurphy of ESPN:

To say the news came as a shock would be an understatement. Matt Charboneau from The Detroit News was stunned, noting Bullough was the last person he expected it would happen to:

Kyler Elsworth—a fifth-year senior—will start in place of Bullough, per Josh Slagter of MLive.com, but he's accumulated just 22 total tackles in his career at Michigan State. Needless to say, the Spartans aren't likely to be as stout up the middle with him in the lineup.

Head coach Mark Dantonio would argue that point, however, per Slagter: "It's not one individual, it's our system."

It won't take long to see if Dantonio's "system" is up to the task, as Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports suggested:

Stanford comes into the game with a no-nonsense offense that averages 210.9 rushing yards per game (No. 22 in the nation). Led by Tyler Gaffney, the Cardinal offense will relentlessly attack Michigan State's front seven with a physical, power running game. 

 

Prediction

Michigan State isn't the only team with a dominating defense. 

Stanford's defense has been known to shut down opposing offenses, as was clearly illustrated in early Nov. when the Oregon Ducks scored just 20 points in a losing cause. 

Spartans running back Jeremy Langford will bang his head up against the brick wall that is Stanford's front seven time and time again—to no avail. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov leads a stingy unit that ranked No. 3 against the run—right behind the Spartans. 

On the other side, Gaffney will find room against Michigan State's depleted front seven, helping the Cardinal move the chains on offense and control the clock. 

It's going to be an ugly win, but a win nonetheless for Stanford at the 2014 Rose Bowl.

 

Final Score 

Stanford wins, 23-20.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Rose Bowl 2014: Nation's No. 1 Defense Could Bring out the Best in Kevin Hogan

Stanford’s offensive game plan is founded on a steady workload from running back Tyler Gaffney, but establishing the rush against the nation’s top-ranked run defense will prove especially challenging.

With or without linebacker Max Bullough, who was suspended for Wednesday’s Rose Bowl last week, Michigan State’s stingy play from its defensive front is enough to require Stanford head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren to adjust.

The Cardinal’s strategy Wednesday could start with quarterback Kevin Hogan to set up the workhorse Gaffney. The junior is playing in his second Rose Bowl, an impressive accomplishment for any quarterback.

Though he’s spending New Year’s Day playing in Pasadena, Calif., for a second straight season, Hogan’s brief career has had “peaks and valleys,” as Shaw described in the coach’s press conference on Monday.

“He’s never had a bad game,” Shaw said. “He’s been great some weeks…he’s been good some weeks. You never judge a game on one or two bad plays, which every quarterback is going to have.”

Hogan encountered one of those games with a bad play or two during Stanford’s last trip to Los Angeles, and they happened to come at inopportune times. He threw a red-zone interception in the Cardinal’s Nov. 16 loss at USC. A touchdown on the possession would have sealed a Stanford win, and perhaps been enough to earn the Cardinal a spot in the BCS Championship next week.

Still, Shaw said he’s pleased with Hogan’s direction, which the coach said “is upward,” citing changes the staff made to the game plan down the stretch of the regular season. Those tweaks were evident in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Hogan is coming into the Rose Bowl off one of those great weeks—perhaps the best of his time at Stanford. He went for 277 yards passing and another 24 rushing, and threw for a touchdown. And he did it all against the aggressive pass-rush defense of Arizona State.

The rushing yards are particularly noteworthy. Hogan isn’t used as a traditional dual-threat quarterback in Stanford’s power-based offense. Nevertheless, his ability to take off running can be an X-factor for the Cardinal.

He rolled off big gains against Oregon, as well as in both wins over Arizona State. Hogan will need to be light on his feet and quick to react to opportunities against the aggressive Michigan State pursuit.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has confounded and frustrated one offense after another in the Spartans’ run to the Big Ten championship. Bullough is unavailable, but Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said in his press conference Monday that Darien Harris and Kyler Elsworth will handle middle linebacking duties. Neither are exactly slouches filling in for Bullough.

And while the Spartans run-stop defense commands the most attention, attacking Michigan State with the pass is no walk in the park, either. Hogan’s primary big-play weapon, junior Ty Montgomery, could draw high-level NFL draft prospect, Darqueze Dennard.

That makes the return of a fully healthy Devon Cajuste to the lineup all the more important for Stanford. Cajuste was central to Hogan’s performance against Arizona State, and the big man will again be a crucial component of Stanford’s passing offense.

Shaw said Gaffney’s performance this season “has taken a ton of pressure off” Hogan. But in the Rose Bowl, it may be Hogan who is taking Michigan State’s pressure off of Gaffney.

Kyle Kensing is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Nation's No. 1 Defense Could Bring out the Best in Kevin Hogan

Stanford’s offensive game plan is founded on a steady workload from running back Tyler Gaffney, but establishing the rush against the nation’s top-ranked run defense will prove especially challenging...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays in BCS Championship History

With the 2014 BCS Championship Game just days away, it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane.

There have been 15 BCS Championship Games to date. Seven of those games were decided by 11 points or fewer.

Dynasties were made and broken. Underdogs rose from obscurity to the forefront of the college football landscape.

A lot of times, these moments came to fruition on just a single play.

Join B/R as we countdown the top 10 plays in BCS Championship Game history.

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Michigan Needs Soul Searching, Better Coaching to Get Back to B1G's Elite

Did anyone get the number of the truck that ran over Michigan in its 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? 

If so, please report it to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke, because they sure didn't have a clue on Saturday night. 

That was just a microcosm of the issues the Wolverines faced all season long; and as Michigan goes through assessments and self-evaluations in the offseason, they need to go further and do some serious soul-searching after limping to a 7-6 finish this year. 

That soul-searching needs to start with the coaching staff and continue right down to man No. 125 on the roster, because from top to bottom this team wasn't very good in 2013. 

Surprisingly, Devin Gardner's season may have been the highlight of 2013 for the Wolverines. He finished the year completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,960 yards and had 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. 

While Gardner's performances weren't always rock solid, it is a foundation for this team to build off of. 

Up front, well that's a whole different story, and it's where the soul-searching and better coaching need to happen. 

Some of what happened in the run game and with Gardner's struggles can be placed on a young interior of the offensive line, but by season's end Michigan was still tinkering with its lineup and none of the youngsters had really stepped up to the plate. 

Michigan's run game never got going in 2013 and it ended with a whimper as well, going for just 65 yards in the loss to K-State on Saturday. 

The bad news is that after three weeks of practice, the players felt confident heading into the game and believed they had worked out any issues up front. 

Following the game, running back Derrick Green was at a loss for answers, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com

I don't have an answer. ... (Offensive coordinator Al) Borges was calling plays that he felt would be the most productive. And if it wasn't plays for me, then it wasn't (to be). I felt like he had some good play calling.

The good news is the Wolverine players acknowledge what took place and expect more out of themselves, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com

"At Michigan, running the ball's a big part of it," Green said. "I hope (we can fix it). Me and De'Veon are going to come back next year real strong and we'll get it done."

As much as it's on the players, it also speaks to the lack of development that took place from Week 1 to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. 

Youth can only be an excuse for so long, and by season's end that excuse doesn't hold water. Either there's improvement or not and in Michigan's case there was none in 2013.

Unless the offensive line and the coaching staff figure some things out in the next eight months, it won't matter what kind of talent is behind them—this team will continue to struggle. 

Ever since Brady Hoke's first year, where the Wolverines won 11 games and the Sugar Bowl, we've heard the talk of how Michigan was back. 

Instead, Michigan have failed to live up to expectations of fans or their preseason rankings for two years in a row. 

Before the 2012 season, Michigan was ranked No. 8 in the country, only to finish the year as the No. 24 team with a modest 8-5 record.

This season was more of the same, as the Wolverines started the year ranked No. 17 in the country and wound up with that 7-6 record and unranked in the latest polls.

With results like that, it's time to ask an important question about just where this Michigan program really is.

Has Michigan become just another program in the Big Ten?

A string of less-than-stellar records would suggest that the Wolverines are in danger of becoming just that, if they weren't already. 

Consider this tough fact for a moment: 

Bo Schembechler version 2.0 isn't likely to walk through the Michigan locker room doors any time soon—he's a once in a lifetime type of a coach, but the recent string of results should have many longing for the days of Lloyd Carr.

You know, the man who was fired because he failed to get to a Rose Bowl for three years in a row and went a horrible 27-11 in his final three years in Ann Arbor. 

Those seem like the good old days considering where the program is right now. Through the first three years of Hoke's regime, the Wolverines have a 26-12 record and haven't sniffed a Big Ten championship.

If 27-11 wasn't good enough for Lloyd Carr, Hoke and Co. better come up with something better than average next season or it could be trouble for him in Ann Arbor. 

The coaches need to look in the mirror and start figuring out how to get the most out of all the talent coming aboard this program. There's certainly no lack of highly touted recruits coming to Michigan.

After three straight years of top-20 recruiting classes (according to 247sports) its time to see that talent produce on the field and that's where coaching comes in. 

Talent only gets you so far and in big time college football its coaching and putting players in positions to be successful that makes all the difference. 

Michigan's coaching staff would be wise to figure out its identity quickly heading into next season, something it never did in 2013, otherwise 2014 could be another long, painful season in Ann Arbor. 

 

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

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Tar Heels Coach Larry Fedora Celebrates Bowl Win with 'NaeNae' Dance

Coaches dancing in the locker room after a victory never gets old.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora joined the "NaeNae" craze by breaking out the dance in the locker room after the Tar Heels' 39-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in Saturday's Belk Bowl.

Thanks to UNC Tar Heel Athletics for the video, and hat tip to College Spun's Matt Lombardi for the find.

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Rose Bowl Warns Auburn Fans Not to Toilet Paper Palm Trees

Auburn fans are known for toilet papering trees after big wins, but Tigers fans traveling to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game should think twice before they roll the palm trees outside the Rose Bowl—if Auburn wins.

The Rose Bowl made it quite clear that it will not allow the trees surrounding the stadium to be turned into Toomer's Corner: 

Hat tip to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the find.

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Under Armour All-America Game 2014: Complete Breakdown of Each Team

The 2014 Under Amour All-America Game gives the nation's elite high school seniors a final opportunity to showcase their skills before taking a leap to the collegiate level. Action begins on ESPN at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Premier prospects from across the country will compete in the annual showcase, suiting up for Team Highlight and Team Nitro. Future conference foes and teammates put their skills to the test, while several players are expected to announce commitments during the event.

Here's position-by-position analysis of playmakers to watch on each squad. National stars are out in full force.

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Outdueling Bryce Petty in 2014 Fiesta Bowl Could Put Blake Bortles on the Map

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles first made a name for himself by having the punniest last name in college football (see: #BORTLESBALL).

Now, the redshirt junior can be so much more. 

Wednesday's Fiesta Bowl against Baylor—UCF's first BCS appearance—is a program-defining game for the Knights, who went 11-1 their first year in the American Athletic Conference. UCF's only loss? A 28-25 squeaker at home to South Carolina. 

Bortles led the way on offense, earning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors and being selected First Team All-Conference—both coming over Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. 

Bortles could get even more recognition if he outplays Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty on a national stage. If nothing else, he'd probably be the first quarterback to win a Fiesta Bowl by preparing with the help of Taylor Swift. 

But T-Swift aside, the two quarterbacks share some similarities. Petty, also a redshirt junior, was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. The two are roughly the same size and can beat opposing defenses with their arms and legs.

Both were passed over at some point in their recruiting process by big-name programs. Bortles wasn't stirring interest in programs like Florida or Miami, and Petty was given the cold shoulder by Tennessee when Lane Kiffin took over. 

Bortles doesn't have Petty's arm, but he does have accuracy, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns. Baylor's defense has statistically been stout this season, but have shown signs of vulnerability against the run and the pass in the final stretch of the season. With Bears linebacker Bryce Hager still questionable with a groin injury, Bortles has an opportunity to exploit those weaknesses. 

Petty has only been outplayed once: the Nov. 23 game at Oklahoma State, which Baylor lost 49-17. Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf had 370 yards passing and four touchdowns that night and was the flavor of the week in the Big 12 until the Pokes' season-ending loss to Oklahoma. 

If Bortles outduels Petty, his offseason buzz is going to grow exponentially. Remember, the Knights are a 16.5-point underdog to the Bears, according to VegasInsider.com. If Bortles decides to come back for one more season, he'll be a preseason Heisman dark horse, a la Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato

If Bortles decides to go pro, he'll be an interesting prospect. He's already starting to get some publicity from sites like NFL.com and Sports Illustrated

B/R's Matt Miller graded Bortles as the 10th-best prospect on his Dec. 11 Big Board. Miller compares Bortles to Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans, though with more accuracy. Here's more from his scouting report: 

Bortles makes plays, even without a ton of talent around him, and that shows he can elevate the talent of those around him. That's a key trait I look for in a quarterback.

... 

The biggest knock on film is his footwork. Like many athletic passers, Bortles throws the ball from all kinds of awkward stances. Learning to step into throws and control his lower body will be big for his early success.

Bridgewater is still the top consensus quarterback, but Bortles could become an interesting option depending on who else in the 2014 quarterback class declares. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley are weighing their options, though Mariota has said he's returning for another season.

The thought of playing in the NFL has certainly weighed on Bortles' mind.  

"You can’t not think about it when your lifelong dream is right there,” Bortles said to the Arizona Republic. “It’s definitely in the back of your mind.”

It could be in the front sooner rather than later. 

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Music City Bowl 2013 Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech: Live Score and Highlights

Ole Miss 7, Georgia Tech 7—Late 1st Quarter

The 7-5 Ole Miss Rebels and 7-5 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are meeting in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

ESPN is carrying the game, and Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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

University of Phoenix Stadium will play host to Baylor and UCF on New Year's Day in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and each team will be making its first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl game.

Baylor (No. 6) and UCF (No. 15) boast strong offensive attacks that have helped them take down top teams during the 2013 season. Baylor defeated Oklahoma and Texas, while UCF was successful in winning against Penn State and Louisville.

UCF enters play having not lost since Sept. 28 against the South Carolina Gamecocks. In their only loss of the season, the Knights scored just 25 points and were stifled late by the South Carolina defense.

Oklahoma State handed Baylor its lone loss on the season. It was a 49-17 thrashing on Nov. 23, and it resulted in a critical drop in the BCS rankings for the Bears. Had they not lost to Oklahoma State, the Bears might have been playing in the BCS title game.

You're not going to want to miss this. These teams boast talented NFL prospects and that will make the game that much more interesting. Here is the information that is crucial to your viewing experience, including betting lines and keys to the game that will help keep you as informed as possible leading up to the action.

 

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines: (via Covers)

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Baylor (-16.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

Can the UCF Defense Slow Down Baylor's No. 1 Offense?

Baylor has so many offensive weapons that it will be extremely difficult for UCF to limit them. Quarterback Bryce Petty has so much talent surrounding him that he can be off his game and still succeed against the Knights' No. 12-ranked defense.

ESPN.com's David M. Hale doesn't think that we should be underestimating that defense, though:

They may be largely anonymous on a national stage, but the Knights have been solid defensively all season. UCF ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 20 points per game, despite having just two seniors on its two-deep. It's an athletic group that plays sound fundamentally, and if the rest of the world is overlooking the unit, Baylor isn't.

Baylor's Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese combined for more 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in the receiving game this season. Goodley posted more than 30 more receptions, but Reese was a big-play candidate every time he stretched the defense. He'll be the key to the vertical passing game.

If UCF's secondary is able to give Petty different looks, then Petty will be forced to go through his progressions and hit the open receivers. When UCF couples that with creative blitz packages, Petty will find himself under pressure early and often.

That's when he'll have to turn to Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood. The two running backs totaled more than 1,900 yards on the ground this season, and they found the end zone 19 times. They'll be important to keeping the chains moving, but also in keeping the defense in check.

The play-action pass will be crucial to defeating the UCF defense. If Petty can get that working for his offense, then Baylor should be able to put up 40-plus points.

 

Prediction

"We're not just scrubby little Baylor anymore," Petty told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel.

After defeating Texas in the Big 12 title game, Baylor made a name for itself as a top BCS team looking to win its first-ever BCS bowl game. UCF is in the same boat, but Baylor is the far superior team.

Not to discredit the Knights in any way—they've had a spectacular season—but Baylor is too strong offensively to lose against UCF.

Both Petty and UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will use this as an audition for the NFL draft in May, as each signal-caller ranks in that second tier of quarterbacks behind Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr. With each looking to raise his draft stock, we should be in for some solid football.

I predict Baylor will win, but not because of UCF mistakes. This will simply come down to which offense puts up the most points. With that being the case, it's hard to pick against the No. 1 offense in college football.

 

Final Score: Baylor 42, UCF 30

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Nebraska Football Recruiting: 5 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

Nebraska football fans will get an early glimpse of key recruits in the coming week.

From the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 to the Marine Corps-sponsored Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 5, the future of Nebraska football will be on display.

Some of those playing have not yet committed to Nebraska. However, a couple already have.

Regardless, it will be fun to watch the best of the best in high school football put on a show. It will be even better having a chance to see future Huskers be part of it.

For Nebraska fans, these are the five prospects worth watching in the upcoming high school all-star games.

 

Note: All stats and information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Facing the Nation's Leading Rusher a Measuring Stick for Arizona Defense

Among the most important pieces of Rich Rodriguez’s rebuilding blueprint for Arizona was luring defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia. Tuesday in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Casteel’s unit faces the unique challenge of containing the nation’s leading rusher, Boston College running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams.

Williams is college football’s first 2,000-plus-yard ball-carrier since 2008. He reached that most elusive of benchmarks with a hard grinding style, fighting through tacklers and keeping his legs turning for extra yards.

The contrast of Williams’ hard-running style and Arizona’s speed-predicated defense promises to dictate the direction of Tuesday’s bowl clash.

Casteel’s absence from Rodriguez’s staff at Michigan was conspicuous when, in 2010, the Wolverines were among the worst BCS conference scoring defenses.

But their reunion didn’t exactly usher in a return to the glory days when West Virginia was a winner of 58 games and two Big East Conference championships in six seasons. Injuries and transfer, coupled with the schematic changes the 3-3-5 stack meant, made 2012 a trying year for the Wildcats defense.

With players shifting positions, like Marquis Flowers moving from safety to linebacker, Arizona was the nation’s No. 104 scoring defense.

Desert Swarm it was not. But a second year under Casteel’s guidance has seen vast improvements in all phases of the defense, shaving nearly two touchdowns off its per-game yield.

“Experience in the system helped, but we’re able to rotate more guys into the lineup,” Rodriguez said on his teleconference call following the Oregon win, which was Casteel’s masterpiece.

Arizona is still far removed from the defenses of the 1990s, but Casteel’s system has found a new kind of swarm: Utilizing the speed on which the 3-3-5 formation is founded to swarm to ball-carriers. More depth has bolstered that effort, as the Wildcats successfully did against Oregon. They must replicate the effort against Williams and Boston College.

Ka'Deem Carey garnered the majority of headlines following the Wildcats’ 42-16 rout of Oregon on Nov. 23—and deservedly so. But Arizona became just the third defense since the 2010 season to hold the Ducks below 20 points, and the last to do so was the vaunted Stanford defense in 2012.

Arizona succeeded against Oregon in part because of its ability to contain the rush. The Ducks managed 198 yards on the ground, 85 below their season average.

The injury running back Byron Marshall suffered early on certainly didn’t hurt Arizona’s defensive effort, and that has bearing on Tuesday’s contest. Williams is coming off a shoulder injury that limited him in the Eagles’ regular-season finale at Syracuse.

Williams’ health and ability to establish himself early are paramount for the Eagles offense, because Arizona wants to put the game on quarterback Chase Rettig.

The senior and four-year starter has played admirably, enduring multiple staffing changes during his tenure at Boston College. Ryan Day is his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years. His experience has helped Rettig limit mistakes, as the six interceptions he’s thrown this season are his fewest in any one season.

With linebackers Flowers and Jake Fischer working to limit Williams, Sione Tuihalamaka and Reggie Gilbert must generate pressure up front to take Rettig out of his comfort zone.

The Wildcats are at their best forcing passes into coverage. Arizona is among the top defenses in the Pac-12, and No. 23 nationally in interceptions with 16. Cornerback Shaq Richardson could draw the assignment on Boston College’s top wide receiver, Alex Amidon.

Richardson’s responsibility is keeping Amidon from getting deeper than the safeties, which includes Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Arizona’s top turnover-creator in the secondary.

But the starting point for everything Arizona needs on defense is limiting Williams. Containing the nation’s top rusher would mark a major milestone in the long-term vision Rodriguez has for Arizona, and serve as a reminder of why adding Casteel to his staff was such a priority.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Ohio State Will Have Its Hands Full vs. Clemson with or Without Noah Spence

With or without Noah Spence, the Ohio State defense is going to have its work cut out for it against the Clemson Tigers' attack. Spence is growing into a phenomenal pass-rusher, but the key to the Buckeyes stopping Clemson is the pass coverage, not just the pass rush.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Spence, the Buckeyes' leading sack and tackle-for-loss player, did not make the team flight to Miami, as he dealt with personal issues. Jamal Marcus, a sophomore who has seen quality playing time behind Spence, will likely fill in should Spence not make it to Florida to participate in the Orange Bowl.

Marcus, according to 247 Sports, was a 4-star recruit when he came out of Hillside High School in Durham, NC. The backup Leo, a hybrid linebacker-defensive end player, is long on talent and should be sound in Spence's stead.

However, with Spence or with Marcus, the Buckeyes have to improve upon something that has been a bugaboo for the team all season long: defending the short and intermediate zones in pass coverage. Stopping Clemson takes a combination of disrupting timing through press coverage on the wide receivers and pattern matching to discourage quarterback Tajh Boyd from making the quick, easy throw.

Neither of those aspects have been a strong suit for the Buckeyes defense in 2013.

Getting pressure on Boyd is key; in the two losses this season, the Tigers have surrendered nine sacks. However, all sacks are not created equal, and in sacking Boyd, both Florida State and South Carolina did more than simply "bring pressure" to give the quarterback trouble.

Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator, has built this offense to eat up pressure. It has quick reads and hot routes, and it's predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. Bringing pressure creates quick reads, and Boyd is trained to hit those voids to exploit teams that try to use the blitz to beat Clemson.

To be successful, teams have to make Boyd hold on to the ball longer than he wants to in passing situations. As you can see here, with the Timmy Jernigan sack, Boyd gets set up but has nothing down the field. That allows the Seminoles' pressure to get to the quarterback and get the sack.

Spence would certainly be an addition to the second part of the equation. Yet, the first part, tight coverage to make Boyd hold on to the ball, has to happen before Spence, Marcus or the rest of the Buckeyes' front can go make plays.

That means guys like Bradley Roby, who is still battling a knee injury as Fox Sports reported, have to perform better than they have most of the season. As Your Best 11 pointed out before the Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes have issues relating to routes. The team gets to its drops, but they don't match patterns or deny throws and against Clemson, that has to be the prime directive.

The Buckeyes' top pass-rusher has been less of a factor in pass coverage when asked to move away from the line in 2013. Because he is not a press man corner, a safety who can deny the slant or a linebacker who walls off the interior well, his potential absence is notable but not a death knell.

The eyes of the nation will be on the Buckeyes and with, or without Noah Spence, the pass coverage has to show up in a big way for Urban Meyer's team to get win No. 13. 

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