The 2013 edition of the GoDaddy Bowl will pit two upcoming football programs against each other in Ball State and Arkansas State.
For the Cardinals (10-2), the team is coming off an impressive campaign in the MAC. It marks the team's second consecutive season with nine wins or more and its first 10-win campaign since 2008.
Backed by a strong passing attack, Ball State comes in as favorites.
On the other hand, although the Red Wolves (7-5) have won three fewer games than they had in 2011 and 2012, the team has made significant strides under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin. In fact, he has claimed the third-most wins by a head coach in his first season in school history.
Behind dual-threat quarterback Adam Kennedy, Arkansas State should give Ball State more than it can handle.
Here’s how the two teams match up.
Time: 9 p.m. EST
Place: Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
TV/Radio: ESPN/ESPN Radio
Minnesota (8-4, 4-4 Big Ten) is slated to square off with Syracuse (6-6, 4-4 ACC), Friday, Dec. 27 in the 2013 Texas Bowl in Houston, Texas.
The Golden Gophers come into the game off their best season in a decade, while the Orange managed bowl eligibility by nipping Boston College 34-31 in their season finale.
Minnesota holds a 3-1 all-time advantage over Syracuse, the two meeting as recently as last season when the Gophers won 17-10 in Minneapolis. Syracuse’s only win came in 1995 and the two have never met in a postseason game.
This season’s Texas Bowl will feature two teams which share similar DNA. Minnesota has struggled to establish a passing attack this season (No. 118 in the FBS), but has been effective on defense (No. 28 in scoring). Syracuse, similarly, has been more effective running the ball (No. 39 in the FBS in rushing yards versus No. 87 in passing) and has done well limiting opponents' scoring (No. 59).
It will be a battle between an Orange team which can run and stop the run and a Golden Gopher squad which is slow-moving but super disciplined.
Here are the details:
Date/Time: Friday, Dec. 27, 6:00 p.m. EST
Place: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Tex.
After one of the wildest college football seasons in recent memory, the final BCS rankings have finally been released. Most are probably going to focus on the top two teams since they will play for the national championship, but there are intriguing teams scattered throughout.
Speaking of the top two, however, it is fitting that two of the most dominant teams in college football over the course of the season will meet in the BCS National Championship Game. Checking in at No. 1 after its ACC title win over Duke is Florida State, while Auburn is No. 2 after an impressive victory over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
The Seminoles have taken college football by storm this year thanks largely to the play of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. It seems as though Winston is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and it is for good reason. Few expected Florida State to be as good as it has been, but it has played at an Alabama-esque level this season.
Jimbo Fisher's squad has destroyed nearly every team it has faced, and it ranks near the top of the nation in both total offense and total defense. Auburn will have a tough test on its hands in the National Championship Game, but it shouldn't be counted out, either.
The Tigers have been the talk of the country over the past couple weeks by virtue of their wins over Alabama and Missouri. The combination of running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall gives them arguably the best rushing attack in the nation, and they will easily pose the biggest threat Florida State has faced all season long.
Ohio State entered Saturday simply needing a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game in order to reach the BCS National Championship Game, but the Buckeyes lost their first contest under Urban Meyer by a 34-24 score. Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the rest of the OSU offense was stymied by Michigan State's defense at times, and it ended up costing the Buckeyes in the end.
Alabama received an at-large bowl berth, and even though it won't be going for yet another national title, it still has plenty to play for. Nick Saban's squad can't afford to let its guard down or it could end the season on a two-game losing streak.
With beloved quarterback AJ McCarron set to play his final game as a member of the Crimson Tide, though, the Alabama players should be motivated to perform well.
Speaking of the SEC, a couple of BCS-worthy teams in No. 8 Missouri and No. 9 South Carolina were left out due to the fact that each BCS conference can only have two BCS representatives at most. It's unfortunate since both teams had a great campaign, but such is life under the BCS system.
A couple of other teams worth noting are conference champions No. 6 Baylor and No. 5 Stanford. Both programs have been in the mix all season long, and they earned their way into the BCS by winning their respective (Big 12 and Pac-12) conference championships.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline aside from the BCS National Championship Game entering the final week of the regular season related to Northern Illinois. The Huskies crashed the BCS party last season, and they needed a win over Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game in order to do so again this year. But it didn't come to fruition as the Falcons came away with a 47-27 victory.
Heisman Trophy candidate and No. 23 Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch had another strong performance, but it wasn't enough to lift the Huskies. Northern Illinois must now settle for a lesser bowl, and there will be no non-BCS schools in a BCS bowl this season.
Now that the BCS standings are finally settled, it's time to stop letting the computers dictate things and start letting college football's best teams battle it out on the field.
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Conference USA runner-up Marshall will play Maryland in the 2013 Northrop Grumman Military Bowl on Dec. 27, heading to Annapolis to face a Terps team that went 7-5 in the ACC despite a rash of injuries throughout the season.
The Thundering Herd finished 9-4 but were unable to hang with Rice in Saturday's conference championship game, falling to the Owls—despite being favored—by the score of 41-24. Still, with quarterback Rakeem Cato at the helm, Marshall has one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the country and should not be taken lightly.
Maryland is bowling for the first time in Randy Edsall's three-year tenure as head coach, winning seven games after going 6-18 in his first two seasons. Injuries have plagued the Terps on both sides of the ball, but a 4-0 start and some pluck down the stretch ensured their eligibility—and then some.
Date: Dec. 27, 2013
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Location: Annapolis, Md.
The two improbable teams that were counted out midway through the regular season will clash in this year's AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Mississippi State and Rice weren't expected to do much this year, but they ended the regular season on fire to qualify for a bowl appearance. The Owls even shocked their way to a C-USA title.
Rice won its first conference title since 1957 and qualified for its second straight bowl appearance. It's the first time the Owls are going bowling in back-to-back seasons since 1960-61. The program has won 10 games for the second time since 2008 and ended the season on a four-game winning streak.
Mississippi State won its last two games of the regular season to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season. Good news for the Bulldogs is that head coach Dan Mullen is 2-1 in bowl games. Mississippi State also played in the Liberty Bowl in 2007 and won 10-3 over UCF.
The Bulldogs have won the only previous meeting against Rice back in 1975.
Time: Dec. 31. @ 4:00 p.m. ET
Place: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
North Carolina and Cincinnati will battle it out in this year's Belk Bowl. With both offenses averaging more than 30 points per game, this has the potential to be an offensive lover's dream. The Bearcats ended the regular season winning six of their last seven games, while the Tar Heels won five of their last six to become bowl-eligible.
These are two hot teams looking to end the season on the right note. If both squads play the way they're capable of, this could be one of the better bowl matchups on the menu. After all, four of the past five Belk Bowls have been decided by one possession.
Here's to hoping this will provide us with another competitive contest.
It was a streaky season for Iowa. It was a freaky season for LSU.
That should make for an interesting Outback Bowl matchup.
Iowa lost its season opener to Northern Illinois, then proceeded to reel off four straight victories. Then followed a stretch where the Hawkeyes lost three of four.
Finally, Iowa righted the ship and won its last three games over Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska to enter the Outback Bowl on an upswing.
Talent-laden LSU entered the season with a lot of questions on defense, but confident that the four and five-star talent the Tigers have been recruiting would keep them in the national championship conversation.
However, the Tigers lost a 44-41 shootout at Georgia and a 27-24 heartbreaker at Ole Miss. The only other loss was a 38-17 setback at Alabama.
The Tigers resume includes victories over Texas A&M as well as BCS title game participant Auburn.
Date: Jan. 1
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Place: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
The dust has settled from championship week around college football, leaving Florida State and Auburn left standing atop the BCS. They will face off for the national championship on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Although most of the focus has been on the race to the national title game in recent weeks, there's also been some hotly contested battles for other BCS spots. It made for an intriguing stretch run—right down to the final week.
Without further ado, here's where the Top 25 teams landed in the final BCS release:
As the Bowl Championship Series gets shoved aside in favor of a playoff system next season, the second half of the regular season this year showed the positive side of the polarizing system. It added extra emphasis on each game, especially those that featured teams near the top of the rankings.
For example, heading into the Iron Bowl, it was known that Alabama had to beat rival Auburn to remain in control of its destiny for a three-peat. Of course, the amazing last-second return by Chris Davis gave the Tigers the remarkable win and shook up the BCS.
Under a playoff format, Alabama would have already been in good shape heading into that game to earn a place in the bracket. So while the loss would have dropped the Crimson Tide from the top spot, it wouldn't have taken them out of the title picture, as was the case following Week 14 with the BCS.
So while the playoff system should be more appealing from the standpoint that it will force teams to earn their spot in the title game instead of it being handed to them, it will probably take some of the week-to-week intrigue out of the process.
With the BCS having computed its final official standings, college football will go through bowl season and then prepare for a new era. Whether it will actually improve the overall product won't be known for a couple of years.
Florida State and Auburn certainly don't mind the current format, because they are now just one win away from a championship.
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It has been a long and thrilling season of college football, but for 70 programs, there is one more chance to make a lasting impression. Only the No. 1-ranked Florida State Seminoles and No. 2-ranked Auburn Tigers will have an opportunity to call themselves national champions.
The post-championship week BCS standings have been released, and every bowl-eligible team knows where it will play its final game of the season. Here's a look at the BCS standings after an eventful set of championship games and conference finales on Saturday.
As expected, the Noles and Tigers will battle for it all, but there were other matchups that also came to fruition after Saturday's games. The Sugar Bowl battle between the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners seemed obvious after the latter knocked off No. 13 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
It'll be a battle of two of the country's most storied programs, though both have to consider the 2013 season a bit of a disappointment. After nearly running wire to wire as No. 1, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide fell 34-28 in a thrilling Iron Bowl battle with Auburn in Week 14.
Oklahoma lost by 16 points to Texas before their rivals were ranked. In their second loss, the Sooners were demolished by Baylor 41-12 on Nov. 7 in Waco, Texas. Still, both programs will have the opportunity to shine on a BCS stage.
Here's a look at all of the bowl matchups and a key stat for each BCS game.
Big Numbers to Consider Heading into Every BCS Bowl game
Florida State vs. Auburn
After Tre Mason ran all over the Missouri Tigers for 304 yards in the SEC title game, the Florida State Seminoles have to be even more focused on containing the Tigers rushing attack. Game planning and executing is two different things, though.
Every team the Tigers faced this season came in hellbent on stopping their powerful rush and read option attack. Only one (Mississippi State) met the task and held them under 200 rushing yards. The Tigers twice topped 500 yards on the ground (Western Carolina and Missouri) and both Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall topped 1,000 yards on the year.
But, the Noles defense is elite and packed with future NFL talent. They've held opponents to just 116 yards per game on the ground and only one team (Boston College) rushed for 200 yards against them all season.
If the Noles are unable to slow the Tigers' ground game, it will put enormous pressure on redshirt freshman—and likely Heisman Trophy winner—Jameis Winston and the offense to keep pace. Winston has risen to every challenge in his inaugural season passing for 3,820 yards and an FBS freshman record 38 touchdowns.
We could be in for another wild one. That has become commonplace with Auburn over the last three weeks.
Clemson Tigers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Someone has to win, right? Neither the Tigers nor Buckeyes have been great in bowl games of late. Since 2006, the two teams have combined for just four bowl wins in 13 games. The Bucks have seemingly struggled with the southern teams.
They are just 1-4 against schools that originate from the southern portion of the country, including back-to-back losses in the national title game to Florida (2006) and LSU ('07). Clemson has simply choked in most of its opportunities on the big stage—except its 25-24 win over LSU in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The Buckeyes finished another perfect regular season under Urban Meyer, but missed out on their shot at a national title in the Big Ten Championship vs. Michigan State, 34-24.
Clemson made it all the way up to No. 3 until they were beaten soundly at home vs. eventual No. 1 Florida State, 51-14. They fell again in Week 14, this time at in-state rival No. 10 South Carolina, 31-17.
What happens when two bowl underachievers meet in the Orange Bowl? We'll find out on Jan. 3 in Miami, Fla.
Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Since the Crimson Tide lost 31-17 to the Utah Utes in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, the team is 23-0 against non-SEC teams. That includes a record of 7-0 in inter-conference battles against ranked opponents.
To put it plain, Bama rarely loses against teams that aren't in its conference. Oklahoma will give it maximum effort I'm sure, but the chances that it beats the Tide in the Sugar Bowl are as slim as Christian Bale in The Machinist.
Baylor vs. UCF
The Knights have a sparkling 11-1 record on the season, but the winning percentage of the teams they have beaten is just .401. Sure the team beat its toughest conference foe, Louisville, 38-35 on the road Oct. 18 and pushed the No. 9-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks to the limit before falling 28-25 on Sept. 28. Still, only four of the teams on UCF's schedule finished with a winning record.
In the Fiesta Bowl, the team faces the battle-hardened Baylor Bears. Art Briles' team has played four bowl teams in five games and finished 4-1 in those games.
This is a big game for the Knights and the American Athletic Conference. If UCF can represent properly in its first BCS appearance ever, it will bring a new level of respect to the conference nationally.
Michigan State vs. Stanford
You would think a team with a reputation as a grind-it-out, defensive-minded squad like the Stanford Cardinal would routinely win the turnover battle. Instead, its turnover margin for the season is in the negative at -0.08. In the Rose Bowl, the Cardinal will be facing the nation's No. 1 defense and an underrated ground attack led by junior Jeremy Langford.
Winning the turnover battle will be crucial in determining the outcome of this one. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is responsible for 12 of the team's 18 turnovers this season (nine interceptions and three fumbles lost). His two interception loomed large in the Cardinal's 20-17 loss at USC. He and the Cardinal must take care of the football and the defense needs to take the ball away to win.
All stat references per CFBStats.com
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Only at a place such as Alabama would an 11-1 regular season and a No. 3 ranking at season’s end be viewed as a disappointment.
While that theory seems hard to digest for most fan bases across the country, the standard in Tuscaloosa is understandably high for a program that has captured three of the last four BCS national titles.
Nick Saban and the Tide still have the chance to finish with at least 12 wins for the third consecutive season. As ESPN's Brett McMurphy has reported via Twitter, the Tide will have to knock off Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. to accomplish that feat.
What is the state of the Alabama program heading into 2014?
The BCS Selection Show is airing now on ESPN. Immediately after, the Worldwide Leader will broadcast the official Bowl Selection Show.
Stick here for a live release of the final BCS standings, as well as a quick-hit analysis afterward.
Comment below with your own thoughts on the rankings and your predictions for the upcoming bowl season.
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This college football season has been unpredictable, to say the least. With a team like Auburn (who completed an unlikely comeback from three wins last year to just one loss this season) in the BCS National Championship game, this year has had its fair share of storylines.
With the bowl announcements and the final BCS rankings coming out Sunday, here is where some of the most underrated teams will land when the bowl season officially rolls around.
The Duke football team may have been blown out by Florida State in the ACC Championship game, but who hasn't? The Seminoles have beaten their opponents by an average of 42.3 points this season, so the 45-7 loss was actually right on par with where other teams have finished against the current No. 1 team in the nation.
For a Blue Devils team that has done nothing but exceed expectations all year en route to a 10-3 record at this point, they likely won't replace Florida State in the Orange Bowl as the second team taken in the ACC. According to Laura Keeley of The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, Duke was nearly jumped by Miami for the Chick-fil-A bowl, the No. 4 team in the conference:
But she later tweeted the Blue Devils will play in Atlanta against an SEC opponent, likely Georgia:
For coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils, this season has been one that sets the bar for the program. But unfortunately, due to the history of the two programs, Miami overtook Duke despite being ranked ahead of the Hurricanes in the Coastal Division, having more wins and winning the head-to-head matchup.
It's hard to call an 11-1 team underrated, but at No. 15 in the AP Poll after winning the American Athletic Conference Championship game, the Knights are still not seen as a worthy challenger to win a BCS bowl game.
The Knights will likely land in the Fiesta Bowl and face Big-12 Champion Baylor in a game that could be won strictly on the offensive side of the ball. UCF has scored 35 or more points six times this season, but will face a Bears offense that scores 53.3 points per game, the highest in the country.
While the Knights will likely not be able to pull off a huge upset against the high-powered Baylor offense, this should be a game to watch if they can slow down the Bears like they did against Louisville
The Gamecocks can beat nearly any team in the country. But after two losses to the then-ranked No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs and Tennessee, South Carolina has not been talked about thanks to other teams inside its strong conference.
But with the 14th-ranked scoring defense in the country that just shut down Clemson for only 17 points, the Gamecocks will have to prove themselves in a non-BCS bowl game. The Gamecocks may have knocked off teams like Missouri and Clemson, but Evan Flood of 247Sports said an appearance in the Capital One Bowl seems likely:
The Gamecocks may had bigger dreams heading into the season, but defeating Wisconsin and finishing 11-2 might wash some of the bitter taste out of their mouths.
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The season is over for the Arkansas Razorbacks. When a team finishes 3-9 and winless in its conference, it's hard to take away positives from the year.
From quarterback Brandon Allen's struggles to the defense's inability to stop anyone, 2013 was full of problems for the Razorbacks. One position that wasn't a problem was running back. Sophomore Jonathan Williams had himself a very good year with 900 yards and an average of 6.0 yards per carry.
However, he was outdone by a freshman named Alex Collins. If you didn't watch this kid tote the ball this year, then shame on you because he's the next big thing on The Hill. The Hogs may have a lot of problems, but head coach Bret Bielema can sleep a little easier at night knowing he has Collins in his backfield for the next few years.
Collins was not only the best freshman back for the Razorbacks or even in the SEC, he was the best in the entire country. His 1,026 yards ranked 35th in the nation and led all freshmen. In fact, including the FCS, Division II and Division III, only nine freshmen rushed for more yards.
To put just how good of a season he had into better perspective, Collins surpassing the 1,000-yard mark made him just the 10th freshmen in SEC history to accomplish the feat, as tweeted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Wally Hall:
For the Arkansas program, it made him the second freshman back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
The first to do it? Some guy named Darren McFadden.
Collins is sure to garner postseason honors, including being named to the Freshmen All-American team and one of the All-SEC teams.
Many backs have one skill but lack the others to be great. Collins, on the other hand, possesses the speed, power and vision that set apart the great backs from the average ones. What made his first season so impressive were the circumstances he was dealing with.
Up until the last few games, Allen posed no threat to drop back and beat teams with his arm. The passing game was so anemic that opposing defenses were able to stack the box all year against the Hogs to stop Collins and Williams. Collins was also running behind a line that featured two true-freshmen starters who were learning on the fly.
Despite the circumstances, Collins was still able to surpass the 1,000-yard milestone and average 5.4 yards per carry.
It's that rare combination of speed, power and vision that is going to make him a very special player for the Razorbacks in the years to come—and it already has to a degree. Collins can run defenders over, or he can use his elusiveness to juke them out of their shoes.
A lot of times, though, the first wave of defenders doesn't even have a chance to put a hand on him.
His ball-carrying vision allows him to find holes in the defense while his speed gives him the ability to hit the hole quickly once he has located it. That's indicated in ESPN's stat sheet, where he had a run of over 10 yards in every game except the last one against LSU. In six of Arkansas' 12 games, he had longs of over 20 yards—nine games with a long over 15.
The scary thing is, Collins is only going to get better with time.
He's a model student and citizen around the Fayetteville community and is a perfect example of what the student-athlete should be. After a season in a Razorback uniform, the humble and hard-working kid out of Florida has already endeared himself to Arkansas fans.
Even if you're not a Hog fan, you find yourself rooting for Collins. He's just that kind of person.
With an offseason to hone his skills and work on his game, he is bound to put up even better numbers in 2014. Arkansas fans need to savor these next few years with him carrying the ball out of the backfield because he's the biggest thing for Arkansas since McFadden was making hearts stop.
Every so often, a player comes along, and you know from Day 1 he's going to do great things. Collins is one of those players.
For more info on the Arkansas Razorbacks, follow Bryan Heater on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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The college football season has a funny way of sorting itself out. It wasn't all that long ago when Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor were all undefeated and looking strong.
It appeared as if we were headed toward a BCS disaster. Who would play in the BCS title game when all those teams went undefeated, we wondered?
Well, flash forward to after the conference championship games. Only Florida State remains undefeated, and projecting the BCS title game is a breeze. With an unbelievable run to close out the season, including just one loss on the season and the SEC title, Auburn has left little doubt about who Florida State's opponent will be for the title game.
The outlook for all BCS games is not quite as clear. Here are my latest projections, which I'll follow up with a closer look at some of the more interesting selections.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Since Clemson did not win the ACC, the Orange Bowl has no obligation to stick with the conference. In the name of keeping relationships healthy, however, bowls almost always maintain their conference loyalty.
If it wasn't for that, I don't see Clemson getting into a BCS bowl game. The Tigers were humbled 31-17 by South Carolina in their last game for their second loss of the season.
There is more mystery around the selection of the other team. Although, considering the Orange Bowl is first in line with at-large selections, Ohio State is the likeliest possibility.
The Buckeyes just lost their conference championship game, and the BCS often shies away from teams in that position. Ohio State, however, travels well and carry a high profile.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
With Auburn moving into the BCS title game, Alabama is almost a lock for the Sugar Bowl. I'm sure the Sugar Bowl will be more than happy to keep its SEC affiliation by grabbing Nick Saban's crew.
That leaves them with an interesting choice for Alabama's opponent. The Sugar Bowl will likely be deciding between Oregon and Oklahoma.
I'm siding with Oklahoma due to their closer proximity to the bowl and a fanbase that travels better to begin with. Also, the Ducks limped to the finish line by losing two of their last four. That included a blowout loss to Arizona.
The Sooners have more momentum and will bring in more people to the area. Case closed.
BCS Title Game: Florida State vs. Auburn
Since this matchup is essentially set in stone and it is the one in the middle of the spotlight, I've decided to look ahead a bit at the key matchup for this game.
That matchup figures to be Florida State's rush defense against the mighty rushing attack of Auburn.
The Tigers are first in the nation in rushing yards at 335.7 per game. Both running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground this season, and most of the damage was done between the tackles with this physical team.
The Seminoles stand a chance of slowing that attack down. Florida State allowed just 1,515 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. Those yards were gained at an average of just 3.14 yards per carry.
Auburn better hope they raise that average a bit because it is going to be tough for them to stop a Florida State offense that has scored at least 37 points in every game this season.
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Watching bitter rivals play for a trip to the Rose Bowl this past Saturday must have been bittersweet for the Michigan Wolverines, who, according to preseason hype, were supposed to be in that very position instead of waiting for a middle-of-the-road bowl invite.
The fall didn’t pan out as planned. Michigan finished 7-5 (3-5 Big Ten), with losses to the Spartans, Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Penn State Nittany Lions.
Another down season takes its toll.
But coach Brady Hoke and his staff have a cupboard brimming with talent. If they can utilize said talent in an effective manner in 2014, there shouldn’t be a reason why the Wolverines won’t compete in the Legends Division.
Football is a game of strategy, determination and a few lucky bounces. Team 134 lacked consistency in those departments and fell victim to a few unlucky moments—the Wolverines lost four games by a combined 11 points.
And that sums up 2013 quite nicely.
Team 135 is now the focus, and so is becoming an active participant in the race for Big Ten titles.
The Pac-12 has two finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s premier running back. Obviously, neither contender—Arizona junior Ka’Deem Carey or Washington junior Bishop Sankey—is Stanford senior Tyler Gaffney.
Gaffney is left out of the conversation of many a postseason award, but with his 133-yard, three-touchdown performance in Stanford’s 38-14 win over Arizona State Saturday, he received another individual honor of its own special significance: Pac-12 Championship Most Valuable Player.
"This is why I came back, being on this stage," Gaffney, who missed the 2012 season while playing professional baseball, said in Saturday's postgame press conference.
He immediately set the tone on a tight-rope-walk touchdown rush from 69 yards out to give Stanford a lead it held for almost the entire night, save a brief tie on Arizona State's ensuing possession.
Gaffney’s big night against the vaunted Sun Devils defense is unlikely to propel him into an increasingly muddled Heisman Trophy picture, the way Stanford predecessor Toby Gerhart's did in the Cardinal’s final game of 2009. Another running back already did that Saturday, as Tre Mason ran wild for 304 yards in Auburn's defeat of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
He may again be overshadowed on a national stage, but there’s no denying Gaffney was central to Stanford's outstanding campaign. He heads into the postseason with 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns, and his best performances have come against the Cardinal's premier competition.
Gaffney rushed for 171 yards against UCLA, 157 yards against Oregon, 158 at USC and 189 at Notre Dame. His three touchdowns Saturday were more than Carey and Sankey had against the Sun Devils defense combined.
A strong case could be made that Gaffney is the most important running back to his team in all of college football. Though that may not land him any more individual honors, it's crucial to Stanford's pursuit of a second Rose Bowl title.
Two Roads to the Rose Bowl
Stanford was “coming out of nowhere” on its march to the 2012 Pac-12 Championship and last January’s Rose Bowl, Shaw said in his postgame press conference Saturday. With three-year starting quarterback Andrew Luck gone for the NFL along with other key pieces from the Cardinal’s two previous BCS-bowl participants, Stanford was supposed to be in something of a rebuilding mode.
The 2013 Cardinal were stocked with veterans and entered the season ranked No. 5 nationally, a designation that put a target firmly on the Pac-12’s defending champions.
“We got everybody's best game,” Shaw said. "[Pac-12 opponents] played great against us. We had two bumps in the road [in losses at Utah and USC] and a lot of people wrote us off after that."
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, especially in college football. There’s a reason even the era’s most dominant dynasty, Alabama, only ran the table once on its way to three national championships from 2009 to 2012.
Stanford was nine points shy of a perfect regular season, losing at Utah by six and USC by three. The second loss, on Nov. 16, could have eliminated the Cardinal from Rose Bowl contention, but the program's outgoing seniors took it as a challenge.
"Our seniors never batted an eyelash," Shaw said. "They said, 'Let's keep our heads down and win as many games as we can, and see where we are at the end of the year.'"
Where they are now is in a second consecutive Rose Bowl, an impressive accomplishment even if it's not a spot in the BCS National Championship five days later. There, the Cardinal meet Big Ten Champion Michigan State, which bumped Ohio State from a spot in the Jan. 6 title game.
“It’s hard to go undefeated, man,” Shaw quipped after hearing the 34-24 final score from the Big Ten Championship.
Stanford Excels at Trench Warfare
Sometimes the most resounding lessons are those that are reinforced. Stanford reinforced that its rise to another Pac-12 championship was built on the front line.
“Stanford's extremely physical. Best offensive line we played,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said in his postgame press conference.
The Cardinal offensive front paved holes for Gaffney and gave quarterback Kevin Hogan ample protection to survey the field. Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton broke through for one sack of Hogan Saturday, but otherwise the Cardinal offensive line held him in check.
"Their defensive line really dominated the run game, and that hurt us," Graham said. "Their defensive line, the veterans, the depth they have...their destroying the line of scrimmage...makes it very difficult for us."
Aside from a 51-yard touchdown rush by sophomore running back D.J. Foster and his 69-yard scoring scamper off a screen pass, the Sun Devils were forced to scrap for every foot.
No single series was more indicative of Stanford's excellence in the tightest of confines than its third-quarter stand from the goal line. Arizona State wide receiver Kevin Ozier was denied the end zone after Taylor Kelly's 11-yard pass.
With two shots from just a yard out, backup quarterback Michael Eubank, brought on in a power formation, was denied when Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov dived over the pile to disrupt the play. Sophomore safety Zach Hoffpauir's stuff of De'Marieya Nelson on fourth down effectively ended Arizona State's rally effort and characterized the Stanford mentality.
"Kudos to our [defensive] line," Skov said. "We were ready to fight for every blade of grass at that point."
Home-Field Advantage vs. Neutral Site
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in his media address prior to Saturday’s championship that after three installments of the league’s title game, the results of playing on a participating team’s campus are positive.
"Just terrific, and everything we hoped for when we created the Pac-12 Championship Game in this model, to see that the city's going to benefit," he said. "The community, the university, the fans were rewarded with this extra game and are able to support their team that earned it with the best record in the conference."
The three other conferences with championship games in the Group of Five, which will have priority in the forthcoming College Football Playoff, play at neutral sites. The Big Ten introduced introduced its title game the same year as the Pac-12, 2011, in Indianapolis. The ACC has rotated between Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. Atlanta hosting the SEC title tilt is a deeply entrenched conference tradition.
Scott said that because of the Pac-12's geographic footprint, the host-school model was the most logical option, guaranteeing attendance from at least one of the fanbases represented.
"I like the idea that we feel confident we'll have a great crowd...with a local fanbase and a collegiate atmosphere," Scott said.
But in playing in a former NFL stadium Saturday, the benefits of a professional venue were also evident. Nearly 70,000 filled Sun Devil Stadium Saturday, setting the conference championship game’s attendance record—not a particularly noteworthy feat, given the previous two games were played at 54,000-seat Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., and 50,424-seat Stanford Stadium.
The Pac-12 men's basketball tournament moved to Las Vegas last March. Efforts to build a modern venue in Sin City, as detailed via The Las Vegas Review-Journal, offer an intriguing possibility. According to Scott, the Pac-12 has no shortage of options for its championship future.
"We have a plethora of choices if we ever choose to [play the championship game] at a neutral venue," Scott said.
All quotes obtained firsthand.
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