NCAA Football

USC Coaching Carousel: Top 10 Landing Spots for Clancy Pendergast

The prolonged quiet surrounding Clancy Pendergast's future at USC was disconcerting. Ed Orgeron hardly grunted a syllable before Pat Haden officially replaced him with Steve Sarkisian following the UCLA letdown...

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Sugar Bowl: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of the BCS Era

The Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the final Sugar Bowl of the BCS era in the 2013-14 bowl season.

While the two crimson clubs will look to break into the list of best Sugar Bowl plays since the 1999 tilt between Ohio State and Texas A&M—they'll have to make an impressive effort to do so.

From the 2000 Sugar Bowl national title game to the 2013 upset by Louisville over Florida, the Superdome (and briefly the Georgia Dome) witnessed some incredible plays by squads fighting for BCS victories.

Click on for the list of the 10 best Sugar Bowl plays of the BCS era.

 

Note: Only actual Sugar Bowl games were considered, leaving the 2008 and 2012 national championship games out of consideration.

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Dontavius Russell to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Auburn received a commitment from one of the top defensive linemen in the 2014 class as Dontavius Russell has decided to join the Tigers.

Russell, himself, announced the decision on Twitter:

The Carrollton High School star originally committed to Georgia, but reopened his recruitment following the excitement of this year's Iron Bowl, according to Mike Herndon of Al.com. After taking some time to think it over, he finally made the switch. 

This is good for his new team as Russell is the 11th-best defensive tackle in the nation, plus the No. 140 prospect overall, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings.

The most impressive aspect right now is his overwhelming size, standing at 6'3" and 300 pounds. He already has the pure strength to outmuscle almost any offensive linemen his age and shed blocks with ease. 

Additionally, Russell has a great deal of explosiveness off the ball that allows him to burst through the line and penetrate into the backfield. Even when he does not make plays, he can still ruin the offensive game plan.

Of course, there are certainly areas to improve for just about every player coming out of high school, and Russell is no different. Chad Simmons of Scout.com provides insight on the defensive tackle's weaknesses:

He can improve his pad level though. He pops up a little too quickly at times. He is a better run stopper, but he can get penetration and help collapse the pocket...He can work on his flexibility and his lateral quickness.

Still, most of this is fixable over the next few years with coaching and practice. You cannot teach size or athleticism, which Russell already has plenty of, and this will ensure a great deal of success at the next level.

He even has the potential to play on Sundays if he is willing to put the work in to improve. Until then, he will simply try to help out his new team and try to get on the field as soon as possible. 

Auburn already had a strong recruiting class, but Russell's potential to be an anchor on the defensive side of the ball could make it one of the better classes in the country.

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Fans Create Nick Saban Angel on Top of Christmas Tree

It's well known that Nick Saban is beloved in Alabama, but these fans took it to another level. They placed Nick Saban's face on an angel that topped their Christmas tree.

Perhaps Saban's recent contract extension with the Crimson Tide brought this family some extra cheer. 

If one was to walk into this household, there is no mistaking who he or she would think was responsible for the success of the Crimson Tide!

Thanks to Laken Litman of For The Win for the find.       

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 No. 3 RB Jordan Scarlett Commits to FAU over FSU, Miami and Florida

The final frenzied stretch toward national signing day 2014 is just underway, but we've already been served with a stunning development in the 2015 recruiting cycle. Elite running back prospect Jordan Scarlett committed to Florida Atlantic on Friday, according to 247Sports reporter Luke Stampini.

The 4-star University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) star spurned several marquee BCS programs by pledging to the Owls. He holds offers from Florida, Alabama, Miami, Florida State and Auburn

Scarlett is rated the nation's No. 3 running back and No. 42 overall junior prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. His decision will be viewed as a major head-scratcher by many, but the recruit has personal ties to the FAU program.

University School head coach Roger Harriott resigned this week, per Dieter Kurtenbach of the Sun Sentinel, accepting the role of running backs coach at FAU. He didn't waste any time making an impact in his new position, pulling a pledge from one of Florida's premier prospects.

Scarlett, a 5'10", 197-pound playmaker, provides a dynamic building block for the Owls' suddenly revitalized recruiting efforts. Former Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge took over the program in mid-December and continues to piece together his coaching staff.

Although FAU currently holds a verbal commitment from Scarlett, the team must wait 14 months for him to sign a national letter of intent. Don't expect the heavyweight programs to pull off his trail in the aftermath of this unexpected development.

At the very least, it creates recruiting buzz around the Owls that didn't exist before. One of the Sunshine State's most coveted players just told the big boys (Hurricanes, Seminoles, Gators) that he's headed to Conference USA.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Years in Review: 2003, Nightmare of Split National Championship

Part 6 of a series: Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football

Part 5: 2002, Controversy On-Field Mars Perfect Ending

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The epic Miami-Ohio State showdown in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, even with the attendant controversy at the end of the game, gave the BCS a huge sigh of relief. "The system works!" went the battle cry.

No, it didn't, and most certainly in the 2003 season, when the BCS was met with catastrophe—the very scenario the system was created to avoid: a split national championship.

In its first five years of existence, while there were disagreements and debates about certain teams' merits to be included in the championship game, there had never been a case where the BCS champion was deemed unworthy or not been crowned by the Associated Press, which maintained its independence.

But in 2003, it all happened. Going into the final weekend of the season, three teams were vying for two spots in the Sugar Bowl. USC had one loss—at Cal in triple overtime, 34-31. As did LSU—to Florida at home, 19-7. No. 1 Oklahoma was undefeated going into the Big 12 title game against Kansas State.

Even before the games were played on that final Saturday, word was that the Sooners would stay No. 1, even if they lost the game.

The computers favored Oklahoma by a wide margin, and since all other major conference teams besides USC and LSU had at least two losses, Oklahoma would not drop to lower than No. 3 in the human polls. Put it together, the Big 12 title game was a mere exhibition with very little riding on it.

And the Sooners played like it, getting pasted by Kansas State, 35-7. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC title game and USC romped past Oregon State, as expected, the Trojans ascended to No. 1 in both polls, while the Tigers moved up to No. 2.

In the penultimate BCS standings, USC had a comfortable lead on LSU (6.90 vs. 8.43). The Trojans were ranked higher in the human polls and computer rankings and also had better strength-of-schedule ratings. The expectation was that USC would play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl with LSU left to howl.

But then Boise State beat Hawaii in the final regular-season game of the season in the middle of the Pacific.

Say what?

Exactly right, that's what happened. Combined with Syracuse's 38-12 pasting of Notre Dame, the Tigers got enough of a boost to nudge out USC by .16 of a percentage point, getting Oklahoma as their date, while the Trojans were left with a Rose Bowl berth against No. 4 Michigan.

A confluence of events made this happen, and all of it came from BCS's meddling with its standings:

1. Eliminating margin of victory from all computer formulas: This completely unnecessary step was taken gradually, out of an irrational fear of teams running up the scores to impress computers. By 2003, all BCS computers had agreed to abide by this restriction, in some cases reluctantly.

Because of this, Oklahoma's four-touchdown debacle was weighed the same as a road loss in triple overtime. Since the BCS neglected to remove the voters' eyeballs, the polls appropriately knocked the Sooners down to No. 3. But the computers overwhelmingly still went for Oklahoma.

2. Keeping strength of schedule (SOS) as a component: Strangely, with all the tweaking in the first five years, the BCS never touched this.

First of all, it's hardly an objective tool, almost as arbitrary as the human polls. The formula being used was a poor imitation of the RPI (used by the NCAA basketball selection committee) and called for an absurd division of 25 to produce the SOS number. Besides, all computer rankings have formulas for strength of schedule of their own, so at the very least, it's redundant. 

3. If you can't beat them...tank them: Notre Dame was routed by the Trojans, 45-14, in South Bend, so the Irish returned the favor...by getting blown out at Syracuse on the final Saturday of the season. Notre Dame's loss dealt USC's SOS rating a fatal blow. That, combined with Boise State's win over Hawaii, another team beaten by USC earlier in the year, catapulted LSU over USC.

The Tigers, by beating Georgia for the second time in the season, saw their SOS rating jump from 54th to 29th, while USC's held at 37th. LSU edged USC by .30 of a percentage point in the SOS ratings, the difference it needed to seal its hold on the No. 2 spot.

 

For the record, USC played at Auburn and Notre Dame and played home games against Hawaii and BYU while LSU faced Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and I-AA Western Illinois at home and Arizona on the road. Just how LSU's schedule could be considered to be among the top 30 in the country showed the flaw in the SOS ratings.

At the end, USC impressively defeated Michigan, 28-14, in the Rose Bowl and held on to the No. 1 AP ranking and a share of the national championship. In a rather sloppy and uninspired game, LSU defeated Oklahoma, 21-14, for the BCS title—though not without one last bit of drama.

Despite a mandate to vote for the BCS title game-winner No. 1 in the final poll, three coaches (Oregon's Mike Bellotti, Illinois' Ron Turner and South Carolina's Lou Holtz) broke the contractual agreement and cast their No. 1 ballots for USC.

Nick Saban's Tigers got their half of the title but were quickly forgotten as USC romped to the BCS title games the following two seasons. The general acknowledgement that the Trojans won "back-to-back" national championships in 2003 and 2004 left many LSU fans embittered for quite some time.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Oklahoma, 2. LSU, 3. USC, 4. Michigan.

Alternative Methods

Using post-2003 formula: 1. USC, 2. LSU, 3. Oklahoma 4. Michigan.

Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. USC, 2. LSU, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Michigan.

Likely four-team playoff: USC vs. Michigan; LSU vs. Oklahoma.

If there were another game, then USC-LSU would've been the natural "real" championship game. And it could have happened (read on).

 

Controversies

The Snub of Miami (Ohio): After losing the season opener to Iowa, 21-3, junior quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Red Hawks to 12 consecutive victories, beating Bowling Green for a second time in the Mid-American title game. Bowling Green, incidentally, lost only three times—twice to Miami and once at Ohio State, 24-17.

But despite a No. 11 ranking in the BCS standings, Miami never had a chance for an at-large berth. Even though the Red Hawks were "eligible," they received no consideration from the four BCS bowls and ended up finishing a 13-1 season by routing Louisville in the GMAC Bowl.

Until before the 2006 season, a non-BCS school had to be ranked in the top six for a guaranteed spot in a BCS bowl game. Under congressional pressure and with the advent of a separate BCS National Championship Game, the standard for "mid-major" schools were relaxed to guarantee a spot for any team in the top 12. Too late for Miami and Big Ben, though.

The Texas Shaft: Despite being ranked No. 5 in both polls, the Longhorns were shut out of a BCS bowl berth thanks to Kansas State's upset victory over Oklahoma.

With the Big 12's two slots already spoken for, Texas had to settle for the Holiday Bowl, where it was beaten by Washington State. But a year later, the 'Horns managed to avoid a return trip to San Diego by being engulfed in yet another BCS controversy.

Ironically, after being the BCS victim the first two years of its existence, Bill Snyder's Wildcats finally made its BCS bowl debut by earning the Big 12's automatic bid. K-State lost to Ohio State, 35-28, in a wild Fiesta Bowl.

The Extra Game: On Jan. 9, 2004, Ted Waitt, CEO of Gateway Computers offered a $31 million package for a national championship game between USC and LSU. Despite vocal support from both schools, the NCAA did not consider the offer.

BCS formula review: With no audible criticism of its formula—thanks to having two, and only two, undefeated teams in 2002—the BCS for the first time in four years maintained the same formula with only a slight adjustment to decrease the value of a "quality win."

This little-known adjustment actually threw some extra fuel on the controversy because LSU would've gotten an extra .40 points with its victory over Georgia, giving it a much more robust final lead of .56 over USC.

 

Final analysis: Just how close was the LSU-USC spread? Had one of the four computers that ranked LSU No. 2 and USC No. 3 switched places for those teams, the Trojans would've gotten the coveted No. 2 BCS slot by .01 of a percentage point.

Or, if the Tigers had not made the quantum leap from 54th to 29th in the SOS rating in the space of one week—let's say they finished 34th instead, then USC would've been ahead by .04 of a percentage point. Yes, had any of the teams that USC played won one more game or any of LSU's opponents lost one more game, then it would've been a different outcome.

But still not a just outcome.

LSU was not undeserving of a spot in the BCS title game. That's not the issue at all. The "correct" result should've been a USC-LSU title game in the Sugar Bowl. The team that didn't belong obviously was Oklahoma, which failed to win its own conference after getting blown out in the Big 12 title game—in fact, a game that was not as close as the four-touchdown spread suggested.

An easy remedy could've been found, as early as 2001, after Nebraska somehow secured passage to the BCS title game without even winning its division, let along the conference.

The old bowl alignment was always arranged to match conference champions in the most prestigious bowls, and therefore a pre-requisite of winning one's conference should not have been unreasonable for teams vying to play in the BCS title game. In all, three nonconference champions played for the BCS title in its 16 years of existence.

But the BCS refused to insert this one amendment—throughout its entire history and extending into the new College Football Playoff.

After the catastrophe of 2003, when the No. 1 team in both polls was denied a place in its title game that resulted in a split championship, the BCS was forced back to the drawing board and smashed it up. A brand-new formula was concocted to appease an increasingly angry and skeptical public.

The formula overhaul, however, would not save the BCS from another controversy in 2004.

 

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every SEC Team's Highlight of the 2013 Season

It’s been quite the 2013 college football season in the SEC.

Surprisingly, Alabama was left out in the cold for the conference title game. Instead, the two teams participating in the game—Missouri and Auburn—combined for just two SEC wins in 2013.

It’s been that kind of year for the SEC this season.

Join B/R as we look at the highlight of the 2013 season for all 14 teams in the conference.

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Texas Bowl 2013 Syracuse vs. Minnesota: Live Score and Highlights

Syracuse - 0 

Minnesota - 0

Mid-First Quarter 

Bleacher Report will provide live in-game analysis and scoring updates, so stay locked in here.

Want your voice to be heard? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Penn State Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

Penn State's 2014 recruiting cycle got a lot more exciting in September when the NCAA announced that the Nittany Lions would be able to take an additional five prospects in this class than was originally expected.

Since then, head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff have gone from trying to utilize 15 to 18 spots to being able to decide if they should take a full class this year or save some scholarships to use on next year's class.

With this year's recruiting cycle in the closing weeks, the Nittany Lions are willing to add a few more players if they fit the right need. In other cases, they seem content with the guys they already have in the fold.

The way it's shaping up, this 2014 recruiting class is going to be stronger than expected and will join the 2013 class to create a strong foundation going forward, as Penn State continues to re-gain its lost scholarship numbers. 

If you're a Penn State football fan or a fan of college football recruiting, look no further for a complete rundown of Nittany Lion targets, commitments and analysis.

Note: All stats and ratings are from 247Sports.com unless otherwise stated.

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5 Potential Candidates to Replace Nick Aliotti as Oregon Defensive Coordinator

Through three different head coaching regimes and various tweaks to the program’s identity, one constant was defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Replacing the 15-year Ducks assistant, whose retirement was announced Friday, is the biggest challenge head coach Mark Helfrich faces in his young tenure, and it's a potentially era-defining decision.

Aliotti molded Oregon’s defense in recent years to complement the up-tempo offense that has been the program’s calling card. The next Ducks defensive coordinator must strike a balance between the speed, depth and athleticism that defined Aliotti’s groups with the nastier, more powerful defenses that win conference and national championships.

To that end, the university athletic brass is ready to make a sizable financial commitment to the search, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins reports.

Aliotti reportedly has his suggestion. B/R has a few names in mind, as well.

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5 Potential Candidates to Replace Nick Aliotti as Oregon Defensive Coordinator

Through three different head coaching regimes and various tweaks to the program’s identity, one constant was defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti ...

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Oregon's Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti to Retire After Alamo Bowl

Expect the Oregon Ducks defense to give its 110 percent against the Texas Longhorns when the two face off in the 2013 Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30 (6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN)...

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Oregon's Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti to Retire After Alamo Bowl

Expect the Oregon Ducks defense to give its 110 percent against the Texas Longhorns when the two face off in the 2013 Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30 (6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN).

That’s because Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will be coaching the final game of his career, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman:

Nick Aliotti will announce that he is retiring and that the Alamo Bowl game against Texas will be his last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, a source told CBS on Friday. An official announcement is expected later in the day.

The Ducks soon after confirmed the report, via GoDucks.com.

Following team practice, Aliotti made sure the team knew where his loyalties lie:

The 59-year-old has spent the last 36 years prowling the sidelines as an assistant coach.

Aside from Oregon, Aliotti has coached with Oregon State (running backs), Chico State (offensive coordinator), UCLA (defensive coordinator) and even spent three seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams (special teams).

But the Walnut Creek, Calif. native has spent the majority of his career in Eugene. He was a graduate assistant from 1978-79, the outside linebackers’ coach from 1988-92, the defensive coordinator from 1993-94 and again as defensive coordinator from 1999 onward.

Although the Ducks are most prominently known for their flashy uniforms and high-powered offense, Aliotti’s defense has been instrumental to the team putting together six consecutive 10-win seasons. Oregon has ranked inside the top 50 in total defense in four of the last five years.

Furthermore, the team has finished in the top 25 in turnover margin in each of the last four seasons, including No. 1 in 2012.

The job Aliotti has done this season has been commendable. He has taken a defense ravaged by the loss of players and a staff shakeup following Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL, and turned them into a formidable unit.

Aliotti will present the Ducks next defensive coordinator with some pretty large shoes to fill.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Trojans' Marcus Martin Declares for 2014 NFL Draft

As the USC Trojans transition into the Steve Sarkisian era, they'll have to do so with a new man at the center of their offense.

Junior center Marcus Martin announced on Twitter Friday that he will forego his senior season for the NFL draft.

The Los Angeles native was the only Trojan to be named to the All-Pac-12 first team on offense, an honor he received earlier this month.

Martin joined USC in the class of 2011 as a 247Sports composite 3-star and was named Freshman All-American after starting 10 games at guard in his first season in Troy. He remained at guard the following year, starting 10 games and appearing in 12.

He then moved to center as a junior, where he replaced All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes, who was taken in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts in last year's draft.

The 6'3", 310-pound Martin started 13 games for the Trojans this year but left the regular-season finale against UCLA with a knee injury, as detailed by Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. He was also held out of USC's 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State.

The kneecap injury, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily Newswill not require surgery.

While it wasn't indicated by Martin, risk of future injury certainly could have weighed on his choice not to return to college.

Martin's decision leaves USC's new staff with the task of replacing three starters along the offensive line, while also grooming the team's third center in three years.

Senior Abe Markowitz took Martin's place in the Las Vegas Bowl, while sophomore Cyrus Hobbi was listed as his backup.

Looking forward, USC should have plenty of help on its way along the offensive front. In the Trojans' 2014 class, their top three verbal commits are all composite 4-star guards: Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn and Chris Brown.

Depth will likely still be an issue for a few seasons for the Trojans as they come off of NCAA sanctions, so they could end up relying on another upperclassman to take over at center, just as Martin did last offseason.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Trojans' Marcus Martin Declares for 2014 NFL Draft

As the USC Trojans transition into the Steve Sarkisian era, they'll have to do so with a new man at the center of their offense. Junior center Marcus Martin announced on Twitter Friday that he will forego his senior season for the NFL draft...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

If a Position Change Means More Playing Time for KSU QB Daniel Sams, so Be It

Two-quarterback systems aren't always successful, but Kansas State made it work with Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. 

Anyone who has watched K-State this year knows a big reason why Waters and Sams can co-exist is because they're selfless players. Sams is usually the first one to congratulate or console Waters when he comes off the field and vice versa. 

K-State coach Bill Snyder tends to stick with Waters because of his passing ability, but Waters and Sams are effective in their own way. Sams is easily one of the most gifted runners in the Big 12, and had 784 yards on the ground along with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2013. 

Because Sams is so good with the ball in his hand, it's possible a position switch is in his future. Or, at the very least, he could be given additional responsibilities within the offense. 

But don't bank on Sams moving around too much in time for Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan. 

"I haven’t discussed that with any of the coaches. Our focus is on Michigan at this point," Sams said via the Kansas City Star. "But I will talk to Coach Snyder about it. I just want him to know I want to be on the field. … When that time comes we will see how it goes."

2014 will be an interesting year for Sams, who will be a junior. Does he stay at quarterback, likely backing up Waters again, or does he move to another position—say, wide receiver? Former quarterback Collin Klein, whom Sams sat behind in 2012, was a former receiver for the Wildcats. 

Trevone Boykin, who started 13 games at quarterback for TCU while Casey Pachall sat out with personal and injury issues, recently moved to receiver. It's a move that already looks like it will benefit him, as Boykin finished tied for fourth on the team in receptions with 26. 

Kansas State will definitely lose receiver senior Tramaine Thompson, and junior Tyler Lockett could depart early for the NFL draft. Point being, receiver is going to be an area of need for the Wildcats. So, too, will running back, since John Hubert is a senior as well.  

Sams has played multiple positions before.

Maybe Sams plays a little running back—he already does, to an extent—or a little wide receiver. If that means he's on the field more often, so be it. He's too athletic to leave on the sidelines. 

That doesn't mean Sams has to abandon the quarterback spot, but his ceiling is too high to only be a backup. The only thing Snyder would have to be careful about is not asking too much of Sams. 

"When he prepares himself well, he does pretty well underneath center," Snyder said of Sams via the Star. "We will dissect it when the season is over, but I don’t see any foreseeable change. Maybe we could give him some additional responsibilities.”

That would behoove Snyder, and it would benefit Kansas State's offense. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited elsewhere. 

 

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Michigan Football: What to Expect from Shane Morris in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Quarterback Shane Morris will be instrumental to the Michigan Wolverines’ chances of victory when they take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN).

But more than that, the true freshman will be just a kid living out his childhood dream.

“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to start at quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said, via The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Snyder. “I grew up in Michigan. I have baby pictures of me in Michigan jerseys. It’s really cool.”

The Warren, Mich., native was thrust into the spotlight when it was announced that starting quarterback Devin Gardner was ruled out after breaking his foot against Ohio State in the season finale, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman (h/t Tom Fornelli).

Now, Morris is set to become the first true freshman to start for Michigan since Tate Forcier in 2009.

But unlike Forcier—6-9 career record as a starter—there are much higher expectations for Morris.

A 4-star prospect out of De La Salle Collegiate High, Morris was ranked No. 4 at his position by 247Sports. Other outlets, including Scout, even had him listed as a 5-star prospect.

Regardless, Morris has already showcased the qualities of a true leader.

Even before stepping on campus, he was a vocal leader for the Wolverines, helping the team draw in top recruits via social media. One of those players successfully brought in by Morris was 4-star running back/safety Dymonte Thomas.

Now, expect Morris to bring that leadership to the field, where he will be playing with a group of players whose experience trumps that of his.

One of those veteran players—fifth-year senior tackle Taylor Lewan—has already noticed some maturation in Morris.

“It’s almost been day and night,” Lewan said, via Mlive.com’s Nick Baumgardner. “(It feels like) he’s been committed to the university (since I was a freshman). I’ve gotten the opportunity to be around him (a lot), and (watched him change from) this guy that’s worried about Twitter followers, to a guy who could truly care less.”

Furthermore, Morris has shown the potential to back up the hype on the field.

Don’t be fooled by his stats in limited playing time during the 2013 season—65 yards and one interception on 5-of-9 passing. Morris can definitely play.

During 2012’s Elite 11 summer camp, Morris shined. He earned the gold jersey for winning the accuracy contest with his pinpoint precision passing and showcased his arm strength. Rivals’ Mike Farrell was so impressed with Morris that he ranked him No. 1 among the 11 quarterbacks participating.

It all adds up to give him a great shot at topping the performances of some of the former Michigan quarterbacks in their first-ever starts:

Interestingly enough, six of the last seven quarterbacks led the Wolverines to victory in their first start. However, only Gardner played away from home and none made their debut amidst the pressure of a college football bowl game.

Fortunately for Morris, if he ever falls on tough times he’ll have top-tier talent to bail him out.

Look for All-Big Ten wide receiver Jeremy Gallon to be the go-to-guy. The senior has caught 80 passes for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns and has the ability to tack on yards after the catch to help make Morris’ job easier.

You can also expect Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to rely on running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green to take some of the pressure off the passing attack. The pass-blocking experience of Toussaint will especially come in handy when Morris drops back to throw.

All in all, it will definitely be a challenge going up against a Kansas State secondary that has been pretty solid all year—No. 47 against the pass (221.8 YPG). 

However, Morris believes he is more than up to the task.

“I prepared for 12 weeks like I would be the starter,” Morris said, via Snyder. “They always say you’re one play away. Well, it’s true.”

Fittingly, Morris now stands just a game away from transforming his childhood dream into a permanent reality.

No pressure, kid.


All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Ducks Must Avoid an Alamo Bowl Letdown

A month of bowl game preparation can be a blessing or curse for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, as his team readies for an Alamo Bowl date against Texas.

Blessings are evident. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, hampered by a left knee injury in the regular season’s final month, practiced without a brace on Thursday. A healthy Mariota is obviously paramount to the Ducks’ offensive game plan, but especially so given Texas’ deficiencies.

Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost have had ample time to study the Texas defense, a unit that struggled mightily against up-tempo, spread offenses similar to that which Oregon runs. In particular, the Longhorns struggled against mobile quarterbacks like Brigham Young’s Taysom Hill and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace.

The Longhorns haven’t struggled quite as mightily since Greg Robinson settled back in as defensive coordinator of head coach Mack Brown’s staff, but this hasn't exactly been the 2005 Texas defense, either.

With Byron Marshall healthy again, Oregon has the leader of its multifaceted run game spearheading the attack. Add Mariota at full strength and the dynamic ball-carrying his knee injury limited last month, and the Ducks present Texas with one of the most difficult-to-contain looks in college football.

Conversely, the inherent curse is in the additional preparation time that Texas has been afforded to examine and replicate the issues that vexed Oregon late in the season.

The season’s final month erased the unbeatable air surrounding Oregon as it blasted one opponent after another through its 8-0 start, dominating on both sides of the ball.

BCS chaos shaking out as it often does, a one-loss Oregon team could have factored into the BCS Championship equation. A single blemish suffered at Stanford may not have necessarily eliminated Oregon for the title game bid Auburn earned, but a two-loss Oregon squad had no shot at a BCS bowl game, let alone the crystal ball.

Opponents rushed with confidence on the Ducks defense in the final month. Stanford and Arizona went with an approach of quantity over quality, nickel-and-diming at fewer than five yards per carry.

However, the ability of each offensive line to dominate in the trenches and turn those medium-length rushes into sustained drives kept the ball away from the explosive offense and ultimately became Oregon’s undoing—and is an area for Texas to potentially exploit.

To give up big yards on more than 40 carries from Pac-12 pace-setters Tyler Gaffney and Ka’Deem Carey is one thing. Allowing Oregon State, the conference’s No. 11-ranked rushing offense, to go for 231 yards on the ground is much more disconcerting.

Stopping the Texas rush isn't just necessary for an Oregon win, it’s about making a statement for a defense that’s still maligned for its ability to stop high quality competition.

The Ducks’ motivation—or lack thereof—is an often cited factor in their late-season woes. With Texas playing in its home state and with the opportunity to give Brown a victorious sendoff, the Longhorns would seemingly have a monopoly on motivation.

 “If you want to try and find a reason for motivation, you can nitpick on anything. You can say our motivation for wanting to win is just because it’s our coach’s first season,” senior safety Brian Jackson told The Oregonian.

And indeed, notching Helfrich win No. 11 is of particular significance because of what that number means in recent program history.

With records of 12-1 in 2010, 12-2 in 2011 and 12-1 last season, Oregon is a benchmark for consistency in college football. Only Alabama and Pac-12 North rival Stanford have been as consistent in that same period.

A loss sends Oregon to its worst final record since going 10-3 in 2009, Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach.

Surely there is no shame in first-year Coach Helfrich finishing 10-3. However, the expectations Helfrich inherited from Kelly differ from those Kelly took on after Mike Bellotti.

Where Kelly’s first season was a step forward—the program’s first BCS bowl in eight years and first Rose Bowl in 15—this season has shown a slight regression. The Alamo Bowl is an opportunity to take a step back in the right direction and for the Ducks to earn their national championship contender status heading into 2014.

 

 

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Oregon Football: Ducks Must Avoid an Alamo Bowl Letdown

A month of bowl game preparation can be a blessing or curse for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich , as his team readies for an Alamo Bowl date against Texas. Blessings are evident...

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Minnesota Winning a Bowl Game Could Shake Final Cobwebs out of Dormant Program

Minnesota football claims seven national titles to its credit, but most people alive today have never witnessed a truly great Gophers team. However, with a win in the Texas Bowl, Minnesota could be on its way to clearing the last cobwebs out of a dormant program and heading toward greater things.

Just how dormant has the program been? Minnesota last won the Big Ten in 1967, a season in which it went 8-2 and split the title with Indiana and Purdue (my, how times have changed). 

Since then, the Gophers have managed to win eight games just one time (1999) and more than eight once—going 10-3 in 2003 and winning the Sun Bowl. 

The next season Minnesota would go and win the Music City Bowl, 20-16, over Alabama. It would be the last time a Gopher team won a bowl game. 

Breaking that streak would just be another hurdle overcome this season under Jerry Kill and his coaching staff. 

Kill and his longtime assistants have had a pattern of historic third seasons everywhere they've been, and this season is no different.

His teams have gone a combined 27-47 in the first two years of play at Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota, but the third year has been a breakout year—with Kill coached teams going a combined 28-9 (to date) in year three. 

The history-making at Minnesota this year began with a 4-0 start and a win over Nebraska for the first time in school history. Minnesota has already won eight games for just the third time since 1967 as well.

Now, the next hurdle in the way—winning a bowl game for the first time since 2004—is a streak that stands at five games currently.

Doing that would not only break another barrier for the program but put Minnesota on the cusp of doing something great. It would mean just the eighth time in school history that a team has won nine games. 

It's all just a stepping stone to what Kill wants this program to be, but the significance of a win in the Texas Bowl isn't lost on Kill. 

"We have a great opportunity to compete and continue to make history as a team," Kill said to the Associated Press via Fox Sports North. "Nine games, winning nine games is important to us, winning a bowl game is important to us."

One of the key parts to that building process has been the emergence of junior running back David Cobb. He came virtually out of nowhere, playing almost exclusively on special teams before this season (just 11 carries entering this year). 

In 2013, Cobb has run for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. 

He's been the catalyst to one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks, helping the team average 200.9 yards per game—which was the fifth-best total in the B1G and 32nd nationally.

Cobb will be key to the Gophers' chances against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl for sure, but this has always been a team effort, and Minnesota's defense will play just as big of a role. 

The defense has been very solid against the pass, ranking fifth in the Big Ten this year—giving up just over 200 yards and only 16 passing touchdowns during the regular season. 

Defenders Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for their efforts individually, becoming the first duo of Gophers to earn first-team honors together since 2008.

Hageman finished with 34 tackles, a team-high 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, eight passes defensed and one fumble recovery—just to name a few of his statistics this season. 

Vereen had 56 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception as a defensive back this year. 

For Hageman and Vereen, it is their last game in the maroon and gold and a chance to leave a lasting legacy for the program with a win.

However, for 12 players from the state of Texas it is also a chance to erase the bad memories of coming home and losing last season. 

"We enjoyed our experience last year and wish we could have come away with a victory," Kill told Fox Sports North. "I know our players, especially the 12 from Texas, welcome the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota in a state that has great football tradition."

Minnesota is just a few short steps away from being taken seriously by not only the hardcore football fan but the casual one too, and a win in the Texas Bowl will go a long way toward building that credibility. 

Consider it just par for the course for a third-year team under Jerry Kill, though.

 

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

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