NCAA Football

Nebraska Football: Holiday Gifts Coach Pelini Will Be Returning

Nebraska football fans know that the day after Christmas is reserved for many as the day to return the gifts that were unwanted or unneeded. So if we spent some time before Christmas thinking about what would be on Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini’s holiday wishlist, it’s only fair to spend a little time thinking about the stinkers Pelini has received and would like to take back.

Just remember to keep your receipts if you don’t want to get stuck with store credit.

All stats from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

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Young Auburn Fan Gets National Championship Tickets for Christmas

A very lucky young Auburn fan named Collin got the ultimate War Eagle Christmas gift this year. His reaction was priceless as his parents surprised him with tickets to the BCS National Championship Game between the Tigers and Florida State on January 6. 

Thanks to Clay Travis for sharing. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Key Stat That Will Decide Each Matchup

The BCS bowl schedule features the best college football teams in the country, which should make every game competitive. However, you can narrow each contest down to one key stat.

While it takes balance to be able to reach this stage, every team has certain strengths and tendencies that could be exploited. When things go wrong, it could lead to a one-sided game.

This was seen in the battle between USC and Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr was unable to pass the ball, and it led to a blowout victory for the Trojans.

Each BCS game will also have a few telling statistics by the time things are over. In all likelihood, you will be able to tell the winner simply by these numbers in each high-profile battle.

 

Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. UCF

Key Stat: Blake Bortles Interceptions (1.5)

Blake Bortles has been one of the breakout stars of the 2013 season after leading UCF to an 11-1 record and an AAC title. He posted impressive numbers while completing 68.1 percent of his passes and totaling 22 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.

Additionally, scouts love his strength and mobility enough to consider him a potential first-round pick. As Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes, draft expert Todd McShay has Bortles listed as his No. 3 overall player:

However, Baylor represents one of the toughest defenses the junior will face all year. While the Bears offense gets more publicity, they also finished 19th in the nation in points allowed per game and ranked 15th with 17 interceptions.

UCF tends to struggle when Bortles turns over the ball. He had two interceptions in the team's only loss of the year to South Carolina, and he had two more in a three-point home win over 2-10 South Florida.

If he throws two or more interceptions, Baylor should be able to run away with this game.

 

Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State

Key Stat: Time of Possession (30 minutes)

Fans that love tough, hard-nosed football will not find a better matchup than Stanford against Michigan State. These two teams will battle in the trenches all game long with the big men up front deciding the game.

However, one of the ways each team has found success this year is by controlling the ball for long periods of time. This has kept opposing offenses off the field while helping both defenses rank in the top 10 in points allowed. 

Stanford utilized this strategy to perfection against Oregon, maintaining possession for over 42 minutes in a win. Michigan State had a similar effort in an upset win over Ohio State.

These teams will both want to run the ball and control the clock. However, the strong defensive fronts will force a lot of three-and-outs. There will not be many long touchdowns, so the side that can sustain longer drives in this contest will come out victorious.

 

Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Key Stat: Trevor Knight Rushing Attempts (10)

Alabama is easily the favorite in this game after sitting on top of the polls for most of the season. Only a missed field goal returned 109 yards for a touchdown kept the Crimson Tide out of the national championship game for a third year in a row.

However, the Auburn loss also showed that the defense is vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks. Running back Tre Mason was obviously the star offensively for the Tigers, but quarterback Nick Marshall also had 99 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

Earlier in the year, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel rushed for 98 yards to go with his 464 passing yards in a losing effort. 

Oklahoma's Trevor Knight has that ability, rushing for 428 yards in seven games, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. However, the freshman quarterback has split time behind Blake Bell.

According to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said that both quarterbacks could play against Alabama:

We mixed and matched and some of it was planned and some of it wasn't. You have a couple different injuries that happened in the last couple weeks of the season. You try to put those guys in position to be successful.

We'll have a mixture of a little bit of everything heading into the Sugar Bowl and try to give ourselves a chance to win the ballgame.

Hopefully, Oklahoma will find a way to get Knight in the game to try to beat the Alabama defense. Otherwise, there will simply not be enough firepower to win. 

 

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State

Key Stat: Ohio State Rushing Yards (250)

Ohio State certainly has its faults, but one thing it does extremely well is run the ball. Quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde each topped 1,000 yards this season and combined for 24 rushing touchdowns.

Altogether, the squad ranks third in the nation with an average of 317.5 rushing yards per game. 

This could be a challenge for Clemson to stop, especially since the unit was only average against the run, ranking 50th in the NCAA while allowing 152.6. Considering the Buckeyes rushed for 273 yards against Michigan State and its top-ranked run defense, the Tigers could be in trouble.

However, Clemson has also shown the ability to make stops against top teams. Boston College's Andre Williams led the nation with 2,102 rushing yards this season but only totaled 70 against the Tigers. This was one of only two complete games he failed to top 100 (he left early against Syracuse with an injury).

The squad also held South Carolina's Mike Davis to his worst game of the year, finishing with only 22 yards on 15 carries.

Ohio State has a dynamic rushing attack that should be able to carry the team to victory. However, Clemson has a chance of winning if it can at least slow down Miller and Hyde.

 

BCS National Championship Game: Auburn vs. Florida State

Key Stat: Florida State Third-Down Percentage (40 percent)

Florida State ranked second in the nation with an average of 53 points per game thanks to the ability to sustain drives. This was thanks to a third-down conversion rate of 55.2 percent that ranked third in the country.

Heisman winner Jameis Winston was particularly impressive, especially on long plays. On third downs with 10 or more yards to gain, the quarterback completed 16 of his 21 attempts for 15 first downs. His four touchdowns in this situation helped him equal a passer rating of 265.9.

If Auburn wants to slow down the Seminoles offense, they have to find a way to get off of the field on third downs.

The Tigers were among the best in the nation in this category, allowing only 34 percent of third-down conversions. This was especially helpful in the SEC Championship Game when Missouri only went 2-of-10 in such situations.

There will be a lot of factors that go into this title game, but Florida State's ability to continue drives on third down will possibly play the biggest role of all.

Note: All stats courtesy of NCAA.com and CFBStats.com.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Bowl Schedule 2013-14: Dates, Start Times, Predictions for Featured Games

The BCS bowls officially begin on Jan. 1, but with so much intrigue and excitement heading into the biggest college football games of the season, it's hard not to look ahead at each of the games.

Whether it's the defensive battle set to take place between Michigan State and Stanford in the Rose Bowl or the offensive gymnastics that Ohio State and Clemson will surely put on during the Orange Bowl, there are games for every football fan.

Below is everything fans of college football need to know heading into the BCS bowl season.

 

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford

The defensive struggle between two of the best groups in the country will come down to which offense can get going against the other opposing fronts.

For Michigan State, there will be changes in its defensive scheme to counter the offensive attack Stanford presents in its max-protect package, the Spartans' linebackers coach Mike Tressel told Mike Griffith of MLive.com: 

When they go with their two-receiver and one-receiver sets, you can expect they can do what they need to protect, and they are gonna take shots at big plays. It does challenge us schematically, but that being said, if you blitz six guys or you blitz seven guys, even if they max protect, there's going to be a handful of one on ones, and we constantly talk to our guys about it.

 

Stanford has the offensive weapons with Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery to get the job done, but the erratic play of Kevin Hogan could cost the Cardinal a chance to win their second-straight Rose Bowl.

With Michigan State presenting a more complete offense that includes Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, the Spartans will pull out a win in their first-ever BCS bowl.

Prediction: Spartans 24, Cardinal 17

 

Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. Central Florida

Bryce Petty didn't get the respect he probably deserved in the Heisman race. Blake Bortles is now being projected as a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft if he decides to forgo his senior season. Needless to say, this game will likely come down to the two quarterbacks.

Unfortunately, fans of the Knights weren't exactly excited about attending the first BCS bowl game in the school's history, as Tyler Duffy of the Big Lead points out (but they still did better than Ohio State):

With two quarterbacks and offensive weapons at the receiver positions, the deciding factor for this one could end up being which team can support their offense with a healthy running game.

That's where Lache Seastrunk comes in. The junior running back has rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second-straight season and has 11 touchdowns for the No. 1 scoring offense in the country.

Central Florida has had a great season and a huge win over Louisville, but the Knights will be outmatched against the Bears offense.

Prediction: Bears 56, Knights 38

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

On one side stands Alabama, who certainly didn't expect to play in the Sugar Bowl this season after going undefeated until the final game of the season. On the other is Oklahoma, who after two losses this season should feel lucky to be in a BCS bowl game in the first place.

The Sooners have a defense that has proven it can play well over the season but has faltered in big-game situations. Against Texas and Baylor in their two losses, Oklahoma gave up over 36 points in both and lost by a combined 45 points. But after holding Oklahoma State to just 24 points, the Sooners are confident in their defense.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma will be facing one pissed off bunch when it meets Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide narrowly missed out on playing for the SEC Championship and possibly the national title with a loss to Auburn to close out the regular season.

But with an offense that ranks 17th in the country in scoring and a defense that ranks second in scoring, the Tide are still one of the most balanced teams in college football.

With weapons like AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, just to name a few, the Tide will roll over the Sooners to win yet another BCS bowl before the BCS is no more.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 45, Sooners 24

 

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State

What a year it has been for the ACC. After being the laughing stock of college football, the conference now has two teams in BCS bowls and one competing for the national title. As for the Big Ten, their hopes were dashed for a national championship contender but could still end up with two wins in BCS bowls.

This game for Clemson means much more than just getting redemption after not making the national championship game this year. It also means rebounding from the last time they played in a BCS bowl against West Virginia. Tigers fans might want to close their eyes for this:

Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins appear to be a good matchup against an Ohio State defense that gave up 34 or more points in three out of its last four games, but the Buckeyes' offense will be the difference in this one.

Ohio State offers up two running threats with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde—both have rushed for over 1,000 yards—and the No. 3 rushing offense in the country, which will pose the biggest problem for Clemson's offense in terms of time of possession.

The Buckeyes might not put up the same numbers that West Virginia was able to against Clemson, but they will get some redemption after falling to Michigan State for a chance to play in the national title game.

Prediction: Buckeyes 42, Tigers 35

 

BCS National Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn

Florida State has the No. 2 scoring offense in the country and the No. 1 scoring defense. Auburn features the No. 1 rushing offense and the 12th-best scoring offense. In the final year, the BCS finally got it right with the national championship.

The Seminoles offense has scored less than 40 points in a game just once this season thanks to the talents of Heisman winner Jameis Winston and three receivers who have amassed over 900 yards receiving.

Then there's the defense, which has held seven opponents to single-digit points scored. When asked about facing Auburn's offense, defensive end Mario Edwards told Powell Latimer of Rivals.com that the Tigers are "overhyped" and the Seminoles have already figured out their offense:

Everybody had tendencies whether they pick it up or not or notice it or not. I'm not going to say exactly what their tendencies are but we've picked them up.

As for the opponent that confident Seminoles defense will be facing, Nick Marshall and Heisman finalist Tre Mason might have something to say about that. The two players finished with a combined 45 touchdowns on the season with Mason averaging 5.7 YPC and Marshall finishing with 6.6 YPC.

While some players for FSU talked about how the Auburn offense was nothing special, Seminoles defensive back Lamarcus Joyner told Brandon Marcello of AL.com that he's impressed with Mason:

I'm sitting next to this Manimal: half man, half animal. This guy carrying the ball [46] times, hopefully there's a little wear and tear on him. They're a great football team. They do a pretty good job, the coaches and they have a lot of great talent over there.

With two great offenses squaring off to find out who is the best team in the country in the final year of the BCS, it will be Florida State who ultimately lifts the crystal ball. The Seminoles offense will be too much for the Tigers to handle in a game that could end up being a blowout, but hopefully won't.

Prediction: Seminoles 56, Tigers 45

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Schedule 2013-14: When and Where to Catch Remaining Slate of Matchups

The college football bowl season is in full swing, and there are still a number of games to catch with just a couple of weeks remaining.

There have already been a couple of exciting games during this year's bowl season.  Things got off to a thrilling start in the New Mexico Bowl, with Colorado State pulling off an incredible comeback after two late fumbles from Washington State to win, 48-45.  Despite all of the coaching changes over the past few weeks, USC had no problem taking down Derek Carr and Fresno State, winning, 45-20.

Bowl season has already gotten off to a great start, so let's take a look at the remaining games for the 2013 season, followed by a preview of some of the most exciting upcoming matchups.

 

Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Oregon

Date: Dec. 30

Time: 6:45 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

It's been a wild season for both the Texas Longhorns and Oregon Ducks, but these are two entertaining teams that will play in what will be a very fun game to watch.

Longhorns head coach Mack Brown will be coaching his final game for Texas, as he will be stepping down after going just 8-4 this season and not meeting the expectations of Longhorns fans or the school.  According to Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, however, it appears that Brown was reportedly forced out by Texas president Bill Powers.

For the Ducks, they came into the season with hopes of a national championship, and they were well on their way with an 8-0 start.  But a 2-2 finish with losses to Stanford and Arizona killed those chances, and the team has struggled quite a bit since its hot start.

All eyes will be on the Oregon offense, led by Marcus Mariota, as it ranks third in the nation in scoring, averaging 46.8 points per game.  Even though he's struggled the past few games, Mariota has still put up nearly 4,000 total yards with 39 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season.

It will be up to the Longhorns defense to keep Oregon in check. If they can do that, then they will have a chance to pull off the major upset and end Brown's coaching career with Texas on a high note.

 

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford

Date: Jan. 1

Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

While all of the BCS bowl games will have some very interesting matchups, perhaps the best game will be between the Michigan State Spartans and the Stanford Cardinal.

The Cardinal have have had a couple of bumps in the road this season with losses to Utah and USC, but overall they've had a very solid season with wins over Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State to go 11-2 this year.  They've relied heavily on Tyler Gaffney offensively, as he's carried the ball 306 times for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

In what has arguably been one of the best seasons in Michigan State history, the Spartans are the Big Ten champions thanks to a 12-1 record and a 34-24 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the conference championship game.  They didn't have the toughest competition this year, but they still have one of the best defenses in the country, allowing just 12.7 points per game.

These are two very similar teams, as they both focus on a balanced offensive attack, along with strong defenses, which is what will make this game so much fun to watch.  It may not be the highest-scoring game, but there's a very good chance that it goes down to the wire.

 

Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

Date: Jan. 1

Time: 1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

The SEC is clearly the better conference than the Big Ten, but that doesn't make this game any less exciting with the Wisconsin Badgers taking on the South Carolina Badgers.

Although they lost, 31-24, to the Penn State Nittany Lions in their last game of the season, the Badgers still went 9-3 with some solid wins over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Iowa Hawkeyes and BYU Cougars.  They rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points per game, and eighth in rushing offense with 283 yards per game.

The Badgers have two terrific running backs in Melvin Gordon and James White.  The two have combined for 2,803 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Both Gordon and White will have to look out for the Gamecocks, however.  Their defense has allowed 142.3 rushing yards per game and has one of the best defensive players in the country in Jadeveon Clowney, who can turn the tide of any game.

The Gamecocks have had a tough schedule, but they're still 10-2 with wins over Missouri and Clemson.  Connor Shaw has continued to be a playmaker under center, putting up 2,646 total yards and 32 total touchdowns on the year.  Mike Davis has also been great out of the backfield, running for 1,134 yards and 11 scores of his own.

There are a lot of star players on both of these teams, and while the Gamecocks are the favorites to win, there's likely going to be a ton of big running plays coming from both teams.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2013-14: Pinpointing Winners of Most Exciting Matchups

We are approaching the best part of the college bowl season, and I have three winners pegged for some of the highlighted upcoming contests.

In the final year before we hit the College Football Playoff, there are solid matchups to take the system out in style.

Below, I'll pick the winner of three of those games. 

 

Rose Bowl

Matchup: No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)

This matchup isn't going to be the most entertaining. Well, unless you are a fan of great play in the trenches combined with bruising and disciplined football.

Stanford and Michigan State both got to the Rose Bowl by owning the point of attack.

The best matchup this meeting will produce comes when the Cardinal have the ball. Stanford's running game certainly isn't the flashiest in the nation, but it is consistent.

Stanford has the nation's 23rd-ranked rushing attack. It got those yards, however, in consistent four- and five-yard carries between the tackles. Those are the kind of carries that will wear an opponent down. 

That running game will face its stiffest test of the season. The Spartans will bring the nation's best rush defense. Michigan State allowed 80.8 rushing yards per game this season. 

This fueled the Spartans to the nation's fourth-stingiest scoring defense. Stanford is not far behind at 10th in that ranking. 

The Spartans defense will be facing the stiffer test in this one. Michigan State is just 89th in passing and 51st in rushing in the national rankings. 

Stanford will exploit that weak offense, get a few three and outs and then grind out a victory in the fourth quarter. 

Prediction: Stanford 20, Michigan State 13

 

Orange Bowl 

Matchup: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) 

This game could very well end up being the most entertaining bowl game of the season.

Both of these offenses can put up points in a hurry, and although the defenses are not inept, they also aren't prepared to handle the quality offenses they will be facing. 

Clemson finished the season 17th in the nation in points allowed, while the Buckeyes checked in at 21st. These are solid numbers.

Anyone who watched the Michigan Wolverines destroy the Buckeyes for 41 points or the Florida State Seminoles make mincemeat of the Tigers' defense to the tune of 51 points isn't going to be eager to back up the validity of either defense, however. 

In this game, that is going to be a problem. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Clemson's Tajh Boyd arguably give this game the bowl season's best quarterback matchup.  

Miller uses his running ability in concert with running back Carlos Hyde to give the Buckeyes the fourth-most prolific rushing attack in the nation.

Boyd teams up with wide receiver Sammy Watkins to give the Tigers the nation's 12th-ranked passing attack. 

The Buckeyes will pull this one out because of their running game. In a contest where both defenses struggle, the Buckeyes will be able to control the ball and use that to their advantage in the fourth quarter. 

Prediction: Ohio State 42, Clemson 37

 

BCS Title Game 

Matchup: Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)

Well, there isn't much of a controversy over the two participants in the last year before the playoff. Florida State crushed everyone in their path and wound up first in the nation in scoring and second in the nation in points allowed. 

Auburn didn't impress as much on the stat sheet. Although they boast one of the nation's best rushing attacks, it was their big wins down the stretch that announced their legitimacy for this game. 

In the end, it is that path that has me siding with the Tigers. The experience of those big, close games gives this team the poise to win in the end.

This contest will be another shootout. 

Freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has been unstoppable, and with three receivers who caught over 920 yards worth of passes, he has plenty of weapons around him. 

Winston won't be able to help the Seminoles stop Auburn's rushing attack, however. 

The Seminoles only allowed 3.14 yards per carry, but that isn't going to intimidate Auburn. The Tigers shredded Alabama's defense for 296 rushing yards, gained at an average of 5.7 yards per carry. 

Auburn is going to rush its way to the national title. 

Prediction: Auburn 38, Florida State 34

 

Stats via CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2013-14: Best Bets to Make on Remaining Contests

The 2013-14 college bowl season is in full swing, with a number of matchups in the rear-view and a handful of marquee contests on the horizon.

It’s one of the most exciting times of year for bettors, who have one last chance to back these elite programs and try to end the season with a few big wins against the spread.

Let’s take a look at a couple bowl wagers you aren’t going to want to miss out on in the coming weeks.

Spreads courtesy of ScoresAndOdds.com

 

North Texas (-6.5) over UNLV

This is a bet you aren’t going to want to miss. You have a chance to start out the 2014 gambling year with a huge win by backing the Mean Green, so don’t skip out on the opportunity.

This New Year’s Day showdown between North Texas and UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl is as lopsided as they come. With the favorite spotting less than a touchdown, it is a surefire way to win big.

Using Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings—which are a way to measure meaningful possession efficiency—you can easily find that North Texas is the better team when it matters most.

The Mean Green finished the season at 8-4 and rank No. 49 in F/+, right in the same vicinity of 8-4 Minnesota and 10-2 Fresno State.

That is in stark contrast of the Rebels, who are found all the way down at No. 95. This ranking puts them in the same company as teams like 2-10 Colorado and 2-10 South Florida.

One reason why the Mean Green are valued so highly is their elite defense. This squad gave up just 18.1 points per game, making it the ninth team in the country at keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.

UNLV can’t say the same, as the defense concedes more points than the team have scored this year. The Rebels conceded 31.5 points per game and put up just 31.3, a disparaging stat that should immediately scare potential backers away.

Don’t get lured in by UNLV’s big season-ending win over San Diego State or the blowout against Air Force. This group is mediocre at best and will be exposed in a double-digit loss to North Texas.

 

Iowa (+7) over LSU

Not many would expect the Hawkeyes to beat the Tigers, but there is definitely a good chance of that happening in the upcoming Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

While the SEC has traditionally dominated this matchup against Big Ten foes—winning 11 of the last 18 matchups and three of the last four—things could be different in 2014.

The Hawkeyes are happy to be back in a bowl after failing to finish over .500 last year. They finished the 2013 campaign on a high note, winning three-straight and four of the last five.

While Iowa never managed to knock out a ranked opponent this year, it did score solid victories over Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa State and Northwestern.

Give the defense credit, as it ranks No. 7 overall in the nation and No. 11 in scoring defense, conceding just 18.8 points per game to the opposition.

Considering LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be out due to a brutal knee injury suffered in the season finale against Arkansas, the Tigers will definitely struggle to put points on the board.

The Tigers have also lost three of their lost four bowl appearances and can’t seem to get it done in the postseason. Iowa is a much better playoff program lately, having gone 6-2 in the last eight bowl appearances.

It’s definitely going to be a slugfest and not the blowout that many expect when they see LSU vs. Iowa on paper. Expect the Hawkeyes to certainly cover the spread and possibly even pull the upset in this Outback Bowl showdown.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pitt vs. Bowling Green: Top Storylines to Watch in Little Caesars Bowl 2013

When the Pittsburgh Panthers go head-to-head with the Bowling Green Falcons in the 2013 Little Caesars Bowl on Thursday night, the college football world will be focused on the major underlying storylines in this battle.

There are many critics who believe that Pittsburgh  (6-6, 3-5 ACC) doesn’t deserve to be on this stage with six losses, and Bowling Green  (10-3, 7-1 MAC) couldn’t have asked for a more ideal opponent to showcase its ability against than the Panthers.

Here is all the vital viewing information for Thursday’s game, along with its storylines.

 

Where: Ford Field, Detroit

When: Thursday, Dec. 26, at 6 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Top Storylines to Watch

Matt Johnson is Red Hot

In case you haven’t heard yet, or don’t follow the Falcons, Bowling Green sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson is red hot this season.

Not only did Johnson lead his team to a stunning 47-27 victory over then-No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC title game on Dec. 6, but he also outperformed Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch by amassing 393 yards and five touchdowns in the win.

With momentum on the Falcons’ side, the sophomore quarterback also has a personal interest in this matchup. The Pennsylvania native was passed up by Pitt during the recruiting process, and he told David Goricki of The Detroit News about his feelings toward the Panthers:

It’s a little self-motivation for me, no doubt. You could say I have a little chip on my shoulder. It’s not a personal vendetta against this Pitt coaching staff because they weren’t even there at that time. I was looked at by (then-Pitt coach) Dave Wannstedt my freshman year, but it was Coach (Todd) Graham (now head coach at Arizona State) who passed me by. I just want to show my home state how I can play.

After throwing just 28 times in his freshman season, Johnson won the starting job in 2013 and grew as a player each week. He looked solid through the first portion of the season, but back-to-back losses in October forced the quarterback to make some adjustments.

During the Falcons' current five-game winning streak coming, Johnson has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Johnson has 3,195 yards passing this season to go with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Falcons’ success begins and ends with Johnson’s performance.

 

Can Pitt’s Offense Solve Bowling Green’s Defensive Riddle?

Pitt is coming off a devastating 41-31 loss to the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 29 in which the Panthers were utterly dismantled on both sides of the ball.

The Panthers did manage to rack up 31 points—although it came in garbage time against a mediocre Hurricanes defensive unit—but the program will be going up against one of the toughest defenses it has faced all season in the Falcons.

Bowling Green comes into the game with the eighth-best statistical defense in the nation, allowing just 308.7 yards per game. With teams averaging just 14.8 points per game against the Falcons, Pitt’s struggling offense is in serious trouble.

After shutting down Lynch in the MAC championship game, the Panthers’ 104th-ranked offensive unit is in serious trouble. The team’s average of 351.8 yards per game is not that impressive considering the lack of elite defenses in the ACC, and the Falcons will expose Pitt's weaknesses.

Unless Pitt has a secret weapon up its sleeve, Bowling Green is going to dominate this matchup.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Favorites Who Will Cover the Spread

The odds are tricky for the BCS bowl games this year. College sports are the toughest to gauge. There are players who are dejected because they didn't get an opportunity to play for a national championship, programs that traditionally don't travel well and other factors.

Taking all those things into consideration, there are two favorites with a great chance to cover the spread. Here's a look at the most recent lines for each BCS bowl.

Stay away from the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and BCS title game. Those contests are too close to call. The games that are safe to bet are listed below.

It begins with the Fiesta Bowl clash. 

 

Baylor Will Pound the Central Florida Knights in the Fiesta Bowl

The Baylor Bears are 16.5-point favorites. Yes that's a lot, but when a team scores as much as Art Briles' bunch, it isn't an unrealistic margin of victory. 

Baylor won their 11 games by an average of 37.7 points per game. Think that's the product of a bunch of early-season blowouts? Partially, but only one team—aside from Oklahoma State who beat them—remained within 10 points of the Bears this season.

Fact is, Baylor is going to score a ton of points. Whether Central Florida can stay within three touchdowns depends on its ability to move the ball. Against a 5-7 SMU team that allowed 33 points per game to its opponents this season, UCF managed just 17.

Baylor will blow the Knights away.

 

Oklahoma Isn't in Alabama's League

No team should be jumping at the chance to face the Alabama Crimson Tide right now. The team is probably angry, but focused on making a statement. The Tide are 15-point favorites in the Sugar Bowl, but they stand to beat the Oklahoma Sooners by more.

Beating Alabama begins with stopping the run game. If a team can't slow the Tide's rushing attack down, it better have an offense capable of moving the ball consistently. The Sooners don't have a run game like Auburn's, and the Blake Bell-led passing game is ranked 101st in the nation.

In some ways, Oklahoma's run-pass balance is similar to Auburn's; the Sooners just aren't as dominant on the ground.

The inability to move the ball is going to lead to turnovers and a string of three-and-out drives. By the middle of the third quarter, Oklahoma's defense is going to be exhausted and Alabama will be up three touchdowns. 

The Tide will win this one going away.

 

All spreads via Covers.com

 

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College Football Bowl Picks 2013: Predictions for Each Remaining Game of Season

The 2013-14 bowl season is underway. Smaller contests kicked off the season, and those opening acts have provided an encouraging indication of how exciting the season may be overall.

The Gildan New Mexico Bowl was a thriller that saw the Colorado State Rams upend the Washington State Cougars 48-45 in a shocking finale when the Rams hit a field goal to win it late.

The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl followed suit, as the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns slipped past the Tulane Green Wave 24-21.

Perhaps best of all, those two contests were just the beginning of an outstanding bowl season set to coincide with the holidays.

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

The final iteration of the BCS has gifted fans with a matchup not many want to see, as ESPN's Steve Palazzolo illustrates:

While it certainly is not a sexy matchup, an argument can be made about the prestige of the two teams set to do battle, as the Oklahoma twitter account details:

Alabama enters with a chip on its shoulder. The Crimson Tide were denied a bid at a third straight title via a loss in the SEC title game with one second remaining—a highlight that will forever be played as one of the most memorable in the collegiate game's history.

Senior quarterback AJ McCarron was also denied a fitting end to his collegiate career from both a team standpoint and an individual one, as he missed out on the Heisman Trophy. McCarron aims to right the ship for himself and other seniors, per Cliff Kirkpatrick of USA Today:

I want to go out the right way. I want to send these seniors out the right way. I feel it's only right for our class, my class that came in, and C.J. (Mosley) came in a year after but also a senior. We put a lot of work into this program to make it what it is today. It's only right we finish on top.

McCarron's definition of "on top" is to steal the national spotlight from the championship winner:

So we have a chance to show the country we are the best team. We might not win the national championship, but we can have everyone talking about us more than the national championship team. And that's happened in the past. We still have the opportunity to do that.

That is something the Heisman finalist is more than capable of doing after a year that saw him throw for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.

McCarron is flanked by the nation's second-best defense, which allows an average of 11.3 points per game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma ranks just inside the top 50 with an average of 31.8 points scored per game.

The Crimson Tide will cruise to a victory in a highlight-worthy affair that fulfills McCarron's wishes.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 42, Sooners 38

 

VIZIO BCS National Championship: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn 

After a thrilling SEC Championship Game win, Gus Malzahn has proved to be an offensive guru who has orchestrated arguably one of the best turnarounds fans have seen in recent years.

Receiver Sammie Coates said that was the goal all along, per John Zenor of the Associated Press (via The Morning Journal):

Our goal at the beginning of the year was to have the biggest turnaround in college football. We knew the only way to do that was to get better every single day. Tuesdays and Wednesdays (on game weeks) were big for us because those are our work days and we got better. We beat some teams that people thought we couldn’t beat.

But now the Tigers have a date with an offense even Malzahn may have trouble figuring out. Florida State's Jameis Winston, the second freshman Heisman winner in as many years, has been unstoppable this season.

In fact, the pro level is already raving about Winston and throwing out names such as Peyton Manning, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today:

That is lofty praise, but it's more than deserved. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 scores on the year while leading the nation's second-highest scoring offense with an average of 53 points per game.

The Seminoles also tout the nation's top defense, which allows an average of 10.7 points per game.

All in all, there will be no miracle win for the Tigers this time around.

Prediction: Seminoles 49, Tigers 34

 

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

The Fiesta Bowl won't be going anywhere next season, remaining one of America's signature games in the impending College Football Playoff, but the end of the BCS era still closes another chapter of its storied history.

Between 1998 and this year's 2014 game, which pits Baylor against UCF in a battle of NFl-caliber quarterbacks, the Fiesta Bowl has crowned two national champions and hosted countless other blue-chip players and programs.

College football powers such as Tennessee, Florida State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas and Stanford have all made the trek to Arizona—many more than once—for the annual game these past 17 years, steeping it in a tradition that few other bowls can match.

Here are the plays that have defined the BCS era of the Fiesta Bowl.

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Bowl Games 2013-14: Breaking Down Most Underrated Non-BCS Battles

With so many bowl games at the end of the college football season, it is easy to overlook the good ones. However, there are quite a few interesting matchups that will be better than most anticipate.

Obviously, fans across the country will be looking forward to the BCS National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn. Other BCS battles like the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will also be excellent to watch.

Meanwhile, even the non-BCS schedule features some highly anticipated showings like the Capital One Bowl between Wisconsin and South Carolina, as well as the Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma State and Missouri.

Still, there are a few contests that might be skipped at first glance but should be among the best games of the bowl season.

 

AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Arizona vs. Boston College

When looking at these teams on paper, two players stand out among the rest: Ka'Deem Carey and Andre Williams.

Carey has been one of the best running backs in the nation the past two years for Arizona, leading the FBS with 1,929 rushing yards in 2012 and then following that up with an impressive 1,716 rushing yards in 2013.

The junior topped 100 rushing yards in every single game this season and has totaled 40 rushing touchdowns in the past two years.

Meanwhile, Andre Williams was more of a surprise for Boston College this year with a nation-best 2,102 rushing yards, turning himself into a Heisman finalist out of nowhere. Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star points out that records will be on the line:

In all likelihood, fans will see plenty of rushing yards no matter who is on offense in this game.

 

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA

Brett Hundley and Logan Thomas are two quarterbacks with great physical abilities, and they will match up against each other in the Sun Bowl.

UCLA's Hundley had an impressive season while passing for 2,845 yards and rushing for 587 more. While the redshirt sophomore is considering a move to the NFL, Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times quotes a scout saying he could use another year in school:

He should stay. He needs that extra thousand live snaps he's going to get as a junior, to quicken his eyes and go through his reads in the pocket. He can hone in his accuracy and work on his timing.

He will get a serious test against Virginia Tech and the No. 8 scoring defense in the league. A strong performance could be all he needs to prove that he is ready for the next level.

On the other hand, Thomas will not have that chance to return to school after completing his senior season. The 6'6" quarterback improved his accuracy this year, but he still makes poor decisions, which have continued to hurt the team.

If his mistakes come up against UCLA, it will give the Hokies little chance at a victory.

 

Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (Fla.) vs. Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, but first he will have to battle his past. According to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel, the talented quarterback recently discussed the upcoming matchup:

There was a huge 'wow' factor once I heard we would be playing the University of Miami. I'm from Miami and I grew up rooting for the Hurricanes, rooting for Florida State, rooting for the Florida Gators … all the Florida schools.

To be playing against a hometown school, it's very shocking.

In addition to facing Miami, he will also be playing in Orlando, Fla., likely in front of many hometown fans. After an outstanding season where he completed over 70 percent of his passes, he will look to cap his year and possibly his college career on a high note. 

Of course, the Hurricanes will not simply be a pushover. Although they had a three-game stretch where they allowed over 40 points in every game, they got back on track with wins in the last two regular-season games.

The defense also ranked 10th in the country in passes intercepted this season.

Louisville has had a relatively easy schedule to get to 11-1 this year, but it will have a true test in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

 

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

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Hawaii Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned in Boise State's Loss vs. Oregon State

The Boise State Broncos fell to 8-5 overall after a loss to Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl 38-23.

The game started fine for the Broncos, but after two first half fumbles that were returned by the Beavers for touchdowns, it was clear BSU was in trouble.

By halftime it was 31-6 in favor of OSU, and it didn't get much better in the second half for Boise.

The Broncos did make it look respectable by at least getting into the end zone in the second half, but they never really had a chance in this one.

On paper, the loss didn't look so lopsided. On the night the Broncos had 537 yards offense, and 28 first downs. Compared to Oregon State who had 454 yards offense with 22 first downs.

However, the real difference were those turnovers.

It was a convincing loss that brought some painful lessons for the Broncos. Let's look closer at some of those lessons, and try to figure out what it might mean for the team and its future. 

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