NCAA Football

Texas Longhorns Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

After the inevitable resignation of Mack Brown on Dec. 14, the Texas Longhorns find themselves in a weird sort of purgatory state, entering the meat of recruiting season with a new athletic director, Steve Patterson, and no long-term vision at head coach, despite being linked to seemingly every potential candidate—pro or college; realistic or utterly absurd—who's ever roamed a sideline in his career.

Heading into post-Christmas bowl season, Texas has the No. 12 overall class in the 247Sports team rankings, though it's unclear how (or if) Brown's resignation will affect the status of those who have already committed to UT. Still, until something changes, the Longhorns have the best incoming class in the Big 12...by a lot.

Things can still get better, too. The Longhorns have a realistic shot to land a couple of undeclared 5-star prospects, which could help them weather the storm of this coaching change and dull the roars from their (rightfully) apprehensive fanbase.

Here's a live, updating primer of the entire class.

 

Note: All measurements, grades and rankings, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of the 247Sports composite.

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Virginia Tech Football: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The Virginia Tech football team picked up some new coaches this past offseason, and the new assistants have helped the Hokies reach areas of the country they never have before to assemble a quality 2014 recruiting class.

Frank Beamer and company have hit the trail hard for this recruiting cycle in order to help restock a defense that’s losing seven starters this offseason.

The team is also busy searching for its quarterback of the future to replace Logan Thomas, all while trying to keep pace with other ACC powerhouses like the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers.

Check back for all the latest news about Virginia Tech’s recruiting targets, recent commitments and more. All star ratings and stats courtesy of 247 Sports.

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Justin Wilcox Will Reportedly Join Steve Sarkisian at USC

New USC Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting no time in making the program his own.

As reported by CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Sarkisian will bring former Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to take the same role in Los Angeles. The announcement is expected to be made after UW's tilt with Brigham Young in the Fight Hunger Bowl Friday night.

Wilcox's move has plenty of backstory, as he'll be replacing current defensive boss Clancy Pendergast, who led the Trojans to be the No. 1 total defense in the Pac-12 Conference this season, yielding just 335 yards per game. 

Pendergast was a USC defensive assistant early in his coaching career in 1992. His resume included time as defensive coordinator in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as assistant experience with several other franchises.

He then became the defensive coordinator upstate at California. After three seasons in Berkeley, he headed south and transformed USC's defense from the No. 7 total defense in the Pac-12 to the league's best in just one season.

Despite the impressive resume, he will apparently be on his way out as Sarkisian looks to make his own stamp on the program.

His replacement, Wilcox, was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee before joining Sark's staff in Seattle. Prior to that, he was the defensive boss at Boise State under Chris Petersen. 

Petersen recently replaced Sarkisian at UW, but Wilcox has apparently chosen to follow his boss to Los Angeles, rather than reunite with his old one in Seattle.

As reported by Feldman, Wilcox was also responsible for identifying and recruiting Boise legend Kellen Moore, who ended his career as the NCAA's all-time wins leader as a starting quarterback.

It is an intriguing decision for Sarkisian to dump the Pac-12's top defensive coordinator—and one with NFL experience. On the other hand, it makes sense for the new USC coach to bring in his own coaches as he looks to bring the Trojans back into the national-title picture.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Justin Wilcox Will Reportedly Join Steve Sarkisian at USC

New USC Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting no time in making the program his own. As reported by CBSSports ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Why Notre Dame Is the Only Team Sad to See the BCS Go

After Florida State and Auburn decide this season's national champion, all of college football can celebrate. There's no more BCS, and there will finally be a playoff system! 

Well, everybody except Notre Dame can celebrate. 

The Fighting Irish are probably the only team in the entire country sad to see the maligned BCS system go by the wayside. 

The reason? The BCS system favored Notre Dame more so than any team in America, including the ones in the automatic qualifying conferences. 

The famous "Notre Dame Rule" stated that, should the Irish have finish the top eight of the BCS standings at the end of the season, they were automatically granted a bid into a BCS bowl. No other independent team, or any team for that matter, had that luxury. 

While non-AQ schools only had to finish in the top 16 of the BCS standings, they also had to finish ahead of a school from an automatic qualifying conference. 

Notre Dame didn't have to do that. 

In the BCS era, the Irish have earned a BCS bid four times, including to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Only twice did Notre Dame finish in the top eight; the rest were at-large bids. Of course, the system of at-large bids in BCS games were very subjective, and bowls often took the most marketable teams.

That system of subjectivity led to some squads that, in theory, met the requirements laid out for Notre Dame being left out of the BCS altogether. Just look at the 2011 Kansas State Wildcats, who finished eighth in the BCS but were relegated to the Cotton Bowl.  

You can also look at the 2007 Missouri Tigers team that finished in the top eight of the BCS and only had two losses, both to ranked Oklahoma, and was not selected for a BCS bowl. 

Now, as college football transitions out of the BCS and into the new playoff system, the Fighting Irish are nowhere near as favored in the new system. 

Per Trey Iles of NOLA.com, Notre Dame is contractually obligated with just one of the former BCS bowls, and that's the Orange Bowl. And that's not even a guarantee, as the Orange Bowl will be forced to pick an ACC team plus either a Big Ten school, SEC school or the Irish. 

At the end of the day, Notre Dame was blessed by the football gods to be under the BCS system. But with it being scrapped in favor of a more fair playoff system, the Fighting Irish may actually have to start meeting their own lofty expectations consistently if they want to start playing in prime-time bowl games year in and year out. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Capital One Bowl Could Be a Heisman Launch Party for South Carolina's Mike Davis

Stop me if you've heard this story before: South Carolina underclassman has a big performance on New Year's Day, makes every highlight reel for eight months and enters the season with Heisman hype in tow.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney paved the way last summer after "The Hit" against Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl, and running back Mike Davis could follow in his footsteps with a big performance against Wisconsin in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.

Wisconsin comes in with the Big Ten's second-best rush defense and sixth nationally at 101.3 yards per game. The Badgers are giving up just 3.2 yards per carry and have only allowed seven rushing touchdowns all season.

Davis hopes to be healthy for the Capital One Bowl, according to Ryan Wood of the Charleston Post and Courier. If Davis—who finished fourth in the SEC with 103 yards per game on the ground—has a big performance, expect him to vault into the preseason discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

At 5'9", 215 pounds, Davis packs a mean punch, has home run speed and will likely be the focal point of the Gamecocks offense when toe meets leather next summer.

Quarterback Connor Shaw will be gone, so new quarterback Dylan Thompson, freshman Connor Mitch or whoever else ascends to the starting quarterback spot will depend more on the running game from Davis than Shaw. 

On top of that, South Carolina should be built to allow its new quarterback to rely on the running game more early, even if it is predictable. Four of South Carolina's five starters on the offensive line will return in 2014, which means the familiarity of the big uglies up front will allow holes to develop just a bit early and those three-yard gains from Davis will turn into five- and seven-yard gains.

Davis will be the focal point of the offense next season, but how many people will notice?

Being a team in the national title discussion or, at the very least, on the periphery, is typically the first step of the Heisman process.

Can South Carolina elevate itself to that discussion without its leader on offense, Shaw, and its superstar on defense, Clowney?

It's going to be on Davis to make that happen.

The Aggies host Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri, and visit Vanderbilt all in the first month of the season. Those are a lot of potholes to navigate, and Davis will be behind the wheel.

A big performance versus the Badgers will earn him a jump start on the competition, and if South Carolina can hit the ground running in 2014, Davis will likely be at, or near, the top of the early-season Heisman discussion.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

As the 2014 recruiting cycle enters its homestretch, Clemson’s class of 2014 is in solid shape. The Tigers’ staff, led by coach Dabo Swinney and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott, has 18 verbal commitments.

Due to a small senior class (11 scholarship seniors), Clemson is not expected to sign a full 25-member class on Feb. 6. However, those who are committed are highly regarded. 247Sports ranks Clemson’s class 15th-best nationally, and the Tigers are still in the mix for a number of talented players who will put pen to paper and fax in their pledges on national signing day.

It should be an interesting final seven weeks of the 2014 cycle, and everything you need to keep up is right here.

 

*All stats via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Georgia Bulldogs Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The quickest way for Georgia to shake off a disappointing 2013 season is with a stellar recruiting class.  If recent history is any indicator, the Bulldogs should once again be flush with talent.  After all, Mark Richt and his coaching staff have pulled in six consecutive top-12 recruiting classes.

Although both the offense and defense return a host of talent (The Dawgs should return 18 starters in 2013.), the need for depth is pressing, as evidenced by Georgia's injury-hampered 2013 campaign.

Consider this your one-stop shop for constant Georgia recruiting updates, news and analysis.  Check back often for updates.

 

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

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B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Interior Defensive Linemen in College Football

Editor's note: This is the 13th installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

Much like offensive linemen are the most unheralded players on offense, so too are the big defensive tackles. In today’s game, these mammoth players are extremely critical to the success of an entire defense, yet they often go unnoticed by the casual fan who is worried about sacks and interceptions.

These players allow linebackers to make tackles and give the defensive ends and hybrid linebackers a chance to make a play. Without good defensive tackle play, a defense struggles.

In order to rank these players, we graded them on their ability to rush the passer and defend against the run. Pass rush is not merely about sacks; it is about players getting push and working to help their team pressure quarterbacks. In the run game, there is as much value in occupying two blockers as there is to shooting a gap and making a play.

Defensive tackles have to do the dirty work, and sometimes that work doesn’t show up on a neat little stat sheet. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

Keep in mind, these defensive tackles are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.

 

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BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Individual Performers with Most to Prove on Big Stage

When it comes to bowl games, it's exceedingly rare that many people concretely remember results that aren't the BCS National Championship Game.

Sure, fans of every school can give you a detailed list of accomplishments. But while nearly everyone can rattle off the past decade of national champions (granted, it's not that hard to say Alabama over and over), can you do the same for Rose Bowls? Fiesta Bowls? Sugar Bowls? 

That's not to degrade those contests whatsoever; this happens in every sport. You don't remember the teams that made it to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, because it's mostly frivolous information you could find on Wikipedia if it's needed for a crossword puzzle or something. They say that second place is first loser for a reason.

What stands out are the individual performances. The players who use the stage as a pulpit to announce their arrival to the nation or simply affirm the assumptions we've had all along. 

And, for some, it's a chance to prove us all wrong. To show NFL scouts that they do deserve first-round consideration or that the BCS bowl stage is not too big. Here is a look at a few players who will have a ton to prove in BCS games, each of whom has a good chance at coming through. 

 

Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson)

"Clemsoning: 1. The act of failing miserably on a grand athletic stage, or when the stakes are high. 2. Record-setting failure, usually reserved for college football."

That is how the Clemson football team is best known nationally, according to UrbanDictionary.com. You could put any number of Clemson players on this list, have them represent the whole program and nod along in agreement. There were some who hoped the act of "Clemsoning" would die following the Tigers' opening-week victory against Georgia, but tell that to their 51-14 loss to Florida State and 31-17 defeat against rival South Carolina.

Given what we know now about the Bulldogs—that they were wildly, wildly overrated in the preseason—you could easily surmise Clemson has had a typically Clemson year. In games that actually mattered, the Tigers were outscored by a combined 51 points. In games that didn't, Dabo Swinney's squad looked like one of the best teams in college football.

Tajh Boyd has unsurprisingly fallen right along these tracks. Against Florida State and South Carolina, the senior quarterback was a combined 36-of-64 (56.3 percent) for 381 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions. Boyd completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every other game, had only one more multi-interception contest (against Syracuse in a game he also threw five touchdowns) and looked like a Heisman contender.

Clemson and Boyd still somehow backed into a BCS bowl game, for the simple reason of conference limits and the Orange Bowl's relationship with the ACC. It's Boyd's second opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game, the first ending in a 70-33 absolute embarrassment against West Virginia two years ago.

With only 60 more minutes left in his Tigers career, Boyd's last impression may be his most important. Scout evaluations vary on the Clemson quarterback, with some excited about his ability to impact the game through the air and ground while others think he's a career backup—nothing more. Boyd even admitted that he's looking forward to the Orange Bowl as a partial showcase. 

"I think everything toward the end of this process is going to be a deciding factor in how high I go (in the 2014 draft)," Boyd said, via WLTX.com.

Luckily, Clemson and Boyd will face an Ohio State team that has its own fair share of questions that need answering. The Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak was snapped by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, a loss that proved some folks' theory that their run was all smoke and mirrors.

Two teams, plenty of questions, all fun.

 

Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)

I'm not sure when Blake Bortles stopped being a meme and began getting No. 1 overall pick hype. All I know is that I love it so very much. ESPN's Todd McShay had Bortles going third overall in his latest mock draft, ahead of Johnny ManzielJadeveon Clowney and about 5,000 other people who were expected to be drafted higher in the preseason.

This, for any number of reasons, is awesome. First of all, Blake Bortles is a mythical creature who only appears when you say "Bortles" six times fast while throwing a Nerf football into a mirror. Second of all, it's great because the day Blake Bortles goes inside the top five is the day the Internet officially becomes our all-knowing overlord.

But in order for Mr. Alta Vista to ascend to the presidency, Bortles has to, you know, play well and stuff. Despite the McShays of the world bloviating about his ascent, the American Athletic Conference doesn't provide the best weekly showcase for NFL prospects. It's why some aren't even quite sure that Teddy Bridgewater is deserving of the No. 1 overall pick, despite being an elite prospect at every level dating back to his diaper years.

Opinion on Bortles is far more fractured. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com had an evaluation of Bortles that came back with the verdict "not elite," citing shoddy mechanics and a raw skill set that is more exciting in theory than anything. Brooks compared him to Nick Foles, which is pretty darned good considering the way Foles played this season—right until you remember how dreadful he was in 2012.

Well, what better way to introduce the world to #BortlesBall than a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Baylor? To be fair, Central Florida and Baylor were the ugly ducklings of the BCS selection process. Neither has a storied history or a massive national following, so it'd be a pretty big shock if this weren't the lowest-rated BCS contest.

But Bortles aside, it should be a thrilling offensive showcase. Both UCF and Baylor boasted prolific offenses, with the Bears averaging over 60 points per game for much of the season. We'll have to see how both defenses, which are underrated in their own rights, respond to the difficult matchup.

And, in particular, Bortles' matchup against an actual football team should be fun. He looked solid against South Carolina earlier in 2013 but also threw two interceptions in the 28-25 loss. Baylor isn't quite on that level defensively, but scouts are going to need to see a stellar performance on the national stage to sell this kid to their management.

 

Tre Mason (RB, Auburn)

Let's completely eliminate whatever NFL prospects Mason has. They are null and void for this conversation. As a collegiate running back, Mason has been everything and more to Auburn this season. He rushed for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, getting stronger and stronger as the campaign went along.

When Auburn needed him most, Mason came through with a couple sterling individual outings. He rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers took down mighty Alabama, and then there was his christening at the SEC Championship Game. Facing a Missouri defense that ranked inside the top 20 against the run heading in, Mason rushed for an SEC title game record 304 yards and four touchdowns.

It was the second-best rushing performance in Auburn history.

So when I say Mason has something to "prove," it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as the others. He doesn't have recent historical connotations going against him or NFL scouts watching his every move. Mason and Gus Malzahn are the figureheads of Auburn's revival after the dreadful 2012 season; anything he does from here will just be gravy.

Mason's journey in the national championship game is more basic: Can he do it again? Asking for another 300-yard performance is out of the question, obviously, but can Mason strap Auburn to his back one more time and take down one of the most dominant college football teams in recent history.

Because of the ACC's relative weakness in 2013, Florida State's historic dominance has gone under-covered. The Seminoles have beaten opponents by an average of 41.8 points. That's more than all but seven FBS teams scored this season. Should they win the national championship, it's fair to wonder where this team ranks among the all-time greats.

And while Jameis Winston deservedly got the credit with a Heisman Trophy, Florida State's defense has been every bit as good as its offense. No team allowed fewer points during the regular season, and opposing teams threw 25 interceptions against just 12 touchdowns when facing Jeremy Pruitt's secondary. Considering every Nick Marshall pass is an adventure itself, that means the onus will be on Mason arguably more than it ever has.

Being the 13th-ranked run defense in the country isn't exactly a weakness, but it's as close as Florida State has. If Auburn has any chance of winning, Mason will have to prove once more that his Tigers are truly the team of destiny.

 

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Rutgers vs. Notre Dame: Storylines to Watch in Pinstripe Bowl 2013

It is easy for average college football fans to overlook some of the 35 bowl games taking place this season. However, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is a matchup even casual fans should want to see.

The game takes place at Yankee Stadium, which in itself is a sight to behold. It also adds to the impressive history for Notre Dame in New York City, as noted by ESPN's Chris Fowler:

The Fighting Irish might have had a down year, but the 8-4 squad still features many athletes from last season's appearance in the national title game. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers was one of only five bowl-eligible teams from the new American Athletic Conference, and the team is certainly looking forward to returning to the Pinstripe Bowl after winning the event in 2011.

This is only the start of the interesting storylines to follow. Here is a guide for the matchup along with other key things to look for in the upcoming game. 

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Odds (via Vegas Insider): Notre Dame -14

 

Top Storylines

Will Tommy Rees Become "Turnover Tommy" in His Final Game?

Tommy Rees came to Notre Dame with plenty of talent, but he has seen four inconsistent years thanks to his knack for throwing interceptions at the worst time.

The quarterback threw 14 picks as a sophomore in 2011 before losing his job to Everett Golson as a junior. When he took over again as a senior this year, he once again struggled to hold onto the ball.

Rees had five multi-interception games, leading to four losses and a narrow victory over Navy. Obviously, he is negatively affecting the team with his mistakes.

The good news is that Rutgers has struggled against the pass this year and has forced only eight interceptions all year while allowing 31 passing touchdowns.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the following regarding Rees' legacy, via Jim Johnston of WNDU: "Legacy is such a big word for me. I just love the way the kid competes out there. He is not going to go into the College Football Hall of Fame, you know what I mean, he doesn't have those incredible skills. But, he just puts his heart and soul into what he does."

A strong performance in his final game would certainly help people think well of him. 

 

Can Chas Dodd Have Another Strong Game at Yankee Stadium?

Two years ago, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano spent the end of the season struggling to picking between quarterbacks Gary Nova and Chas Dodd. While both played in the Pinstripe Bowl, Dodd had the better performance, completing 10 of his 17 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort.

While Nova has taken over the starting spot, Dodd is once again in the picture and led the Scarlet Knights to victory in the team's most recent game against South Florida.

Head coach Brian Flood discussed the move to put Dodd under center, per Tom Luicci of The Newark Star-Ledger:

Chas has been a very diligent worker the entire season, which I would expect. Chas is an unselfish guy and he's a competitor. When we first made the decision (that Nova was the starter for this year after last season) I said to him `you have to be ready. You don't know when your opportunity is going to come. Now that opportunity has arrived.

The senior quarterback has a lot of poise in the pocket, which will help him against a quality defense.

Considering the Irish have struggled to get to the quarterback all year, Dodd has a chance to have a strong performance in this one.

 

What Will the Crowd Be Like?

The football field set up at Yankee Stadium is intriguing, even in an empty stadium:

That being said, the crowd at the Pinstripe Bowl should have a big impact on the game. The question is which fans do a better job of filling the stadium.

Rutgers is close to New York City and has plenty of fans in the area, which is one of the reasons the school was such a big draw for the Big Ten.

On the other hand, Notre Dame has fans everywhere in the country. The Irish faithful have a knack for filling stadiums wherever the team is playing.

The Irish were 5-1 at home this year, and they could be in good shape in this matchup if their fans make it seem like yet another home game.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan vs. Kansas State: Players Who Must Step Up in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Kansas State and Michigan are both looking to end their seasons on a high note after mediocre performances throughout the year. For things to change, however, they will need a few key players to step up their efforts.

The Wildcats had a balanced attack that led to success on both sides of the ball in 2013. The problem is that bad mistakes caused close losses in a 7-5 year. Meanwhile, the Wolverines also finished 7-5 thanks to four losses by a margin of four points or less.

Each side is better than its record indicates, but it will take a strong performance from specific players to come away with an eighth win.

 

Shane Morris, QB, Michigan

Michigan will have a hard time on the offensive end as starting quarterback Devin Gardner will not play in the game, according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports.

This puts the team in the hands of freshman Shane Morris, who has only appeared in two games all season. So far, he has completed five of his nine passes with no touchdowns and an interception.

The good news is that he is prepared for the opportunity. Offensive coordinator Al Borges discussed Morris' improvement, via the team's site:

We've had a lot of time to get him ready and take the No. 1 reps, which he's never done before. He's come along nicely. He's studied hard. He's really worked at it. It's showed up because he's improved a lot from the first day we started bowl practices to today, which is natural because he has had the reps.

He better be ready to play because Kansas State has a tough defense that will make him work. If the freshman fails to have composure in his first start, Michigan will struggle.

 

Derrick Green, RB, Michigan

While Derrick Green is also a freshman, he has had a lot more game experience than Morris. In 10 games, he has rushed for 265 yards with two touchdowns on 82 carries.

Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is still officially the starter, but he has seen his role scaled back over the past month of the season. After averaging 22.1 carries in the first seven games of the year, he has averaged only seven in the past four.

Meanwhile, Green is up to 12.5 per game in the same time span.

The freshman has great size and speed, but he simply has not had a lot of room to run. Still, the Wolverines need him to come through in order to take the pressure off Morris in his first start.

Otherwise, Michigan will have a hard time moving the football at all.

 

Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State

Although Ryan Mueller ended the regular season tied for seventh in the nation with 11.5 sacks, Kansas State still needs more production out of its All-Big 12 defensive end.

Despite a huge start to the year, Mueller only had one sack in the final three games. He was shut out against Oklahoma, which in part led to the Wildcats allowing a season-high 41 points.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he will need to make sure he finds a way to get to the opposing quarterback and throw the freshman off his game.

Of course, he is not taking the opponent lightly. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com quoted the junior:

This focus is important, but he must make sure he gets into the backfield early and often against Michigan in order to keep the Wolverines off the scoreboard.

 

Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State

The junior quarterback has had an up-and-down season, but the past few weeks have been mostly down.

On the plus side, he has seven touchdown passes and 742 yards in the last three games. However, he also has four interceptions while completing only 50 percent of his passes.

This lack of accuracy has hurt the team all season as he has failed to help the Wildcats sustain long drives. Instead, the squad is relying on big plays, which is much more inconsistent.

In order for Kansas State to beat Michigan, it will need to move the ball down the field with regularity. This means that Waters has to improve his accuracy and decision-making going forward.

If he cannot, the Wildcats will be involved in a very low-scoring game between two struggling offenses.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Belk Bowl 2013: Storylines and Players to Watch in Cincinnati vs. UNC

Several years ago, there was a running joke at the beginning of the college football season to project who would land in the so-called "Tire Bowl," otherwise known as one of the most meaningless bowls of the year.

Now, the once-bemoaned Tire Bowl, or Meineke Car Care Bowl by a later name, is known as the Belk Bowl and is typically one of the better bowl games played in the second week of the bowl season. This year is no exception, as two teams that finished the season strong will land in Charlotte this weekend.

One team is fighting through injuries and early setbacks, and the other is enjoying its third straight 9-3 regular season and looking for its third straight bowl win, this time under a new coach. For both North Carolina and Cincinnati, the Belk Bowl is yet again a payoff for the hard work they put into the season.

Here are the best storylines and players to watch for ahead of the Belk Bowl kicking off on Saturday at 3:20 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium.

 

Tuberville's Bowl Bound...Again

Tommy Tuberville has been coaching college football since 1980, been a head coach since 1995 and has been the head coach at four different schools. The man has been around the block, to say the least.

In all of his years of coaching, Tuberville has competed in 10 bowls and made a habit out of winning them. With a 7-3 record—one win at Ole Miss, 5-3 at Auburn and one win at Texas Tech—Tuberville is now back for the first time with his Cincinnati Bearcats.

While the transition from Texas Tech to Cincinnati wasn't an easy one for Tuberville, he told the The Telegraph that he was happy that team rebounded from the change:

I'm proud of our football team from this past year. We went through a very tough time in transition with a new coaching staff and system, but I'm proud of our seniors.

After losing his first two bowls at Auburn, Tuberville has actually been better than his record would indicate in bowls. The 59-year-old has won six out his last seven, including a Sugar Bowl win back in 2005 to finish the 2004 season undefeated.

This may be the second year for the Bearcats in the Belk Bowl, but it will be the first under a coach who is expected to continue the winning ways at a university that has come to expect success in recent years.

 

Can Carolina Continue the Comeback?

After starting the season as dark horses to win the ACC Coastal Division, the Tar Heels started the season off with not only an atrocious defense but a 1-5 record to boot. In its first five losses, UNC was defeated by an average of 12.6 points and had just one win, over Middle Tennessee, to show for its effort.

Then came a Thursday night game against Miami. Despite losing that game by a final of 27-23, the Heels saw what they could do defensively against a good team that was ranked 10th in the country at the time. Carolina forced Stephen Morris to throw four interceptions but wasn't able to hold on in the loss.

In an interview I conducted with safety Tre Boston back in November, the senior credited that loss with the turnaround the Heels experienced this season:

Wow. It was crazy. Going 1-5 just made us realize how much harder we needed to work. Coach (Larry Fedora) came up with the saying, “One more inch.” And we just always tried to go one more inch and guys really believed in that. We knew we were good, we just weren’t playing our best.

Then Miami happened. We realized after that game, especially as a defense, what we were capable of. We’ve kept that through the rest of the season and now we have a good bunch that’s winning games. One of the biggest changes is that we’re confident now. Our offense is clicking, our defense is clicking and all I know is that I’m enjoying this right now.

Following the loss on what Carolina fans called "Zero Dark Thursday," the team seemingly turned what had been a mostly negative season to the point into a positive. Despite the loss of starting quarterback Bryn Renner, the Heels have rallied to finish 5-1 with their only loss coming to Coastal Division champion Duke.

Second-year coach Larry Fedora didn't shy away from the fact that his team had to fight through adversity when he spoke to The Telegraph:

I'm excited for our team, especially our seniors, who fought through some early season adversity and won five of the last six games to become bowl eligible. This is a resilient bunch of guys that kept believing in one another throughout the year and I'm glad they were rewarded with a bowl game.

Carolina became just the sixth team since 2006 to make a bowl game after starting the season 1-5 and did so because of its defensive changes. And with an offense led by freshman T.J. Logan and future NFL tight end Eric Ebron, the Heels might be capable of anything in the Belk Bowl.

 

Players to Watch

Brendon Kay has been one of the best quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference this season but has been overshadowed by players like Teddy Bridgewater due to a handful of games that he performed poorly in—including the final game of the year against Bridgewater's Louisville team.

What the senior has done this season, though, is throw for 3,121 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his final season with the Bearcats. What's even more staggering is the fact that he finished with a 68.6 completion percentage and rushed for an additional six touchdowns.

Kay threw for 332 yards and four scores in the win last year in the Belk Bowl over Duke. Kay also has a great connection with fellow senior Anthony McClung, who finished his last five games with 97 or more yards in each and has receptions of 20 or more yards in every one of those games.

On the Carolina side, the offense starts with Eric Ebron. The junior has already declared for the 2014 NFL draft and rightfully so after exploding for nearly 900 yards this season as a tight end with a backup quarterback at the helm for five games.

Along with Ebron, Logan and sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis have been other spark plugs for the Carolina offense. If Williams can hold down the fort for the offense behind center, the Heels offense will thrive. But against a 9-3 Cincinnati team, it will need a complete effort to pull off the upset.

 

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3 Reasons Why Shane Morris Will Shine in His First Start for Michigan

On Thursday, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced freshman quarterback Shane Morris will start in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. Morris takes the spot of Devin Gardner, who is out with a foot injury sustained in the second half of Michigan's 42-41 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30.

With the loss of Gardner, the Wolverines stand as five-point underdogs against the Wildcats, per Vegas.com. But Michigan fans can have hope in three key reasons why Shane Morris will shine as the Wolverines' signal-caller on Saturday:

 

1. He's playing with veteran skill players

Though Morris may not have the same precise timing with second-team All-Big Ten receiver Jeremy Gallon as Gardner does, Morris will still have the services of one of the Big Ten's most dynamic receivers at his disposal on Saturday. Gallon, who finished second in the Big Ten with 1,284 receiving yards this season, has the playmaking ability to give Morris a reliable outside target.

Sophomore receiver Devin Funchess has shown the ability to adapt to multiple quarterbacks during his young Michigan career—having success with both Denard Robinson and Gardner under center—and shouldn't have any issue getting on the same page as arguably the best passing quarterback he'll have played with in his two seasons with the Wolverines.

Ditto for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines' leading rusher in 2013, whose greatest success as a running back came in 2011 with Robinson functioning more as an efficient passer than any other time during his Michigan career. Toussaint's pass-blocking experience should also help Morris find time in the pocket, despite an interior offensive line that has struggled down the stretch.

Though freshman Derrick Green is Michigan's current starting running back, Green has spent most of the season working his way up the Wolverines' depth chart. A fellow second-teamer for most of the season, Morris should have the best chemistry with Green of all his offensive weapons. 


2. He has all the physical tools

As head coach Brady Hoke's offense continues to shift toward a more pro-style set, Morris is the poster child of a pro-style, pocket-passing quarterback. He has most of the necessary tools to perform at a high level; it's just a matter of execution.

Morris was the first commitment of Michigan's class of 2013 and was initially the highest-ranked recruit in the class. He showed flashes of his ability to "drive the ball to any area of the field," according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, in limited action against Central Michigan and Michigan State earlier this season.

Both head coach Brady Hoke and Morris himself echoed confidence in the freshman's ability to perform as the starting quarterback on Saturday, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

"The last couple weeks have been really confusing," Morris said Thursday in his first official meeting with the media as a Michigan football player. "We didn't know, really, what was going to happen with Devin and the chances of me playing became more prominent.

"But I've prepared all year. For 12 weeks I prepared like I was going to be the starting quarterback. They always say you're one play away. Well, it's true."

"We've scaled some things back," said Hoke, who also announced that sophomore Russell Bellomy will serve as the team's backup with Gardner out. "But there's a lot of offense in there still."

 

3. He's playing against a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 Defense

Morris played just one drive against Michigan State on Nov. 2, but he'll face a much less formidable defense on Saturday.

Kansas State ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 45th in the NCAA in total defense, allowing 367 yards per game. The Wildcats allow 221.8 yards per game in the air, good for 47th in the NCAA.

Though Kansas State is by no means a defensive slouch, the Wildcats' average defensive stats suggest Morris could be in for a strong outing on Saturday.

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