NCAA Football

Oregon Ducks' End-Zone Design and Cleats for the Alamo Bowl Are Impressive

The Oregon Ducks are known for their elaborate uniforms, but it looks like their crazy designs will be on the field during the Alamo Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. 

In addition to the end-zone design, Oregon will wear these cleats with a shiny bottom, because everything it does has to be state-of-the-art. 

 

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Michigan vs. Kansas State: Revealing Keys to Victory in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Two 7-5 teams will look to end their year on a high note as Michigan takes on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. In order to get that final win, it will take a lot of strategy from each side.

The two squads in this game each took different paths to get here. The Wildcats got off to an awful start to the year and were 2-4 after six games. However, an easier schedule and more confidence led to them winning five of their last six.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines had a much harder time in the Big Ten after starting 5-0. They lost four of their last five games and will have to compete in the bowl game without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who is out with a broken foot.

Still, either team is capable of coming out with a victory in this competitive game. It all depends on which team does a better job following these keys.

 

Michigan

Simplify the Playbook

With Gardner out, freshman quarterback Shane Morris will get his chance to run the offense. When asked whether this will cause changes to the game plan, offensive coordinator Al Borges said, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

Yes. As it becomes more apparent that he could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best. So we’re at that point now.

This is a smart move, since it does not make sense to use plays that will not work. Without much game experience, the coaching staff has to figure out what their player does well and then put him in position to succeed. 

Additionally, Morris should see a number of plays where he only has one or two options while the rest of his teammates stay in and block. 

Although this will not create the most dynamic offense, it will limit mistakes while giving Michigan a chance to win. That is about all you can hope for out of the young player in this one.

 

Cover Tyler Lockett

Although Kansas State has a number of talented players on offense, few of them can hurt you quite like Tyler Lockett. 

The 5'11" receiver has a big-time playmaking ability and the speed to score from almost anywhere on the field. He topped 100 yards six different times this season, including two games of over 200 receiving yards. His 1,146 receiving yards ranks 19th in the country.

However, he also had a few poor showings this year when opposing teams made sure to focus on stopping the junior. When that happens, the Wildcats do not have anyone else to step up in the receiving game.

Lockett has more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the team. 

As a result, Michigan has to double and triple team the player on offense. On special teams, the squad has to make sure it kicks away from him. The Wolverines have to force someone else to beat them in this game.

 

Kansas State

Put Pressure on the Quarterback

When facing a young quarterback, the last thing you want to do is make him comfortable. This means Kansas State must be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball to put pressure on Morris throughout the game.

Defensive end Ryan Mueller is the team leader in this area, ranking among the best in the country with 11.5 sacks this season. However, he only has one in his last three games and few of his teammates have picked up the slack.

This means the Wildcats have to be creative in this game while finding a way to attack the quarterback, including various blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs.

Even if the players are unable to rack up sacks, simply getting into the backfield could lead Morris to make mistakes and possibly force turnovers. Without much to worry about over the top, an aggressive style is the best option to stop the Wolverines offense. 

 

Establish the Run

Running back John Hubert has topped 900 rushing yards in three straight seasons and is looking for his first 1,000-yard season in 2013. As D. Scott Fritchen of Rivals.com notes, the senior believes he can do it:

However, this will not be as simple as it sounds, especially considering Kansas State's knack for abandoning the run early in big games.

In fact, Hubert has failed to rush for more than 32 yards in four different games this year. While backup quarterback Daniel Sams has also provided plenty of production on the ground this season, he also has been limited in recent weeks.

Still, each player has proven to be dominant forces when they get a chance to shine. Allowing them to run the ball will not only move the chains, but it will also help the team control the clock and the game.

Even though Michigan has a solid run defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed per game, Kansas State cannot give up on running the football as long as the score remains close.

 

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

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Notre Dame's Performance in 2013 Pinstripe Bowl Is Irish's Season in a Nutshell

In the end, Notre Dame left Yankee Stadium a winner. But how they got there was a frustrating exercise that mirrored the Irish's underwhelming season. 

Notre Dame's 29-16 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl was a final Saturday of heartburn for Irish fans that watched Brian Kelly's squad play up or down to their competition, failing to maximize their abilities as they struggled to do the little things took them to the BCS title game last year.

Even though the Irish gained 496 yards (nearly doubling Rutgers), forced four turnovers and controlled the football for over 38 minutes, Rutgers had the game within reach until the game's final four minutes. All because the bad habits that turned Notre Dame into a four-loss team reared their ugly head early and often on Saturday.  

"A good year that could have been a great year," Kelly said after the game, summarizing the thoughts of thousands of Irish fans, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin

Notre Dame will walk into the offseason a winner, helping to erase the stink that wafted out of Yankee Stadium. But after slipping and sliding around on the sloppy turf inside the House that Steinbrenner built, the nine months between now and their next football game will hopefully help put to bed some of the deficiencies that plagued the Irish. 

First and foremost were the team's red-zone struggles. Notre Dame scored on all five possessions it had inside Rutgers' 20-yard line but only got touchdowns twice. Too often the Irish moved the ball between the 20s at ease, only to stall out when they had a chance to bury a Rutgers defense that did its best to bend not break.

It started on the opening drive, when freshman Will Fuller couldn't hold on to a deep touchdown pass that would've pushed the Irish out to an early lead. Fuller was hardly the only problem, with touchdown catches dropped by DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones, the Irish's two best receivers. While Jones battled back from a muffed punt and scored on an eight-yard run, it wasn't until freshman running back Tarean Folston powered into the end zone on a three-yard run with 3:38 remaining that the Irish put the game on ice. 

Kyle Brindza bailed out the Irish by making five of six field goals in a stiff wind, but the inefficiency that's plagued this team continued after a month-long layoff. That's why Tommy Rees' 317 passing yards felt mighty empty, with none of his 47 attempts going for a touchdown, a feat considering the Scarlet Knights allowed 31 touchdown passes this season. 

Just as troubling as the red-zone problems were the special teams mishaps. The fact that the Irish were almost capable of losing this game when their field-goal kicker made five field goals tells you the work this team needs to do in the offseason.

Kelly put an emphasis on improving the personnel on his kick coverage and return units, hoping that would give his special teams a jolt. But with injuries decimating the team's two-deep, the Irish had to turn to younger players and walk-ons to cover kickoffs, and that allowed Rutgers return man Janarion Grant to consistently start Rutgers in good field position. Still, it was almost Jones, the team's MVP and captain, that did the Irish in, gifting Rutgers three early points.  

The win isn't necessarily hollow for Notre Dame. The struggles of this season could pay dividends next fall. During the Irish's 9-4 season, Brian Kelly had 22 players make their first start. Five of those came along the offensive line, while six came in the front seven. 

Guys like Jaylon Smith, Steve Elmer and Tarean Folston will be key pieces to the 2014 Irish. So will safety Max Redfield and the freshman trio of receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu. Per Huguenin, Kelly expects to have an answer from Stephon Tuitt shortly, with the Irish defensive end still deciding whether he wants to play out his eligibility and graduate from Notre Dame or head to the NFL now. He could be a two-win player on the defensive side of the ball. 

The future still looks bright in South Bend, with the pieces potentially in place for a playoff run next season, especially with Everett Golson leading the offense.

The Irish's ugly victory over Rutgers puts an end to a frustrating season, showing the thin line between good and great in college football. 

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Notre Dame Football: 10 Things We Learned in Irish's Win Against Rutgers

The final chapter of Notre Dame's 2013 season concluded with a 29-16 victory against Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, moving the Irish to a final record of 9-4.

The game itself wasn't the most beautiful piece of work, but in the end, Notre Dame walked away with the win and avoided finishing 8-5 for the third time in four seasons. Not only that, but head coach Brian Kelly and Co. were left with lessons to be learned.

So, what are the takeaways from the Irish's Pinstripe Bowl victory?

Let's have a look.

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Russell Athletic Bowl 2013 Miami vs. Louisville: Live Score and Highlights

Kicking off at 6:45 p.m. ET at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the Russell Athletic Bowl features a pair of programs on the rise.

The 9-3 Miami Hurricanes return to postseason play for the first time since 2010, but the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) are looking to extend the 'Canes bowl winless streak to seven years.

Junior sensation Teddy Bridgewater, who is projected by many to be one of the first selections in the 2014 NFL Draft, leads the Cardinals, looking to match a program record with 12 season wins.

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

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Pinstripe Bowl 2013: Notre Dame Proves Just How Bad It Needs Everett Golson Back

Tommy Rees did a serviceable job filling in at quarterback for Notre Dame this season—one he likely won’t get enough credit for—but the Irish need Everett Golson to recapture the magic of a season ago. And thankfully, his return is here.

The potential is in place, and it was on display (at times) in Notre Dame’s 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. It wasn’t necessarily flashy or impressive. In fact, it was an afternoon of missed opportunities and special teams blunders, a theme that was that was all too prominent throughout 2013. 

And yes, Notre Dame had to manage a different opponent: the flu.

#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly said 16 players were battling flu. Said game ball went to Rob Hunt and the rest of the training staff.

— Rachel Terlep (@eTruth_Irish) December 28, 2013

Even with this uphill climb, the Irish dominated in total yardage on Saturday, outgaining the Scarlet Knights 494-236. They moved the ball with ease at times—even though the running game sputtered throughout—and the score could have been a lot more lopsided.

But for every two steps forward, they took a step back: penalties, missed deep balls, questionable play calls and stalled drives.  The game was not always easy on the eyes, and again, much of this performance paralleled a season with both peaks and valleys.

The end result for Notre Dame is a nine-win season, a mark that should be appreciated given some of the team’s losses—headlined by Golson’s unexpected departure—and a schedule that was by no means favorable. Ten of ND’s opponents made a bowl game, and three will play in a BCS bowl.

Next year’s schedule isn’t favorable, either. It includes the likes of Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. While it will be challenging run loaded with capable opponents, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Tommy Rees is done at Notre Dame, finally exhausting what felt like 15 years or so of eligibility. Head coach Brian Kelly expressed his gratitude for the quarterback following the bowl win.

ND coach Brian Kelly on senior QB Tommy Rees: “He’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.”

— Kevin Armstrong (@KevinGArmstrong) December 28, 2013

With that, however, Rees will hand the baton back to Golson. And his return could completely change an offense in desperate need of a spark.

Golson was readmitted to Notre Dame in the middle of December after being suspended for the fall semester for what he referred to as “poor academic judgment.” He later provided a bit more clarity on the situation by speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples.

After sitting out the season, however, Golson is expected to be a full go for spring practice. He’ll likely compete with sophomore-to-be Malik Zaire for the starting quarterback opening. If Golson stays healthy and eligible, the job will be his.

While he was raw throughout Notre Dame’s undefeated run to the national championship game, the potential is off the charts.

His ability to run will completely alter the offense, an offense that struggled to move the ball on the ground with consistency this year. He also has one of the strongest arms in the country, something that was on display in his first season under center. Now it will be a matter of harnessing them both and realizing the enormous potential that was on display throughout the 2012 season. 

Adding to the excitement of his return are the offensive weapons Notre Dame will have back. And there are a few.

Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will almost certainly be back for his senior year, as will tight end Troy Niklas. The emergence of freshman running back Tarean Folston was one of the bright spots for the team in the second half, and the “Golson-Folston” potential will be more than simply fun to say. 

The playbook will look vastly different with an athletic quarterback reassuming his role, and it will be up to Golson to provide a spark in an offense that lacked it in 2013.

Rees, while improved, operated with a limited physical skill set. Simply put, he made the most of what he had. In turn, the offense was limited in what it could accomplish, although it accomplished quite a bit given the circumstances. 

That won’t be the case next season. If Golson is indeed the starter, the offense has the potential to be one of the more dynamic attacks in the country. The governor will be removed, the limitations tossed away, and it will be full speed ahead.

One book is closing. Another is reopening.

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Pinstripe Bowl 2013: Grading Tommy Rees' Final Performance at Notre Dame

As has been the case throughout his Notre Dame career, quarterback Tommy Rees had his fair share of ups and downs during his final collegiate start.

Fortunately, the senior did enough to lead the Fighting Irish to victory over Rutgers, 29-16, during Saturday’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Sure, Rees may have been expected to do more against a Scarlet Knights squad that was coming off a 6-6 regular season and ranked No. 122 against the pass (311.4 YPG). However, all that matters at the end of the day is that he led Notre Dame to the win.

Regardless, Rees’ performance is bound to be under the microscope over the next couple of days.

 

What He Did Well

Coming into this matchup, it was a known fact that opposing quarterbacks feasted on Rutgers’ secondary.

Rees maintained that status quo, torching the unit for 319 yards on 27-of-47 passing. He also successfully moved the chains, recording 20 of the Irish’s 31 first downs through the air.

Although he didn’t throw a touchdown, he also didn’t throw an interception. That snapped his streak of four consecutive games with a pick.

But what Rees did best was making the necessary adjustments in the second half:

As you can see, not only was Rees far more accurate in the second half, but he also gained a larger chunk of yards with each attempt.

Not to mention, Rees was money when passing on third-down situations, only falling short once.

 

What He Did Poorly

When it came down to it, Rees just couldn’t make that final play to get it into the end zone.

So, instead of running away with the game by halftime, Notre Dame had to wait until midway through the fourth quarter to finally put the game away.

Eight times the team moved the ball inside the Scarlet Knights' 35. Only twice did the Irish manage to score a touchdown and both times came via the rushing attack.

To make matters worse, Rees was just 2-of-12 inside the Rutgers 30.

His lack of a passing touchdown becomes even more unforgivable when you consider just how generous the Scarlet Knights secondary has been all season long:

Furthermore, this game marked the first time Rees was held without a touchdown in a start since 2011.

All in all, his lack of a finishing touch on drives leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths.

 

Overall Grade: B+

Rees played a solid game overall. But one has to imagine if this effort would have been good enough to lead the Irish to victory against an opponent who had even a decent secondary.

 

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.

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2013 Was a Brutal Calendar Year for Notre Dame Football, but 2014 Will Be Better

When the calendar changed from Dec. 31, 2012 to Jan. 1, 2013, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were ranked No. 1 in the country, preparing to face Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game on the heels of an undefeated season.

Since that moment, though, it's been a tale of two very different years. With a series of slow and consistent waves, the walls of that campaign have been pelted into submission, crumbling around this team and leaving it in a state of genuine flux.

It started on Jan. 7 in Miami. Alabama waxed Brian Kelly's team in front of 26 million anxious viewers, confirming every cruel word that was spoken ad nauseam about Notre Dame's overrated-ness. With one fell swoop and a 42-14 loss, an entire year of reputation rehab went for naught.

Once the team had collapsed as a whole, Lady (Bad) Luck turned her attention to the players. Nine days after the loss to Alabama, Heisman runner-up and consummate Notre Dame poster boy, Manti Te'o, was exposed as either a gullible dolt or a calculated fraud (if not both). Quarterback Everett Golson was later suspended from the university for unspecified academic transgressions, putting the fate of 2013's offense on the fickle right arm of Tommy Rees.

The year came to an end against now 6-7 Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Saturday—a sentence so sullen that it speaks for itself. Even in victory, 29-16, the Irish needed all 60 minutes to beat a team that lost to Houston by 35 points. This is how far they have slipped.

But the night is always darkest before the dawn.

The calendar changes from Dec. 31, 2013 to Jan. 1, 2014 in four short days. In no time at all, though it's been a long time coming, this star-crossed year becomes forever a thing of the past; Notre Dame has a chance to bury it in the dirt and start fresh.

And there are reasons to believe that it will. 

Those reasons start with current form. Despite ugly games against Pittsburgh, Navy and Purdue, this team won nine games in 2013, and it was even better than its record might have indicated.

Though tempting to look at the lows, quite often a team's potential is defined by its highs. "How good is your good?" is a useful question for team evaluation, and in 2013—despite both injuries and Rees' penchant for turnovers—Notre Dame's good was pretty awesome.

To date, no other team in the country can say it beat Michigan State, which is 12-1 and preparing to play in the 100th annual Rose Bowl. If Stanford wins that game, Michigan State and Arizona State will have combined to lose five total games this season: three at the hands of the Cardinal, two to Notre Dame.

That is elite company for a team that endured as much as the Irish. Even with the Heavens working against it, this team's ceiling was hard to deny. And if the hteavens stop working against it in 2014, that ceiling should rise even higher than now.

Golson will return to the lineup, having been readmitted to the university on Dec. 13. He's spent this lost year working out with QB guru Marcus Whitfield, and if the reports are to be believed—which they shouldn't, necessarily, without confirmation—he's light years better than he was in 2012.

Sure, Golson lost a ton of in-game experience, which would have aided his development. But by the time he suits up in Week 1 next August, he'll have spent three-plus years learning Brian Kelly's offense, some of which took place in the midst of an undefeated season and national title run.

Few things can simulate that experience.

Throw in the recruiting classes—which have been, currently are, and will always continue to be solid—and you have a team poised for progression to the mean. Kelly has never failed to meet expectations twice in a row in his entire career, dating all the way back to his days with Grand Valley State. Why should we expect him to start now?

The schedule is tough, no doubt. Being better next year might not mean another run at the national title. With Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC all looming, improvement might mean even fewer than nine wins.

But the Irish should be a better, more complete football team in almost every facet of the game, despite the potential losses of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix up front.

And if this team, cursed by the stars from the start, could stay competitive all season and pull some nifty upsets...next year's team should do all that plus more.

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