NCAA Football

Fiesta Bowl 2014: Baylor vs. UCF Provide Best QB Matchup of All Postseason Tilts

If glancing at the matchup for the Fiesta Bowl has led to you overlooking this New Year's Day game, hopefully the following will make you rethink that stance. 

When it comes to quarterback play, this college football bowl season won't see any better than it does in this game. 

Baylor's Bryce Petty and UCF's Blake Bortles have the tools to dominate college football and go onto have long, successful careers in the NFL. 

That fact right there makes this game worth the price of admission. 

I'll break down the greatness of these two signal-callers, but first, have a look at when and where you can catch the action: 

 

Date: Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. 

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: ESPN3.com

 

Baylor has transformed itself into a quality program that produces insane offensive numbers. This helped propel Robert Griffin III to the Heisman, and it also helped Nick Florence put up outstanding numbers as last year's signal-caller. 

Given that, it is easy to write off the success of Petty as merely the product of an outstanding system. That isn't fair to Petty's talents, however. 

Petty threw for 3,844 yards this season with 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. 

The 6'3", 230-pound junior has good size, excellent accuracy and makes quick, smart decisions with the ball in his hands. 

As we've seen this season, Petty has the talent and tools to dominate college football. Those skills will also translate to the next level. His coach, Art Briles, definitely thinks so. Here is Briles, as quoted by Dan Greenspan of NFL.com, on Petty: "Now we have a good feel how Bryce functions, what he can do, and next year I think he'll be phenomenal. I think he'll be a top-five pick in 2015, no question."

Petty isn't the only junior quarterback with good size in this game. 

UCF's Blake Bortles checks in at 6'4", 230 pounds. He has good strength and the ability to stand tall in the pocket. 

For the season, he has 3,280 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

His play and tools are starting to draw comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Like Roethlisberger, Bortles isn't going to get a lot of yards with his feet. He does, however, do an excellent job of extending plays. He has solid mobility for his size and is a beast to try and bring down. 

Although future NFL success is never guaranteed for any player, this matchup provides what could end up being the first installment of what turns into a rivalry that extends to the NFL. 

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FSU Lineman Raises Enough Money to Send Cancer Patient and Family to BCS Game

Michael Scheerhorn managed to pull off something truly wonderful well ahead of the BCS National Championship Game. 

Fox Sports' Andy Nesbitt reported Wednesday that the Florida State offensive lineman was hoping to send a girl battling cancer to the game on Jan. 6. 

Scheerhorn, who knows fully the horrible nature of helping a loved one with cancer, posted the following to his Crowd Rise campaign page (via Fox Sports): 

When my brother Daniel was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma – a form of brain cancer – it was devastating to my entire family. Everything changed in a heartbeat. While Daniel’s medical team worked to cure his cancer, we soon found that it was going to take more than medicine for our whole family to beat this thing which had so suddenly and dramatically invaded our lives. The Children’s Cancer Center understands that, and we were fortunate to receive their help. They provided all kinds of day-to-day support for our entire family at a time when we needed it most.
Now I would like to pay that kindness forward, so I’m sending a child and her parent to the BCS Championship game in Pasadena!

Scheerhorn goes on to say that he was already given two tickets to the game, but he wants to provide a deeper experience. 

In order to send the rest of the family to Pasadena, he needed to raise $5,000 for things like transportation and airfare. His hope, more than providing an amazing experience, was to alleviate any burden of the request from the Children’s Cancer Center. 

According to the CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli, there are some mighty generous football fans out there who were willing to donate at least a little to a noble effort. 

A quick check on the donation page shows that Scheerhorn has indeed reached his goal and then some ($10,353 as of this writing). The best part is that any extra money will be donated directly back to Children’s Cancer Center. 

The 13-0 Seminoles take on the Auburn Tigers (12-1) in a little over a week's time. Between now and then, there will hardly be a dearth of amazing subplots and anecdotes. 

Each young man suiting up for the big game will see their nerves dissolve to adrenaline, learning a great deal about themselves along the way. 

Some, like Scheerhorn, will manage to teach all of us a great deal about things that are far more important than championships and trophies. 

Congratulations to the sophomore on already providing a job well done. 

 

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South Carolina Football: LB Skai Moore X-Factor on Defense

Linebacker Skai Moore signed with South Carolina with the hope that he would get to play early.

The season he's had exceeds not only his expectations, but those of the Gamecocks.

Moore, a 6'2'', 220-pound freshman from Cooper City, Fla., has played in every game with four starts for the 11-2 Gamecocks and leads the team in tackles with 51 as they prepare for Capitol One Bowl showdown with Wisconsin on Jan. 1.

His postseason honors thus far include second team Freshman All-American by 247Sports and first team Freshman All-SEC by the league's coaches.

"During recruiting, I was looking around trying to find a team where I could contribute early, but I never really thought it would happen as soon as this did," Moore said. "I had the idea of coming here and working hard and getting a few reps. The way it has turned out has truly been a blessing."

South Carolina was a wise choice for a linebacker looking for immediate playing time. The Gamecocks lost all three starters off last year's team, and had very little experience returning even from players in backup roles.

It was the acknowledged Achilles' heel of a defense that had played lights out each of the last two years, in no small part because of the play of its linebackers.

South Carolina got off to a slow start defensively, but it wasn't necessarily the linebackers. It was front to back—line, linebackers and secondary.

When Georgia shredded South Carolina 41-30 in the second game of the season, the Gamecocks knew they had problems that wouldn't be fixed overnight.

Moore says the turning point for the defense came after a 23-21 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 19 that ultimately cost the Gamecocks the SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship game.

"We were coming home on the bus from the Tennessee game, and we just said, 'We can't let this happen again,'" Moore said. "From the time we got back, practice got better. We got better. We turned it around."

The Gamecocks closed the season on a five-game winning streak that included a victory at No. 5 Missouri and a home victory over archrival Clemson.

"This group, I'm really proud of them," said South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. "We didn't start out the way we wanted to start the season, but we've just grown. For them to come to where they are today, we're a pretty good defense right now."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Moore started each of the last four games.

And perhaps it takes greatness in a player to recognize it in another.

"When he first got here, I knew he was going to be a player," said South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. "I told him, 'You're going to be a player. Don't let anything hold you back.'"

Moore didn't. And now the future looks exceptionally bright for Moore and a group of linebackers that features no seniors and only one junior on the three-deep lineup.

"We were the question mark on defense prior to the season," Moore said. "We made an impression on the nation that we're going to have great careers coming up. It should be exciting."

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.

 

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ESPN Offers Fans Bowl Cuts for National Championship Tickets

With the BCS National Championship Game approaching on Jan. 6, Florida State and Auburn fans are desperate for tickets. So desperate that they're willing to shave their heads into a bowl cut for ESPN and Kenny Mayne's Bowls4Bowls contest, which offered some lucky fans a chance at two tickets. 

Males and females from both schools participated, and some lucky winners will be headed to the BCS National Championship with some Lloyd Christmas-esque hair. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU vs. Washington: Preview and Prediction for 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl

When the Washington Huskies face the BYU Cougars in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl, they won't have stability on the sidelines.

Steve Sarkisian left the school to become head coach of USC, and former Boise State coach Chris Peterson was named his long-term replacement. Peterson has already spent time around the team, and he's started to assemble his staff and recruit.

Interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo will attempt to run things as normally as possible, but as you can imagine, that will be difficult.

BYU will attempt to take advantage of the confusion.

The Cougars had a strong season at 8-4. The record was even more impressive when you consider Bronco Mendenhall's team played five squads that made it to bowl games.

This is a battle-tested bunch that will give the Huskies all they can handle. Here's how you can watch the action and deeper analysis.

 

Time: December 27, 6:30 p.m. PT

Place: AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.

TV: ESPN

 

Key Players

Washington: Bishop Sankey, RB

If there is one player who most deserved an invitation to the Heisman ceremony that didn't get one, it's Sankey. Aside from running for 1,774 yards, Sankey scored at least one touchdown in every game this season.

He was third in the nation in rushing and, in my opinion, deserved to be a Heisman finalist more than Auburn's Tre Mason.

In any case, Sankey will be a handful for the Cougars to contain on Friday and the key to the Huskies' success.

 

BYU: Uani' Unga, LB

Unga is one of the nation's most prolific tacklers. On Friday, he'll be the man in charge of rallying his defense to slow down Sankey and Washington's up-and-down signal caller, Keith Price.

If the Cougars' front seven can't stiffen and keep Sankey from having a huge day, it'll be hard for them to win. Unga's senior leadership and explosion into gaps will be essential.

 

Pivotal Stat

Rushing Yards

Sankey isn't the only dangerous ground weapon in this game. BYU sophomore Jamaal Williams rushed for 1,202 yards this season. He exploded for 219 in the regular-season finale against Nevada.

Teamed with dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, the Cougars have a dynamic rushing duo. With Sankey sure to get his share of touches and the Hill-Williams combo trying to make their mark, the team with the edge in rushing yards will win this game.

 

Prediction

We can downplay the distractions all we want, but Steve Sarkisian didn't do the Huskies program any favors leaving it when he did. Washington had to act fast to get whom it felt was the right replacement in Peterson.

Likewise, I'm sure USC wasn't willing to wait around and allow Sarkisian a ton of time to think about its offer.

As it is, it seems a long shot the Huskies players will be as focused as they need to be for this one.

Look for BYU to take advantage of a slow start from the Huskies. The Cougars will run the ball exceptionally well and edge Washington, 35-28.

 

Follow me. Sports is what I do.

 

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UCLA Football: Coach Mora's Holiday Wish List

Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins have three items written on their holiday wish list. 

As the team sets up shop in El Paso for the Hyundai Sun Bowl, questions about the upcoming months of the program will undoubtedly arise. Two big-time players on the current team have yet to publicly announce whether or not they will return to school for another season.

The act of restocking the roster with elite high school recruits is a pressing matter. Landing prospects at certain positions of need is a must. 

Lastly, a significant opportunity is presented with the upcoming game versus Virginia Tech. 

Here are three things that UCLA fans and Mora are wishing for this holiday season. 

 

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UCLA Football: Coach Mora's Holiday Wish List

Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins have three items written on their holiday wish list. As the team sets up shop in El Paso for the Hyundai Sun Bowl, questions about the upcoming months of the program will undoubtedly arise...

Begin Slideshow

Texas Fans Gave Mack Brown a 'Class Act' Billboard Before His Final Game

Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown's final game will come on Dec. 30 in the Alamo Bowl.

To honor his 16-year tenure, some fans have set up a billboard for the legendary coach. The billboard sits on U.S. Southbound 183 and Parmer and simply reads "Class Act."

A fitting tribute to the coach that led the team to much success, including a BCS National Championship.

Hat tip to Tyler Moorehead of College Spun for the find. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Little Caesars Bowl 2013 Pitt vs. Bowling Green: Live Score and Highlights

We hope you stuffed your faces full of food yesterday because today is the day to sit back and enjoy some more college football bowl action when Pitt takes on Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Bowl. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.

While there won't be any more games of meaning at Ford Field for the NFL's Detroit Lions, this is a chance for two under-the-radar teams to end their seasons on a positive note.

The Falcons (10-3, 7-1) stunned the then undefeated Northern Illinois Huskies in the MAC Championship Game and are winners of five straight, while the Panthers (6-6, 3-5) will look to give Paul Chryst his first bowl victory as a head coach.

The player to watch on Pitt is defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who could wind up being drafted on the first day thanks to his playmaking ability from the middle of the line. Meanwhile, 1,500-yard rusher Travis Greene will look to pace the Bowling Green offense on the ground.

Stay tuned for live score updates and analysis from this year's Little Caesar Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

With the 2014 Rose Bowl just days away, it’s time to take a look at the history books.

Since 1999, the Rose Bowl has been a part of the BCS. It’s even hosted two BCS title games (2002, 2006).

Not surprisingly, the bowl has hosted several of the best college games in that time. That includes seven games decided by a touchdown or less.

And what do great games have in common? Great plays.

From a handful of Vince Young scrambles, several trick plays and even an impressive defensive effort, the Rose Bowl has had its fair share of great plays to choose from.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at all 15 games and compile a list of the 10 greatest plays in the BCS era.

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Missouri Fan Gets Cotton Bowl Tickets for Christmas in Elaborate Surprise

We've seen a number of heartwarming videos of fans receiving tickets to watch their favorite teams play as Christmas gifts, but this might be the most elaborate gifting yet.

Warning: The video features some NSFW language that comes out of sheer surprise and joy.

In the video, Grandpa, who's in on the joke, opens a gift of two tickets to the "Sugar Bowl" and gives a stellar performance in his reaction.

Meanwhile, the Missouri fan in the green shirt is in disbelief after Grandpa reveals that the tickets are for the Cotton Bowl, where the Tigers will take on Oklahoma State, and the tickets are for him. 

Hat tip to Busted Coverage for the video. 

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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Shane Morris Will Start for Michigan

PHOENIX, AZ—The Michigan Wolverines (7-5) will battle the Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Much of the debate has been whether or not junior quarterback Devin Gardner will be able to start due to a turf toe injury. The injury could be worse than a simply turf toe injury, according to The Detroit News' Angelique Chengelis. 

Third-year coach Brady Hoke announced Thursday that true freshman Shane Morris will start at quarterback for the Wolverines. 

Morris has not started a football game since the beginning of his senior year of high school, and he has played in just two games for Michigan this season. 

In his two games against Central Michigan and Michigan State, Morris was five of nine for 65 yards and threw one interception. 

A big question is whether Morris would be able to run the same plays and game plan as Gardner. 

Morris stated, “I’m getting the full game plan that Coach Borges gives. Coach Borges is preparing me for that.” 

Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder will not change his game plan regardless of who starts at quarterback for Michigan.

"You don't change your preparation in regards to how you organize it," mentioned Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder. "What you work against is relying upon the opponent that you're going to play."

The Wolverine offense has struggled to get into the end zone for much of this year, and it could be in trouble against a talented Kansas State defense that is holding opponents to 23.7 points per game.

Morris will rely heavily on wide receivers Jeremy Gallon (1,284 receiving yards and nine TDs) and Devin Funchess (727 receiving yards and six TDs) in the passing game. 

Morris will need Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green to step up in the running game to take pressure off of the passing game as well. Getting small yardage on the ground on first and second down will benefit Morris when it comes to passing in short yardage situations on third down. 

Kansas State heads into the desert after winning five of its last six games, while Michigan has lost four of its last five games and hopes to avoid its first seven-win season since 2010. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2013: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

Kansas State (7-5) and Michigan (7-5) are preparing to battle in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which takes place at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 28.     

Michigan will unfortunately be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who broke his ankle in the final game of the season against Ohio State. True freshman Shane Morris will get the start in his place, as noted by CBS Sports' Eye on College FBall on Twitter:

Gardner took to Twitter to express his understandable frustration:

Michigan started the 2013 season strong, winning six of its first seven games. However, the second half of the season proved a difficult challenge that saw the Wolverines win just one of their last five. 

Kansas State's 2013 campaign was just the opposite. The Wildcats were slow out of the gates and posted a 2-4 record in the first six games before going on a 5-1 run to close out the season. 

Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with betting information and injury reports for both teams. 

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, at 10:15 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 55.5 points
  • Spread: Kansas State (-4.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

How Will Michigan's Offense Fare With an Inexperienced Freshman QB?

The news of Gardner's injury hit Michigan fans like a punch in the gut on Dec. 26.

Though the Wolverines haven't been stellar on offense this season, Gardner has been the biggest playmaker for Brady Hoke all season long.  

The true freshman, Morris, who is replacing Gardner in this game, only attempted nine passes all season long, completing five for 65 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception.

It appears his teammates are 100 percent behind him, however. Receiver Jehu Chesson spoke to reporters about what he expects, according to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press:

He does a good job getting the ball to us, reading the defense. A lot of people talk about his arm, he has a good arm, a great arm. People talk about, does he throw the ball too hard? Shane, when he’s going to be in the game, he’s going to make the right throws at the right times and the right decisions. Because that’s what a Michigan quarterback’s expected to do.

Hoke revealed that he's had to scale back his playbook a bit for the young signal-caller, however, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com: "We've scaled some things back. But there's a lot of offense in there still."

In addition to a simplified playbook, fans should expect to see a heavy dose of Michigan's running game. Kansas State's defensive players will be salivating at the prospect of an inexperienced quarterback, and the Wolverines must protect him by pounding the ball between the tackles. 

 

Prediction

It's hard to imagine Michigan will pull out a win in light of Gardner's injury. Even if the junior quarterback had been healthy, the game was likely going to be a close one.

As things currently stand, Kansas State should be able to easily come away with a win.

The Wildcats recently gave Oklahoma a run for its money, losing 41-31, and the Sooners will be taking on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Kansas State has been red-hot down the home stretch, averaging 36.7 points per game in its last six.

Michigan's defense won't be able to carry the day, and the freshman quarterback will struggle under the bright lights.  

 

Final Score 

Kansas State wins, 35-17.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Longhorns Football: Stopping Oregon's Spread Offense

What does the Texas Longhorns football squad have to do to stop Oregon's high-powered spread offense?

That must have been the one question defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has been pondering this December despite all the hoopla surrounding Mack Brown's coaching career.

This just in: The Oregon Ducks are fast.

De'Anthony Thomas is fast. Marcus Mariota is fast. Oregon's leading rusher, Byron Marshall, is fast. Wide receiver Josh Huff is fast. The comparisons to the offense remind many of the Baylor Bears, the team that beat the Longhorns in the last game of Big 12 play.

And all that kept Texas alive in the Baylor game was the strong defense aided by the cold weather. The Longhorns had a couple opportunities to take control of the momentum in the game, but missed fumble recoveries by the defense and special teams limited the chance. Also, Case McCoy wasn't playing his best game, but that's neither here nor there.

So what does Texas, a team that let BYU rush for a record 550 yards in September, have to do to stop the Oregon offense?

Oregon has been stopped before. In fact, the Ducks have two losses. Breaking news? Oregon lost at No. 5 Stanford, 26-20. And two games later, they only scored 16 points in a 42-16 loss at Arizona.

Maybe getting Oregon out of their home stadium could help as they've lost twice on the road. But that's not likely. Stopping the run and tackling are keys for Texas in stopping Oregon's spread offense.

 

Contain the run

In the loss to Stanford, Marshall rushed 11 times for 46 yards. Thomas rushed six times for 30 yards. A rush for nine yards was the long for Thomas. Mariota had an eight-yard scamper but recorded negative rushing yards thanks to three sacks.

Sure, Stanford got off to a great lead and controlled the clock, something that will be extremely important for the Texas offense to do. But Oregon still gets four downs on offense.

And Oregon's rush was halted by Arizona in their second loss. Much like the Stanford game, the Wildcats didn't allow the Ducks to get a rushing touchdown. Running back Marshall injured his ankle in the loss, only getting four yards on three carries. And Thomas gained 83 yards with only a 20-yard long on 16 carries. While still decent for Thomas, the Wildcats weren't torched by the Ducks' blazing speed.

And in terms of containment, don't let Mariota run wild. He's a dual-threat quarterback that can come alive at anytime. The Longhorns looked terrible stopping the read-option in their four losses this season. That's key if they want to be anywhere close come halftime of the 2013 Alamo Bowl.

A simple solution to stopping the quarterback on the read-option? Hit the quarterback on every play. When Mariota runs the read, make sure one defensive lineman is going after him. If he hands the ball off, 10 guys should be ready. If he keeps it, one lineman should be right there.

Of course, if it was that easy for the Longhorns to stop the read-option, then they would have less than four losses.

 

Tackle, Tackle, Tackle

Quarterback Mariota has thrown four interceptions in the last two games. Until that point, he hadn't thrown a single pick. He's been outstanding.

The Ducks get the ball out of Mariota's hand fast. That limits the opportunity for sacks, a strength of the Texas defensive front. When the ball gets into open territory, the Longhorns need to make the tackle.

There will be screens, slants and quick out routes. The Ducks will run the read-option, especially since the Longhorns have a bad track record against it.

Tackle, tackle, tackle.

In both of Oregon's losses, the Ducks' longest plays were under 30 yards. Other than that, they've broken off plays of 40 yards or more against every team. That means tight coverage and watching the ball. The Longhorns need to always keep an eye on Mariota with the ball and must be prepared to make the tackle. See the embedded video below of how the Longhorns should not Mariota.

In the Longhorns' four losses, they've allowed an average of 306.5 rushing yards. Quarterbacks have had field days, and Mariota must be licking his lips. It's going to be tough for the Longhorns to stop the Ducks' high-powered offense, but there's still a chance. It's been done before. 

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Notre Dame Football: The Road Back to Glory

They stood at the summit of college football for what felt like a gloriously fleeting few seconds before incurring the wrath of a relatively short tumble down the face of the mountain.

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, a program that spent the better part of 12 years arguing its "relevancy" in college football, validated their position as preeminent members of the sport's elite class by reaching the 2013 BCS National Championship Game before living out an underwhelming 2013 season.

The Irish are no longer flailing and violently beating their wings to convince the critics they belong.

Rather, head coach Brian Kelly has set the program up for long-term success during his tenure, and climbing back to the summit is only a matter of resolving a minor number of concerns.

The first step of the process is the return of an individual player critical to the program.

 

 

The Return of QB Everett Golson

In mid-May of the current calendar year, Golson was expelled from Notre Dame for what was later revealed to be cheating, or "something like that," as the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native phrased it during an interview with Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples.

Tommy Rees filled in admirably during Golson's time away from the university, but as is out of his control, his own physical limitations prevented Kelly and former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin from running any elements of the read-option offense. And as a result, the offense's rushing game suffered, falling all the way to a national ranking of 82nd (149.0 rushing yards per game). 

Last season, the Notre Dame offense ranked 38th nationally in rushing offense and tallied 23 rushing touchdowns compared to just 10 this season.

But with Golson being handed the keys to the offense, Kelly and whomever he hires as his next offensive coordinator will be allowed the luxury of opening up the offense in a way that wasn't an option with Rees, as my colleague Keith Arnold detailed last week.

It's no secret that effectively and efficiently running the football is a key to success (just ask Auburn and its 335.7 rushing yards per game attack), which is an area that must be improved for the Irish to make a run to a top-tier bowl game, or, possibly, the College Football Playoff next season.

That brings us to the running backs.

 

 

Identify a Core Running Back Rotation

Concisely, Notre Dame's running back rotation in 2013 was a jumbled mess.

During the early stages of the season, Kelly and Martin experimented with a combination of George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel, while displaying a hesitancy to play highly regarded freshmen backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.

After Atkinson proved he hadn't learned to run with a low pad level, Carlisle struggled with consistency and Bryant was lost for the season with a knee injury, the rotation switched to what should be considered a "1A-1B" tandem of McDaniel and Folston.

The inherent problem is that each of the running backs listed are slated to return next season, which makes determining the ratio of carries a mystery all its own. However, the rotation that makes the most sense for next season would be a "1A-1B-1C" scenario including McDaniel, Folston and Bryant, in no particular order.

McDaniel's trustworthiness—the Coppell, Texas, native rarely turns the ball over and overcomes what he lacks in athleticism with smart decision-making—is what makes him a valued running back. While Folston's brilliant 2013 performance—the freshman back averaged 5.6 yards per carry—makes him, perhaps, the Irish's most lethal weapon at the position entering 2014.

However, the most intriguing of that trio may be Bryant, per Kelly (via CSNChicago.com's JJ Stankevitz):

"We're really excited about where he can be next year," Kelly said. "I think we did the right thing with him not playing this year because I can see his development and how he's going to help our football team next year. He's a dynamic player."

 

 

Solidify the Defensive Line 

Perhaps the most complex personnel concern to shore up during the offseason will be along the defensive line.

Nose guard Louis Nix will, indeed, be heading to the NFL, after he signed with an agent earlier this month. Current defensive end Stephon Tuitt is pondering joining Nix in the professional ranks, though the 6'6", 322-pound behemoth may heavily consider returning to school for his senior season after receiving feedback on his draft status.

Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt received a 2nd Round grade from the NFL's Underclassmen Advisory Panel according to Brian Kelly.

— Scott Wright (@DraftCountdown) December 24, 2013

Will a second-round NFL payday be enough to sway Tuitt, or will he desire to finish his degree and work toward becoming a surefire first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft?

Tuitt's decision on that front will significantly alter the course of the Irish's defensive line entering 2014.

Should he stay, Notre Dame would feature a solid front three of Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Tuitt. But should he chase greener pastures, Notre Dame would face significant depth concerns, as Day, Jones and Isaac Rochell would be the only contributing defensive linemen from the current season slated to return in 2014.

Either way, the Irish's defensive coaching staff will be banking on Chase Hounshell, Tony Springmann and the incoming freshmen defensive linemen (Andrew Trumbetti, Matt Dickerson and Grant Blankenship) to provide quality depth in 2014.

For if the Irish defense struggles to stop the run, any College Football Playoff aspirations will be dashed rather quickly.

 

 

Promote Continuity in the Hiring of New Coordinators

It was only a matter of time before Kelly would be forced to replace either one or both of his coordinators.

The fourth-year head coach faces the task of hiring both a new offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator to replace the departed Martin (head coach at Miami of Ohio) and Bob Diaco (head coach at Connecticut).

While some may see the hiring process as simply seeking out the biggest available name on the coaching market, it's much more complex than that. For Notre Dame, that's especially true on the defensive side of the ball, as Kelly noted earlier this month (via IrishIllustrated.com):

I would tell you that the coordinator's job at Notre Dame, now having been here for four years, requires a lot of experience in defending so many different looks. One of the most important things is you don't have a lot of knowledge of your opponents unfortunately with so many different teams that come in and off our schedule, so you have to have a great bank of experience. I think you have to have a great deal of experience coming into the position, but I don't want to paint myself into a corner and say you can't be it. I really think it helps.

Now, you can gain a lot of that by maintaining continuity on your staff. I expect to do that. I expect to keep all my staff, other than losing my coordinators.

Based on Kelly's comments, it appears, at first glance, that he may favor hiring from within the staff to replace Martin and Diaco, and that seems likely given the difficult nature of hiring two quality coordinators in one season. 

Adding to that notion is current defensive line coach Mike Elston's decision to turn down Diaco's offer to become defensive coordinator at Connecticut, which is likely a sign that a promotion for Elston at Notre Dame is forthcoming.

Regardless of who is hired as defensive coordinator, all signs point to Kelly choosing the in-house route for his replacement.

The same holds true for the offensive side of the ball, where Mike Denbrock is the Irish's interim offensive coordinator for the Pinstripe Bowl. Having coached the outside receivers and coordinated the passing game since 2012, stripping Denbrock of the interim tag would be a sensible move for Kelly and Co.

Denbock's experience with Kelly—he coached under Kelly at Grand Valley State along with his time at Notre Dame—makes him more than a qualified candidate for the job.

In the end, continuity will continue to be the most integral factor when Kelly considers replacements, making the promotion of Elston and Denbrock the most likely scenario following the Pinstripe Bowl.

 

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Russell Athletic Bowl 2013: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

College football fans are in for a treat when Miami (9-3) and Louisville (11-1) take the field on Saturday, Dec. 28, in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.    

The game is of particular interest to NFL scouts and draftniks, as Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could potentially be playing in his final college game before heading to the 2014 NFL draft. He's told the media that he'll "evaluate everything" after the bowl game, as noted by College Football 24/7:

Bridgewater's Cardinals lost but one game in 2013—the only loss coming against UCF back in mid-October, which made its way to the Fiesta Bowl. After that loss, Louisville won five games in a row to finish the regular season. 

Miami comes into the game on a two-game winning streak, having knocked off Virginia and Pittsburgh to close out the season. However, before getting spanked 41-14 by Florida State, the Hurricanes were unbeaten, and the big loss was the first of three in a row.

Head coach Al Golden knows his defense is in for a huge challenge against Bridgewater, per the Associated Press via CBS Miami:

This is a very talented young man. He has great command on the offense. ... He has speed, good corps of receivers, knows how to distribute the football, doesn’t make many mistakes with the football, can move in the pocket. It’s going to be a great challenge for our corners and safeties.

Here's a look at when and where you can catch the upcoming bowl game, along with betting information and injury reports for both teams. 

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, at 6:45 p.m. ET

Where: Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 57 points
  • Spread: Louisville (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

Will Stephen Morris Be Able to Keep Pace with Teddy Bridgewater?  

Bridgewater isn't the only quarterback in this upcoming game worth keeping an eye on. 

Miami's Stephen Morris will be playing in his final game as a senior, and a strong performance against Louisville's stingy defense would go a long way toward helping his draft stock. 

It's been an up-and-down year for Morris, who has passed for 2,868 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. As noted by Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, Morris entered the season as a top prospect nationally but has seen his stock drop significantly. 

However, at least one analyst believes there could be a bright future in the NFL for Morris, given the right set of circumstances. ESPN commentator Rod Gilmore, who is on the broadcast team for the bowl game, via the Miami Herald, believes a big game could make a huge difference:

Absolutely. You only need one NFL team to fall in love with you, and that often means one coach, one scout seeing the potential they like. I think Morris is talented, no question. He’s got a good arm, good size and he’s athletic enough. He just has to be more consistent at what he does so that people believe the upside is there.

It's not going to be easy for Morris to succeed, however. 

Louisville featured the nation's No. 3-ranked scoring defense in 2013, allowing just 12.4 points per game. Only two teams managed to score more than 20 points against the Cardinals, and it'll likely take at least 20 for Miami to win. 

Morris will likely be trying to avoid the always tenacious Marcus Smith—the No. 2-ranked pass-rusher in the nation, with 12.5 total sacks—all game long. Louisville also racked up 16 interceptions this season, meaning the senior Hurricanes passer must be razor sharp to lead his team to victory. 

 

Prediction

Louisville will find a way to win, whether Morris steps up and has a big game or not. 

Miami's offense will struggle to move the sticks and score points against the dominant defense of the Cardinals. 

Bridgewater will have no trouble picking apart Miami's defense, which finished the season with a mediocre No. 72 rank against the pass after allowing 233.4 passing yards per game. But the Cardinals also run the ball with ruthless efficiency, and Miami's defensive front will wear down throughout the contest. 

In the end, it's hard to imagine the Hurricanes will be able to stay close in this one. 

 

Final Score 

Louisville wins, 31-21.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Texas Football: 3 Recruits Most Likely to Leave If Texas Hires Art Briles

Hiring Art Briles as their head coach would be a home run for the Texas Longhorns.

The Baylor head coach has taken the Bears from a Big 12 afterthought to the 2013 champion in just six years. In just his fourth year at the program, he turned Robert Griffin III into its first ever Heisman Trophy winner.

At Texas, he has the chance to build an absolute dynasty. The only problem, other than his 10-year contract at Baylor, is how the Longhorns' current recruits would react.

Here are three of Texas' commitments whose roles and status with the program would be jeopardized by Briles' arrival.

 

WR Roderick Bernard

A player like KD Cannon, the No. 29 player in the Rivals 250, does not commit to Baylor because he likes Waco. He commits to Baylor because he wants to play for Art Briles.

With big-play ability and top-end speed, Cannon is an ideal fit for Briles' offensive attack. Whether it's on the screen or a straight vertical, he has the ability to put up points in a hurry. He need only look at fellow Mount Pleasant product Kendall Wright to see what his ceiling is in such an offense.

For that reason, Cannon is almost certain to follow Briles wherever he goes. If that's Texas, then Cannon would be the program's seventh commit at the position. Something would have to give.

Right now, that player seems most likely to be Roderick Bernard. The 5'10" prospect from Sharpstown also has elite speed but lacks Cannon's polish at receiver. And with similar offensive weapon Armanti Foreman already in Texas' class, Bernard may decide there is a better opportunity for him elsewhere.

 

WR Dorian Leonard

Like Cannon, Liberty-Eylau's Davion Hall will go wherever Art Briles goes. If that were to be Texas, the gifted athlete would contribute to the logjam at receiver.

The Longhorns have done a great job recruiting some size at receiver, led by 4-star prospect Lorenzo Joe. They have also added smaller names Emanuel Porter, Garrett Gray and Dorian Leonard—all of which stand 6'3" or taller.

Hall is also 6'3", but has the greatest athletic potential of the three. SB Nation's Wescott Eberts compares him favorably to NFL Rookie of the Year candidate Keenan Allen, and Hall's 4.5 speed easily makes him a candidate to be a No. 1 receiver.

Hall's arrival at Texas would cause either Porter, Gray or Leonard to check on another program. That player projects to be Leonard, as Porter's 4.43 speed and Gray's side-speed combination make them must-hold prospects.

 

RB Donald Catalon

No running back in his right mind would leave a program coached by Art Briles. That is, unless he thought his role were jeopardized by another talent.

Hiring Briles almost guarantees that Texas will land a big-time recruit at tailback. His system consistently puts ball-carriers in open space, which allowed them to rush for 265.2 yards a game on 5.4 yards per carry in 2013.

Aside from Oregon-transfer Lache Seastrunk, Briles has done this largely with no-name recruits. Rivals rated Terrance Ganaway, who rushed for 1,547 yards in 2011, as a 2-star talent. Shock Linwood, a 3-star recruit according to Rivals, averaged eight yards per carry in 2013.

Now just imagine if 5-star studs like Leonard Fournette or Joe Mixon were to play in that system? Both have yet to commit, and would certainly give Texas a longer look with Baylor's head coach taking over. There would be record-breaking potential for either.

No matter who the name is that gives Texas his attention, he would place Donald Catalon in a much different situation than the one he is currently committed to. With all three of Texas' backs draft-eligible in 2014, Catalon had a straight path to the feature back role.

Mixon or Fournette would jeopardize that plan, giving him reason to find a more clear-cut opportunity.

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Military Bowl 2013: X-Factors That Will Decide Clash for Both Sides

A matchup between the ACC and Conference-USA normally wouldn't be seen as a win for the the C-USA team. But with the season that the Marshall Thundering Herd have put together and the offensive attack that they possess, they are expected to down the Maryland Terrapins in the Military Bowl.

The Herd have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation that ranks seventh in points per game and has defeated opponents by an average of nearly 20 points per game.

As for the Terrapins, if they plan to make this one close they will need senior quarterback C.J. Brown to continue playing the way he did in the final two games of the season. Before the game finally kicks off on Friday, Dec. 27, at 2:30 p.m. ET, here are the X-factors to watch for in the Military Bowl.

 

Tommy Shuler, Wide Receiver, Marshall

After losing wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 2013 NFL draft, the Herd were expected to see a drop-off in the passing game. But Tommy Shuler proved once again that receivers at any height can get the job done in the college game.

Shuler set the school record last season for receptions with 110 and needs just three more in the Military Bowl for his second straight season with 100 catches. Standing at just 5'7", he has been the most reliable receiver for an offense that ranks 21st in the nation in passing yards per game.

One of Shuler's more memorable games this season came against another ACC team in Blacksburg, Va. when Marshall played Virginia Tech. Though the Herd were unsuccessful in a triple-overtime loss to the Hokies, Shuler put up 120 yards, his second most in a game this season.

He may not be a household name or even projected as a high draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, but Shuler will certainly make some noise on Friday in the Military Bowl and is a big reason why Marshall is expected to win this game.

 

C.J. Brown, Quarterback, Maryland

When it comes to dual-threat quarterbacks, C.J. Brown might be a little more on the side of great rushers than the great passers. But when he's on, Maryland's offense thrives. Brown was injured earlier in the season and it cost him two games in which the Terrapins went 1-1 in his absence.

Since his full return against Syracuse, the team has gone 2-2 and secured a bowl game. In the games that the Terps won since his return, Brown threw for three touchdowns and one interception, and he rushed for five more touchdowns. In losses, he threw one touchdown and two interceptions, and he rushed for one.

Speaking about Brown's offensive abilities, Marshall coach Doc Holliday told John McNamara of the Capital Gazette, "He can beat you with not only his arm, but with his feet. He runs the ball extremely well."

Without two of its most talented wide receivers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, on the field for the last five games of the season due to injuries, Maryland will once again have to rely heavily on Brown to carry it to victory.

 

Rakeem Cato, Quarterback, Marshall

Putting it simply, Maryland coach Randy Edsall told McNamara that the Marshall quarterback is "the guy that stirs the drink." In other words, Cato is the guiding force behind a team that has scored an average of 43 points per game and won seven of its last nine games.

The junior signal-caller has thrown for 36 touchdowns this season and added another six with his legs. When it comes to dual-threat quarterbacks, Cato is closer to the passing end of the spectrum than Brown thanks to his 3,579 passing yards this season.

Cato needs just 161 passing yards in the Military Bowl to eclipse 10,000 passing yards in his career, which would put him in impressive company.

With one more season remaining and his high school teammate Shuler with him once again, Cato has a chance to eclipse Chad Pennington (13,143) for the Marshall career record.

If Cato can continue carrying Marshall past Maryland, he would lead the Herd to their first 10-win season since the 2002 season—Leftwich's senior season.

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Pinstripe Bowl 2013: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The 2013 Pinstripe Bowl features two of the nation's most respected programs, as Rutgers (6-6) and Notre Dame (8-4) will compete at Yankee Stadium for the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl trophy on Saturday, Dec. 28. 

Senior quarterback Chas Dodd led the Scarlet Knights to victory against South Florida on Dec. 7 to get Rutgers to the six-win threshold, thus qualifying for a bowl game. 

After a brutal second half of the season in which Rutgers won just two of its final seven games, the Pinstripe Bowl offers the program a chance to finish the season on a high note.

Notre Dame's 8-4 season was extremely disappointing—especially after the Fighting Irish posted a perfect record before playing Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game just one season ago. Brian Kelly's team finished the regular season with a whimper, too, losing two of its last three games. 

Here's a look at when and where you can catch the upcoming bowl game, along with injury reports for both teams, betting lines and a closer examination of the biggest key of the contest. 

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, at Noon ET

Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 52.5 points
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-14)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

Will Tommy Rees Finish His Career in Style?

The Irish have featured a balanced offensive attack all year long with Tommy Rees at the helm, averaging 31.8 passing attempts and 33.1 rushing attempts per game. 

However, Notre Dame will likely have a tough time finding running lanes against the No. 4-ranked Scarlet Knights run defense (94.6 yards per game).       

This means Rees will likely need to win the game with his arm, which has been an iffy scenario for Notre Dame in 2013. During games in which Rees has attempted over 30 passes, the Fighting Irish are 3-3.

Rees should be able to have a field day against the porous secondary of the Scarlett Knights, however, which hasn't been strong this season, ranking just outside the top 100 in passing efficiency defense. Rutgers' defensive backs have allowed big plays on a regular basis, as pointed out by Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com:

On the other side there's the Rutgers secondary, which has been decimated by injuries this season and just generally been an abysmal unit. Rutgers' defensive pass efficiency of 148.57 ranks 104th in the country, and the Knights have given up 31 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions.

After finishing the season at 8-4, Rees addressed the disappointing season, via the official site of Notre Dame athletics:

Not good enough, obviously. Proud of the guys. Proud of my teammates, how they fought all year. But you don't come to Notre Dame to be 8-4. Everybody understands that. We're not going to make excuses. We're going to look for solutions going ahead. We only have one game left, we want to leave a good legacy.

You can be sure the senior quarterback will be focused for his final collegiate game. There's a huge opportunity for him to finish his career on a high note. If Rees does manage to have a big performance at Yankee Stadium, then Notre Dame will surely win.

 

Prediction

Rutgers isn't going to come close to winning the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl. 

The Fighting Irish have too much talent and depth across the board, and Rutgers' read-option offense, led by senior quarterback Dodd, won't be able to generate enough scoring to keep the game close. 

Rees does have a penchant for throwing costly interceptions, but he's going to have a field day against the pitiful secondary of Rutgers. 

Then there's this bit of history, courtesy of Knute Rockne:

Notre Dame will control the game from the opening whistle, winning easily. 

 

Final Score 

Notre Dame wins, 35-17.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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With Devin Gardner Out, KSU Defense Should Have Edge in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Michigan's starting quarterback won't take the field for Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Naturally, Kansas State should be the biggest benefactor. 

According to Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner will not play because doctors fear possible broken bones in Gardner's foot. Instead, true freshman Shane Morris will start. 

Via Nick Baumgardner of Mlive.com: 

Gardner has taken just about every snap for Michigan this season, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. While Morris was a highly touted 4-star quarterback prospect according to 247Sports, he has barely played as a true freshman. 

Morris appeared in three games and attempted just nine passes for 65 yards and an interception. 

B/R's Big Ten Lead Writer Andy Coppens writes that Morris' opportunity to start has Wolverine fans excited about the possible future of the program. However, Kansas State's defense should be salivating at the thought of playing against Morris.

Typically, a sound running game is an inexperienced quarterback's best friend, but the Wolverines haven't run the ball well. The lowlight of the year came in back-to-back games against Michigan State and Nebraska, when Michigan combined for -69 yards rushing. 

Granted, sacks and bad snaps have to be factored into that number, but the Wolverines' offensive line was getting abused nonetheless.  

Now, imagine that group lining up against K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller, who has 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks on the year. 

What's interesting is that K-State's defense, as a whole, isn't one that forces too many sacks or negative run plays. But a look back at the 35-25 loss to Baylor in October shows the Wildcats did an excellent job against the best rushing attack in the Big 12. K-State was able to go sideline-to-sideline with the Bears, stopping runs before they got past the first level of the defense. 

K-State's secondary has also done a nice job against the pass, where Michigan gets a bulk of its offensive yards. The Wildcats rank in the top 25 nationally in interceptions and pass efficiency defense. Put a quarterback in his first career start against defensive backs like Ty Zimmerman, and K-State should win that battle every time. 

On paper, it looks like Kansas State's defense has an answer for Michigan's offensive attack. Unless Morris has the best game from a quarterback all season for Michigan, K-State should be well prepared to stop the Wolverines. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of the NCAA. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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