NCAA Football News

Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Rutgers vs. North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights steamrolled the North Carolina Tar Heels, 40-21, in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

Driven by a powerful offensive line, Rutgers racked 340 rushing yards during the impressive victory, which capped the program's first season in the Big Ten at 8-5. North Carolina dropped to 6-7 with the loss.

Pass Offense: Gary Nova connected on seven of 14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and the senior could've had higher marks without a couple drops. During the latter half, however, Nova threw three should-have-been interceptions that UNC mishandled.

Run Offense: Robert Martin raced to a career-high 202 yards and one touchdown, while Josh Hicks added a career-high 100 yards and two scores. If two running backs setting "career-high" marks doesn't explain Rutgers' success enough, well, both of Nova's 30-plus-yard passing touchdowns were a result of play-action calls.

Pass Defense: The Rutgers pass rush simply dominated UNC's offensive line. Darius Hamilton was the only Scarlet Knights player to record a sack, but Marquise Williams was constantly pressured and forced to throw mostly checkdowns because of great coverage by the secondary.

Run Defense: Run defense was Rutgers' glaring issue, considering the Tar Heels managed 219 yards on the ground. However, since the Scarlet Knights offense continued to build a nearly insurmountable lead, North Carolina couldn't rely on their backs.

Special Teams: Kyle Federico connected on two field goals (19, 31 yards) but missed one of his five extra points. Punter Joey Roth averaged 44.7 yards per kick, and the coverage team held dynamic returner Ryan Switzer to five yards on three attempts.

Coaching: Kyle Flood utilized a perfectly timed fake punt, which sparked Rutgers during the third quarter and effectively sealed the game. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen capped his first year at the school by calling an outstanding game for Nova and Co.

 

Pass Offense: Marquise Williams terribly underthrew Mack Hollins on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Switzer was called for a pass interference on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Jack Howard was flagged for OPI in the end zone after catching a touchdown. It just wasn't the Tar Heels' day through the air.

Run Offense: T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood found running room and combined for 172 yards, and Williams scampered for 64 if a 13-yard sack is ignored. Logan averaged 9.6 yards per first-down attempt (8 CAR, 77 YDS), but Carolina failed to capitalize on that success.

Pass Defense: The Tar Heels secondary allowed too many open receivers, even if a throw ultimately became an incompletion due to poor placement or a drop. Although Nova only completed nine of of 20 passes, six gained 19 yards or more.

Run Defense: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the UNC run defense. Rutgers manhandled the Heels up front, smashing its way to 8.2 yards per rushing attempt and scoring three touchdowns. The 340 yards allowed was only the fourth-worst season performance.

Special Teams: North Carolina blocked a punt and recovered two onside kicks, but the poor plays heavily outweighed the favorable. In addition to Thomas Moore pushing a 31-yard field goal wide right, Nick Weiler and Joey Mangili combined to manage just 31.2 yards over five punts.

Coaching: Larry Fedora called a disastrous fake field goal, both in design and execution. Then, he actually attempted a field goal down 20 points—a truly horrific decision. From top to bottom, UNC wasn't ready for the Quick Lane Bowl. And it showed.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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West Virginia and Florida Players Among Those Injured in Christmas Eve Shooting

Florida freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson and West Virginia freshman wideout Jacky Marcellus were reportedly injured during a shooting on Christmas Eve in Immokalee, Florida.

Kristine Gill of the Naples Daily News reported that Jackson, Marcellus and Marcellus' brother, Jackinson, were shot by an assailant(s) in a red car. Meanwhile, Christina Lusby of WINK News in Fort Myers, Florida, reported that one or two men walked up on foot and fired shots into the automobile carrying the three former Immokalee High School teammates.

"It just happened so fast," said Jackinson Marcellus, who was hospitalized on Friday after getting shot below his eye, per Gill. "I looked left to see him fire."

According to a police spokeswoman, Jacky Marcellus and Jackson were discharged from the hospital after suffering minor injuries. WINK News' Chelsa Messinger reported that bullets grazed both players during the shooting:

Police in Collier County, Florida, continue to investigate the shooting and haven't made any arrests yet.

Jacky and Jackinson Marcellus and Jackson were all in Immokalee to celebrate Christmas.

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Rutgers vs. UNC: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Quick Lane Bowl

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights capped off a successful debut season in the Big Ten with Friday's 40-21 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

In the process, senior quarterback Gary Nova exploited a defense that entered the contest ranked 119th, going 9-of-20 for 184 yards and two scores.

ESPN College Football tweeted the final score and pertinent numbers:

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, Rutgers was far from the favorite entering Friday's showdown:

Even without leading rusher Desmon Peoples, the freshman duo of Josh Hicks and Robert Martin led the way for the Scarlet Knights on the ground with 202 yards and a score and 100 yards and two scores, respectively. Both found the end zone in the second quarter to help build a 23-0 halftime lead that would prove insurmountable.

Nova, who threw for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this year, got things started with an opening drive that spoke volumes to the game's eventual course. He led the Scarlet Knights down the field 75 yards on just five plays and then hit Andre Patton for a 34-yard touchdown.

Jason Radowitz of DoubleGSports.com summed up the precision of the offense:

The floodgates opened shortly thereafter.

Hicks reached the end zone first on a dash from 21 yards out to cap off a 91-yard drive in just seven plays. Martin followed him on the next drive with an eight-yard score of his own to make it 20-0.

As many—including Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media—could see, Rutgers appears to have some burgeoning talent in its backfield:

North Carolina proved worthy after halftime, though.

Junior Tar Heels signal-caller Marquise Williams was one of the nation's more underrated dual-threat quarterbacks this season, thanks to 2,870 yards and 20 touchdowns with another 737 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

The Charlotte native put that on full display right out of the break by leading a 12-play drive capped off by a quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to 23-7.

As WCHL 97.9 FM's Matt Oakes noticed, though, the Rutgers' defensive front overwhelmed UNC's line for most of the night: 

After a brief flirtation with competitiveness, North Carolina's defense once again collapsed.

The Tar Heels score to start the half woke up Nova, too. The senior hit Andrew Turzilli for a 34-yard score before Martin broke free for a 28-yard touchdown near the start of the final frame, bringing it to 37-7.

To their credit, the Tar Heels then made an epic run to improve upon the lopsided 40-7 score. In fact, they recovered not one, but two onside kicks in the span of a couple of minutes while posting 14 points.

ESPN's Dustin Fox wondered if another bowl classic was set to unfold:

Williams hit Jack Tabb for a touchdown, and then backup Mitch Trubisky tossed a touchdown to Kendrick Singleton to make it 40-21. That proved to be the end of the spark, as the drive after the second successful onside kick ended with a pass out of the end zone on fourth down.

For some, the conference implications of the Rutgers win are noteworthy, as CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli explained:

The triumph means Rutgers can now turn a confident eye toward next season. Peoples and other offensive weapons will be back in the fold, as will dominant nose tackle Darius Hamilton, who recorded a sack and shut down a fake field goal Friday. The importance of Hamilton's return after Friday's defensive performance is not lost on coach Kyle Flood.

"He's a great player for us and will be a great leader for us going forward next year with the experience he's had with the three years he has been here," Flood told reporters before the game.

Things are bleaker for North Carolina, a trendy preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal division before finishing the regular season at .500. Coach Larry Fedora faces a serious rebuilding task now that the program's record has dipped in each of the past two campaigns.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Outback Bowl Dinner for Wisconsin and Auburn Includes 2,400 Pounds of Meat

They grow 'em big in Wisconsin, and the SEC boys down South are no scrubs either. As such, the Outback Bowl provided the Wisconsin Badgers and Auburn Tigers (who will face off on New Year's Day in Tampa, Florida) with plenty to eat for a special dinner before the game. 

The Auburn Gold Mine Twitter account tweeted out details of the feast:

Outback Bowl dinner for Auburn & Wisconsin: 750 pounds of steak, 900 lbs. of ribs, 750 lbs. of chicken, 1,600 shrimp, 1,200 lbs. cheese cake

— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) December 26, 2014

Wisconsin redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Walker Williams sure seemed to enjoy himself:

After 2 chicken breasts, 4 steaks, 2 side salads, potatoes, shrimp, an onion bowl, and cheesecake im gunna throw in the towl #outbackbowl

— Walker Williams (@W_Squared2) December 26, 2014

Apparently playing in a bowl sponsored by Outback Steakhouse has its perks.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for NC State vs. UCF

The Central Florida Knights and the North Carolina State Wolfpack will meet in the St. Petersburg Bowl for one of the more intriguing early matchups of the bowl season.

Both teams are riding little surges, as the Pack dominated rival North Carolina 35-7 to close the season at 7-5 in coach Dave Doeren's second year in Raleigh. Meanwhile, Justin Holman's crazy Hail Mary upset East Carolina and gave UCF a share of the American Athletic Conference crown.

Even though Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are no longer roaming the field for the Knights, they finished 9-3 and are back to play another power-conference program.

This one looks like a toss-up that could go either way. One program is established and looking to be thought of among the giant killers while the other is a middling ACC program on the rise. 

It should be a good football game, and we'll get started at about 8 p.m. Check back here for live blogging, highlights and analysis.

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After Up-and-Down Career, Longhorns Seniors Can Redefine Legacy in Texas Bowl

Anyone who has played at an elite level of athletic competition does not play to lose. In fact, many competitors do not handle losing very well.

Unfortunately for the Texas Longhorns, losing has been all-too familiar for the senior class.

The 2011 recruiting class suffered a lot of losses before ever stepping foot onto the 40-acres. After the Longhorns went 5-7 in 2010, former head coach Mack Brown was forced to replace six assistant coaches, most of whom were responsible for recruiting the now-senior class.

But the Longhorns stuck together, signed their letters of intent and went into their careers with the goal of changing the course of the Texas football program.

Four years have passed, and the goal appears to be incomplete.

"It's been tough," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said of all of the ups and downs he has experienced during his time playing for the Longhorns.

"It's hard when you have guys that just come in for a bit and you don't really know much about them, don't know what they plan on doing. But at the same time, you've just got to go out and play. We were put in these spots. We've just got to go out and do what we do and just go out and have fun."

Diggs and other defensive players know better than anyone how difficult it is to adjust to change, especially when it comes to coaches. The senior committed to Texas with the hopes of playing for former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Diggs never started a down with Muschamp as his coach.

He then learned the tendencies of Muschamp's replacement, Manny Diaz. But Diaz struggled to put together a solid defense and was eventually fired after the Longhorns gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU in 2013.

In came Greg Robinson, a former Texas assistant coach and former head coach of Michigan. Robinson helped rebuild the Longhorns defense only to be sent packing when Brown was fired following the 2013 season.

Now the seniors will end their time in Austin with Vance Bedford as their leader. The former Texas defensive back is relatable to the players and has helped formulate one of the nation's top defensive units in college football.

Diggs is thankful for the opportunity to play for his new coach and how his career could change the future of Texas football.

"I really wouldn't change anything because if you change, maybe we wouldn't have these guys right now. I'm just blessed for the opportunity to be able to come back and play for these guys," Diggs said. "I think everybody will always remember this senior class and everything we've been through.

"We went through it when the staff changed the first time when we were getting recruited. I went through the defensive coordinator getting fired after the first game of the season. But we've been really resilient, and we stuck through it all as a class."

The Longhorns have a chance to end their careers on a high note with an upset victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.

If you are reading this, you might be thinking, "How can a win over a 6-6 opponent define the legacy of the seniors?" It's a valid question and almost seems depressing for Texas fans to think this class' legacy is on the line against a .500 team.

But the big-picture aspect of the senior class' legacy is something one cannot ignore.

The class is the definition of what it means to fight through adversity, and it's an even better description of resiliency.

There were many times where the seniors could have given up on the season, mainly when the Longhorns were sitting at 3-6 heading into November.

But quitting was never an option for the seniors, and the rest of the team needs to battle to give the senior class what it deserves: a win in their final game at Texas.

"I think we're a prime example of sticking together through it all and continue to strive," said Diggs. "We want to be the class to do great things and get this thing turned back around."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Reasons Why Alabama Will and Won't Beat Ohio State

Nobody is really giving Ohio State much of a chance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Bleacher Report has Alabama in a close one. All of ESPN’s SEC writers are picking Alabama. All but one of Sports Illustrated’s experts picked the Crimson Tide. Las Vegas oddsmakers have Alabama by nine points.

You get the picture.

Still, college football teaches us seemingly every day not to put any kind of stock into this pontificating and postulating. In fact, last time Alabama played in the Superdome, it was a 17-point favorite and ended up losing.

So, as if it really needed to be said, this game could go either way.

Here, we’ll present a couple of reasons for why Alabama will and won’t beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

Begin Slideshow

WVU QB Clint Trickett Retires from Football Due to Multiple Concussions

Having suffered five concussions in a span of 14 months, West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett retired from football on Friday.

The Mountaineers announced that the senior will walk away from the game, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. Trickett is not leaving football altogether. He may replace his cleats for a clipboard as he hopes to become a football coach.

Trickett thanked WVU fans on Twitter after the announcement was made public:

Trickett suffered a concussion in what proved to be a 26-20 loss to Kansas State back on Nov. 20 and hasn't returned to the field since. On Dec. 18, he received medical clearance to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29, but head coach Dana Holgorsen announced on Friday that Trickett would be out, per Greg Madia of WVSports.com:

Then came Trickett's retirement.

He revealed that two of the five concussions weren't revealed to the West Virginia medical staff, and he accepts full responsibility for his actions, per Allan Taylor of WVMetroNews.com:

ESPN.com's Kevin Van Valkenburg wonders how many players have acted similarly in regard to hiding concussions:

Trickett acknowledged that in order to become a football coach, he needed to retire before the damage to his body was irreparable:

Should Trickett become a coach, he'd be following in the footsteps of his father, Rick, who's an assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Florida State.

Between his time at Florida State and West Virginia, Trickett threw for 5,837 yards and 32 touchdowns.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Vital Viewing Information for Alabama vs. Ohio State

The 2014-15 bowl season is full of intriguing matchups, but the game that will steal the show will be the College Football Playoff semifinal between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 2015 Sugar Bowl is must-watch television.

With two of the most prestigious schools in the nation going head-to-head in the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoff, fans of the sport will be treated to some of the most exciting action of the season.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 Sugar Bowl and the biggest difference-maker.

 

 

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

When: Thursday, Jan. 1

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

 

Biggest Potential Difference-Maker

Both teams have rosters full of players who will be looking to make a name for themselves on the big stage, but few have the ability to control the pace of the game more than Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.

The senior star has emerged as a serious weapon for the Crimson Tide, and he has the potential to achieve mainstream notoriety with a standout performance.

Sims is not a typical college quarterback in the sense that he doesn't rack up huge numbers every game. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has kept the pressure off Sims by allowing him to thrive in the right situations. With 3,250 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions, Sims is a true game manager with playmaking abilities.

Bleacher Report lead writer Marc Torrence shared Sims on the cover of ESPN, one of several mainstream appearances he has made since the SEC Championship:

Add in Sims' 321 yards and six touchdowns rushing, and he is the kind of quarterback who could give Ohio State trouble.

When asked about the doubts early in the season that Sims could be the No. 1 quarterback, Alabama center Ryan Kelly told John Zenor of the Associated Press, “I don't think anybody doubted him on this team. We knew wherever he was going to go he was going to give it his all. That's the result that came out this year. He gave it his all and look what happened.”

The key for the entire Crimson Tide offensive unit will be exploiting Ohio State's defensive issues. As seen in the marquee matchup against Michigan State earlier in the season, opposing offenses can rack up big points against the Buckeyes.

While the program is ranked a respectable 23rd in the nation allowing 21.2 points per game, the Buckeyes haven’t faced an offensive unit as balanced as Alabama’s. Using star receiver Amari Cooper on the outside and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the ground, the Crimson Tide should be able to advance to the championship game.

As long as Sims protects the football and makes smart decisions like he has all season, Alabama will be victorious and the senior quarterback will have his chance to be the top star on the field.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24

 

 

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Heart of Dallas

One of the ugliest and most thrilling bowl games took place at the Cotton Bowl on Friday between Illinois and Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Both teams made their share of mistakes, but the Bulldogs made more big plays and were able to get two key scores late in the fourth quarter for a 35-18 win. 

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman will be kicking himself all offseason because his team gave this game away on multiple occasions. There isn't one area you can pinpoint as the problem, as the offense, defense and special teams were a mess. 

Louisiana Tech didn't play a crisp game either, but it was able to overcome its mistakes to secure the school's first bowl win since 2008. 

The most surprising part of Louisiana Tech's win was that star running back Kenneth Dixon was held in check on the ground. He did have a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but was limited to 63 rushing yards on 13 carries.

The star junior did have an impact in the passing game with an 80-yard touchdown catch on a busted coverage in the first quarter to give Louisiana Tech a 14-3 lead, via Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports: 

In addition to securing the Bulldogs' victory, Dixon's late one-yard touchdown run was historic, as it gave him at least one in every game this season, via Conference USA Football on Twitter:

On that touchdown drive, Bulldogs wide receiver Carlos Henderson had the big play. He got behind the Illinois defense for a 70-yard gain that really helped quarterback Cody Sokol's stat line, via Sean Isabella of The News Star:

Sokol didn't have the best statistical day, but he was involved in the key play of the game. After he was sacked and fumbled, Illinois' Jihad Ward recovered the ball and would have had it deep in Louisiana Tech territory. However, Ward was caught from behind and fumbled, leading to Sokol recovering the ball. 

If that play description made your head spin, that's basically the kind of game the Heart of Dallas Bowl turned out to be. Paul Myerberg of USA Today also noted how appropriate the sequence was given Illinois' years of frustration:

For more evidence of how baffling this game was, Matt Loveless of WAND-TV in Illinois offers a stat line on Sokol to put it all in perspective:

Despite his struggles, Sokol said leading up to this game that it was going to be an emotional time for the Bulldogs as presently constructed, via Isabella, writing for The Shreveport Times:

It’s really cool to see how things come full circle. I’m excited for those Texas boys on this team to be able to play at home. We’ve come a long way as a football team and this is our last time together. We’re going to enjoy it. …

…If you go out there and don’t put together a win, it kind of just all fades away. You kinda remember the season as something that wasn’t accomplished. But that’s what we’re planning on doing is winning.

For Illinois, quarterback Reilly O'Toole put together a solid stat line with 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception despite getting knocked around like a pinball. He basically became best friends with Louisiana Tech's Houston Bates, who had 5.5 sacks and earned a new nickname from Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times:

Rubbing salt in the wound for Illinois, Bates transferred from Illinois to Louisiana Tech after the 2013-14 season.

Illinois' problems on Friday were vast. The Fighting Illini missed an extra point, a two-point conversion and two field goals. They also had two turnovers, including the wacky fumble play when Louisiana Tech was clinging to a 21-18 lead. 

Taking a glass half-full look at the loss for Illinois, this was the first bowl appearance in the Beckman era and the program has increased its win total in three years under the coach. The Illini still have a long way to go before becoming relevant in the Big Ten, but at least there appears to be some progress. 

As for Louisiana Tech, Skip Holtz has done a terrific job in two years as head coach. The Bulldogs won just four games last season, but went 9-5 following Friday's win and 7-1 in Conference USA. They may not become a national power like other small schools have recently, though they are moving in the right direction. 

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5 Candidates to Replace Pat Narduzzi as Michigan State DC

Michigan State just lost arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football. 

Not that Pat Narduzzi was going to stay at the assistant coaching level forever. His new job as the head coach at Pitt is well-deserved and perhaps long overdue. The Broyles Award winner in 2013 for top assistant coach has led the Spartans to a top-10 defense in each of the last four years, according to CFBStats.com. 

Now, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has the tough assignment of replacing Narduzzi while maintaining the program's high standards for defense. 

"Pat brings a lot of energy to our program, and he's extremely organized, extremely innovative," Dantonio said, via Mike Griffith of MLive.com

Who are some of the coaches that should be on Dantonio's short list? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Rutgers vs. North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the North Carolina Tar Heels will meet Friday afternoon in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

Senior quarterback Gary Nova can finish his Rutgers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) tenure on a high note, starting his 41st career outing while searching for bowl victory No. 1.

North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC) is looking to win bowl games in consecutive years for the first time since the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

ESPN will broadcast the matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET. Bleacher Report will provide scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Kynon's Korner: The Latest on the Under Armour All-America Game Commitments

It's officially all-star season on the recruiting circuit as many of the nation's top prospects will turn their attention to the Under Armour All-America Game, U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. These games will feature plenty of star power for the class of 2015 while also providing a glimpse into the future stars of Saturday and beyond.

However, most recruitniks want to know: Where will the top uncommitted prospects announce their college verbal declarations? 

We've decided to take a closer look at the six players who have agreed to decide during the Under Armour All-America Game ESPN2 telecast on Friday, January 2 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Headlining the list is 5-star defensive back Kendall Sheffield.

I had the chance to catch up with Sheffield earlier this fall about his recruitment, and LSU and Texas A&M were the teams that were trending. Now, it appears that Alabama and Florida State have made a late push for the sticky cover corner out of Missouri City, Texas. 

I spoke to a source with knowledge of his recruitment that told me 'Bama is in good position with decision day less than a week away. Texas A&M still hasn't hired a defensive coordinator after firing Mark Snyder, and that could prove costly with the in-state star. It didn't help the Aggies (subscription required) when Mesquite (Texas) Poteet star linebacker Malik Jefferson chose the Longhorns over A&M and UCLA on December 19. 

The Crimson Tide have been here before with regard to a top-notch defensive back out of the Lone Star State. Last year, 'Bama snagged Tony Brown over LSU and Texas. You can't count out Nick Saban in this scenario.

You would like to see Texas A&M make a hire before the New Year, so players like Sheffield can do their research before announcing. If they don't figure out who they are going to hire in a hurry, it will be devastating on the defensive side of the ball in the Aggies' 2015 class for head coach Kevin Sumlin. Last week, they lost 5-star defensive tackle commitment Daylon Mack. Sumlin's reputation as an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer may not matter if he can't get the defense corrected in 2015. 

Can LSU Keep Odell Beckham-esque Wide Receiver Tyron Johnson Home?

Dynamic pass-catcher Tyron Johnson likes to keep things close to the vest when it comes to naming a leader in his recruitment. If you go to his Twitter page, you will see enjoys his official visits and fan interaction. Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are the teams in serious consideration to land his services. 

LSU has done a great job of producing NFL-caliber receivers over the last few years including one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs, Odell Beckham Jr. Johnson is the No. 2-rated wideout in the 247Sports Top247 rankings. The Tigers should be in the driver's set with Johnson based on tradition and location. However, head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have to show Johnson the team can rebound from the dismal passing attack in 2014 that ranked last in the SEC.

Johnson has taken official visits to Auburn and Texas Tech. He has been to LSU unofficially, so he is already familiar with the campus, which should bode well for the Tigers. The 6'1", 190-pounder is expected to take his official visit to Oklahoma State after the season, so it will be interesting to see if he honors that visit should he pledge for Auburn, LSU or Texas Tech on January 2. 

I caught up with a source that feels LSU is the team to beat. I agree based on talks with others in the industry. However, when you look on paper, Auburn may have the best quarterback situation of the teams on his list of favorites. Next fall on The Plains, head coach Gus Malzahn will likely trot out Jeremy Johnson, a Cam Newton-sized clone, or talented passer Sean White. LSU will have a quarterback battle with Brandon Harris looking to unseat incumbent Anthony Jennings.

I like LSU's chances, but it will be interesting to see if Johnson spurns Geaux Tigers for a chance to play for a program with a stable quarterback situation and proven passing attack. 

Virginia Native Tim Settle Keeping Everyone Guessing

Manassas (Va.) Stonewall Jackson defensive lineman Tim Settle recently announced his top five on December 14 via Twitter: 

Settle took an official visit to Louisville on December 13. The Cardinals have to feel good about getting the last chance to impress before his announcement.

The Trojans are searching for a franchise defensive tackle with the likely departure of Leonard Williams to the NFL draft. Settle provides the size and power from the interior to be a major force at the next level. USC already has Jacob Daniel committed, so if the Trojans miss on the Settle sweepstakes, they would still be a good spot.

Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Washington State remain in the hunt. I'm hearing the Hokies may be the front-runner, according to a source that covers the Mid-Atlantic region. 247Sports recruiting analyst Barton Simmons has predicted him to land in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

Keep an eye on Louisville. In my opinion, the Cards' depth chart favors early playing time and a chance for Settle to develop into a solid contributor. They have a chance to sneak in and steal him from Virginia Tech's backyard. If I had a 247Sports Crystal Bill pick, I would peg 'Ville to win this one. 

5-Star Defensive Tackle Daron Payne Set to Make a SEC Team Happy

Birmingham, Alabama, product Daron Payne is one of the top defensive tackles in the class of 2015. He has a low center of gravity combined with excellent lower-body power that allows him to drive his opponent backward and disrupt the offensive backfield on a consistent basis. 

On the recruiting front, he will decide between Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Earlier this fall he told me assistant coach Mario Cristobal treats me like a son, and that type of effort could pay off for the Tide. 

Mississippi State has given maximum effort with Payne, and that should be noted. His high school teammate Keith Mixon is committed to the Bulldogs, and they continue to put the full court press on. Payne told me he had the "best time" at Hail State summer camp. Auburn is in the picture, but it looks like the Tigers are on the outside looking in. 

Typically, Alabama doesn't lose head-to-head recruiting battles with Mississippi State. In my opinion, he is the Tide's to lose especially with ace recruiter Mario Cristobal leading the change combined with the fact defensive coordinator and Payne's primary recruiter Geoff Collins left State for Florida. 

Could Texas Running Back Ronald Jones II Head West?

Will it be Notre Dame or USC for Ronald Jones II out of McKinney, Texas? The one-time Oklahoma State pledge backed off his commitment to the Cowboys following official visits to South Bend, Indiana and Los Angeles. 

The Irish have 3-star running back commitment Josh Adams already in the fold, but they would like to get a feature back like Jones II in this class. Notre Dame could have a dangerous offensive backfield if Jones II decides to team up with big-time signal-caller Brandon Wimbush, who is the top recruit in the class for the Irish.

USC shouldn't be discounted from the race for Jones II. The Trojans have done a good job of recruiting the 4-star back to Troy. I was talking to a source that covers the Midlands, and he said USC is a dark horse to nab Jones II. 

Currently, his 247Sports Crystal Ball has a slight prediction trend leaning toward Notre Dame over USC. The Trojans may surprise come January 2 when he makes his decision public. It would be a big win on the recruiting trail if he picks the Trojans over Notre Dame. The Irish have done a great job of recruiting the state of Texas in recent years with players like Cam McDaniel and Corey Robinson making strong impacts on offense, along with future stars Torii Hunter and Durham Smythe waiting to step up.

Two-Team Race for Dallas Linebacker Anthony Wheeler

Dallas (Texas) Skyline outside linebacker Anthony Wheeler hails from a powerhouse program that has sent players to Arizona, Baylor, California, LSU, Kansas State, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and USC, to name a few according to the Rivals.com database. 

It's no surprise that Wheeler has offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas, among several others. The 6'2", 225-pound 'backer is a hard hitter with pass-rush ability, so he has good scheme versatility. 

Wheeler has visited Oklahoma unofficially, but he has yet to take an official visit. It makes his decision to commit without taking an official visit a curious one, although it favors the Sooners' chances, since they had him on campus and recently visited him at Skyline before the dead period. 

Texas is in the mix, but after landing the aforementioned Jefferson, the Longhorns could be done at linebacker. Wheeler's 247Sports Crystal Ball has him leaning 67 percent to Oklahoma at this time. I don't see that changing before next Friday. I also confirmed with a source that shared he would be surprised if Wheeler doesn't end up singing Boomer Sooner. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Alabama Football: Ranking 10 Best Tide Players from 2014 Regular Season

Alabama finished the season in the top spot of the college football playoff rankings, thanks to a tried-and-true formula that has resulted in three national championships in the past five years.

Only this time the formula was altered slightly with the addition of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and a dual-threat quarterback in Blake Sims. It may be surprising for some to learn that the move actually resulted in one less point per game than the Crimson Tide averaged over the previous two seasons, but no one would argue the offense was less dynamic.

In fact, behind a strong running game and explosive receiving corps, Alabama was as much of a threat to hit the big play as it was to bully its way down the field, and that's something we're not entirely used to seeing.

Every player contributes in some form or fashion throughout the season, some obviously more than others. How would you rank the 10 best? Do you go with the slightly altered definition of most valuable? Is it perhaps the most productive? Both of those matter, but the simplest way to look at it is by considering who had the biggest impact.

The top few spots on the list are non-negotiable. After that, however, a number of players played pivotal roles in Alabama, earning the top seed in the inaugural playoff. Here's how we see the top 10 and feel free to let us know who's missing or if the rankings should be in a different order.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Just missed the cut: DL Jonathan Allen, CB Cyrus Jones

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Ohio State's Urban Meyer Will Play Underdog Card vs. Alabama

COLUMBUS, Ohio — He hasn't had to play it often—at least not in the past eight years—but when he has, Urban Meyer has thrived in the role of underdog.

It's an interesting paradox, with one of the most successful coaches in college football history's best work having come when he's been able to instill a "Nobody Believes in Us" mentality in his teams. And as No. 4 Ohio State enters the first College Football Playoff as a nine-point underdog (per Odds Shark) to No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it's exactly the type of approach that Meyer will hope to make the most of as his team prepares to face the Crimson Tide on New Year's Day.

"Big," Meyer said with a smile to match when it was mentioned to him that the Buckeyes aren't favored against Alabama.

"We're not there yet, we'll see what kind of team we've got," he continued, before adding another, "big, big" for good measure.

If history is any indication, Meyer will do his best to convince his team that its collective back is against the wall. After all, that was the approach that first established him as one of college football's top coaches, and helped him capture the first of his two national championships.

That was eight years ago, and rather than coaching the Buckeyes, Meyer was preparing for to take on Ohio State as the head coach of Florida. Entering the 2007 BCS National Championship with one loss compared to the undefeated Buckeyes and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, the Gators were a one-touchdown underdog, seemingly lucky to just be taking part in the title game.

That was just fine with Meyer, who on multiple occasions has described his 2006 Florida squad as the "angriest" team that he's ever coached. Only adding to the Gators' rage was 10 feet worth of literal bulletin board material that was prominently placed in the Florida team hotel—or as Meyer later admitted, "10 feet of nonsense."

"Half of it was real and half of it was made up. And the half that was made up, I signed 'Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN,'" Meyer said in the 2009 book, Urban's Way. "I wanted it where they were so disgusted with the team they were playing."

Meyer's message apparently struck a cord with the Gators, who went on to blow out the Buckeyes in a shocking 41-14 routing. Afterward, Meyer didn't downplay the importance of his team's mindset heading into the game.

"That made angry, extremely angry," he recalled in 2012. "You tell a prideful group of men that have worked real hard that they don’t belong somewhere. Any time you’re dealing with people and say, ‘By the way, you’re not good enough to be here,’ especially if they’ve got a little pride, which that team had a lot of pride—yeah, we used that quite a bit.”

Capturing his second national championship in three seasons with Florida in 2008, Meyer has typically received the benefit of the doubt from oddsmakers ever since, limiting his number of opportunities to play the underdog card. But when he has, he certainly hasn't shied away from it, especially since taking over Ohio State in 2012.

Just five times in the past three seasons have the Buckeyes not been favored in a game, the first three of which came in 2012 as uncertainty still surrounded Meyer's first season in Columbus. Ohio State would go on to beat Michigan State as a three-point underdog and Wisconsin as a one-point underdog, while also defeating Penn State on the road in a pick 'em game, en route to a perfect 12-0 season.

In 2013, the Buckeyes were favored in each of their 14 games, losing their last two, with Meyer admitting that the program's 24-game winning streak caught up to them.

"I probably wouldn't have admitted it, but I felt it," Meyer said last summer. "I love hungry teams. Complacent is a bad word. Satisfied is a bad word. Angry is a great word. Chip on your shoulder is what I want to see. Do we have that? I don't know yet."

As it turned out, the 2014 Buckeyes did find that chip, with a season-ending injury to star quarterback Braxton Miller and an early-season loss to Virginia Tech turning Ohio State into a two-point underdog at Michigan State. The Buckeyes, however, would walk away from East Lansing with a 49-37 win, but headed to Indianapolis with Wisconsin listed as a three-point favorite in the Big Ten title game.

It was there that Meyer pulled off perhaps his most masterful work since his trip to Glendale eight years ago, as Ohio State performed the biggest point-spread cover of the season with a 59-0 beatdown of the Badgers. That helped the Buckeyes clinch their spot in the College Football Playoff, where they'll be listed as the biggest underdog that they've ever been in three seasons under Meyer.

And while he wouldn't fully admit it yet, Meyer already appears to be planting that seed in his team's head.

“The big thing is not what they’re saying about us being underdogs but the fact we are underdogs that he will use to motivate us," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "We don’t know a ton of what everybody is saying, we just know they are saying it. He uses that just to get guys excited. Nobody wants to be an underdog and get their butt kicked. You want to be an underdog and prove people wrong."

"We're going in there with a full head of steam with a chip on our shoulder," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "When we do that, man, it's a scary thing."

Meyer's history as an underdog doesn't disagree.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Heart of Dallas Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Illinois vs Louisiana Tech

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech

1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Illinois (6-6) returns to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 and the first time under head coach Tim Beckman. Louisiana Tech (8-5) earns its berth as winners of Conference USA's West Division.

These two teams have met only once before, with Louisiana Tech beating Illinois 52-24 on September 22, 2012 in Champaign.

With a win, Louisiana Tech will secure just its third nine-win season since joining the FBS in 1989. A win for either team will move the victor's bowl record to .500 all time. Illinois is 8-9 in bowl games while Louisiana Tech is 2-3-1.

This game could hinge on Illinois' ability to protect quarterback Reilly O'Toole. To do that, the Illini will have to contend with a familiar face: defensive end Houston Bates. After graduating from Illinois, Bates returned to Louisiana to be close to home and play out his eligibility while attending graduate school at Louisiana Tech. Bates leads the Bulldogs with 5.5 sacks this season. 

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SEC Football: 5 Reasons the Conference Will Dominate Bowl Season

After posting a combined 13-6 record in the previous two postseasons, the SEC is set to once again dominate in 2014-15.

In fact, coming up with a list of reasons as to why the league wouldn't dominate is a much tougher challenge, because it's hard to believe history isn't set to repeat itself.

There's no disputing the SEC has been the best college football league for nearly a decade despite having its championship streak broken last year when Auburn lost to Florida State on a last-minute touchdown. Florida began the streak, LSU chipped in, Auburn played a role and Alabama has reached a near-dynasty.

If or when the gap between the SEC and whatever conference you think is second—the Pac-12 or Big 12—disappears, we'll look back on the era and marvel at how many great coaches, players and games we saw helping to build the league's legacy.

But a legacy doesn't exist unless it proves itself when it matters most—and for the sport of college football, that's bowl season.

Click ahead to find out why the SEC is poised to come out on top.

 

All odds via oddshark.com. Recruiting info via 247sports.com.

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The Perfect Candidate for Vacant Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator Job

As "Harbaugh Watch" closes its fourth week in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Texas A&M is still without a defensive coordinator.

Those two things could be related.

According to Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman, Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin—who will serve as the Gators' interim head coach in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina—is waiting on Jim Harbaugh to make a decision regarding the vacant Michigan head coaching position before deciding his next step as a college coach.

Durkin was a defensive ends coach and special teams coordinator for Stanford from 2007-2009 when Harbaugh was the head coach of the Cardinal.

If he doesn't step foot into Ann Arbor, it appears that College Station could be an option. According to the report, Texas A&M wants Durkin and, considering it has been without a defensive coordinator since the day after Thanksgiving, seems comfortable playing the waiting game.

As it should.

If Texas A&M's patience pays off and Durkin becomes its new defensive coordinator, it wouldn't just be a home run hire, it'd be a tape measure shot.

Durkin worked wonders in his five seasons at Florida, the first three as the linebackers coach and final two as defensive coordinator. Florida never finished out of the top five in the SEC in yards per play or total defense during Durkin's time in Gainesville and gave up an average of 19.6 points per game over the last five years.

For comparison, Texas A&M has given up an average of 29.9 points per game over the last two seasons under former defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

The foundation of Florida's defenses under Durkin was a defensive line that, even if it didn't force stops behind the line of scrimmage, was disruptive in the backfield and forced opposing quarterbacks to make quick decisions and running backs to cut in the backfield.

Whether it was Dante Fowler, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd or Jonathan Bullard, the Gators didn't just pay rent in the backfield, they paid the mortgage.

The same blueprint can be replicated at Texas A&M. 

Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett exploded onto the scene in 2014, setting the SEC single-season record for sacks by a freshman with 11, posting 12.5 tackles for loss and notching 50 tackles for the Aggies. He's the biggest part of a defensive line that only has one senior on its entire two-deep.

Toss in freshman safety Armani Watts and sophomore linebackers Shaan Washington and A.J. Hilliard (who suffered a season-ending injury in the opener vs. South Carolina), and the foundation is there.

It just needs to be solidified, and Durkin is the guy to do it. 

He's been at the helm of a plug-n-play defense that routinely is dealt blows by early entry to the NFL draft. Despite that, Florida's defenses have been as consistent as the sunrise.

Durkin would kill it at Texas A&M, and if head coach Kevin Sumlin's patience pays off and Durkin winds up in College Station, the Aggies defense will go from punchline to power in a hurry.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

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How Will Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Replace Mike Davis in 2015?

The days of South Carolina having a bell-cow running back could be coming to an end in earnest. That's because its latest every-down running back, Mike Davis, is headed to the NFL. 

“Yes, this will be my last game,” Davis said in an email statement from South Carolina on the upcoming Independence Bowl versus Miami (Saturday, Dec. 27). “You always want to go out with a bang. I just tell my teammates that I love them. I’ve enjoyed this long ride."

Davis has led the Gamecocks in rushing in each of the last two seasons, with 927 yards this season and 1,183 yards in 2013. He's accounted for 20 rushing touchdowns during that two-year span as well as 64 catches for 701 yards out of the backfield. 

The most telling stat, though, is the percentage of the running game that went through him. The next-closest running back in terms of production was junior Brandon Wilds, who had 85 fewer carries than Davis' 186 attempts.

That number is dwarfed by his number of carries last year, though. Davis carried the ball 203 times, while Shon Carson, the next-leading running back, had 61 carries. (Quarterback Connor Shaw was an important part of the ground attack with 154 carries.) 

Before Davis, Marcus Lattimore was the Gamecocks' go-to running back for three years. Not since 2009, with Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox, has South Carolina relied on multiple running backs to carry the load of the offense. 

That could be the case in 2015, however. Unless someone emerges as the No. 1 guy, head coach Steve Spurrier's offense could have a real running back-by-committee approach—at least at first. Wilds seems like the most likely candidate to be that No. 1 guy.

As Avery Wilks of GamecockCentral.com points out, Wilds briefly took on the role of an every-down back in 2011 because of injuries elsewhere: 

Wilds was ready as a true freshman, when injuries to Marcus Lattimore and Shon Carson left the Blythewood, South Carolina, native as the Gamecocks' best option at tailback.

Wilds accounted for nearly 81 percent of USC's tailback carries over the next four games, taking 87 carries for 387 yards and three touchdowns.

Wilds and redshirt freshman David Williams, the next-leading rushers behind Davis, have been extremely productive in the times they have seen the field. On average, the two have picked up 5.6 yards per rush on about seven carries per game. 

Beyond them, it could be a wild card. The Gamecocks still have Carson, and two more running backs—AJ Turner and Mon Denson—have verbally committed to South Carolina for the 2015 class, per 247Sports. There's also wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, who tends to do a little bit of everything. This past season, Cooper ran the ball 24 times and scored a pair of touchdowns. 

Turner is a smaller back, listed at 5'11" and 180 pounds on 247Sports. The overall identity at running back, however, is of the bulky, downhill-runner variety. All other running backs, including Cooper at wide receiver, are over 200 pounds. 

It appears next season will be a steady diet of multiple power backs for opposing defenses. With Spurrier breaking in a new starting quarterback, that should be a good thing. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Nick Marshall Will Leave Auburn as 'One of the Best' in the Tigers' History

AUBURN, Ala. — The start of a new year might be the end of Nick Marshall's career as a quarterback.

On Jan. 1, when Auburn faces Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, the senior will lead his offense onto the field one last time.

Marshall's NFL prospects as a quarterback look slim. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects him to make a return to defensive back, a position where he started his wild collegiate career while at rival Georgia.

But no matter if Marshall takes another snap at quarterback in a competitive game after the Tigers' bowl game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn knows one thing—his signal-caller will leave as a legend.

"He was a big part of leading us to the national championship, and it would have been extremely hard to get there without him," Malzahn said. "He has been very good for us. He’s one of the best to ever come through here."

That's high praise, especially at a school that has put out several Heisman winners and dozens of All-Americans, but it's not unwarranted.

Marshall has been responsible for 55 touchdowns in his Auburn career. That mark places him third all-time in school history, behind Heisman winner Pat Sullivan and current Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig.

If Marshall records four touchdowns against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl—a feat he has accomplished four different times—he will pass Craig.

But while Sullivan and Craig both compiled their touchdowns across three seasons as starting quarterbacks, Marshall will have made his mark in just two seasons.

That is an impressive accomplishment for a former junior college transfer who didn't even win the starting job at Auburn until a few weeks before the 2013 season opener.

"He's a guy who came in here with three weeks to go and started at quarterback for us the last two years," senior center Reese Dismukes said. "He has done a great job and has done everything the coaches have ever asked him to do. He'll be remembered as one of Auburn's greats."

Marshall took over Auburn's starting quarterback position, one that had been in turmoil since the departure of Cam Newton at the end of the 2010 season, and helped turn a 3-9 team into a 12-2 team with an SEC title and a BCS National Championship Game appearance in 2013.

He has one of the top winning percentages for a quarterback in Auburn history, as the Tigers have gone 18-6 when his name has been in the starting lineup.

Despite his well-documented struggles with accuracy, Marshall is currently eighth all-time in passing yards with 4,291 in 25 games.

His 6,139 career yards of total offense is sixth in Auburn history, and he has a realistic chance at moving all the way into fourth with another standout performance in the Outback Bowl.

This chance to rise even higher in the Auburn record books comes after the finest performance of his career, the Iron Bowl against No. 1 Alabama.

Marshall shattered the school record for total offense in one game by putting up 505 yards against one of the country's best defenses. While his team fell short of the upset in Tuscaloosa, the 55-44 loss wasn't due to a lack of anything from Auburn's athletic quarterback.

"I'm proud of myself, my teammates and my coaches for putting us in the best situation to try and win the game," Marshall said after the Iron Bowl last month. "That's all I can ask for."

In that Iron Bowl, Marshall showcased his best quality as an Auburn quarterback—performing his best when the pressure is at its highest.

Fourth-quarter comebacks and last-minute drama were never too much for Marshall, who has a 9-2 record at Auburn in one-possession games.

Several of Marshall's game-changing plays in those contests will be remembered forever, including the "Miracle at Jordan-Hare" Hail Mary pass to knock off Georgia in 2013 and a game-tying pop pass to Sammie Coates in the 2013 Iron Bowl:

"I've been blessed to coach some pretty good guys…but Nick is a guy that the moment's never too big for him," Malzahn said. "He's had numerous moments, from a quarterback standpoint, I don't know if I've ever had a quarterback that had that many different pressure moments. He's responded like a champ in all of them."

Although the lofty goals Marshall and his teammates set heading into the 2014 season are unattainable at this point, he still has a chance to add on to his incredible Auburn legacy on New Year's Day.

Some players might underachieve in a bowl game when their team has expectations at competing for a national championship.

But don't expect that out of an all-time great like Nick Marshall.

"He has played in the biggest games to the lowest games, and I'm sure his confidence and the way he approaches games is just like any other game," senior wide receiver Quan Bray said earlier this season. "He doesn't show any ups and downs. He just goes out and he steps up his play.

"Once he does that, everybody else follows, and everything else takes care of itself."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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