NCAA Football News

Johnny Manziel Starts 'The Chop' with FSU Fans at Hollywoood Party

Stop me if you've heard this one: "Johnny Manziel walks out of a bar..."

Granted, that's a story nearly as tired as anything to do with signatures or tantalizing touchdowns, but there is something new to offer: Johnny Football is an equal-opportunity party reveler. 

Thanks to TMZ and the advent of social media, we get to see Manziel perform the Florida State Seminole chop before, we assume, he heads off to bigger lights, fatter paychecks and grander parties. 

Thanks to Twitter user Cate Bevans, we get to see what an extremely happy Manziel looks like. Forget getting all bent out of shape over the Seminole tomahawk chop, because that face should receive all of your energy. 

It's OK, Mr. Football. We all get one mulligan. 

Man, I wish there was video, possibly one with NSFW language. Hey, thanks to ESPN Radio Tallahassee's promotions director Alicia Cross for providing just that with this Instagram video

Forget Flavor Flav, because Manziel is the ultimate hype man. 

Now if you are wondering about the where and when behind all the festivities, TMZ was there to catch the Texas A&M star quarterback as he was coming out of the nightclub. 

Here is the video, featuring a confused Manziel who really just wanted to find out where his buddy on the other side of the phone was. 

According to the report, Manziel was at the Emerson nightclub in Hollywood on Sunday, partying it up with an already excited Florida State contingent. 

As you are no doubt aware, the BCS Championship Game takes place on Monday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The No. 2 Auburn Tigers take on the No. 1 Seminoles, and it's clear who the Aggies QB is pulling for—or at the very least was pulling for on Sunday night. 

If he does stiff arm the NFL and comes back to school, it's probably smart to keep his rooting interest outside the conference.

As TMZ notes, Manziel, who is coming off a come-from-behind win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, did manage to toss one big shout out to his fellow Aggies: "I love my teammates—always and forever."

Not done with the classy shout-outs, Manziel tweeted out the following: 

The Houston Chronicle's Brent Zwerneman reports fellow Aggie Ricky Seals-Jones believes Manziel has already left the college life in spirit, stating simply, "Johnny's gone. He’s gone."

If so, you can't blame the kid for taking a victory tour of sorts. He has to get an early push on NFL parties, which we are confident he will enjoy. 

 

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John Plattenburg Flips Commitment from UCLA to USC

Steve Sarkisian continues to do well for himself on recruiting, as the USC Trojans reportedly have flipped UCLA Bruins defensive back commit John Plattenburg Jr. on Monday.

FOX Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins reported the news and a quote from Plattenburg: 

The 3-star cornerback out of Houston, Texas committed to UCLA back in November, but it appears the changing of the guard at USC has had an impact on his allegiance to the Bruins. New defensive backs coach Keith Heyward recruited Plattenburg hard while at Washington, and his presence at USC has had an influence on Plattenburg's change of heart, according to FOX Sports' Brandon Huffman:

His 5'10", 179-pound frame gives him good size, and he will only fill out more as he develops in college. Aside from the threat he provides in coverage, Plattenburg is an asset on kick returns and has a penchant for making quarterbacks pay for badly thrown balls. 

Plattenburg's commitment to USC is a godsend for the Trojans, who have just two other defensive backs in the ranks for 2014. With Dion Bailey electing to enter the NFL draft, USC has just Josh Shaw and the freshman phenom Su'a Cravens as reliable starters for next season. Kevon Seymour is developing into a real talent at cornerback, but injuries have decimated the rest of the secondary. 

Redshirt junior Anthony Brown, redshirt sophomore Ryan Henderson, redshirt freshman Devian Shelton, sophomore Ryan Dillard, freshman Chris Hawkins, freshman Leon McQuay III and senior Gerald Bowman are all waiting in the wings for USC, but injuries have prevented any of them making significant contributions to Troy. 

Despite the work Clancy Pendergast did with the secondary, making the unit more respectable than it has been in years, the lack of depth and skill there still reared its ugly head in long-ball situations.

Even in his introductory press conference, Steve Sarkisian noted that USC's secondary has been one of the biggest victims of the NCAA sanctions, forcing players onto the gridiron before they are ready. He said he wanted to bring in more talent there—and flipping Plattenburg achieves that purpose.

With Plattenburg now in the ranks, USC secures more depth, and in return he gets the chance for early playing time. 

The Trojans now have 17 of their 19 scholarships filled for 2014, but expect a few decommitments before national signing day arrives in February. According to FOX Sports' Lindsey Thiry, there are still some last-minute fireworks that could still go off at USC:

Buckle up, Trojan fans. Things are going to get very interesting for USC down the homestretch. 

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Brett Hundley Officially Announces He Will Stay at UCLA for 2014 Season

The speculation can finally stop: Brett Hundley will not enter the 2014 NFL draft. 

UCLA's dynamic sophomore quarterback has been at the center of "will-he-won't-he" talk for several months now, but after seeking feedback from those closest to him, he finally made the decision to stay at Westwood.

Edward Lewis of Rivals.com provided the news and a photo from Hundley's announcement:

This is undoubtedly a major win for the Bruins, as many believed he would take his talents to the pros. Instead, Hundley follows in the footsteps of fellow highly acclaimed sophomore Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota and will return to school.   

Hundley said that his draft projection was a wide range when he explored the possibility of going pro:

Still, according to Abbey Mastracco of FoxSportsWest.com, Hundley talked about hos close he was to entering the draft:

How close was Hundley to leaving? He said, "It could have been a coin flip at one point in time." #UCLA

— Abbey Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco) January 6, 2014

Hundley still has areas that need improvement, and despite the fact that the Chandler, Ariz., native had a tremendous year he felt he needed more time at the college level to refine his skill set.

In leading UCLA to a 10-3 overall record, Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 748 yards and added another 11 scores on the ground. 

While Hundley is still a work in progress, he possesses the physical traits—arm strength, dual-threat ability, elusiveness in the pocket—that can't be taught, and it gives UCLA a major boost for next season.

The redshirt sophomore was gaining momentum as one of the top quarterbacks in college football, including Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Zach Mettenberger.

Hundley's decision is one that will have a major impact on the quarterback class and the Pac-12.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State has not trailed in a game since they were down 17-10 to Boston College in the 2nd quarter of their game on September 28. That's a span of 571 minutes and 49 seconds game time. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: Florida Today

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BCS Championship 2014: Why Florida State's Jameis Winston Will Be MVP

Before the start of Monday night's VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, it's tempting for people like myself—members of the hot take-desperate media—to issue a contrarian angle or argument, simply for the sake of doing so.

We've spent nearly a month gearing up for this game, after all. What good is telling you things you've already read or heard or watched? There's an attractive impulse to shatter the mold, an urge to say something fresh and new.

Let's not do that.

Jameis Winston has been the best player in college football this season, and really, it hasn't been all that close. He won the Heisman Trophy with ease—and should have won by even more—after throwing for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a redshirt freshman, leading Florida State to the only undefeated record in the country.

Auburn fans might argue that he's yet to play a quality defense, which is fair. Especially after watching the ACC's performance during bowl season, it's hard to defend the Seminoles' schedule, which might be what allowed for Winston's numbers. He hasn't been tested too often.

But who's to say he will on Monday night?

It's not like Auburn's defense has been an immovable object. Sure, it's come against five very good opponents—LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri—but the Tigers allowed more than 6.9 yards per play on five different occasions this season, including each of their last three games.

Say what you will about the Seminoles' competition, but there's little doubt that they belong in the same class as those offenses. Behind Winston, a veteran offensive line and the deepest stable of playmakers in the country, this group led the nation in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings—a stat that is adjusted for strength of opponent.

Pressure also doesn't seem to affect the redshirt freshman, despite his young age. Against Clemson in Memorial Stadium—FSU's biggest game to date, by far—Winston completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns. That is how he fared in the biggest spotlight of his career, leading Florida State to a 51-14 rout of the eventual Orange Bowl Champions.

He won't shrink away from the stage.

Beyond that, Winston got experience against a vaunted SEC defense this season, albeit one that was decimated by injury. Still, Florida finished with the 14th-best defense in America, according to Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings, so the Gators were far from a slouch.

Winston threw for 330 yards on just 19 completions, leading his team to an easy 45-7 win. Throw out that argument of "SEC speed."

"I still haven't reached my maximum goal," Winston said at his media day appearance, according to B/R's Barrett Sallee. "With all of the awards that an individual can receive, nothing is more important than hoisting up that crystal football with your team on that stage singing, 'We Are the Champions.'"

Like any good leader, Winston puts team goals over individual ones. But who's to say those things are mutually exclusive?

If Winston just plays like he has all season, he'll make Auburn's secondary look...well, like it has all season. If that's the case, it will work to the benefit of both his team and his own self, padding the line score just as quickly as the box score.

When it's all said and done, Winston will still be holding a crystal football on stage singing, "We Are the Champions."

It just won't be the only trophy he's holding.

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State is going to its 32nd consecutive bowl game, the longest such streak in the FBS. Virginia Tech has the second-longest streak (21).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: NCAA.com

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Gus Malzahn's Wife Kristi Assists Auburn Coach in Connecting with Players

The Auburn Tigers have experienced one of the most significant turnarounds college football has ever seen this season, and head coach Gus Malzahn is just getting started.   

Malzahn's first year at the helm has been nothing short of spectacular. He has taken a program that was 3-9 a season ago to a BCS No. 2 ranking and a spot in the BCS title game against the Florida State Seminoles.

However, when the 48-year-old offensive wizard's intensity gets too fierce, he relies on his wife, Kristi Malzahn, who has played an integral role in helping him focus on the subtler aspects of football, such as simply connecting with his players.

As reported by AL.com's Joel A. Erickson on Jan. 5, the coach feels as though he can rely on his better half when it comes to getting a second opinion on his constant forward thinking.

"I wouldn't be here without her," said Gus Malzahn. "We do this thing together. She is my accountability because I'm a one-track focused mind."

Malzahn elaborated further on the importance of building relationships with those he coaches outside of the gridiron realm:

First of all, even when I was a high school coach, I think it's extremely important that you develop relationships with your players. I think it's very important that your players know that you care about them more than what they can do on the football field. I think even more can be said for coaching college because you've got to win, the pressures to win and everything that goes with that.

According to tight end C.J. Uzomah, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee keeps the sometimes high-strung leader of the staff in check:

You know, Coach Malzahn, anytime something doesn't work, he takes it really personally. Coach Lashlee will be like 'Coach, calm down, it didn't happen on purpose. They didn't mean to drop the ball or run the wrong play, it's okay.' And Coach Malzahn will freak out, and sometimes Coach Lashlee is sometimes, 'It's okay.'

Malzahn can be as stubborn apart from game situations as he has been this season in running the ball relentlessly down opponents' throats. That attitude has spurred the Tigers to first in the nation in rushing offense, but it's also something Malzahn constantly has to check on.

Erickson outlines a story about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who actually sought out Kristi Malzahn for counsel when he wasn't quite clicking with his then-offensive coordinator before his Tigers debut.

"That situation you're talking about, that was before the first game, and I was extremely hard on Cam and would push him and push him. She just noticed that, hey, you need to make sure he knows you care about him," said Malzahn.

The tough-love approach that Malzahn deploys at times has evidently been reined back enough so as not to be a detriment to the Tigers or any of his previous stops.

Getting through the tough SEC and capping it off with a dominant 59-42 victory over Missouri in the conference championship game makes the swift turnaround engineered by Malzahn especially impressive.

Malzahn's meteoric rise to date has been astonishing, and a testament to his innovative offense as well as his ability to moderate and maximize the effectiveness of his message as a leader of a marquee football program.

According to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora, that has generated interest for at least one coaching vacancy in the NFL—the Cleveland Browns, who are reportedly interested in interviewing Malzahn.

Former Browns GM Phil Savage discussed the regime's potential rationale for bringing in Malzahn by comparing the coach's dynamic offensive schemes and leadership ability to that of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly:

That's high praise, considering Kelly led the Eagles to the NFC East title in his first season in the pros.

Regardless of the outcome of the national championship clash in Pasadena's Rose Bowl on Monday, Jan. 6, it seems the sky is the limit for Malzahn's future.

The AP Coach of the Year can thank mentors who helped him along the way, his players for executing his exciting, fresh concepts and his wife for keeping him even-keeled through the grind.

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Who Is the No. 1 Recruit in Class of 2014?

With bowl season wrapping up, recruiting season is taking center stage. So let's take an updated look at who's the best recruit in the country. 

Running back Leonard Fournette recently committed to LSU. The 6'1", 226-pound prospect already looks like a senior in college and has the skills to have a serious impact on LSU's offense.

Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer, and Michael Felder break down who is the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. 

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Jimbo Fisher and Wife Candi Open Up on Son Ethan's Battle with FA

As Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher prepares for the biggest battle of his coaching life, he and his wife, Candi, are opening up on the biggest battle they face off the field.

In 2011, the couple's youngest son, Ethan, was diagnosed with a disease called Fanconi anemia, a rare blood disorder that can cause bone-marrow failure, leukemia and tumors, according to Fanconi.org. The average lifespan of someone suffering from the disease is between 28 and 30 years.   

“That moment will always be pivotal in our family,” Candi Fisher said of her son's diagnosis, per USA Today's Laken Litman. “I don’t think we take things for granted like we used to. We cherish a lot more.”

Although the number of documented patients is unclear, the chances of a child suffering from the recessive disease are about 1-in-131,000. Only 31 children each year on average are diagnosed with the condition in the United States. 

Ethan, who was five years old at the time of his diagnosis and is now eight, undergoes quarterly blood tests at University of Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis to check on the progression of the disease. He is also subject to yearly bone-marrow checks. Although there is no known cure at this time, the continuous testing is meant to identify any concerns and put him on a possible transplant list if needed. 

Doctors estimated that Ethan would need a transplant within three to five years of his diagnosis, per CNN's Jacque Wilson

FA, which causes numerous problems throughout the body, causes at least one physical abnormality in 60 percent of patients. The most common among those is a short stature, as children suffering from FA often look years younger than others their age. Other conditions include learning disabilities, extra extremities and defects in heart tissues. Ethan shows no outward signs of FA. 

“The hardest part is knowing that it’s a waiting game,” Candi said. “We know that we can never ever let our guard down. We know that we can never relax. It’s always in the back of your mind, knowing this blood test day could be the day they say his numbers are dropping.”

Jimbo Fisher, whose Seminoles play for the BCS National Championship against Auburn on Jan. 6, has worked particularly hard to balance out home and coaching life since the diagnosis. Ethan is a regular fixture in the Florida State locker room, hanging with the players and coaches. Per Wilson, every player has signed up for the bone-marrow donor registry. 

After learning of Ethan's disease, Candi founded the Kidz1stFund, which has already raised nearly $2 million since 2011. The organization works with afflicted families to help raise awareness and find a cure for the condition. In September, Florida State and Pittsburgh wore decals on their helmets with the Kidz1stFund's slogan, "I fight Fanconi," in an effort to raise awareness.

Despite being hours away from a possible national title, Jimbo sounds more like a coach when discussing how his family plans to defeat FA than he does talking about Seminoles players. 

“We accepted it in that God doesn’t put more on your plate than you can handle,” Jimbo said. “Everybody has issues in their life and we know this is a very serious one, but life goes on. It’s not going to control us. We’re going to control it. We look at it like an opponent. We’re gonna beat it.”

Doctors say that, while the odds are stacked against a cure, they're getting better. Dr. Margaret MacMillan, a hematologist oncologist at the hospital where Ethan receives his treatment, noted that bone-marrow-surgery survival rates have jumped by 65 percent over the past 16 years. That's not necessarily enough to cure a degenerative disease, but it can go a long way in starting to expand the lifespans of those afflicted with FA.

Until then, Fisher seems determined to use his triumphs on the field to help his son have one off of it. 

"I love what I do," Fisher said, per Wilson. "The more success I have, the more awareness I can bring to this disease."

 

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FSU vs. Auburn: Seminoles Defense vs. Auburn Run Game Will Be Deciding Matchup

The Auburn Tigers, this year's Southeastern Conference representative, will have their hands full when they face off against No. 1 Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in the BCS National Championship Game.

A prolific offense has to have a prolific quarterback, and that's exactly what head coach Jimbo Fisher has in his redshirt freshman quarterback. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading the nation's most high-powered offense (53 points a game) to an undefeated record.

While it appears that Florida State has the upper hand when the two teams play in Pasadena, Calif., it'll need to limit the nation's best rushing offense if it wants any chance of taking home the national title crown. An offense that has made head coach Gus Malzahn look like the Merlin of college football.

After Auburn won the 2011 BCS National Championship, Malzahn, then the offensive coordinator of the Tigers, bolted for a head coaching job at Arkansas State. Without Malzahn at the helm, Auburn struggled. In 2012 the Tigers went 3-9 and then head man Gene Chizik was fired. Malzahn filled the coaching vacancy and led the Tigers back to the promised land in his first season as head coach.

However, without extremely talented running backs and a powerful offensive line, Malzahn's offense would be nothing. But that's not the case. Instead, he has the running skills of quarterback Nick Marshall and Heisman finalist Tre Mason to utilize.

Both Mason and Marshall rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, including a combined 405 yards and five touchdowns against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

The No. 1 rushing team in the nation doesn't try to hide its running intentions. Just ask the guy who's scouted it for the past month: Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

"They've done an outstanding job over the course of the year," Pruitt told Elton Hayes of the Tuscaloosa News.  "They've been really stubborn about it. They're going to run the football. Everybody knows they're going to run the football, and you've got to be able to stop them.”

The best thing the Tigers can do is run the football, take time off the clock and keep Winston and the Seminoles offense on the sideline. If Florida State can stop the Tigers, it'll most likely have something to do with its do-it-all linebacker, Telvin Smith.

The senior linebacker has done everything for Pruitt's defense this year. Smith leads Florida State's defense in tackles and interceptions, and is also third on the team in sacks.

Florida State has the talent, and speed, across the board to get a couple stops on defense and get the ball back to its high-scoring offense. Auburn will score, and Mason will get his yardage. However, it'll be Florida State in the end that takes home the national title in Pasadena.

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Arkansas State Runs 'Hide the Midget' Trick Play in GoDaddy Bowl

In the second quarter of Arkansas State's 23-20 victory over Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl, the Red Wolves ran a strange trick play. 

The ESPN announcer called it the "Hide the Midget" play, where 5'9" wide receiver R.J. Fleming crouched behind the offensive line. Fleming then took the handoff to the left, while the rest of the play went right. 

He got outside for a 27-yard gain that helped set up a game-tying touchdown. 

Thanks to ESPN for the video. 

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Potential Unsung Heroes to Watch for

With the 2014 BCS National Championship Game only hours away, the anticipation for what should be a hard-fought battle between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers is at a peak.

Florida State will look to dominate the ball through the air with 2013 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, while Auburn will counter with the nation’s most explosive rushing attack led by quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason.

Points are expected to be in abundance, and punts should be at a premium.

But those are the players everyone is talking about. What about the lesser-known playmakers that could make an impact in the BCS’ final national championship matchup?

Join B/R as we take a look at five potential unsung heroes from tonight’s game.

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Panthers Kicker Graham Gano, an FSU Alum, Pranks Auburn Alum Cam Newton

In advance of Monday's BCS National Championship Game, Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano, a Florida State alum, played a little prank on quarterback Cam Newton. 

Newton led Auburn to a national championship following the 2010 season, and he isn't shy when it comes to showing his love for the Tigers. 

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Auburn vs. FSU Game Time: Crucial Info for 2014 BCS National Championship

Florida State and Auburn will ensure that the BCS goes out with a bang, as both teams have had incredible (albeit, different) paths to the BCS National Championship Game.

The Seminoles were led by the arm of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman quarterback led FSU to a 13-0 record and the No. 1 offense in the nation. What often gets overlooked, however, is the team's No. 1 defense. By all accounts, FSU has been the best team in the nation this season.

The Tigers, on the other hand, were a late addition to the BCS title game scrum. A last-second win against then-No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 30 put Auburn in the discussion, but it was the Tigers' Dec. 7 win against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game that really locked them in.

The matchup between undefeated FSU and Cinderella story Auburn will be of epic proportions. Can Auburn stop FSU from running the gamut? Can FSU put a halt to Auburn's Cinderella dreams?

Here's all the crucial information you need to know for the game in order to tune in and find out.

 

 What to Expect from VIZIO BCS National Championship Game

Both physicality and finesse will be on display when Auburn and FSU take the field for the final BCS title clash in college football history.

The Seminoles defense and offensive line will be handling most of the physicality. The No. 1 defense in the country allowed just 10.7 points per game this season—and that includes a 34-point outburst by Boston College on Sept. 28. Since then, no team has scored more than 17 (NC State, Oct. 26) against them.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com breaks down what makes FSU's defense so dominant:

Florida State's defense has allowed the fewest points in the country (10.7 points per game) and has produced the highest total of interceptions (25). To be a dominant unit, you need to have impact players at all three levels of your defense: defensive line, linebacker and secondary. The Noles check all three of those boxes. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner are among the best players in college football at their respective positions.

Those three—along with the rest of the defensive unit—will look to make things difficult for Nick Marshall and Co.

In terms of finesse, Auburn's offense relies on the option and the usage of speed runs outside the tackles. Marshall is more of a runner than he is a passer under center, and Heisman finalist Tre Mason racked up over 1,600 yards on 5.7 yards per carry this season. The two of them were instrumental in ranking Auburn's offense No. 1 in terms of yards per game on the ground (335.7).

If the Tigers' finesse can break the physicality of FSU's defense, then Auburn should be able to put points on the board. Gus Malzahn's squad scored 40.2 points per game this season (No. 9 in the nation), so something will have to give between the two units.

 

The Quarterbacks

Winston and Marshall will be the most important players on the field come game time.

The case for Winston is obvious. His on-field triumphs this season were tremendous. Just take a look at his numbers.

There's a reason Winston won the Heisman. His ability to both lead and make plays for the Seminoles during his first season as the team's quarterback was unheralded. There was no defense that could stifle his decision-making skills, nor was there ever a situation that could knock him off his game.

Ironically, Winston will turn 20 years old on Monday, Jan. 6. He told Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that all he wants for his birthday is a blowout:

"The NCAA has all these rules, but it does not say you cannot blow out everybody you play," Winston said Friday. "Before we played Clemson, before we played Florida, before we played Miami … I said ‘Guys, where in the rulebook does it say we can’t blow out everybody that we play?’"

A blowout could very well happen if Marshall doesn't do his best to match the points that FSU will inevitably put on the board.

Marshall's numbers through the air were far worse than Winston's, but his exploits on the ground were unmatched by every quarterback in the country.

Nobody is asking Marshall to go out there and pass for four touchdowns, but Marshall will need to take advantage of his opportunities through the air. Wide receiver Sammie Coates has big-play potential, but Marshall will need to get him the ball over the top of FSU's defense when it stuffs the box to stop the run.

Marshall is, perhaps, the biggest key to this game for both teams. If he's on, then FSU will have a lot to handle. If he struggles, then Winston might just get that blowout he's looking for.

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Notre Dame Football: How Tuitt's Departure Affects the Irish Defensive Line

During the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame has come out on the right side of many of its players' decisions regarding whether or not to leave school early for the NFL draft.

Over the past two years, Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, Louis Nix and Manti Te'o all chose to return for fourth seasons in South Bend. Without Eifert and Te'o in 2012, the Fighting Irish's 12-0 regular season never would have happened.

The law of averages kicked in Sunday night, however, as star defensive end Stephon Tuitt declared for the NFL draft after just three seasons, becoming the first Irish player since Kyle Rudolph following the 2010 season to turn pro after just three years.

The story was first reported by SI.com. Tuitt later offered a goodbye on Twitter to Notre Dame teammates and fans.

Nix, who had the option of returning in 2014 due to a redshirt year in 2010, graduated last month and is headed to the NFL as well. That leaves Notre Dame with rising junior Sheldon Day as its only returning starter on the defensive line, a unit that struggled with injuries for much of 2013's 9-4 season.

As preparations for 2014 begin, Notre Dame will be without all three of the defensive line starters from its 2012 BCS Championship Game team (Nix, Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore).

If the Irish hope to compete for one of four spots in the College Football Playoff which debuts next year, shoring up the line of scrimmage is a must.

Day, who was limited by a nagging ankle injury in 2013, is a lock to start at one of the defensive end positions. Sophomore Isaac Rochell, a Georgia native like Tuitt, saw significant snaps as a freshman and likely has the inside track for the other end position heading into spring practice.

The wild card is Chase Hounshell, a 2011 signee who has missed each of the past two seasons with injuries. His shoulder injury, suffered in March, healed well enough to allow him to work with the scout team late this season. He is expected to be a full participant in spring practice and, if he can stay healthy, could push Rochell.

No other Irish defensive end has played a game. The Ishaq Williams-to-defensive-end debate will likely continue, but the Cat linebacker has just one season of eligibility remaining.

New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, whose background is with a 4-3 defense, could tweak the Irish's schemes, but remaining multiple—as they were under Bob Diaco—is most likely. Barring a complete overhaul by VanGorder, Williams will likely remain at Cat. 

247Sports.com indicates that Notre Dame currently has five defensive end commitments, as well as 2013 signee Jacob Matuska, who redshirted this past season.

Justin Utupo is eligible for a fifth year and may now be asked to return in order to avoid having a player with no experience in the two-deep. Notre Dame generally does not announce its fifth-year players until just before the start of spring practice.

Replacing Nix at nose guard will be senior Tony Springmann and junior Jarron Jones.

Springmann is limited athletically, but held up well when filling in for Nix in 2012. He missed 2013 with a knee injury and is expected to be limited through the spring.

It has taken awhile for the light to come on for Jones, but he appeared to turn a corner late last season and will be counted on heavily in the fall.

Notre Dame fans still cringe when they hear the name Eddie Vanderdoes, but reality is that the 2013 Irish signee who transferred to UCLA before ever enrolling at Notre Dame has left the Irish in a significant conundrum. A Day-Vanderdoes duo would have given Notre Dame a great base with which to work, with Vanderdoes having the flexibility to move inside at times.

Hypotheticals are worthless, however. Tuitt and Vanderdoes won't be around, and a unit that Kelly focused so much of his recruiting on early in his Notre Dame tenure is back to being a major question mark heading into 2014.

Expect the 2014 defensive line to look more like the 2010 unit from Brian Kelly's first year that featured Ian Williams at nose guard and Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson at defensive end.

It should be good enough to get by, but isn't going to win games on its own like in 2012 and last year against USC.

Players leaving early for the NFL isn't a bad thing. It means a program is producing elite talent. It just so happens that Tuitt's departure comes at a position where the sophomore and junior classes are perilously thin.

For Kelly and VanGorder, much of the next eight months will be spent attempting to mesh the limited ability of Notre Dame's defensive line veterans with the limited experience of its underclassmen to produce a unit with which the Irish can threaten to be a top-four team.

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Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat: Everything You Need to Know About FSU's 'Red Lightning'

Maybe you thought the secret to Florida State's success this season was Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Or a defense that allowed just 10.7 points per game, tops in the nation. Or, you know, a fairly easy schedule.

Wrong.

The secret to Florida State's success this year is the team's equipment manager and ball boy on game days, Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat—or, as he's affectionately called, "Red Lightning."

Just look at this man at work. An inspiration to us all.

OK, OK, so Red Lightning doesn't actually affect anything on the field. But you have to admit, his exuberance about the Florida State football team is pretty fun to watch.

So who is this guy? Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports has the details: 

After finishing two years of junior college and enrolling at FSU, Grizzle-Malgrat wasted little time contacting the head of FSU football equipment through a mutual friend. He was looking for work. He would wash uniforms, collect footballs, whatever.

He now works in tandem with Tyler O'Brien as equipment managers (he's a ball boy only on game days). During the week, he helps wash uniforms and organize the locker room.

He also has a special assignment: Jameis Winston.

"I've been put in charge of taking care of Jameis," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I make sure Jameis has what he needs, nothing to worry about, helmets are OK, shoulder pads, him especially."

Famous Jameis and famous Red Lightning—quite the pair.

According to Fowler, Grizzle-Malgrat played high school ball on the offensive line at Key West High but didn't have the size to play at the next level. Instead, he ultimately became the team's equipment manager as a way to break into the football business. 

And along the way, he became a national football icon on social media. Not too shabby.

He's been called college football's biggest thing since Katherine Webb. He's probably the most famous Florida State fan since Jenn Sterger. He's even had his own Reddit AMA and has one heck of a verification photo too.

He's that blur of red beard you see racing down the sidelines when a Florida State player is running for a touchdown. He'll make sure the Seminoles don't retaliate after a big hit. He celebrates every big play. And, you know, he performs his ball-boy duties.

If college football is all about pageantry and passion, Red Lightning might just be the perfect representation of what the sport is all about. And he's also using his newfound fame to do some good, raising awareness for the Kidz1stFund, which supports research to fight Fanconi anemia, a rare blood disease that Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher's son, Ethan, suffers from.

Sure, he won't have any actual affect on the game, but few things in college football have been more fun than seeing Red Lightning bolt down the sideline. Auburn may have its War Eagle, but Florida State will surely take its Red Lightning any day of the week.

 

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Texas Football: Coaches Charlie Strong Should Add to His Staff

Charlie Strong was officially introduced as the 29th head football coach of the Texas Longhorns on Sunday, according to a statement released by the university.

"I'm excited...to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country," Strong said in the statement. "Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year."

Competing on a national level every year, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Just ask Mack Brown how easy these past three seasons have been. When guys like Manny Diaz are running your defense, there's only such heights a team can reach.

Accordingly, Strong's first (and perhaps most important) endeavor as Texas head coach this offseason will be appointing a new staff. With offensive coordinator Major Applewhite expected to leave and defensive coordinator Greg Robinson never viewed as more than an interim option, there are some very important slots left to fill.

Here are some names Strong should look at.

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Analyzing the Never-Ending Feud Between Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier

CLEMSON, S.C. – Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier say they have no animosity towards one another.

They say they respect each other.

But you’d never know it by listening to the barbs that the Palmetto State’s most prominent football coaches repeatedly fire at one another.

Over the last three years, Clemson and South Carolina have emerged as two of the nation’s best programs.

Over the same period, Swinney and Spurrier have engaged in a war of words that has made the Tigers and Gamecocks’ rivalry one of college football’s most entertaining soap operas.

This week marked the latest, but certainly not the last, episode in the pair’s seemingly never-ending feud, with the coaches trading barbs from victory celebrations following their respective bowl games.

It is fueled by mutual success, South Carolina’s burgeoning dominance of Clemson and Spurrier’s acidic tongue. And it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

It began, strangely enough, with a misunderstanding.

Following South Carolina’s 34-13 win in November 2011, South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis stated, “We aren’t LSU and we aren’t Alabama. But we sure ain’t Clemson.”

South Carolina’s official Twitter account tweeted out the quote but attributed it to Spurrier.

Five days later, Swinney was asked about the comment, and it sparked a memorable rant.

“I was taught to win or lose with class, and that’s a childish thing to put out there, to be honest with you,” he said in a six-minute clip that went viral on YouTube. “Our program speaks for itself. I guess I’d have to say I agree with him. I’d say he’s right. They’re not Clemson. They’re never going to be Clemson. No three-game winning streak is going to change that."

“It’s not the first time they’ve won three in a row, and it won’t be the last time. I’ve gone out of my way to be complementary to them and complementary to coach Spurrier, but I’m going to defend my program, my players and my coaches because I believe in them."

“There’s a lot of rivalries out there,” he said. “This is more of a domination. That’s a fact. My kids’ grandkids won’t live long enough to see this ever really become a rivalry."

“They ain’t Alabama. They ain’t LSU. And they’re certainly not Clemson,” he continued. “That’s why Carolina’s in Chapel Hill and USC’s in California and the university in this state always has been, always will be Clemson. … You can print that, tweet that, whatever.”

In October 2012, South Carolina prepared for a trip to LSU and the Tigers' “Death Valley.”
Naturally, Spurrier was ready with a quip.

“Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley,” Spurrier told  the Charleston Post and Courier. “(LSU’s stadium) is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one? There’s two of them. That’s right. There’s two Death Valleys.”

Swinney responded: “I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California is a long way from here,” he said. “I can see where there would be a little confusion, got two Death Valleys, two USCs, but only one real one.”

Two weeks later, Swinney offered heartfelt support to star South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore in the wake of a devastating knee injury.

On a teleconference with reporters the day after Lattimore’s injury, Swinney said he was praying for Lattimore’s full recovery.

“It took my breath away,” he said. “I was watching, and it just breaks my heart. I mean, I just hurt for him and his family and his teammates. This is a guy that, to me, represents all the good things that college football should be about. He's a guy I know personally. He's a class young man and so is his family. I know how hard he has worked.”

Two days later, Spurrier responded at a rally held in Lattimore’s honor.

“I read one today from the head coach at our upstate school, you know, that school that used to beat us a lot that doesn't beat us much anymore,” he said. “Usually, when that coach up there talks about South Carolina, it's a bunch of garbage and a bunch of BS. Usually. But I have to agree with him on what he said the other day. He said, 'Marcus Lattimore stands for what's right about college football.'”

Before South Carolina’s 31-17 win in November, both coaches professed mutual respect for one another and said nice things about the other’s wife.

“Coach Spurrier’s only mean to me when he ain’t around me,” Swinney said. “He’s always really nice, he really is.”

But Spurrier couldn’t resist another jab after his team’s Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.

“Those two Capital One Bowl trophies are nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said during the on-field trophy presentation.

Following Clemson’s Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, Swinney fired back, saying during his team’s trophy presentation that Clemson was “the first team from South Carolina to win a BCS bowl game.”

Sunday, Spurrier told ESPN.com's Chris Low, “We’ve never even been to a BCS bowl. We can’t get invited. We’re in the SEC.” 

South Carolina’s success against Clemson should keep Spurrier’s quips coming. The Gamecocks have won five consecutive games against the Tigers, their longest win streak in the rivalry’s history.

Over the last three seasons, the Gamecocks are 33-6 with a trio of 11-2 seasons.

In that same time span, Clemson is 32-8 with a 10-4 season and a pair of 11-2 seasons.

Both teams are likely to finish in the top 10 when the season’s final polls are released Tuesday, continuing their national prominence.

And as long as it stays that way and both coaches stay in-state, the Palmetto State’s war of words should continue unabated.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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Farewell BCS, Thanks for the Memories

For every frustration—and it’s a long, infuriating list—there was Texas-USC.

For every misinformed, uninterested Harris Poll voter, there was the 2001 Miami team that looked and played like a Pro Bowl roster, which it basically was. For every ridiculous formula modification, there was little ol’ Boise State beating a traditional football power on a flag football play that will be cemented in your brain for eternity. 

The BCS will exit the stage to cheers, but not for what has transpired under its watch. 

It will be cheered because it is no more, and the death of the Bowl Championship Series will ignite collective celebration from the masses. And while the dawn of the College Football Playoff should be anticipated, the BCS should be appreciated as it fades into darkness.

One game. That’s all that remains.

When the clock strikes zero on Florida State-Auburn late Monday night, the Bowl Championship Series will be retired and replaced. The slot machine-sized calculator that did the math for us will be bashed to pieces, while the “BCS” propaganda will make its way from dumpsters to basement walls to garage sales.

The frustrations that have hampered the system for 16 years will be moved to someone else’s pile. So will the memories, though, and this is where the legacy of the BCS gets complicated.

Yes, it was a flawed, imperfect system, but it was our system. And as strange and inconsistent as it was, it predictably delivered. Getting from Point A to Point B typically required a road map, a GPS and a police escort, but we got there.

The national championship games rarely generated much controversy, oftentimes putting the two teams together without much disagreement. As for Auburn in 2004 and a handful of others, your objections have been noted.

As a whole, however, the system worked. Yes, there was the occasional clunker—looking in your direction, Oklahoma-UConn Fiesta Bowl—but it did more good than bad.

The selection process was more about selling tickets and padding the pockets of expensive suit jackets, but it gave us football and unique matchups against teams that would balk at the prospects of playing one another by choice in the regular season.

The BCS bowls didn’t always deliver the excitement that the 2013 lineup provided, but they were often memorable. More significant than the faulty selection process and overwhelming, beat-you-over-the-head sponsor involvement were the moments that will live on.

No moment in the BCS era will be celebrated more than the 2006 Rose Bowl, a game that featured unfathomable star power and hype. This, quite simply, was peak football.

Somehow, the game lived up to the hype, and Vince Young’s waltz into the end zone on fourth down with less than a minute remaining is one of those football moments you’ll thankfully never "un-see."

You’ll also never forget the soothing sound of one Keith Jackson narrating it all, or one of the greatest mascot hugs in the history of sports.

For the 2001 Miami team, the entire season was a work of art: one magnificent beatdown after the next, leading to a 527-117 margin of victory over the course of the entire season.

It culminated with a 37-14 win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, and with names like Portis, Shockey, Winslow, (Andre) Johnson, Vilma and Reed—just to name a few—it should come as no surprise.

This was domination, a different kind of excitement that has been appreciated more as time has passed—like a fine wine with an ungodly restaurant price tag. While the list of dominant BCS squads is no doubt impressive, no team was as dominant as this juggernaut Hurricanes squad.

Boise State, meanwhile, was the opposite of a juggernaut. It was the little guy who squeezed his way into the BCS, thanks to a handful of strange requirements that we despised to the very end. Its involvement in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was laughable. Then the game started.

There were bigger upsets in the BCS when going off of point spreads alone—heck, there were two significantly larger upsets just last week—but none featured the kind of entertainment that this one did.

Boise State running back Ian Johnson capped it off with his Statue of Liberty score on a two-point conversion—and a proposal to his girlfriend following the game.

It wasn’t just simple plays or seasons, either, during the BCS era. Dynasties were found and formed in these games, yearly fixtures showing up on the biggest stage imaginable.

Florida, Alabama and USC played in seven national championships combined, winning six of those games. Well, five if you dive into the results book and see the red pen for those USC sanctions. But no red pen can erase what we saw.

The memories will live on, and perhaps that’s what you can take away most from the BCS. Not the money grab and the imperfections in the selection process, but the moments that transpired because of it. And these moments were plentiful.

Complaining about what the BCS was unable to do is a waste of time at this point, like heckling an old, worn out refrigerator before you awkwardly lift it to curb. Now is the time for goodbyes and to remember what’s worth remembering.

It’s the end of an era, an era that watched the game grow at an exponential rate over the past decade. The BCS gave us excitement, heartbreak and the entire range of emotions that can be felt in ultimate triumph and defeat.

Thank you, BCS. You won’t hear that enough over the next few days, but you deserve to hear it. Not for all the things you didn’t do, but for everything else.

You gave us Vince Young. You gave us Ian Johnson. You gave us Keith Jackson. You gave us all these things without asking for a thing in return.

Were you perfect along the way? Of course not. But in some ways the imperfections look less broken already and—like the dynasties you produced—maybe we will appreciate everything you did in time.

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Auburn vs. FSU: Defensive Keys for Tigers and Seminoles

The 2014 BCS National Championship Game is a contest marked by great offensive superstars. From Jameis Winston and Florida State's uber-talented all-around offensive corps to Nick Marshall and Auburn's read-option excellence, the main storylines have surrounded the offensive talent of the two teams.

That's a shift from the recent SEC-dominated championship games, as the conference has mostly been notable for its dominant defenses. Though neither unit is a pushover—ask Alabama or Miami—the consensus is that both are at distinct disadvantages headed into tonight's championship showdown.

However, both defenses are certainly equipped to at least contain the opposing offense, even if shutdown domination might be asking a bit much.

Here's what the Auburn and Florida State defenses must accomplish to prevent Monday night's contest from turning into a slugfest for the crystal ball.

 

Keys for Auburn Defense

Avoid the Haymaker

The biggest fear of most Auburn fans revolves around the Seminoles' big-play ability. Florida State averaged 7.5 yards per play, the most in the country, and has hit the third-most plays of 20 or more yards this season. Every 'Noles receiver with double-digit receptions averages over 12 yards per catch.

Auburn's defense is solid on a down-to-down basis and should fare reasonably well against Florida State's offense for the majority of the game.

"The majority of the game" is not good enough, though, as a couple of big plays nearly cost Auburn a chance to play in this game (see: Bulldogs, Georgia). 

If the Tigers adopt a relatively conservative zone defense as many expect, that will concede plenty of yardage to Florida State. But it will also test Winston's patience and make the freshman execute on a greater number of plays, thus increasing the probability of an eventual mistake.

As Bud Elliot of Tomahawk Nation notes, the Tigers' best bet might be to bait the Heisman winner rather than challenge him:

If Auburn keeps with its plan of staying patient and playing conservatively, FSU must match with similar patience. Auburn quite simply does not have the defensive personnel to outright stop Florida State -- it does have the personnel to set up situations in which Florida State is more likely to beat itself.

Minimizing the big play will inevitably lead to some frustrating sequences where a wide-open checkdown picks up a first down, but it also leaves Florida State with less margin for error. When the Seminoles inevitably provide an opening on a drive, that's when the Tigers must pounce.

 

Get Home on 3rd Down

The cynic might say that it's just a media conspiracy to hype up the game, but there has been an outpouring of support for the Auburn defense. Much of that argument glances past the ugly yardage totals and focuses on critical situations:

Indeed, Auburn is 21st in the nation in third-down defense, a byproduct of its unusually skewed pass-rushing distribution.

That's mostly because the Tigers will stack their pass-rushing personnel on clear passing downs and safeguard against the run if the opposition's play call is in doubt.

The sheer quantity of pass-rushers usually ensures that Auburn can at least speed up the opposing quarterback's decision-making if they do not get home. Dee Ford has 8.5 sacks, but the trio of LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson are worthy complements. 

If the Tigers can fluster Winston on a few early third downs, that is their best chance at rattling the freshman and destabilizing whatever rhythm he establishes. It's a difficult task, but Auburn has made a living off winning critical situations—a trend that must continue tonight.

 

Keys for Florida State Defense

Gap Discipline

The Florida State defense is extremely athletic and has had a month to prepare for the Auburn option attack that has terrorized SEC defenses. Stifling Nick Marshall and Tre Mason Jr. will not be simple, and it starts with winning in the front seven.

According to ESPN.com's Chris Low, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis believes Auburn's offensive line is the key to their success:

“You’ve got to be ready to play the tempo game and tackle well, but don’t let anybody kid you,” Chavis said. “They’ve got a lot of really good football players in the offensive line. We didn’t play against a better offensive line this year, and I don’t think people are giving that offensive line enough credit.” 

LSU was the only team to beat Auburn this season after jumping out to a 21-0 halftime lead and then holding on for a 35-21 rain-soaked win back in September. 

“You have to be able to handle all their different looks on the perimeter,” Chavis said. “It will look like the same run, and they’ll end up throwing it. They’re not going to let you cheat and get an extra guy in there. They’re going to put you in a lot of one-on-one situations, and you have to be able to tackle. If not, you’re going to have a hard time with them.” 

Chavis' last quote about the perimeter is key, as Auburn runs outside as often as it does inside. That makes the Tigers unlike any run attack Florida State has seen in the relatively docile ACC, where only Boston College and Georgia Tech averaged more than five yards per carry.

Still, while the Auburn running game is the obvious focus for the Florida State defense, don't expect the underdog Tigers to prepare an inflexible offensive game plan.

 

Look for Play Action

As good as Auburn's rushing attack is, it's not difficult to imagine the speedy Seminoles defense containing the option with relative success. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn seems to realize the need for the Tigers to have a multifaceted offense on Monday night:

Nick Marshall may not be a renowned passer, but as his game-winning touchdown against Georgia demonstrated, his arm strength is an unquestioned asset. Thus, when Auburn does turn to the air, it seems likely that the Tigers will dial up a deep play-action pass.

If Auburn hits a play or two like that, it opens up dangerous avenues for the run game.

Defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and James Ramsey all have at least 40 tackles and might be called upon in run support, but they cannot cheat into the box if they get burned early.

Snuffing out those deep passes represents Florida State's best chance to make Auburn one-dimensional. If the Tigers can only rely upon Marshall's legs and not his arm, the Seminoles' odds of winning shoot through the roof.

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