NCAA Football News

Orange Bowl 2014: Has Urban Meyer Lost Big-Game Edge?

Everything was going Urban Meyer's way to start his career at Ohio State. He was 24-0, and it appeared that no one could beat his Buckeyes from the Big Ten. 

Two games later and two Top 15 teams have now come out victorious over his Buckeyes, as Clemson beat OSU, 40-35, in the Orange Bowl on Friday night.

Meyer is now on a two-game losing streak after seemingly doing no wrong during the Buckeyes' 24-game win streak. 

How the last two losses have happened—questionable play-calling on offense and a lack of taking advantage of opportunities—have some questioning if the magic of Meyer in big games is gone. 

For as much as the past two games matter, it's not just those losses that give us clues that Meyer's big-game edge may have slipped. 

If you go in the way-back machine and enter 2010, you see the big-game edge crumbling in his final season at the University of Florida. That team went 8-5 on the year and just 4-4 in SEC play.

More importantly, Meyer's Gators went 0-4 against Top 25 teams that season, and a negative trend was being set.

Perhaps that was the beginning of the end for the legend of Meyer as nearly invincible, especially coming off a loss in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

Yet, there was no questioning Meyer's Buckeyes during the 24-game win streak, as they went 5-0 against Top 25 teams. 

However, those were just regular-season games, and when championships and BCS games were on the line for the first time, the Buckeyes let every opportunity slip through their fingers.

In the Big Ten title game it was scoring 24 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead, only to see Miller and the offense sputter out in the fourth quarter and the defense get gashed for 17 unanswered points for the 34-24 loss to Michigan State. 

On Friday night in the Orange Bowl, it was a lack of an ability to score when Clemson made mistakes that cost them dearly. 

It started early on, after getting a safety and pulling the game to 14-9, the Buckeyes went three-and-out on the following possession. Opportunity No. 1 missed. 

Early in the second quarter, Clemson was knocking on the door for a touchdown to make the game 21-9. Then Ohio State freshman safety Vonn Bell made a great pick at the 1-yard line. What happened next? 

You guessed it—another Ohio State three-and-out and a chance to take the lead gone. Opportunity No. 2 missed. 

Fast forward to the last two minutes of the game and Ohio State is down 40-35, needing a defensive stop like yesterday. They got just that courtesy of a C.J. Barnett interception of Tajh Boyd and a return inside Clemson territory with 1:27 left in the game. 

Two plays later and Braxton Miller badly misses a receiver in the post and it winds up in the hands of Clemson's Stephone Anthony. Opportunity No. 3 missed, and game over.

In both of the losses, Ohio State was given every opportunity it needed or hoped for, and nearly every time it couldn't come through in the clutch. 

That's unlike the Meyer teams of the past. Heading into this year, Meyer had lost just one conference championship game his teams played in and was 7-1 in bowl/national championship games. 

Even the conference championship game situation suggests that Meyer's big-game edge is slipping. He's currently on a two-game losing streak in that department, losing to Alabama in 2009 and Michigan State this season. 

It all leads to Meyer being just 5-6 against ranked opponents in the past three years.

Panicking over two games, however important they are, may seem a bit crazy—but when you're Meyer and expectations are Big Ten titles at a minimum and national titles preferably, losing the first two cracks at big games doesn't cut it. 

Meyer will have plenty of time to correct the current trend, but losing a few more big games on the national stage will certainly make the folks in Columbus more than unhappy. 

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Who Would Have Thought Missouri Would Carry the Torch for SEC?

Missouri just put the cherry on top of a delicious treat that was the 2013 season with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Not only did the win give the program 12 wins for the first time since 2007, but it showed folks that the Tigers are legit. The victory also comes just one day after Alabama fell apart in the BCS Sugar Bowl. 

Only two seasons in the conference, Missouri is keeping the SEC winning tradition alive and doing its part in silencing those critics who can't wait to scream how overrated the conference is every chance they get. 

Who would have thought?

The same team that was treated like a red-headed stepchild last season and often looked down upon for even thinking it could play in the big-boy conference, is now truly one of the big boys and doing a lot of the conference's dirty work. 

The SEC really took a hit after the Crimson Tide lost in upset, embarrassing fashion to the Sooners. Fans from other conferences finally witnessed the giant fall and were out in the streets beating their chest like King Kong. It was finally a glimpse of hope that maybe parity in college football actually does exist. And after the season the SEC had, it's tough to blame those rabid fans.

Georgia and Florida both took a major step back this season. With a combination of freak injuries, poor execution and just bizarre losses, two teams that were expected to compete for an SEC East title finished the season with a combined record of 12-13.

Texas A&M proved it has serious flaws defensively, ranking 96th in the country in points allowed. The Aggies lost four regular-season games, including losing the last two, and nearly lost to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. A 9-4 season in the SEC West is still nothing to sneeze at, but this year should still be considered a letdown given the expectations heading into the season.

LSU lost to Ole Miss, was destroyed by Alabama and needed all four quarters to put away Iowa in the Outback Bowl. With Alabama losing back-to-back games and a BCS bowl for only the second time in Nick Saban's career, the SEC titans were finally showing some weaknesses. Even with an overall 6-2 record in bowl games, the conference didn't have the same feel as it usually does.

If Missouri had lost to Oklahoma State, the Internet may have crashed. And crazy enough, the offense tried everything it could to give that game away by turning the ball over three times. Supporters of other conferences would have really been doing back flips and trolling on Twitter. But like much of the season, Missouri held its own and had the SEC's back.

It's time the rest of the conference returns the favor. After all, Missouri has quickly adopted the conference's winning tradition, while the fans have done their part as well:

It's crazy to think that a couple of years ago a matchup between Missouri and Oklahoma State would have been a typical conference meeting in the Big 12. Friday night, it was a statement game for Missouri, as well as the conference as a whole. 

Auburn will have a chance to do the same Monday night against Florida State in the national championship. But for now, the Missouri Tigers continue to earn their stripes as they are carrying the torch and doing their part in keeping the SEC alive and well. 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Sammy Watkins Reminds NFL Scouts How Special He Is

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd turned in an impressive performance against Ohio State in the Tigers' 40-35 Orange Bowl victory, throwing for 378 yards and five touchdowns. However, it was his go-to receiver, Sammy Watkins, who stole the show and reminded the nation why he is one of the best wide receivers in the game.

Watkins has put up big numbers for the bulk of 2013, there's a reason the junior was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in December. He entered the game with 85 catches, 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Then, in the Orange Bowl, things came together for Watkins against a depleted and hapless Ohio State secondary.

Clemson's star receiver posted 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns on the way to breaking and then setting a new Orange Bowl receiving record.

Watkins' effort was tremendous against the Buckeyes, but there were some who doubted him after lackluster performances in the Tigers' two losses this season. He totaled 15 catches for 161 yards and just a single touchdown in those games. But on Friday—playing in the Orange Bowl and on the big stage—he got a chance to put any worries about him to bed, and did just that.

Yet for Watkins and his Clemson teammates, this game was about more than just capping off the 2013 campaign. In the Orange Bowl following the 2011 season, Clemson was boat-raced by West Virginia, 70-33, with Watkins posting five catches to the tune of 66 yards and one touchdown. Against Ohio State, the junior redeemed himself for the shortcomings of his freshman bowl appearance.

As expected, the speedy Watkins showed that there are few better than him when it comes to getting vertical down the field and taking the top off the defense. No. 2 can fly, and he showed that against a the Ohio State defense.

In addition to the speed, Watkins' steady diet of bubble screens allowed him to display the shifty, stop-and-start quality that makes him so dangerous in the open field. Watkins also showed an ability that he rarely is forced to display: he's capable of making tough catches in traffic. Ordinarily, Watkins blows the top off the defense and is so open, he makes clean catches without worry. Here, against Ohio State, he shows he too can climb the ladder and make the clutch grab.

Watkins is still working on becoming a complete receiver. His success in the Orange Bowl—and at Clemson in general—came from working out of the slot, using motion and being stacked with other receivers to help him avoid press coverage. At the next level, he'll have to prove that more physical coverage does not limit him from making plays. However, as it stands now, B/R's top draft analyst, Matt Miller, views Watkins as one of the top instant impact players in the 2014 draft.

The junior had a big game in his home state of Florida and his showing in the Orange Bowl served as a true reminder that he'll be a hot commodity at the next level. With Watkins expected to declare for the NFL Draft, the productive outing in Miami Gardens will not be lost upon scouts.

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Oklahoma State vs. Missouri: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Cotton Bowl

The eighth-ranked Missouri Tigers concluded one of the best seasons in program history with a 41-31 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday, Jan. 3, per USA Today Sports:

The thrilling back-and-forth matchup was highlighted by a fourth-quarter explosion that saw a combined 41 points scored between the two former Big 12 rivals.

Surprisingly, both offenses started slow in the opening quarter, as a James Franklin interception on Mizzou's opening drive gave way to three consecutive punts, per Fox Sports columnist David Ubben.

Following a turnover on downs for the Tigers, Oklahoma State returned the favor with a Clint Chelf interception on the very next play, setting the tone for what would ultimately be a first-half defensive struggle.

Much to the delight of Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel, the Tigers would capitalize on the excellent field position created by E.J. Gaines' turnover, marching 50 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

The game's first scoring drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Henry Josey. 

However, the Cowboys would answer immediately, covering 75 yards in just over 70 seconds to even things up. The big play on the crucial drive was Chelf's 40-yard touchdown pass to Josh Stewart, who ran uncovered down the middle of the field. 

After more struggles from Franklin and a missed field-goal attempt by Oklahoma State's Ben Grogan, Pinkel would roll out Maty Mauk at quarterback to help spark the Tigers' offense. The bold move would pay off right away for Mizzou as the freshman reeled off a pair of big runs, per The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison, and found Marcus Lucas for the go-ahead touchdown from 24 yards out in the second quarter.

Following a pair of stalled drives for the Cowboys, Mizzou would engineer a successful two-minute drill resulting in a successful Andrew Baggett field goal at the halftime horn.

Although the Tigers led 17-7 at the break, the halftime numbers for Mizzou's offense were head-scratching to say the least, per Morrison:

Both defenses would continue to steal the show in the third quarter until a poor exchange between Franklin and Josey resulted in a key turnover. The Cowboys, who began the third quarter with three straight punts and an interception, would take over at Mizzou's 33-yard line before finally showing signs of life on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Chelf to Jhajuan Seales that would make it 17-14, Tigers.

In response to the pivotal error, Pinkel would send Mauk back out for the following drive. But a quick three-and-out saw Franklin back on the field to start the fourth quarter.

A few plays later, Franklin made another costly error, pitching the ball to a covered teammate on an option play that resulted in another fumble. The Cowboys would recover just 11 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown.

Mizzou's defense would deliver a massive stop, but Grogan's chip-shot field goal was enough to tie things up at 17 points apiece. 

Both offenses decided to wake up at that point.

Sensing the game was starting to slip away, Franklin and the Tigers offense responded on their ensuing possession, driving 60 yards in six plays to take the lead on an explosive 25-yard touchdown run from Josey, per Morrison: 

But Chelf and company would go 75 yards in less than two minutes to tie the game for a third time. The senior quarterback showed off his jets on the game-tying 23-yard touchdown run.

Tragedy struck just moments later for Oklahoma State, though, as a controversial defensive pass interference penalty would negate a pick-six for the Cowboys, per Stillwater NewsPress' Jason Elmquist: 

As a result of the blown call, Mizzou's drive continued before Baggett put the Tigers ahead 27-24 with a career-long 46-yard field goal. 

After the two teams traded touchdowns yet again, a Shane Ray 73-yard fumble return touchdown would seal the deal for the Tigers, who closed the game on a 14-0 run. Michael Sam made the play on Chelf and Ray had the presence of mind to scoop up the ball and run it all the way back.

While the Cowboys end the season having lost two in a row, the win is Missouri's 12th on the season and ties 2013 for the Tigers' best season in program history. Pinkel led them to a 12-2 mark back in 2007 in a season that also concluded with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

Pinkel celebrated the win with his team in excellent fashion:

Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides these quotes from Pinkel:

Key Player Grades

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: C-

Although Franklin didn't get a ton of help from his receivers on Friday, his struggles (15 of 40 for 174 yards and an interception) were awfully surprising given his impressive play in recent matchups with Auburn and Texas A&M.

Whether it was Oklahoma State's defensive pressure, jitters playing in his final game close to home or a combination of both, Franklin was a shell of himself on Friday night. Fortunately, he still closed out his college career with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Clint Chelf, QB, Oklahoma State: B

Cowboys signal-caller Clint Chelf certainly made his fair share of mistakes on Friday, but he did account for three of Oklahoma State's touchdowns and managed to outshine Franklin throughout the night. Not to mention he played fearless down the stretch, taking shots and putting his body on the line.

Unfortunately, his late fumble in game-tying field-goal range is the play he'll remember most.

 

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A

Henry Josey will likely be wondering why he didn't get more than 13 touches on Friday. Nonetheless, the dynamic rusher made the most of his limited opportunities against the Cowboys, racking up 102 total yards and scoring three touchdowns on a night when the Tigers' aerial attack was almost nonexistent.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Clemson vs. Ohio State: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Orange Bowl

Urban Meyer is going to need a lot of pizza.

In an up-and-down game that had both sides' fanbases on the edge of their seats throughout, the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2) fell, 40-35, to the No. 12 Clemson Tigers (11-2) in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made sure to make a not-so-subtle dig at South Carolina after the game.

With the superb quality of both offenses and a plethora of deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball for Clemson and OSU, it was no surprise that this game turned into a shootout. The purists may not have liked it, but watching the Tigers and Buckeyes score one touchdown after another made for a thrilling affair.

It was a fitting end to the collegiate career of Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd, who is graduating, accounted for six total touchdowns in the game, five coming the way of the pass. Boyd's favorite target on Friday and this season, Sammy Watkins, is also expected to leave Clemson by making himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

Watkins, in particular, was fantastic all game. Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris did a great job of running a lot of screens that allowed Watkins to get the ball quickly and turn upfield.

Watkins had 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Even Larry Fitzgerald was compelled to praise the wideout's performance.

This win was even bigger for Boyd, who struggled in big games against Florida State and South Carolina earlier this season. Despite some poor decision-making at the end of the game, the senior quarterback managed to have a strong performance, finishing 31-of-40 passing for 378 yards and two interceptions. He also had 127 yards on the ground.

Boyd had the first score of the game with this 48-yard touchdown run, which set the tone for what was to come.

That run helped Clemson jump out to a 20-9 lead in the second quarter.

Then the Tigers were nearly undone by their porous defense.

For example, look at Jeff Heuerman's 57-yard touchdown reception that got the Buckeyes back into the game and cut the deficit to five points, 20-15.

There wasn't a Tigers defender within 10 yards of him when he caught the ball, and from there, it was a rather easy path to the end zone.

Matt Hinton of Football Outsiders saw where there could've been some miscommunication.

There would be a similar defensive breakdown on Carlos Hyde's 14-yard touchdown pass that put Ohio State back on top, 35-34 in the fourth quarter.

Ironically, it was a defensive play that would ultimately seal the game for the Tigers.

Clemson was clinging to a 40-35 lead with a little over three minutes left in the game, and the Buckeyes were in Tigers territory. Then OSU QB Braxton Miller fumbled, giving the Tigers offense a chance to ice the game away.

Unfortunately, Boyd threw an interception to hand Ohio State one more chance to find the go-ahead score.

Yet, the Clemson defense answered the call once again, with Stephone Anthony picking off Miller to put the final nail in Ohio State's coffin.

 

Key Player Grades

Sammy Watkins, Clemson: A+

Sammy Watkins is going to the NFL, right? After a performance like this, he can't possibly feel staying in school for another year is going to help his draft stock.

Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller has Watkins as the No. 1 wide receiver on his board.

It's not hard to see why, as the junior wideout was the best player on the field on Friday night. He was a beast in the receiving game. Anytime Watkins touched the ball, it seemed like he had a chance to score.

And seriously, how do you defend this?

Tajh Boyd deserves plenty of credit, but it was Watkins who won the game for Clemson.

 

Tajh Boyd, Clemson: B+

Boyd very nearly threw this game away and cemented whatever negative narratives he's built during his time at Clemson. His interception in the fourth quarter could have been disastrous for the Tigers and his legacy at Clemson.

But the defense came through and saved Boyd's bacon.

 

Braxton Miller, Ohio State: B

Braxton Miller deserved better.

Time and again he was getting harassed in the pocket and hammered after the pass. By the end of the game, it was a shock he was able to walk.

Robert Flores of ESPN put it best.

Meyer praised his QB after the game, per Dieter Kurtenbach of the Sun Sentinel.

That interception at the end of the game was pretty bad, though. There was no excuse for making that pass.

But by that point in the game, though, Miller wasn't 100 percent, and it would be tough to lay blame for the entire game on him after he accounted for 269 total yards and combined for four touchdowns via the pass and on the ground.

 

What's Next?

Clemson is losing a lot of bodies to the NFL next season. It will be interesting to see how Swinney is able to rebound in 2014.

Miller is a junior and if he returns, expect the Buckeyes to be highly ranked entering the 2014 season as they look to rebound from this disappointing loss.

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Missouri Seals Cotton Bowl Win over Oklahoma State with Fumble Recovery TD

The Cotton Bowl ended with a wild finish, as the Missouri Tigers were able to come away with a huge win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Up 34-31 with just over a minute left, Mizzou lineman Michael Sam was able to sack Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf and knock the ball loose. Defensive lineman Shane Ray picked up the loose ball and returned it 73 yards to seal the victory for the Tigers.  

You can watch the the sideline celebrate at the end of the game below.

Perhaps the best part of the play was Gus Johnson's reaction, as it was the perfect ending to what was a great game.

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7 Teams Whose Schedules Have Them Set Up for a Title Run in 2014

As we are just days away from ending the 2013 college football season, it's time to take an early look at the upcoming season. A very, very early look. We're still waiting for key players to decide whether they will leave for the next level, coaching changes are taking place, and recruiting is still unfolding. But one way to determine success this early in the process is by glancing at the schedules. 

Even if a team isn't the most talented, it could still make a run if the schedule is easy enough. Getting tough opponents at home and having a favorable non-conference schedule are just some of the ways a team could find itself in the national title hunt at the end of the year.

Here are some of the top teams that not only have talent to make a run, but also have a schedule that favors their chances. 

Begin Slideshow

Charlie Strong Rumored to Be the Next Texas Football Head Coach

Talk about a quick coaching decision—the Texas Longhorns are rumored to have offered Charlie Strong the head coaching job of the prestigious football program, and he is rumored to accept the position. This coming way before the Jan. 15 deadline set by athletic director Steve Patterson.

Bobby Burton of 247Sports.com, a football recruiting website in partnership with CBSSports.com, first reported the news via Twitter:

Burton was the first to report, but is he right? Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com tweeted, shortly after Burton, that a source has told him Strong will be the next football coach:

Brown has been covering the coaching search since former head coach Mack Brown stepped down. Brown also followed up by tweeting that Strong has indicated he will accept the job, via Twitter:

Strong was a finalist for the job with Vanderbilt's James Franklin, per Brown on Twitter. However, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that Strong has not accepted the job:

Forde does not cover Texas athletics like Burton or Brown, but certainly has credibility as a verified Twitter user and sportswriter. If the rumors are true on the part of the Texas media, then Strong would be Patterson's first major hire as the athletic director.

Finally in the mix, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reported on the Strong deal. He tweeted that Strong agreed to terms to be the next Texas head coach:

It appears to be a nice hefty contract for Strong, if the rumors are confirmed. Per USA Today salaries database, the coach made $2.3 million in 2012.

Strong started his head coaching career at Louisville in 2010. While at Louisville he won three bowl games, including the 2012 BCS Sugar Bowl. His recruiting ties are strong to the state of Florida, and there were 15 players from Miami on the 2013 Louisville football roster.

Before taking over for the Cardinals, Strong was a defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators and won two BCS National Championships with the program.

The next step for Strong, if the rumors hold true, is to appoint a worthy coaching staff to assist him with future goals for the Longhorns. Expect the University of Texas and Patterson to make a comment on the reports and for Patterson to hold a press conference announcing Strong.

Again, if the reports hold true, things should be moving quickly for Strong and the Longhorns. Finally for 'Horns fans, the search appears to be over.

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Charlie Strong Reportedly Set to Become Head Football Coach at Texas

A new era of Texas Longhorns football may be near, as the university has reportedly reached an agreement that will make Louisville coach Charlie Strong the next head football coach, according to Bobby Burton of 247Sports.com:

BREAKING: Horns247 first to report that Texas will hire Louisville coach Charlie Strong.

— Bobby Burton (@BobbyBurton247) January 4, 2014

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated provides details about the deal:

High ranking Texas official said Texas and Charlie Strong have agreed to terms. Five years, $5 mill per. http://t.co/He5hGAU3Em

— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 4, 2014

ESPN's Brett McMurphy contends a deal has not been formally agreed to yet:

Louisville coach Charlie Strong has not been formally offered the head coaching job at Texas but would accept it if he was, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Friday night.

Another source told McMurphy that Strong said he has not accepted the Texas job, but wants to talk to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and university president Jes Ramsey.

Jason Higdon of Fox Sports passes along another development:

Charlie Strong has called for a 9am staff metting.

— Jason Higdon (@Jason_Higdon) January 4, 2014

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provides more details:

Louisville players have been told Coach Strong is meeting with AD and president right now.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 4, 2014

Strong would replace Mack Brown, who announced his resignation on Dec. 14 after 16 seasons at the helm. Brown lost four or more games in each of his last four seasons in Austin, but still leaves behind massive shoes to fill after bringing Texas its fourth national championship in 2005.

The Longhorns are coming off an 8-5 season that concluded in disappointing fashion with a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30. 

Although the high-profile program has been plagued by mediocrity in recent seasons, expectations will be high moving forward. Texas remains one of college football's premier programs and boasts a rabid fanbase that expects double-digit-wins year in and year out. 

Strong is coming off a four-year run at Louisville that saw him return the program to the same BCS glory it had experienced under Bobby Petrino in the mid-2000s. The 53-year-old Strong went 37-15 during his time with the Cardinals, going 23-3 over his past two seasons.

Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong spent several seasons on Florida's coaching staff, making a name for himself as a brilliant defensive coordinator in college football's toughest conference. The Gators won two BCS titles during his time in Gainesville.

In Strong, Texas will have hired a tough-minded coach whose first priority would be to fix the Longhorns porous defense. Keep in mind that Texas ranked 69th nationally in total defense in 2013 (407.2 total yards allowed). Meanwhile, Strong's Louisville squad ranked tops in all of college football in that category last season, allowing just over 251 total yards per game.

While it remains to be seen whether Strong is the man capable of lifting Texas football back into the national championship discussion, his impressive track record at Louisville confirms that Texas is on the verge of bringing on a worthy candidate. 

For now, Longhorn fans can sleep soundly knowing the future is near.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Martavis Bryant Reels in Sick Bobbling Touchdown Catch in Sugar Bowl

In a game littered with terrific catches, Martavis Bryant stepped up big for the Clemson Tigers with a bobbling, go-ahead touchdown catch in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State.

To add to the degree of difficulty, the defender on Bryant was called for pass interference.  You can get an even better look at the amazing concentration by Bryant to reel in the pass below.

The catch helped give the Tigers the lead for the first time in the second half, putting them up 34-29.

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Sammy Watkins Hauls in Crazy Touchdown Pass in Sugar Bowl

In case you haven't noticed, Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins is pretty good.

With the Tigers down 29-20, a muffed punt by Ohio State put Clemson in Buckeyes territory. Shortly after, Tajh Boyd found Watkins on a beautiful 30-yard touchdown on third down. Watkins simply snatched the ball out of the air, showing the country why he's considered one of the best receivers in college football.

The touchdown made it a one-possession game with the Buckeyes up 29-27.

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Michigan Football: 2014 Running Back Depth Chart Prediction

Michigan struggled to run the ball consistently during the 2013 campaign and will need to improve drastically to turn things around next season. Problems on the offensive line (nine players were rotated through the five starting positions) because of injuries and performance issues contributed to the problems in the running game. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, returning from a catastrophic leg injury that ended his 2012 season, also failed to regain top form.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges prefers to have one primary back, and with Toussaint’s graduation the competition will be on among the returning backs.

Derrick Green (5-11, 240, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (83 carries for 270 yards, 3.3 yards-per-carry, 2 touchdowns)

Green was injured in training camp and questions about his weight and conditioning dogged him until an injury sidelined Fitzgerald Toussaint for the Northwestern game.

Green then showed why he was such a highly touted recruit, running with authority and making holes with his bruising running style. Despite his late-season surge, Green was disappointed with his production and predicted that, “[He] and De'Veon are going to come back next year real strong and…get it done.”

2014 Outlook: Expect Green to Compete to be Primary Back

De’Veon Smith (5-11, 224, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (26 carries 117 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)

Smith was mired on the depth chart but surged at the end of season to run with both power and elusiveness. Smith showed tantalizing glimpses of speed that could set him apart from the rest of the running backs next season.

2014 Outlook: Expect Smith and Green to Compete to be Primary Back

Justice Hayes (5-10, 192, 2014 Eligibility: Junior)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 6 yards, 3.0 yards-per-carry)

Hayes played in 11 games but wasn’t featured in the offense until the bowl game, where he earned playing time by shining in practice. Hayes seems to be back of choice when it comes to getting passes from the backfield.

2014 Outlook: Hayes will need to shine in spring and fall practice to move past Green and Smith. He’ll also need to work on his blocking.


Thomas Rawls (5-10, 217, 2014 Eligibility: Senior)
2013 Stats:
(3 carries 12 yards, 4.0 yards-per-carry, 1 touchdown)

Rawls has been missing in action. As a senior, he’ll get a look in spring practice and probably a chance in the early-season games next season.

2014 Outlook: He’ll need to produce big time to move up the depth chart.

Drake Johnson (6-0, 213, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 9 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)

Johnson was injured in the third quarter of Michigan’s first game of the season with an ACL injury. He may be eligible for a medical redshirt since he was injured so early in the season. He had moved up the depth chart before his injury and was listed as Toussaint’s backup.

2014 Outlook: Johnson’s status will depend on when he returns injury.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

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Blake Bortles' Updated 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Fiesta Bowl Win

Blake Bortles very likely threw himself into the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with a strong performance in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

Since he plays at Central Florida, Bortles didn't get too many chances for national exposure this season. For many fans, it was a first look at this hot new quarterback who's shooting up experts' draft boards.

Those who tuned in to the Fiesta Bowl weren't disappointed.

The junior quarterback helped spark the Knights' 52-42 upset of the Baylor Bears. Bortles finished 20-of-31 for 301 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for another 93 yards and a touchdown.

It was a great showcase of his ability, and, in terms of his NFL draft stock, it couldn't have come at a better time.

Plenty of scouts were likely wowed by Bortles' performance against Baylor. Keep in mind that despite their high-powered, fast-paced offense, the Bears rank 12th in passing efficiency defense. Shredding them for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns wasn't easy.

Since Bortles has another year of eligibility, he's in a position where he can wait if he doesn't feel he's rated highly enough. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, he wants to wait to see what kind of grade he'd get from the league before declaring for the 2014 draft.

Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage illustrated the possible dilemma for Bortles.

However, it's a problem he may not have to worry about, as Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports reported the UCF QB received a majority of first-round grades from the draft advisory board.

Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller sees Bortles as a top-five pick and compared him to Andrew Luck.

Between now and May, much can change, but it looks as though Bortles would be battling with Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel to be the first QB off the board.

Bridgewater is regarded as the No. 1 guy on many experts' boards, so you feel comfortable in saying that he's going to be a top-five pick. If he doesn't go with the first overall pick, he won't fall far.

Manziel is the wild card.

Johnny Football's draft stock is about as unpredictable as his game. He's a tremendous athlete and has improved as a passer in 2013, but with the read-option offense decreasing in popularity this year, a team may not be as seduced by Manziel as it would've been last year.

Or, maybe he goes No. 1. Who knows?

A lot will depend upon who picks where and whether or not any teams decide to trade up.

ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli reported the Houston Texans would be open to parting with the No. 1 overall pick. Owner Bob McNair said, "Maybe we'll trade down and still get a quarterback that can do the job and get an outstanding defensive player. It's an exciting time. Everything's a moving target. Lot of different pieces."

In the event  that the Texans don't trade the pick, they'll almost certainly go with a quarterback. Should Bridgewater be the guy, Bortles would have no shortage of potential suitors from No. 2 and beyond.

The St. Louis Rams don't need a quarterback, nor will Jadeveon Clowney help, so they may try and trade down a few picks.

Beyond the Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, Oakland Raiders at No. 5 and Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 all need a QB. It's hard to see how Bortles falls out of the top 10 riding the wave of momentum that he has.

The issue for Bortles is that should he fall past the Tennessee Titans at No. 11, it could be an Aaron Rodgers-like drop. The next team that is looking for a signal-caller would be the Browns at No. 26. If he's still on the board there, Cleveland will take him, barring it takes Manziel fourth overall.

So it would seem all roads lead to Bortles declaring for the 2014 NFL draft and being a first-round prospect. The only question is where he'll be selected.

Final Projection: No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars

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USC Football: How Marqise Lee Declaring for NFL Draft Impacts Trojan Offense


Late Friday night, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee announced that he will forgo his senior year and enter the 2014 NFL draft. 

The junior wide receiver leaves USC with 248 receptions for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career. He owns or shares 22 USC records and leaves college as the only Biletnikoff Award winner in school history. 

Though hampered by injury for most of 2013, he still remained one of the Trojans' most exciting and prolific playmakers. This season, he had just 57 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns (the lowest marks of his college career). In the Trojans' Las Vegas Bowl, however, he really put on a show and gave NFL scouts a taste of what they can expect from him at the next level. 

His early departure from USC comes as no surprise, as CBSSports.com projects him to be a first-round pick. 

Of note, athletic director Pat Haden cited "continuity" as a reason for hiring Steve Sarkisian back in December. Since then, four of USC's juniors (Lee, safety Dion Bailey, defensive tackle George Uko and offensive lineman Marcus Martin) have all chosen to declare for the NFL.

With Lee now officially out of the mix, the USC wide receiver corps will undoubtedly be led by Nelson Agholor, the sophomore phenom who has shown he is ready to be the next big thing for the Trojans. He led USC in receptions and touchdowns in 2013, and we can expect him to do the same next year. 

Aside from Agholor, though, things are a little less clear.

Darreus Rogers looked like a stud at times, but injuries have hampered his progression in 2013. 2014 could be a breakout year for him, as depth issues will give way to lots of time for the young receiver. Then there's the oft-injured George Farmer, Steven Mitchellwho missed this year due to an ACL injuryand Victor Blackwell, the only other scholarship receiver to catch a pass during the 2013 campaign. 

These three should all be healthy and ready to compete during spring ball, and current Trojan commit Shay Fields Jr. could also be in the mix, bringing more depth to the position.

But the loss of Lee, though expected, surely has to impact Sarkisian's 2014 strategy just a bit. 

Beyond just the wide receiver corps, the departure of Lee could mean more receptions for the tight ends. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have often been neglected as ball-catchers, though their big frames and sticky hands make them excellent targets. 

At Washington, we saw Sarkisian utilize Austin Seferian-Jenkins almost as much as his wide receivers, making him a staple playmaker of the Huskies offense. Grimble and Telfer are perhaps the most talented tight end tandem in the Pac-12; now is the time for Sarkisian to really let them put their talents on full display. 

They weren't used a ton as pass-catchers in the 2013 offense but will be in good position to see more balls come their way in 2014.

Because USC won't have Lee as a deep threat anymore, the Trojans running backs will have to step their game up. Agholor has the potential to become that for USC, but in the meantime, the stable is really going to have to get better, due to the fact that opposing defenses will be able to key on the run. We know that breakout star Javorius "Buck" Allen is capable, but it will be important that Tre Madden and the rest of the running backs stiffen up during the offseason as well. 

Though he will be sorely missed in the Trojans offense, Sarkisian is now in a position where he can really change up the way the Trojans move the ball, now that relying on Lee is not an option.

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Breaking Down Jameis Winston's Biggest Obstacles to Becoming an MLB Star

Jameis Winston wants the best of both worlds, but can he actually be a star quarterback in the National Football League and a Major League Baseball player at the same time?

The vast majority of the sports world knows Winston as the playmaking, Heisman Trophy-winning QB for Florida State, but the freak athlete is also a member of the Seminoles baseball team as a right-handed pitcher and outfielder.

Before his award-winning campaign in football this fall, Winston, who turns 20 on Jan. 6, spent last spring splitting his time on the mound and in the outfield. In 17 appearances as a pitcher—all in relief—he threw 27 innings, allowing only nine earned runs (3.00 ERA) and just 18 hits (.176 BAA) with a 21-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Meanwhile, in 41 games as a position player, the switch-hitting Winston went 28-for-119 (.235 BA) at the plate with 10 extra-base hits (no homers), 22 walks and 33 strikeouts.

Given his pedigree, profile, athleticism and specs—he's listed at 6'4" and 220 pounds on his official Seminoles bio page—Winston's best path for baseball is to make use of his electric right arm, the one that throws touchdown passes by the bushel as well as mid-90s heat and frozen ropes from right field.

Winston recently indicated that he's of the mind to continue his dream of playing both football and baseball professionally. Winston, who will play in the BCS Championship Game against Auburn on Jan. 6, said the following, per Jon Solomon of AL.com:

You can do anything you put your mind to. A lot of people are going to say, no way, he's a quarterback, Bo Jackson was a running back. But if I put my mind to it -- and the one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates -- if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback and still go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves or New York Yankees ...

That echoes what Winston told Matthew Muench of ESPN two years ago, when he was a highly sought after recruit in both sports: "A lot of people ask me which sport I will choose. I want to play both. I want to be the next two-sport pro athlete."

Considered a good prospect on the diamond coming out of high school, Winston was actually drafted in 2012 by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round—and likely would have gone higher if not for his commitment to play football at FSU. Still, if he's serious about playing in the NFL and MLB, Winston has a long way to go and a number of obstacles to overcome, like these.

 

History Hurts

The number of athletes who have played in the NFL and MLB at the same time in the past few decades can be counted on one hand.

There's Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan, who was the last to pull off this incredible feat—and Jordan's playing days ended in 2006.

It's not like others haven't tried or at least been considered candidates to do both, either. In fact, there's a rather extensive list of players drafted in both baseball and football.

Sticking within just the past handful of years, two-sport stars like Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies prospect Kyle Parker and Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Zach Lee—to name just a few notables—were successful in both football and baseball at the high school and/or college levels. All three wound up choosing baseball over football, foregoing the idea of attempting both.

On the other side, Russell Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, but after two seasons in the low minors, he went the opposite direction and is now the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.

Those who managed to make it to the NFL and MLB, well, that is simply a very, very special—and small—batch of athletes.

 

The Quarterback Challenge

It's no secret that quarterback is the most difficult position to master in the NFL. They're not called "field generals" for nothing. Among all positions, the quarterback has the most to learn, prepare for and grow into.

"I guess the main concern was the physical end of it," said Rick Patterson, Winston's baseball coach at Hueytown High School, per Solomon, "especially being quarterback in football and learning the game."

That brings us back to those three names again—Jackson, Sanders and Jordan. You'll remember that none of those three were quarterbacks: Jackson was a running back, while Sanders and Jordan played in the defensive backfield.

That puts even more on Winston's shoulders, since he'll be expected to be the franchise player for an NFL team at the most important position in the sport.

 

Football Fame and Riches

Coming off his star-making turn as the Heisman winner as a redshirt freshman, Winston has taken the football world by storm. Much as he may want to play baseball, this has to have him picturing a career filled with the fame and riches that come along with being a high-profile quarterback in the NFL.

Sure, there are all sorts of dangers—including life-altering kinds—in playing professional football, but it's tough to imagine that Winston would be tempted to potentially hinder his burgeoning football career for the chance at, what, being a hard-throwing pitcher whose best outcome in baseball might be as a late-inning reliever?

In terms of career path, prestige and salary, that's not really a comparison that makes it worth compromising the former to also be the latter.

 

Baseball Development

Similar to the way quarterback is the most challenging position in football, baseball is, in many ways, typically the more challenging sport to break into as a rookie.

At this stage of his career, Winston is clearly more advanced in football than in baseball. That's unfortunate because baseball usually requires more in terms of time, effort and development in order to reach the highest level.

As proven every year, football players can step off a college campus and have immediate success in the NFL. By comparison, though, even the most big league-ready collegiate baseball players spend at least a season or two in the minor leagues.

That's the sort of thing that might try Winston's patience, especially if he breaks into the NFL in a big way.

Besides, whereas Winston is a quarterback in football, he would have that whole hitter-or-pitcher decision to make on the diamond.

Sure, Winston did manage last year to get three hits off Carlos Rodon—presumed to be the No. 1 overall pick in next June's MLB draft—as fellow Bleacher Report MLB lead writer Joe Giglio pointed out for the News Observer. But as mentioned above, given his arm, his best baseball path is on the mound.

Except that would only serve to make Winston even more rare, since there isn't exactly a lengthy history of NFL players who have made it to the majors as a pitcher. In case your memory needs to be jogged, Jackson, Sanders and Jordan were all outfielders.

 

Contract Clauses

There's also the strong likelihood that whichever NFL team drafts Winston once he declares is going to force him to give up baseball and focus solely on pigskin.

Winston will have some leverage in that matter—he could ask for more money, for instance—but it's tough to imagine any NFL franchise being just fine with the potential No. 1 overall pick spending some of his time on the baseball field.

Certainly, it would behoove Winston's football team to work a clause into his contract that prevents him from continuing his baseball career as long as he's in the NFL. That might come across as the team restricting or limiting a player's options or rights, but it's simply a matter of the team protecting itself.

 

Injury Issues

Continuing that thought, can you imagine the controversy were Winston to become a star QB, only to blow out his arm while pitching, and thus interrupting or ending his quarterbacking career?

Or how about the inverse: What if Winston becomes a star closer for an MLB team but has his shoulder wrecked while being tackled on the football field?

Teams in both sports pay players way too much money today to allow them to risk their future by playing in two physically demanding professional leagues.

Double dipping on sports at the professional level is only going to increase the chances that Winston suffers a serious injury or three along the way, which could ruin his career in not one, but two sports at the same time.

Just ask Jackson.

None of this is to say that Winston won't be able to go pro in both the NFL and MLB. In fact, odds are that he will be drafted in both in the coming years, so he very well could have the option and opportunity. Whether he can make it, though—or rather, whether he's allowed to make it—is another question.

And another obstacle.

 

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

 

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Tajh Boyd Intercepted on Impressive Grab from Vonn Bell in Sugar Bowl

Tajh Boyd got a little too cute in the second quarter of the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, as Matt Millen was saying on the broadcast.

Rolling out to the right with the Clemson Tigers up 14-9 on the Buckeyes, Boyd decided to try to flip a pass to his intended receiver in the end zone.  Vonn Bell had different ideas, coming up with an impressive interception on a one-handed grab to keep the Tigers from scoring.

The defense for Clemson was able to hold up, however, forcing a three-and-out against the Buckeyes on the ensuing drive.

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Marqise Lee Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

After a disappointing junior season in which he missed several games due to injury and saw his production wane significantly, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee has decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Lee announced the decision on Twitter:

Lee finished the 2013 season with 57 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the pristine numbers he posted in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. However, he made a strong statement in USC's 45-20 trouncing of Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl, ending his career on a high note with seven catches for 118 yards while finding the end zone twice.

In 2011, he caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6'0", 195-pound wideout then exceeded those numbers with a whopping 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 scores in 2012.

He finished fourth in the 2012 Heisman Trophy balloting and seemed assured to be in the running for the award again this season. He also won the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which he was the heavy favorite to replicate in 2013. Unfortunately, he never quite got going in his junior year.

Still, it's no surprise that Lee is tossing his name into the NFL hat. He's a surefire first-rounder and likely will be off the board within the first 15 picks. Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register weighed in on Lee's decision:

It's doubtful most scouts or coaches will hold a lost season against him in which he battled through some injuries and was stuck on a Trojans team that underwent a midseason coaching change.

While Clemson's Sammy Watkins will likely be the first receiver off the board, either Lee or perhaps Mike Evans of Texas A&M will likely be the next one taken. And after aches and pains hampered him in his third season, Lee probably has decided that another year of college football isn't worth the risk with a big paycheck in his future.

In the NFL, his ability to separate from defenders, run crisp routes and make plays after the catch will make him a dangerous weapon for whichever team drafts him.

His junior season may have been a disappointment, but expect nothing but big things from Lee at the next level.

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Missouri Tigers

Both Oklahoma State and Missouri are looking to finish off very successful seasons with a win in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. The Tigers came up short in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, but a trip to the Cotton Bowl is much more then what Tigers fans expected after a 5-7 record last year.

The Tigers are looking to cap off an incredible surprise season Friday night with a 12th victory and a Cotton Bowl title.

Stay tuned for live game grades and analysis throughout.

For full stats, check out NCAA.com.

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Army All-America Bowl 2014: Ranking the Top 10 Defensive Recruits

The Army All-American Bowl caps off an incredible journey for dozens of standout high school seniors. The action takes center stage at 1 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon on NBC, broadcast live from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The nation's premier offensive playmakers aim to steal the spotlight, but they must contend with elite defenders at every position. We rank the top 10 defensive stars to watch during a highly anticipated matchup.

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Orange Bowl 2014 Clemson vs. Ohio State: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Buckeyes

Ohio State 22, Clemson 20 - Third Quarter

No. 7 Ohio State is battling No. 12 Clemson in the highly anticipated Discover Orange Bowl. 

Stay tuned for live game grades and analysis of the heated matchup.

For complete stats, check out NCAA.com.

First-half analysis for the Ohio State Buckeyes

Pass Offense: Braxton Miller spent the majority of the first half running for his life. The Buckeyes quarterback was sacked three times and completed just three passes midway through the second quarter, but a fast finish to the half gave Ohio State a huge lift.

Run Offense: Ohio State’s third-ranked rushing offense was shut down by Clemson’s active defensive front. Outside of a 33-yard touchdown run from Miller, the Buckeyes had no explosive plays on the ground and rushed for just 85 yards.

Run Defense: Ohio State has been good against the run this season, but Clemson found a lot of success against the Buckeyes. Tajh Boyd cut right through Ohio State’s defense on a 48-yard touchdown run to open the game, as Clemson piled up 139 rushing yards on just 18 carries.

Pass Defense: As expected, Boyd and the Clemson receivers took what they wanted against Ohio State’s beleaguered secondary. Ohio State gave up 224 yards and two touchdowns through the air, although Vonn Bell did snag a pivotal interception inside Ohio State's 5-yard line.

Special Teams: Two huge special teams plays lifted the Buckeyes early. On Ohio State’s first drive, Meyer called for a fake punt that tight end Jeff Heuerman executed perfectly. Later, punter Cameron Johnston pinned Clemson’s offense at the 1-yard line, which led to a safety for the Ohio State defense.

Coaching: Without that fake punt call and the final two offensive drives, the first half would have been a complete disaster for Urban Meyer and the coaching staff. Ohio State consistently tried to pound the ball inside despite Clemson stuffing the run, but the Buckeyes adjusted and went to the air to close out the half. 

 

 

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