NCAA Football News

Pac-12 Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Bowl Season

A record nine Pac-12 teams participating in bowl season meant plenty of opportunity to reflect one final time on why the 2013 season played out as it did. Nine bowl games also offered a peek into the conference's 2014 outlook. 

 

Beating Fire with Fire Is Key to Toppling Stanford

Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl was not so much a lesson of how to beat the Cardinal, but rather reinforced a reality made evident in their previous four losses during the last two seasons. 

The Spartans came to Pasadena, Calif., boasting a physical defensive style on par with that which Stanford rode to a second consecutive conference championship. 

When asked if Michigan State's was the best defense he faced, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney said, "Definitely," per a press-conference transcript from asapsports.com.

He added: 

I knew they played team defense where they were all rallying to the ball. I knew they don't stray away from their job. But when you get out there and you see how cluttered everything is and how much problems they cause, we needed to make some adjustments, and we failed at that and didn't score.

Stanford's previous losses in the 2013 campaign came to Utah and USC, two teams built on unflinching, physical defense. Don't be surprised if in their pursuit to catch the Cardinal, other Pac-12 teams try to restructure their defenses similarly in much the same way numerous Pac-12 offenses adopted hurry-up schemes after Oregon's success in the late 2000s. 

 

The Oregon Run Game Is Sure to Keep Defenses Guessing (and Sweating) 

Postseason play foreshadowed the look of the 2014 Oregon offense. And what opposing defensive coordinators saw in two different games has to have them reaching for the aspirin. 

First, in the Alamo Bowl, a healthy quarterback Marcus Mariota went off for 133 yards rushing. With running backs Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall returning, the Ducks have plenty of speedy options.

Oregon also gets an injection of power to complement all that quickness. 

Verbal recruiting commit Royce Freeman is a 6'0", 227-pound back with a punishing ball-carrying style unlike anything seen from recent Ducks backs. He scored three touchdowns in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

 

For Arizona's Griffey, It's Like Father, Like Son 

Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker won Most Valuable Player of the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but freshman wide receiver Trey Griffey stole the show with a pair of touchdown receptions.

The son of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., Griffey’s first score came on a leaping grab reminiscent of his father’s home-run robbing catches in the outfield as a Seattle Mariner.

 

Breaking Old Habits a Must for Arizona State  

Arizona State recorded the Pac-12's best regular-season conference record and won the South Division title in head coach Todd Graham's second season. However, their 37-23 blowout loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl was a significant departure from the mantra of accountability Graham emphasized in Arizona State's run to the Pac-12 South title. 

"We didn't practice [well]," Graham said in his postgame press conference, per TheSunDevils.com. "We didn't come prepared to play and that's our job as coaches.

"It's not the players' fault, that's why they hire coaches, to get your guys ready to play," Graham added.

The Sun Devils have a long offeason to regroup, and more importantly, refocus. Specifically, Arizona State got away from its committed seven penalties—a season high—for 59 yards.

The Sun Devils only accrued more penalty yards on Sept. 21 at Stanford. Not coincidentally, that too was a loss. 

 

Bending but Not Breaking Is the Reality for Pac-12 Defenses 

Washington was outgained 473 yards to 319 by BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, yet the Huskies won by a comfortable 15-point margin, 31-16. Conversely, Washington outgained Stanford 489 to 279 but lost, 31-28, when the two met in October.

Those results aren't indicative of a trend. Surrendering more yards is counterintuitive to any defensive game plan, and it's no coincidence the Pac-12's top scoring defense—Stanford—was also the conference's second-best defense in yards yielded. 

However, the proliferation of uptempo offenses around the conference has made giving up yards a virtual inevitability. What becomes of those yards is the more meaningful measurement of a defense's performance. 

 

Takeaways = Wins

More turnovers gained typically means more opportunities for an offense, which means more points, and that translates to more wins. Pretty simple formula, right? 

Just how much winning the turnover battle can mean to a team's record may not be more evident anywhere in the Pac-12 than at Oregon State. 

The Beavers used two takeaways to beat Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, 38-23. And while it certainly didn't hurt that the Beavers converted both Broncos turnovers into touchdowns, the highs and lows of Oregon State's up-and-down rode with how it fared in turnover margin. 

In seven wins, Oregon State was plus-11 in turnovers gained to turnovers lost. The Beavers were minus-eight in their six losses. 

Amid its five-game losing streak to end the regular season, Oregon State was within single digits of two of its opponents: Oregon and Stanford. Not coincidentally, those were the two losses in which the Beavers did not lose the turnover battle. 

 

Mike Leach Cares Not for Second-Guessing

It stands to reason Washington State head coach Mike Leach would be an unhappy camper following his team's blown lead to lose the New Mexico Bowl to Colorado State, 48-45. After the Cougars threw away a 15-point cushion in fewer than three minutes, an obviously frustrated Leach let reporters know in his postgame press conference just how unhappy he was. 

 

UCLA Offense Developing into a Force 

The top three defenses UCLA faced in 2013 were Stanford, USC and Virginia Tech, against which the Bruins scored 10, 35 and 42 points. 

A difference between the first result and latter two is that UCLA saw USC and Virginia Tech at season's end, after the Bruins offense found its confidence behind quarterback Brett Hundley. 

"To be able to come in against a [Virginia Tech] defense that was ranked eighth in scoring defense, that's a credit to these guys and [offensive coordinator] Noel Mazzone," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said in his postgame press conference, per UCLABruins.com

With much of the offensive line remaining intact, a deep receiving corps and an influx of more young talent to Westwood, Calif., UCLA is on course to have an offense that can compete with the nation's best defense on a weekly basis. 

Oh, and don't forget Hundley. Reports of his return for a third season captaining the UCLA offense is the foundation for what should be an explosive bunch in 2014.

 

Leaving Las Vegas (and USC)

For several USC Trojans, their 45-20 rout of Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl was their final time donning cardinal and gold. Defensive lineman George Uko, offensive lineman Marcus Martin and safety Dion Bailey all declared their intent to forego their remaining NCAA eligibility to pursue the NFL draft. 

Wide receiver Marqise Lee is also headed to the NFL, which means new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian will not be seeing any of this next season: 

Sarkisian inherits a roster already thinned by NCAA sanctions, but the mass departures leave USC even more so heading into 2014. He'll have quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor, all of whom made big plays in the Las Vegas Bowl, as well as All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams. 

Still, the key lesson to take from USC's bowl appearance is the Trojans will look quite a bit different the next time they take the field—for better or worse. 

 

The Best Is Still Ahead for the Pac-12 in the Postseason 

Rather than 2013 marking the culmination of the Pac-12's ascent, the conference's record season is a milestone building toward more. A 6-3 final bowl record with countless impressive performances on both sides of the ball gives the Pac-12 more collective positive momentum heading into the offseason than its ever had. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking 10 Best 2014 Early Enrollee Recruits

The trendy thing to do as a recruit these days is enroll early in college. It gives a recruit a head start on getting comfortable in his new environment, used to going to class and learning the playbook.

Another great thing about enrolling early is that it allows a prospect to participate in spring practices. By the time training camp starts, many recruits who enroll early actually feel like redshirt freshmen.

The 2014 class has a group of prospects who are set to enroll early at the school they are committed to.

Alabama will be getting a pair of 5-star commitments on campus soon, while Florida will get a much-needed quarterback for the spring. Also, Tennessee's headliner will be in Knoxville before most of its recruiting class arrives. 

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

Begin Slideshow

10 Biggest Takeaways from 2014 High School Football All-Star Games

High school football all-star games are always interesting to cover because so much happens around each of them. There's always observing which recruits are performing well during practices, the recruiting buzz and then prospects announcing their decisions.

With the Under Armour and Army all-star games now over, it's time to reflect. A lot of things happened over the past few days, so it would be wise to hit on some of the key moments.

An SEC school will not finish this recruiting cycle as strong as many thought, while a Pac-12 school is showing signs of life on the trail. Plus, a mother once again showed her displeasure on national television.

Begin Slideshow

Stephon Tuitt Reportedly Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

With so many college football players officially declaring for the NFL draft, Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has added his name to the growing list of pro prospects hoping to hear their name called in May.

Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton reported that Tuitt will officially declare for the NFL draft.

As a junior, Tuitt had the option to stay one more season with the Fighting Irish, but he decided that this was his best opportunity to be drafted.  He's certainly in good shape, as Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller has him going No. 35 overall to the Cleveland Browns.  Rob Rang of CBS Sports has Tuitt going No. 14 overall, while Dane Brugler has him going No. 28.

It was a productive year for Tuitt with the Fighting Irish.  He finished the season with 49 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.  Bleacher Report's Michael Felder had this to say about Tuitt after he declared.

At 6'7'' and 322 pounds, Tuitt is a monster on the defensive line.  He combines the strength and the size of a defensive tackle with the speed and the agility of a defensive end, which makes him a mismatch against most offenses.  He is capable of staying low and bull-rushing the quarterback with his strength, but he also has a variety of pass-rushing moves.

At the next level, Tuitt could either play on the end as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, or he could play as a five-technique in the 3-4.  Regardless, any team that drafts him will be prepared to take on a versatile defensive lineman capable of making big plays.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

Now that the Texas Longhorns have their guy in Charlie Strong, the entire focus shifts to the offseason.

Mack Brown had the Longhorns finish with at least four losses in each of the past four seasons, falling below the standard that he himself had established throughout his 16-year tenure.

With new blood being infused into the program with Strong's arrival, the future is—in a word—exciting.

That isn't to say the Texas program is without concern. Far from it.

In fact, some of the same issues that plagued the Longhorns for the past few seasons will likely re-emerge as critical fixes in order for Strong to establish some success down the road.

But what else is on the horizon for the Stronghorns?

Begin Slideshow

Miami Football: 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

After two restless days, the Miami Hurricanes football team received news that its head coach Al Golden would be staying at The U.

But after a handful of relieving sighs and "thank you" messages, the 'Canes will get back to business, focusing on how to improve during the offseason.

Following a disappointing finish to the 2013 campaign, there certainly are a few concerns surrounding the squad.

Other than defensive improvement, which has been highlighted recently, three areas stick out as Miami enters the nine-month stretch leading up to the 2014 season.

 

Getting Duke Johnson Healthy

Yes, the season opener is a long, long time away.

But over the final five games, the Hurricanes suffered without their star running back, Duke Johnson.

Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel notes that Johnson is not likely to participate in spring drills.

Now, I won't pretend I'm a doctor—mostly because it's illegal—but Johnson will need time to get comfortable returning to what he did best. Johnson's game was predicated on finding open holes, making hard cuts into running lanes and accelerating through them.

And he was darn good at it.

Local product and 4-star back Joseph Yearby is planning on enrolling early, so he, Dallas Crawford and Gus Edwards will share the load during spring ball.

While those reps will help the Miami reserves, Johnson faces a road to recovery that will be frustrating, keeping him off the field until the summer.

Though Johnson missing spring action will push back his conditioning, the layoff will allow him to get completely healthy—something the Hurricanes definitely need.

 

Retaining Current Recruiting Class

While uncertainty surrounded Golden's future at The U, many wondered what impact it would have on the Hurricanes' current recruiting haul.

Immediately following the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and during Golden's flirtation with Penn State, 4-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine decommitted from Miami. Valentine was already considered a soft commit, and he announced that his rumored top suitor, LSU, was officially his new leader, via Andrew Lopez.

Valentine's decommitment was a factor in Miami slipping from sixth to ninth in 247Sports' Composite team rankings.

But the ranking is not the important part.

As of this writing, the 'Canes still hold 27 verbal commitments along with one signee, defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou. Valentine, however, was an essential part of this class, potentially bringing the biggest frame (6'3", 338 pounds) to clog the interior.

Of course, as Valentine clarified, Miami is not out of the running for his services.

While some recruits, like 4-star safety Kiy Hester, are "100% committed to the U," as he tweeted Sunday, any prospect wavering in his pledge could have been affected by Golden's short silence.

So now, it's time for Golden and his coaching staff to lock up their class while attempting to add the final pieces for signing day Wednesday, Feb. 5.

 

Impending Starting Quarterback Battle

Stephen Morris led the Hurricanes for two seasons, but a new quarterback era at Miami is on its way.

Ryan Williams and Kevin Olsen are the leading candidates for the job, and spring practice will provide an opportunity to see the duo battle. Much-heralded 4-star commit Brad Kaaya is also en route to Coral Gables, Fla., but Peter Ariz of CanesInSight notes Kaaya said he cannot enroll early because of a policy at his high school.

As a freshman at Memphis in 2010, Williams appeared in every game, and he has played well in limited reps for the 'Canes. Under Golden, the Miramar High School product has completed 37 of 52 passes for 506 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

A prized recruit and brother of ex-Cane Greg Olsen, Kevin was redshirted during the 2013 campaign.

But after not being taken to the Russell Athletic Bowl, Olsen's current status is not clear. Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald notes Olsen, Rashawn Scott and Ray Lewis III did not join their teammates on the trip to Orlando, but the reasoning has not been announced.

Bleacher Report's Chris Bello says the 'Canes need Olsen to win the starting job next season to provide a long-term option under center.

Ultimately, due to Kaaya's summer enrollment, it will likely be a battle between the senior Williams and the redshirt freshman Olsen while Kaaya steals any reps he can.

 

All recruit star rankings via 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

De'Anthony Thomas Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Arguably college football's most explosive player is taking his talents to Sundays. Oregon running back/offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas announced his intention to forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL draft on Sunday.

He released a statement via GoDucks.com:

I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL. I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans.  I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible.

Ducks coach Mark Helfrich talked about Thomas' decision: 

De'Anthony has been a spectacular talent in college football and has been a part of some of the most memorable plays in the history of the University of Oregon. We wish him success going forward with his career.

Thomas broke out in Eugene as a freshman under then-head coach Chip Kelly, lining up at both running back and slot receiver while also becoming a dynamic return man. While he was never used as a primary running back—he never even came close to leading the Ducks in carries—what made Thomas special was his ability to break the big play.

He averaged a touchdown every 9.23 carries at Oregon, and 2013 was the first regular season of his career without double-digit total touchdowns.

In fact, Thomas' decision to enter the draft comes after a somewhat disappointing junior season.

Amid preseason Heisman buzz, the 5'9" speedster broke out with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and had accumulated 338 rushing yards and six touchdowns through three weeks. However, an ankle injury suffered against Tennessee on Sept. 14 kept him out for more than a month and he struggled to regain his form.

Thomas went through a midseason stretch where he had 31 rushing yards or fewer in three straight contests. While he finished the campaign with solid outings against Arizona and Oregon State, it was clear by the end of the season he'd been usurped on Mark Helfrich's depth chart.

He concluded the 2013 regular season with 581 yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average, both career lows. Freshman Thomas Tyner and sophomore Byron Marshall both ended the regular season with more carries and yards per attempt than Thomas.

That probably played at least a part in his decision to enter the draft early.

Although his diminutive size and lack of natural position could give some teams pause, the success of Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and others with a similar skill set could make Thomas appealing.

Still, there seems to be a fracturing of opinion about how elite a prospect he is. CBS Sports currently projects Thomas as a fifth- or sixth-round choice, while ESPN's Scouts Inc. has him No. 37 overall.

Teams will also have to decide during the draft process whether they prefer Thomas at running back or lining up more like Tavon Austin, who was taken No. 8 overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2013 despite similar size concerns.

Where Thomas falls in May will have a lot to do with his combine performance. Austin was able to rise from a fringe first-round pick by wowing scouts with his speed and agility—something Thomas will have to show to fall on the upper end of his projections.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. FSU: What Each Team Must Do to Win BCS National Championship

With only one loss between the two programs, the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles are accustomed to winning big games. However, nothing can prepare them for the BCS National Championship Game, which takes place on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. 

FSU enters the contest as the prohibitive favorite to win, as oddsmakers expect the Tigers to lose by 10 points, per Covers.com. It's not surprising, considering Jimbo Fisher's club finished the regular season with the top-ranked scoring offense and defense. 

However, Auburn's fateful path to this point in the proceedings (miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama) suggest this upcoming matchup could be a lot closer than some expect—at the least. Nobody should be surprised if this "David" slays that "Goliath." 

Here's what both teams must do in order to secure victory. 

 

FSU: Stop Auburn's Running Game

What? You thought there was something else the Seminoles needed to do? 

This one's simple: If FSU can shut down Auburn's option running game, then the Tigers have little-to-no chance of winning this upcoming game. 

But it's a lot easier said than done. 

Tre Mason and Nick Marshall combined to rush for 2,644 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2013.

Remember, Alabama was one of the top teams in the nation at shutting down the run (three yards per carry allowed) before Auburn ran over, around and through the Crimson Tide for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

Florida State enters the game with the country's No. 13-ranked run defense, allowing 116.5 yards per game. Head coach Fisher talked about his staff's familiarity with Gus Malzahn's offense, as relayed by David Leon Moore of USA Today:

We have a lot of guys on our staff that have played against Gus for a long time. They know a lot of his high school roots, a lot of people he was around and things he did. I keep a running record of all the guys we've played against and books on all the guys we've played against for the last 10, 15 years.

That familiarity could give FSU an edge, but then again, Alabama and Missouri both thought they had a chance:

If the Seminoles can't shut down the Tigers on the ground, then Auburn will have a shot to win. 

 

Auburn: Shut Down FSU's Three Elite Receivers

As good as Jameis Winston has been, he wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy without his exceptionally gifted receiving corps. FSU had three receivers catch at least 50 passes for at least 929 yards and six touchdowns. 

No other team in the nation can boast such a stat, and there's no doubt Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin comprised the nation's top receiving trio. 

Greene was the team's top possession receiver, hauling in 67 passes for 981 yards and nine touchdowns. Benjamin was the top scorer and big-play threat, catching 50 passes for 929 yards and 14 touchdowns, which was the fifth-most of any receiver in the FBS in 2013.

Cornerback Jonathon Mincy, via Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com, talked about the upcoming challenge: "It’s going to be a big challenge. That’s all I’ve been hearing about, is their wide receivers. It’s a great opportunity that we can go out there to show that we can be a proven defense."

Highlighting Auburn's secondary difficulties this past year, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee writes about what could potentially be a winning formula for the Tigers: 

The Tigers have given up an SEC-worst 27 passing plays of 30 or more yards and 14 of 40 or more yards. Conversely, Florida State led the ACC and is fourth in the nation in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 71.

Auburn bends but doesn't break, so when an opportunity presents itself, whether it's generated from pressure or not, the Tigers have to pounce—just as they've done all year.

The only problem with that formula is that FSU has been phenomenal all year long about taking care of the football, earning a plus-17 mark for the year. 

That means Auburn's secondary will likely need to win individual battles against the talented trio of Seminoles receivers, which hasn't worked well for any team to this point. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

GoDaddy Bowl 2014 Arkansas State vs. Ball State: Live Score and Highlights

Ball State - 10

Arkansas State - 10

Early-Third Quarter 

Bleacher Report will provide live, in-game analysis and scoring updates, so stay locked in here.

Want your voice to be heard? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Blake Bortles Reportedly to Announce He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles reportedly will forgo his senior season with the Knights and enter his name in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, according to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:

UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will declare for the NFL draft, a source with direct knowledge told the Sentinel on Sunday.

The redshirt junior will forgo his final year of eligibility with the Knights and turn pro. An official announcement is expected on Monday morning.

The news comes on the heels of his impressive performance in Central Florida's upset win over Baylor at the Fiesta Bowl. The junior signal-caller started slow with two interceptions, but bounced back in a big way to finish with 394 total yards and four total touchdowns in the Knights' 52-42 victory.

At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Bortles is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in May's draft, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:

While it’s unlikely that he’ll be regarded as good enough to acquire with the first overall pick, the Texans could choose to trade down with a team like the Falcons at No. 6, which may decide to make a play for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Of course, Bortles then would have to slide past the Jaguars at No. 3, the Browns at No. 4, and the Raiders at No. 5 before [Bill] O’Brien could put Bortles’ name on a draft card.  Big performances on the biggest stages in college football tend to boost a quarterback’s draft stock, giving scouts comfort that a guy won’t gack under pressure.

In addition to his prototypical size and frame, the Oviedo, Fla., native possesses tremendous athleticism rarely seen at the quarterback position. Keep in mind that he rushed for 15 touchdowns during his three seasons at Central Florida.

Though he was recruited by several schools as a tight end coming out of high school, Knights head coach George O'Leary recognized Bortles' athleticism and was one of few willing to give him a shot under center, per Zach Buchanan, writing for the Miami Herald:

If he didn’t play quarterback, he’d be a heck of a tight end. That’s what I looked at. When you look at quarterbacks, I look at them as can they play another position? I think the day of just strictly the dropback quarterback is over. I think the pass rush, the pressures they put on athletes today, you got to be able to avoid a rush and make a play, take a bad play, make a good play out of it.

Bortles redshirted in 2010 and played sparingly as a freshman in 2011, but he caught the attention of NFL scouts as a sophomore in 2012, when he threw for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for eight more scores. 

However, his stellar play on the big stage in 2013—including his final act in Glendale, Ariz.—has to be even more encouraging for talent evaluators. Bortles' response after tossing his second interception in the first half of the Fiesta Bowl was near-flawless. He never blinked en route to leading his underdog squad to the biggest win in program history.

With the scouting combine and other workouts on the horizon, Bortles will have several more opportunities to impress scouts and boost his draft stock ahead of May 8. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Only Took Home 2 Titles in BCS Era, but Always Kept It Interesting

The final BCS National Championship features two non-Big 12 teams: Auburn and Florida State. In a way, that's indicative of the success the conference did, or didn't, have in the 16 years of the BCS. 

It's not that the Big 12 wasn't present in BCS bowls. It was. In fact, the conference made 22 BCS bowl appearances, if you include former members Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M, and totaled 10 wins and 12 losses.

That's not bad, though the conference only captured two national titles in seven championship games in that span: in 2001 when Oklahoma upended Florida State 13-2, and in 2006 when Texas stunned USC in an all-time thriller in the Rose Bowl, 41-38. 

The two BCS National Championship wins are actually good in context. The SEC's reign of dominance has led to nine BCS titles, while all other conferences (ACC, Big Ten, the now-defunct Big East and Pac-12) are tied at one. 

In any case, the Big 12 will forever have some of the most exciting moments in BCS history as it makes way for the College Football Playoff in 2014. Some moments were good; some were not so good, but they were meaningful nevertheless. 

For better or worse, the Big 12 always kept it interesting when it came to the postseason. Here are some of the most memorable moments from the last 16 years, including this year. 

 

Vince Young on 4th-and-5

Given Auburn's path to Monday night's BCS National Championship, the Tigers may find a way to pull out the best title moment in history. Still, it's hard to top the go-ahead touchdown run from Texas quarterback Vince Young against USC. 

Down 38-33 to the Trojans and facing fourth down and five yards to go with 26 seconds in the game, Young took the snap, dropped back and then took off to his right for the eight-yard score. Young scored again on the two-point conversion, and the Longhorns won 41-38. 

USC was loaded with NFL talent that season and riding a 34-game win streak. The star power on both sides, the setting and the play—it adds up to the greatest BCS championship moment ever. 

 

Three Plays that Shocked Oklahoma and College Football

Boise State wasn't supposed to keep it close with Big 12 champion Oklahoma, let alone beat the Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos, under first-year coach Chris Petersen, almost didn't after blowing an 18-point lead and allowing 25 straight points to fall behind 35-28. 

On 4th-and-18 with just seconds remaining, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky completed a 15-yard pass to Drisan James, who lateraled the ball to Jerard Rabb. Rabb scampered 35 yards for a touchdown. 

Facing a 4th-and-2 in overtime, Boise State again reached into its bag of tricks, and receiver Vinny Perretta completed a six-yard touchdown to Derek Schouman on what looked like a designed run. Then, on the ensuing two-point conversion, it was Zabransky to running back Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty.

Three plays no one saw coming, and Boise State topped Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime. It remains one of the most unlikely and heart-racing finishes of any BCS game. 

 

Colt McCoy Takes a Hit from Marcell Dareus

Talk about your "what if" moment. Driving deep into Alabama territory in the first quarter of the 2010 BCS National Championship, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy kept the ball on an option run to the left. Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus hit McCoy in his right (throwing) arm, and McCoy immediately got up and ran to the sideline. 

McCoy did not return to the game, and Alabama claimed its first BCS title under coach Nick Saban, 37-21. Texas later released a statement that McCoy suffered a nerve injury that prevented him from throwing with strength or accuracy. There was no intent to hurt McCoy, yet Dareus hit him just right. 

Texas has yet to return to the BCS, and head coach Mack Brown "resigned" after his 16th season. 

 

Kansas Beats Virginia Tech 24-21

Perennial Big 12 doormat Kansas got a taste of the good life in 2007 when it won its first 11 games to set up a rare nationally relevant game against Missouri to end the season. Though the Jayhawks lost the Border War to the Tigers 36-28 and missed out on a Big 12 title appearance, they did get selected to the Orange Bowl as an at-large team. 

Quarterback Todd Reesing threw for 227 yards and a touchdown as Kansas held off Virginia Tech 24-21. Head coach Mark Mangino was fired two years later amid a probe by the university into Mangino's treatment of his team

The Jayhawks never had a season as successful as 2007, winning fewer and fewer games from 2008-12. Since the Orange Bowl appearance, Kansas is 22-51 and on its second coach in Charlie Weis

 

Oklahoma Loses in the Big 12 Championship...and Still Plays for the National Title

Nothing quite epitomized the absurdity of the BCS like 2003 when Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 title—and still played LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. 

And, really, the term "losing" doesn't do it justice. K-State leveled the Sooners 35-7. Still, Oklahoma retained its No. 1 ranking while one-loss and third-ranked USC went to the Rose Bowl, where it defeated No. 4 Michigan 28-14. 

Oklahoma lost to the Tigers in New Orleans, 21-14. Kansas State lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-28. 

Really, though, everyone lost. 

 

Texas Plays Michigan in the Rose Bowl Thanks to Mack Brown's Lobbying

Vince Young's BCS heroics weren't limited to the national championship against USC. The 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan, which the Longhorns won 38-37, was a thriller too. Young led a nine-play drive late in the fourth quarter to set up Dusty Mangum's 37-yard game-winning field goal. 

But should Texas have been playing in Pasadena in the first place?

Texas, sitting at 11-1 at the end of the 2004 regular season after a 26-13 win over Texas A&M, still trailed behind Cal, also 11-1, in the BCS standings. But head coach Mack Brown did some heavy politicking, and the 'Horns were chosen over the Golden Bears to go to the Rose Bowl. 

"I thought it was a little classless how Coach Brown was begging for votes after the [Texas A&M] game," former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers said at the time, via The Dallas Morning News. "I think a team's record and the way you play should speak for itself, and you shouldn't have to complain about the BCS system."

Brown was forced to lobby for his team again four years later when the 'Horns were in a three-way tie with Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the Big 12 South title. However, the Sooners edged Texas in the BCS rankings and played Missouri in the conference title (and Florida in the national title).

 

Oregon Gets a One-Point Safety Against Kansas State

Official Ron Cherry said it all: "On the previous play, we have an unusual ruling." 

Up 31-10 on Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, Oregon's extra point attempt was blocked and recovered by the Wildcats, who then ran the ball into the end zone where it was ruled dead. 

The result was a rare one-point safety, so it basically acted as the extra point K-State blocked to begin with. Oregon won 35-17, but it was one of the more bizarre moments in BCS history. 

 

 Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

After ending their season with two consecutive defeats, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the offseason with plenty of motivation to improve in 2014.

The main priority atop Saban’s offseason wish list will be finding a replacement for quarterback AJ McCarron.

However, there are other areas of the roster that will grab his attention before spring drills arrive.

What are the Tide’s biggest concerns heading into the offseason?

Begin Slideshow

Al Golden Says He Is Not Candidate for Penn State Head Coach Opening

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden will not become the new head of the Penn State football team.

Golden released a statement via the Hurricanes about the matter on Sunday, Jan. 5:

There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami.  While I am flattered that our progress at The U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position. We are eager to welcome our student athletes back to campus next week and visit with prospective student-athletes and their families beginning January 15.

The Nittany Lions have an opening at head coach after Bill O'Brien accepted the same position with the NFL's Houston Texans. He replaced the legendary Joe Paterno, who ran the team from 1966 to 2011.

Golden is an alumnus of Penn State where he played tight end from 1987 to 1991. He also worked as a linebackers coach in 2000 for one year before becoming the defensive coordinator at Virginia.

In 2006, he became the head coach at Temple where he turned the team around from 1-11 in his first year to 17-8 in his final two. This led to a position with the Hurricanes, where he amassed a 22-15 record in three seasons.   

According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, Miami did not think Golden would be going anywhere despite meeting with Penn State on Jan. 4. Athletic director Blake James stated, "Al and I are in regular communication. He is our football coach and I believe he will be our coach going forward."

James turned out to be correct as Golden decided to remain at Miami after three years with the program.

The 44-year-old coach was included alongside an impressive list of candidates for the Penn State job, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy:

Golden would have joined a rebuilding effort at Penn State, which was left in disgrace after a scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA ruled that the school would have reduced scholarships and a four-year bowl ban running through the 2015 season, although some of these penalties have been modified.

Miami was also ineligible for the postseason in the coach's first two years there. Kevin Negandhi of ESPN discussed this as a possible deterrent for accepting the Penn State job:

While Golden may have managed to steer the Nittany Lions around the sanctions, we'll never know as he will continue his rebuilding effort with the Hurricanes.  

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Al Golden Is No Fool, Miami Is a Better Job Than Penn State, Period.

When the dust settled, Miami's Al Golden remained Miami's Al Golden, not moving on to Penn State, instead sticking with the Hurricanes in Coral Gables. Despite the increased cash possibilities and the "dream job" status, Golden made the smart move by sticking in South Florida.

There was plenty of speculation that Golden to Penn State was a done deal in the days leading up to the coach confirming he was staying at Miami. Speculation ran rampant, as Penn State's Rivals site, Blue White Illustrated, reported that an agreement had been reached in principle, while Miami's Rivals site (subscription required), Cane Sport, reported that an offer was extended but no decision had been made.

Finally, Golden silenced the speculation by stating the following in a release from Hurricane Sports:

There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami.  While I am flattered that our progress at The U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position. We are eager to welcome our student athletes back to campus next week and visit with prospective student-athletes and their families beginning January 15.

Golden remains Miami's guy, and that's not just a plus for the Hurricanes. It is a plus for the coach himself.

Certainly, there was a greenness to the Penn State pasture that Miami could not duplicate—the financial side of things. However, in the sum total of the positions, what Miami cannot cover in cash, it more than makes up for with recruiting resources, a clear path to success and just winning being plenty good for the fans.

Recruits are the lifeblood of a college program, and, as Golden's showing right now, per 247 Sports' Composite Rankings, Miami is still a place that can recruit at a high level.

After taking time to repair the damage done during the Randy Shannon era, Golden has the machine working again, and that means he's pumping good talent into the 'Canes program. It's talent that is largely located in the state he works in as well, making the job easier.

Aiding Golden in the recruiting surge is his school moving out of the shadow of the ominous cloud of the NCAA. Miami has moved past the sanctions and the bowl bans that plagued the program in recent years, now operating at almost full capacity. The nine lost scholarships over three years are a mere paper cut compared to the gash that Penn State is still set to experience.

Even though the penalties have been reduced for the Nittany Lions, weathering the storm does not make it any easier, especially for a coach like Golden, who spent his time at Miami operating with the NCAA looking over his shoulder. Although Penn State might be the dream job, living life with more NCAA issues certainly seems to be every coach's nightmare.

Penn State has the money and the facilities. It also has the NCAA issues and, as David Jones of PennLive.com pointed out, the entrenched boosters still hanging on to the Paterno Era. More money is nice, but for the coach making $2.15 million, avoiding the extras is a reward that is as good as cash in many instances.

If the playing field were level, perhaps the move to Penn State would make sense. Unfortunately, Golden is operating with the reality that right now, it will be a struggle to win eight games a season in Happy Valley. 

With a weak Coastal Division and plenty of talent coming in, Golden is hoping to elbow his way into the playoff, not just successfully navigate the sanction-infested waters in which Penn State will be swimming for the next few seasons.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas Football: How Recruiting Strategy Has Changed Under Bret Bielema

Recruiting has developed into almost somewhat of a science. It is very meticulous, and coaches spend hours on end analyzing prospects to find guys that will best fit their game plan and style.

When a program changes head coaches, the new one comes in and implements his philosophy on the field and on the recruiting trail. Very rarely does the old coach's philosophy match the new one's, as was the case when Bret Bielema was hired to be the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach. 

After the now-infamous Bobby Petrino saga, the Razorbacks named John L. Smith as the interim coach for 2012 and he kept the style Petrino had in place. But, once Arkansas tabbed Bielema as the next Head Hog, he brought in a system much different from Petrino's pass-happy offense.

Bielema's Wisconsin teams were notorious for their ground-and-pound style on offense, big, husky linemen and physical defenses.

Him bringing that style to Arkansas has drastically changed the program's recruiting strategy. 

Under Petrino, the emphasis in recruiting was on the offensive side of the ball. Because his offense passed to open up the run, and not vice versa, the focus in recruiting was speed. That meant fast wideouts and running backs, as well as nimble offensive linemen who weren't as strong or as big as the guys on a Bielema-coached team.

Petrino also wasn't known to recruit great defensive players, though he did haul in some very talented defenders during his four years. 

With Bielema, the focus has shifted to recruiting players that are big, strong and physical. 

The biggest impact seen so far in the change in recruiting strategy, has been the influx of talented offensive linemen. In just two months on the trail after taking the job in December 2012, Bielema reeled in 4-star prospects Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland, and 3-star mammoth Dan Skipper, who stands at 6'10".

So far for the class of 2014, the Razorbacks have three O-linemen on board. Jovan Pruitt and Sebastian Tretola, both 3-stars, have great size and fit exactly what Bielema is looking for. The third is 4-star Brian Wallace, who chose the Hogs (subscription required) over Alabama and Iowa at the U.S. Army All-American Game. 

A big part of all the highly ranked linemen jumping on board has been thanks to O-line coach Sam Pittman, who the Hogs gave a hefty raise to $550,000 before he even coached in a game after Alabama made a run at him. As Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com wrote, Pittman has had a huge impact on the recruiting trail. 

There's also been a big change in recruiting on the defensive side, particularly for the defensive backs. In Petrino's five recruiting cycles, including 2012 before his fall from grace, the Hogs signed 19 defensive backs. Bielema has already landed nine, a number that could rise before the 2014 class is wrapped up. 

As stated, Petrino did land some very talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but there is a much bigger emphasis on defense with Bielema leading the charge. Petrino never recruited a ton of talent in the secondary or at linebacker, and it had a negative effect in Bielema's first season as both positions struggled mightily all year. Though Arkansas has just two linebackers currently committed, you can fully expect Bielema to make it a top priority leading up to national signing day and in future cycles.

The Razorbacks had a very rough season, but you have to remember that the players were playing in a whole new system. Many of them were recruited to Arkansas to fit Petrino's scheme and had trouble adjusting to Bielema's style, which is power football.

The change in recruiting strategy is going to bring in guys that are fit to play in Bielema's hard-nosed, physical style, instead of prospects that are more based in schemes for speed and finesse.

It always takes time for a program to fully grasp a new scheme and bring in prospects that fit it, but Bielema is working toward turning the Hogs into those country-strong teams that beat teams down physically while he was at Wisconsin. Rome wasn't built overnight, so have some patience because he's slowly reconstructing Arkansas to be what he envisioned when he took the job.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Urban Meyer's Ohio State Squad Is Only Big Ten Team That Will Miss the BCS

Monday night will be reason to celebrate in Big Ten country, no matter what happens between Florida State and Auburn. That's because the three-letter word, B-C-S, has been most unkind to the majority of B1G schools. 

That is unless you are Ohio State, in which case you may very well be sad to see the BCS gone. 

Sure, recent BCS history hasn't been kind to the Buckeyes either, but who can forget the 2002-03 season and the last national champion to come from the Big Ten?

Despite the B1G not having a national champion since then, no other conference has played in more BCS games than the Big Ten (28), and no other team in the history of the BCS has made more appearances than OSU (10).

However, for the other 11 teams currently calling the Big Ten home, the death of the BCS and birth of the College Football Playoff is a dream come true. 

It's an opportunity to do what the vast majority of the Big Ten still has to do to get respect: earn it on the field.

The ugly truth of the BCS era for the Big Ten is that unless your ranking was followed by the words "Ohio State," your chances of being in a BCS game beyond winning the conference were pretty slim. 

Only three other Big Ten schools made appearances in non-Rose Bowl BCS games—Illinois to the Sugar Bowl once, Iowa to the Orange Bowl twice and Penn State to the Orange Bowl once. 

Notice something missing from those numbers, though? Not a single one of those extra appearances came via this thing called the BCS National Championship game. 

Only the Buckeyes of Ohio State can claim that happening, going to the title game three times since its inception in 1998. 

So, for the majority of teams in the Big Ten, the BCS era wasn't all that welcoming. 

Then again, the Big Ten has also progressively slipped down the totem pole of the college football world. It didn't exactly elevate a ton of teams to become BCS worthy. 

Additionally, the conference didn't help itself out with some archaic rules for selecting teams to BCS games and breaking ties for the conference title (before the 2011 season and start of the Big Ten Championship game).

No season underscored what was wrong with the system the Big Ten and the BCS created more than 2010.

Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all tied for the conference crown with 11-1 overall records and 7-1 finishes in Big Ten play. By rule, the highest ranked BCS team went to the Rose Bowl, and that meant Wisconsin, at No. 5 in the final BCS standings, packed its bags for Pasadena.

Michigan State, the team that beat Wisconsin, was left out of the BCS entirely as Ohio State was selected for the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas thanks to being ranked one spot higher in the BCS standings than MSU. 

See, the problem with the BCS is that it was never about creating a true national champion. It was a "money first, football second" operation from the very beginning, and Ohio State equalled major cash to the BCS and vice versa. 

Moving forward, the hope is that, with football people making the decisions about who's in and who's out of the College Football Playoff, the annual high school popularity contest will give way to what actually takes place on the field every Saturday.

For the rest of the Big Ten without the "name" of Ohio State or Michigan, that brings hope that results on the field matter more than where some writer or coach (who's likely never seen you play) ranks you.

With the start of division play in 2011 and the Big Ten title game that the 12-team conference began that year, the chances of making a BCS game became better for each of the participants. 

Yet, still, the elusive BCS National Championship game was out of reach for any team that would win the title game not named Ohio State. 

All one has to do is look to the Big Ten title game to see why the rest of the conference can't wait for the College Football Playoff to start. 

This last season saw Michigan State arguably earn its way into the national-championship discussion by beating No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. 

It propelled them to the No. 4 ranking in the BCS, which in the new system would've qualified them for the playoff.

One could've argued the win over the Buckeyes was a fluke, until the Spartans went out on the field and proved it again in a Rose Bowl win over No. 5 Stanford. 

Looking forward, the Big Ten Championship game provides the extra opportunity for the rest of the Big Ten, not named Ohio State, to earn its way into the national championship discussion on the field—where it matters most. 

Now the question is: Will anyone be able to step to the plate and take advantage of those opportunities that the new era of college football could provide the rest of the Big Ten?

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Louisville Fan Wants to Bring Bobby Petrino Back

As the University of Texas posted on its website on Sunday, former Louisville coach Charlie Strong has bolted for the Longhorns. Now the Cardinals need to start looking for a replacement.

One fan wants a reunion with former coach Bobby Petrino, who coached the Cardinals from 2003 to 2006. The fan posted a sign on the building where athletic director Tom Jurich's office is, asking for Petrino to come back.

Petrino led Louisville to a 41-9 record during his four years as coach.

 

Hat tip to LostLettermen.com for the find.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Good Riddance BCS: Why the Pac-12 Can't Wait for a Playoff

The last time the BCS Championship is awarded, it will happen in Pac-12 country. But in a finish to the 15 years of BCS football befitting the host conference’s fate, the Coaches Trophy will not go to a Pac-12 team.

In 16 BCS seasons, the Pac-12 played in all of three title games and won only USC’s 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Whether it be the result of perceived league strength or missed opportunities, the BCS was not kind to Pac-12 teams with championship aspirations.

Based on the conference’s various near misses, the expansion of the sport’s championship round to include four teams instead of just two may not be a conference that benefits more from the beginning of the College Football Playoff than the Pac-12.

The quintessential example is USC in 2003, a team that opened the season with a 23-0 rout of Auburn in Jordan Hare Stadium.

USC was voted national champion by the Associated Press, forcing the only split in 16 years of the BCS with Championship Game-winner LSU.

"All I know is the powers that be selected us to be here," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said per The Los Angeles in January 2004. "They just gave us the national championship trophy. I don't know how you couldn't consider us national champions."

The "powers that be," whether media, coaches poll voters or computers, just didn't quite like the Pac-12. Over the course of the last 16 years, the Pac-12 earned fewer BCS Championship Game bids than the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, and as many as the Big Ten and former Big East.

Before USC's snub in 2003 in favor of Big 12 title game loser Oklahoma, there was precedent for a Big 12 team that failed to win the conference playing for the BCS Championship ahead of the Pac-12 champion. Just two years earlier, Nebraska earned the privilege of being Miami's last victim despite losing in spectacular fashion to Colorado. The Buffaloes later lost the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon.

As the conference’s flag-bearer for much of the BCS era, though, USC accounted for the majority of the Pac-12’s BCS snubs. In 2007 and 2008, USC finished tied in the loss column with at least one of the two championship game participants.

Both seasons, an SEC team got the call while the Trojans went to the Rose Bowl.

The 2008 USC team may be the most egregious exclusion in BCS history. The Trojans boasted the nation's best defense and one of the stingiest units in college football history, and their sole setback was a Thursday night, early-season nailbiter at Oregon State.

Then-USC head coach Pete Carroll refused to politick after wrapping up the 2008 regular season, saying in a press conference he accepted the BCS system for what it was and had no alternative.

With the coming of the College Football Playoff, there is an alternative. But it's on the Pac-12 champion to seize the opportunity.

While USC was on the wrong end of national perception, the Pac-12 teams whiffed plenty, too. In the first year of the BCS, UCLA ran through its regular season slate undefeated, including a dominating win over a top-10 ranked Arizona team. But a hurricane pushed a non-conference date with Miami back to December, and on the regular season's final week, Edgerrin James and the Hurricanes blew away the Bruins' title dreams.

The Trojans also came up on the wrong end of a few perplexing losses that prevented them from punching their tickets to BCS title games—none more perplexing than the 2006 regular-season finale at UCLA.

Stanford, along with Oregon, picked up the mantle USC dropped after it was handed severe NCAA sanctions. At last summer's Pac-12 media day, Cardinal head coach David Shaw touted his team as a playoff team had the system existed in 2012.

Even in a system that invites four teams to play for the national championship, the Pac-12 champion cannot afford the confounding hiccups. To that end, Stanford would have been on the outside looking in in 2013, a campaign in which national pundits lauded the Pac-12 as one of the sport’s strongest conferences.

Because of two road losses, at Utah and USC, Stanford would have been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention. While a three-point defeat to a Top 25 team like USC is not too harsh of a blemish, Stanford’s 27-21 loss at Utah ostensibly scrapped the Cardinal’s championship resume. 

There’s no telling how different the conference’s place in the national landscape might be had it won more championships. Perhaps the groundswell that landed a record nine teams in bowl games and another record five with at least 10 wins would have started earlier.

Regardless, the BCS is soon to be in the past, and the Pac-12 is starting the new playoff era on the right path.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State's Crack Coaching Staff Will Be Difference in 2014 BCS Championship

With a month between games, the BCS National Championship Game is an opportunity for coaches to show just how dialed in they are to both the opponent and their own team. When the Seminoles take the field against the Auburn Tigers, Jimbo Fisher, and the tremendous staff he's assembled, will get a chance to show why they are the most underrated commodity in the BCS Championship.

On the Auburn side of things, Gus Malzahn is widely considered a genius, and rightfully so. He's put together a phenomenal system that utilizes his pieces well and elevated a team with three wins in 2012, to a 12-1, SEC Champion and BCS Championship team in 2013. He's found a way to turn a hapless offense into a potent rushing attack, led by a quarterback who did not get to campus until the end of June.

Malzahn deserves praise, but Jimbo Fisher, as the man who revamped the Seminoles' program, also is deserving of ample love on the national scale. First and foremost, it must be acknowledged that Fisher did not just continue Bobby Bowden's success. The program Fisher built at Florida State only resembles Bowden's group thanks to the uniforms. This is, unequivocally, Fisher's team and the program that he built in Tallahassee.

In fact, if one is looking for a comparison, it is not the past Florida State teams, but rather the modern Alabama squads that Fisher's team favors. Which is why the Sunday-to-Friday prep has been phenomenal for the Seminoles and that pregame success will continue during the bowl layoff.

That prep success stems from Fisher's mentor, the best in college football, Nick Saban. Self-scouting and working to break tendencies, while presenting a game plan that taxes the opponent is a Saban staple. Now, Fisher, with a staff loaded with other Saban disciples, gets to show just how ready his staff is to prove Malzahn is not the only coach worth celebrating in this ballgame.

On offense, it starts with Fisher and his talented weapons. The head coach calls the plays and while Malzahn gets celebrated for setting his team up, it is Fisher's team that has the more multi-faceted attack. Look for Jimbo to work the run and the pass to expose Auburn's defense. Although Auburn has a solid defensive line rotation, watch for Fisher to try and limit its substitutions by working tempo at times and keeping his 11 personnel package in the game to run and throw.

The Seminoles offense, which gets all praise for being talented, but none for being well-schemed or for the play calls, will have to show up big against Auburn's vulnerable defense. While quarterback Jameis Winston will draw the celebration, it is Fisher who still makes things go with his decisions and how he's prepared his unit to succeed.

Defensively is where the Seminoles will get a shot to prove that mind-vs-mind Jeremy Pruitt, the defensive coordinator, is ready to match wits with Malzahn. As has been discussed here, look for Pruitt to work to make Auburn uncomfortable. Discomfort, for the Tigers, of course means throwing the football.

Although Nick Marshall has a very strong arm and boasts a completion percentage of 60.4, the fact is Auburn's quarterback has not shown consistency pushing the ball down the field. Pruitt is going to load up the box. Pruitt is going to make Marshall beat him through the air. Pruitt is going to make the genius that is Gus Malzahn, prove to the nation that he can adjust and beat a team that dares him to throw the football.

Jimbo Fisher and Jeremy Pruitt bring some elite level football minds to the table and this final edition of the BCS National Championship Game is far just the "Gus Malzahn is a Genius" show. The Seminoles have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but a win on Monday night will be as much about coaches putting them in a position to succeed, as the athletes carrying out the plan.

Fisher and his staff are the edge for the Seminoles. Those men on the sideline and in the booth are why Florida State's been phenomenal all season, and the Seminoles' prep for the title game should be no different.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

GoDaddy Bowl 2014: Key Players in Arkansas State vs. Ball State Battle

The 2014 GoDaddy Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET, and it features two teams in Arkansas State and Ball State that have several top talents you've probably never heard of.

Arkansas State (7-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) enters 4-1 in its past five games. That being said, that loss came in its last game against Western Kentucky. The Red Wolves have been wildly inconsistent this season, though they did play very well against Sun Belt opponents.

Ball State (10-2, 7-1 MAC) is fresh off a 55-14 route of Miami (OH) on Nov. 29. Northern Illinois defeated it 48-27 in the previous week, however. The Cardinals scored 40.1 points per game (12th in the nation) this season. Their lowest point total (27) was matched three times.

The Red Wolves defense appears to have its hands full with the Cardinals' potent offense. Several key players will inevitably step up for each team, and here are the three top threats to keep an eye on.

 

Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State

Senior quarterback Keith Wenning is perhaps the top quarterback in the nation that you've never heard of. The relatively weak conference he plays in is likely the reason why, because his numbers this season were certainly worthy of national attention.

Wenning threw for at least 305 yards in 10 of his 12 games this season. His last game against Miami (OH) was easily his best in 2013, as he totaled six touchdown passes with 445 yards and just six incompletions.

With weapons around him and motivation to perform well in his final game with the Cardinals, look for Wenning to come out slinging. Ball State ranked No. 9 in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, and while most of that can be attributed to Wenning, a good portion of that needs to be attributed to the offensive scheme.

Wenning is in a situation that allows him to air it out with success. Look for him to do more of the same against the Red Wolves.

 

Michael Gordon, RB, Arkansas State

Arkansas State doesn't have a potent offense by any means, but perhaps its best weapon is running back Michael Gordon.

Gordon didn't get a ton of opportunities this season compared to other backs across the country, but he made the most of his chances. His mark of 6.8 yards per carry is evident of his motor and willingness to fight for tough yards.

The 5'9" sophomore is also coming off the best three-game stretch of his season. He totaled 362 yards and four touchdowns against the likes of Texas State, Georgia State and Western Kentucky. Ball State will throw different defensive schemes his way (including stuffing the box with linebackers), but Gordon has the speed and vision to break a few plays open.

The Red Wolves' strategy, according to Eddie Timanus of USA Today Sports, will be to use Gordon to eat time away:

Arkansas State isn't quite as prolific [as Ball State], but QB Adam Kennedy and TBs David Oku and Michael Gordon will try to control the clock as much as possible.

If Gordon can keep up this hot streak, then there's plenty of reason to believe that he'll do more than just play a part in clock management.

 

Willie Snead, WR, Ball State

Junior wideout Willie Snead is by far the best pass-catching option on either side in the GoDaddy Bowl. His numbers this season were superb, even if they were influenced by having Wenning throw the ball his way.

Like Gordon, Snead is hitting his stride of late. He posted 23 catches, 254 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games against Northern Illinois and Miami (OH). With Wenning throwing him the ball, Snead has the potential to keep it going against Arkansas State.

Mark Inabinett of AL.com breaks down Snead's place in Ball State history:

After catching at least five passes in every game this season, Snead stands second in Ball State history with 214 receptions, 2,904 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches. He already holds the school record for 100-yard receiving games with 13.

Snead is dynamic in the vertical passing game. His speed and great hands make him an ideal target for Wenning over the top of opposing secondaries. His 5'11" frame isn't ideal for jump-ball scenarios, so expect Wenning to air it out when the ball is going Snead's way.

He'll certainly make his presence felt as his quarterback's favorite target.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages