NCAA Football News

Alabama Football Recruiting: Top Remaining Targets for the Crimson Tide

Nick Saban has already helped the Alabama Crimson Tide assemble an imposing recruiting class for 2014, but the Tide have the potential to land a few more stellar young athletes to truly make this group one to remember. 

Alabama has already secured pledges from top-flight recruits, such as Cameron Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand and Tony Brown, but Saban isn’t done quite yet. 

Instead, the Tide are waiting on three more big recruits to announce their decisions to fill out the remainder of what most recruiting services consider the top class in the nation.

Only time will tell if Alabama can land each one, but it’s hard to doubt the staff’s recruiting mastery.

 

Matt Elam

Elam may be on the Kentucky Wildcats’ home turf, but the Tide are still considered strong contenders for the 4-star defensive tackle’s services.

It’s no surprise why Alabama is interested; a quick glimpse of his highlight video shows that he could be a force in the middle. 

Mark Stoops and the Wildcats have wooed the Elizabethtown, Ky., native, but it’s impossible to ignore the influence of the Tide. 

"There's a lot to like about Alabama—the defending national champions, the coaching staff, it's just one of the best in the country,” Elam told Wescott Eberts of SB Nation. “And then to get to play on the biggest stages against the best competition, you can't really get that against Kentucky, so there are some pros and cons with that."

Elam, however, might be unable to resist the appeal of his hometown team: 247Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions give Elam a 61 percent chance of choosing Kentucky.

"When Stoops and his staff came in, I feel like they changed the program," Elam told Eberts. "I talked to (Kentucky commit) Drew (Barker) and he was like, 'Man, I wasn't considering them at first, but when Stoops came, I put them to the top of my list.' I feel like that's definitely the case with me, they made such a jump because of what he did at FSU and especially with the defensive line."

Elam plans to announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, so Saban and company won’t know for sure until then.

 

Brian Wallace 

The Tide might’ve already nabbed a stellar offensive tackle in Robinson, but they might able to land another if they can sign Wallace.

The 4-star tackle is a physical beast at 6’6” and 305 pounds, and given his impressive technique, it’s no surprise that Saban has his eye on him.

Wallace is also being pursued by the Arkansas Razorbacks, but it seems increasingly likely that he’ll go with Alabama instead. He’s visited both schools, but he seemed particularly taken with Tuscaloosa. 

"Everyone was telling me how impressive Alabama was, and I actually got a chance to see it for myself," Wallace told 247Sports (subscription required). 

The Crystal Ball prediction for Wallace heavily favors the Tide, giving Alabama a whopping 82 percent chance of landing the tackle. 

Wallace will also wait to announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but it seems like Tide fans can feel pretty confident about his commitment.

 

Marlon Humphrey

The Crimson Tide are surely happy to have landed Brown, widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the 2014 class; however, Saban isn’t willing to settle for just “one of the best.” Not when Marlon Humphrey, the nation’s top cornerback and the son of former All-American Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey, is still available.

Humphrey may be just 6’1” and 175 pounds, but his speed and technique are both superb, as his highlights suggest. 

While the Tide are largely considered heavy favorites to land Humphrey, one team could swoop in and steal him away, as SB Nation’s Bud Elliott explains

Humphrey's dad Bobby was a star for the Crimson Tide, and son Marlon lives just down the road from Tuscaloosa. If there is a school that can sign Humphrey away from the Tide (it) is Florida State, as Humphrey has a great relationship with Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who coached defensive backs at Alabama for several years previous to joining FSU's staff in 2013. This one will come down to official visits, but (it) is very difficult to pick against the Tide and a chance to be coached by Nick Saban when a five-star Alabama legacy is concerned.

Humphrey has yet to make official visits to either school, but he is set to head to Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 17 and Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Jan. 24.

He plans on making his official decision on Feb. 1, but with the Crystal Ball predicting that he has a 95 percent chance to sign with the Tide, the announcement may be a mere formality.

 

Conclusion

Alabama certainly doesn’t need to sign any of these recruits to still have assembled the best class in college football, but on the heels of a disappointing season (by Saban’s crazy standards) and a loss in the Sugar Bowl, it’d be huge for the Tide to prove that they’re still the premier program in college football by completely dominating in the recruiting arena.

The last time Alabama landed a loaded class like this was back in 2009, with a group that included stars such as Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, Chance Warmack, Eddie Lacy and Dre Kirkpatrick.

That class produced a bevy of first-round draft picks and a trio of national titles for Saban, and there’s no reason that the Tide won’t aim to accomplish the same things this time around.

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Marqise Lee vs. Nelson Agholor: Who Will Graduate USC with Better Career?

The inclusion of USC's Marqise Lee in the Jadeveon Clowney-Teddy Bridgewater conversation was not too far-fetched just a year ago.

He was perennially projected as a top-10 NFL draft pick come 2014, and guys like David Moulton of naplesnews.com wished he could be granted eligibility sooner. Such head inflation was premature, as Lee witnessed his stock fall throughout the season due to early drops, nagging injuries and the stigma of Lane Kiffin-influenced origins.

While his most recent performance in the Las Vegas Bowl helped save himself from possible draft-board disappointment, unlike Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, the void left behind in its wake may have allowed Nelson Agholor to surpass him in the ranks of USC lore.

Southern California officially appointed itself "Wide Receiver U" this past June, and the names on its admissions list boast a quantitative argument at least. Transitory success to the professional level this century has been short-lived (Steve Smith), marginal (Keary Colbert; Mike Williams; Damian Williams) or non-existent (Dwayne Jarrett; Patrick Turner; Ronald Johnson). Nonetheless, USC's capability to continuously spit out Biletnikoff candidates and stars in the confines of the Coliseum is indicative of its mainstay offensive prowess.

In order to fit among the lineage, of course, every snap lined up as the flanker or in the slot is invaluable. Lee possesses the edge, having played first, but is there enough time for Agholor to catch up?

As the nation awaits the junior's decision on whether or not to forgo his senior campaign, do Lee's numbers and accolades stack up to be insurmountable? Has Agholor already capitalized on Lee's absence and subsequent head start in leading the Trojans offense as Cody Kessler's primary target? Do scouting reports and box scores outweigh highlights and off-field factors? Who will ultimately be remembered as the superior cardinal n' gold receiver?

It's time for another decathlon presented by the Italian Trojan.

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Power Ranking the Best College Football Players to Declare Early for NFL Draft

With time winding down to the Jan. 15 deadline for college football players to declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft, it's the perfect time for a history lesson on the best student-athletes to depart school early to head to the pros.

Texas A&M great and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel still hasn't made his announcement, though a spot on this list will likely be made if he leaves College Station early.

Until then, click on for the list of the 10 best players to leave school early for the NFL draft.

The primary judging factor is the player's collegiate career, seconded by his time in the NFL. Other factors, such as program and historical impact, also play a role in the rankings.

 

Note: Stats via Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

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Oklahoma State Fan Makes 'I'm a Man, I'm 40' Jersey Based on Mike Gundy's Speech

In 2007, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy defended one of his quarterbacks from a newspaper article that prompted one of the most memorable tirades in college football history. 

Now, thanks to Darren Rovell of ESPN Sports, we see a fan has made a custom jersey to represent the "I'm a man, I'm 40" quote.

In case you'd like to hear the classic speech again, you can watch below. 

Hat tip to Mike Foss of USA Today's For The Win for bringing this to our attention.

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Jameis Winston Wants to Play for Yankees or Braves While Playing in NFL

There's no denying that Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has a bright future ahead of him on the gridiron. However, the dynamic signal-caller appears to be leaving all of his options open. 

According to AL.com's Jon Solomon, Winston believes he can succeed while playing both football and baseball professionally someday, singling out the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees as potential destinations. 

During a BCS National Championship Game media session on Friday, Jan. 3, Winston had the following response when probed about the possibility of excelling as a dual-sport professional athlete:

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...

Keep in mind that the 19-year-old Winston is a talented baseball player and was selected in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers. He played pitcher and outfielder for the Seminoles' baseball team in 2013.

Winston added that former two-sport athletes like Bo Jackson serve as inspiration:

No one can be Bo Jackson. I mean, the guy if he wouldn't have gotten hurt probably would have been in the Hall of Fame in both baseball and football. So that's something that's unrealistic. But I'm not going to tell myself I can't do that.

Still, it's difficult to imagine Winston following in Jackson's footsteps. Even if the Hueytown, Ala. native has the physical and mental makeup to dominate as a professional football and baseball player, it's unlikely that a professional sports franchise investing in him would be comfortable with the obvious risk involved with such a scenario.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit told Solomon that he loves the idea of Winston starring in the NFL and MLB, but feels it's an unrealistic desire given his position:

I love seeing guys play multiple sports, but he plays quarterback. It's very different than Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. As much as he wants to play both, because he plays quarterback, eventually I think he's going to have to make a decision. Talk to John Elway about it. There are a lot of quarterbacks who thought about playing both and eventually had to make a decision.

Herbstreit, a former college quarterback himself, raises an excellent point.

For at least the next few days, Winston will have more than enough on his plate, as he and his teammates prepare for their BCS National Championship Game matchup with Auburn, which is set to kick off on Monday, Jan. 6 from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. 

It's been an unforgettable and record-breaking season for the redshirt freshman to this point, but unless he and the Seminoles can finish the job against Auburn, Winston will have bigger concerns heading into the offseason than his future as a dual-sport star.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Under Armour All-America Game 2014: Top 5 Underclassman Combine Performers

Before the brightest stars in the 2014 recruiting class got on stage for the Under Armour All-America Game, the Underclassman Combine took place.

This event featured the many of the nation's best prospects from the 2015 class, as it gave the recruiting world a sneak peek into next year's group. Although it's early in the evaluation process for juniors, some used this event to stand out from their peers.

A talented offensive lineman displayed great upside, while a pair of defensive ends showcased their ability to be monsters on the edges. Also, a linebacker known for his pass-rushing ability impressed with his cover skills. 

 

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

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Orange Bowl 2014: Top Players to Watch in Clemson vs. Ohio State

While the BCS National Championship Game is the only bowl that actually matters and the Stanford-Michigan State game was the most intriguing from a traditional, smashmouth football sense, there isn't a BCS bowl capable of providing more fireworks than the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Ohio State.

There are stars, explosive offenses, smart coaches, proud programs, oranges! Okay, so the last bit doesn't really mean anything, but you can bet this game will be memorable. Or at least it looks like it should be memorable on paper.

But which players will rise above the rest? Who are the stars you should be focusing on? Are these rhetorical questions getting you excited to read this article?

If you answered "Yes," enjoy!

 

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

If you had to pick a handful of the most entertaining college players to watch this season, Watkins would most definitely make the cut. 

Watkins was excellent again in 2013, finishing the season with 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He can stretch defenses vertically, burn defenders after the catch and was a huge reason why Clemson had the No. 11 pass attack in the country this season. 

As Brian Bennett of ESPN.com notes, Ohio State's pass defense isn't exactly stingy:

Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss. Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby(bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars. 

A surefire first-round pick, Watkins will have the chance to showcase why he is deserving of top-10 selection. Expect him to take advantage of that opportunity.

 

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Half quarterback, half running back, Braxton Miller is just fun to watch. For the second straight year, he's eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards (1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground) while also passing for 1,860 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions. 

Clemson allowed just 351.2 yards (23rd in the nation) and 21.1 points per contest (17th), but Miller is going to present the Tigers with a stiff test.

Few players in college football are as dangerous as Miller, and if Ohio State is going to win this game, it will be behind a huge performance from its star quarterback.

 

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Another dual-threat quarterback, Boyd does the majority of the damage with his arm. He threw for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, completing 67.6 percent of his passes, but also rushed for 273 yards and nine touchdowns.

Ohio State is going to struggle to slow down Watkins and Martavis Bryant, which means that Boyd could be in line for a mammoth game through the air. Of course, if the Buckeyes focus too much on solidifying the secondary or go all out with pressure, Boyd will make them pay with his legs.

In other words, good luck, Ohio State defense.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Shane Morris and Derrick Green Weren't Michigan's Top Freshmen in 2013

Contrary to popular belief, Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class was comprised of more than quarterback Shane Morris and running back Derrick Green.

While certainly noteworthy, Morris and Green merely headlined a haul that, today, seems to have some not-so hidden talent.

Showing composure and promise under fire, Morris held tight by completing 63 percent of his passes for 196 yards during Team 134’s 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to K-State.

Green contributed a five-yard carry that resulted in a first down—that was it. He received 43 of 83 touches during the final four games and finished the season with 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Brimming with potential, Morris and Green were two of Brady Hoke’s top youngsters. But they weren’t the best.

Nope. Not even close.

 

No. 1: Take Jake

He’s getting bigger, stronger and faster—Jake Butt will soon be a star complement to Devin Funchess.

With three catches for 33 yards against K-State, the freshman supplied some sort of offensive highlights when none were to be found.

Michigan scored six points during the first half and rushed for 10 yards. Butt’s average of 11 yards per catch was the high point of the evening for coordinator Al Borges, whose play-calling churned out 261 yards of nothingness.

Emerging as an effective and reliable target, Butt reeled in 15 of his 20 catches during the final four games of the season. Continuously showing progress each week, he proved that he was the most college-ready prospect from Hoke’s 2013 collection.

Butt wasn’t just a solid contributor “for a freshman;” he was the team’s third-leading receiver (235 yards, 2 TDs). At this point, it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback—Butt can work with either Gardner or Morris.

That being said, Butt looked extraordinarily comfortable—when compared to others who dropped passes—catching bullets from Morris. Michigan has depth at receiver and tight end. More physical than Funchess, it’s likely that Butt could take on more of a blocking role while Funchess remains the favored option.

That’s fine. That’ll create more opportunities for Butt, who seemed to surprise defenders with his athleticism. A simple recollection of the season reveals an interesting observation: Teams didn’t seem concerned with Butt most of the time.

That’s a nice recipe for success, but it’s doubtful that defensive backs will sleep on Butt next fall. He’s been exposed for what he is: a true threat.

 

No. 2: Ben in Blue

Remember Ben Gedeon?

Not really?

It’s OK, he got lost in the fold. Everyone was talking “Morris this, Green that” and neglected to mention one of the Wolverines’ best young special teamers.

Appearing in 13 games, Gedeon gave a frosh-best 19 tackles (10 solo) to Team 134, which ended the year at 7-6.

His sack of Daniel Sams in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was perhaps the highlight of the season. His play on kickoffs is noteworthy, too. 

While defending returns, Gedeon hawked the ball. That's the way to do it, especially for a player who could end up seeing more snaps in the 4-3 than on STs. A climb up the depth chart may be in the 6'3", 236-pounder's immediate future. 

No. 3: Secondary Freshies?

They're defensive backs, but they're primary components. 

Contributions from Jourdan Lewis, Dymonte Thomas and Channing Stribling were arguably more important than what Green and Morris added, at least during the dog days of fall. 

Sure, the deep ball was a problem in 2013—and Lewis fell victim to a couple—but that can be corrected through coaching. Pace dictates play, and Michigan’s defensive backs were often forced to linger on the border between solid coverage and the land of taking too many chances.

Gambles pay off big, but they’re also costly. Lesson learned. Lewis should be a serviceable corner as a sophomore. With 13 games of experience, he’ll be asked to either step up or move out of the way.

Stribling and Thomas look to be Michigan's next-gen rock-'em, sock-'em safeties/nickels. Curt Mallory, the secondary coach, certainly has enough pieces to rebound from what was a lukewarm finish by his players.

MGoBlue slightly disagrees with this assessment of the freshmen. However, it's important to note that perspective comes into play.

For those looking for the upside, a positive review and forecast is necessary. For those leaning toward the more critical side, perhaps the idea of redshirting one or more of the players mentioned seemed warranted.

Both are fair looks at the topic. Considering the overall struggles, perhaps a sunnier approach serves best. Stribling and Thomas are hard hitters. Throw in Jabrill Peppers, just imagine that...

And remember, Thomas made an immediate impact. It was one of Michigan's top plays. Sadly, it came during a 59-9 Week 1 beating of Central Michigan, not during a Week 14 win over the Buckeyes. 

 

No. 4: Don't Run Past De'Veon

Nineteen of 26 carries came within the final three games for De’Veon Smith, who had four carries for seven yards against K-State.

It’s completely logical to criticize Borges for the lack of Smith Time this season. There were instances in which he appeared superior to Green, who had moments of good and bad. Why Borges waited until Doomsday to play his top backs is a head-scratcher.

Smith had seven carries for 57 yards during the 42-41 loss to Ohio State. However, 38 of those yards came at once. But as the season drew to a close, he demonstrated forward progress in every sense of the word.

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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Army All-American Game Roster 2014: Sleepers to Watch in Recruiting Showcase

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl features some of the best high school football players in the country, although not all of them are well-known just yet.

This week's Under Armour All-America Game has become the top destination for elite talent among recruits; however, big names, such as running back Sony Michel and offensive tackle David Sharpe, represent a deep class of prospects that will be at the Alamodome for this showcase.

Additionally, this is a chance for some of the less-heralded players to prove that they should be rated higher on recruiting boards.

Here are some of the biggest sleepers that will be on display at the Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, along with full rosters of each team.

 

Frank Iheanacho, WR, Undecided

A lot of aspects of being a receiver can be taught; however, you cannot teach someone how to be 6'7".

Frank Iheanacho has incredible size, but he still has enough speed to stick at the position throughout his career. Greg Powers of Scout.com provides a look at the possibilities:

Iheanacho is obviously a huge target that will automatically be a safety net for whichever quarterback gets the pleasure of throwing him the football. Additionally, the Texas native will be a big-time red-zone target who could easily score double-digit touchdowns in a season at the next level.

While he is still relatively raw in this sport, he has the size and athletic ability to transform into one of the top receivers in the nation. 

Iheanacho will likely decide between Texas A&M, Oregon and LSU during the game.

 

Jesse Aniebonam, DE, Maryland

It is always hard to predict how young players will turn potential into production, but Jesse Aniebonam is built to succeed at the next level.

The 6'4", 230-pound defensive end/outside linebacker has the speed and athleticism to be a dominant pass-rusher off the edge. While he needs to add more weight, he has a big enough frame that will allow him to add plenty of muscle once he gets into a college strength program.

At this point, his biggest problem is inconsistency; however, Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com points out that Aniebonam can come back strong from bad showings:

As he gets experience, he will learn how to make plays more often until he becomes a complete defensive player.

After deciding to stay at home to play at Maryland, Aniebonam will likely see the field relatively quickly. 

 

Drew Barker, QB, Kentucky

Since Kentucky is not known as a football school, not many top prospects from the area choose to stick around; however, Drew Barker is making a real difference for the Wildcats.

The pro-style quarterback has good size and the arm strength that any team would love from the position. His accuracy is not elite yet, but it has been steadily improving and could be a plus by the time he is an upperclassman. 

Of course, quarterbacks want to play with talented players. The good news is that he is taking matters into his own hands, according to Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio:

Top players are already believing in what Barker has to say, which points to his leadership ability.

It will be an uphill battle for Kentucky to be relevant in the SEC, but this quarterback has a chance to be a legend in Lexington.

 

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

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Jadeveon Clowney Meets His No. 1 Fan, an Older Woman Who Says She Loves Him

"Aren't we having fun, darling? I love you."

Future NFL player Jadeveon Clowney posted a video to his Instagram of his interaction with an older woman who sounds like his No. 1 fan, and it's absolutely precious.

She's is so thrilled to see him that she hollers to her husband, Alvin, so he can meet him too. Then she declares her love for Clowney and makes all of our days. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Game Schedule 2014: TV Info, Predictions and More for Rest of Bowl Season

The final rendition of the BCS bowl system is winding down, with just four more days and five more games left. As bowl season reaches its climax with the final bowls and the BCS National Championship Game, here is all the TV info you need to catch the end of college football season, as well as predictions for the remaining games:

The three big bowls obviously stand out and warrant further analysis. Below are reasons why the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and BCS National Championship will unfold as predicted.

 

Cotton Bowl

The Missouri vs. Oklahoma State game is probably the toughest to call. Both teams feature powerful offenses that are reeling from disappointing finishes to the regular season.

The Tigers and Cowboys share a common regret at missing out on a BCS bowl and have similar keys to salvage a Cotton Bowl consolation. Both possess front sevens capable of disrupting the opposition's timing-based offense, as well as balanced attacks that can keep the other defense off balance.

However, Missouri has so many playmakers on the front seven that it is not hard to envision the Tigers generating a couple of game-changing sacks or turnovers. Besides unanimous All-American Michael Sam, the Tigers also have received huge contributions from Markus Golden, Shane Ray and Kony Ealy. The quartet has combined for 52.5 tackles for loss and 29 sacks.

Oklahoma State is also a bit undersized up front, and while All-American cornerback Justin Gilbert leads a stifling Cowboys pass defense, Missouri should have enough success on the ground to pull out a victory in a closely contested game.

 

Orange Bowl

Ohio State was on the national championship radar for the entire season, and Buckeyes Nation is disappointed not to be in Pasadena. Meanwhile, Clemson had one of the least-visible seasons of any 10-2 team, partially because of an early-season beatdown at the hands of Florida State.

Both offenses possess big advantages over the other defense—Clemson through the air, Ohio State on the ground. The Buckeyes' third-ranked run game and the Tigers' 11th-ranked air raid should turn the Orange Bowl into a high-scoring affair.

But Ohio State's ability to dominate on the ground also allows it to control the clock and pace of the game. If the Buckeyes are burning off chunks of clock on each drive, not only will it rest their own defense, but it will also wear down the Tigers D. Moreover, running by its nature is inherently a lower-variance option, meaning that Ohio State is going to be less prone to debilitating mistakes.

Ultimately, expect Ohio State to get to Tajh Boyd at least a couple of times, as the Buckeyes finished with the fourth-most sacks in the country. That should create a few short fields for Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde and provide Ohio State with some consolation for its near-miss at the national championship.

 

National Championship

The SEC has generally been the favorite during its remarkable run of seven consecutive championships, but the conference representative has never faced longer odds than it does right now. As ESPN's Brad Edwards notes in an Insider article (subscription required), the Seminoles offense should hit plenty of huge plays on Monday night:

It is rare to have a huge statistical mismatch between two major units in a national championship game, but there's no way to deny the gap between the Florida State offense and the Auburn defense. Big plays are a part of this. The Seminoles are tied for the national lead with 103 gains of 20 yards or more, while the Tigers entered the bowl season having allowed 70 such plays, which ranks 109th in the FBS.

And there's more to the story. One in every 8.5 offensive plays for FSU has gained at least 20 yards, the second-best ratio in the last 10 years (behind 2006 Hawaii). On the flip side, Auburn's 5.96 yards per play allowed is the worst by any of the 144 teams to have participated in a BCS game.

Auburn does have a chance if it can control the clock with its running game. Florida State ranked fifth in the nation in conceding just 3.1 yards per carry, but apart from Boston College, the Seminoles did not face a team in the Top 40 in the country in yards per carry.

The Tigers possess the hottest ground game of any team, having compiled at least 200 yards rushing in every game since Week 3 and more than 300 yards in six of the past eight contests. If Auburn can establish a rhythm on the ground early and keep Jameis Winston off the field, it can overcome the odds.

But Florida State is the more talented team, which is a rarity when facing an SEC opponent. The Tigers are not built to pass their way back from a deficit, so expect the Seminoles to pull away late.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army All-American Bowl 2014: 10 Best Recruits to Watch

The 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl brings several of the nation's star high school seniors to San Antonio on Saturday, Jan. 4. The action begins at 1 p.m. EST on NBC and promises to provide a peek at dozens of premier prospects.

Representatives of Team East and Team West step into the spotlight, ready to show off their skills against the worthiest of peers. Here's our rundown of the top 10 college recruits to keep an eye on during the game.

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Clemson vs. Ohio State: Factors That Will Decide the Orange Bowl

Clemson and Ohio State are a pair of teams with a lot to prove in this year’s Orange Bowl after falling short of their national championship dreams, and the relatively even matchup will likely be decided by just a few key factors. 

Each team boasts an electric passing game, with quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller among the best in the country at the position. 

However, each team has some glaring weaknesses on defense that could spell trouble when they take on these high-powered offenses.

How the Buckeyes defend the pass and how the Tigers defend the run could very well end up determining which team earns the BCS win.

 

Tajh Boyd vs. Ohio State’s Pass Defense

Boyd has been phenomenal all year long for the Tigers, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

He’s what defines Clemson’s 11th ranked passing offense, and he could cause major headaches for the Buckeyes’ maligned secondary.

Ohio State is allowing 259.5 yards per game through the air, good for 105th in the nation, and is letting opposing quarterbacks complete 60.5 percent of their passes on average. 

The Buckeyes’ pass defense has been in shambles for a while now, and things might only get worse in the Orange Bowl, as ESPN’s Brian Bennett explains.

Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss.

Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby (bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues. 

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars.

The one area that the Buckeyes might be able to exploit is Clemson’s penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

The Tigers gave the ball away six times to the South Carolina Gamecocks in their 31-17 loss and four times to the Florida State Seminoles in their 51-14 drubbing.

The Gamecocks and Seminoles were able to score six touchdowns off those turnovers, and if Ohio State can replicate that success, the Buckeyes have a chance.

Ohio State has picked off 14 passes this year, 39th in the country. So, they have some hope of intercepting Boyd, and need to do it frequently.

 

Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller vs. Clemson’s Run Defense

By contrast, the Achilles’ heel of the Clemson defense appears to be defending the run.

The Tigers are allowing 152.8 rushing yards per game, and the Buckeyes are in pretty good position to take advantage of this deficiency, as ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit notes. 

Running back Carlos Hyde has been huge for Ohio State’s offense since he returned from his three game absence at the start of the season, running for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 10 games.

He’s been the perfect compliment to Miller, who has had accuracy issues, but has managed to run for 1,033 yards and 10 scores of his own.

The pair should tax Clemson’s subpar run defense, and Hyde has grand designs on even breaking Ahman Green’s Orange Bowl record for rushing yards.

"Perfect ending for me would be beating 206," Hyde told Cleveland.com. "And a win. That would be the perfect way to go out." 

However, it’s not totally inconceivable that the Tigers could slow Ohio State’s running game. 

In fact, Michigan State just offered a pretty good game plan of how to do so according to ESPN’s Todd McShay

When the Spartans got the Buckeyes behind schedule on down-and-distance, it enabled them to get creative with their blitz/spy combinations. In doing so they were able to bring extra pressure in an effort to sack Miller without leaving them vulnerable to him escaping contain and ripping off a long run.

There was a second-quarter, third-and-6 play that perfectly illustrated this strategy, and the Spartans' overall defensive approach. MSU brought a blitzing outside linebacker and a blitzing corner, but also left two defensive backs sitting back in a zone, watching Miller in case he eluded the rushers and broke free. It was a clear sign of MSU's intentions: It was willing to give up a 6- or 7-yard gain and a first down on a short pass, but it was not willing to give Miller room to tuck the ball and break a long run. And since Miller failed to hit his hot read -- tight end Jeff Heuerman, which would have given them a first down -- the gamble to bring pressure paid off, as OSU failed to convert the third-down play.

The Tigers’ defense is surely a long way off from the talented Spartans, but the Big Ten title game proved that Miller and Hyde could be contained effectively.

Both of these teams have incredible talent offensively; the key will be who can make stops on defense.

Each defense has its strengths and weaknesses. It will just be a matter of whether Urban Meyer or Dabo Swinney does the better job of exploiting his opponents’ issues.

If neither defense can adjust, this game could quickly turn into a shootout, creating a real Orange Bowl to remember.

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Auburn vs. Florida State Will Be the Highest-Scoring BCS Championship Game Ever

The Auburn Tigers, riding miracles and dreams to the BCS National Championship Game, are expected to be trounced by the Florida State Seminoles on Monday.

I suspect that won't last very long.

In its grand farewell, the stage is set for an epic BCS Championship Game—two dramatically different styles of play and opponents from diametrically-opposed conferences.

The storylines, now well-established, differ as much as any two opponents' storylines have in college football's pinnacle game. The scene, as the BCS makes its exit after 16 exciting and frustrating years, is almost serendipitous in its beauty.

It should be one for the record books, too. Both teams rank in the nation's top ten scoring offenses and are led by Heisman finalists. One of them, in fact, even took the trophy.

Let's take a look at both teams and review why this BCS Championship Game could smash the record of 79 combined points scored in Texas' win over USC in 2006.

 

The Teams

College basketball's March Madness is known for Cinderella stories. George Mason, Dunk City and many others have graced the big stage with unexpected success.

Auburn may just be the biggest Cinderella story the BCS National Championship Game has ever seen.

Coming off of a year that saw a three-win season run its coach out of town, the Tigers were picked fifth in the SEC West behind juggernauts like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Even lowly Ole Miss was picked higher.

Dashing expectations, new head coach Gus Malzahn and his dynamic offense lost just one game en route to playing for a national title for the second time in four years. It didn't come easily, though.

The Tigers needed a touchdown with 10 seconds left to sneak past Mississippi State—a lucky bounce off of a sure-fire interception to beat Georgia. And a nearly impossible missed field goal return for a touchdown to topple Alabama. Granted, those miracles are often needed in a conference that has produced the previous seven national champions. This is a once-in-a-lifetime story of an unbelievably talented coach, a historic turnaround and an amazingly lucky season.

For Florida State, the story is different. Very different.

Four-year head coach Jimbo Fisher has compiled a gaudy 44-10 overall record in Tallahassee and the Seminoles entered this season picked second in the ACC.

FSU has an average winning margin of over 40 points, including a 45-7 stomping of Coastal Division champion Duke in the ACC Championship Game. Its closest win came in a 48-34 victory at Boston College.

The second consecutive freshman to win it, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston leads Florida State into this year's national title bout as an 8.5 point favorite.

 

Why This One's Special

To begin, let's look at the obvious. These teams are special offensively.

Florida State leads the nation, scoring 53.0 points per game—a total of 689 points on the year. Only Oklahoma in 2008 came into the season's final game averaging more in the BCS era.

Auburn ranks ninth nationally, averaging 40.2 points per game with a total of 522.

That puts the two teams' total at 1,211 points scored thus far—exactly the same amount as the previous record-holders Texas and USC had scored heading into their famed matchup in 2006.

The defenses are similar as well, but when you factor in Florida State's 89th-ranked strength of schedule and its defense's relatively easy task thus far, it becomes clear that this year's title game could be explosive.

As with all successful teams, the leaders for both grabbed the attention of Heisman Trophy voters as well. Jameis Winston, the Florida State freshman phenom that racked up 3,820 yards of passing, connected on 38 touchdowns and averaged a 190.1 pass efficiency rating, took the Heisman in a landslide while Auburn's star running back Tre Mason placed sixth in the award's voting after rushing for 1,621 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns.

 

In Conclusion

It's not often that a Cinderella finds her glass slipper next to a crystal ball. Auburn has a chance to make that fantasy a reality, and Florida State's powerhouse is determined to ruin it.

This year's final edition of the BCS Championship Game is packed with storylines and intrigue, capped by Auburn's sudden rise to power in the Southeastern Conference. Both defenses will have their hands full—Auburn with a potent passing attack led by Winston and Florida State with a powerful run game led by Mason.

Whether you're rooting for the SEC's eighth-straight or for the Seminoles to end the streak, you can rest assured that you'll join millions of Americans in watching an offensive showcase of historic proportions Monday night.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Viewing Info and Preview for Clemson vs. Ohio State

One year ago, Florida State romped Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl and then proceeded to earn a berth in this season's national title game. Clemson and Ohio State would love to follow the same path, starting with their high-profile Orange Bowl clash.

Clemson went 10-2 during the regular season, including a 7-1 mark in ACC play. The Tigers' biggest win came all the way back in late August when they knocked off No. 5 Georgia. They lost their other two games against ranked foes, Florida State and South Carolina, by a combined score of 82-31.

Ohio State took advantage of a very favorable schedule to win its first 12 games of the season. A win in the Big Ten Championship Game would have likely netted the Buckeyes a spot to fight for the national championship, but they fell short against Michigan State. How they respond is key.

With that in mind, let's check out all the important details for the Orange Bowl, followed by a preview and a prediction for which team will end the season with a marquee victory.

 

 

Viewing Information

Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

When: Friday, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview

As mentioned, Ohio State isn't only going up against a talented Clemson squad, but it is also battling the disappointment of coming so close to a national title shot, only to fall short. Those types of situations are always ripe for a letdown.

The team's leadership is doing everything in its power to make sure that doesn't happen. Rusty Miller of the Associated Press passed along comments from senior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort about the task of getting refocused on the task at hand:

Obviously, we’re not going to where we thought we were going or where we wanted to be going, but we’re playing in the Orange Bowl and that’s a big-time bowl game...When you start going back to the coulda, woulda, shouldas, that’s poisonous for team. It’s our job as leaders to look ahead and make sure everybody is doing their business.

For Ohio State to come out on top, it must put the Michigan State loss in the rear-view mirror and get back to what made the team successful all season. That is, pounding away on the ground to control the possession battle.

The most amazing thing is how efficient the Buckeyes running game has been, even though opponents know what to expect. The top seven rushers on the roster are all averaging more the six yards per carry, including leading rusher Carlos Hyde at nearly eight yards per touch.

A lot of that is thanks to the improvement of Braxton Miller. While the quarterback is a key piece of the rushing attack, he also made strides as a passer, increasing his completion rate to 63 percent. It forces teams to at least respect the pass and play action.

It bodes well heading into a matchup with a Clemson defense that is giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground this season. If the Tigers completely sell out to stop the run, Miller should have some easy, moderate and deep throws available.

Clemson sports an equally dynamic offensive attack, although it plays in reverse of the Buckeyes. The Tigers lean far more heavily on the pass, which makes sense with Tajh Boyd, who threw 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, leading the way.

Once defenses start dropping back to defend the passing game, that's when they use Roderick McDowell to take advantage of the soft opposing front seven. The end result is much the same, as both teams average over 40 points per contest, but they get there in different ways.

And just like Ohio State should feel good about attacking Clemson on the ground, the Tigers have to like their chances of beating the Buckeyes through the air. They finished second last in the Big Ten at defending the pass.

Moreover, Sharon Katz of ESPN notes Ohio State really struggled to contain the deep passing game:

The Buckeyes have been especially vulnerable against the deep ball. In conference games, opponents completed 39 percent of their passes thrown 20 yards or longer against Ohio State, seven percentage points higher than the Big Ten average. Connor Cook completed 3-of-5 such passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Big Ten Championship.

In other words, Sammy Watkins should have a field day. The outstanding junior wideout caught 85 passes for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, including scores from 96 and 91 yards.

Ultimately, it comes down to which stronghold is more effective—Ohio State's ground game or Clemson's aerial attack. It's an enticing duel that should result in a shootout not decided until the fourth quarter.

In the end, Ohio State has a slight advantage thanks to Miller, Hyde and Co.

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 34

 

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Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl Win a Moment of Vindication for Co-OC/QB Coach Josh Heupel

For as much distress as he tends to induce among factions of the fanbase, you wouldn't think Josh Heupel has been a part of two of Oklahoma's best wins in the BCS era. 

As a quarterback for the Sooners in 2000, he helped win a BCS National Championship over Florida State, 13-2. Heupel also finished the year as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Seminoles quarterback Chris Weinke. 

As the Sooners' co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Heupel orchestrated Oklahoma's best offensive effort of the season in a 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl Thursday night. The Sooners had a perfect plan to attack Alabama's weaknesses in the passing game and against tempo. 

It also helps that redshirt freshman Trevor Knight had the best passing game of his young career, dropping dimes to his receivers down the field as part of a four-touchdown performance. Knight's development as a passer from Week 1 has made him a legitimate dual-threat, and Heupel should get credit for that. 

The play-calling and player development was all vindication for an embattled assistant whose job status has, understandably, been called into question.

It took most of the season for Oklahoma to find its rhythm on offense. Injuries to Knight and fellow quarterback Blake Bell created a revolving door at the position, and perhaps as a result, the Sooners didn't have much of an identity. Were they a power running offense, a zone-read/option offense or an Air Raid offense?

It was never abundantly clear because Oklahoma dabbled in all of it, none of which was effective. The lowlight of the offensive struggles came on Nov. 7, when the Sooners posted a season-low 12 points in a 41-12 loss to Baylor. Three days later, John Hoover of the Tulsa World opined that it was time for Heupel to concentrate solely on one aspect of his job and leave the other to someone else. 

Again, Heupel is a terrific quarterbacks coach. And he may someday be an equally terrific offensive coordinator, or maybe even head coach.

It's just that right now, in this offense, with these players, he can't do both. And both Oklahoma's quarterbacks and its play-calling are suffering the consequences.

2013 was going to be a year of offensive growing pains anyway. For all the heat former starting quarterback Landry Jones took for his "Good Landry" and "Bad Landry" inconsistencies, he still won more games (40) than any other quarterback in school history. He also finished as Oklahoma's all-time passing leader in yards (16,646) and touchdowns (123.) Replacing that kind of production was going to be challenging. 

Yet, Heupel has had the support of his peers and bosses. Fellow co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, a former play-caller himself, told The Oklahoman in October, “The thing about play-calling is that everybody who watches a football game thinks they can call plays, and it's really not that easy.”

No reasonable person should believe that play-calling is easy, but there is an expectation that it highlights the personnel in the game and attacks an opponent's weaknesses. It wasn't until Knight returned to the field in November from a knee injury that things began to come together offensively for Oklahoma. 

Against Alabama, the offense clicked in a way it hadn't all year, and there was nothing the Tide could do to stop it. If nothing else, it will make the offseason far more bearable than last year's, which followed a 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. 

However, sweeping conclusions can be made from bowl games, which is dangerous because no team is the same from one season to the next. Thursday's Sugar Bowl win doesn't instantly make Heupel an elite offensive coordinator or guarantee his job security for the long haul. 

But it does come at an opportune time that forces critics to admit that, yeah, he did a good job. 

 

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

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Sugar Bowl 2014: End of the Alabama Dynasty, or Just Re-Calibrating?

Hours before Alabama was thoroughly dismantled as more than a two-touchdown favorite in the Sugar Bowl, it landed yet another outstanding commitment. Tony Brown, the No. 9 ranked player according to 247Sports and one of the best cornerbacks in the class of 2014, committed to Nick Saban during the nationally televised Under Armour All-America Game.

It seems like a consolation given the unexpected on-field carnage that ensued shortly after, with the Crimson Tide still picking up the pieces of the night that was. Yet, in many ways, the pledge of the Texas star is much more than just another 5-star as a desperate position of need.

On a night when Nick Saban’s secondary was torched, Brown's pledge signifies the current state of Alabama football: Constant, dominant (even at the lowest of lows) and ever-changing. And there’s absolutely no reason to believe this assembly line will stop producing.

Talent leaves and new talent steps in. It’s why you can absorb the losses of quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley—two exceptional talents and leaders who will be dearly missed in 2014—and still feel optimistic about what's ahead.

Nothing feels good in the current state, of course. Alabama’s 45-31 loss to Oklahoma on Thursday night was a Saban low point of sorts, at least statistically speaking.

45 points are most Alabama has allowed under Nick Saban (allowed 42 to A&M this season) #OUvsBAMA #SugarBowl

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2014

Give credit to Oklahoma. The offensive game plan was brilliant, and quarterback Trevor Knight delivered the game of his young career.

Each completed second-half pass for Knight was adding to his career high. He made it look easy at times, easily carving up a defense ripe with future NFL players. When Alabama appeared to finally pick up a little momentum, such momentum was halted with a third-down conversion, penalty or missed opportunity.

"I actually thought that the players responded in practice pretty well for this game," Saban said, via USA Today. "We put over 500 yards of offense up. Somebody had to do something right. I don't think that we played as well on defense as we're capable of or should have."

The end result is a loss in a major game, a rarity for the program. It was also the first time in five years Alabama lost two games in a row, a remarkable stat that is both hard to fathom and somehow not surprising.

With this losing streak enters doubt, something the program isn’t all that familiar with.

There was doubt when Alabama lost to Texas A&M last season, prompting state officials to publicly question the team’s head coach for his play-calling late in the game. Before that, there was doubt following Alabama’s special teams-driven debacle in a regular-season loss to LSU.

Now, doubt will surface over consecutive losses and the losses of key players that have been a fixture of this dynasty—and that’s exactly what it is—for the past five years.

Expectations will shift for the time being, and perhaps they should. Better yet, maybe they were unreasonable in the first place. As unreasonable as they might be, however, don’t believe for a second that Alabama will somehow become an afterthought.

Even on a night when seemingly nothing went right, the team unearthed another star. Freshman running back Derrick Henry came in with enormous recruiting hype and exploded in the final game of his first season. His 161 yards from scrimmage and two total touchdowns—headlined by this ridiculous 61-yard touchdown catch—is simply a sign of things to come.

Henry will be joined by T.J Yeldon in the backfield in 2014, who has unlimited potential if he can simply hold onto the football. Amari Cooper will be back and healthy at wide receiver, ready to return to 2012 form. Tight end O.J. Howard will be the nation’s biggest matchup nightmare, poised for an enormous season after a quiet bowl.

They’ll have to find someone to throw and hand off the ball, an issue that cannot be downplayed, but there are dynamic weapons in place.

Defensively, Alabama will continue to replenish its losses with young talent. Linebacker Reuben Foster will step in and instantly become the next great player at the position. A defensive line that featured a lot of youth this season will grow up some, and this soon could become a strength for this team.

The short term is not without its concerns—with the offensive line and defensive backfield clearly requiring fixing—but the outlook is still promising. And with yet another top recruiting class brewing, the future of the program remains overwhelmingly bright.

This is where the short- and long-term outlooks collide, and it’s also why Alabama has been positioned on pedestal by its lonesome.

There’s a distinct possibility that Alabama will finish with the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class (again), a spot it currently sits comfortably at on 247Sports. The roster will lose key contributors, but it will develop young players and add potential future stars—like the gifted Tony Brown—into the mix in the coming months.

Expectations will change, but they shouldn't change much.

Maybe the days of winning back-to-back national championships are behind Alabama—a ridiculous bar it set for itself over the past few season—but it also seems foolish to brace for a falling sky given the bigger picture. 

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Alabama Mom Jumps Over Crowd to Fight Oklahoma Fan

Emotions ran high on and off the field during the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Oklahoma on Thursday night. A female Crimson Tide fan attending the game jumped into a pile of Sooners fans in an attempt to fight.

Michael Connolly, the alleged victim of the attack, tweeted that the Alabama fan is a mother of three who had her children at the game.

Currently, there are no specifics on what started the incident. 

The Sooners ended up upsetting the Tide, 45-31. 


UPDATE: Friday, January 3 at 2:30 p.m. ET

You knew it was going to happen. The parody versions of this video have already started coming out.

Here's the jumping Alabama fan set to "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus:

And, of course, the fine people over at Guyism.com gave it the Jim Ross treatment:

---End of update---

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Keys to Victory for Missouri and Oklahoma State

Two former conference foes will battle in Jerry World for a final top-10 ranking, as No. 9 Missouri (11-2) faces off against No. 11 Oklahoma State (11-2) in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight on FOX.

Truthfully, both teams had their sights set on a larger trophy than the one they'll be playing for tonight. Each squad had BCS bowl ambitions entering the final week, but fell flat—the Tigers against championship game-bound Auburn, and the Cowboys against rival Oklahoma in Bedlam. These are two high-quality squads that are among the best teams in non-BCS bowl games, and betting lines have the game at nearly a dead heat.

If both offenses are clicking, we should see fireworks. James Franklin is back from his midseason shoulder injury, and the Tigers offense put up 42 points and 534 total yards in the SEC championship. Clint Chelf and Oklahoma State are coming off their second-lowest point production of the year, but still average just a shade under 40 points per game.

Here are the keys for each team to salvage a disappointing end to the regular season and earn a Cotton Bowl victory.

  

Missouri

Pressure Clint Chelf

Harassing the opposing quarterback is always important, but Missouri's defense may not stand much of a chance unless Michael Sam and Co. can disrupt the Pokes' quick read-and-react passing game.

Oklahoma State has wavered between a run-heavy and pass-heavy identity all season, based on their available personnel, but have recently trended towards the latter tendency. What's more worrisome is that the Cowboys do not have a single receiver they force the ball to, but rather a plethora of targets that stretch sub defenses and exploit one-on-one matchups, per Bill C. of SB Nation:

The ball distribution here is lovely. Three guys see about one standard downs target per game, three see two to three, and Josh Stewart sees about four. And the production levels are incredibly similar. This is a read-and-react offense. Chelf reads the defense, fields the snap, and throws the ball for about an eight-yard gain. This game will test Mizzou's nickel formation, most likely, and put a lot of pressure on players like John Gibson, Ian Simon, Aarion Penton, and Duron Singleton to do well in isolated situations.

The Tigers are among the most prolific teams in the country in generating pressure, as their 38 total sacks ranks 11th in the nation. Oklahoma State's offense is dangerous because of how multifaceted they are, and disrupting their timing is the best way to force them into long down-and-distance situations.

 

Maintain Offensive Balance

Oklahoma State is arguably the best run defense Missouri has seen all year, as the Cowboys concede just 3.5 yards per carry on the ground, the 16th-best mark in the country. That will make for tough sledding for a Missouri offense that generally likes to surprise teams by running on passing downs out of shotgun draws.

Fortunately, the Tigers are balanced enough to overcome Oklahoma State's greatest defensive strength. Missouri only passed on 44.1 percent of their plays for the season, but have shown the capability to turn to the air when needed, like in victories against Florida and Kentucky.

Granted, the Cowboys defense is significantly better than the Gators or Wildcats were, but James Franklin has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes just once all year. In their quarterback's final game, the Tigers might have to ride Franklin's right arm to victory.

 

Oklahoma State

Establish the Screen Game

Remember how I said Missouri needed to rush Chelf? The Tigers' supremely talented front seven will have its ears pinned back all game, and if the Oklahoma State offense finds itself in too many passing downs, it seems unfeasible that the Cowboys will shut down Missouri's pass rush all game playing straight up.

That's why a few sneaky counterpunches might be necessary to exploit Missouri's aggression and keep the Cowboys offense humming.

The Pokes already emphasize getting the ball out of the quarteback's hand quickly, but it's even more imperative to get their playmakers in space tonight against a Missouri defense that was gashed when Auburn operated in space. As Bill Connelly of SB Nation notes, the Tigers have had trouble defending screens in recent weeks, something that could be deadly tonight:

The offensive line, shaky in run blocking, is more than good enough to protect Chelf/Walsh for long enough to find an option in this relatively quick passing offense. Bubble ... halfback ... tunnel ... the Cowboys will screen you to death if you let them, and despite not blitzing very often, Mizzou has been vulnerable to screens at times. 

If Missouri's cavalcade of pass rushers are in straight-ahead attack mode all game, that is trouble for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State must work around the Tigers' playmakers, and changing the defense's rhythm should keep them off-balance and guessing.

 

Contain James Franklin

Oklahoma State will not concede 6.8 yards per rush like Auburn did. So while the Cowboys can reasonably expect to contain the Tigers' backs, dual-threat quarterback James Franklin is a whole different matter.

The Cowboys linebackers must be brilliant tonight, for the defensive line is severely undersized in comparison to a Missouri offensive line that has generally pushed around the opposition this season. We can reasonably expect Oklahoma State to employ a "spy" linebacker to keep track of Franklin, and pocket containment of the Missouri quarterback will be crucial.

If Oklahoma State makes Franklin and the Tigers offense one-dimensional, the secondary will have a golden opportunity to win the game.

All-American Justin Gilbert will blanket one of Missouri's big receivers, most likely Dorial Green-Beckham, and is capable of generating game-changing plays. Gilbert is not a one-man show either, as the Cowboys defense has limited opposing quarterbacks to 6.2 yards per attempt—a mark that is 10th-best in the country and tops in the Big 12.

 

Bottom Line

Missouri and Oklahoma State are two evenly matched teams with enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to stress the opposition. Expect plenty of big plays, not only from the offenses, but the takeaway-heavy defenses. Both squads are among the 20 best teams in the country at forcing turnovers.

Ultimately, the game will come down to the turnover battle and if either defensive front sevens can control the trenches and disrupt the timing-based opposition. Though this will likely be a back-and-forth game, I'll take the Tigers to come out on top.

Prediction: Missouri 33, Oklahoma State 30

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Every College Football Team's Best Moment of 2013

A comeback win. An upset victory. A breakout performance. A stellar all-around effort from an unsung hero. Maybe even just a singular play.

For each and every one of the 126 FBS teams that took the field in 2013, there was that one moment that stood out above all others, the one that every diehard fan of University X or ABC State will never forget.

Casual college football fans might not be able to recall such a moment for every team, which is where we come in. After culling through highlights, box scores and recaps of all the games since late August, we've come up with that singular best moment of 2013 for each team.

Begin Slideshow

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