NCAA Football News

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.

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Auburn vs. FSU: Complete Betting Guide for BCS Championship Matchup

The upcoming BCS National Championship is going to be decided when the No. 2 Auburn Tigers take the field against the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles.

After a wild year of collegiate football in 2013, these are the two teams left standing at the top. FSU was fortunate enough to go unbeaten and do so in convincing fashion, while Auburn shook off an early-season loss to LSU to become an absolute powerhouse down the stretch.

We are left with arguably the most exciting matchup of the season and one that should be an absolute joy to watch due to the teams and players involved. Perhaps the only way for things to be more thrilling is to have a wager on the outcome.

If you are seeking advice on which way to lean in this one, look no further. I have you covered. Keep reading for information on how to catch this matchup, plus my picks and predictions against the spread.

 

When: Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

 

Point Spread: Florida State -8.5, as of Jan. 3 via ScoresAndOdds.com

The ‘Noles are favored by more than a touchdown here, which means oddsmakers are predicting that the Southeastern Conference’s reign of dominance in the national title game could be over.

It’s a bold projection, considering the SEC has won all seven BCS National Championship games (since the format change in 2006) and also covered the spread in each.

Regardless, it’s not hard to see why FSU is being given so much credit. The program put up historic numbers in 2013 and was undoubtedly the best out of all the major college football teams.

Florida State won all but one of its contests by 27 or more points and also stepped up its game against ranked opponents. In four matchups against opponents in the Top 25 at the time of kickoff, FSU scored 200 points and conceded a mere 35 points total.

Give credit to the Seminoles defense for this outstanding run of success, as it ranked as the No. 1 unit in the country in points allowed. That helped the team slap together a margin of victory that averaged out to just more than 42 points per contest in 2013.

Quarterback Jameis Winston, the school’s freshman Heisman Award-winning sensation, deserves more than his fair share of accolades. The elite signal-caller finished the season with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns on 237-of-349 completions.

He swept the major award categories, with College Football 24/7 noting that Winston just needs a crystal trophy to complete his hardware collection:

FSU did not rank as the sixth-most effective offense in the nation due to Winston’s presence alone—although it could come close—but also had plenty of help from star running back Devonta Freeman and a plethora of athletic, fast receivers.

Auburn cornerback Justin Mincy admitted that the matchup will be tough, telling Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated: “It's going to be a big challenge. That's all I've been hearing about -- their wide receivers."

It’s going to be a challenge for Auburn to cover all of these elite weapons with a defense that ranks No. 95 in terms of yards per play allowed. In the last two games, this group gave up a total of 1,029 yards to the Missouri Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide.

While the Tigers have been fortunate enough to use their triple-option to generate even more yards (1,070 in the same span), it will be tough to be that efficient against a prepared defense that has been working on stopping exactly that type of attack for more than a month.

For that reason alone, it is worth backing the ‘Noles in the national title game. Factor in that FSU has gone 9-0-1 against the spread over its last 10 postseason matchups and you are looking at icing on the cake.

This is the only team in the nation that ranks in the top 10 for both defense and offense and it will put that on display against a one-dimensional Tigers squad on Monday.

While laying a touchdown or more against Auburn hasn’t been a wise play as of late, the Seminoles are going to prove that they are superior with a well-rounded, efficient showing.

Prediction: Florida State 45, Auburn 35

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South Carolina Football: Can Steve Spurrier Take Gamecocks to the Next Level?

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A mere four years ago, most Gamecocks fans would have jumped for joy at the thought of an 11-2 season, something the school had never seen in its first 116 years of playing college football.

Those fans familiar with the program's checkered history would have embraced it and likely accepted it as a one-time marvel, a signature event to be celebrated for probably the next 20 years or so until the next miracle season unfolded.

Now, after three consecutive 11-2 seasons, including three consecutive bowl victories, the miraculous has become routine.

Expectations are growing ever stronger that coach Steve Spurrier can actually take the Gamecocks to the next level—an SEC championship and a berth in next year's first ever four-team NCAA championship playoff.

Not only can it happen, but they may very well be favored to make it happen.

Although the Gamecocks will likely lose four draft-eligible juniors to the NFL, they only have five seniors, the fewest among FBS teams in 2013.

South Carolina returns eight of 11 starters on offense from the team that just polished off Wisconsin, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl.

Granted, the loss of quarterback Connor Shaw looms potentially enormous. However, the Gamecocks won't be starting from scratch.

Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson, a battle-tested and proven winner at quarterback, will step in for Shaw. Surrounded by a veteran offensive line and established talent at running back and wide receiver, Thompson will be set up to succeed.

Defensively, the Gamecocks must replace both starting cornerbacks and three defensive linemen, including All-American defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Jadeveon Clowney.

Those losses may not be as bad as they seem. On the line, the Dixon brothers, Gerald and Gerald Jr., have extensive playing time, as does Phillip Dukes. J.T. Surratt is a returning starter at tackle.

The cornerback losses are more glaring, although that's a position that's one of the easier ones for young players to adapt to.

Between backups and the Gamecocks' recruiting class, immediate help should be coming at both defensive line and cornerback.

A look around at the competition in the SEC East doesn't exactly inspire fear.

Georgia has to replace record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, and it will likely still be a work in progress when the Gamecocks play them in the third game of the 2014 season.

It's hard to say what's going to transpire at Florida, a team that remains in turmoil after finishing 4-8.

Even though Tennessee beat the Gamecocks this season, the Vols probably remain a year or two away from contender status.

Defending champion Missouri returns a solid base of talent and looms as the team to beat in the East.

In any case, the schedule sets up favorably. South Carolina gets both Georgia and Missouri at home, as well as Tennessee.

From the SEC West, South Carolina draws a Texas A&M team minus quarterback Johnny Manziel and any semblance of a defense in the season opener at home, but a late season date at Auburn will be daunting.

Outside the conference, only the season-ending road game at Clemson is cause for concern.

As with any team, South Carolina has to have a bit of luck. The Gamecocks need to avoid injuries at key positions.

Above all else, they need to avoid that one meltdown loss (see Tennessee this season) that has cost them a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

The Gamecocks have beaten the eventual SEC East champion each of the last three seasons, only to stumble against a team they were favored to beat.

For a fourth consecutive season, South Carolina should be knocking on the door of reaching the SEC championship and, with a victory there, the national championship.

Never mind knocking on the door. It's time for Spurrier and the Gamecocks to kick it in.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for January 3, 2014

Fact: The first Orange Bowl was played in 1935 between Bucknell and Miami. "Bison coaches took several days to decide on accepting the invitation to bring their team to Miami and finally said yes, but not without precautions—280 gallons of their own water supply from Pennsylvania to combat the heat."

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

Source: OrangeBowl.org

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS National Championship 2013: Ultimate Guide to Auburn vs. Florida State

The final game of the BCS era is shaping up to be one of its best.

Florida State and Auburn have defined the 2013-14 college football season, so it's only fitting for them to be the ones who cap it off. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will lead his Seminoles (13-0) against Home Depot Coach of the Year winner Gus Malzahn and his Tigers (12-1) at the Rose Bowl Stadium on Jan. 6.

Auburn will be looking for their second title in four years while the Seminoles are in the title tilt for the first time since 2001 and look for their first championship since 2000.

In a sport that's obsessed with continuity, it's odd that Winston and Malzahn—the respective faces of each team—weren't even active parts of their rosters last season. Winston took a redshirt behind E.J. Manuel, a future first-round NFL draft pick, while Malzahn was the head coach at Arkansas State.

Soon enough, though, one will capture a BCS National Championship in his first true season at his position. With a little help from B/R's lead writers, here is everything you need to know before kickoff in Pasadena.

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

This year’s edition of the Cotton Bowl should be a fun shootout between some familiar rivals when the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Missouri Tigers square off.

The teams may be in different conferences these days, but the Big 12 ties ensure that this matchup will be a fun one.

Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium will provide quite the stage for the battle between these two teams, pitting a pair of high-powered offenses against each other.

Below you’ll find all you need to know about the game, from its time and TV info to a game preview.

 

Date: Friday, Jan. 3

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: FOX

 

Game Preview

This game shouldn’t be lacking in points in the slightest.

The Tigers are currently piling up 492.9 yards per game, while the Cowboys lead the country with their 440.5 yards per contest.

Yet, in pass defense, each team is truly abysmal—Missouri’s secondary allows 256 yards per game, while Oklahoma State’s yields 245 yards every game.

Combined with Missouri quarterback James Franklin rounding back into form after a midseason injury, this game should end up being quite the one to watch from an offensive perspective.

The Cowboys’ Clint Chelf should add to this excitement as well. Chelf only took over as the team’s starter five games into the season, but since then, he’s thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for six more.

But all this offensive firepower doesn’t mean that the game won’t have its share of defensive highlights as well. 

In particular, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could cause headaches for the Cowboys’ offense, as ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon explains.

Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.

The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop.

If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs. 

But the Cowboys are acutely aware of what Sam could do to the offense and are planning accordingly.

"We watched him on film and he's going to be tough for our tackles," junior Cowboys offensive lineman Jake Jenkins told ESPN. "I think it will be interesting to watch him and see how we perform against him."

Chelf isn’t any stranger to facing pressure either. Just watch the way he calmly threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns against the Texas Longhorns and their seventh ranked pass rush. 

This bowl will likely ultimately come down to which squad can make plays on defense, since offense should be no issue for either team.

Oklahoma State is fourth in the country in interceptions with 20, so if the Cowboys can avoid giving up too much yardage and force some turnovers along the way, they should have a chance.

But if Missouri can adequately pressure Chelf while scoring points of their own, the Tigers could easily win this instead.

Either way, this Cotton Bowl should be one of the most compelling matchups during all of bowl season.

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USC Football Recruiting: Analyzing the Jordan Poland Decommitment

On the surface, the recent news of Scout.com's 3-star offensive tackle Jordan Poland seems disappointing for those who follow the men of Troy.

After all, Poland has the size (6'8", 335 pounds) to be dominant at the next level, and Lord knows USC needs offensive linemen in this class.

Also, Poland was the first Trojan verbal commitment in the 2013 class and stayed the course throughout the Kiffin drama and ensuing Orgeron and Helton regimes.

Under normal circumstances, that disappointment would be understandable, but a look deeper into Poland's recruitment finds tangible reasons on both sides for the parting of ways, which manifested itself when Poland flipped to Arizona on Thursday, according to Blair Angulo of ESPN.com.

From Poland's perspective, it made sense for him to look around since USC made little—if any—effort to keep in contact with him after Steve Sarkisian was named head coach of the Trojans.

With four other offensive linemen having already given their verbal pledges to USC (according to Scout.com), perhaps Poland simply saw the writing on the wall and decided his opportunities would be better placed elsewhere.

Why would Sarkisian not be interested in a huge lineman with skills—albeit raw—when USC is in such need for "big uglies?"

Well, that was probably part of the problem for Sark—Poland is awfully raw in terms of his skill set.

While the potential is obviously there, Poland will need a lot of work, and with USC's depleted roster being a preeminent concern for 2014, recruits—even precocious true freshmen—might be needed to contribute immediately. That wasn't going to happen with Poland.

Part of the reason for Poland's lack of polish has to do with the fact that he didn't even play prep ball this year due to eligibility issues when he transferred to La Jolla High School in San Diego.

Even that wasn't a primary concern for USC's coaching staff, though, because originally, Poland was supposed to enroll early and get extra time in by participating in spring practice.

Therein lays the problem.

USC had four leftover scholarships form 2012, and one of those early entrants was destined to be Poland, but when it came time to consolidate that list of guys who could come in early, Poland was not available for whatever reason (academics?).

Speculation aside, whatever the reason for Poland's absence, it created a severe problem for Sark, who then had to scramble to fill that extra early spot—which he did when Idaho defensive lineman Don Hill signed with USC.

This could not have endeared Poland to Sarkisian, and to compound the problems even more for Poland was the fact that USC is dealing with limited available scholarships. Plus, USC already has one very big offensive lineman possibly looming as a commitment.

Damien Mama is a Scout.com 5-star offensive lineman who has professed a significant fondness for the Cardinal and Gold and is considered a real possibility to sign with USC.

If Mama doesn't come onboard, USC still has its eyes set on other, more accomplished linemen, such as Kammy Delp, a highly regarded prospect who has professed much love for the Trojans but has placed them low on his interest list because USC has yet to offer.

That may soon change though, as Sarkisian offered Delp while at Washington. Speculation has already started that he may do the same now that he is at USC.

When all is said and done, Poland's decommitment should not come as a surprise, nor should it be viewed as a disappointment for those who follow the men of Troy.

Instead, this was a decision that was mutually agreed upon by both parties, and everyone will benefit.

Arizona will get a big offensive lineman with whom they can take their time and mold as a player, and Poland will have an opportunity to learn and grow in his position.

USC will benefit because the scholarship that wouldn't have been used well with Poland can now go to a guy who can contribute sooner rather than later.

In the business world, this would be known as a "win-win."

In the world of scholarship-strapped USC, however, it was simply necessary.

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Alabama's Defense Is Who We Thought They Were

Many are calling Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma a shocker, and rightfully so. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma's quarterback, played great football, hitting his spots down the field in a way that he has not shown in game action all season.

However, what should not have surprised people was that a quarterback capable of hitting his spots would decimate this season's Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide defense that showed up for the Sugar Bowl was the exact same unit that showed up all season.

In the battle of the numbers versus the game film, two wildly different pictures of the Alabama defense were revealed. The numbers showed an efficient, suffocating defense that, entering the Oklahoma game, had only one poor effort to its credit, against college football's biggest star: Johnny Manziel. For the numbers side of things, Manziel was merely an anomaly, something that no one would duplicate, and that said more about Johnny Football than Alabama's defense.

For the film folks, the Texas A&M game was simply the start of the revealing process, as the Crimson Tide cycled through players at the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue. John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve all got a go at the spot, and no one truly stuck at the position.

It was a very real area of vulnerability for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. The coaches looked for an answer, and through 12 games, there was no clear resolution. That uncertainty showed itself again in game 13.

Although it is just one player, at one position, the entire defensive system of the Crimson Tide suffers from missing a part. Saban's approach is predicated on each piece playing its own role, and when pieces have to start compensating for a missing, or unreliable, spot, the system breaks down.

And that's what this entire season was about for the Alabama defense.

A lack of faith in the cornerback position led to safeties needing to help compensate. When Vinnie Sunseri went down with a knee injury, the brains of the secondary went down with him, and as Landon Collins physically filled his shoes, the traffic direction in the back end was lost. Sub-par corner play with youthful inexperience at safety working to cover that hole yielded a recipe for disaster.

Luckily, for Alabama, very few teams on the schedule were capable of cooking up that recipe to truly serve trouble up for the Crimson Tide. That, largely, was a function of the schedule. Bo Wallace at Ole Miss was not a good enough quarterback to make it happen. LSU's Zach Mettenberger hit some spots, but the LSU defense could not keep them in the game for 60 minutes. Auburn noticed the weakness, and as Alabama was forced to protect it's corners with safety help, the Tigers gashed the under-manned run defense.

The rest of the schedule was simply a non-threat through the air. Thus, the numbers looked good, but the reality is Alabama only played two quarterbacks capable of exploiting its glaring weakness. At least until the Sugar Bowl happened, where Knight picked apart the struggling Alabama pass defense and reminded the nation that the Crimson Tide was far from invincible.

For Nick Saban and Co., this offseason will be about finding some answers on defense. Jackson played well in spots but has to stay healthy, and stay on the field, to be the next quality Alabama corner. Saban has to find his Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie type players out of the group he has, and the kids he's looking to bring to campus for 2014.

Trevor Knight and Oklahoma deserve every manner of praise for executing at a level the Sooners had not reached for the entire 2013 regular season. They saw the weaknesses in Alabama that showed all season, and Bob Stoops' team took advantage of them. 

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Jameis Winston Wants to Go to Texas If Jimbo Fisher Is Named Head Coach

No vacant job in college football has been talked about more than the Texas Longhorns' head coaching job since Mack Brown stepped down on Dec. 15, and if Texas is somehow able to poach Jimbo Fisher from Florida State, it might net a Heisman Trophy winner in the deal as well.

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston pledged his allegiance to Fisher by claiming that he would follow him to Texas if that situation presented itself:

Fisher finalized a five-year extension with Florida State on Dec. 31, per ESPN.com, but rumors regarding a possible jump to Texas persist.

In addition to the comment about following Fisher to Texas, Winston admitted that he went to great lengths to get Brown and the Longhorns program to notice him while in high school, according to McMurphy:

Despite Winston's obvious interest, Chip Brown of OrangeBloods.com is reporting that Brown didn't believe that the Longhorns could secure him:

There is no question that Winston poses an interesting scenario, but it seems highly unlikely on many fronts. Contract extensions don't necessarily prevent collegiate head coaches from taking other jobs, but Fisher would look really bad if he left for Texas right after renewing his deal with Florida State.

Also, transferring wouldn't make sense for Winston since he will be eligible for the NFL draft after next season. Most view him as the prospective No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, but transferring would force him to sit out a year, and it would delay the entire process.

This situation probably makes Florida State fans a bit uneasy, especially with the BCS national championship against Auburn set to take place on Jan. 6. There is little doubt that the Heisman Trophy winner and his head coach are focused on the task at hand, though.

Perhaps Winston should have been a little more diplomatic in his response, but it is difficult to imagine any of this coming to fruition regardless.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Cold Hard Fact for Friday, January 3, 2014

Fact: After Thursday night's win, Bob Stoops is the only coach in the BCS era to win a Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowl.

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

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

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Speculation Over: Art Briles Speaks for Himself, Says He's Staying at Baylor

Unless Art Briles is lying to, well, everyone, the Baylor Bears will keep their head coach. 

Amid rumors that he was close to interviewing with Texas for its head coaching job, Briles took to Twitter Friday morning to debunk the conjecture. 

If that wasn't enough, Baylor and Briles released a statement a short time later pledging the coach's commitment to the program. 

"I have no desire to pursue other coaching positions," Briles said. "As I've said many times, I am both humbled and honored to be the head coach at Baylor University, and believe we have something special going here. I look forward to leading the Bears onto the field next fall at McLane Stadium and defending our Big 12 championship that our players and coaches worked so hard to win this season.

"There is tremendous excitement for our program's future, and I look forward to many more great seasons at Baylor. There is tremendous commitment from our University leadership, athletic administration, coaches and student-athletes - it truly is a great time to be a Baylor Bear."

The Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that Briles could speak with new Texas athletic director Steve Patterson after the Bears' Fiesta Bowl appearance against Central Florida. According to the Statesman, Briles was interested enough in the Longhorns job to take it if offered. 

"Two sources, including one close to Briles, have told the Statesman that Briles would accept the Texas job if offered," Kirk Bohls and Brian Davis reported; though in fairness, Patterson never commented officially on his interest level with Briles. 

Still, Briles was one of a handful of coaches to be connected to the Texas job. Others included Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Louisville's Charlie Strong, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, UCLA's Jim Mora and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio. 

However, Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times tweeted that Mora is not leaving UCLA. 

Though Briles agreed to a 10-year extension in November, according to the Dallas Morning News, he was still considered a top candidate to succeed Mack Brown, who coached his final game last week in a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl after 16 seasons with the 'Horns. 

Briles has also loosely been connected to the Washington Redskins vacancy, where his former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III plays. 

But it doesn't appear Briles is going anywhere for now, in college or the NFL. It's a good thing too. Briles is a top-tier coach whose turnaround in Waco ranks among the best in the modern day era of college football. In six seasons with the Bears, Briles has compiled a 78-60 record. Baylor finished the 2013-14 season with an 11-2 record and its first Big 12 title. 

With the construction of a brand-new football stadium, Baylor is making a commitment to football that should have Bears fans excited. As long as Briles is coaching there, Baylor will be a competitor at the conference and national level for years to come. 

 

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

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Auburn Beware! Alabama's Sugar Bowl Loss Shows SEC No Longer Invincible

Before the Sugar Bowl, the Auburn Tigers could look at their resume with pride. An SEC title, one early-season loss to a solid LSU team and, most importantly, a win over the perceived best team in college football.

Now, after Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma at the Superdome, the Tigers will take to the Rose Bowl sporting nervous smiles and sweaty palms.

Auburn will represent the Southeastern Conference in the BCS National Championship against Florida State, looking to extend the league's incredible seven-year title streak. The Tigers will enter the game as hefty underdogs—FSU is currently an 8.5-point favorite per VegasInsider.com.

However, as vulnerable as Alabama looked in New Orleans, the Tigers should be heading to Pasadena with an even greater haunting feeling of uneasiness in their stomachs.

The Crimson Tide spent the entire season at No. 1 until they were stunned by Auburn 34-28 in the Iron Bowl—a result that will go down as one of the most shocking in college football history. However, many still perceived 'Bama to be the most talented team in the country.

Even after the Tide fell to OU, Sooners center Gabe Ikard still opined that Alabama was college football's best team, courtesy of SoonerSports.com:

Let’s be honest. They’ve been the best team in the country. They are the best team in the country. They lost one game by the craziest play we’ve all ever seen, and for us to come out here and beat them by two touchdowns when we’re a three-score underdog, it’s a big win for the program. It's a big win for recruiting, it's a big win for our coaches, it's a big win for every guy in this locker room.

A big win for OU also comes as a big loss for Auburn and the SEC.

The Tide weren't just expected to dominate the Sooners. It was a foregone conclusion that 'Bama would crush an Oklahoma team that had been one of the most inconsistent squads in the country all year long.

There was no way Alabama, a team that was predicted all season to win its third straight national title, would lose to the second-best team in a Big 12 conference that was amid a down season.

When the Tide effortlessly jaunted downfield to post a 7-0 lead on their first drive and then followed it up by intercepting Trevor Knight on OU's first drive, it looked like things would indeed grow ugly in New Orleans.

However, the previously superhuman 'Bama club was then brought back to Earth. AJ McCarron was intercepted on his next throw—one of five Alabama turnovers on the night.

As the Tide continued to look more and more human, the Sooners just kept taking advantage of their mistakes. In other words, Oklahoma did exactly what good, winning football teams do.

Meanwhile, the same old issues emerged for Alabama. The Tide faced problems at cornerback and on the offensive line early in the year and clearly failed to address those weaknesses throughout the season. In other words, Alabama failed to do what good, winning football teams do: improve throughout the season.

Now, all of a sudden, the previously impervious Alabama squad that was still the best team in college football was no longer. The corollary of 'Bama struggles: Auburn's previously shining resume lost its luster.

The Tigers made an apt national title contender because of their SEC title and because they beat the "best team in college football." Auburn still wears that SEC crown, but one of its diamonds—now revealed to be cubic zirconia—came unglued.

Now, well, good luck Tigers.

Auburn will take on the only undefeated team in college football, the real "best team in college football," which is guided by a Heisman Trophy winner and talent at almost every position.

Now that Auburn can't exactly hang its hat on the Iron Bowl win, it'll have to hope for this year's trend to keep up. Every BCS game has gone to the underdog thus far.

Now the SEC, which on the surface appeared as though it was deserving of more than the maximum two BCS berths, will depend on AU in the national title game to give it a BCS victory.

On one hand, this could all end up being moot. Auburn could continue its charmed season, take down Florida State and give its conference crystal football No. 8.

On the other, the Tigers could be annihilated by the Seminoles, giving the ACC a major victory and further proving that the SEC isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Regardless, after the failure by Alabama, it's all on Auburn to keep the SEC on top.

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Orange Bowl 2014: How Clemson Should Scheme to Stop Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde

Coming into the Orange Bowl, Ohio State may look like a M.A.S.H. unit on defense, but offensively the Buckeyes are working with a full complement of weapons for the Clemson Tigers to worry about.

The biggest task facing Clemson is something hardly anyone has done all season long—stop Carlos Hyde. 

You know—he of 1,408 yards, 7.7 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns. 

After missing the first three games due to suspension, it took Hyde all of two games to get back in the swing of things for Ohio State. 

Following 41 yards on just five carries in his return against Florida A&M and 85 yards on 17 carries against Wisconsin, Hyde has been on fire on the ground. 

He's rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games and has all 14 of his touchdowns in those eight games as well. 

Michigan State, widely considered the best defense in the country this year (Stanford's Tyler Gaffney vouches for that), couldn't even stop Hyde in the Big Ten championship game—allowing him 118 yards on 18 carries for a 6.6 yards-per-carry average. 

The only thing MSU was able to do was keep Hyde out of the end zone in the Big Ten championship game, and that's where Clemson needs to start in stopping Hyde from taking the game over. 

Clemson's rush defense comes into the Orange Bowl giving up 152.6 yards per game and has given up 19 touchdowns on the ground in 12 games. 

Those numbers aren't spectacular, ranking 50th nationally in rush defense, but Clemson can get it done from time to time against the run. 

Looking at Clemson's season, the most worrisome part of its defense against the run is that the Tigers have allowed the best teams they've faced to run all over them. 

Georgia opened the year by rushing for 222 yards, Georgia Tech ran for 248 yards, and South Carolina had 148 yards. 

The good news for the Tigers is that they've had nearly a month to study the Ohio State offense and Carlos Hyde specifically. 

So, how do the Tigers do what no team has done all season long? 

First of all is something that seems so simple but isn't—play gap-sure football. 

Carlos Hyde is a power runner with the ability to hit teams on the cutback. If Clemson wants to take care of Hyde's ability to get downhill fast, playing in the gaps will eliminate the ability for Hyde to look for the cutback when the original hole isn't there. 

The second issue for stopping Hyde is to win the line of scrimmage against the Ohio State offensive line. 

Of course, that's asking a lot since the Tigers are going up against The Big Ten's best offensive line.

However, Clemson's Vic Beasley vs. Ohio State's Taylor Decker provides a very intriguing matchup that the Tigers could win. 

Using Beasley's speed against Decker, and along the line of scrimmage as a whole, could be a way to negate the strength of the offensive line. If Beasley can play in the backfield on more than an occasional basis, it will stop the rush attack from getting going. 

Those are all things the defense can do to scheme against; however, there is one scheme that can really take Hyde out of the game—Clemson's offense scoring early and often. 

Clemson's offense could be the biggest help in controlling Carlos Hyde, especially looking at OSU's patchwork defense coming into this contest. 

If the Tigers offense can get out to the lead first and continue to play from out front, the Buckeyes will be forced to run less and pass more, and that's perhaps the best way to take Carlos Hyde out of the game. 

Clemson's hopes of winning this game rest on taking Hyde out of the game early on, and without that Ohio State's offense can pick apart the Tigers. 

Of course, all of that is easy to say, but saying it and doing it against Hyde and the Buckeyes has been easier said than done all season long.

 

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

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Red Cross Oklahoma Trolls Alabama on Twitter Following Sugar Bowl Loss

With Alabama fans still hurting from a devastating 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night, Red Cross Oklahoma took to Twitter for some good old-fashioned trolling.

Mark Helm of AL.com passed along the tweet, which has since been deleted:

Ouch. 

The organization would later clarify that the joke was "all in good fun."

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Florida State vs. Auburn: Seminoles' Best Defense Is a Ball-Control Offense

A lot of the talk leading up to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn has been how Florida State's defense—which ranks third nationally (268.5 YPG)—will slow down the Tigers' multi-dimensional rushing attack, which leads the nation at 335.69 yards per game.

However, this game may not even be decided when Florida State is on defense.

In fact, the Seminoles' best defense in this particular matchup is a ball-control offense, and they have the weapons to get it done.

While all of the attention seems to fall on Auburn's three-headed running game, the Seminoles' trio of Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. has been no slouch, either. The 'Noles finished third in the ACC in rushing offense with 207.38 yards per game, finished second in the conference with 41 rushing touchdowns and led the conference in yards per attempt at 5.69.

Freeman is the work horse of the group, rushing for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns on 162 carries this season. He's a prototypical every-down back, who can absolutely take over a game on the ground.

Luckily for Florida State, he doesn't have to.

Wilder and Williams have settled into roles as key contributors, and allowed head coach Jimbo Fisher to keep all of his running backs fresh for a full 60 minutes. That will pay off if the 'Noles get tested in the fourth quarter of the title game.

Williams knows that the best way to neutralize Auburn's offense is to keep it on the sideline, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Run game is going to be very key. To milk that clock, get that clock going down, because they score fast. …They key on our side of the ball, from watching them, is making sure we control the clock, making sure we control the line of scrimmage, and the run game is going to open up the passing game.

Unlike Auburn's rushing attack, which puts running backs in very specific roles that play to their strengths, all three of Florida State's key contributors on the ground excel in a variety of roles. That uncertainty makes them very dangerous in the title game.

So how does Florida's rushing attack match up with Auburn's defense?

The Tigers rank 10th in the SEC in rush defense, after giving up 164.15 yards per game this season. They're giving up an average of 182.10 yards on the ground per game against BCS AQ competition this season, and 202.8 per game since the start of November.

Auburn's defensive line rotates eight guys all game long, but linebackers Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost routinely take poor angles and struggle in the tackling department.

If the Seminoles can force Marshall and company into a spectator role, it will wear down Auburn's defense and open up those passing lanes off play action whenever they do decide to open things up.

With Winston taking snaps; Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene outside; and a porous Tiger pass defense, it's easy to say that the game will be won or lost through the air.

The path of least resistance for the 'Noles will be on the ground.

It's where they've excelled this season, and will keep Auburn's most dangerous weapon—that offense—on the sideline.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Biggest Takeaways from Oklahoma's Upset Win over Alabama

Most expected the Alabama Crimson Tide to roll past a seemingly overmatched Oklahoma Sooners squad during the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, but that simply wasn't the case.

Oklahoma took it to 'Bama in spectacular fashion and the entire landscape of college football could be changing because of it.

Some might argue that it was merely a blip on the radar for the Tide, but they will enter the 2014 season on a low note while the Sooners will have a ton of momentum behind them. If nothing else, the Sugar Bowl revealed a lot about both programs as well as their respective leadership structures.

As college football pundits still try to process what happened to Alabama, here are the three biggest takeaways from Oklahoma's shocking Sugar Bowl victory.

 

The Sooners Have Found Their QB

Perhaps the biggest thing that held Oklahoma back all season long was the inability to settle on a quarterback.

Trevor Knight started the year as the No. 1 guy, but his play was disjointed and he eventually got injured. Blake Bell stepped in and had his moments, but he didn't look anything like an elite signal-caller either.

There were plenty of questions surrounding who would start under center for Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but head coach Bob Stoops clearly made the right decision.

Stoops went with Knight and the freshman made sure that his coach didn't regret it. The young fireballer earned MVP honors by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama's vaunted defense.

Nobody could have possibly predicted that Knight would play that well, especially since ESPN Stats & Info indicates that he had just five passing touchdowns overall heading into the game.

Strong quarterback play was the one thing missing from Oklahoma's game all season long, but that appears to have been solved. With that in mind, the Sooners will almost certainly enter next season among the top national title contenders. Alabama will be in the conversation as well, but with A.J. McCarron graduating, things could get tricky.

Knight's performance signaled big things for Oklahoma and potentially cloudy days ahead for the Tide.

 

Alabama Can't Get Up for Non-BCS Title Games

There is no denying what Nick Saban has accomplished since settling in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He is 74-15 as the Crimson Tide's head coach and 'Bama owns a 5-2 record in bowls. That includes three national titles.

At the same time, Saban seems to struggle when it comes to motivating his team to play in bowls other than the BCS National Championship Game. This is an issue that first manifested itself in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Alabama was shocked by Utah.

That loss was slightly more surprising than Oklahoma's win this year, but the Tide were favored by 17 points over the Sooners, so it was a significant upset. Alabama expects to win the national title every year, so playing in the Sugar Bowl was understandably disappointing.

As Saban pointed out to Alex Apple of SportsDayDFW, there were simply a ton of deficiencies in Alabama's game against Oklahoma.

I don't think we played very well defensively in the first half, and never got any stops. We created a lot of the adversity that we faced with some of the things we did and didn't do…We didn't play very well on third down. We didn't get off the field on third and long three or four times in the game which were critical factors.

All of that points to a lack of preparation and motivation. It's difficult to get on Saban's case too much because of the success that he has had, but this was definitely a bad loss for the Alabama program.

It now creates a lot of questions regarding how the Tide will cope with life after McCarron and may erase Alabama as the favorite to win the national title next season.

Tide fans certainly hope that it was just a one-time slip-up that stemmed from the disappointment of not reaching the National Championship Game, though.

 

Bob Stoops Is the Best Head Coach in College Football

If the only measure of head coaching greatness is winning national championships, then Saban is the best in college football. With that said, there are other factors to take into account.

Saban had a stacked team that, by all accounts, should have run Oklahoma out of town in the Sugar Bowl. Stoops pushed all the right buttons on both sides of the ball, though, and there is absolutely no question that he outmaneuvered Saban in each and every way.

Stoops doesn't receive nearly as much credit as he deserves since the Sooners have won just one national championship under his watch, and that came way back in 2000. Oklahoma is in the mix every year, however, and Stoops has a lot to do with that.

By beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, SportsCenter noted that Stoops also became the first head coach in the BCS era to win every BCS bowl as well as a national title.

That is an immense accomplishment and most definitely shouldn't be ignored. Stoops had plenty of issues to overcome this season, but still managed to win 11 games, qualify for a BCS bowl and beat a team that many called the best in the nation.

Stoops did more than Saban with less talent in the Sugar Bowl and put his freshman quarterback in a position to thrive against arguably the best defense in college football.

Because of that, Stoops is the best head coach in the nation, and it's time for observers to recognize it.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Top Storylines Leading into 2014 National Signing Day

Bowl season is wrapping up, and that means national signing day is right around the corner. Let's take a look at some of the biggest stories to watch leading up to February 5. 

USC's new head coach Steve Sarkisian had a lot of success recruiting at Washington. Will he continue that success for USC by landing 5-Star recruits like John "Juju" Smith and Damien Mama?

Watch Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down what to watch going into national signing day. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Virginia Tech Football: 3 Lessons the Hokies Learned from Sun Bowl Loss

The Virginia Tech football team suffered what might seem like a disheartening 42-12 loss in the Sun Bowl to the UCLA Bruins, but the game was still valuable for some of the lessons it can teach the team’s coaching staff headed into 2014.

The loss certainly looked ugly to the casual observer, and once quarterback Logan Thomas left the game after the crushing illegal hit he suffered, things were pretty much over for the Hokies.

But that doesn’t mean that the game was a complete disaster, or that it’s some sort of program altering result, as some fans and members of the media have suggested.

Instead, the game merely served to offer some important clues about what the coaches will need to fix in the offseason and what they should leave untouched.

 

Leal Has Plenty Left to Learn

Before Thomas left the game in the second quarter, the Hokies were very much in this game.

The score was tied at seven, and although the defense had given up some big plays and committed some costly penalties, the team seemed fired up.

Then Thomas went out, forcing redshirt junior Mark Leal into the spotlight, and things quickly went awry.

Even though Leal had likely gotten more reps in practice in the month leading up to the bowl game, there was still no way he could possibly be entirely prepared to take on UCLA’s formidable defense after attempting four passes all year.

Despite completing just 12 of his 25 passes, Leal still showed some good things.

He did get sacked three times, but he showed good awareness in the pocket, and although he didn’t necessarily seem like a threat to run, he still moved nimbly behind the line of scrimmage.

His accuracy wasn’t phenomenal, but he did have some nice throws, including this throw to the back of the end zone that should have been a touchdown had D.J. Coles not dropped it.

However, for spending four years with the program, he still made some mistakes that should be a little concerning. 

His interceptions were particularly ugly. The first was truly egregious, as he managed to heave the ball into a mass of defenders as he was about to be sacked, leading to a defensive score.

You’d hope that a veteran quarterback would recognize just how disastrous making a move like that can be, even if they’ve only been watching from the bench. After all, he’s had plenty of chances to watch Thomas do the same with similarly terrible results.

But for all of his issues, it seems like Leal has a complete vote of confidence from the staff headed into the season.

“Mark’s the next guy in line here,” Frank Beamer told The Washington Post. “He had a couple tough throws. He’ll learn from that. . . . That’s not a great situation for your backup guy to step into. But I’ve got a lot of confidence in Mark. I’ve seen him in practice too many times.”

However, that complete confidence doesn’t entirely seem earned when you consider the depth the team has at quarterback headed into 2014.

Between redshirt freshman Brenden Motley and incoming recruits Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin, the Hokies won’t lack options to compete for the starting job. 

So while Leal probably deserves to be the one getting starter’s reps headed into spring practice, it doesn’t seem wise to unilaterally declare him the team’s quarterback of the future.

Ford will be enrolling in January, and it would really behoove Beamer and company to make this a full competition to truly see what the team has here.

Leal’s performance wasn’t bad enough to eliminate him from contention, especially given the circumstances, but he also didn’t perform so well that he should be beyond reproach. 

Instead, the Hokies need to take a good long look at the position and take their time to decide who will be the next starter at quarterback.

 

Stopping the QB Run

Prior to the game, it was abundantly clear the Hokies needed to find a way to contain UCLA’s Brett Hundley when he tucked the ball and ran, and they just couldn’t do it.

Hundley gashed the Hokies for 161 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, with no run more backbreaking than this 86-yard score that came immediately on the heels of Thomas’ injury.

Tech’s front seven actually got a really good push on the play; in fact, four different defenders were in the backfield, collapsing the pocket around Hundley.

But, as has happened so often this season, the defensive line got too aggressive and overpursued, leaving the secondary vulnerable with their man coverage assignments. 

It’s a weakness in Bud Foster’s scheme that teams like the Marshall Thundering Herd and Maryland Terrapins have exploited to great success this season, and now that there’s tape on this deficiency, there’s little doubt other opponents will try to do the same.

Foster last made major adjustments to his scheme when the defense got scorched by Aaron Rodgers and California’s dynamic passing attack, and it sure seems like things are ripe for another change.

Mobile quarterbacks are the wave of the future in college football, and with teams that like to run spread offenses like the East Carolina Pirates and Ohio State Buckeyes on the schedule in 2014, Foster will need to make some kind of adjustment this offseason. 

The wily defensive coordinator even seemed to figure out how to keep Hundley in the pocket in the second half; he carried the ball just twice for four yards in the second half. But by then, the damage had been done, and poor tackling on the perimeter undermined his efforts. 

Foster will be losing seven starters from this excellent unit in 2014, and it’s abundantly clear that he’ll have to tweak his scheme if he wants to keep it competitive going forward.

 

No Staff Changes Necessary

Any big loss will prompt negative reactions, and perhaps rightly so.

But there’s been a lot of chatter in the media about this bowl loss somehow represented the loss of Tech’s identity as a physical team or that the days should be numbered for Frank Beamer. 

While the lopsided loss is embarrassing, attaching too much meaning to it is a generalization and a sign that people haven’t carefully examined the way the team’s performed the last few years.

Two years ago, this team was in the ACC Championship Game and lost the Sugar Bowl on an incredibly questionable call. These are exactly the types of goals that Beamer has always set for the program and held his players to.

Should the staff be aiming higher? Maybe. But making these last two years out to be a fall from grace is disingenuous.

Beamer has plenty left in the tank, and it would be stunning to see him go anywhere until at least the end of his contract in 2016.

And the final score doesn’t truly reflect what an excellent game the staff coached. 

Not only were Foster’s halftime adjustments to contain Hundley brilliant, but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler impressed with his game plan as well.

Without starting running back Trey Edmunds, Loeffler had to get creative to generate any sort of running game, and in the first half, that’s exactly what he did.

By both using fullback Jerome Wright on option plays and running wide receiver Carlis Parker on jet sweeps like this one, the offense ran for 113 yards in the first half alone.

It was a creative solution to a complicated problem, and although the team had to largely abandon the running game as UCLA’s lead grew larger, it still represents ingenuity on Loeffler’s part. 

Combined with the staff’s recruiting staff, it seems more and more like Beamer made the right decision when he hired the new batch of offensive coaches last offseason and far from needing a change at the top, the program seems to be in good hands.

With a new president and, soon, a new athletic director at the university, it’s a tumultuous time for Virginia Tech athletics.

But one constant is Beamer’s excellence, and while the team may need some changes to ascend to the very top of the college football world, the Hokies are doing just fine for now.

There are some big questions heading into 2014, but this bowl game served to perfectly illuminate them and make the way forward very clear.

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Auburn vs. Florida State: Don't Sleep on RB Corey Grant Exploding in Title Game

Running back Tre Mason is the Heisman Trophy finalist and quarterback Nick Marshall is the trigger man that makes the offense click, but the third man in the multidimensional Auburn rushing attack who makes the whole thing tick is running back Corey Grant.

The native of nearby Opelika, Ala., and former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, is the man who typically provides the third option in the running game on the edge. He has 650 rushing yards on 65 carries—a mind-boggling 10 yards per carry—and six touchdowns on the season.

At 5'11", 205 pounds, Grant has incredible straight-line speed. When he comes on the jet sweep, all he needs is one block to make a defense pay, move those chains and perhaps hit a home run that could drastically change the game.

With all of the attention on Mason and Marshall in the running game, don't sleep on Grant having a big day in the title game with some long runs at key times for Auburn.

"Those guys are going to come out and they're going to play and play and play until you break," Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith said in quotes released by the BCS National Championship Game. "We've just got to go out and make sure we don't break."

Watch Grant in the clip below from the opener against Washington State.

The read-option look keeps the linebackers inside, wide receiver Sammie Coates (No. 18) gets blown up by safety Deone Bucannon (No. 20) but still does his job by simply getting in the way, and Grant beats cornerback Anthony Carpenter (No. 4) to the edge and breaks a long touchdown run.

He serves his role as a threat on the edge well, and plays the role that Onterio McCalebb used to play in Malzahn's offense.

But the two are different backs. Grant is about 30 pounds heavier than McCalebb, and he packs a mean punch the rare times he decides to lower his shoulder.

In this touchdown below from the Georgia game, Grant gets loose in space and lowers his shoulder on safety Corey Moore (No. 39) shortly before crossing the goal line.

His success can be traced to scheme and speed, but it's accentuated by a power-blocking scheme.

In the clip above, fullback Jay Prosch and tight end Brandon Fulse got great blocks off the edge to spring Grant. This is something that's new for Prosch, who started his career in a more traditional system at Illinois.

"It changed when I got here this year because it's more there is some blocking like that, but most of it's like more, I guess, kind of finesse blocking at times," Prosch said according to quotes released by the BCS National Championship Game. "Just like running like coming around the edge and sealing linebackers, working up to DBs and having to be really careful with how hard you try to go at them, be able to have your weight on your heels and still be able to block them."

When Auburn runs speed sweeps with Grant, it typically does to the strong side. That will likely pit Prosch against "SAM" linebacker Christian Jones, who also drops down to defensive end at times for the Seminoles.

Watch that matchup, because when Auburn lulls the defense to sleep with the zone read up the middle, Grant will make his impact.

He has evolved into more of a changeup back, but one or two big runs in key spots could sting the Seminoles and put the Tigers in position to make a dent in the scoreboard.

 

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