NCAA Football News
The full slate of BCS games to conclude the 2013 campaign was announced on Sunday night, rewarding 10 programs for their elite efforts over the course of the season.
Although the first major playoff game—the Rose Bowl—doesn’t kick off until New Year’s Day at 5 p.m. ET, it’s not too early to start analyzing the matchups and projecting some winners.
Let’s take a look at each game and predict some victors.
Rose Bowl: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Stanford
It is fitting that two of the top defenses in the nation are meeting in the 100th edition of The Granddaddy of Them All, as this is going to be an old-school, smashmouth football game.
Both the Spartans and Cardinal feature tough ground games and defenses that are capable of holding the opposition to limited point totals. They both know that this one will be won in the trenches and have a few weeks to prepare for what will be nothing short of an absolute dogfight.
Michigan State boasts the No. 1 overall defense in the nation and is No. 4 in points allowed. It is led by one of the best secondary units in the country and can completely take the opposing receivers out of the picture.
However, Stanford’s front seven has helped this team become the No. 3 squad against the run this year. It’s hard to imagine either side getting too many yards, and it will likely come down to turnovers and special teams.
Whichever group can bust a big return and/or avoid committing costly errors will likely come out on top. I’m giving a slight edge to MSU.
Prediction: Michigan State 17 – Stanford 14
Fiesta Bowl: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 UCF
This isn’t the most exciting matchup, but it should be a fun one for fans who love offense.
The Bears are the top scoring team in the land and should be able to impose their will on the Knights. They averaged 53.3 points per game this year and should be able to easily eclipse that number against a subpar program from the American Athletic Conference.
While Central Florida features a solid quarterback in Blake Bortles and an above-average rusher in Storm Johnson, it’s hard to see this side matching high-flying Baylor on the scoreboard.
UCF just isn’t prepared for this type of test and will be completely outgunned and outmatched out in the desert.
Prediction: Baylor 59 – UCF 24
Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
‘Bama fell just short of a third straight national title appearance, thanks to a loss in the Iron Bowl in stunning fashion.
Now the Crimson Tide are angry and looking to roll past the last remaining squad standing in their way this year. That happens to be a mediocre Oklahoma team that wasn’t even able to win the wide-open Big 12.
To play someone that has a tradition and respect that we have for the University of Oklahoma is a real honor for our team. Coach Bob Stoops is obviously done a fantastic job there. He's a good friend and we really respect all that he's done, so this should be a great game for the city of New Orleans and for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. We're certainly excited about having the opportunity to be a part of it.
However, it’s hard to imagine the ‘Bama players and staff being truly excited about this one when they had the chance for the rare three-peat slip through their grasp.
It’s going to be a lopsided affair, with the Sooners having a loss to lowly Texas on their record this year. That is a program that the Tide would have likely obliterated by at least two scores this year had they played.
Expect Alabama to come out of this one a bit sluggish after over a month of rest and disappointment but turn it around before the second half starts. It should open a big lead in the third quarter and put the Sooners down for good shortly after.
Prediction: Alabama 35 – Oklahoma 14
Orange Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Clemson
Ohio State is another program that has every right to be disappointed about how the 2013 campaign ended.
The Buckeyes allowed a fourth-quarter lead to slip away in the Big Ten title game and lost out on a chance to contest for the crystal trophy. Instead of a second straight undefeated season and a trip to Pasadena, OSU will be heading to Miami to take on Clemson.
It’s not a terrible consolation prize, but Urban Meyer and his squad had so much more to play for up until last Saturday. Don’t be surprised if that letdown seeps into the team’s next game against the Tigers.
Clemson is more than capable of hanging with the big boys, despite two embarrassing losses this season. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideout Sammy Watkins are one of the best one-two punches in the nation and should be a big threat to connect for multiple touchdowns in South Beach.
OSU’s defense has looked anything but stout in recent weeks, giving up 75 points in the last two outings. Don’t be surprised if that porous unit is exploited yet again in the Orange Bowl and leads to a second straight loss for the Buckeyes.
Prediction: Clemson 42 – Ohio State 35
BCS National Championship: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn
This national title tilt should be one for the ages.
Both the Seminoles and Tigers boast elite offenses, and the national championship should be a touchdown-heavy affair.
Auburn will be leaning on a ground attack that continues to get stronger with each passing week. The program led the country in rushing yards this season, averaging an amazing 335.7 yards per game.
While Florida State’s defense is giving up just 10.7 points per game—the top mark in college football—it hasn’t faced an opponent with such an effective rushing attack all season.
Fortunately, the ‘Noles have what it takes to match scores with the Tigers. Jameis Winston is a legit superstar, and the young quarterback can put his side up on the scoreboard in a hurry.
It’s going to be a back-and-forth game that comes down to the wire. Expect a last-second field goal to win it, with Auburn having a slight edge due to the sheer dominance of the ground game in recent weeks.
Prediction: Auburn 39 – Florida State 37
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The 2013 college football season has featured plenty of exceptional individual performances from some of the sport's biggest stars.
With the regular season now officially in the books, it's time to honor the true best of the best.
Though we'll have to wait until Saturday night to find out who will take home the sport's most prominent award—the Heisman Trophy—many of college football's other top honors will be handed out at The Home Depot College Football Awards, which will be broadcast live on ESPN on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. ET.
So who are the favorites to win some of the sport's most prestigious honors such as the Outland Trophy, the Biletnikoff Award and the Maxwell Award?
Here are the predicted winners for every award that will be handed out during the broadcast.
Good luck, Jeff Long.
Starting next year, the Arkansas athletic director and the other 12 members comprising the College Football Playoff committee will determine the nation’s four most worthy teams.
An entire sport’s soul hangs in the balance.
How the 13-person committee treats teams like this year’s Stanford will determine how programs will schedule for the foreseeable future.
The day Long officially became the committee chair, he claimed to know the stakes.
“We have important judgments to make during that process,” Long said in an Oct. 16 ESPN.com story. “We realize we represent all of college football.”
Realizing how much power the committee holds represents a great start.
Figuring out how to utilize said power for the betterment of the sport becomes the second, more pivotal step.
Specifically, what will the committee ask of potential at-large, nonconference-winning candidates?
Take, for instance, the 2013 Alabama team.
National media members have seemingly unanimously gone on record as saying if the College Football Playoff existed today, the Crimson Tide should have a place in it.
Alabama’s resume is obvious. It spent virtually the entire regular season as the No. 1 team and ranked third in the final BCS standings.
However, upon closer examination, Alabama’s tangible case lacks the necessary strength to justify qualifying for the playoff as a team that failed to win its conference.
The Crimson Tide finished the season 0-1 against the BCS Top 10, albeit on the final play and on the road at No. 2 Auburn. Alabama won its other two games against BCS Top 25 teams.
So the Crimson Tide finished 2-1 against Top 25 teams. Its next-best win came on a neutral site against Virginia Tech, which ranks 37th in the BCS standings.
Alabama’s two games against SEC East teams came against the worst two—Kentucky and Tennessee. So even the SEC toughness let the Crimson Tide down this season in terms of building a compelling case as an at-large team.
This is not an anti-Alabama argument. It’s an anti-resume argument.
Replace the name “Alabama” with any other name and it would likely be left out of a four-team playoff.
Alabama receives the benefit of the doubt because of what it has accomplished recently and because it passes the eye test—it appears to be one of the best teams in the nation.
The same eye test played a significant role in the BCS. For the new playoff to truly make a positive impact on the sport, the “eye test” argument needs to vanish from the lexicon.
Compare Alabama’s credentials to those of Stanford.
The Cardinal finished the season fifth in the BCS standings and won the Pac-12 with what the Sagarin Ratings judged as the fifth-toughest schedule in the nation.
Stanford beat Oregon, its lone opponent in the final Top 10 of the BCS standings. It also finished 4-1 against teams in the BCS Top 25 and scored wins over Notre Dame, No. 26, and Washington, No. 28.
However, the grueling schedule left the Cardinal with two losses. In the eyes of many, the “2” in the loss column—including one inexplicable defeat at Utah—serves as reason to eliminate Stanford from contention.
Consider for a moment, though, what message that sends to programs across the country.
Currently, three of the five power conferences continue to play eight-game league schedules. Only the Big 12 and Pac-12 increased to nine conference games.
The Big Ten announced this year its plans to move to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016.
Both of Stanford’s losses, it should be pointed out, came to Pac-12 South opponents. If the Cardinal played three games against the other division instead of four, the USC loss on the road could have been replaced by a home game against Idaho.
Would that scheduling switch have made Stanford a better team? If the answer is no, then why should the committee value one loss more than the strength of the Cardinal’s victories?
If the loss column means substantially more than racking up an impressive string of wins, why would SEC coaches ever vote to add a conference game? After all, adding another SEC team likely means losing a home contest against a Sun Belt team.
The SEC, for the record, went 38-4 against American Athletic Conference, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Independents and FCS opponents in 2013. Three of those losses came from Kentucky and Arkansas, who combined to go 0-16 in SEC play. Many of the 42 games included six- and seven-figure paydays for opponents to make death marches into SEC shrines.
These are exactly the types of games the College Football Playoff committee can eliminate by sending the message that, to receive at-large bids, teams must boast outstanding resumes.
For too long—and not just in the BCS era—college football has relied too heavily on the eye test.
The College Football Playoff has an opportunity to help transcend the sport into reaching its vastly greater potential.
To do so, it must stand up to criticism that highly-ranked teams with average resumes deserve a place in the playoff.
A failure to do so would simply encourage schedules so weak Kansas State coach Bill Snyder—the King of Cupcakery—would cringe.
If the committee truly values strength of schedule and conference championships, as it plans, teams will fall in line and challenge themselves with a daunting slate of games.
Thus, the soul of an entire sport hangs in the balance, waiting for the 13-member jury to determine whether teams should step up the competition or continue paying for victories.
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For all intents and purposes, the BCS era is over. There is still the championship game and so-called BCS bowls to be played, but as a mechanism to set up postseason play, it's already a museum piece.
The BCS will be missed.
For all its flaws, the BCS's biggest contribution to college football is that it made the sport national. After the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl grudgingly signed on in 1998, the attraction of No. 1 vs. No. 2 forced fans (and the media) to care about games outside of their own region. For powerhouse programs, it was no longer good enough just to win the conference championship.
Of course, the BCS had its problems and underwent constant tinkering that bordered on "making up stuff as we go" at times. It still gave us a split national championship (in 2003), a highly questionable title-game rematch (in 2011) and a few bogus bowl pairings. But overall, the BCS did its job probably better than could have been expected 16 years ago.
As someone who's followed the BCS from its inception and actively blogged about it since 2006, I have plenty to say about the good, bad and ugly of the era. In fact, I'll be writing a series that covers each of the BCS's 16 seasons, with retrospectives and how things might have worked out had there been a four-team playoff.
And as a tease, here is my view on the best and worst things of the BCS era.
What was good:
1) USC-Texas 2006 Rose Bowl: This still might go down as the greatest college football game ever, with Vince Young and the Longhorns ending the USC dynasty 19 seconds short of its destiny. It had star power and was played at the most perfect setting in all of college football—the Rose Bowl. The game's TV rating of 21.7 is still four points higher than the next-closest game and probably will never be surpassed. There was no need to have Nos. 3 and 4 (Penn State and Ohio State) to muck up the proceedings, as the one game was all we needed.
2) The rise of "mid-majors": The BCS was originally designed to match the top two teams, but the creation of the "BCS bowls" necessitated a move to allow non-power-conference teams greater access to these marquee games. Thanks to spectacular wins by Boise State, TCU and Utah, we were treated to some of college football's most memorable upsets. And the Utes, Horned Frogs and Chris Petersen have parlayed those successes and gotten themselves into the major conferences.
3) Transparency of BCS standings: I won't brag (too much), but I had gotten very good at projecting the standings—as they were no great mystery. The latest formula, adopted in 2004, was simple enough, and the rule that forced every voter to reveal his final ballot made things fairly predictable. There was not the kind of suspense that surely will surround the selection committee's final decision as we move into the College Football Playoff era.
What was bad:
1) Neutered computers: For every action, there's usually an overreaction. That happened in 2001 after the BCS forced the computers to remove margin of victory as a component. The inclusion of Nebraska in the 2001 title game and the 2003 split national titles were both direct results of it. The edict also sometimes made computer rankings a source of derision as Jeff Sagarin had Northern Illinois as high as No. 2 this November in his BCS version of the rankings when the Huskies never moved into the Top 30 in his more reliable ratings.
2) Ignorant voters: The change in the BCS formula following the 2003 split title bestowed too much clout in the hands of the voters, who basically ordained the title-game matchup in the BCS's final 10 seasons. The Coaches Poll, notoriously fraught with conflict of interest, and the retirement home-friendly Harris Poll were certainly undeserving of such responsibility. As a whole, this collection of 170-plus voters became the non-elected kings of college football, powerful yet unaccountable. And as a whole they exhibited little ability to move past the groupthink usually espoused by the talking heads on ESPN (or CBS).
3) LSU-Alabama 2012 BCS Championship Game: The confluence of bad formula and bad decision gave us the biggest dud of a title game and an undeserving champion. That year's Bayou Tigers defeated five 10-win teams (three of which played in BCS games) and remain the only team in history that finished with a perfect 1.000 score in the final BCS standings. Yet, they were forced to face an Alabama team they'd already beaten and that played a pedestrian schedule that didn't include a conference-title game. It must be counted as among BCS's biggest failures and something to avoid by the incoming committee.
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With Notre Dame's bowl prep underway, Brian Kelly now begins the delicate dance of balancing the present with the future. With the Irish opening up as 17-point favorites over Rutgers (one of the biggest point spreads of the postseason) in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Kelly and his coaching staff have the opportunity to prepare their football team for the immediate task at hand, while also getting work for young players who'll be key to the team's success next season.
While the Irish return the nucleus of this year's team, key veterans will need to be replaced. Let's take a look at five redshirt freshmen who'll have the opportunity to step in and become contributors.
Michael Deeb, ILB
6'2", 242 pounds
Many expected Deeb to be an early contributor, the product of a college-ready physique and the ability to play on special teams. But the Irish coaching staff decided to save a year of eligibility, rolling with fifth-year seniors Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox in a trio with junior Jarrett Grace.
After Grace went down with a season-ending broken leg against Arizona State, seldom-used veterans Kendall Moore and Joe Schmidt joined the rotation. While Moore's play likely earned him a fifth year, neither look to be long-term answers next to Grace in the starting rotation.
The knock on Deeb coming out of high school was his athleticism, looking more like a run-stuffing bruiser than a guy who can cover running backs in space. But if Deeb can show a nose for the football and grasp the intricacies of Bob Diaco's defense, there's a job opening that's there for the taking.
Torii Hunter Jr., WR
6', 178 pounds
Hunter suffered one of the worst injuries you could imagine—a non-contact injury at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, where he broke his femur during practice before the exhibition game and just weeks before Signing Day. Of all the Irish freshmen receivers that impressed this year, before the injury, it was Hunter who looked like the one most ready to contribute.
That didn't happen, with a setback in the healing process forcing Hunter to back off his aggressive rehabilitation schedule. Yet as the Irish look to replace TJ Jones as the one constant among the team's talented stable of receivers, Hunter is the type of player who's capable of doing a lot of different things very well.
Hunter made the travel roster against Stanford, likely as a reward for a lot of hard work during a freshman season spent getting healthy. And with a crowded depth chart of young talent, and another impressive group signing this February, Hunter can use these 10 practices before the Pinstripe Bowl and spring drills to work his way into the rotation.
Doug Randolph, LB
6'2", 233 pounds
Randolph's season also ended before it began, with Brian Kelly announcing that the outside linebacker would undergo corrective shoulder surgery in August. It was an injury that he brought with him from high school and wasn't the only reason that Randolph was held out of competition this season.
Randolph came into Notre Dame looking more like an athlete than a football player, starring on the lacrosse team at Woodberry Forest High School and moonlighting as a pass-catcher as well as a pass-rusher. At 6'2", 233 pounds, he lacks the ideal size to play at the Cat linebacker position, so seeing if Randolph can slide inside might be a worthy offseason experiment.
Unlike Deeb, Randolph looks like the type of athlete who's comfortable in space, though he also showed a knack for rushing the passer in high school. The Irish could use a player with both those traits, so after a year of watching and learning, Randolph is a true wild card heading into next season.
Malik Zaire, QB
6', 208 pounds
The redshirt can finally come off. For Irish fans clamoring to see Zaire this season, Kelly came clean late this season, admitting that the intent was to keep Zaire off the field all along, rolling the dice with Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix. Of course, any chance of Zaire playing in 2013 was pushed back when the freshman came down with mononucleosis this fall, keeping him out of practice for the season's first month.
Kelly has doled out hints at what he expects to happen next year, all but naming Zaire and Golson as the two men battling for the starting quarterback job come springtime. That means that if Andrew Hendrix returns, he'll likely be leapfrogged by the redshirt freshman, a sign that perhaps Hendrix's time in South Bend is over.
Whatever Kelly says now, it's foolish to think that anybody but Golson will be the team's starter next season. Besides, what Zaire can actually do remains to be seen. He was a smooth operator in the option as a high schooler but only showed signs of being a capable passer during his senior season.
But for the first time in Kelly's tenure in South Bend, the offense will finally have quarterbacks capable of executing the team's core offense, with Zaire's dual-threat ability a welcome (and long-awaited) addition to the depth chart.
Greg Bryant, RB
5'10", 204 pounds
That Bryant's freshman year didn't go according to plan is hardly a death sentence for a player who's just too talented to stay off the field. At a finely chiseled 204 pounds, Bryant has the physical makeup of an NFL running back and elite skills as both a runner and receiver.
Fighting through a crowded depth chart will be easier with Bryant back at full strength after undergoing the same surgery that Louis Nix had on his knee. With Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson entering their senior seasons, Bryant's injury saved him a year of eligibility, positioning himself perfectly for three seasons as a potential 1-2 punch with Tarean Folston.
Showing patience and not losing faith seem to be among the most important things for Bryant at this point, with the frustrations of under-delivering after considerable recruiting hype likely weighing on the young player. But Bryant's opportunities are coming, even if his arrival is a year later than many expected.
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You won’t hear anyone on the Michigan Wolverines say it, but nobody is all that happy about playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Dreams of playing in the Rose Bowl evaporated in the midst of a 1-4 collapse that left the team in the depths of the Big Ten Legends Division.
To make matters worse, rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, who met in the Big Ten Championship Game, are both ranked in the top ten nationally while Michigan exited the rankings during its epic November collapse.
This isn’t what fans were expecting.
But, the flip side of that analysis is that the team is two plays away from a 5-7 record and missing a bowl entirely.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl doesn’t have the allure or the prestige of a BCS game or New Year’s Day bowl, but it does come with the added benefit of 15 additional practices to get ready for next season.
Publicly, Michigan coaches are preaching patience.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison told the Detroit News, “We feel very strongly the young men we recruited in the two or three years are the right young men, and now it’s getting experience. You can’t put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can become a smarter football player.”
But, experience doesn’t seem to explain all Michigan’s problems on offense.
The Michigan offense hummed against Ohio State and Indiana but disappeared versus Iowa and Michigan State. It’s hard to reconcile the wide variations in performance. Add anemic performances versus Akron and UConn, and offense seems to have been a mystery all season long.
Is offensive coordinator Al Borges using this team’s talent correctly, or is he too focused on implementing his system?
The offensive line struggled rotating nine players through five positions and next season loses its two most consistent players to graduation.
Is offensive line coach Darrell Funk developing players to fill these gaps? Does Michigan have the talent on its roster to field an adequate offensive line next season, or does Hoke need to break with tradition and recruit some junior college players to protect quarterback Devin Gardner?
Hoke needs to prepare his team for their bowl game; the last thing Michigan needs is another loss. But most importantly he needs to evaluate whether the problem with his team stems from a lack of experience or the result of bad coaching.
Michigan was inconsistent for much of the season, but no could have predicted the train wreck that happened in November.
But those losses have made next season do-or-die for Hoke: his fate at Michigan hangs in the balance.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conference Source.
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The 2013 season was a roller coaster season for second-year head coach Hugh Freeze. After going on several winning and losing streaks, the Rebels won seven of the first ten games, only to lose the final two against Missouri and Mississippi State.
You might call this year a sophomore slump as Freeze hopes another round or two in recruiting will have Ole Miss back as a perennial top 25 team.
Similarly, Georgia Tech jumped out to a 3-0 lead only to hit a wall in the passing game. This team relies heavily on the triple option as QB Van Lee was only able to pass for three touchdowns over the last nine games. The final game with Georgia, even in a loss, should give Tech plenty of confidence that they can play well with an SEC opponent.
These two teams were founding members of the SEC but have only played each other three times, with Ole Miss winning the last matchup in the 1971 Peach Bowl. The Music City Bowl is a preview of the future matchups between the schools in 2017 and 2018.
Continue reading as we evaluate the individual units in this rare meeting between Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.
The Pac-12 comprises one of the most talented and exciting conferences in the nation.
An eclectic mix of offensive capabilities and innovation is married together with tremendous passion and support from 12 loyal fan bases. Not to be outdone, there are multiple defensive standouts with the capabilities to impact immensely on the next level.
The 2013 season was a very competitive year for the conference. Both the North and South divisions were ultimately decided by one game each. The play throughout the season lends credence to the notion that the Pac-12 should be regarded as one of the best leagues in college football.
Without further ado, let's take a look at my all-conference team for the Pac-12.
*Note: The piece includes the best player at every position, along with a few honorable mentions.
Remember when Jadeveon Clowney was one of the preseason front runners for the Heisman Trophy? Or when college football's most prestigious award was Marcus Mariota's to lose? Feels like a long time ago doesn't it? With all the votes in and the Heisman Trophy ceremony coming up at 8 p.m. ET Saturday in New York, Bleacher Report caught up with seven voters and, naturally, we had some some questions for them.
B/R: What's the most important factor in deciding your vote?
Voter 1: Player who made his team something it otherwise would not have been.
Voter 2: Individual performance over the course of the season.
Voter 3: Consistency is a must. Also must play best in biggest games
Voter 4: Outstanding season statistically, but strength of competition and character of the athlete, are important.
Voter 5: Find the best player. I am not the most important to his team or concerned with where his team would be without him.
Voter 6: Performance against the best competition.
Voter 7: Is he college football’s best player? How does he impact his own team? How does he perform in the biggest moments?
B/R: Which Heisman Trophy winner was the biggest over achiever?
Voter 1: Eric Crouch (2001)
Voter 2: Eric Crouch (2001)
Voter 3: Jason White (2003)
Voter 4: Tim Tebow (2007)
Voter 5: Declined to state
Voter 6: Doug Flutie (1984)
Voter 7: John Cappelletti (1973)
B/R: Who is the greatest Heisman Trophy winner ever?
Voter 1: Robert Griffin III (2011)
Voter 2: Cam Newton (2010)
Voter 3: Barry Sanders (1988)
Voter 4: Barry Sanders (1988)
Voter 5: Barry Sanders (1988), Herschel Walker (1982), Roger Staubauch (1963)
Voter 6: Charlie Ward (1993)
Voter 7: Archie Griffin (1974, 1975)
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South Carolina drew Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, and the Badgers will be no easy team to play against despite the lowly state of the Big Ten.
This game will be a pound-for-pound heavyweight fight between two hard-nosed football teams looking to run the football. A battle for toughness will be at stake, where South Carolina looks to continue the SEC's prowess as the nation's top conference by taking down a stout Wisconsin squad.
With Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White and South Carolina's Mike Davis, the ground-and-pound will be the storyline of the matchup.
In a game that is certain to have banged-up players and bruising from playing at 110 percent and landing huge hits, who will prevail?
Here are four things we need to see in the Capital One Bowl.
Penn State can certainly be proud of a 7-5 campaign in 2013.
With a roster depleted of scholarship athletes in addition to having to break in a true freshman quarterback—albeit a very talented one—the Nittany Lions regressed only slightly in the win column while continuing to push forward through unprecedented sanctions.
In his first two years as a head coach at any level, Bill O'Brien has compiled a respectable record of 15-9.
A rather young team, Penn State will only have to replace eight starters next season—four on offense and four on defense. This should serve them well as O'Brien and his staff continue to rebuild the roster.
Here's a look at the state of the program following the completion of the 2013 season, with a glimpse towards the future.
Since taking over as the head coach of USC football, Steve Sarkisian has made clear his intentions to implement a no-huddle offense in Troy.
That decision has excited many on the football team, according to Sarkisian, who spoke candidly with fans last week about his plans for the offense. With the change to the offense, Sarkisian has said that all positions will be open come spring ball.
And this has led to an interesting development in Troy.
Backup quarterback Max Wittek said on Tuesday that he will not transfer from USC, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News:
After meeting with Sarkisian and discussing how truly "open" positions would be, Wittek evidently feels confident enough in his chances to stick around at least one more semester and vie for the starting job.
Wittek, Cody Kessler and Max Browne spoke with Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times about the makeover the offense is about to get, and all three expressed positive thoughts about the change.
Incumbent starter Kessler could do particularly well with a no-huddle look at USC and said that he's "very excited" to quarterback a spread offense, which he also ran at Bakersfield's Centennial High.
Similarly, freshman Max Browne could have success in Sarkisian's offense based on prior experience with spread offenses. He, too, could legitimately compete for the starting job:
Freshman quarterback Max Browne said the new offense was similar to the one he ran at Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., where he operated almost exclusively from the shotgun and pistol formations.
"I think it suits me and all of the quarterbacks," Browne said.
And then there's Wittek, the prototypical pro-style quarterback who has a cannon for an arm, but isn't particularly fluid in the pocket. Still, he told Klein he thinks he can fit into the new scheme: "I think I can move around well and do what's asked."
But given his limitations, is Wittek making the right choice in sticking around?
Kessler has left a reasonably good taste in the mouths of USC fans after his growth and development in 2013. He is the better suited of the two redshirt sophomore quarterbacks to excel in an offense with spread elements. This season, we saw Kessler show agility in and outside the pocket, which suggests that he has the skill set to run Sarkisian's offense.
In Wittek's limited starts at the end of the 2012, we didn't see anything resembling mobility. On the contrary, he is pretty statuesque in the pocket, typical of conventional, pro-style quarterbacks. Both Kessler and Browne have experience in a spread offense, and thus will face a more gradual learning curve come the spring.
Since Kessler got the job back in August, there has been speculation about Wittek transferring. He was asked about it during fall camp, and punted away the question evasively:
It's obviously in USC's best interest to keep Wittek in the ranks, as Browne would be the only reserve quarterback available without him. Then again, it might be in his best interest to seek greener pastures with a different program, one where he is able to put his many talents on display.
Of course, if Wittek were to lose out in the spring, he would still have plenty of time to transfer before fall camps begin.
However the chips ultimately lay, Sarkisian will have his work cut out early when he starts coaching duties next spring, and he must make decisions that will have lasting implications on at least one major position.
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When a program goes through the kind of transition that the Oregon Ducks did after the 2012 season, there will be questions regarding the state of the team.
After a 2-2 finish in their last four games, the Ducks missed out on an opportunity to make a BCS bowl for a fifth consecutive season.
Mark Helfrich guided the team to a fast start, but it all came crumbling down in early November after his first loss as a head coach.
What could Helfrich and the staff have done differently in 2013 to help the season end the way in which they had hoped?
Maybe it has been too easy for the Ducks or maybe they paid too much attention to those who said Stanford is the only Pac-12 team capable of beating them.
Either way, the Ducks looked like they didn't care very much in the loss to the Wildcats. Arizona lost three of its final four games. The only win came in blowout fashion against then-No. 5 Oregon.
Being a first-time head coach, maybe Helfrich didn't get the vibe from his players that they felt they deserved something they hadn't earned. Maybe he did and didn't think it would matter with two average teams left.
Either way, the intense focus and the "win the day" mantra made famous by his predecessor Chip Kelly seemed to fade further into history with each passing week. Kelly made it a priority to teach his players about how to answer questions from the mediay. Helfrich needs to follow suit.
Prior to the loss at Stanford, and with an 8-0 start that had Oregon sitting at No. 3 in the BCS, junior running back De'Anthony Thomas told reporters that scoring 40 against Stanford shouldn't be a problem. He should have been off limits to the media or at least schooled on what to say from that point on.
A bounce-back win against Utah, combined with Stanford's loss to USC the following week, gave the Ducks control of their own destiny in the Pac-12 North.
It didn't last long, as the lack of discipline and sense of entitlement seemed to grab a hold of the previously unstoppable Ducks. If something was done to combat the lack of focus, it wasn't enough.
The wheels fell off the following week when the Ducks traveled to Arizona. Leading up to the game, two of Oregon's most experienced leaders gave the Wildcats plenty of motivation while giving away the Ducks' mindset.
Thomas and senior wide receiver Josh Huff made comments to the media about how the Ducks don't care about going to the Rose Bowl. They believed that they deserved a shot at the BCS title.
The problem was they truly believed it. The Ducks came out flat against the Wildcats and played as poorly as any Oregon team has in a game since a 38-8 loss to BYU in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
The Oregon team on the field for the final four games was a far different team than the one that dominated their first eight opponents. The one thing that didn't change was was the amount of penalties they committed, which is another problem stemming from a lack of discipline.
The Ducks finished the season ranked 119th in the country with an average of 7.91 penalties per game. Of the 95 penalties they committed on the season, 28 of them came in games against Stanford, Utah and Arizona.
By November, a championship team should have learned how to limit penalties to a normal level. The Ducks never figured it out, and it continued to haunt them until the end of the season.
Utilizing weapons correctly
Thomas has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football over the past three seasons. Some of his biggest plays have come when he was lined up as a running back, but that doesn't allow him or the team to maximize the talent of the Oregon roster.
Thomas was solid at running back to start the season, but he wasn't the same after returning from an ankle injury that kept him out for over a month. When he did return, running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner had established themselves as stars.
The two backs are both bigger and stronger than Thomas, while Thomas is better in space.
After being unable to control the line of scrimmage against Stanford, the staff should have adjusted and sent Thomas on some deep routes to take advantage of the speed he possesses.
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Postseason All-Conference teams are silly.
The Associated Press released its annual All-SEC team, voted on by members of the media. And, as always, there was much debate over who got snubbed.
Voting for teams such as these are hard. Writers barely have time to write their own stories, much less watch and evaluate ever player on every team.
Linemen are the hardest to evaluate. There are few stats and news articles to quickly look up on them. Name recognition and popularity mean plenty when choosing them.
LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson learned the hard way. Ferguson only earned "Honorable Mention" for his efforts this season. His teammate, Anthony "Freak" Johnson, made Second-Team All-SEC.
Notice the word "Freak" attached to Johnson's name. It helped distinguish himself amongst others by a nickname alone. He made multiple preseason All-American teams.
But Johnson's play did not live up to expectations this season.
Ferguson was far from spectacular for most of the season, but he was better than Johnson.
Statistics are not always an accurate indicator of a defensive lineman's play. But the huge gap between Ferguson and Johnson is tough to ignore.
Ferguson was far more active getting off blocks and making plays.
Johnson's numbers are poor. LSU did not have the depth at defensive tackle like in years past, which makes his lack of production even more startling considering his high volume of snaps.
Johnson was the better pass-rusher, raking in two more sacks than Ferguson. Johnson's quickness makes his "swim" move difficult for offensive linemen to block.
But both Ferguson and Johnson were inconsistent in getting to the quarterback. They are too powerful to have not pushed the pocket more frequently.
Ferguson was also more fundamentally sound. On double-teams, he was better at holding at the point of attack. While Johnson made more plays behind the line of scrimmage, he often got pushed around too easily.
LSU's last game against Arkansas was an accurate indicator of how their seasons went.
On a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Arkansas ran a simple run to the left. Ferguson stood up First-Team All-SEC center Travis Swanson at the line of scrimmage, peeled off the block and made the tackle for the critical stop. LSU was losing, so forcing a punt was critical.
Johnson jumped offsides four times over the course of the game. He was also pushed around by the Razorbacks offensive line.
The duo had an above-average season, but it was not entirely their fault. All levels of LSU's defense were mediocre. They also had average backups, forcing them to play more snaps.
Ferguson was an overall better defensive tackle and deserved Second-Team All-SEC over Johnson. "The Freak" should be thankful for the preseason hype that surrounded him.
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Bowl season generally means two things: the coaching carousel and bowl game preparation.
For the Texas Longhorns (8-4, 7-2), they will be dealing with both on tremendous scales.
For the second consecutive season, the Longhorns will travel down I-35 to play in the Valero Alamo Bowl. But the recent headlines regarding Mack Brown possibly stepping down from his head coaching post after 16 years will provide a whole new carnival.
In 2012, fueled by a strong second-half comeback, Texas was able to knock off Oregon State 31-27.
But in less than three weeks, Texas will encounter No. 10 Oregon (10-2, 7-2) and its massive offense.
We saw the Longhorns sneak away with a win last year, but the challenge appears to have increased tenfold with the Ducks flying into San Antonio for the December 30 contest.
In preparation for what figures to be a matchup nightmare for the Longhorns, here are five things that Texas has to have against the Ducks.
Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes were one win away from playing for a national championship in 2013, but those dreams were dashed by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
Ohio State will look to bounce back in an Orange Bowl matchup against the Clemson Tigers, but beyond that, what lies ahead for the Buckeyes in 2014?
With Meyer at the helm, Ohio State's outstanding recruiting should lessen the blow of losing key seniors and a couple early departures to the NFL. The College Football Playoff will debut next season, and the Buckeyes will have an experienced defense and a dangerous offense for a potential national title run.
Here's the state of the program heading into the 2014 season.
The Miami Hurricanes' first postseason game since 2010 will pit "The U" against the Teddy Bridgewater-led No. 18 Louisville Cardinals.
Squaring off in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the 9-3 Hurricanes will face Bridgewater, who is touted as a top prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, and the 11-1 Cardinals.
Louisville brings a premier squad to Orlando, Fla., so Miami will be tested both offensively and defensively.
If Al Golden's team is going to emerge victorious, the 'Canes must do certain things on both sides of the ball to give themselves the best chance to win.
The Offensive Line Protects Stephen Morris
Similar to his junior campaign, quarterback Stephen Morris recovered from his mid-season struggles, hitting his stride as the season came to a close.
And the biggest reason for this success is his massive offensive line.
During the final four games of 2012, Morris completed 66 of 110 passes (60 percent) for 1,131 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. This year, Morris is 76-of-132 (57.6 percent) for 1,213 yards, nine scores and two picks.
In addition to being tied for the fourth-most 30-plus yard gains (31) and fourth-most 40-plus yard gains (15), Morris has completed a pass of at least 50 yards in nine of 12 games.
But Louisville doesn't allow explosive plays, ranking in the top 25 of every yard range for opposing passing plays (e.g. 10-19 yards, 20-29, etc.) according to CFBstats.com. Additionally, the Cardinals have allowed just 17 touchdowns (eight passing) to its opposition all season.
That's it. Seventeen.
The Hurricanes have a stable of pass-catchers, but the Louisville pass-rush tends to not let receivers have time to get deep. Led by Marcus Smith and his 12.5 sacks, the Cardinals lead the nation with 3.25 per game and are tied for the second-most with 39 total.
Now, senior Brandon Linder and the Miami offensive line have only allowed Morris to be sacked 11 times this season, so Smith and Co. will not be waltzing through the line of scrimmage.
But clearly, blocking the Louisville linemen is not an easy task, either.
When Morris has time to make a good pass, the 'Canes O-line is obviously directly responsible for it. The senior gunslinger has been heating up lately, so he must continue to make the correct reads and proper decisions.
One mistake against the Cardinals could result in a 14-point swing—something Miami may be hard-pressed to overcome.
Miami Utilizes its Healthy Receivers
After Phillip Dorsett suffered a slight MCL tear against North Carolina, Stacy Coley stepped up in his absence. But the trio of Allen Hurns, Dorsett and Coley was rarely used on the field at the same time early on.
Christina De Nicola of Fox Sports Florida notes Dorsett expects to be 100 percent for the bowl game. The receiving corps is finally completely healthy, and Coley will now get an opportunity to play alongside the veterans.
Dorsett's presence cannot be understated, considering the junior ran a 4.29 40-yard dash this summer (h/t The Miami Herald) and constantly stretches the field. He fried the vaunted Florida secondary for a 52-yard touchdown and North Carolina for a 68-yard gain.
Because his speed demands attention from safeties, Dorsett opens throwing lanes underneath for receivers on crossing routes or Clive Walford on a seam.
What's more, Hurns and Coley were both on hot streaks as the regular season concluded. Over the last four contests, Hurns caught 27 passes for 548 yards and two scores, while Coley racked up 647 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.
The receivers are at full strength and on a roll, so they must repeatedly test the Louisville secondary.
Defense Needs to Contain Bridgewater Right Away
During the first quarter, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by a staggering 90-points (96-6).
Since the Hurricanes started the year with a 7-0 record, the Miami defense has allowed 518.6 yards and 37.6 points per game.
That combination is a major reason why the 'Canes lost three of their final five games. It doesn't matter in which quarter Miami concedes those points, because nearly 40 points per outing is, well, awful.
So what will the Hurricanes do when they face a true All-American-caliber quarterback? Bridgewater has completed 70.2 percent of his passes, thrown for 3,523 yards and tallied 28 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
He ain't exactly just average.
Florida State had likely Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the Seminoles' running game destroyed Miami. Of course, Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush each intercepted a pass, so Winston was not mistake-free, but the 'Noles star threw for 325 yards and a score.
Winston led five touchdown drives, and Bridgewater is more than capable of doing the same.
However, the Hurricanes' defensive unit must try to make Louisville settle for a few field goals instead of allowing six-pointers. Plus, if the 'Canes force the Cardinals to punt more than it did to Florida State (once), Miami's offense is talented enough to recover.
But against Bridgewater and the Cardinals, that is often easier said than done.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.
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For Nebraska football fans, Michigan State’s win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship was exciting but also just the slightest bit galling. After all, it was a five-turnover performance by Nebraska against Michigan State in Lincoln that opened the door for the Spartans to win the conference title.
So what must Nebraska do to walk through that door, bring home the Stagg Championship Trophy and put a number after the lonely “1999” on the West Stadium sign for conference titles? Here are five things that need to change for Nebraska to lift that trophy in December of 2014.
All stats from cfbstats.com.
A wild card in Florida State's recruiting class is 4-star athlete Treon Harris. He's a versatile player who has a bright future in Tallahassee.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher will have to huddle with his coaching staff before Harris' arrival in northern Florida. Yet, the group could fight over which side of the ball the talented prospect plays on.
Harris' potential, along with having several career options on the field, warrants a more in-depth look.
When you win at least 10 games per year for eight seasons in a row, success is measured differently. That's why folks around Blacksburg, Va., have become frustrated with the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Last season's 7-6 debacle of a campaign was viewed as an aberration by most. Changes on the offensive coaching staff would fix things, and the Hokies would be right back in the Top 10.
Not so fast.
Tech finished 2013 with an 8-4 record, but it was who the Hokies lost to that bothered fans the most. The Hokies lost conference home games to Duke and Maryland. No, folks, this isn't basketball. Yes, Duke was a great story this season, but Virginia Tech should never lose to Duke in football—especially in Lane Stadium.
So, on the surface, 8-4 is a good record. Some schools would be happy playing UCLA in the Sun Bowl. Not Virginia Tech, nor should it be.
Here is a look at the state of the Virginia Tech program as we near the end of the 2013 season.