NCAA Football News

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

The 2014 Orange Bowl, featuring the No. 12 Clemson Tigers and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, promises to be full of offensive fireworks, as both teams present matchup nightmares on paper. 

The two programs finished the season with just three losses between them, and they both rank in the top 10 nationally in points scored. 

Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins lead an explosive passing attack for Clemson, while Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde lead a potent running game for Ohio State. 

Here's a look at the biggest matchups in the upcoming BCS bowl game. 

 

Sammy Watkins vs. Ohio State's Secondary 

Ohio State's top pass-rusher, Noah Spence, won't be playing in this game after being suspended for three games, as reported by Erick Smith of USA Today:

Even with Spence in the game, Ohio State was going to have a tough time corralling Clemson's passing attack, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder: "With or without Noah Spence, the Ohio State defense is going to have its work cut out for it against the Clemson Tigers' attack. Spence is growing into a phenomenal pass-rusher, but the key to the Buckeyes stopping Clemson is the pass coverage, not just the pass rush."

Adding to the challenge, cornerback Bradley Roby isn't expected to play as he's dealing with a knee injury, as noted by ESPN Big Ten:

Ohio State struggled to defend the pass throughout most of the second half of the season, finishing with the nation's No. 103-ranked passing defense (259.5 passing yards allowed per game) while allowing 26 passing touchdowns.

With Roby.

Without Roby, going up against Sammy Watkins, who has wowed Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Ohio State's defensive secondary could be doomed:

The talented junior receiver finished the year with 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's a force to be reckoned with. Given Ohio State's weakened defense, he's going to go off at the 2014 Orange Bowl—likely his last game in college before he heads to the pros. 

 

Ohio State Running Game vs. Clemson's Defensive Front Seven

The Auburn Tigers have a shot at winning a national championship thanks to their top-ranked rushing offense. Ohio State has been nearly as impressive this season, however, coming into the Orange Bowl with the No. 3-ranked rushing attack, averaging 317.5 rushing yards per game.

Clemson features the nation's 50th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 152.6 yards per game, which is just above average, and the Tigers allowed 19 rushing touchdowns.

Carlos Hyde and Miller combined to rush for 2,441 yards this year—both players eclipsing 1,000 yards—and 24 touchdowns.

Hyde feels confident coming into the game, noting that he watched Todd Gurley run for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson earlier in the year, as reported by Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com:

It's worth noting that South Carolina's running game was stymied in part during the final game of the season—a loss for Clemson. Mike Davis was held to just 22 yards on 15 carries, while Connor Shaw did the bulk of the work on the ground for the Gamecocks, totaling 94 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries.

That doesn't necessarily bode well for the Tigers in this upcoming game because Miller is much more dangerous than Shaw in the open field. 

Needless to say, Clemson's front seven must play with discipline, leverage and fire in order to keep Ohio State's potent offense in check. In particular, defensive end Vic Beasley, who's known for his pass-rushing abilities, must be razor-sharp against the run in this one. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Leonard Fournette Choosing LSU Will Be Key to Tigers' Rise in SEC

Regardless of whether he's No. 1 overall or just the No. 1 running back, Leonard Fournette is at the top of every prospect list in the country. When a player draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson, like he did from Albert Breer of NFL.com, it means they're pretty good:

Jeff Duncan, a columnist for NOLA.com, made it simple when talking about how significant the commitment is for LSU:

What Fournette does well is, well, just about everything. But his skills that will translate well to the SEC are his physicality and the fact that he's much more a downhill runner than even the likes of Jeremy Hill from this season. Fournette appears to be a guy who enjoys contact, but he has the elusiveness and the speed to get away from would-be tacklers in open space.

One intangible similar to Peterson that he also possesses is his nose for the end zone. The senior from St. Augustine High School finished his career with 88 touchdowns, and as ESPN Stats & Info reported, he put together a ridiculous all-purpose year in his final season:

As for comparisons to former SEC running backs that carried their teams, Eddie Lacy might be the most similar recent back. Though Fournette actually has an extra two inches in height to Lacy coming in as a freshman, he is only six pounds heavier than Lacy was during his junior campaign.

Aside from his physical talents on the field, St. Augustine head coach Cyril Crutchfield believes the reason Fournette has risen to the No. 1 ranking is because of his time he spends working off the field. 

"No doubt Leonard took his game to a new level," Crutchfield told Mike Strom of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. "You look at his work ethic away from the game. He already was a hard worker, but his elevation of his work ethic elevated the team's work ethic."

The man that does just about everything well has pretty lofty expectations for himself. When he spoke to reporters at the Under Armour All-American Game, Fournette spoke about wanting not only individual success but also team success with the Tigers.

"I plan on winning a Heisman and a national championship with my fellow teammates," Fournette said, according to Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN. "I can handle the pressure. I can handle it."

Since 2004, eight of the 10 Heisman Trophy winners just so happened to go on to play in the BCS National Championship Game, including Jameis Winston this season.

If Fournette plans on winning the Heisman, his team will likely need to be contending for a spot in the four-team playoff during his tenure with the Tigers. That's what LSU fans want to hear with the best running back prospect since Peterson entering their backfield.

Whether it's his ability to carry a team with over 3,500 all-purpose yards in a season or 88 rushing touchdowns over four of them, shed tacklers or elude them, or meticulously work on the field or off it, Fournette is a special player that will dominate the SEC.

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Auburn vs. FSU: Ranking Top Playmakers in BCS National Championship Game

The 2014 BCS National Championship Game between Auburn and Florida State could quite possibly be the first game in history that features too much offense. 

Of course that's not possible, just like one can never have too much bacon. 

All kidding aside, these two teams could easily surpass the 100-point threshold on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl, as both programs come into the contest with supercharged offensive attacks. 

Auburn's triple-option offense, led by speed-freak quarterback Nick Marshall, finished the season with the nation's top-ranked rushing attack, averaging an astonishing 335.7 rushing yards per game. 

Florida State, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, put up more points per game than any other team in the nation, averaging 53 points per game. 

With so much offensive firepower on one field, it seemed crazy not to rank the top playmakers. Here's how they stack up. 

 

1. Jameis Winston, QB, FSU

This one's easy. 

Winston blew away his competition in the recent Heisman race, earning the most points since Cam Newton back in 2010, as Warchant.com pointed out:

Nobody came close to taking him down in that contest of greatness, and similarly, the playmaker is the clear choice for No. 1 on this list. 

The redshirt freshman accumulated over 4,000 total yards, completing 67.9 percent of his passes while scoring 42 total touchdowns. He also led the nation with a passer efficiency rating of 190.1.

A capable pocket passer, Winston's athleticism comes in handy when he's flushed out of the pocket. He can either make a play with his legs or buy time for one of his capable receivers to get open. Once he sees an open passing lane, he has the arm strength to drop dimes.

 

2. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

What do you get when a former cornerback takes over Gus Malzahn's triple-option offense? A nearly unstoppable monstrosity of a rushing attack that can score from anywhere on the field. 

Nick Marshall possesses raw speed that compares favorably to that of Robert Griffin III before his knee injury. He was excited about running Malzahn's offense before the season began, as Justin Hokanson of Rivals relayed:

13 games later, everyone knows about Marshall's "ability."

He totaled 2,782 yards in 2013, scoring 23 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions.

In particular, Marshall's final three games against Georgia, Alabama and Missouri (741 total yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions), highlighted his unique speed and open-field skills.

Marshall is lightning in a bottle. Now meet the thunder.

 

3. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Only three players in the FBS scored more rushing touchdowns than Mason, who took the ball into the end zone 22 times in 2013. 

A patient runner who possesses excellent vision and a quick burst through the hole, Mason routinely wore down defensive fronts over the course of the year, finishing with 1,621 rushing yards on 283 carries (5.7 yards per carry). 

More impressive than his overall body of work is Mason's second-half surge. 

During Auburn's final five games, the junior toted the rock 30.8 times on average per game, gaining 868 total rushing yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. 

After such a brutal final stretch, the oft-utilized jackhammer of a running back needed time off to recuperate, as pointed out by Auburn Gold Mine:

Now that he's had a chance to recharge the batteries, so to speak, Mason will be as tough to stop against FSU as a locomotive picking up steam on a steep downhill grade.

 

4. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, FSU

When asked about which FSU playmaker would be the biggest threat in this upcoming game, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit picked receiver Kelvin Benjamin, noting his particular effectiveness in the red zone:

NFL draft analysts are drooling at the pro potential of the FSU playmaker. 

Coming in at 6'5" and 234 pounds, the sophomore looks the part of a No. 1 receiver at the next level, and he's been playing like it of late, too.

In his last three games, Benjamin has hauled in 17 passes for 392 yards (23 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Those are ridiculous numbers, in case you didn't know.

He finished the season with 14 touchdown catches, which tied for the fifth most of any receiver in the nation. With his tremendous size and equally impressive leaping abilities, Benjamin has become Winston's most trusted target in clutch situations.  

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Penn State Football: With Bill O'Brien in the NFL, Who Will Replace Him?

With Bill O'Brien's recent departure to fill the Houston Texans' head coaching vacancy, Penn State is back in the mix for a new leader.

The opportunity that O'Brien took seemed like one that nobody wanted back then. Just weeks after Joe Paterno's firing in November of 2011, a search committee was formed to find Penn State's next head coach. It took nearly two months for O'Brien to be named Paterno's successor.

This time around, it shouldn't take longer than a week.

The Penn State job is much more attractive now than it was two years ago. O'Brien is the main reason why, and it's hard to argue against that—even if you don't support his decision to chase a dream that he never shied away from acknowledging. 

Joyner is now tasked with finding the 16th head coach in program history. Public opinion suggests that Penn State need an individual with ties to the university. When asked during a press conference on Thursday what characteristics would warrant an individual for consideration, Joyner hinted that a Nittany Lion pedigree isn't a requirement:

At Penn State, I like to say that intercollegiate athletics, which is ICA, equals integrity, academics and championships, IAC. So first and foremost is integrity. Second is the ability to continue and build upon our great tradition of academics and the integration of our student athletes within the university. And then the third, in that order, but nonetheless tremendously important, somebody that has the ability to win championships -- to win Big Ten Championships and National Championships.

The program ultimately needs someone who will be around for the long haul. Here are a few coaches who could end up on Penn State's sideline next fall. 

 

James Franklin

The head coach at Vanderbilt, Franklin has made quite the impact since taking over in Nashville just three years ago.

Franklin got his start back in 1995 as a wide receivers coach with Division II Kutztown. He quickly ascended the coaching ranks, and within 10 years was on staff with the Green Bay Packers. After stints as the offensive coordinator at both Kansas State and Maryland, he accepted the head job at Vanderbilt. 

In three full seasons, Franklin has compiled a 23-15 record while appearing in a bowl game each year. Prior to 2013, Vanderbilt had never been to three straight bowl games. They've also never had two consecutive seasons with at least eight wins.

Franklin has been in terrific from a recruiting perspective, too. Vanderbilt has signed a top-30 recruiting class each of the last two seasons, according to Rivals.com. The Commodores are on pace for a third come February.

All of this was unheard of before he came along. It's safe to say Franklin has revolutionized Vanderbilt football. 

While he doesn't have any direct ties with Penn State, Franklin was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He played quarterback at Division II East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania, and coming back to coach the most storied college football program in his home state could appeal to him. 

And as Bruce Feldman of CBS tweeted the other day, the thought of Franklin in Happy Valley is enough to make some coaches worry:

Franklin's name is the most popular amongst Penn State circles right now. We'll see if the university has the resources to lure him back home. 

 

Al Golden

If having Penn State ties is something the search committee will strongly consider, Miami's Al Golden should be the first coach they call.

A tight end in Happy Valley from 1987-1991, Golden began his coaching career shortly after that. He started off as a graduate assistant with Virginia, eventually finding himself as Penn State's linebackers coach during the 2000 season. 

Golden finally caught his break as a head coach when he was hired by Temple in December 2005. Inheriting a team that finished the previous season 0-11, he turned the Owls' program around. In just his fifth year, Temple had nine wins and played in its first bowl game since 1979. 

He eventually left for Miami, and just finished up his third season with the program. Golden led the Hurricanes to a 9-4 record this year, and is poised for a bright future in Coral Gables. So far in 2014, Miami has assembled the seventh-best recruiting class in the nation. 

Hiring Golden would make sense because of his Penn State roots and ability to revamp a program. With the foundation that O'Brien has laid, bringing in someone with a track record like Golden's is pivotal to keeping the momentum rolling in Happy Valley. 

Miami's impressive 2014 recruiting class could be a factor that weighs heavy on Golden's decision, if he were offered the job. But the allure of coaching his alma mater might be too much to pass up—according to reports, there is mutual interest right now between Golden and Penn State.  

 

Greg Roman

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman isn't a name that's popping up a lot—but it's one that has before. 

A guy who has spent the majority of his career in the NFL, Roman did have a brief stint in the college game. He was Stanford's offensive coordinator from 2009-2010, prior to being brought to San Francisco when Jim Harbaugh took that head coaching gig. 

His lack of college experience could be viewed as a red flag—but not in terms of qualifications. Some may be wary of Penn State hiring another "NFL guy," for fear of that individual heading back to the pros like O'Brien did.

Before O'Brien was hired, Roman interviewed with Penn State for the position. As Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea wrote a year ago, Roman at the time viewed Penn State as a destination job:

Roman, a native of Ventnor, N.J., said the Penn State job is the kind of position that would be a job in which he could retire.

“[A] a job like Penn State is a lifetime job. That’s a job if I were to become the head coach there, I’d wouldn’t leave there,” Roman said Tuesday according to CSNBayArea.com.

“That’s a very unique opportunity at Penn State, so that’s something I’d definitely consider strongly.”

Penn State is in a better situation than they were in two years ago. With scholarship numbers slowly being restored, the possibility of the bowl ban being lifted and young talent all around, what's to say Roman doesn't hold the job in high regard—if not higher—as he did back then?

Judging by his comments, you'd think the search committee would give Roman another look. It's very unusual for a coach to openly talk about another opportunity the way in which Roman did. That alone speaks volumes about the passion he would have in heading up the program.

Whichever route Penn State decides to take, it'll need to do their due diligence on a variety of people to make sure the right hire is made.  

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Up-Tempo Offense Continues to Confound Nick Saban

NEW ORLEANS—Remember the times when Nick Saban’s Alabama defenses were impossible to do anything against?

When they allowed 8.2 points per game in 2011. When they brought teams to their knees in 2012.

It looks like, for now, those days are over. That is, if you know what you’re doing.

Alabama was torched for 429 yards in a shocking 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Alabama faithful streaming out of the Superdome in shock of what had just taken place.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight had just lit up the Tide to the tune of 348 yards and four touchdowns, picking apart a suspect secondary and supplementing those throws with quick runs that kept Alabama’s defense off-balance.

And they did it all with a theme all too common to torching Alabama’s defense: a hurry-up tempo.

There were questions of who would even start at quarterback for the Sooners, but head coach Bob Stoops elected to go with the more mobile Knight over redshirt junior Blake Bell. The gamble clearly paid off.

In what wasn’t too much of a diversion from what the Sooners had done this year, Oklahoma came out flying, using many looks that Alabama saw in the Iron Bowl in its last game against Auburn.

“They were running side to side before we got our play,” Alabama freshman defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson said. “Getting us with those little gashes wore us down, got a little tired, but we started to fight back and control it.”

But it wasn't anything Alabama wasn’t prepared for.

“They played a pretty good game tonight and they did what they needed to do. Everything they did we expected them to do,” sophomore safety Landon Collins said. “The fast pace, the bubbles, the trick plays, they did everything we expected them to do. We just didn’t play to our standard.”

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, then, for Alabama. Many of the players simply blamed execution.

“We practiced all the plays they ran,” redshirt junior linebacker Adrian Hubbard said. “None of the plays were a surprise to us. Just execution. We were ready for what they had, we just didn’t execute the right way.”

It’s hard to tell if the gaudy statistics put up by teams that can execute the hurry-up offense against Alabama means the downfall of Saban and his dominant defenses. Certainly, adjustments will be made this offseason, and if it is simply a matter of execution, that is easily correctable with the right mindset.

But 2013 left the Alabama defense with more questions than answers in regard to the up-tempo style.

Auburn and Oklahoma (and Texas A&M to some extent) gave teams a blueprint on how to move the ball on Alabama. Saban’s challenge this offseason will be to find a way to slow down these offenses and show that he is still one of the great defensive minds in the game.

If not, the up-tempo style will only continue to haunt Alabama.

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Don't Look Now, Big-Game Bob Stoops Is Back with a Vengeance

"Big Game Bob" had turned into a nickname regarded as more farcical than complimentary. 

Bob Stoops, in his 15th season as Oklahoma's head coach, has won at least a share of eight Big 12 titles and a BCS National Championship in 2000-01. He's taken the Sooners to nine BCS bowl games, and earlier this season he passed Barry Switzer on the program's all-time wins list (158). 

But the reputation Stoops had built for winning games on the biggest stages had been knocked down a few pegs in recent years. The shine began coming off of the moniker when Oklahoma lost five BCS bowls in a row from 2004-09, including three national title appearances in 2004, '05 and '09. There was also the unforgettable Fiesta Bowl against Boise State in '07. 

Stoops was also 1-4 against the SEC in bowls, including a 21-14 loss to a Nick Saban-coached LSU team in '04. So when Stoops referred to the SEC's dominance in college football as "propaganda" during this past offseason, it raised more than a few eyebrows. It also caused more than a few people to point to the record books.  

Yet, as time winded down in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans for the 2014 Sugar Bowl, it was unmistakable that Oklahoma's 45-31 win over Alabama was the biggest for the Sooners since the '01 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State

The upset was magnificent based on the points spread alone. Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan had Oklahoma listed as a 16-point underdog heading into the game, the biggest in Big 12 history for the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners had already been double-digit dogs twice this season, against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma got clocked by Baylor 41-12 in November and stunned the Cowboys in the Bedlam Game 33-24 last month. 

The win over the Cowboys pushed Stoops' team to 10 wins. That piqued the interest of the Sugar Bowl enough to extend an invite, much to the chagrin of anyone wanting Oregon to fill the at-large berth. Despite having athletes on both sides of the ball who can match up with any team, Oklahoma was given almost no chance to win. 

It was an understandable sentiment. Though Alabama had lost 34-28 to Auburn on the now-famous "Kick-Six" in an Iron Bowl for the ages, the Tide were still considered an elite team that lost on a special teams play that almost never pans out. 

Oklahoma, meanwhile, had been housed twice in the regular season (the other loss was to Texas, 36-20).

A major source of disgruntlement behind those losses centered around co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who incidentally enough was the starting quarterback when Oklahoma won its 2001 BCS National Championship. 

Replacing former quarterback Landry Jones with a combination of Trevor Knight and Blake Bell meant growing pains in 2013 for the Sooners offense, which had been one of the best in college football over the past several seasons. Oklahoma struggled to score consistently and oftentimes lacked an identity.

It wasn't until Knight returned from a knee injury in November that Oklahoma's offense began to find itself. Against Alabama, Knight played possessed and nothing like the one-dimensional quarterback that began the season. The redshirt freshman threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, dropping dimes to receivers down the field and throwing darts in the intermediate passing game. 

“He showed everybody what we've been seeing for a couple of years,” said Stoops of Knight via The Oklahoman. “He has a chance to be really special.”

Knight should go into the offseason as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job for next season. 

For as much criticism as Heupel has received, and much of it was deserved, he also merits praise for developing Knight as a passer and putting together a brilliant game plan against the Tide. Oklahoma called timely screen passes, conducted drives with tempo and attacked the perimeter of the field, all with success. 

So much is made of Saban having a month to prepare for an opponent and the success he has as a result. Well, how about Stoops?

In that vein, this should go down as one of Stoops' best coaching jobs at Oklahoma. Between inconsistent, revolving quarterback play and injuries to key defensive players like linebacker Corey Nelson, getting 11 wins for the ninth time is impressive. 

What's more is that, as ESPN's Ivan Maisel noted last month, Stoops joins former Penn State coach Joe Paterno as the only coach to win every major bowl (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar—and even the Cotton.) 

With great fanfare 19 years ago, Joe Paterno of Penn State became the first coach to win every major bowl (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and, for you oldsters, the Cotton). With a lot less fanfare, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma has a chance to match Paterno if the No. 11 Sooners can figure out a way to knock off No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops is 0-1 in the Sugar; Oklahoma lost to LSU a decade ago in the BCS Championship Game.

Mark that down as one of the quietest accomplishments of the past year, along with Stoops' 3-0 record against Alabama. As Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News notes, Stoops' first two wins against the Tide featured a pair of fake punts that earned Stoops his "Big Game Bob" nickname. 

It's only appropriate, then, that Stoops' third victory reminds us all that he can still win the big game. "Big Game Bob" is, at least for one night, a joke no longer.

 

Ben Kercheval is the Bleacher Report Lead Writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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Sugar Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Oklahoma vs. Alabama

In perhaps the biggest shock of the bowl season to date, Oklahoma blitzed two-time defending national champion Alabama en route to a 45-31 win in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Oklahoma unleashed freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for a career-high 348 yards and four touchdowns.

Nick Saban’s club had three first-half turnovers that led directly to 21 points for the Sooners and effectively put the Tide in a hole they would be unable to climb out of.

What are the main takeaways for Tide and Sooners fans from the 2014 Sugar Bowl?

Begin Slideshow

Meet Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight, the Hero of the 2014 Sugar Bowl

Heading into the Sugar Bowl against mighty Alabama, a game Oklahoma was supposed to lose by more than two touchdowns, head coach Bob Stoops held his cards close to his chest.

All the way up until kickoff, he refused to reveal who would start at quarterback. He deflected reporters' questions with empty truisms like "that will be a game-time decision," per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman.

Based on the final score—Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31—it appears as though Stoops made the right choice.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight completed 32-of-42 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, guiding the Sooners to the improbable upset over the heavily favored Crimson Tide. 

Even the most quixotic, delusional Sooners fan didn't see this coming. He or she might have given Oklahoma a shot at beating Alabama, but if it did, the defense would be the main reason why. Few could have expected to leave Thursday's game with an answer to the season-long questions at quarterback, a guy who looks likes like the bona fide future at the position.

And none could have guessed it would be Knight.

Blake Bell, after all, was the one who had gotten Oklahoma here. Knight's competition and co-starter led the heroic comeback at Oklahoma State after Knight left the game with a shoulder injury. Bell had played more snaps on the season; he had both the hotter and the healthier hand.

But Stoops trusted his guns and handed the ball to Knight, who won the job out of fall camp and always seemed to have the higher ceiling. At certain times this season, he had the offense functioning at a very high level, as it was at Kansas State in November.

At other times, like the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, the redshirt freshman could barely walk and chew gum against the dregs of the Sun Belt Conference:

But on Thursday in New Orleans, Knight was an entirely different player, someone even the Kansas State version of himself wouldn't recognize. He was a player you could rightfully compare to Teddy Bridgewater, who shredded a powerful SEC defense in this same game last season, and even Johnny Manziel, who's been kryptonite to Alabama on more than one occasion.

That second comparison is particularly intriguing, especially given the unwitting way their fates have crossed. Before getting blown out by Texas A&M in last year's Cotton Bowl, Knight was tasked with impersonating the Heisman Trophy winner during pregame practice.

According to CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman, he was "virtually untouchable" in the role:

After beating out Bell for the starting job, that's the player OU fans expected to see. Maybe not Manziel, but at least Manziel-lite. Someone who could do some of the same things, provide the same spark. Definitely not the guy who got benched after only two games.

On Thursday evening, however, OU fans were finally treated to the player they'd been promised. Leading by seven points, Knight threw what became the game-winning touchdown in classic Manziel fashion.

Extending a play to his right, Knight went against what quarterbacks are taught and heaved a pass across his body, from the sideline toward the middle of the end zone. Watching on TV, it was impossible to tell what he was thinking...until the ball fluttered into Sterling Shepard's waiting hands.

It was the signature play of a truly signature performance:

Alabama entered the Sugar Bowl allowing only 166.3 passing yards per game, trailing just Florida State and Michigan State among BCS-conference teams. Its secondary was considered a relative weak spot, but Alabama doesn’t have true weak spots. It only has spots that are less strong.

Knight carved up pretty tight coverage for most of the game, hitting vertical receivers in stride on plays where anything less wouldn’t have done. In roughly four hours of real time, Oklahoma went from not knowing its quarterback to looking at a potential Heisman contender.

Still, it's hard to say what the future might hold for the Sugar Bowl MVP. The ceiling of Knight's potential has undoubtedly been raised, though it remains to be see how long he can maintain such dazzling play. There's a chance he comes back next season and makes this standard the norm. There's also a chance that he doesn't.

None of that matters at the moment. Right now, Knight is officially the quarterback of the future, and he's the man who led one of the greatest wins in program history.

When you suit up in Norman, Okla., that alone is one giant feat.

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