NCAA Football News

Music City Bowl 2013 Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech: Live Score and Highlights

Ole Miss 7, Georgia Tech 7—Late 1st Quarter

The 7-5 Ole Miss Rebels and 7-5 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are meeting in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

ESPN is carrying the game, and Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

University of Phoenix Stadium will play host to Baylor and UCF on New Year's Day in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and each team will be making its first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl game.

Baylor (No. 6) and UCF (No. 15) boast strong offensive attacks that have helped them take down top teams during the 2013 season. Baylor defeated Oklahoma and Texas, while UCF was successful in winning against Penn State and Louisville.

UCF enters play having not lost since Sept. 28 against the South Carolina Gamecocks. In their only loss of the season, the Knights scored just 25 points and were stifled late by the South Carolina defense.

Oklahoma State handed Baylor its lone loss on the season. It was a 49-17 thrashing on Nov. 23, and it resulted in a critical drop in the BCS rankings for the Bears. Had they not lost to Oklahoma State, the Bears might have been playing in the BCS title game.

You're not going to want to miss this. These teams boast talented NFL prospects and that will make the game that much more interesting. Here is the information that is crucial to your viewing experience, including betting lines and keys to the game that will help keep you as informed as possible leading up to the action.

 

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines: (via Covers)

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Baylor (-16.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

Can the UCF Defense Slow Down Baylor's No. 1 Offense?

Baylor has so many offensive weapons that it will be extremely difficult for UCF to limit them. Quarterback Bryce Petty has so much talent surrounding him that he can be off his game and still succeed against the Knights' No. 12-ranked defense.

ESPN.com's David M. Hale doesn't think that we should be underestimating that defense, though:

They may be largely anonymous on a national stage, but the Knights have been solid defensively all season. UCF ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 20 points per game, despite having just two seniors on its two-deep. It's an athletic group that plays sound fundamentally, and if the rest of the world is overlooking the unit, Baylor isn't.

Baylor's Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese combined for more 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in the receiving game this season. Goodley posted more than 30 more receptions, but Reese was a big-play candidate every time he stretched the defense. He'll be the key to the vertical passing game.

If UCF's secondary is able to give Petty different looks, then Petty will be forced to go through his progressions and hit the open receivers. When UCF couples that with creative blitz packages, Petty will find himself under pressure early and often.

That's when he'll have to turn to Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood. The two running backs totaled more than 1,900 yards on the ground this season, and they found the end zone 19 times. They'll be important to keeping the chains moving, but also in keeping the defense in check.

The play-action pass will be crucial to defeating the UCF defense. If Petty can get that working for his offense, then Baylor should be able to put up 40-plus points.

 

Prediction

"We're not just scrubby little Baylor anymore," Petty told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel.

After defeating Texas in the Big 12 title game, Baylor made a name for itself as a top BCS team looking to win its first-ever BCS bowl game. UCF is in the same boat, but Baylor is the far superior team.

Not to discredit the Knights in any way—they've had a spectacular season—but Baylor is too strong offensively to lose against UCF.

Both Petty and UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will use this as an audition for the NFL draft in May, as each signal-caller ranks in that second tier of quarterbacks behind Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr. With each looking to raise his draft stock, we should be in for some solid football.

I predict Baylor will win, but not because of UCF mistakes. This will simply come down to which offense puts up the most points. With that being the case, it's hard to pick against the No. 1 offense in college football.

 

Final Score: Baylor 42, UCF 30

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Nebraska Football Recruiting: 5 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

Nebraska football fans will get an early glimpse of key recruits in the coming week.

From the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 to the Marine Corps-sponsored Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 5, the future of Nebraska football will be on display.

Some of those playing have not yet committed to Nebraska. However, a couple already have.

Regardless, it will be fun to watch the best of the best in high school football put on a show. It will be even better having a chance to see future Huskers be part of it.

For Nebraska fans, these are the five prospects worth watching in the upcoming high school all-star games.

 

Note: All stats and information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Facing the Nation's Leading Rusher a Measuring Stick for Arizona Defense

Among the most important pieces of Rich Rodriguez’s rebuilding blueprint for Arizona was luring defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia. Tuesday in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Casteel’s unit faces the unique challenge of containing the nation’s leading rusher, Boston College running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams.

Williams is college football’s first 2,000-plus-yard ball-carrier since 2008. He reached that most elusive of benchmarks with a hard grinding style, fighting through tacklers and keeping his legs turning for extra yards.

The contrast of Williams’ hard-running style and Arizona’s speed-predicated defense promises to dictate the direction of Tuesday’s bowl clash.

Casteel’s absence from Rodriguez’s staff at Michigan was conspicuous when, in 2010, the Wolverines were among the worst BCS conference scoring defenses.

But their reunion didn’t exactly usher in a return to the glory days when West Virginia was a winner of 58 games and two Big East Conference championships in six seasons. Injuries and transfer, coupled with the schematic changes the 3-3-5 stack meant, made 2012 a trying year for the Wildcats defense.

With players shifting positions, like Marquis Flowers moving from safety to linebacker, Arizona was the nation’s No. 104 scoring defense.

Desert Swarm it was not. But a second year under Casteel’s guidance has seen vast improvements in all phases of the defense, shaving nearly two touchdowns off its per-game yield.

“Experience in the system helped, but we’re able to rotate more guys into the lineup,” Rodriguez said on his teleconference call following the Oregon win, which was Casteel’s masterpiece.

Arizona is still far removed from the defenses of the 1990s, but Casteel’s system has found a new kind of swarm: Utilizing the speed on which the 3-3-5 formation is founded to swarm to ball-carriers. More depth has bolstered that effort, as the Wildcats successfully did against Oregon. They must replicate the effort against Williams and Boston College.

Ka'Deem Carey garnered the majority of headlines following the Wildcats’ 42-16 rout of Oregon on Nov. 23—and deservedly so. But Arizona became just the third defense since the 2010 season to hold the Ducks below 20 points, and the last to do so was the vaunted Stanford defense in 2012.

Arizona succeeded against Oregon in part because of its ability to contain the rush. The Ducks managed 198 yards on the ground, 85 below their season average.

The injury running back Byron Marshall suffered early on certainly didn’t hurt Arizona’s defensive effort, and that has bearing on Tuesday’s contest. Williams is coming off a shoulder injury that limited him in the Eagles’ regular-season finale at Syracuse.

Williams’ health and ability to establish himself early are paramount for the Eagles offense, because Arizona wants to put the game on quarterback Chase Rettig.

The senior and four-year starter has played admirably, enduring multiple staffing changes during his tenure at Boston College. Ryan Day is his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years. His experience has helped Rettig limit mistakes, as the six interceptions he’s thrown this season are his fewest in any one season.

With linebackers Flowers and Jake Fischer working to limit Williams, Sione Tuihalamaka and Reggie Gilbert must generate pressure up front to take Rettig out of his comfort zone.

The Wildcats are at their best forcing passes into coverage. Arizona is among the top defenses in the Pac-12, and No. 23 nationally in interceptions with 16. Cornerback Shaq Richardson could draw the assignment on Boston College’s top wide receiver, Alex Amidon.

Richardson’s responsibility is keeping Amidon from getting deeper than the safeties, which includes Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Arizona’s top turnover-creator in the secondary.

But the starting point for everything Arizona needs on defense is limiting Williams. Containing the nation’s top rusher would mark a major milestone in the long-term vision Rodriguez has for Arizona, and serve as a reminder of why adding Casteel to his staff was such a priority.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Ohio State Will Have Its Hands Full vs. Clemson with or Without Noah Spence

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.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Spence, the Buckeyes' leading sack and tackle-for-loss player, did not make the team flight to Miami, as he dealt with personal issues. Jamal Marcus, a sophomore who has seen quality playing time behind Spence, will likely fill in should Spence not make it to Florida to participate in the Orange Bowl.

Marcus, according to 247 Sports, was a 4-star recruit when he came out of Hillside High School in Durham, NC. The backup Leo, a hybrid linebacker-defensive end player, is long on talent and should be sound in Spence's stead.

However, with Spence or with Marcus, the Buckeyes have to improve upon something that has been a bugaboo for the team all season long: defending the short and intermediate zones in pass coverage. Stopping Clemson takes a combination of disrupting timing through press coverage on the wide receivers and pattern matching to discourage quarterback Tajh Boyd from making the quick, easy throw.

Neither of those aspects have been a strong suit for the Buckeyes defense in 2013.

Getting pressure on Boyd is key; in the two losses this season, the Tigers have surrendered nine sacks. However, all sacks are not created equal, and in sacking Boyd, both Florida State and South Carolina did more than simply "bring pressure" to give the quarterback trouble.

Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator, has built this offense to eat up pressure. It has quick reads and hot routes, and it's predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. Bringing pressure creates quick reads, and Boyd is trained to hit those voids to exploit teams that try to use the blitz to beat Clemson.

To be successful, teams have to make Boyd hold on to the ball longer than he wants to in passing situations. As you can see here, with the Timmy Jernigan sack, Boyd gets set up but has nothing down the field. That allows the Seminoles' pressure to get to the quarterback and get the sack.

Spence would certainly be an addition to the second part of the equation. Yet, the first part, tight coverage to make Boyd hold on to the ball, has to happen before Spence, Marcus or the rest of the Buckeyes' front can go make plays.

That means guys like Bradley Roby, who is still battling a knee injury as Fox Sports reported, have to perform better than they have most of the season. As Your Best 11 pointed out before the Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes have issues relating to routes. The team gets to its drops, but they don't match patterns or deny throws and against Clemson, that has to be the prime directive.

The Buckeyes' top pass-rusher has been less of a factor in pass coverage when asked to move away from the line in 2013. Because he is not a press man corner, a safety who can deny the slant or a linebacker who walls off the interior well, his potential absence is notable but not a death knell.

The eyes of the nation will be on the Buckeyes and with, or without Noah Spence, the pass coverage has to show up in a big way for Urban Meyer's team to get win No. 13. 

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BYU Football: Should Bronco Mendenhall Be on the Hot Seat?

“Our goal is to win a national championship."

These words have been spoken by Bronco Mendenhall countless times, ever since BYU dived into FBS independence. It is a worthy goal for all football programs—to be the best team in the country.

But is a national championship truly possible with Mendenhall at the helm?

I may not be one to judge, but the obvious answer is no.

To get to the national championship, not to mention winning it, the Cougars would almost certainly need to be undefeated and ranked higher than a Group of Five (Mountain West, C-USA, etc.) champion. From there, the selection committee would need to pick BYU.

The committee takes a good look at quality wins, strength of schedule and rankings. It would be necessary for the Cougs to have a strong schedule and essentially run the table, which is unlikely.

Bronco has a high winning percentage at BYU, but the closest he's gotten to undefeated is 11-2 (three times). That trio of two-loss seasons includes great wins, with triumphs over six ranked teams, but were haunted by bad losses.

Mendenhall's squads lost to Florida State, UCLA and Arizona, all of whom ended the regular season at 6-6.

It's been the same story since 2005; BYU wins most of the games it is expected to win and loses most of the ones in which it is the underdog. Mendenhall is 5-12 against ranked opponents, and although he has a few solid upsets on his resume, that kind of record is far from elite.

Not to mention the bad losses in which BYU was favored. In the last two years, the Cougars lost very winnable games against Utah, Virginia and San Jose State.

It is easy to blame factors other than the coaching for mistakes, but the final scores don't always tell the story.

Hideous play-calling, amateur clock management and poor preparation have been the story of back-to-back five-loss seasons. When you are trying to go on a "Quest for Perfection," maybe you should spend more time prepping for the week's game than the fireside.

BYU showed plenty of improvement from the Virginia game to the bowl, but some of the same mistakes still existed from week one. Notably on offense, there is a long way to go for Robert Anae and his staff.

I understand that there are plenty of people out there that love Bronco. He seems like a great guy, and at BYU, it is important to have that type of head coach. But on the field, he isn't someone that will get BYU to a national championship, much less win one.

I'm not a disgruntled spectator looking for a scapegoat. Mendenhall has given new life to this Cougar program, but the steam from the John Beck and Max Hall days is quickly fading.

Look at it this way—in any occupation, if you set a goal for yourself and the program, only to fall well short of it for nine years, will you keep your job?

Here’s a wake-up call to all Cougar fans. Put down the blue Kool-Aid and realize that Bronco will never take BYU to an elite level. That is the main goal of independence, but with this coaching staff, it isn’t going to happen.

In the words of Geoffrey Chaucer, "All good things must come to an end."

Amen, Geoffrey. Let’s stop settling for good, and move on to great.

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Outback Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For both the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes, winning seasons culminated in a noteworthy bowl game to finish out the year—or start the new one. With both teams finishing 5-3 in their respective conferences, it is a matchup of two of the top-tier teams in the SEC and Big Ten this season.

LSU had another good year and finished out the regular season at 9-3 and ranked 16th in the country. Hiccups against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama all led to the Tigers falling out of contention in the conference, but five wins in the SEC is still a huge feat for any team.

As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes won eight games, thanks to a three-game winning streak to close out the season. Their struggles against top competition, however, has spoiled an otherwise great season and has the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl rather than a higher bowl game.

While they may not share much in common, the two teams do share a common bond of loving food, as they took care of a huge feast at Outback while getting prepped for the game, according to Jared Aarons of KGAN/KFXA TV.

With the game fast approaching, here's a look at the 2014 Outback Bowl and a final prediction for the game played on New Year's Day.

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. EST

Where: Raymond James Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: LSU -8 (Vegas Insider)

 

Top Storyline

Which Team Has the Better Defense?

Neither Iowa nor LSU has an explosive offense, and the Tigers are even more shorthanded without Zach Mettenberger, who ended his career with a knee injury. For both teams, however, the defense has been the catalyst for their success throughout the season, which could lead to a low-scoring affair.

For LSU, this year was seen as somewhat of a setback from prior seasons in which the team dominated the SEC. After holding opponents to 21 points or fewer in six games this season, though, the Tigers are still one of the best defenses in the country.

One of the Tigers' most notable defensive performances came against Auburn. In its fourth game of the season, LSU handed Auburn its only defeat of the season, with a 35-21 win against the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. The eventual No. 2 team headed to the BCS National Championship Game.

The Tigers have a defense that doesn't boast many great individual players, but the team has still had success this season. Guys such as Lamin Barrow (86 tackles) and Anthony Johnson (7.0 TFL, three sacks) have been huge for LSU this season, but their modest numbers certainly don't strike fear into opponents.

With a huge question mark on the offensive side of the ball after the loss of Mettenberger, LSU's defense will need to step up if it plans on defeating Iowa and finishing the season with 10 wins.

On the Iowa side, Anthony Hitchens has been the best player on the field.

The Hawkeyes' durable linebacker has tallied 102 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception on the season.

Hitchens is one of many defensive playmakers for an Iowa team that has the likes of another guy named James Morris (98 tackles, 14.5 TFL, five sacks, four interceptions) roaming the field beside him.

The Hawkeyes have allowed just 303.2 total yards of offense per game and rank 11th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering just 18.8 points per game. Unfortunately, they haven't fared as well in their losses.

In the four games Iowa has lost this season, the Hawkeyes have allowed 29.5 points per game. Two of those losses came against Top 25 opponents, Northern Illinois and a Michigan State team that, while it wasn't ranked in the Top 25 at the time they played, earned a Rose Bowl berth after claiming the Big Ten title.

If the Hawkeyes expect to pull out their first win over a Top 25 opponent this season in the Outback Bowl, they will need the defense to reverse its woes against top competition. With no Mettenberger on the field, however, stopping Jeremy Hill (1,185 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) could pay huge dividends.

 

Prediction

While oddsmakers see the Tigers still claiming a win in the Outback Bowl, the loss of Mettenberger is one that could be a game-changer. Coach Les Miles spoke to The Sports Network about his former quarterback:

We are very disappointed for Zach. He's been a tremendous leader for our team and he's as competitive a guy as I have ever been around. He's had a great impact on our program.

The loss of Mettenberger forces the Tigers to turn to freshman Anthony Jennings, who has thrown 10 passes in his collegiate career.

With one of the Tigers' best receivers Odell Beckham (57 receptions, 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns) listed as questionable for the game, his status could also be huge for LSU's success with a freshman signal-caller.

Hill could certainly carry the Tigers on his back to a win. Against an Iowa defense, though, that will be loading the box with rush defense as the top priority, and expecting Hill to be its only offense could doom LSU.

Instead of LSU running up the score like it could have done with Mettenberger behind center, expect quarterback Jake Rudock (2,281 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) to do just enough to lead his team past the Tigers in the Outback Bowl.

Prediction: Hawkeyes 23, Tigers 17

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Florida State Recruiting: 7 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

The future of Florida State may be on your TV screen in the coming week, as potential Seminoles take part in nationwide high school All-American games, the biggest two being the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4. 

It's a mix of committed 'Noles and players who are being heavily recruited to be 'Noles, and they'll all be together on the same field trying to show the nation why they're the best of the best in high school football. 

Here are the top seven players to keep an eye on as the week goes by.

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Rice's Offensive Line Practiced Amazingly Hilarious TD Celebrations Just in Case

Presumably taking advice from Scar and his minions of hyenas, the big men on the Rice Owls offensive line are remaining prepared just in case one of them flies across the end zone with the football in their hands.

Deadspin's Tom Ley spotted the one video that will have you hoping beyond hope that things go awry just enough to have one particular offensive lineman scoring in Tuesday's Liberty Bowl featuring Rice and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

If that's the case, we might see an epic fishing-photo opportunity, a leapfrog chain or (dare we hope?) a photo booth. 

Senior center Nate Richards walks the Internet through the various celebrations Rice offensive linemen practiced throughout the year. 

Richards first asks us to imagine a world where the big guys on the field score with regularity and are actually allowed to drop some absurd celebrations right after. That is our kind of bizarro world. 

Now when the offense is done with their serious work for the day, the task at hand is frivolity: "We always run a play called 'Rugby,' and it's kind of a desperation play; you hope you never have to run it in a game." 

Or do you?

The only thing—and we really mean only thing—wrong with fat guy touchdowns is the manic manner they get the rock into the end zone. 

These guys have trained their entire lives to protect the quarterback and move the line forward, rarely imagining what life is like with all the glory in their own hands. 

Instead of loafing into the end zone, huffing and puffing with incredulity, we could use a little bit of creativity with the rest of the chubbier contingent on the field. 

Richards scoring, while extremely unlikely, would make for a highlight to end all highlights in this bowl season. 

Of course, the Liberty Bowl will come and go without the "Photo Booth," but that doesn't mean we haven't already set the DVR to record—because we learned from these young guys that it's always best to be prepared. 

 

Hit me up on Twitter: 

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Capital One Bowl: Why South Carolina vs. Wisconson Is Can't Miss-Game

The Capital One Bowl, as it's been known since 2003, is a climactic end-of-season matchup featuring upper-tier teams from the SEC and Big Ten conferences. This year, it will play host to the SEC East's second-place South Carolina Gamecocks and the Big Ten's second-place Wisconsin Badgers. 

The Gamecocks entered the 2013 college football season with high hopes. Returning major contributors on offense and defense, including quarterback Connor Shaw and projected top-five pick in the 2014 NFL draft defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina was as good a pick as any team to win the conference. 

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, two early losses all but eliminated them from BCS contention. Five straight impressive victories over the likes of Missouri and Clemson, however, spurred South Carolina to a regular season top-10 finish in the BCS standings.

As has seemed to become a trend for Wisconsin, the Badgers missed out on BCS contention by losing three games in heartbreaking fashion—falling by seven points or fewer in all three defeats.

 

What each team must do to win

South Carolina

South Carolina, a 1.5-point favorite (according to FoxSports.com), must be able to establish a solid threat in the running game against the sixth-ranked Badger defense that's allowing just 294 yards per game.

But most defenses have not handled well the two-headed monster of Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis.

Davis does well to establish the running game early. The threat of him running the ball, along with Shaw's scrambling, opens up opportunities for big plays in the passing game. These assets partly explain why Shaw has thrown just one interception in 259 attempts. 

Shaw's 511 rushing yards are good enough to rank him in the top 20 among quarterbacks in the NCAA. 

The Gamecocks are in very good position to win. All they need to do is execute.

 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin needs to do what every South Carolina opponent has done this season: avoid Jadeveon Clowney. The 6'6" 274-pound beast patrols either end and must always be accounted for by the offense.

It was this play in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day 2013 that made Clowney a household name.

In 2013, however, his production declined because of teams game-planning solely to avoid him. Clowney aside, South Carolina has a very opportunistic defense. The Gamecocks are plus-11 in turnover margin on the season.

Defensively, Wisconsin is no patsy. The Badgers demolished an Indiana team (51-3) that was averaging 508 yards per game. South Carolina's offense, however, is equally skilled and more versatile.

Wisconsin must make use of every possession and not turn the ball over to have a chance to win.

 

Prediction

South Carolina 28 Wisconsin 24

In the end, Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave won't be able to handle the relentless pressure of South Carolina's front four. The Gamecocks will control the clock and utilize a healthy mix of run and pass to demoralize the Badger defense.

An early double-digit South Carolina lead will give way to a late run by the Badgers, but the Gamecocks will hold on to win. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Expect a Big Show from Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel vs. Duke

If New Year's Eve is Johnny Manziel's swan song in college football, he's going to need to go out with a bang.

The Aggies will take on Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Tuesday night in Atlanta, with the possibility of Manziel—a redshirt sophomore—declaring for the NFL draft shortly after the game.

Despite the uncertainty about his future, Manziel hasn't had much time to think about the decision to jump to the NFL.

"Nowhere even close, just where I was back in New York, back in Orlando," he said, according to quotes released by the Chick-fil-A Bowl. "I haven't had any more time with the Bowl practice we had at College Station. Didn't get a chance to really do much."

Don't tell NFL.com's Gil Brandt that, because he reported on Monday that the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be the last college game for Manziel and Aggie wide receiver Mike Evans:

No surprise but Manziel and Evans will be playing final college games tomorrow, multiple sources tell me. #TAMUvsDUKE

— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 30, 2013

Let's be real, Manziel is as good as gone—and he has been for quite some time.

As was the case during the season, he's going to have to do "Johnny Football things" to go out a winner.

Texas A&M's defense is a major liability, and it became an even bigger one during bowl prep when linebacker and co-leading tackler Darian Claiborne was suspended following an arrest on two drug possession charges, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).

Not good news considering the Aggies posted the SEC's worst defense at 460.3 yards per game—33.1 yards per game more than 13th-place Kentucky.

Manziel puts up video game numbers because he has to, and he'll have to against the Blue Devils.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has long been considered an offensive genius and has led the program to previously unattainable heights. A 10-win program for the first time in history, Duke averaged 408.1 yards per game and features a balanced, up-tempo offense that puts stress on opposing defenses.

The combination of this likely being Manziel's last game with Texas A&M and the Aggies' inability to slow anyone down will create quite a show on New Year's Eve under the big top at the Georgia Dome.

The Blue Devils are giving up 233.2 yards per game through the air and an ACC-worst 47 pass plays of 20 or more yards. That sound like a recipe for success for Manziel and Evans as they close the curtain on their respective careers.

It will be point-a-minute football in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and Manziel will be leading the charge. He's made a habit of playing big in big games, and that shouldn't change on what's likely the final stage of his college career.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Should Braxton Miller Return to the Buckeyes?

Braxton Miller has a tough decision ahead of him. Should the Buckeyes quarterback declare for the NFL draft or return to Ohio State for his senior year?

Miller was a Heisman favorite going into this season, but an injury ended that run. He came back strong from the injury but faltered in the closing weeks of the season. Should he make the jump early and look to develop in the NFL?

Watch Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate whether Miller should make the jump to the NFL.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama QB AJ McCarron Photobombs 2 Unsuspecting Young Girls

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron pulled off an excellent photobomb on two unsuspecting girls on Sunday night.

Even McCarron was impressed with his performance:

@sophizzle_14 haha the best one I've ever done!!

— AJ McCarron (@10AJMcCarron) December 30, 2013

Thanks to Matt Lombardi of College Spun for the find. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Bold Predictions for 2014 Under Armour All-America Game

Mixed in among all of the college football bowl hype, the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game will take place on Thursday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Most of the nation’s top recruits will be in action during this game. More importantly, several of those recruits will be making a commitment during the game.

A lot is expected to happen, but why wait until Thursday to think about it?

Join B/R as we take a stab at making 10 bold predictions for this year’s edition of the game.

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Gator Bowl 2014: Nebraska's Defense Has Much to Prove vs. Georgia

It's not often that a team gets a do-over in college football, but after last year's 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, Nebraska gets that rare chance as it's set to take on the Bulldogs in this year's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. 

There may be no group more anxious for this rematch than the Huskers defense, a unit that gave up over 500 yards of total offense and over 400 passing yards to the Bulldogs in last year's contest.  

What will be different this year is the fact that Georgia will be looking to do more in the ground game, especially with star quarterback Aaron Murray out with a torn ACL. 

It means a rush defense that gives up an average of 161.2 yards a game (eighth in the Big Ten) will be challenged by one of the best running backs in the country, Todd Gurley. 

Gurley, who missed three games this season with an injury, averages 6.3 yards a carry and finished the regular season with 903 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games.

The sophomore was off to a huge start to the year before his injury, rushing for 450 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games of the season. 

In the finale against Georgia Tech, Gurley had the most attempts since a Week 2 matchup against South Carolina, rushing 20 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns in the overtime win. 

Nebraska's run defense has struggled with good rushing attacks all season long and ended the season giving up big games to some of the Big Ten's better running backs and running teams. 

Michigan State's Jeremy Langford went for 152 yards and three touchdowns, Penn State's Zach Zwinak went for 149 yards and Iowa racked up 156 yards as a team in the regular-season finale, with Mark Weisman scoring twice on the ground. 

Youth up front has been part of the problem against the run, but it appears as if some defenders have finally had the lightbulb go off and are ready to see more playing time moving forward. 

One player that could help make a big difference is freshman defensive tackle Maliek Collins. According to Brian Christopherson and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star, Collins has been seeing time with the No. 1 defensive unit leading up to the Gator Bowl.

Adding Collins to the mix gives Bo Pelini more flexibility at the defensive tackle position and the coach sees that group as almost interchangeable at this point.

Between Maliek and (Aaron) Curry and Thad … and obviously Vincent (Valentine), I think those guys have gotten better, and they’re going to make each other better. They’ve done that and they continue to work hard. I like that group.

That group needs to step up and be stout against the run for the Huskers to have a chance against Georgia's run game, which is averaging 176.1 yards per game. 

Nebraska also can't sleep on the pass game, even with Murray out. His replacement, Hutson Mason, proved he's capable of winning games too. 

Mason threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a 41-34 OT victory over rival Georgia Tech to end the regular season. 

The good news is the Huskers' pass defense has been a strength all season long, ranking fourth in the Big Ten (205.8 yards per game) and giving up just 16 touchdowns through the air. 

Adding more depth up front can only help the secondary that features two All-Big Ten performers in Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.  

It also appears that Nebraska will have a full complement of healthy players, another issue that has hurt both sides of the ball for the Huskers. 

Between health, young players stepping up and their memory of last season's bowl game loss to Georgia, there should be more than enough motivation for the Huskers defense. 

Now it's time for this group to put it all together. Without an improvement defensively, Nebraska's chances of revenge against Georgia are pretty slim. 

 

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

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Alamo Bowl: 3 Keys for Texas to Send Mack Brown Off a Winner

Texas coach Mack Brown doesn't view Monday night's Alamo Bowl against Oregon as a goodbye party, but that will undoubtedly be the overriding theme. 

Now that longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has announced his retirement following the game, both teams will want to send their coach out a winner. 

“We love Coach Brown," said 'Horns safety Adrian Phillips to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We are just going to fight with Coach Brown every straw against Oregon and come out right."

The Ducks are still a heavy favorite to beat the Longhorns. VegasInsider.com has Oregon as a 14.5-point favorite. If Texas wants to make Brown's last game memorable for all the right reasons, here are three things it must do:

 

Contain a Finally Healthy Marcus Mariota

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was visibly limited in the second half of the season with a left knee injury. He should be ready to go against Texas, which means the Longhorns have to be prepared to defend both the pass and the run against him. 

There's no magic number Texas can hold Mariota under to slow down the Ducks offense; Oregon has won when Mariota is a non-factor running the ball and when he's thrown multiple interceptions. Rather, the key will be getting Oregon off the field on third and fourth downs and forcing multiple turnovers. Those were two common themes in the Ducks' losses to Stanford and Arizona. 

That sounds simple, but it's really not. Oregon ranks among the top teams in the country in fourth-down attempts (31), converting just under 50 percent. Texas' defense, meanwhile, has only lined up on fourth down 13 times this season. 

To contain Mariota and get Oregon off the field, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will have to live up to his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year billing. The Longhorns are fifth in the nation in sacks and tied for 22nd in tackles for loss. It's going to be hard to contain all of Oregon's weapons, but if Texas can contain Mariota, it's taking away nearly 60 percent of the Ducks offense. 

 

Malcolm Brown Must Have the Game of his Career

Texas' offense is at its best when the running game takes pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Yet the 'Horns will be thin at running back.

Johnathan Gray has been out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, which he sustained in a 47-40 win over West Virginia in November. Also, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet are academically ineligible. 

That leaves Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to carry the load. Brown has come on strong since the Oklahoma game, accounting for 711 of his 774 yards in his last seven games. Bergeron is a good short-yardage back, but he's had fumbling issues. That means Brown should see a bulk of the carries against the Ducks. 

Brown has battled health issues for most of his career, but he's shown over the past couple of months why he was such a heralded recruit coming out of Cibolo Steele high school—just outside San Antonio, of all places. 

In two losses to a pair of excellent rushing offenses, the Ducks have given up a combined 578 yards. Texas should look to exploit that again with Brown. 

“The 3‑4 [defense], we feel like we can do a great job of running the ball right at them,” Brown said of Oregon to the Dallas Morning News

 

Make Oregon Inefficient on Offense

When you can score as quickly as Oregon can, time of possession and playing from behind matter little. In fact, the Ducks have only led in TOP twice this season: against Colorado and Washington. 

But when combined with offensive inefficiency, suddenly TOP matters more. In two losses, the Ducks have run 176 plays—still roughly on par for their season average—while averaging just 18 points, a full 28 below their season average. 

Stanford flat-out stuffed Oregon in its 26-20 win, holding the Ducks to just over three yards per play. Arizona gave up double the yards per play but forced Oregon off the field on third down and allowed just one fourth-down conversion on three attempts. 

If Texas can play keep-away—hence the importance of the running game—while knocking Oregon off balance, it will have a realistic chance of winning. The Ducks will still run plenty of plays, but the less they can get out of each play, the better it is for the Longhorns. 

That's going to require not only great push up front by the Texas D-line, but the secondary will have to lock down receivers and make throwing the ball a nightmare for Mariota. 

“If you control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, you can beat these guys,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of Oregon, via the Dallas Morning News

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of the NCAA. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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BCS Championship 2014: Auburn's Biggest Concern vs. FSU Is Its Own Secondary

The final game of the BCS era will take place on Jan. 6, and it's dripping with intrigue. 

The hottest team in America will face off with the best, when No. 2 Auburn takes on No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

Auburn wasn't even ranked as late as the Oct. 13 USA Today Coaches Poll but came out of nowhere to win its final nine games—including the final two over Alabama and Missouri, both of which were ranked in the top five at the time.

The Tigers' success has been founded on a punishing and multi-dimensional running game that features Heisman finalist Tre Mason, quarterback Nick Marshall and speedster Corey Grant. Once Auburn got momentum going in that running game, the momentum snowballed and took some pressure off of its "bend but don't break" defense.

But was Auburn just hot down the stretch, or is it elite?

The answer to that question hinges on its secondary, which will have its hands full next Monday night with a talented and deep Seminole wide receiver corps that features Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense does, and for Auburn to have enough, cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy, safeties Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead and "star" defensive back Robenson Therezie better be on their game.

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

Benjamin presents the biggest issues. At 6'5", 234 pounds, he is a clone of Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham—who caught six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn.

Nobody in Auburn's secondary—or any secondary, for that matter—can match up with Benjamin. He turns 50-50 balls into 75-25 balls with his size and is the ultimate insurance policy when quarterback Jameis Winston gets pressured.

But while Benjamin is the most imposing figure outside for head coach Jimbo Fisher, Winston spreads the ball around to he, Shaw and Greene very well. Each member of the trio has more than 900 receiving yards.

As my colleague Michael Felder pointed out, blitzing Winston won't do the trick, because Auburn's back end needs help capitalizing on mistakes generated by pressure. In fact, as ESPN's David Hale notes, Winston has been elite against the blitz this season.

Jameis Winston vs. blitz this season: 70.6% comp, 20 TD, 3 INT, 12 sacks.

— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) December 30, 2013

Auburn will have to get pressure with four.

The good news for Auburn is, despite a big statistical day by Green-Beckham in the SEC Championship Game, Davis and Mincy actually played well against the NBA power forwards Missouri trots out at wide receiver.

Sure, there were a few blown assignments that led to big plays, but Mincy was in good position to high-point the football more times than not, and Davis' leaping ability and ability to break on the football played a critical role in the outcome of the game—including a fourth-down stop with Auburn up 10 with 4:27 to play.

That doesn't mean that it has to shut down Winston and his trio of receivers. That's not Auburn's M.O.

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

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

This group will have to come to play if the Tigers are going to have any hope of hoisting the crystal football for the second time in four years.

If not, it could be a long night in Pasadena.

 

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Armed Forces Bowl 2013 Middle Tennessee vs. Navy: Live Score and Highlights

Navy - 10

Middle Tennessee - 3

Early-Second Quarter 

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

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

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Best Individual Performances from Week 1 of Bowl Games

College football rolls into its second week of the bowl season on Monday, and over half of the games on the bowl slate will have been played by the end of the night on Dec. 30.

But while many fans are looking forward to the bigger matchups that await on New Year’s Day and beyond, we’d like to take a step back and admire the performances of some of the talented players from the earlier bowl games.

Some of these players were the MVPs of their respective game; some weren’t. Some of the players were on the winning end; others had to walk off the field in defeat. But the one thing that all the players had in common is that they provided some great memories for those in attendance and watching on television.

In the following slides, we’ll take a look at the best individual performances from the first week of bowl action.

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Clemson Football Recruiting: Five Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

Clemson, ranked No. 12, is in South Florida making final preparations for Jan. 3’s Orange Bowl showdown with No. 7 Ohio State, but that isn’t the only bowl game that Tiger fans should be paying attention to.

Elite recruits across the nation are taking part in high school all-star games, which serve as talent showcases and a final opportunity for players to show their skills in front of fans and college coaches recruiting them.

The best two games are the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-America Bowl. The Under Armour game is set for Jan. 2 and the Army game for Jan. 4. Players with Clemson recruiting ties are involved in both games. Here’s a look at the Clemson commitments and targets involved, and why you should pay attention.

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