NCAA Football News

Minnesota Football: Did Texas Bowl Loss Create QB Controversy for 2014?

Minnesota kicked off Big Ten bowl season but came up just short for the second straight year in the Texas Bowl, losing 21-17 to Syracuse. What appeared to be the biggest contributing factor was unsteady play at quarterback, as the season-long struggles in the passing game continued in Houston.

Neither sophomore Philip Nelson (2-of-7 for 18 yards) nor freshman Mitch Leidner (11-of-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns) could get anything going in the first three quarters of play.

Though Leidner found the hot hand in the fourth quarter when Minnesota stormed back from 14-3 down to take the lead, he could not handle the pressure late in the game to keep the Gophers ahead. Just like that, a job that seemed wrapped up by Nelson heading into 2013 has not been resolved after 13 games and could potentially be a massive question for the program in 2014.

But will this quarterback controversy linger for the next nine months? More importantly, will Minnesota have a chance to compete in the West Division next year if there is no clear leader on offense?

As for the quarterback derby, Minnesota fans will likely have to suffer through this continuing well into the 2014 season. Although coach Jerry Kill had to deal with numerous injuries the past three seasons, he has shown no hesitation to play younger quarterbacks and multiple quarterbacks.

Nelson shared time with Max Shortell (who has transferred) and MarQueis Gray (who graduated), so splitting time is nothing new for him. However, that has perhaps stunted his growth in working through the tough times and becoming a better quarterback as an upperclassman.

As a freshman, Nelson completed only 49 percent of his passes for 873 yards (eight touchdowns, eight interceptions). This season, Nelson improved slightly to 51 percent completions for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns to go with six interceptions. Nelson also rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns.

By comparison, in significantly limited play time, Leidner completed 55 percent of his passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception. In addition, Leidner contributed seven touchdowns rushing to go with 407 rushing yards.

The statistics are almost even, despite Nelson having significantly more playing time. Even the quarterback ratings are nearly identical, with Nelson sporting a 121.7 rating and Leidner achieving a 121.6 rating. Nelson has more experience, but that will not matter as Leidner has proven just as capable in a short time.

Of course, with Jerry Kill's penchant for playing young players, don't sleep on redshirt freshman Chris Streveler. This third-string quarterback is more of a prototypical dual-threat quarterback, which is what Kill has been trying to mold in place since leaving Northern Illinois for Minneapolis.

Bottom line: expect this quarterback controversy to burn throughout the offseason and well into the 2014 season. Until one of these players takes the job by the reins and improves Minnesota's woeful passing numbers (under 150 yards per game in 2013), this will be a huge problem for the Golden Gophers.

As to the question of whether Minnesota can compete in the 2014 West Division with this controversy, the answer may be revealed by the competition.

Like Minnesota, Nebraska (Taylor Martinez graduating), Illinois (Nathan Scheelhaase graduating), Purdue (nobody stepped up in 2013) and Northwestern (Kain Colter graduating) will be dealing with some holes at the quarterback slot. However, the likely favorites in the division, Wisconsin and Iowa, both have well-established starters coming back next year, one of the key advantages for those teams.

The Gophers have lived off the defense and running game, and both of those should continue to thrive no matter who is taking the snaps. The defense is set to lose only three starters, while star running back David Cobb will almost certainly return for his senior season to go with four returning offensive linemen.

Which means the biggest question for 2014 will be whether the anemic passing game can contribute more and help the Gophers win against the better competition.

Much like the Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook quarterback derby at Michigan State, this controversy could hold Minnesota back until it gets sorted out, no matter how good the defense and running game is. Hopefully Minnesota can find out who will be the Connor Cook for this team in 2014, preferably in the offseason.

Also like Michigan State, Minnesota will likely not take the next step to win a conference championship or a bowl game unless the quarterback controversy is solved. The blueprint is there for success, but Kill's staff just has to figure out the best option.

But even if the quarterback carousel keeps spinning in TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota is well-positioned to compete in the upper echelon of the West Division next year. Jerry Kill has turned around yet another program, which is good news for the strength of the conference going forward.

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Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you think Minnesota has a quarterback controversy and how that affects the 2014 chances in the comments below. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter as well for more commentary and updates during bowl season.

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Why Minnesota's Performance in Texas Bowl Should Have Big Ten Fans Worried

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be happy to never see the Texas Bowl again, after suffering a bad case of deja vu in a 20-17 loss to Syracuse in the 2013 version of the game. 

It also gave many in Big Ten country a bad case of deja vu for the bowl season.

That's because last year the Gophers blew a late lead to Texas Tech in the 2012 version of the Texas Bowl and it set the tone for what turned out to be a 2-5 bowl season for the conference. 

The Gophers struggled mightily to get anything going for the better part of three quarters on Friday, trailing 14-3 entering the final quarter. 

It got so bad that it led ESPN's Mark Schlabach to say this about Minnesota's offensive ineptitude: 

Starting quarterback Philip Nelson was so ineffective that he played the first series of each half and never saw the field again. 

He finished the day going 2-of-7 for all of 18 yards passing, while adding 14 more yards on two carries on the ground. 

Those aren't exactly confidence-inspiring numbers. However, his replacement Mitch Leidner found a way to spark Minnesota late in this contest. 

Leidner would relieve Nelson for good following the opening series of the third quarter and never look back. 

He even helped break a 13-quarter scoreless streak with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams five seconds into the fourth quarter, making it 14-9. 

It appeared as if the floodgates would open for the Gophers offense from there, as Leidner led the Gophers to another touchdown on the next possession.

He connected on a 55-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky to take their first lead at 17-14. 

Leidner finished the game going 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns, adding 24 yards on the ground.

The Gophers were about to win more than eight games on the season for just the ninth time in school history and the Big Ten was going to get things off on the right foot for a change—except someone forget to give that memo to Syracuse's Brisly Estime. 

With just 2:03 left to play Minnesota punter Peter Mortell unleashed a 57-yard punt, only to see Estime return it 70 yards and have Mortell save a sure touchdown with a tackle at the Gophers' 14-yard line. 

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt would put it in from 12 yards out with just 1:14 left in the game, putting the Orange up 21-17.

The Gophers' last-ditch effort to win the game ended with a Leidner pass going through the arms of Wolitarsky, followed by a bad sack. It was perhaps best summed up this way:

Instead of Minnesota celebrating a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, they managed to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory once again in the Texas Bowl. 

If the Big Ten was truly deeper than most critics said it was, Minnesota did nothing to help quiet them on Friday night against a team who had to win in the final week of the season just be bowl eligible.

Just like last year, Minnesota got the Big Ten off to a bad start to the bowl season—now it's on the rest of the conference to not suffer the same case of deja vu the Gophers just did. 

 

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

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Miami Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The Miami Hurricanes' coaching staff is putting together one of the top recruiting classes during the 2014 cycle.

Headlined by local products, head coach Al Golden is returning the 'Canes' philosophy to what made Miami teams of the past great. 

Currently, Miami has 29 verbal commitments and one signed prospect. Though the Hurricanes return many important players, Golden and Co. have addressed needs all over the field and added depth at most positions.

Slides will be updated when pertinent information is released until national signing day, so please check back frequently for the latest news and commitments.

Notes: All measurements, stats and 40-yard dash times via 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All rankings reflect 247Sports' Composite.

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Syracuse vs. Minnesota: Score, Grades and Analysis from Texas Bowl 2013

Syracuse was able to end its season on a high note after defeating Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl on Friday night.

Terrel Hunt led the way for the Orange with 188 passing yards to go with 74 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead 12-yard run with 1:14 remaining in the game.

Mitch Leidner took over for Philip Nelson at quarterback for the Gophers, but he was unable to lead his side to victory. 

There was very little semblance of offense in the first half from either side as both teams struggled to move the ball down the field. Nate Mink of the Syracuse Post-Standard provided a solid recap of the scoreless first quarter:

Finally, Syracuse was able to get onto the scoreboard with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jerome Smith, capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter.

Minnesota took a while to answer, but the team finally got onto the scoreboard with a field goal at the very end of the half to cut the lead to 7-3.

In an effort to motivate his team in the second half, Gophers coach Jerry Kill moved from the booth to the sidelines after intermission, according to ESPN Big Ten:

While the team once again came out flat, Kill's presence seemed to help down the stretch as Minnesota fought hard to keep the game close.

Syracuse was able to extend its lead to 14-3 in the third quarter on a drive that was almost all thanks to Hunt, as noted by CBS Sports:

The quarterback rushed for the first down on a 4th-and-8 to keep the offense on the field, and then he scored himself with another run.

However, the Gophers answered back on the first play of the fourth quarter when Leidner found tight end Maxx Williams in the end zone. Interestingly, this was the first touchdown for Minnesota in 13 quarters. Unfortunately, a missed two-point conversion kept the score 14-9.

After a quick three-and-out, Minnesota got the ball back and scored on a 55-yard play-action pass from Leidner to a wide-open Drew Wolitarsky. This time, the squad was able to convert the two-point conversion to go up 17-14.

It seemed like this would be enough to win, but Brisly Estime came through with a 70-yard punt return down to the Minnesota 14-yard line:

As noted by SportsCenter, this led to the go-ahead touchdown by Hunt with just over one minute left. The Syracuse defense then held on for the 21-17 win. 

 

Grades

Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse: A+

The sophomore quarterback had arguably his best overall performance of the season to lead Syracuse to victory in his first career bowl game. 

Not only was he extremely accurate with his passing, but he also picked up tough yards on the ground, including both touchdowns and a lot of first downs.

Although the young player has made plenty of mistakes during the season, he showed that his pure talent and athleticism could make him a star at this level. 

 

Syracuse's Defensive Line: B+

Over the course of the season, Syracuse was the only team in the nation that did not allow a 100-yard rusher. The Orange kept this up while holding Minnesota to only 3.3 yards per carry.

Starting running back David Cobb got close with his 91 rushing yards, but he was unable to get over the century mark.

The defensive line did not allow much room for the opposing team to run, and the linebackers took care of the rest. This was truly a great team effort to shut down the Gophers rushing attack.

 

Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota: A

While the Gophers continued to switch between Leidner and Nelson early on, Leinder was the more impressive player in the game and took over late. The freshman not only found some openings in the secondary, but he was also able to make a number of big plays with his legs.

He finished with 206 passing yards and two touchdowns to go with 24 rushing yards.

After not getting a lot of playing time during the season, Leidner showed that he could be a legitimate option for the team a year from now.

 

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota: B

Considering Minnesota finished the regular season with the 116th pass offense in the nation, it is clear the offense relied on the production from Cobb. The junior running back had been excellent down the stretch with over 100 rushing yards in five of his last six games.

The problem is that he could not find any running room in the first half against the Orange, and when he did he was unable to make the first man miss. He provided a stronger effort in the second half and totaled 91 rushing yards to help keep his team in the game. 

Although this was not his best effort, it was still a solid showing for the young player. 

 

What's Next?

Minnesota will bring back a lot of young talent next season, starting with quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner. Head coach Jerry Kill will have his choice to begin the year, but either one could help the Gophers compete in the new West division.

Syracuse will hope to improve behind sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt, although the ACC Atlantic division might get even tougher with the addition of Louisville next season. With Florida State and Clemson already providing serious competition, another year of .500 football should be a goal.

 

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

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Auburn Football: Nick Marshall Helps Break Down NCAA's Most Dominant Play

Auburn's rushing attack is the real deal.

The 545 rushing yards the Tigers put up against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game wasn't any kind of fluke. Auburn has been gashing opponents with its ground game all season—against some of the nation's best defenses in the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn rolled up 444 yards on the ground against Tennessee back in early November, and before that, plowed through the Texas A&M defense to the tune of 379 yards on the ground. More recently, the Tigers tallied 323 yards rushing against Georgia.

The Tigers even ran for 296 rushing yards against the vaunted Alabama defense, which entered the Iron Bowl as the nation's top-ranked rush defense, allowing just 91.3 rushing yards per game up to that point, and having not allowed 165 yards in a single game this season until that November date with destiny.

Gus Malzahn's rushing attack has only gotten better throughout the season, improving week-to-week. The Tigers puzzled some of college football's best defensive minds as they made a meteoric rise through the national rankings.

Since an early-season loss to LSU, Auburn has won nine straight games and put together the single greatest turnaround in college football history—and it can all be traced back to a few factors.

The play of Auburn's sensational backfield duo—quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason—and the emergence of the read option in Malzahn's system, turned Auburn's rushing attack into an unstoppable force.

It's clear that, right now, Auburn is the hottest team in the country. 

And right now, Auburn's read option is the most devastating play in college football.

The concept seems simple enough. The play begins with Marshall standing in the shotgun, and with his running back set to his left or to his right. As Marshall takes the snap, the back will cut across in front of him. Marshall will stick the ball into his back's gut—and fixate his eyes on the defensive end that lined up nearest the running back.

Auburn's offensive line leaves that defensive end untouched, and based on his actions, Marshall decides whether to hand the ball off to his running back, or pull it back and keep it himself. If the end keeps his eyes on Marshall and hesitates, hoping to contain Marshall outside, Marshall will hand off the ball inside. If the end crashes inside and goes after the running back, Marshall will hang onto the ball and run around the end for a gain to the outside.

Inside, the offensive line has a man advantage if the ball is handed off up the middle—since they left the defensive end unblocked. If Marshall decides to keep the ball and head for the outside, all he has to do is get around that key defensive end, and he should have some open field ahead of him.

It's nothing that hasn't been done before. Auburn's version of the read option is hardly revolutionary.

Still, what the Tigers have been able to do with the play—combined with Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle scheme and the talents of Marshall and Mason—seems unprecedented.

Auburn leads the nation in rushing, averaging 335.69 yards per game on the ground. The Tigers' 46 touchdowns on the ground this season stand second only to Navy's 47. Mason's 22 rushing touchdowns are a single-season school record at Auburn.

Marshall and Mason have each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season, making them just the third duo in Auburn history, and just the seventh pair in SEC history, to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

Most importantly, Auburn is headed to the BCS National Championship Game—and the read option is a big reason why.

Marshall didn't get a chance to go through spring practice with the Tigers.

The junior college transfer didn't arrive on the Plains until the middle of the summer—and he wasn't named starting quarterback until two weeks before the opener.

Marshall was thrown into the fire in Week 1 against Washington State, going through the first few games without a complete grasp of Malzahn's system, still trying to wrap his mind around some of the key concepts, including the read option.

With Marshall still feeling out the running game in the first few weeks, Auburn squeezed by Washington State and Mississippi State—and suffered its only loss of the season against LSU.

After that, things started to click.

The Tigers had a bye week after the LSU game, and Malzahn was able to work closely with Marshall on his game for the first time since camp—taking time to fine-tune the quarterback's game, rather than prepare for the upcoming opponent.

By the time the Tigers' next game rolled around, against Ole Miss, Marshall was a different quarterback, making the right reads in the option game and adding a new dimension to the Tigers' run game.

Auburn hasn't lost since.

"I just took what we were doing and then embraced it," Marshall said last week, of the Ole Miss game earlier in the season. "We had an off week to work.

"That's when the read option got down to it. I just started trusting my instincts and knew I could just beat the defensive end and kept playing from there."

While Marshall gets much of the credit for making plays on the field, Malzahn deserves just as much acclaim for recognizing his quarterback's natural athletic ability and tailoring the offense to his strengths.

Malzahn did coach Cam Newton to a 1,000-yard rushing season as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2010.  That Tigers offense took its ground game with a much different approach than the one Marshall, Mason and company have put forward here in 2013.

That season, Malzahn sent running backs sweeping left and right, while Newton pounded defenses on the inside. Now, Mason is the gashing defenses between the tackles, while Marshall is running sideline-to-sideline.

"Coach Malzahn is going to call what you do best," Marshall said. "Whatever you do best he's just going to keep doing that and really just call things that you're best at."

As it turns out, the read option is what Marshall does best—and right now, Marshall is the nation's best at running the read option.

No one has been able to solve Marshall and Mason's option attack. No matter how defenses have approached the Tigers this season, the duo has been able to churn out yards consistently when the offense is clicking.

Alabama tried to keep its defense back, attempting to hold a line and control the damage Marshall and Mason could do. That didn't work.

A week later, Missouri took to attacking Auburn's backfield, sending its defensive line to penetrate upfield, gambling in an attempt to stop the play before it ever got started.

That didn't work either.

"We've got the best offensive line in college," Marshall said. "They give us way more push, and they've been doing that the whole season. We just run behind them."

Apart from the Tigers' fierce offensive line, there is a third piece to the Auburn backfield that helps complete the read option.

Senior fullback Jay Prosch, donning No. 35, often lines up in the backfield alongside Marshall and Mason, particularly in the Tigers' heavy sets.

As the play develops, and most of the offense goes one way to lead the way for the running back, Prosch peels off across the backfield in the opposite direction to become the sole lead blocker for Marshall.

By design, Prosch will sidestep the key defensive end that the play calls to read, and leaves Marshall to beat him. Once Marshall gets past that end, Prosch is there to lead the way for Marshall on the outside.

That is perhaps what makes Auburn's read option so devastating: The same core concept and play can be run out of almost all of the Tigers' formations—meaning the read option can come at any time, attacking defenses as a finesse play out of the spread at midfield or as a power play at the goal line.

And in Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle fashion, the play hits defenses before they even know it.

Just when opposing defenses think they have Auburn's read option figured out, even more layers of the play become apparent—such as Malzahn's triple-option pass.

It's the play that helped Auburn beat Alabama in November, tying the game at 28-all late and setting the stage for Chris Davis' last-second heroics.

On Auburn's last offensive possession of the game, the Tigers attacked the Alabama defense time and again with an option look, as Marshall handed the ball to Mason six straight times. Mason cut into Alabama territory, and the clock wound down with less than a minute to play.

As Alabama adjusted, and the Crimson Tide secondary started biting down on the run, Auburn continued to press on with the same look. On the seventh play of the drive, they ran the same read option. This time, Marshall pulled the ball and ran for the outside briefly—before revealing his third option on the play.

The Alabama defensive backs crashed down, anticipating a Marshall run, and Marshall connected with a wide-open Sammie Coates behind the secondary for the game-tying touchdown with 32 seconds to play.

From there, the rest is history.

The play that saved the Iron Bowl was no different than any of Auburn's other option plays, in that Marshall makes the reads right there on the field, finding ways to beat defenses with both his mind and his athletic ability.

Marshall has three options on the play—starting with an opportunity to hand the ball off to Mason inside if the end attempts to contain outside. After that, Marshall also has the opportunity to keep the ball himself and pick up yards on the ground if the secondary stays back in coverage.

But if the defensive backs crash down, he can go to his third option, and pass the ball over their heads to Coates.

It's an added layer to a play that already seems impossible to defend—and it's an aspect of the Tigers' offensive attack that is sure to keep the Florida State coaching staff up at night until Jan. 6.

No one has been able to solve Auburn's read option yet, but if the Seminoles are able to do it in Pasadena, their bid at a national championship will become that much easier.

But if Auburn is able to keep rolling with its ground game, the Tigers could be able to end its miraculous season by lifting the crystal football.

Auburn's read option is a play that takes the game between the whistles—leaving coaches out of the equation and making players responsible for winning and losing on the field.

On Jan. 6, that play on the field will decide the BCS National Championship.

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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2014 NFL Draft: Buying or Selling Top QB Prospects

The NFL has seen an influx of young quarterbacks take the league by storm in recent years, with signal-callers like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton each guiding their teams into the thick of the playoff race in 2013. Looking ahead to the 2014 NFL Draft, there are a few more candidates who have the makeup to become starters at the next level.

It might still be the regular season, but it's never too early to look ahead to the next crop of future NFL players. This year's group of quarterbacks doesn't have the gravitas of the 2012 class led by Luck and Robert Griffin III, with question marks surrounding each top signal-caller.

Who will be able to translate their success to the NFL? Here's a look at the top three quarterback prospects heading into the draft.

 

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater still has one more season of eligibility left but figures to be one of the first signal-callers off the board if he declares early. The jury is still out on Bridgewater, though, as recently noted by NFL.com:

According to a recent report by Albert Breer of NFL Media, one AFC college scouting director said he doesn't think Bridgewater is worthy of the first overall pick, let alone a first-round selection.

A second-rounder. Shorter and smallish in size, but he has solid arm strength, he's a good athlete, solid accuracy. Not dynamic or a special talent, but he has NFL starter-caliber skills, and he's a good kid with all the intangibles.

While that's not a ringing endorsement of Bridgewater's skill set, I think he'll be able to add muscle to his thin frame (6'3", 205 lbs) and handle hard-hitting NFL defenses. Bridgewater's decision-making and accuracy make him the safest bet to succeed in the NFL, and those two things are harder to change than physical appearance.

Verdict: Buy

 

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

As a sophomore, Johnny Football understandably had a hard time living up to his Heisman-winning freshman year. Still, he showed off a lot of moxie and talent throughout the year, especially opening eyes with his performance in a 49-42 loss to Alabama.

Following that game, Peter King of Sports Illustrated spoke to 'Bama coach Nick Saban about Manziel's NFL prospects.

Saban paused a moment, put his bags down and made eye contact to make sure his point would be understood. “I think Johnny’s a unique player,” he said. “Many people have said about these guys, like [Robert Griffin III], that they’re not really NFL-style quarterbacks. But yet they’re all doing pretty well in the NFL."

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman also was impressed by Manziel during the Alabama game and said he thinks the dual-threat option reminds him of Russell Wilson. I think that's an apt comparison. In today's NFL, dual-threat options like Wilson, Kaepernick and Cam Newton are thriving.

Manziel is a special talent, and though he needs to improve as a passer, I suspect he has the raw tools to make a big impact in the NFL.

Verdict: Buy

 

Derek Carr, Fresno State

Derek Carr has shot up the draft boards this season by piling up 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns on 68.7 percent passing. But his stock might have taken a hit with his poor performance in the 45-20 loss to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl last week.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com offered his take on Carr's outing, as he finished 29-of-54 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception:

Dan Greenspan of NFL.com recently wrote that Carr's next appearance in the Senior Bowl will have a huge impact on his draft standing after the bad game against a talented USC defense.

While there's no arguing that Carr was prolific this year, he didn't play the best competition in the Mountain West Conference. His brother, David, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2002, serves as a cautionary tale for a high-profile bust.

Though they aren't one and the same, the younger Carr seems like too big of a risk to be taken early in the draft.

Verdict: Sell

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Miami Hurricanes Football: The U's Road Back to Glory

The Miami Hurricanes are one day away from ending 2013 on a high note or dealing with the disappointment that will result from a fourth setback in six games.

Welcome to the thin line between winning and losing.

After self-imposing postseason bans the past two seasons and losing its three previous bowl outings, Miami has to trek all the way back to 2006 for its last December victory—a 21-20 win over Nevada on the blue turf in Boise.

On paper, the difference between a 9-4 finish and 10-3 is hardly monumental, but for a Hurricanes program in "rebuild mode" for years, it's all about positive steps forward, achieving milestones and remaining on a proper track.

With Al Golden at the helm, local talent staying home and the distraction of the NCAA scandal no more, UM's road to glory is officially underway. Below are nine things the Hurricanes must accomplish en route to once again becoming a perennial power.

 

Finish the Season on a High Note 

Three straight losses in early November were an absolute punch in the gut. No. 7 Miami was undefeated entering it's annual showdown with Florida State and within weeks reduced to 7-3 and all-but out of the ACC's Coastal Division race.

The Hurricanes won their final two games, scored over 40 points in each and began clicking on offense, but the defensive woes continued.

Miami clearly wasn't worthy of a Top 10 ranking at any point this year, but reaching the postseason, closing with a three-game win-streak and earning double-digit victories for the first time since 2003—it'd be a fine way to close out year three of the Golden era.

Especially with the dark clouds parting since the NCAA investigation came to a close in October.

 

Close Strong on the Recruiting Trail 

The best way for the Miami program to end the "talent" vs. "coaching" vs. "scheme" debate—reel in some of the nation's best athletes and witness what some quality players do to fix the current situation.

Former Hurricanes head coach Butch Davis was hardly beloved while leading the Miami program. The sixth-year coach stocked the cupboard before heading to the NFL in early 2001, and the Davis love affair began when Larry Coker couldn't maintain the same level of recruiting excellence—35-3 the first three years and 25-12 his final three.

Miami's front seven struggled mightily in 2013, and the Hurricanes could lose upwards of a dozen key defenders—especially if a few choose to depart early. In short, the Hurricanes' depth, talent and overall experience on defense is set to take yet another hit it can ill afford.

Golden and staff currently have 29 verbal commitments, a third-ranked recruiting class and possibly eight early enrollees. There are also a handful of top-flight players with Miami on their radar, which would give the Hurricanes program a huge boost come February.

Miami lost a few "signing day" battles over the years. With a strong class already assembled and the NCAA drama in the rear view, the Hurricanes have a good chance at some day-of, last-minute steals, serving as poetic justice for all the kids Golden and staff lost recently due to negative recruiting. 

 

Restock the Offensive and Defensive Lines 

Both of Miami's lines are losing a handful of key players. Veteran defenders like Curtis Porter, Luther Robinson and Shayon Green are graduating, as are one-year transfer options David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Hurricanes are saying goodbye to Brandon Linder, Jared Wheeler and Seantrel Henderson.

Miami has upwards of eight defensive ends and tackles on board for the 2014 recruiting class, as well as some big time offensive linemen, all of which will be relied upon heavily next season. Still, both positions much be heavily recruited for proper depth moving forward. 

 

Identify and Groom the Next Great UM Quarterback 

Stephen Morris proved serviceable over two seasons, but prior to that, it was a rough run for Miami with Jacory Harris, Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright under center. Brock Berlin had enough surrounding talent to go 20-5 in back-to-back seasons, but the Hurricanes truly haven't had a great quarterback since Ken Dorsey rolled out of town after the 2002 season.

Miami is looking to sign 4-star Southern California product Brad Kaaya, as well as a 3-star dual-threat quarterback Malik Rosier of Alabama, though, both aren't expected to make a dent in 2014.

Instead, a battle between senior transfer Ryan Williams and redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen will take place, with redshirt sophomore Gray Crow thrown in as a wild card.

While Williams earning the starting nod is hardly detrimental, it'd be a one-year option for Miami, instead of investing in the future and building around the youth movement. It also wouldn't help the highly touted Olsen if he struggled to beat out a 2-star Memphis transfer.

Dorsey took some lumps as a freshman in 1999, emerged as a contender in 2000, went 11-1 and helped No. 2 Miami beat No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. After that, there was a 24-1 run, a national title and two shots at a ring.

Time for the Hurricanes to have a legit three-year option at quarterback, instead of falling back into rebuild-mode every other year.

 

Find a Capable, Big-Bodied, No. 2 Running Back 

Duke Johnson is certainly one of the better running backs in college football, but the junior-to-be needs some "thunder" to his "lighting." The 5'9", 196-pound Johnson carried 139 times over a 12-game stretch as a freshman, but he racked up 145 attempts before breaking his ankle eight games into 2013.

The difference? Miami didn't have a Mike James-type option this season to share the load. Dallas Crawford rose to the challenge in a back-up role, while senior Eduardo Clements played in spot duty, eased back in after a neck injury almost ended his career.

True freshman Gus Edwards was a hopeful savior, he but struggled to grasp the offense—which was an issue due to a lack of depth. Two years ago, Storm Johnson left for Central Florida, and this past offseason, the Hurricanes saw running back Danny Dillard transfer as well.

Miami looks to reel in a pair of local Rivals.com 4-star prospects in Joseph Yearby and Brandon Powell in the coming weeks, while the highly coveted Dalvin Cook still hasn't officially decided where he'll land.

Regardless, Johnson needs a consistent, capable, durable counterpart next season. "The Duke of Coral Gables" should be used to dazzle, not to pound and grind.

 

Find New Ways to Get the Ball in the Playmakers' Hands 

Losing offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to the NFL definitely hurt Miami's offense regarding creativity. First-year play-caller James Coley played things a little closer to the vest in 2013, getting conservative and somewhat uninventive.

The Miami program has always been built on next-level conditioning, as well as overall team speed. Getting the ball to playmakers in space is the easiest way for magic to happen, and late in the year, freshman wide receiver Stacy Coley was given the opportunity to shine.

Be it on reverses or bubble screens, Coley tore off some monster touchdowns against Virginia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Outside of the Coley "package," there's been little else—especially regarding the versatile Johnson. Under Fisch, No. 8 had 27 receptions as a freshman. This year, four grabs over the course of eight games. Johnson also threw for a touchdown at Duke in 2012, while Crawford was given an opportunity to do the same in a Thursday night win over Virginia Tech.

Miami's offense always seemed to have a Santana Moss, Roscoe Parrish—even a Jammi German—running a slant route and taking a five-yard receptions 80 yards for the score.

The Hurricanes needs more fast-developing plays that allow those fast-twitch speedsters to strut their stuff.

 

Take the Power Back in the 'Sunshine State' 

Beat Florida State. It's time. A lopsided loss in 2013 was forgivable as the Seminoles are undefeated and title-game-bound, but the previous years were toss-ups that the Hurricanes gave away. The result—a four-game losing streak to a hated rival.

Miami owned Florida State from 2000 through 2004, topping the Seminoles in six straight. All was right in the college football world, on the recruiting front and regarding the battle for Sunshine State supremacy as far as "The U" was concerned.

Both the Hurricanes and Seminoles trailed the Gators a few years back. Since then, the balance of power has shifted, and while Miami doesn't face Florida annually, it gets one (or two) shots at Florida State every year. Do something about it. 

The Seminoles trek south next October and while that's a lifetime from now, the Hurricanes need to circle that date on the calendar and start building towards that showdown come January.

 

Seize the Big Moments When They Arise 

Miami has spent 10 seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference and have not had one Coastal Division title or conference championship game appearance. Miami lost three of five ACC games to close the regular season. Years back, be it 2009 or 2005, the stage was set for big time late-season runs and Miami felt to mid-level conference foes like Georgia Tech or North Carolina

Virginia Tech and Miami both defected from the Big East in 2004. To date, the Hokies have six division titles and four conference championship. 

The Hurricanes can't even think about a national championship before consistently winning the Coastal Division, earning some ACC titles and dominating the conference, instead of hoping to back in by hoping rivals lose. 

 

Winning is Everything in Miami 

The notorious Hurricanes "swagger" didn't come first—winning birthed the swag. Miami seemingly came out of nowhere in the early 1980s under Howard Schnellenberger, and five years into his tenure, it unthinkably won the program's first national championship.

Local superstars like Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith joined forced with the late Jerome Brown and Daniel Stubbs to help assemble a program-defining recruiting class in 1983. The wins followed, fueled by an anti-establishment mentality, hometown pride and some extra bounce in the program's step—years later dubbed, "swagger."

Miami is a metropolitan city, not a rah-rah college town. It's all about South Beach, laid-back boating and wild nightlife. The entertainment dollar only goes so far in the 305. Even the beloved Miami Dolphins have taken a backseat to the Heat, turning Miami into a basketball town since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade began delivering championships.

The University of Miami—being a private school with just over 10,000 undergrads—will never get the undying support state schools earn from small-town fans and large alumni groups.

It takes winning for the Hurricanes to earn respect and fill seats, so start the trend with a Russell Athletic Bowl win over the Louisville Cardinals and immediately shift the focus to success in 2014.

 

Recruiting info via Rivals.com

Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fight Hunger Bowl 2013 Washington vs. BYU: Live Score and Highlights

Washington 7, BYU 0 ; Mid 1st Quarter

The Washington Huskies (8-4) will battle against the BYU Cougars (8-4) in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. 

The game can been at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

A full box score can be found at NCAA.com

Bleacher Report appreciates you tuning in with us. Stay here for rapid analysis, score updates, media and much more!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colt Lyerla Pleads Guilty to Drug Possession

Colt Lyerla's NFL dreams remain on track.

The former Oregon Ducks tight end was arrested on October 24 on charges of cocaine possession. Greg Bolt of The Register-Guard reported that Lyerla received a 10-day jail sentence in addition to two years probation. Lyerla is allowed to move to Las Vegas in order to train for the 2014 draft.

Andrew Greif of The Oregonian has the particulars of Lyerla's probation.

Lyerla had left Oregon a few weeks before his arrest. In a statement, he said, via USA Today Sports, "I love everyone at Oregon; everyone's on good terms, I believe. Just for my own benefit, it was time to move on."

This is a player with a few red flags, but his talent could make him a hot commodity for some teams.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com provided a brief scouting report of the tight end:

Measuring 6-foot-4 and weighing 246 pounds with speed reportedly in the 4.5-second range (in the 40-yard dash), Lyerla is one of the hybrid tight-end-types that are currently taking the NFL by storm. He has the speed to blow past defenders on vertical routes and displays the short-area quickness and burst to run away from linebackers out of breaks. Additionally, Lyerla is an overpowering athlete capable of muscling smaller defensive backs at the top of routes to create separation. Factor in his strong hands and wide catching radius, and Lyerla is the kind of threat offensive coordinators love to feature in the game plan, especially on third down or in the red zone.

Brooks also interviewed an unnamed NFC South scout who discussed Lyerla's off-field issues:

He's going to be a problem. He reportedly has some issues with alcohol, fights and other stuff at school. ... Bad dude. ... Nothing malicious, but the kind of stuff that makes you worry about how he will handle the pro lifestyle. ... He has a tendency to go off the rails when he leaves a structured environment.

It's not unheard of that a prospect has an ignominious end to his college career, only to impress coaches and scouts at the combine and then stay out of trouble in the NFL. Adam Hoge of CBS Chicago evoked the name of Tyrann Mathieu to present an example of what could happen with Lyerla.

CBS Sports projects Lyerla as a fifth- or sixth-round prospect. It's anybody's guess if this most recent news will have an adverse or beneficial effect on his draft potential.

There's no doubt that Lyerla will be one of the most intriguing prospects when May rolls around. Each and every year, the draft has a couple of phenomenal talents carrying massive baggage. As a result, they drop from the first or second rounds to the fourth or fifth rounds or maybe even later.

It's likely not a matter of whether Lyerla will be drafted, but which team will decide the risk is worth the possible reward. There's little doubt that on talent alone, this is a player with first-round potential.

But only time will tell when Lyerla may have his name called.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Blowout Matchups That Will Leave Fans Disappointed

College football fans will be on the lookout for the best games of the 2013-14 bowl season, but there will also be multiple matchups that will leave fans disappointed because of the one-sided results.

There have already been three lopsided affairs. USC destroyed Fresno State by a score of 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl, San Diego State defeated Buffalo by 25 points (49-24) in the Idaho Potato Bowl and Oregon State beat Boise State, 38-23, in the Hawaii Bowl. Those results were a bit disappointing considering the relative quality of the teams.

The bowl schedule in the final year of the BCS looks pretty good. Last year's disappointing BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame left fans wanting a more competitive bowl season. The BCS delivered in its final go around—for the most part.

There are still a few games that might get ugly.

 

Valero Alamo Bowl

Mack Brown's final test as head coach of the Texas Longhorns may not end up going as planned. The Oregon Ducks are a potent offensive team that has fired on all cylinders for most of the season.

Losses at Stanford and Arizona are the only two times this season that the Ducks failed to score at least 36 points in a game. Each time they scored 36 points, they won.

The Longhorns can put up points as well, but the defense allowed 30 points or more in each of the team's four losses this season. That would appear to put the ball in Oregon's court. If the Ducks can just keep up what they've done for most of the season, then they should win handily.

Texas lacks the big-play performers that can put them over the top. Case McCoy, Johnathan Gray and Mike Davis are all talented skill players on offense, but Oregon's trio of Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Josh Huff can outproduce the aforementioned trio.

Plus, Mariota is arguably the best player in this bowl game. That gives Oregon an advantage by itself.

While there is a chance this game is close, I'm leaning toward this being an ugly one. I predict that Oregon wins by 21, and Brown finishes his Longhorns career in a losing effort.

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Oklahoma's offense struggled against Baylor and Texas this season, and anybody who expects it to muster a ton of offense against Alabama is a very wishful thinker.

C.J. Mosley and the rest of the Crimson Tide defense is fast and aggressive and will make it difficult for the Sooners to move the chains and gain yardage consistently. Plus, Alabama was just seconds away from defeating Auburn and completing an undefeated season that would've resulted in a BCS title game berth.

Those facts by themselves are enough to convince most that this game won't be close—at all.

Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports feels the same way:

And despite the loss at Auburn, this is still the most loaded roster in the country, one that will boast matchup advantages over the Sooners at virtually every position on the field.

If this game ends in anything but an Alabama blowout, it will be a shocking result for the college football world. The Crimson Tide should be undeniable favorites and will win convincingly.

 

Russell Athletic Bowl

No. 18 Louisville won't face the stiffest of competition in this year's Russell Athletic Bowl, as the Miami Hurricanes boast far less talent than the Cardinals. In fact, this matchup is the perfect one for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to show off his NFL chops.

Of course, it's still uncertain as to whether or not he'll declare for the draft. 

Regarding his decision, Bridgewater told Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal, "When you have your priorities in order and know what you want to accomplish, it's not difficult at all."

"But I still have one more game to play this season."

Bridgewater can use this game against Miami to show off his skills and make his case to go No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans—assuming he declares, of course.

Against a mediocre team like Miami, having the potential No. 1 overall draft selection definitely swings the game in favor of Louisville. Overall, the Cardinals are far superior and will win handily.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of the BCS Era

With the 2014 Orange Bowl quickly approaching, it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane.

Ever since 1999, the Orange Bowl has been a part of the BCS. It’s even hosted two BCS title games (2001, 2005).

Over the years, the bowl has hosted some of the best college football games during that span. That includes four games decided by three points or less.

Not surprisingly, there have been several great plays during that time as well.

Join Bleacher Report as we take a closer look at all 15 games and compile a list of the 10 greatest plays in the BCS era. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

College football recruiting for the 2014 season is about to hit the final stretch. As it's currently constituted, the UCLA Bruins have 12 commitments. 

There are a number of holes in which UCLA would love to fill with elite high school prospects. The skill positions are a huge area of emphasis. The Bruins are also looking to upgrade the talent on the offensive line and in the linebacker corps. 

This piece will detail the current commitments and also potential targets on the recruiting trail. A full breakdown of each position group will be detailed. With about a month until national signing day, there's still much work to be done for Jim Mora and his staff.

Here's a comprehensive look at the UCLA 2014 recruiting class.  

Note: All 2013 stats are from 247Sports.com, unless otherwise stated.

 

Begin Slideshow

Military Bowl 2013: Rakeem Cato Shows He's a Name to Watch in 2014 Heisman Race

The room for error is minuscule, but Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is a name you should keep in mind when talking about next year’s Heisman award. Don’t put him at the top of your list—not yet, at least—but don’t lose track of him, either. 

As we saw this year with Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, you don’t have to play at a major university to be considered for college football’s most prestigious award. Playing quarterback certainly doesn’t hurt, winning a lot of games is a necessity and big numbers will be required. But that’s something Cato has delivered plenty of over the past two seasons and could continue deliver going forward.

In the Military Bowl, those big numbers arrived as expected. Cato threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns in Marshall’s 31-20 victory over Maryland, taking MVP honors in the process. 

His brilliant touchdown pass to Gator Hoskins late in the fourth quarter put this one away, capping off a superb game and season for Marshall.

A 10-win season for the Thundering Herd was not in the cards before the season began. After a disappointing 5-7 mark in 2012, reaching a bowl game seemed like a realistic hurdle to approach. This team did that and then some while operating with a completely rebuilt staff.

Kudos must go out to head coach Doc Holliday, who was able to bring it all together in just one offseason.

Doc Holliday hired 7 new assistant coaches last off-season and proceeded to win 10 games. Helluva job, Doc.

— Pete Roussel (@coachingsearch) December 27, 2013

With a potent offense that averaged more than 40 points per game—and balance with an improved running game—Marshall was able to cruise past most Conference USA opponents. Not only that, but it could have been better. 

Marshall's first three losses were by a combined 13 points—eight of those points coming in a triple-overtime thriller against Virginia Tech.

This team was good, one people should have paid more attention to, and it will return a lot of key pieces in 2014. This includes Cato, who ended the season absolutely blazing. In the last seven games, Cato accounted for 27 total touchdowns (3 rush) and only three interceptions. 

For the season, Cato accounted for 45 total touchdowns and nine interceptions. In 2012, even in a down year for the team, Cato notched 38 scores. The numbers have been there, and there’s no reason to believe it will change next season. Cato’s favorite target, Tommy Shuler, will be back, and this duo could prove to be one of the nation’s best.

Another offseason to work in a pass-friendly system will also help, and Cato will continue to develop at the position. All of this points to the possibility of an enormous senior season for the quarterback, one that could garner Heisman discussion early and pick up momentum with big performances and key victories throughout the year.

If Marshall can build upon its stellar 10-win season, coming away victorious in some of the matchups it just barely let slip away this season, perhaps Cato will get looks from the Heisman voters.

Playing for a non-power program certainly won’t help matters—neither will the relatively simple Conference USA schedule—but the box scores could be difficult to ignore. And if Marshall can win enough games, Cato could build upon a reputation that grew plenty with an impressive showing over an ACC school in the Military Bowl.

Our obsession with the Heisman aside, he will be one to watch next season. Although Cato isn’t a physical presence like many of the other quarterbacks discussed in the award, checking in at around 6'0", he has been incredibly productive.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd quantified his worth perfectly. I’d actually put the number a little higher.

I can think of about 25 BCS programs that would kill for Rakeem Cato.

— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) December 27, 2013

What is the ceiling for Marshall going forward? At the very least, it’s not in sight just yet. And the sky appears to be the limit on the team’s star quarterback, who won’t go unnoticed and underappreciated much longer. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Despite Bowl Loss to Marshall, Maryland Will Be Ready for Big Ten in 2014

Marshall beat Maryland, 31-20, in the Military Bowl in nearby Annapolis on Friday, dropping Randy Edsall to 0-1 in his bowl career with the Terps and giving the team an unceremonious farewell from the ACC.

But despite losing to a four-loss Conference USA foe, this season—and even parts of this game—was filled with optimism, giving Terps fans reasons to be confident, if not downright excited, about joining the newly formed Big Ten East next year.

Both Terps units showed some troubling flaws against Marshall, just as they had all season. The offense lacked explosion, registering just two plays of more than 20 yards. The defense lacked depth, failing to keep up with an uptempo offense whenever it was forced to make substitutions.

There are things the Terps must work on, for sure, but nothing about Friday's game revealed any new ones or shed light on a previously ignored problem. This team might be down for the moment—the very immediate moment—but the direction it's headed in remains bright.

The biggest cause for optimism is who will be back; both from injury, in the grander sense, and also after playing in Friday's loss, this team returns some important pieces.

On the first front, receiver Stefon Diggs, who has the potential, polish and work ethic to play like an All-American, should be fully healed from the broken fibula he suffered against Wake Forest on Oct. 19. Defensive stars like Dexter McDougle and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil should also be back in the fold, and they are expected to return that unit to the form of early 2013.

On the second front, quarterback C.J. Brown has been granted a second senior season as a result of his checkered injury history, while up-and-comer Will Likely will be back in the defensive backfield. That this team made a bowl despite all the injuries speaks well to the players who were forced to step into bigger roles.

And those players will be even better next year because of it.

The combination of those two fronts should ameliorate the flaws listed earlier. No big plays offensively? Brown-to-Diggs should be one of the best big-play combinations in the sport. No defensive depth? There should be more than the Terps have ever had.

Injuries also tend to normalize from year to year. Star-crossed teams like Maryland shouldn't expect to continue getting battered—even if this was the second consecutive time it has happened. If anything, that makes the chances of attrition less likely to occur, since it would be happening for a third straight year.

If the coin lands twice in a row on heads, you're not crazy to expect a tails.

More than anything, though, Maryland appeared ready for its Big Ten close-up during one halcyon drive on Friday evening. It may have come in a losing effort, but the Terps, at one point late in the third quarter, drove 99.5 yards in 17 plays to take their first lead of the game over Marshall.

The drive was about as ugly as it comes, bereft of vertical passing or any sort of aesthetic virtue. It was run after run after short pass after run. It required two fourth-down conversions and siphoned eight minutes off the clock, frustrating both Marshall and casual viewers to no end, but it proved to be effective nonetheless.

If that's not Big Ten football...honestly, I'm not sure what is.

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Marshall vs. Maryland: Score, Grades and Analysis from Military Bowl 2013

Slow and steady may win the race, but it doesn't win the 2013 Military Bowl.

On the strength of their uptempo offense, the Marshall Thundering Herd prevailed over the Maryland Terrapins 31-20 on Dec. 27 in Annapolis.

Coming into the game, the Thundering Herd had averaged 43 points per game (seventh in the country), while their 502.3 yards per game was 12th. Meanwhile, they possessed the ball, on average, only 26.9 minutes per game (113th).

Although Maryland was able to slow down Marshall to a certain extent, the quality of Rakeem Cato and the rest of the Thundering Herd offense shone through as the game went on.

Cato finished 28-of-44 for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Marshall's offense outgained Maryland 475-391 despite only having the ball for 26:38.

In short, it was the exact kind of performance you'd expect from the Thundering Herd.

Rather than fighting fire with fire, Randy Edsall opted for the methodical approach. The Terps possessed the ball for long stretches, which is the best defense you can have against a team like Marshall. For most of the game, it worked very well.

Early on, you could see why Maryland wanted to keep the Thundering Herd offense off the field.

Marshall opened the scoring with a one-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Tommy Shuler. It was Cato's 89th of his career, which tied him with Bryon Leftwich on Marshall's all-time list, per ESPN College Football.

In addition, Cato has now gone 32 straight games with a TD pass, the second-longest current streak in the nation.

Maryland answered with a touchdown of its own, as C.J. Brown connected with Levern Jacobs for 29 yards. It was a solid drive from the Terrapins and established that they could go toe-to-toe with the Thundering Herd in the early stages. Maintaining a workable point gap would be key for Maryland.

On the very next drive, Marshall took the lead back after Cato found Gator Hoskins for an eight-yard touchdown pass.

The two teams exchanged field goals to end the first half, with Marshall clinging to a 17-13 lead. The margin probably should've been larger, but the Thundering Herd left points on the board with their last drive of the second quarter.

Of course, the case could also be made that Maryland should've scored more. The Terps had plenty of yards, but the Marshall defense made sure to up their performance on third down, per Derek Redd of the Charleston Daily Mail.

Brown attempted only eight passes in the first half, with Maryland running the ball 26 times, so it was clear what Edsall was trying to do, per Daniel Martin of CSN Washington.

The second half was a largely uneventful affair until the fourth quarter. Both teams failed to get on the board in the third quarter, and the defenses, Maryland's in particular, played extremely well.

The Terps defense did its best to keep the team in the game, and then finally in the fourth quarter, the offense was there to do its part.

After another great punt by Tyler Williams, Maryland was backed up to its own 1-yard line. A 12-yard run from Brandon Ross on second down would get the Terrapins out of their own end zone. That allowed the offense some breathing room, which it capitalized upon.

Maryland took 7:44 to go 99 yards, with the drive capped off by a two-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Dave Stinebaugh.

And just like that, the Terrapins had their first lead of the game, 20-17, with 14:56 to play.

Unfortunately for Maryland, Marshall responded swiftly to grab the lead right back.

The Thundering Herd were helped out by DeAndre Reaves' 31-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, which put the ball on Marshall's 37-yard line. Giving a short field to this offense is a recipe for disaster.

In a drive that nearly lasted three minutes, Marshall took a 24-20 lead following a seven-yard run by Essray Taliaferro.

Another TD pass for Cato iced the game for the Thundering Herd. He found Hoskins in the end zone for the second time in the game, as Marshall took an 11-point lead, 31-20, with 3:42 to play.

The nature of Maryland's offense doesn't lend itself to quick scoring drives to eliminate a double-digit gap, so Marshall being up that big that late in the game meant the result was all but decided. Brown throwing an interception on the second play of the Terps' subsequent drive only expedited the inevitable.

It was a deserved win for Marshall. The Thundering Herd were the better team on the day.

 

Key Player Grades

Rakeem Cato, Marshall: A

Rakeem Cato was nearly perfect in this game. Even when the Marshall offense was having a hard time moving the football, things never got too bad because Cato remained composed. He never let the game get away from the Thundering Herd.

After a performance like this, you can understand why the 2014 Heisman hype train is already gaining steam.

 

Tyler Williams, Marshall: A

It's difficult for a punter to affect a game in a big way, but Williams did his best. Time and again, he would pin the Maryland offense deep in its own territory. The coverage team deserves plenty of credit as well, but Williams was able to consistently get enough air under his punts to allow his teammates to down the ball before it reached the end zone.

You can't discount what having to play out of their own end zone on multiple occasions did to the Maryland offense. The Terrapins couldn't string any plays together and quite often were forced to quickly punt the ball away.

 

Brandon Ross: B+

You can't blame Ross for Maryland's defeat. The sophomore running back finished with 116 yards on 20 carries. Ross was the metronome the Terps needed in order to put together those time-consuming drives. However, when Maryland needed to chase the game late, Ross wasn't able to make much of an impact.

 

What's Next?

This is a big win for Marshall. Assuming Cato returns for his senior season, the Thundering Herd are poised for a big year in 2014. For Maryland, this is the exact opposite way you want to head into the Big Ten next season.

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Miami vs Louisville: Breaking Down Key Matchups in the Russell Athletic Bowl

Saturday night’s Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. will most likely represent Teddy Bridgewater’s last game as a Louisville Cardinal.  Not only that, but Bridgewater also returns to his home state and will play against the team he originally committed to in the Miami Hurricanes

This will be an exciting game to watch with dynamic players all over the field creating some very intriguing matchups.  Which of these dynamic offenses will prevail?  What will each team’s mindset be heading into this game?

 

Strength vs. Strength: Louisville Passing Offense vs. Miami Passing Offense

The matchup between Louisville (11-1) and Miami (9-3) will feature a multitude of explosive offensive weapons on each side and two quarterbacks that will likely be playing on Sundays in the very near future. With questions on defense for both teams, and neither having a particularly imposing rush offense, this game should be an offensive aerial shootout.

Comparing Quarterbacks

QB Pass TotalsQB Pass Totals

CMP% YDS TD INT Bridgewater 70.2 3523 28 4 Morris 58.7 2628 21 12

 

Team Averages and NCAA Rank 

Off. Totals Pass Yards Points Scored LOU 302.9/19th 35.1/29th MIA 274.3/30th 35.9/26th

 

First, let’s start with Louisville. Led by Bridgewater, the Cards offense runs like their quarterback’s game—efficient and explosive. On the season, Bridgewater has thrown for 3,523 yards with 28 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, all with an impressive 70.2 completion percentage.

Helping those numbers are Louisville’s pair of dynamic receivers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland.  On the season Parker has 46 receptions for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Copeland finished with 52 catches for 690 yards and five touchdowns.

Expect both of these weapons to have big games against a questionable Miami secondary that has been exposed by many teams with lesser passing attacks throughout the year. 

For Miami, it all starts with senior quarterback Stephen Morris. The Miami offense goes as he goes, which explains why they’ve been very up and down throughout the season.

Morris has shown flashes of brilliance—throwing two beautiful touchdowns in the first half against Florida State—but he's also had many moments of bewilderment—tossing two questionable picks in the second half of that same game.  He finished the regular season with only a 58.7 completion percentage, throwing for 2,868 yards with 21 TDs and 12 picks.

Miami has two receiving weapons of their own in Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley. Hurns, who was recently named team MVP at Miami’s awards banquet, had an outstanding year finishing the regular season with 60 catches for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns. 

As good as Hurns was this year, Coley may be even more explosive and will be the X-factor in this game. In only six starts this year, he had 30 receptions for 559 yards and seven touchdowns. Along with his receiving stats, Coley also had a rushing TD, punt return TD and kick return TD on the season, making him someone Louisville will have to pay extra attention to.

In the end, this game should come be an offensive shootout.  With so many explosive weapons on the field for each team, it may come down to who has the ball last to determine the victor.

 

The Mindset Battle: Louisville’s Disappointment vs. Miami’s Hunger

A big question coming into the Russell Athletic Bowl is what each team’s contradicting mindsets will be like. Louisville has had a bit of a letdown season after coming in with so much hype and expectation after upsetting Florida in last year’s Sugar Bowl, whereas Miami has made the most of their tough situation, managing nine wins and coming in hot to their first bowl game in two years.

At the beginning of the season, Louisville was everyone’s favorite dark horse for the national championship and thought to be a lock for a BCS bowl bid.  Now that has changed, will that disappointment affect their mindset and play in this game?

October 18 was when it all came crashing down for the Cards.  That night they suffered their lone defeat to Central Florida, 38-35, which in turn defined the rest of their season.  After the heartbreaking loss, Louisville has not been the same. 

In the team’s final three games of the season, they barely squeaked by Houston in a 20-13 win, nearly lost to Memphis in a 24-17 victory and then miraculously were able to force overtime against Cincinnati and thanks to Bridgewater. These types of efforts simply won’t be good enough against Miami.

If the Cards’ mindset and play reflect their last couple games, they won’t stand a chance.

For Miami, they are coming off a self-imposed two-year bowl ban and are sure to be hungry as they finally get their postseason reward. Will their hunger to be in this game be able to trump Louisville’s disappointment?

With Louisville joining the ACC Conference next season, Miami will have yet another reason to be riled up—wanting to give their budding rivals a nice welcome to ACC play.

The Hurricanes will have every incentive to come out fired up, defending their home state and ready to knock off the Cardinals.  We will see if Louisville can match that intensity or if they will show up with a disappointed mindset thinking where they could’ve been instead.

 

Prediction

Louisville coach Charlie Strong will have a tough time getting his team completely ready to go for a bowl game that they did not envision playing in at the beginning of the season.  Based on their most recent play, the Cards' mindset seems to be elsewhere, which is worrisome when going up against a Miami squad that has played well as of late.

However, Miami’s overall inconsistent play throughout the season and its lack of a strong defensive presence will give Louisville hope and will create a tight contest. This game should be an offensive shootout with all the weapons that will be on the field and may very well come down to the last possession.

Even with the possible lack of motivation for Louisville, in the end, expect Teddy Bridgewater to pull off one more miracle and lead a comeback to beat the 'Canes in Orlando.

 

Final Score: Louisville 41, Miami 38

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USC Coaching Carousel: Top 10 Landing Spots for Clancy Pendergast

The prolonged quiet surrounding Clancy Pendergast's future at USC was disconcerting.

Ed Orgeron hardly grunted a syllable before Pat Haden officially replaced him with Steve Sarkisian following the UCLA letdown. After neutralizing Fresno State and their nation-leading passing attack, however, it seemed as though what happened in Vegas actually stayed there...abandoned at the buffet to ultimately be replaced by Justin Wilcox.

CBSSports' Bruce Feldman broke the imminent news that Sark's man from Washington is in, and USC's one-year defensive coordinator is out. With the forte of this new regime being offense, one would imagine stability and proven success being prioritized and maintained on the other side of the football. Incoming coaches package their staffs like an elementary school dodgeball draft at recess, but Pendergast's 5-2 scheme resurrected a Trojans defense that couldn't tackle a Song Girl or Stanford Tree in 2012.

Rather than reflecting on the emergence of Su'a Cravens and All-American Leonard Williams, or on his players' 35 sacks and No. 2 red-zone defense, Pendergast will now spend his New Year's Eve asking himself "Where to next?"

From his Super Bowl berth with the 2008 Arizona Cardinals to this 2013 campaign, the Phoenix native remains an unpublicized commodity who still struggles to maintain a job. Whether at the collegiate or professional level, his resume should warrant high demand and a hand-picked breakout opportunity.

In lieu of Bowl casualties and the NFL's upcoming Black Monday, let's reward Pendergast with interviews stemming from the pool of coaching vacancies readily available today.

Which defensive coordinator (or head coach) opening is hypothetically the best fit for him? Which would be the ones wisest to explore?

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Sugar Bowl: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of the BCS Era

The Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the final Sugar Bowl of the BCS era in the 2013-14 bowl season.

While the two crimson clubs will look to break into the list of best Sugar Bowl plays since the 1999 tilt between Ohio State and Texas A&M—they'll have to make an impressive effort to do so.

From the 2000 Sugar Bowl national title game to the 2013 upset by Louisville over Florida, the Superdome (and briefly the Georgia Dome) witnessed some incredible plays by squads fighting for BCS victories.

Click on for the list of the 10 best Sugar Bowl plays of the BCS era.

 

Note: Only actual Sugar Bowl games were considered, leaving the 2008 and 2012 national championship games out of consideration.

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Dontavius Russell to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Auburn received a commitment from one of the top defensive linemen in the 2014 class as Dontavius Russell has decided to join the Tigers.

Russell, himself, announced the decision on Twitter:

The Carrollton High School star originally committed to Georgia, but reopened his recruitment following the excitement of this year's Iron Bowl, according to Mike Herndon of Al.com. After taking some time to think it over, he finally made the switch. 

This is good for his new team as Russell is the 11th-best defensive tackle in the nation, plus the No. 140 prospect overall, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings.

The most impressive aspect right now is his overwhelming size, standing at 6'3" and 300 pounds. He already has the pure strength to outmuscle almost any offensive linemen his age and shed blocks with ease. 

Additionally, Russell has a great deal of explosiveness off the ball that allows him to burst through the line and penetrate into the backfield. Even when he does not make plays, he can still ruin the offensive game plan.

Of course, there are certainly areas to improve for just about every player coming out of high school, and Russell is no different. Chad Simmons of Scout.com provides insight on the defensive tackle's weaknesses:

He can improve his pad level though. He pops up a little too quickly at times. He is a better run stopper, but he can get penetration and help collapse the pocket...He can work on his flexibility and his lateral quickness.

Still, most of this is fixable over the next few years with coaching and practice. You cannot teach size or athleticism, which Russell already has plenty of, and this will ensure a great deal of success at the next level.

He even has the potential to play on Sundays if he is willing to put the work in to improve. Until then, he will simply try to help out his new team and try to get on the field as soon as possible. 

Auburn already had a strong recruiting class, but Russell's potential to be an anchor on the defensive side of the ball could make it one of the better classes in the country.

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

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Alabama Fans Create Nick Saban Angel on Top of Christmas Tree

It's well known that Nick Saban is beloved in Alabama, but these fans took it to another level. They placed Nick Saban's face on an angel that topped their Christmas tree.

Perhaps Saban's recent contract extension with the Crimson Tide brought this family some extra cheer. 

If one was to walk into this household, there is no mistaking who he or she would think was responsible for the success of the Crimson Tide!

Thanks to Laken Litman of For The Win for the find.       

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