NCAA Football News

Cincinnati vs. North Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in 2013 Belk Bowl

North Carolina beat up Cincinnati 39-17 to win the 2013 Belk Bowl. It was the Tar Heels' second bowl win in four years and the Bearcats' first bowl loss since 2009. The game wasn't as competitive as expected, which was a real downer considering the hype heading into the matchup.

But with both teams' seasons now in the books, it's time to look at what we learned.

Among other things, one coach left for another program, Cincinnati has work to do on the offensive line, and North Carolina has a bright, bright future. 

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Notre Dame Football Busts out NaeNae Dance After Pinstripe Bowl Win

Notre Dame finished 9-4 on the season following a 29-16 win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. To celebrate, the Fighting Irish busted out a NaeNae dance on the field. 

Hat tip to College Spun for the video. 

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Cincinnati vs. UNC: Score, Grades and Analysis from Belk Bowl 2013

The Belk Bowl has come to an end, and it was all North Carolina for the duration. The Tar Heels came out victorious over the Cincinnati Bearcats by a score of 39-17, securing a winning record for the season.

North Carolina's secondary was able to contain Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay nicely over the course of the game. Kay was only able to complete 15 of his 35 passing attempts for 181 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

This made the Bearcats offense completely one-dimensional.

Cincinnati was able to find some room to maneuver on the ground, as it piled up 168 yards on 36 carries; however, that's about as good as things were able to get.

The Bearcats were able to out gain the Tar Heels in total yardage, as they accumulated 349 total yards against the 345 of North Carolina. Ultimately, the difference in this game was special teams play, which led to fantastic field position for the Tar Heels.

Romar Morris got things going for North Carolina, as he punched in a two-yard touchdown run with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter. Soon after, Kareem Martin was able to bring Kay down in the end zone for a sack, putting the Tar Heels up 9-0.

Then, the North Carolina special teams took over.

First, T.J. Logan took a kick return 78 yards to to house, giving the Tar Heels a 16-0 lead. Later, following a Cincinnati field goal and a Jack Tabb three-yard touchdown reception, it was Ryan Switzer who returned a punt 86 yards for a score.

At this point, North Carolina found itself up by a score of 29-3 and didn't look back.

Throughout the remainder of the second half, the teams traded scores. Ralph Abernathy had a nice 15-yard touchdown scamper for the Bearcats; however, shortly after, Morris punched in his second short-yardage touchdown run on the day.

Shaq Washington was able to convert a 10-yard run into a touchdown for Cincinnati, and his score was followed up by a Thomas Moore 40-yard field goal, which was the final score of the game.

It was a big win for the Tar Heels, as their special teams units were able to become the difference-makers in this contest.

 

Player Grades

Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina

Williams was able to remain efficient enough to utilize short fields and keep the Tar Heels in front throughout Saturday's contest. He completed 19 of his 33 passing attempts for 171 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Williams also rushed nine times for an additional 46 yards.

He may have not put up extremely gaudy numbers, but due to a balanced offense and stellar special teams play, his effort was more than enough to secure a victory.

Grade: B

 

Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati

Kay had a rough go on Saturday. He was under plenty of duress throughout the game and was not able to get any rhythm going. He completed 15 of 35 attempts for 181 yards and an interception over the game. He was also brought down for a safety.

Kay needed to be on point to get Cincinnati back in the game after North Carolina jumped out to a huge lead. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so, and the Bearcats suffered a loss as a result.

Grade: D

 

Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina

Switzer was easily the player of the game. His electrifying 86-yard punt return for a touchdown sealed the Bearcats' fate. Not only was he effective on special teams, but he contributed in the passing game as well.

Switzer was able to record three receptions for 22 yards and also rushed one time for eight yards. He has a bright future ahead of him. 

Grade: A+

 

T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina

Speaking of dynamic players, running back T.J. Logan saw the brunt of the workload on Saturday and delivered. Logan rushed 15 times for 77 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He also created excitement on special teams by returning a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown early in the game.

Logan was a huge reason why the Tar Heels were so effective on the ground on Saturday, as the team was able to come away with 174 rushing yards on the game.

Grade: A

 

Ralph Abernathy, RB, Cincinnati

Abernathy was the workhorse on the ground for Cincinnati on Saturday. He carried 13 times for 67 yards and one touchdown on the day. This was impressive in its own right due to the Bearcats' lackluster passing game.

Abernathy was able to help out as a receiver as well, recording three receptions for 23 yards. This running back showed a great ability to gain tough yards and may have been poised for a big day if the score remained closer early on.

Grade: B

 

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DeVante Parker Injury: Updates on Louisville WR's Ankle and Recovery

The No. 18 Louisville Cardinals lost their leading receiver DeVante Parker to an ankle injury in the first quarter of the Russell Athletic Bowl vs. the Miami Hurricanes on Dec. 28.

Parker left the field for further examination, per Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

#UofL WR DeVante Parker (ankle) now walking to the locker room. Had extended conversation with trainers and limp still noticeable.

— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) December 29, 2013

Parker returned in the second quarter, per Adam Lefkoe of WHAS11:

DeVante Parker is back on the field.

— Adam Lefkoe (@WHAS11Lefkoe) December 29, 2013

Almost as soon as Parker returned he caught a 26-yard touchdown from QB Teddy Bridgewater. 

Clearly quarterback Bridgewater's favorite target, the junior had caught 46 passes for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns entering the contest, which gave him the team lead in receiving yards and touchdowns.

2013 also marked Parker's second consecutive year with more than 700 receiving yards and more than 10 scores as he makes his case for the 2014 NFL draft (CBS Sports ranks him as the No. 19 player at his position with a fourth-round grade).

 

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Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Why Taylor Kelly Will Shred Red Raiders' Defense

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has had a great year as the Sun Devils' signal-caller, and he should finish 2013 with a big game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The Red Raiders have the fifth-best passing defense in the Big 12, allowing teams to throw for an average of 224.8 yards per game.

Kelly has been efficient through the air and on the ground, though, and should shred Tech's defense.

He threw for 270 yards per game. He also ran for almost 40 yards per game this year, good for second-best on the team. Kelly has developed into a true dual-threat quarterback, and the Red Raiders will certainly have their hands full defending him.

The Sun Devils will have to lean on Kelly heavily in the Holiday Bowl, as their star running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are still nursing injuries.

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com says it doesn't appear as if Grice will even be able to play:

This means Kelly will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

Expect ASU to use some exotic packages like it did against Arizona. In ASU's rivalry game against the Wildcats, the Sun Devils used their tight ends a lot in different packages and made tight end De'marieya Nelson a running back.

This kept U of A on its heels all night and allowed Kelly to throw for 274 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 26 yards.

The junior quarterback from Idaho started the season with five straight games throwing for at least 300 yards.

He came back down to earth in the second half of ASU's season but should be able to crack the 300-yard mark in the Holiday Bowl.

A big reason for that is Texas Tech's secondary doesn't really have anyone to match up with Jaelen Strong, and that is a big problem for the Red Raiders. Strong's unique combination of size and speed will allow him to have a monster game. Kelly should be able to throw their back-shoulder fade to perfection all night.

Kelly also has a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal. Texas Tech will be spread too thin trying to defend them all.

The Red Raiders are also at the bottom of the Big 12 with only seven interceptions all year. And they struggle to get to the quarterback.

They rank eighth in the Big 12 in sacks, accumulating only 18 all season. To put that number in perspective, Sun Devil linebacker Carl Bradford has nearly half that much by himself.

ASU as a team has 40 sacks.

This all adds up to Kelly having a career game. He'll have plenty of time in the pocket and has more weapons at his disposal than he'll know what to do with.

Yes, Grice likely won't play, but look at what the Sun Devils did to Arizona.

The Wildcats have a much better defense than Texas Tech, and Arizona State torched them. The Wildcats also shut down Oregon just the week before they played ASU.

Texas Tech's only hope to slow down Kelly is to pressure him, and that task will be left to its linebacking corps.

Sadly for Red Raider nation though, their chances of sacking Kelly look slim. As Haller writes, if all of this comes true, and ASU wins, Kelly will have a mark on his resume most other quarterbacks in ASU history don't have:

If the Sun Devils defeat Texas Tech in Monday’s Holiday Bowl, Kelly would become the first ASU quarterback since Danny White to win multiple bowl games. White helped guide the Sun Devils to Fiesta Bowl wins from 1971-73. Since then no ASU quarterback has won more than once during the bowl season.

Expect Kelly to have a fantastic game as the Sun Devils win the Holiday Bowl.

 

Stats and information from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.

Robby Baker is a B/R Featured Columnist. You can find his B/R archive here and follow him on Twitter @Robby__Baker.

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With Belk Bowl Win, North Carolina Emerges as 2014 ACC Coastal Favorite

North Carolina went out and won its first bowl game since the 2010 season, beating Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl. Not only was the win a great finish to the 2013 campaign, but more importantly, it is also a momentum builder for a program set to be one of the favorites in the ACC's Coastal Division.

Yes, the Tar Heels will lose key contributors on both sides of the ball to the NFL. Guys like leading receiver, tight end Eric Ebron, and left tackle James Hurst leaving will be significant blows to the offense. Defensively, Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson on the defensive line, along with Tre Boston and Jabari Price in the secondary will be noticeable losses.

Ebron, Hurst, Martin and Price helped push the Heels from a 1-5 start, to a 6-1 finish, including the win over the Bearcats in Charlotte. However, it was the infusion of youth that helped make North Carolina one of the ACC's hottest teams to finish the 2013 season.

It started at the quarterback position when Marquise Williams took over for an injured Bryn Renner, showcasing the physical skills that opened up the offense.

True freshman running back TJ Logan got in on the action, transitioning from a kid who did not play in the first four games into a player who became the feature back to end the season. Another freshman, Khris Francis also made himself a factor later in the year.

Although Ebron was the leading receiver, it was sophomore Quinshad Davis who set the pace for the Tar Heels with receiving touchdowns.

As Ebron heads to the NFL, the Heels return five of the other top six pass-catchers on the season. One of those players is Ryan Switzer, a wide receiver who has made his name on special teams, as CBS Sports' Chip Patterson notes, tying an NCAA record for punt-return touchdowns.

Offensively, in 2014, North Carolina will enter the season with plenty of weapons, and, most importantly, a quarterback who got a head start on preparing for the year. Williams going from a change-of-pace player, to full-time starter in 2013, means he's ahead of the curve to enter spring ball. Although there will be an open competition, including currently redshirting freshman Mitch Trubisky. 

On the defensive side, Martin and Jackson will be the bodies UNC is working to replace for a unit that finished much stronger than it started the season. Justin Thomason, the sophomore defensive tackle, saw plenty of work during the season and will be tasked with playing a bigger role.

In the back seven for UNC, Brandon Ellerbe used the bowl game to let folks know he's going to be a player for the Tar Heels going forward. Dominique Green, a safety forced into action to start the season, grew up on the field and is a player whom UNC will be looking to as a leader in the secondary.

There is youth all over the North Carolina roster, and as ESPN points out, reinforcements are coming as the Heels boast a strong recruiting effort. 2014, with the talent returning and the strength at the quarterback spot, is looking to be the year many, including NBC Sports' Kevin McGuire, expected UNC to have in 2013.

The Tar Heels will take the bowl win into the offseason and spring ball. More importantly, they will enter spring with an identity, with players ready to make plays instead of simply learning to play big time football. With the talent returning, and the losses that other Coastal teams have to replace, Larry Fedora should be primed to show folks why the Tar Heels hired him in Chapel Hill.

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ESPN Analyst Jesse Palmer Gave Chris Fowler the Heimlich Maneuver

According to ESPN college football analyst Chris Fowler, fellow analyst and former NFL quarterback Jesse Palmer saved his life by giving him the Heimlich maneuver after he choked on a chicken sandwich at halftime of the Pinstripe Bowl. 

If you're hoping to find a video, Fowler is doubtful one even exists. 

Hat tip to Deadspin for the find. 

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Oregon Ducks' End-Zone Design and Cleats for the Alamo Bowl Are Impressive

The Oregon Ducks are known for their elaborate uniforms, but it looks like their crazy designs will be on the field during the Alamo Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. 

In addition to the end-zone design, Oregon will wear these cleats with a shiny bottom, because everything it does has to be state-of-the-art. 

 

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Michigan vs. Kansas State: Revealing Keys to Victory in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Two 7-5 teams will look to end their year on a high note as Michigan takes on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. In order to get that final win, it will take a lot of strategy from each side.

The two squads in this game each took different paths to get here. The Wildcats got off to an awful start to the year and were 2-4 after six games. However, an easier schedule and more confidence led to them winning five of their last six.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines had a much harder time in the Big Ten after starting 5-0. They lost four of their last five games and will have to compete in the bowl game without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who is out with a broken foot.

Still, either team is capable of coming out with a victory in this competitive game. It all depends on which team does a better job following these keys.

 

Michigan

Simplify the Playbook

With Gardner out, freshman quarterback Shane Morris will get his chance to run the offense. When asked whether this will cause changes to the game plan, offensive coordinator Al Borges said, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

Yes. As it becomes more apparent that he could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best. So we’re at that point now.

This is a smart move, since it does not make sense to use plays that will not work. Without much game experience, the coaching staff has to figure out what their player does well and then put him in position to succeed. 

Additionally, Morris should see a number of plays where he only has one or two options while the rest of his teammates stay in and block. 

Although this will not create the most dynamic offense, it will limit mistakes while giving Michigan a chance to win. That is about all you can hope for out of the young player in this one.

 

Cover Tyler Lockett

Although Kansas State has a number of talented players on offense, few of them can hurt you quite like Tyler Lockett. 

The 5'11" receiver has a big-time playmaking ability and the speed to score from almost anywhere on the field. He topped 100 yards six different times this season, including two games of over 200 receiving yards. His 1,146 receiving yards ranks 19th in the country.

However, he also had a few poor showings this year when opposing teams made sure to focus on stopping the junior. When that happens, the Wildcats do not have anyone else to step up in the receiving game.

Lockett has more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the team. 

As a result, Michigan has to double and triple team the player on offense. On special teams, the squad has to make sure it kicks away from him. The Wolverines have to force someone else to beat them in this game.

 

Kansas State

Put Pressure on the Quarterback

When facing a young quarterback, the last thing you want to do is make him comfortable. This means Kansas State must be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball to put pressure on Morris throughout the game.

Defensive end Ryan Mueller is the team leader in this area, ranking among the best in the country with 11.5 sacks this season. However, he only has one in his last three games and few of his teammates have picked up the slack.

This means the Wildcats have to be creative in this game while finding a way to attack the quarterback, including various blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs.

Even if the players are unable to rack up sacks, simply getting into the backfield could lead Morris to make mistakes and possibly force turnovers. Without much to worry about over the top, an aggressive style is the best option to stop the Wolverines offense. 

 

Establish the Run

Running back John Hubert has topped 900 rushing yards in three straight seasons and is looking for his first 1,000-yard season in 2013. As D. Scott Fritchen of Rivals.com notes, the senior believes he can do it:

However, this will not be as simple as it sounds, especially considering Kansas State's knack for abandoning the run early in big games.

In fact, Hubert has failed to rush for more than 32 yards in four different games this year. While backup quarterback Daniel Sams has also provided plenty of production on the ground this season, he also has been limited in recent weeks.

Still, each player has proven to be dominant forces when they get a chance to shine. Allowing them to run the ball will not only move the chains, but it will also help the team control the clock and the game.

Even though Michigan has a solid run defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed per game, Kansas State cannot give up on running the football as long as the score remains close.

 

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

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Notre Dame's Performance in 2013 Pinstripe Bowl Is Irish's Season in a Nutshell

In the end, Notre Dame left Yankee Stadium a winner. But how they got there was a frustrating exercise that mirrored the Irish's underwhelming season. 

Notre Dame's 29-16 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl was a final Saturday of heartburn for Irish fans that watched Brian Kelly's squad play up or down to their competition, failing to maximize their abilities as they struggled to do the little things took them to the BCS title game last year.

Even though the Irish gained 496 yards (nearly doubling Rutgers), forced four turnovers and controlled the football for over 38 minutes, Rutgers had the game within reach until the game's final four minutes. All because the bad habits that turned Notre Dame into a four-loss team reared their ugly head early and often on Saturday.  

"A good year that could have been a great year," Kelly said after the game, summarizing the thoughts of thousands of Irish fans, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin

Notre Dame will walk into the offseason a winner, helping to erase the stink that wafted out of Yankee Stadium. But after slipping and sliding around on the sloppy turf inside the House that Steinbrenner built, the nine months between now and their next football game will hopefully help put to bed some of the deficiencies that plagued the Irish. 

First and foremost were the team's red-zone struggles. Notre Dame scored on all five possessions it had inside Rutgers' 20-yard line but only got touchdowns twice. Too often the Irish moved the ball between the 20s at ease, only to stall out when they had a chance to bury a Rutgers defense that did its best to bend not break.

It started on the opening drive, when freshman Will Fuller couldn't hold on to a deep touchdown pass that would've pushed the Irish out to an early lead. Fuller was hardly the only problem, with touchdown catches dropped by DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones, the Irish's two best receivers. While Jones battled back from a muffed punt and scored on an eight-yard run, it wasn't until freshman running back Tarean Folston powered into the end zone on a three-yard run with 3:38 remaining that the Irish put the game on ice. 

Kyle Brindza bailed out the Irish by making five of six field goals in a stiff wind, but the inefficiency that's plagued this team continued after a month-long layoff. That's why Tommy Rees' 317 passing yards felt mighty empty, with none of his 47 attempts going for a touchdown, a feat considering the Scarlet Knights allowed 31 touchdown passes this season. 

Just as troubling as the red-zone problems were the special teams mishaps. The fact that the Irish were almost capable of losing this game when their field-goal kicker made five field goals tells you the work this team needs to do in the offseason.

Kelly put an emphasis on improving the personnel on his kick coverage and return units, hoping that would give his special teams a jolt. But with injuries decimating the team's two-deep, the Irish had to turn to younger players and walk-ons to cover kickoffs, and that allowed Rutgers return man Janarion Grant to consistently start Rutgers in good field position. Still, it was almost Jones, the team's MVP and captain, that did the Irish in, gifting Rutgers three early points.  

The win isn't necessarily hollow for Notre Dame. The struggles of this season could pay dividends next fall. During the Irish's 9-4 season, Brian Kelly had 22 players make their first start. Five of those came along the offensive line, while six came in the front seven. 

Guys like Jaylon Smith, Steve Elmer and Tarean Folston will be key pieces to the 2014 Irish. So will safety Max Redfield and the freshman trio of receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu. Per Huguenin, Kelly expects to have an answer from Stephon Tuitt shortly, with the Irish defensive end still deciding whether he wants to play out his eligibility and graduate from Notre Dame or head to the NFL now. He could be a two-win player on the defensive side of the ball. 

The future still looks bright in South Bend, with the pieces potentially in place for a playoff run next season, especially with Everett Golson leading the offense.

The Irish's ugly victory over Rutgers puts an end to a frustrating season, showing the thin line between good and great in college football. 

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Notre Dame Football: 10 Things We Learned in Irish's Win Against Rutgers

The final chapter of Notre Dame's 2013 season concluded with a 29-16 victory against Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, moving the Irish to a final record of 9-4.

The game itself wasn't the most beautiful piece of work, but in the end, Notre Dame walked away with the win and avoided finishing 8-5 for the third time in four seasons. Not only that, but head coach Brian Kelly and Co. were left with lessons to be learned.

So, what are the takeaways from the Irish's Pinstripe Bowl victory?

Let's have a look.

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Russell Athletic Bowl 2013 Miami vs. Louisville: Live Score and Highlights

Kicking off at 6:45 p.m. ET at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the Russell Athletic Bowl features a pair of programs on the rise.

The 9-3 Miami Hurricanes return to postseason play for the first time since 2010, but the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) are looking to extend the 'Canes bowl winless streak to seven years.

Junior sensation Teddy Bridgewater, who is projected by many to be one of the first selections in the 2014 NFL Draft, leads the Cardinals, looking to match a program record with 12 season wins.

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

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Pinstripe Bowl 2013: Notre Dame Proves Just How Bad It Needs Everett Golson Back

Tommy Rees did a serviceable job filling in at quarterback for Notre Dame this season—one he likely won’t get enough credit for—but the Irish need Everett Golson to recapture the magic of a season ago. And thankfully, his return is here.

The potential is in place, and it was on display (at times) in Notre Dame’s 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. It wasn’t necessarily flashy or impressive. In fact, it was an afternoon of missed opportunities and special teams blunders, a theme that was that was all too prominent throughout 2013. 

And yes, Notre Dame had to manage a different opponent: the flu.

#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly said 16 players were battling flu. Said game ball went to Rob Hunt and the rest of the training staff.

— Rachel Terlep (@eTruth_Irish) December 28, 2013

Even with this uphill climb, the Irish dominated in total yardage on Saturday, outgaining the Scarlet Knights 494-236. They moved the ball with ease at times—even though the running game sputtered throughout—and the score could have been a lot more lopsided.

But for every two steps forward, they took a step back: penalties, missed deep balls, questionable play calls and stalled drives.  The game was not always easy on the eyes, and again, much of this performance paralleled a season with both peaks and valleys.

The end result for Notre Dame is a nine-win season, a mark that should be appreciated given some of the team’s losses—headlined by Golson’s unexpected departure—and a schedule that was by no means favorable. Ten of ND’s opponents made a bowl game, and three will play in a BCS bowl.

Next year’s schedule isn’t favorable, either. It includes the likes of Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. While it will be challenging run loaded with capable opponents, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Tommy Rees is done at Notre Dame, finally exhausting what felt like 15 years or so of eligibility. Head coach Brian Kelly expressed his gratitude for the quarterback following the bowl win.

ND coach Brian Kelly on senior QB Tommy Rees: “He’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.”

— Kevin Armstrong (@KevinGArmstrong) December 28, 2013

With that, however, Rees will hand the baton back to Golson. And his return could completely change an offense in desperate need of a spark.

Golson was readmitted to Notre Dame in the middle of December after being suspended for the fall semester for what he referred to as “poor academic judgment.” He later provided a bit more clarity on the situation by speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples.

After sitting out the season, however, Golson is expected to be a full go for spring practice. He’ll likely compete with sophomore-to-be Malik Zaire for the starting quarterback opening. If Golson stays healthy and eligible, the job will be his.

While he was raw throughout Notre Dame’s undefeated run to the national championship game, the potential is off the charts.

His ability to run will completely alter the offense, an offense that struggled to move the ball on the ground with consistency this year. He also has one of the strongest arms in the country, something that was on display in his first season under center. Now it will be a matter of harnessing them both and realizing the enormous potential that was on display throughout the 2012 season. 

Adding to the excitement of his return are the offensive weapons Notre Dame will have back. And there are a few.

Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will almost certainly be back for his senior year, as will tight end Troy Niklas. The emergence of freshman running back Tarean Folston was one of the bright spots for the team in the second half, and the “Golson-Folston” potential will be more than simply fun to say. 

The playbook will look vastly different with an athletic quarterback reassuming his role, and it will be up to Golson to provide a spark in an offense that lacked it in 2013.

Rees, while improved, operated with a limited physical skill set. Simply put, he made the most of what he had. In turn, the offense was limited in what it could accomplish, although it accomplished quite a bit given the circumstances. 

That won’t be the case next season. If Golson is indeed the starter, the offense has the potential to be one of the more dynamic attacks in the country. The governor will be removed, the limitations tossed away, and it will be full speed ahead.

One book is closing. Another is reopening.

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Pinstripe Bowl 2013: Grading Tommy Rees' Final Performance at Notre Dame

As has been the case throughout his Notre Dame career, quarterback Tommy Rees had his fair share of ups and downs during his final collegiate start.

Fortunately, the senior did enough to lead the Fighting Irish to victory over Rutgers, 29-16, during Saturday’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Sure, Rees may have been expected to do more against a Scarlet Knights squad that was coming off a 6-6 regular season and ranked No. 122 against the pass (311.4 YPG). However, all that matters at the end of the day is that he led Notre Dame to the win.

Regardless, Rees’ performance is bound to be under the microscope over the next couple of days.

 

What He Did Well

Coming into this matchup, it was a known fact that opposing quarterbacks feasted on Rutgers’ secondary.

Rees maintained that status quo, torching the unit for 319 yards on 27-of-47 passing. He also successfully moved the chains, recording 20 of the Irish’s 31 first downs through the air.

Although he didn’t throw a touchdown, he also didn’t throw an interception. That snapped his streak of four consecutive games with a pick.

But what Rees did best was making the necessary adjustments in the second half:

As you can see, not only was Rees far more accurate in the second half, but he also gained a larger chunk of yards with each attempt.

Not to mention, Rees was money when passing on third-down situations, only falling short once.

 

What He Did Poorly

When it came down to it, Rees just couldn’t make that final play to get it into the end zone.

So, instead of running away with the game by halftime, Notre Dame had to wait until midway through the fourth quarter to finally put the game away.

Eight times the team moved the ball inside the Scarlet Knights' 35. Only twice did the Irish manage to score a touchdown and both times came via the rushing attack.

To make matters worse, Rees was just 2-of-12 inside the Rutgers 30.

His lack of a passing touchdown becomes even more unforgivable when you consider just how generous the Scarlet Knights secondary has been all season long:

Furthermore, this game marked the first time Rees was held without a touchdown in a start since 2011.

All in all, his lack of a finishing touch on drives leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths.

 

Overall Grade: B+

Rees played a solid game overall. But one has to imagine if this effort would have been good enough to lead the Irish to victory against an opponent who had even a decent secondary.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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2013 Was a Brutal Calendar Year for Notre Dame Football, but 2014 Will Be Better

When the calendar changed from Dec. 31, 2012 to Jan. 1, 2013, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were ranked No. 1 in the country, preparing to face Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game on the heels of an undefeated season.

Since that moment, though, it's been a tale of two very different years. With a series of slow and consistent waves, the walls of that campaign have been pelted into submission, crumbling around this team and leaving it in a state of genuine flux.

It started on Jan. 7 in Miami. Alabama waxed Brian Kelly's team in front of 26 million anxious viewers, confirming every cruel word that was spoken ad nauseam about Notre Dame's overrated-ness. With one fell swoop and a 42-14 loss, an entire year of reputation rehab went for naught.

Once the team had collapsed as a whole, Lady (Bad) Luck turned her attention to the players. Nine days after the loss to Alabama, Heisman runner-up and consummate Notre Dame poster boy, Manti Te'o, was exposed as either a gullible dolt or a calculated fraud (if not both). Quarterback Everett Golson was later suspended from the university for unspecified academic transgressions, putting the fate of 2013's offense on the fickle right arm of Tommy Rees.

The year came to an end against now 6-7 Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Saturday—a sentence so sullen that it speaks for itself. Even in victory, 29-16, the Irish needed all 60 minutes to beat a team that lost to Houston by 35 points. This is how far they have slipped.

But the night is always darkest before the dawn.

The calendar changes from Dec. 31, 2013 to Jan. 1, 2014 in four short days. In no time at all, though it's been a long time coming, this star-crossed year becomes forever a thing of the past; Notre Dame has a chance to bury it in the dirt and start fresh.

And there are reasons to believe that it will. 

Those reasons start with current form. Despite ugly games against Pittsburgh, Navy and Purdue, this team won nine games in 2013, and it was even better than its record might have indicated.

Though tempting to look at the lows, quite often a team's potential is defined by its highs. "How good is your good?" is a useful question for team evaluation, and in 2013—despite both injuries and Rees' penchant for turnovers—Notre Dame's good was pretty awesome.

To date, no other team in the country can say it beat Michigan State, which is 12-1 and preparing to play in the 100th annual Rose Bowl. If Stanford wins that game, Michigan State and Arizona State will have combined to lose five total games this season: three at the hands of the Cardinal, two to Notre Dame.

That is elite company for a team that endured as much as the Irish. Even with the Heavens working against it, this team's ceiling was hard to deny. And if the hteavens stop working against it in 2014, that ceiling should rise even higher than now.

Golson will return to the lineup, having been readmitted to the university on Dec. 13. He's spent this lost year working out with QB guru Marcus Whitfield, and if the reports are to be believed—which they shouldn't, necessarily, without confirmation—he's light years better than he was in 2012.

Sure, Golson lost a ton of in-game experience, which would have aided his development. But by the time he suits up in Week 1 next August, he'll have spent three-plus years learning Brian Kelly's offense, some of which took place in the midst of an undefeated season and national title run.

Few things can simulate that experience.

Throw in the recruiting classes—which have been, currently are, and will always continue to be solid—and you have a team poised for progression to the mean. Kelly has never failed to meet expectations twice in a row in his entire career, dating all the way back to his days with Grand Valley State. Why should we expect him to start now?

The schedule is tough, no doubt. Being better next year might not mean another run at the national title. With Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC all looming, improvement might mean even fewer than nine wins.

But the Irish should be a better, more complete football team in almost every facet of the game, despite the potential losses of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix up front.

And if this team, cursed by the stars from the start, could stay competitive all season and pull some nifty upsets...next year's team should do all that plus more.

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Rutgers vs. Notre Dame: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Pinstripe Bowl

It's better to win ugly than lose beautifully.

That idea was reinforced after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-4) grinded out a 29-16 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-7, 3-5 American) in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl.

It was a complete victory for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish out-gained Rutgers 494-236, gaining 175 yards on the ground and adding 319 yards through the air courtesy of quarterback Tommy Rees.

Even more impressive was the fact that those 175 yards came without running back George Atkinson III, after he was suspended before the game for violating team rules, per ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna.

Despite missing their second-leading rusher, the Fighting Irish dominated the running game.

That was a major key, as the windy weather and ramshackle field were adversely affecting the game. Players were slipping when trying to make cuts, and the officials had a hard time maintaining their footing.

Establishing the ground game is vital in these conditions and Rutgers was unable to do so, mustering only 80 yards rushing on the day.

Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd had a rough time without a run-game to back him up. In the first half, he was 5-of-14 for 99 yards and a touchdown, per ESPN College Football.

It was odd, though, that Dodd found himself the leading rusher through two quarters, per CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman.

Dodd finished 10-of-28 for 156 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions.

The two teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, with kicker Kyle Brindza putting Notre Dame ahead 3-0 on the first drive. Rutgers kicker Kyle Federico answered with a field goal of his own to tie the game after a muffed punt by Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones gave the Scarlet Knights great field position following a would-be three-and-out.

The Fighting Irish wasted little time in taking a 10-3 lead. Head coach Brian Kelly used a nice combination of short throws and runs to move the ball 62 yards in 3:30. Jones redeemed himself, as he ran it in from eight yards out after motioning in from his usual wideout position.

It was a clever play call from Brian Kelly, as the game called for a little ingenuity in order to overcome the elements—just not too much, as would be established later.

Rutgers made it four drives in a row with a score, when Dodd hooked up with receiver Brandon Coleman for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The big play of the drive was Coleman's 51-yard reception that got the ball down to the Notre Dame 21-yard line.

Notre Dame capitalized on an interception from Dodd early in the second quarter. Brindza subsequently nailed a 38-yard field goal.

Despite taking a 13-10 lead, Kelly was likely disappointed that his team couldn't do more with great field position. The Fighting Irish started the drive on the Rutgers 22-yard line and managed to gain one yard before settling for three points.

The Irish weren't alone in leaving points on the board, as Rutgers had a 1st-and-goal on the 4-yard line. Two runs from halfback Justin Goodwin and an incomplete pass from Dodd failed to get the Scarlet Knights in the end zone, so they had to settle for a field goal.

On Rutgers' next drive, head coach Kyle Flood demonstrated that there is a right time and a wrong time to take risks. With the ball on the Notre Dame 20-yard line, he opted for a gadget play. Goodwin attempted a halfback pass, but his pass was intercepted by KeiVarae Russell on the 1-yard line.

Needless to say, Flood got his fair share of criticism on Twitter.

If only he would've listened to what this guy had to say before the game, per Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger.

The first half would end with both teams tied 13-13, and it didn't come a moment too soon as the game was a plodding, largely subdued affair.

Unfortunately, the second half was more of the same.

Notre Dame had a major advantage when it came to the battle in the trenches. Their offensive line had an advantage over Rutgers' defensive line size-wise, so Kelly went about systematically wearing down the Scarlet Knights defense.

He let running backs Tarean Folston and McDaniel shoulder the majority of the offensive burden. Rees was there to move the ball through the air when the defense began creeping up a bit too much.

It was an unimaginative game plan, but it served Notre Dame well. As the game went on, the Fighting Irish exerted more and more influence and controlled the clock.

Two field goals from Brindza gave the Irish a 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

Federico halved the deficit, 19-16, with 47-yard field goal with a little under nine minutes to play.

Notre Dame iced the game away on its next drive as Folston punched it in from three yards out to give the Irish a 10-point lead, 26-16, with 3:38 to play.

Dodd threw his second interception of the game on Rutgers' next drive, effectively killing any chance of a comeback.

 

Key Grades

Tommy Rees, Notre Dame: A-

Rees wasn't prolific on Saturday, finishing 27-47 with 319 yards and no touchdowns.

What the senior QB did do well was manage the game. He avoided any costly interceptions and let the running game do the heavy lifting.

In addition to ending his Notre Dame career with a victory, Rees also moved to third on the school's all-time passing list, so it was a good day all around.

 

Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston: A+

It's hard to single out either McDaniel or Folston, as their numbers were very similar. McDaniel was the game's leading rusher, with 80 yards on 17 carries. Folston also had 17 carries, getting 73 yards and a touchdown.

Both running backs set the tone for the Notre Dame offense. The more success they had, the easier it was for Rees to beat the secondary.

 

Kyle Flood, Rutgers: D-

This game was a less-than-favorable example of Flood's game-management skills.

When you've got a first down inside the red zone, you should probably keep the trick plays locked away and trust your offense enough to think it can move the football with more traditional play calls. That interception didn't decide the game, but it certainly didn't help.

 

What's Next?

This win is a nice way for Notre Dame to end the season. The Fighting Irish built some momentum heading into 2014. For Rutgers, it's the complete opposite. The Scarlet Knights move to the Big Ten will only make things more difficult next year, and now Flood will have plenty of critics questioning his ability to lead the team going forward.

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Alabama Fans Name Their Daughter 'Krimson Tyde'

Parents in Andalusia, Ala. have chosen to show their devotion to their favorite football team by naming their newborn daughter "Krimson Tyde." 

From the Andalusia Star News

Summer and Steven Steele of Andalusia announce the birth of their daughter, Krimson Tyde Steele. She weighed 7 pounds, 5 ounces and was 20 inches long when she made her appearance at Andalusia Regional Hospital. Her maternal grandparents are Kimberly Musgrove and Randy Ainsworth. Her paternal grandparents are Ellie Mae Steele and the late David Randy Steele.

Hat tip to Darren Rovell for the find. 

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BCS Championship 2014: X-Factors That Will Decide Florida State vs. Auburn Clash

When Florida State and Auburn meet in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6, it is no secret that much of the attention will be focused on the likes of Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Nick Marshall, Tre Mason and a host of other stars, but that is simply the tip of the iceberg.

As important as all of those players will be, there are several others who will make a huge impact as well. It often seems as though under-the-radar players affect big games as much as anyone, and that should once again be the case when these two great teams battle for the Coaches' Trophy.

Here are the three biggest X-factors to watch when the Seminoles and Tigers meet in the season-ending BCS National Championship Game.

 

Nick O'Leary

Quarterback Jameis Winston was more than deserving of the Heisman Trophy, but he couldn't have won it without a strong supporting cast on offense. Winston has a triad of 900-plus-yard receivers at his disposal in Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, and they understandably garner much of the credit. One player who manages to consistently fly under the radar, though, is junior tight end Nick O'Leary.

The grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus isn't always heavily involved in the Florida State offense, but he makes the most of his opportunities. O'Leary is averaging nearly 17 yards per catch, and he has scored seven times on 33 receptions. O'Leary hasn't had more than three catches in a game since going off to the tune of five receptions for 161 yards against Clemson on Oct. 19, but it wouldn't be wise for the Auburn defense to write him off.

O'Leary tends to shine brightest on the big stage, and there is no stage bigger than the BCS National Championship Game. Florida State boasts so many weapons in the passing game that it is essentially impossible to account for all of them.

Auburn will have to pick its poison, and it is entirely possible that the Tigers will decide to force O'Leary to beat them. Auburn may very well get its wish as O'Leary has all the tools necessary to put the Seminoles' offense on his back.

 

Corey Grant

In order for a team to lead the nation in rushing with more than 335 yards per game, it must utilize a number of excellent ball carriers. That has been the case for Gus Malzahn's Auburn squad all year long.

Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason deservedly receives a lot of praise, as does quarterback Nick Marshall, but junior running back Corey Grant is often a forgotten man. Grant has carried the ball just 65 times this season; however, it can easily be argued that he is the Tigers' most explosive weapon.

Grant—an Alabama transfer—is averaging an incredible 10 yards per carry this season to go along with six touchdowns. He has been so good, in fact, that Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has questioned whether or not Grant is used enough in the Tigers' offense, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. 

"It's huge," Lashlee said. "He's a big-play guy. He's averaging over 10 yards, or right at it, a carry, and you know, kind of makes you wonder, maybe we should give it to him more."

Whatever Auburn has been doing on offense has worked, so it hasn't had to force things with Grant. He has never carried the ball more than nine times in a single game, but he offers a great change of pace to Mason. Even if he is used sparingly once again in the national title game, he has the potential to go the distance from anywhere on the field, so Florida State will have to be well aware of when he is out there.

 

Roberto Aguayo

Both Florida State and Auburn have so much talent that it's easy to forget about special teams. When two teams are evenly matched, though, special teams often make all the difference in the world. If that is ultimately the case, then the Seminoles seemingly have an advantage.

Florida State is one of the most well-rounded college football teams in recent memory as even their kicking game is worth mentioning. With that in mind, freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo could play a huge role in this contest.

Aguayo has been nearly perfect this season, which is rare for any kicker, let alone a freshman. Not only has he converted all 90 of his extra point attempts, but Aguayo has also made 19 of the 20 field goals he has tried. That is an unbelievable statistic that has gotten buried among all of Florida State's other accomplishments. Aguayo was recognized with a year-end award, however, as he won the Lou Groza Award, according to Noles247.com.

Although Aguayo's precision hasn't necessarily made a huge difference this season due to Florida State's overall dominance, that may very well change in the BCS National Championship Game. The Seminoles haven't had to play in many tight games, however, the title game figures to be a tight affair. If it comes down to field goals, then Aguayo figures to be a dangerous, secret weapon for the 'Noles.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Cold Hard Fact for Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fact: About 60 percent of bowl teams spend more to play in bowl games than they receive in payouts for their participation.

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

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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Belk Bowl 2013 Cincinnati vs. North Carolina: Live Score and Highlights

North Carolina and Cincinnati will meet in the 2013 version of the Belk Bowl, a bowl game that has a lengthy history of producing close games. In fact, four of the last five games have been decided by one possession. When you combine these two teams' paths, we're likely due for an incredible ballgame.

Cincinnati won six of its last seven games and is searching for its third straight bowl victory, while North Carolina won five of its last six games to become bowl-eligible and is hoping to win its first bowl since 2010.

This Saturday matchup will kickoff at 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

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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