NCAA Football News

Capital One Bowl Could Be a Heisman Launch Party for South Carolina's Mike Davis

Stop me if you've heard this story before: South Carolina underclassman has a big performance on New Year's Day, makes every highlight reel for eight months and enters the season with Heisman hype in tow.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney paved the way last summer after "The Hit" against Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl, and running back Mike Davis could follow in his footsteps with a big performance against Wisconsin in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.

Wisconsin comes in with the Big Ten's second-best rush defense and sixth nationally at 101.3 yards per game. The Badgers are giving up just 3.2 yards per carry and have only allowed seven rushing touchdowns all season.

Davis hopes to be healthy for the Capital One Bowl, according to Ryan Wood of the Charleston Post and Courier. If Davis—who finished fourth in the SEC with 103 yards per game on the ground—has a big performance, expect him to vault into the preseason discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

At 5'9", 215 pounds, Davis packs a mean punch, has home run speed and will likely be the focal point of the Gamecocks offense when toe meets leather next summer.

Quarterback Connor Shaw will be gone, so new quarterback Dylan Thompson, freshman Connor Mitch or whoever else ascends to the starting quarterback spot will depend more on the running game from Davis than Shaw. 

On top of that, South Carolina should be built to allow its new quarterback to rely on the running game more early, even if it is predictable. Four of South Carolina's five starters on the offensive line will return in 2014, which means the familiarity of the big uglies up front will allow holes to develop just a bit early and those three-yard gains from Davis will turn into five- and seven-yard gains.

Davis will be the focal point of the offense next season, but how many people will notice?

Being a team in the national title discussion or, at the very least, on the periphery, is typically the first step of the Heisman process.

Can South Carolina elevate itself to that discussion without its leader on offense, Shaw, and its superstar on defense, Clowney?

It's going to be on Davis to make that happen.

The Aggies host Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri, and visit Vanderbilt all in the first month of the season. Those are a lot of potholes to navigate, and Davis will be behind the wheel.

A big performance versus the Badgers will earn him a jump start on the competition, and if South Carolina can hit the ground running in 2014, Davis will likely be at, or near, the top of the early-season Heisman discussion.

 

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Clemson Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

As the 2014 recruiting cycle enters its homestretch, Clemson’s class of 2014 is in solid shape. The Tigers’ staff, led by coach Dabo Swinney and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott, has 18 verbal commitments.

Due to a small senior class (11 scholarship seniors), Clemson is not expected to sign a full 25-member class on Feb. 6. However, those who are committed are highly regarded. 247Sports ranks Clemson’s class 15th-best nationally, and the Tigers are still in the mix for a number of talented players who will put pen to paper and fax in their pledges on national signing day.

It should be an interesting final seven weeks of the 2014 cycle, and everything you need to keep up is right here.

 

*All stats via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Georgia Bulldogs Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The quickest way for Georgia to shake off a disappointing 2013 season is with a stellar recruiting class.  If recent history is any indicator, the Bulldogs should once again be flush with talent.  After all, Mark Richt and his coaching staff have pulled in six consecutive top-12 recruiting classes.

Although both the offense and defense return a host of talent (The Dawgs should return 18 starters in 2013.), the need for depth is pressing, as evidenced by Georgia's injury-hampered 2013 campaign.

Consider this your one-stop shop for constant Georgia recruiting updates, news and analysis.  Check back often for updates.

 

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

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B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Interior Defensive Linemen in College Football

Editor's note: This is the 13th installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

Much like offensive linemen are the most unheralded players on offense, so too are the big defensive tackles. In today’s game, these mammoth players are extremely critical to the success of an entire defense, yet they often go unnoticed by the casual fan who is worried about sacks and interceptions.

These players allow linebackers to make tackles and give the defensive ends and hybrid linebackers a chance to make a play. Without good defensive tackle play, a defense struggles.

In order to rank these players, we graded them on their ability to rush the passer and defend against the run. Pass rush is not merely about sacks; it is about players getting push and working to help their team pressure quarterbacks. In the run game, there is as much value in occupying two blockers as there is to shooting a gap and making a play.

Defensive tackles have to do the dirty work, and sometimes that work doesn’t show up on a neat little stat sheet. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

Keep in mind, these defensive tackles are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.

 

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BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Individual Performers with Most to Prove on Big Stage

When it comes to bowl games, it's exceedingly rare that many people concretely remember results that aren't the BCS National Championship Game.

Sure, fans of every school can give you a detailed list of accomplishments. But while nearly everyone can rattle off the past decade of national champions (granted, it's not that hard to say Alabama over and over), can you do the same for Rose Bowls? Fiesta Bowls? Sugar Bowls? 

That's not to degrade those contests whatsoever; this happens in every sport. You don't remember the teams that made it to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, because it's mostly frivolous information you could find on Wikipedia if it's needed for a crossword puzzle or something. They say that second place is first loser for a reason.

What stands out are the individual performances. The players who use the stage as a pulpit to announce their arrival to the nation or simply affirm the assumptions we've had all along. 

And, for some, it's a chance to prove us all wrong. To show NFL scouts that they do deserve first-round consideration or that the BCS bowl stage is not too big. Here is a look at a few players who will have a ton to prove in BCS games, each of whom has a good chance at coming through. 

 

Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson)

"Clemsoning: 1. The act of failing miserably on a grand athletic stage, or when the stakes are high. 2. Record-setting failure, usually reserved for college football."

That is how the Clemson football team is best known nationally, according to UrbanDictionary.com. You could put any number of Clemson players on this list, have them represent the whole program and nod along in agreement. There were some who hoped the act of "Clemsoning" would die following the Tigers' opening-week victory against Georgia, but tell that to their 51-14 loss to Florida State and 31-17 defeat against rival South Carolina.

Given what we know now about the Bulldogs—that they were wildly, wildly overrated in the preseason—you could easily surmise Clemson has had a typically Clemson year. In games that actually mattered, the Tigers were outscored by a combined 51 points. In games that didn't, Dabo Swinney's squad looked like one of the best teams in college football.

Tajh Boyd has unsurprisingly fallen right along these tracks. Against Florida State and South Carolina, the senior quarterback was a combined 36-of-64 (56.3 percent) for 381 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions. Boyd completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every other game, had only one more multi-interception contest (against Syracuse in a game he also threw five touchdowns) and looked like a Heisman contender.

Clemson and Boyd still somehow backed into a BCS bowl game, for the simple reason of conference limits and the Orange Bowl's relationship with the ACC. It's Boyd's second opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game, the first ending in a 70-33 absolute embarrassment against West Virginia two years ago.

With only 60 more minutes left in his Tigers career, Boyd's last impression may be his most important. Scout evaluations vary on the Clemson quarterback, with some excited about his ability to impact the game through the air and ground while others think he's a career backup—nothing more. Boyd even admitted that he's looking forward to the Orange Bowl as a partial showcase. 

"I think everything toward the end of this process is going to be a deciding factor in how high I go (in the 2014 draft)," Boyd said, via WLTX.com.

Luckily, Clemson and Boyd will face an Ohio State team that has its own fair share of questions that need answering. The Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak was snapped by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, a loss that proved some folks' theory that their run was all smoke and mirrors.

Two teams, plenty of questions, all fun.

 

Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)

I'm not sure when Blake Bortles stopped being a meme and began getting No. 1 overall pick hype. All I know is that I love it so very much. ESPN's Todd McShay had Bortles going third overall in his latest mock draft, ahead of Johnny ManzielJadeveon Clowney and about 5,000 other people who were expected to be drafted higher in the preseason.

This, for any number of reasons, is awesome. First of all, Blake Bortles is a mythical creature who only appears when you say "Bortles" six times fast while throwing a Nerf football into a mirror. Second of all, it's great because the day Blake Bortles goes inside the top five is the day the Internet officially becomes our all-knowing overlord.

But in order for Mr. Alta Vista to ascend to the presidency, Bortles has to, you know, play well and stuff. Despite the McShays of the world bloviating about his ascent, the American Athletic Conference doesn't provide the best weekly showcase for NFL prospects. It's why some aren't even quite sure that Teddy Bridgewater is deserving of the No. 1 overall pick, despite being an elite prospect at every level dating back to his diaper years.

Opinion on Bortles is far more fractured. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com had an evaluation of Bortles that came back with the verdict "not elite," citing shoddy mechanics and a raw skill set that is more exciting in theory than anything. Brooks compared him to Nick Foles, which is pretty darned good considering the way Foles played this season—right until you remember how dreadful he was in 2012.

Well, what better way to introduce the world to #BortlesBall than a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Baylor? To be fair, Central Florida and Baylor were the ugly ducklings of the BCS selection process. Neither has a storied history or a massive national following, so it'd be a pretty big shock if this weren't the lowest-rated BCS contest.

But Bortles aside, it should be a thrilling offensive showcase. Both UCF and Baylor boasted prolific offenses, with the Bears averaging over 60 points per game for much of the season. We'll have to see how both defenses, which are underrated in their own rights, respond to the difficult matchup.

And, in particular, Bortles' matchup against an actual football team should be fun. He looked solid against South Carolina earlier in 2013 but also threw two interceptions in the 28-25 loss. Baylor isn't quite on that level defensively, but scouts are going to need to see a stellar performance on the national stage to sell this kid to their management.

 

Tre Mason (RB, Auburn)

Let's completely eliminate whatever NFL prospects Mason has. They are null and void for this conversation. As a collegiate running back, Mason has been everything and more to Auburn this season. He rushed for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, getting stronger and stronger as the campaign went along.

When Auburn needed him most, Mason came through with a couple sterling individual outings. He rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers took down mighty Alabama, and then there was his christening at the SEC Championship Game. Facing a Missouri defense that ranked inside the top 20 against the run heading in, Mason rushed for an SEC title game record 304 yards and four touchdowns.

It was the second-best rushing performance in Auburn history.

So when I say Mason has something to "prove," it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as the others. He doesn't have recent historical connotations going against him or NFL scouts watching his every move. Mason and Gus Malzahn are the figureheads of Auburn's revival after the dreadful 2012 season; anything he does from here will just be gravy.

Mason's journey in the national championship game is more basic: Can he do it again? Asking for another 300-yard performance is out of the question, obviously, but can Mason strap Auburn to his back one more time and take down one of the most dominant college football teams in recent history.

Because of the ACC's relative weakness in 2013, Florida State's historic dominance has gone under-covered. The Seminoles have beaten opponents by an average of 41.8 points. That's more than all but seven FBS teams scored this season. Should they win the national championship, it's fair to wonder where this team ranks among the all-time greats.

And while Jameis Winston deservedly got the credit with a Heisman Trophy, Florida State's defense has been every bit as good as its offense. No team allowed fewer points during the regular season, and opposing teams threw 25 interceptions against just 12 touchdowns when facing Jeremy Pruitt's secondary. Considering every Nick Marshall pass is an adventure itself, that means the onus will be on Mason arguably more than it ever has.

Being the 13th-ranked run defense in the country isn't exactly a weakness, but it's as close as Florida State has. If Auburn has any chance of winning, Mason will have to prove once more that his Tigers are truly the team of destiny.

 

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Rutgers vs. Notre Dame: Storylines to Watch in Pinstripe Bowl 2013

It is easy for average college football fans to overlook some of the 35 bowl games taking place this season. However, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is a matchup even casual fans should want to see.

The game takes place at Yankee Stadium, which in itself is a sight to behold. It also adds to the impressive history for Notre Dame in New York City, as noted by ESPN's Chris Fowler:

The Fighting Irish might have had a down year, but the 8-4 squad still features many athletes from last season's appearance in the national title game. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers was one of only five bowl-eligible teams from the new American Athletic Conference, and the team is certainly looking forward to returning to the Pinstripe Bowl after winning the event in 2011.

This is only the start of the interesting storylines to follow. Here is a guide for the matchup along with other key things to look for in the upcoming game. 

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Odds (via Vegas Insider): Notre Dame -14

 

Top Storylines

Will Tommy Rees Become "Turnover Tommy" in His Final Game?

Tommy Rees came to Notre Dame with plenty of talent, but he has seen four inconsistent years thanks to his knack for throwing interceptions at the worst time.

The quarterback threw 14 picks as a sophomore in 2011 before losing his job to Everett Golson as a junior. When he took over again as a senior this year, he once again struggled to hold onto the ball.

Rees had five multi-interception games, leading to four losses and a narrow victory over Navy. Obviously, he is negatively affecting the team with his mistakes.

The good news is that Rutgers has struggled against the pass this year and has forced only eight interceptions all year while allowing 31 passing touchdowns.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the following regarding Rees' legacy, via Jim Johnston of WNDU: "Legacy is such a big word for me. I just love the way the kid competes out there. He is not going to go into the College Football Hall of Fame, you know what I mean, he doesn't have those incredible skills. But, he just puts his heart and soul into what he does."

A strong performance in his final game would certainly help people think well of him. 

 

Can Chas Dodd Have Another Strong Game at Yankee Stadium?

Two years ago, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano spent the end of the season struggling to picking between quarterbacks Gary Nova and Chas Dodd. While both played in the Pinstripe Bowl, Dodd had the better performance, completing 10 of his 17 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort.

While Nova has taken over the starting spot, Dodd is once again in the picture and led the Scarlet Knights to victory in the team's most recent game against South Florida.

Head coach Brian Flood discussed the move to put Dodd under center, per Tom Luicci of The Newark Star-Ledger:

Chas has been a very diligent worker the entire season, which I would expect. Chas is an unselfish guy and he's a competitor. When we first made the decision (that Nova was the starter for this year after last season) I said to him `you have to be ready. You don't know when your opportunity is going to come. Now that opportunity has arrived.

The senior quarterback has a lot of poise in the pocket, which will help him against a quality defense.

Considering the Irish have struggled to get to the quarterback all year, Dodd has a chance to have a strong performance in this one.

 

What Will the Crowd Be Like?

The football field set up at Yankee Stadium is intriguing, even in an empty stadium:

That being said, the crowd at the Pinstripe Bowl should have a big impact on the game. The question is which fans do a better job of filling the stadium.

Rutgers is close to New York City and has plenty of fans in the area, which is one of the reasons the school was such a big draw for the Big Ten.

On the other hand, Notre Dame has fans everywhere in the country. The Irish faithful have a knack for filling stadiums wherever the team is playing.

The Irish were 5-1 at home this year, and they could be in good shape in this matchup if their fans make it seem like yet another home game.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan vs. Kansas State: Players Who Must Step Up in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Kansas State and Michigan are both looking to end their seasons on a high note after mediocre performances throughout the year. For things to change, however, they will need a few key players to step up their efforts.

The Wildcats had a balanced attack that led to success on both sides of the ball in 2013. The problem is that bad mistakes caused close losses in a 7-5 year. Meanwhile, the Wolverines also finished 7-5 thanks to four losses by a margin of four points or less.

Each side is better than its record indicates, but it will take a strong performance from specific players to come away with an eighth win.

 

Shane Morris, QB, Michigan

Michigan will have a hard time on the offensive end as starting quarterback Devin Gardner will not play in the game, according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports.

This puts the team in the hands of freshman Shane Morris, who has only appeared in two games all season. So far, he has completed five of his nine passes with no touchdowns and an interception.

The good news is that he is prepared for the opportunity. Offensive coordinator Al Borges discussed Morris' improvement, via the team's site:

We've had a lot of time to get him ready and take the No. 1 reps, which he's never done before. He's come along nicely. He's studied hard. He's really worked at it. It's showed up because he's improved a lot from the first day we started bowl practices to today, which is natural because he has had the reps.

He better be ready to play because Kansas State has a tough defense that will make him work. If the freshman fails to have composure in his first start, Michigan will struggle.

 

Derrick Green, RB, Michigan

While Derrick Green is also a freshman, he has had a lot more game experience than Morris. In 10 games, he has rushed for 265 yards with two touchdowns on 82 carries.

Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is still officially the starter, but he has seen his role scaled back over the past month of the season. After averaging 22.1 carries in the first seven games of the year, he has averaged only seven in the past four.

Meanwhile, Green is up to 12.5 per game in the same time span.

The freshman has great size and speed, but he simply has not had a lot of room to run. Still, the Wolverines need him to come through in order to take the pressure off Morris in his first start.

Otherwise, Michigan will have a hard time moving the football at all.

 

Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State

Although Ryan Mueller ended the regular season tied for seventh in the nation with 11.5 sacks, Kansas State still needs more production out of its All-Big 12 defensive end.

Despite a huge start to the year, Mueller only had one sack in the final three games. He was shut out against Oklahoma, which in part led to the Wildcats allowing a season-high 41 points.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he will need to make sure he finds a way to get to the opposing quarterback and throw the freshman off his game.

Of course, he is not taking the opponent lightly. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com quoted the junior:

This focus is important, but he must make sure he gets into the backfield early and often against Michigan in order to keep the Wolverines off the scoreboard.

 

Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State

The junior quarterback has had an up-and-down season, but the past few weeks have been mostly down.

On the plus side, he has seven touchdown passes and 742 yards in the last three games. However, he also has four interceptions while completing only 50 percent of his passes.

This lack of accuracy has hurt the team all season as he has failed to help the Wildcats sustain long drives. Instead, the squad is relying on big plays, which is much more inconsistent.

In order for Kansas State to beat Michigan, it will need to move the ball down the field with regularity. This means that Waters has to improve his accuracy and decision-making going forward.

If he cannot, the Wildcats will be involved in a very low-scoring game between two struggling offenses.

 

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

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Belk Bowl 2013: Storylines and Players to Watch in Cincinnati vs. UNC

Several years ago, there was a running joke at the beginning of the college football season to project who would land in the so-called "Tire Bowl," otherwise known as one of the most meaningless bowls of the year.

Now, the once-bemoaned Tire Bowl, or Meineke Car Care Bowl by a later name, is known as the Belk Bowl and is typically one of the better bowl games played in the second week of the bowl season. This year is no exception, as two teams that finished the season strong will land in Charlotte this weekend.

One team is fighting through injuries and early setbacks, and the other is enjoying its third straight 9-3 regular season and looking for its third straight bowl win, this time under a new coach. For both North Carolina and Cincinnati, the Belk Bowl is yet again a payoff for the hard work they put into the season.

Here are the best storylines and players to watch for ahead of the Belk Bowl kicking off on Saturday at 3:20 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium.

 

Tuberville's Bowl Bound...Again

Tommy Tuberville has been coaching college football since 1980, been a head coach since 1995 and has been the head coach at four different schools. The man has been around the block, to say the least.

In all of his years of coaching, Tuberville has competed in 10 bowls and made a habit out of winning them. With a 7-3 record—one win at Ole Miss, 5-3 at Auburn and one win at Texas Tech—Tuberville is now back for the first time with his Cincinnati Bearcats.

While the transition from Texas Tech to Cincinnati wasn't an easy one for Tuberville, he told the The Telegraph that he was happy that team rebounded from the change:

I'm proud of our football team from this past year. We went through a very tough time in transition with a new coaching staff and system, but I'm proud of our seniors.

After losing his first two bowls at Auburn, Tuberville has actually been better than his record would indicate in bowls. The 59-year-old has won six out his last seven, including a Sugar Bowl win back in 2005 to finish the 2004 season undefeated.

This may be the second year for the Bearcats in the Belk Bowl, but it will be the first under a coach who is expected to continue the winning ways at a university that has come to expect success in recent years.

 

Can Carolina Continue the Comeback?

After starting the season as dark horses to win the ACC Coastal Division, the Tar Heels started the season off with not only an atrocious defense but a 1-5 record to boot. In its first five losses, UNC was defeated by an average of 12.6 points and had just one win, over Middle Tennessee, to show for its effort.

Then came a Thursday night game against Miami. Despite losing that game by a final of 27-23, the Heels saw what they could do defensively against a good team that was ranked 10th in the country at the time. Carolina forced Stephen Morris to throw four interceptions but wasn't able to hold on in the loss.

In an interview I conducted with safety Tre Boston back in November, the senior credited that loss with the turnaround the Heels experienced this season:

Wow. It was crazy. Going 1-5 just made us realize how much harder we needed to work. Coach (Larry Fedora) came up with the saying, “One more inch.” And we just always tried to go one more inch and guys really believed in that. We knew we were good, we just weren’t playing our best.

Then Miami happened. We realized after that game, especially as a defense, what we were capable of. We’ve kept that through the rest of the season and now we have a good bunch that’s winning games. One of the biggest changes is that we’re confident now. Our offense is clicking, our defense is clicking and all I know is that I’m enjoying this right now.

Following the loss on what Carolina fans called "Zero Dark Thursday," the team seemingly turned what had been a mostly negative season to the point into a positive. Despite the loss of starting quarterback Bryn Renner, the Heels have rallied to finish 5-1 with their only loss coming to Coastal Division champion Duke.

Second-year coach Larry Fedora didn't shy away from the fact that his team had to fight through adversity when he spoke to The Telegraph:

I'm excited for our team, especially our seniors, who fought through some early season adversity and won five of the last six games to become bowl eligible. This is a resilient bunch of guys that kept believing in one another throughout the year and I'm glad they were rewarded with a bowl game.

Carolina became just the sixth team since 2006 to make a bowl game after starting the season 1-5 and did so because of its defensive changes. And with an offense led by freshman T.J. Logan and future NFL tight end Eric Ebron, the Heels might be capable of anything in the Belk Bowl.

 

Players to Watch

Brendon Kay has been one of the best quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference this season but has been overshadowed by players like Teddy Bridgewater due to a handful of games that he performed poorly in—including the final game of the year against Bridgewater's Louisville team.

What the senior has done this season, though, is throw for 3,121 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his final season with the Bearcats. What's even more staggering is the fact that he finished with a 68.6 completion percentage and rushed for an additional six touchdowns.

Kay threw for 332 yards and four scores in the win last year in the Belk Bowl over Duke. Kay also has a great connection with fellow senior Anthony McClung, who finished his last five games with 97 or more yards in each and has receptions of 20 or more yards in every one of those games.

On the Carolina side, the offense starts with Eric Ebron. The junior has already declared for the 2014 NFL draft and rightfully so after exploding for nearly 900 yards this season as a tight end with a backup quarterback at the helm for five games.

Along with Ebron, Logan and sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis have been other spark plugs for the Carolina offense. If Williams can hold down the fort for the offense behind center, the Heels offense will thrive. But against a 9-3 Cincinnati team, it will need a complete effort to pull off the upset.

 

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3 Reasons Why Shane Morris Will Shine in His First Start for Michigan

On Thursday, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced freshman quarterback Shane Morris will start in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. Morris takes the spot of Devin Gardner, who is out with a foot injury sustained in the second half of Michigan's 42-41 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30.

With the loss of Gardner, the Wolverines stand as five-point underdogs against the Wildcats, per Vegas.com. But Michigan fans can have hope in three key reasons why Shane Morris will shine as the Wolverines' signal-caller on Saturday:

 

1. He's playing with veteran skill players

Though Morris may not have the same precise timing with second-team All-Big Ten receiver Jeremy Gallon as Gardner does, Morris will still have the services of one of the Big Ten's most dynamic receivers at his disposal on Saturday. Gallon, who finished second in the Big Ten with 1,284 receiving yards this season, has the playmaking ability to give Morris a reliable outside target.

Sophomore receiver Devin Funchess has shown the ability to adapt to multiple quarterbacks during his young Michigan career—having success with both Denard Robinson and Gardner under center—and shouldn't have any issue getting on the same page as arguably the best passing quarterback he'll have played with in his two seasons with the Wolverines.

Ditto for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines' leading rusher in 2013, whose greatest success as a running back came in 2011 with Robinson functioning more as an efficient passer than any other time during his Michigan career. Toussaint's pass-blocking experience should also help Morris find time in the pocket, despite an interior offensive line that has struggled down the stretch.

Though freshman Derrick Green is Michigan's current starting running back, Green has spent most of the season working his way up the Wolverines' depth chart. A fellow second-teamer for most of the season, Morris should have the best chemistry with Green of all his offensive weapons. 


2. He has all the physical tools

As head coach Brady Hoke's offense continues to shift toward a more pro-style set, Morris is the poster child of a pro-style, pocket-passing quarterback. He has most of the necessary tools to perform at a high level; it's just a matter of execution.

Morris was the first commitment of Michigan's class of 2013 and was initially the highest-ranked recruit in the class. He showed flashes of his ability to "drive the ball to any area of the field," according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, in limited action against Central Michigan and Michigan State earlier this season.

Both head coach Brady Hoke and Morris himself echoed confidence in the freshman's ability to perform as the starting quarterback on Saturday, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

"The last couple weeks have been really confusing," Morris said Thursday in his first official meeting with the media as a Michigan football player. "We didn't know, really, what was going to happen with Devin and the chances of me playing became more prominent.

"But I've prepared all year. For 12 weeks I prepared like I was going to be the starting quarterback. They always say you're one play away. Well, it's true."

"We've scaled some things back," said Hoke, who also announced that sophomore Russell Bellomy will serve as the team's backup with Gardner out. "But there's a lot of offense in there still."

 

3. He's playing against a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 Defense

Morris played just one drive against Michigan State on Nov. 2, but he'll face a much less formidable defense on Saturday.

Kansas State ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 45th in the NCAA in total defense, allowing 367 yards per game. The Wildcats allow 221.8 yards per game in the air, good for 47th in the NCAA.

Though Kansas State is by no means a defensive slouch, the Wildcats' average defensive stats suggest Morris could be in for a strong outing on Saturday.

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Michigan Football: California Dreamin' Rose Bowl or Bust Next Season?

Michigan coach Brady Hoke did his best to play polite visitor as his team arrived in Arizona for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

“We are very excited about being in the desert.”

Excited was the word of the day as Hoke addressed the media.

Excited to be in Arizona, excited for West Coast-based Michigan alums to be able to see their team, excited about playing Kansas State. Excited, excited—while looking anything but.

The truth was written all over his face.

The trip he wanted was one that ended in southern California. The game he wanted isn’t in the desert—it is the one played in the Rose Bowl. He wanted injured quarterback Devin Gardner to be under center, kicker Brendan Gibbons with the team and pro prospect offensive tackle Taylor Lewan not playing under a cloud of suspicion related to a possible assault charge.

The game he really wanted is being played by instate rival Michigan State.

Hoke desperately wants a trip to the Rose Bowl.

But after an epic collapse, where Michigan stumbled to 1-4 record in November, fans are left to wonder how long until the Wolverines return to Pasadena.


 

Schedule

Looking ahead to next season, Michigan has a challenging schedule with tough road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Notre Dame doesn’t figure into the Big Ten standings, but it will be an early-season test nonetheless. Michigan has struggled on the road during the Hoke era, a trend that needs to reverse itself for the team to challenge for the Big Ten title.

 

Quarterback

Devin Gardner will return with Shane Morris expected to be his backup, giving Michigan depth and experience at the position for the first time under Hoke. With Gardner out for the bowl game because of a foot injury, Morris has received all the primary snaps in practice and will start. Russell Bellomy, who missed all season because of a torn ACL injury in spring practice, has also returned to practice and will add extra depth to the quarterback rotation.

 

Offensive Line

No group failed more spectacularly than the offensive line, which loses NFL talent left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Shofield. Michigan shuffled nine players through the five offensive line positions this season, trying in vain to find a serviceable combination. The good news is that seven of those players will return stronger after another offseason of weight training and fully aware of the challenge ahead.

The offensive line showed signs of finally jelling against Ohio State. Time will tell whether they can build on that success while replacing Lewan and Shofield. There is no position group more important to the team’s overall success next season.

 

Running Back

Derrick Green and Deveon Smith showed flashes of brilliance during the backstretch of this season. Along with Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls, Michigan appears to be well stocked at running back for next season.


 

Defense

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is quick to praise the depth of his linebackers, but Michigan needs more pressure from its defensive line to compete for a Big Ten title.

Mattison was especially thrilled with the progress of linebacker Ben Gedeon to mlive’s Nick Baumgardner. "Give him an offseason. Get the freshman out of him. And all of a sudden, boy, you've got a linebacker," Mattison said last week. "(Fans) will be very happy with Ben Gedeon, I'll put my name on that one -- this guy's going to be a heck of a football player."

The depth at linebacker will allow Brennan Beyer to move exclusively to the defensive line, joining Frank Clark and Willie Henry. Michigan loses Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington and will need Taco Charleton and Ryan Glasgow to step up and play significant snaps next season.

Hoke has preached that good defense begins with strong play from the defensive line, and Michigan will need more consistent pressure next season to prevent opposing teams from having time to throw downfield—something that teams did with alarming frequency this season.

 

California Dreamin’

Next season Michigan has the pieces to compete for the Big Ten title and return to the Rose Bowl, but the schedule is not favorable—Michigan plays both Ohio State and Michigan State on the road.

Brady Hoke will be in his fourth season, and most of the roster will be players he recruited; he won’t have any excuses if Michigan has another November collapse.

Next season might not be Rose Bowl or bust for Michigan, but Hoke needs to prove that he has the team on track for a return to national prominence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Goodbye Zack Martin, the Irish's Underrated Iron Man

To get an idea of how quietly Zack Martin's Notre Dame career began, consider that even the Irish football staff was spelling his name wrong.

During Martin's redshirt freshman season, a year where the Notre Dame football program transitioned from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly, the Indianapolis native was listed as "Zach" on the team's official roster. 

Just a few months later, Martin surprised many when his new head coach tabbed the freshman as his opening day left tackle. Now, four seasons and 52 games later, Martin will start his final game for the Fighting Irish, the culmination of a record-setting career that should have him remembered among the great offensive linemen in the program's storied history. 

Before we say goodbye to Martin, let's take a final look at one of the most underrated players in college football. 

 

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Penn State Football: The Road Back to Glory

Most programs can look to next season as their time to get back to the top. Penn State isn't most programs. 

Despite strong showings in both years after unprecedented sanctions were handed down on the program, Penn State is still a step behind the nation's elite. To some, glory in today's game is defined by competing for and winning championships. The Nittany Lions can't do that right now because the NCAA said so.

From a win-loss perspective, you can argue that Penn State has defeated the sanctions to date. The team has won 15 of its 24 games since Bill O'Brien took over. Away from the numbers though, things still need to fall into place to ensure the program doesn't hit a roadblock before the penalties expire. 

 

Keeping O'Brien Around for Now

For starters, the road back to glory for Penn State all hinges on what happens at the top. 

There's some uneasiness amongst the fan base regarding O'Brien's future in State College. For the second consecutive year, he is the subject of rumors linking him to upcoming NFL head coaching vacancies. According to a tweet from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, there might even be mutual interest between O'Brien and the Houston Texans:

Last year, O'Brien squashed the rumors with a press conference. So far this offseason, there's been no similar announcement. 

Granted, NFL franchises are in the infancy stages of their searches. But the fact of the matter is that the NFL is the pinnacle of the football world—something that O'Brien acknowledged in that very press conference:

Respect my profession. My profession is coaching, and in my profession, the National Football League is the highest level of coaching. You don't get any higher in coaching than the National Football League.

The threat of O'Brien leaving Penn State for the NFL is real. That quote, straight from O'Brien himself, is basically an indicator that it one day will happen. 

For Penn State to one day compete for a Big Ten title, it's essential that O'Brien stays around for at least a few more seasons. Penn State is a more attractive job now than it was two years ago, but it will be even more attractive a short while down the road.

In two years from this very moment, Penn State will have recently played its last game under the postseason ban. With no further punishment and scholarship numbers back to full strength for 2016, the Penn State job would be as attractive as any in college football. Given the rich tradition, available facilities and now level playing field, the school should have no problem finding a high-quality head coach if O'Brien decides to leave. 

Keeping O'Brien in State College—at the very least, until the sanctions play out—is the biggest issue that could arise during Penn State's ascent back to glory. Even a flirtation with the NFL could cause a stumble on it's trek back to the top. 

 

Continuing the Solid Recruiting

That flirtation with the NFL could end up scaring a potential recruit. O'Brien and his staff dealt with rumors last year, yet still compiled an impressive group.

In a few months, O'Brien will solidify his second full class (he inherited the 2012 group). According to Scout.com, O'Brien assembled the 46th best recruiting class in 2013. So far in 2014, the site has Penn State ranked as the 26th best. 

The sanctions imposed by the NCAA were supposedly going to cripple Penn State to the point where the school would be unattractive to top talent. As Josh Helmholdt pointed out back in July 2012, a lot of top recruits want the opportunity to win:

"Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "Now that it's been taken off the table, it's just going to absolutely destroy Penn State's recruiting ability in the short term."

"...when you're talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent."

Those are all valid points. Just don't tell that to Christian Hackenberg, Thomas Holley and the other heralded prospects that have opted to become Nittany Lions in the past two years.

The ability of Penn State's staff to pull the kind of talent they have under the postseason ban is impressive. The solid recruiting the past two years has provided O'Brien with a foundation to build on. 

What could really open the flood gates for even more talent would be the reinstatement of postseason play. The NCAA hasn't ruled it out, but for Penn State's next recruiting class it wont make much difference.

Right now, the Nittany Lions can't play in a bowl game until the 2016 season. The members of Penn State's 2015 recruiting class would only be ineligible for the postseason once. For those who get redshirted, they'll be able to play in four bowl games. 

An O'Brien departure would hurt recruiting, but as long as he's here the talent needs to continue to be stockpiled. This is more possible now than ever, as a dwindling postseason ban increases the allure of Penn State even more.

A roster chock-full of good players would make Penn State's rise back to glory easier—whether that's with O'Brien or someone else. 

 

Outlook

While you can nitpick and say that Penn State needs to get better in pass coverage or recruit another offensive lineman, at the end of the day that's just what it is—nitpicking. For Penn State to return to glory, it needs to focus on issues that aren't necessarily X's and O's. 

Every team has a different moment when one can say they're on the rise. In Penn State's situation, staying the course and overcoming the sanctions could spurn a more prosperous era of Nittany Lion football.

That new era could mean routinely contending for Big Ten championships. In this case, Penn State will have returned to glory. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones has shocked the recruiting world with his first-year class as he attempts to build Volunteer football back to what it once was.

Now, with 33 verbal commitments in the fold and many of the nation's elite teams trying to get in prospects' ears and flip them with the Vols sitting at home again this postseason, the last two months before national signing day is mostly about maintenance.

Jones is trying to keep together a class currently ranked third by 247Sports. But there are a few big fish and a couple of more needs the Vols are trying to fill to wrap things up in the 2014 cycle.

UT has one of the nation's best and deepest classes, but it needs to finish strong as well. If so, this really could be the group of players who begin Tennessee's ascent back into the SEC picture.

If you can't get enough of Tennessee football and the recruiting class expected to start Jones' turnaround, consider this to be your "one stop shop" with frequent, daily updates.

You'll find all the news, analysis and updates on commitments and targets that you'll ever need, right here.

All 2013 recruiting information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Poinsettia Bowl Flop Makes Fans Wonder How Jordan Lynch Was a Heisman Finalist

If there's one thing that deserves to be said about Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, it's that he's an exciting player with a decorated career. 

Of course, NIU's bitter 21-14 loss to Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl isn't the way Lynch wanted to end it. Still, Lynch has accomplished a lot during his time with the Huskies. 

He came a mere 80 rushing yards short from being the first FBS player to run and pass for 2,000 yards in a single season. He finished with 100 career touchdowns, and he's one of only five players with 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in a season.

Lynch has won a ton of games and was a finalist for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes seniors who exhibit success on and off the field. 

He was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing third in the final voting behind Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. 

After Thursday's bowl performance, however, critics who believed Lynch shouldn't have been a Heisman finalist were out in full force. 

For all the gaudy numbers Lynch has put up over his career, his last two games have provided legitimate reason to question whether he should have received enough votes to go to New York for the Heisman ceremony. 

Lynch totaled well over 300 total yards and three total touchdowns in the MAC Championship loss to Bowling Green earlier this month; he also threw two interceptions. Against Utah State, Lynch accounted for both of NIU's turnovers. 

He also wasn't nearly as effective running the ball against the Aggies as he normally has been, as Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports noted:

Of course, Northern Illinois' poor offensive showing wasn't solely on the quarterback. Utah State's defense had receivers covered downfield all evening and stuffed the run consistently. There was nowhere for the Huskies to go. 

Still, Lynch's performance brings to mind last season's Orange Bowl against Florida State in which he completed less than 40 percent of his passes and averaged less than two yards per carry. 

It's a damper on what has otherwise been a career worthy of praise. 

Lynch may be an exciting player, but was he one of the six best in college football? Especially when players like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty were left off Heisman ballots? 

Thursday night would suggest not. 

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Utah State vs. Northern Illinois: Poinsettia Bowl 2013 Score, Grades and More

Like many expected, the 2013 Poinsettia Bowl featured a senior star finish his collegiate career with the game of his life. Unfortunately for Northern Illinois, said senior was not Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch.

Utah State running back Joey DeMartino rushed for 143 yards and a key fourth-quarter touchdown, as the Aggies pulled off a 21-14 upset win over Northern Illinois at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

A loser in all but one of its nonconference games in 2013, Utah State set out to prove its stellar late-season run was not a fluke. Swarming the Huskies' high-powered rushing attack with packed boxes and well-designed run blitzes, the Aggies set a dominant tone from the opening whistle and flummoxed Lynch en route to arguably his worst performance of the season.

Lynch, who set an FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback, was held to a minuscule 39 yards on 18 carries. While one of those carries was a second-quarter touchdown that gave the Huskies a 7-6 lead with 8:17 remaining in the half, the positives were few and far between for Lynch.

With the running game sputtering, he was forced to throw the ball 35-plus times for the second straight game. It shouldn't be a surprise that both games ended in Northern Illinois losses. After Lynch looked fine when passing in the first half, Utah State began forcing major mistakes by bringing pressure. The Aggies picked him off on Northern Illinois' opening drive of the second half, sparking a dominant defensive run.

Northern Illinois managed just 19 yards and one first down on its first five second-half drives.

Even when the Huskies created some luck via a turnover, they were unable to take advantage. A fourth-quarter interception of Darell Garretson gave the ball to Northern Illinois deep inside Utah State territory, but Mathew Sims missed a 29-yard field goal to render the pick meaningless. Sims missed two relative chip shots in the contest, as he finishes his career at Northern Illinois missing seven of his final 11 kicks.

Lynch was also chief among those struggling. He completed only six of 17 passes in the second half, with four of those completions coming on Northern Illinois' final drive—at a time when Utah State had opened a two-touchdown lead. Lynch's 15-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Brescacin with 1:44 remaining gave the Huskies a chance to attempt an onside kick, but it proved to be little more than window dressing.

"We had our chances," Lynch said, via ESPN. "We had our chances to make some plays and score some points. We were in the red zone three times or so and we didn't come away with points. We just didn't capitalize on it."

Instead, Thursday night proved to be an excellent showcase for DeMartino.

With Garretson struggling with turnovers and consistently checking down, DeMartino was the game's only consistent force on offense. The San Diego native's 58-yard run in the first quarter allowed Utah State to go ahead 3-0 with 6:56 remaining, and he punched the ball in from one yard out to give the Aggies their necessary cushion in the fourth.

Playing before family and friends, DeMartino pushed Utah State to just its third win over a ranked opponent in 54 tries.

"The feeling's unreal," DeMartino said. "I couldn't ask for a better senior game to go out on and to be in front of my hometown, my family, my friends and everyone who supported me out here."

In his first season since taking over for Gary Andersen, Matt Wells led the Aggies to a 9-5 season record. Once a conference doormat, Utah State now has two straight stellar campaigns under its belt and should be able to replenish its talent stock, especially after reaching a program milestone (via ESPN Stats & Info):

Northern Illinois, meanwhile, walks away from a bowl game disappointed for the second straight year. In 2012, Lynch and Co. were overwhelmed by Florida State in the Orange Bowl. In 2013, they not only blew a chance to make a second straight BCS bowl but also looked overmatched against a Mountain West team.

Not exactly the way Lynch saw his final game going. 

 

Player Grades

Jordan Lynch (QB, Northern Illinois): C

Apparently, Lynch heard his critics and decided his final game at Northern Illinois was a good time to prove he can throw a little bit. He came out firing in the first half, completing 14 of 18 passes and moving the ball well down the field despite some struggles on the ground.

It took him exactly one throw in the second half to make the type of mistake that concerns people about his acumen as a quarterback. Firing a forced pass down the right sideline, Lynch had neither the arm strength nor the proper read on the play.

That was mostly the story of the night for Lynch. Every time the Huskies began working their way down the field, a turnover or quick series of mistakes would doom them.

After such a brilliant career, Lynch will again have to prove himself to NFL scouts. There are very few who grade him out much beyond a seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent. It's unclear whether he'll look to change positions in an effort to keep his career going or, like many previous running quarterbacks, insist on staying at his position.

If Thursday night was any indication, Lynch has a lot to improve on.

 

Joey DeMartino (RB, Utah State): A 

Lynch wasn't the only talented runner making his final collegiate appearance, and DeMartino made sure his presence was felt on the national stage. The senior running back made a living on Thursday breaking long gains against an intermittently effective Northern Illinois defense, taking advantage of almost every small mistake.

It was a long time coming for DeMartino, whose collegiate career was filled with fits and starts. After showing flashes of promise as a youngster in 2010, DeMartino's next three years were mired with injuries. He didn't receive a carry in either 2011 or 2012, making his rise to prominence all the more satisfying.

It also didn't hurt that DeMartino got to go out before a hometown crowd. The San Diego native scored his fifth 100-yard game out of his final seven and was the best offensive player on the field for most of the night. 

 

Cameron Stingily (RB, Northern Illinois): C

The often-underappreciated member of Northern Illinois' elite rushing duo, Stingily wasn't able to add anything to the offense. Like Lynch, it looked like Stingily was just going through the motions at times. He would run right into a swarm of Utah State defenders, give some requisite effort and then go down after a couple yards. 

For someone of Stingily's stature to look so shrug-worthy is a testament to the game-planning from Utah State. It was rare for Stingily ever take over a game himself. His 266-yard game against Kent State aside, Stingily's presence was almost wholly to give Lynch a breather.

Unfortunately for Northern Illinois, he wasn't even able to provide that. 

 

Utah State Defense: A

It's difficult to single out just one player, so we'll highlight the entire unit instead. Holding Jordan Lynch to 39 rushing yards is the type of performance that could be the peak of an entire season. While Utah State had been a stellar unit throughout 2013, there weren't that many who expected the Aggies to have similar success against Northern Illinois.

Taking down the Mountain West in a down year is one thing; doing so against a team that was one victory away from a BCS bowl is another. 

Utah State made Lynch join a long line of solid players unable to create offensive headway. The Aggies now have two straight seasons under their belt finishing among the nation's best defensive units. They'll be losing quite a few top players going into 2014, but we'd be remiss if we doubted them going forward.

 

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Florida State Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

Florida State is preparing to play for a national championship in Pasadena, but Seminole coaches are attempting to finish strong on another playing field: the recruiting trail. Jimbo Fisher is putting together his second recruiting class with a staff that was just installed last year, and he hopes to piece another top-10 group together. 

Check back here from now until national signing day on February 6 for the latest news on Seminole recruiting.  

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Getting to Know New Gators Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper

The Florida Gators surely wish to forget 2013. The year began with an embarrassing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, and the regular season will now go down as the team's worst in more than 30 years.

One of the setbacks at the core of this disastrous campaign was an inept offense that ranked only 113th in the entire country. Thus, the often-maligned Brent Pease was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator earlier this month.

However, a replacement who will try to regain the trust of Gator Nation has now been named.

Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes to Gainesville with a hearty résumé and plenty of upside. But in case you aren't familiar with Roper and his style, here's a quick summary of what he brings to the Gators.

 

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

With national signing day fast approaching, Urban Meyer has Ohio State primed for a big recruiting finish.

The Buckeyes, who have already secured verbal commitments from 19 prospects, boast one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Ohio State still has some holes to fill, and, of course, Meyer is targeting some of the most coveted players in the country to fill out his 2014 class.

Looking for consistent updates on Ohio State's 2014 commits and targets? Find all the news and analysis on the Buckeyes' recruiting efforts—all the way up to national signing day—right here.

 

All recruit rankings and stats per 247Sports.com.

For additional updates, follow David Regimbal on Twitter.

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Freshmen Stars Show ACC Pitt Will Be a Force to Be Reckoned with in 2014

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl was supposed to be the swan song for Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, but an injury to Savage and three freshmen were the real story in the Panthers' 30-27 win over Bowling Green.

It was a perfect storm of the future coming together for the Panthers. One performance came out of nowhere, another was expected and the last was a backup thrust into a major role—and it all mixed into a winning recipe. 

Running back James Connor ran for a Pitt bowl record of 229 yards, breaking Tony Dorsett's previous record. He ran for over 100 yards for the first time since a 102-yard performance against North Carolina in mid-November, and it was just the fourth time all year.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd showed why he's a name to remember with an eight-catch, 173-yard performance, adding a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown for good measure.

Then, with Savage down with an injury, it was redshirt freshman Chad Voytik who came in and went 5-of-9 for 108 yards in his backup role. 

All three performances together put the ACC on notice that Pitt won't be a pushover in 2014—it may just be getting started. 

Paul Chryst has waited patiently for his recruits to work into the program, and on Thursday night we all saw what his offensive mind can do when combined with the right talent. 

On the night, Pitt ran for 255 yards, shattering its average of 114.9 yards per game (which is 112th in the nation). It also passed for a combined 232 yards, which nearly matched its average for the season. 

The good balance between the pass and run game is the key to Paul Chryst's offenses, and history suggests that this type of a performance could be a sign of things to come at Pitt. 

His offenses at Wisconsin were consistently high-scoring and used a balanced approach to achieve success as well. 

Consistency and balance have hobbled Chryst's first two teams at Pitt, but it was what allowed them to squeak out a win in the bowl game. 

Voytik gave the coaching staff a lot to work with in the future, showing he can throw and run—scoring on a nice bootleg from five yards out that put the Panthers ahead 27-20 in the fourth quarter. 

Connor could be the one that becomes the least productive of the bunch offensively, with two highly rated 3-star running backs (according to 247sports), Chris James and Qadree Ollison, coming in the 2014 class.  

Boyd has been the growing star of this group from the start of the season, with 77 receptions, 1,001 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns on the year. 

With Chryst looking to make a big splash, he may have just found the right combination to make the Panthers a contender in the ACC going forward.

It was just one game against Bowling Green, but if these are the performances Pitt's youngsters are capable of now, the future is bright for the Panthers. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: The Road Back to Glory

Nebraska football fans could be forgiven for being a touch spoiled. From 1993 to 1997, Nebraska went 60-3, won three national championships, was a missed field goal away from a fourth and a fourth down conversion away from playing for a fifth. That’s glory.

Since then, of course, Nebraska has not come close to reaching those lofty heights. Nebraska’s last conference championship was in 1999, prior to the George W. Bush presidency. Nebraska’s last appearance in a national title game was in 2001, when NU backed into the title game and was blown off the field by Miami.

Nebraska has been through two head coaches since then, and he looked very much like a third was on his way after Bo Pelini’s “Coach Chickenbleep” press conference following NU’s loss to Iowa this year. But Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst stuck with Pelini. So, the question NU fans are asking now is: "How the team can return to the glory days of old?"

Before we begin that thought experiment, though, we should probably define our terms. For this discussion, “glory” does not mean Nebraska’s 60-3 run with three shiny crystal footballs in the trophy case. The two great runs since Nebraska’s were made by USC and Alabama, schools with many more built in advantages than NU—and neither of them could match the accomplishments of 1993-1997. So expecting Nebraska to repeat that run is completely unrealistic.

Glory for Nebraska fans would be for NU to be a legitimate competitor for a conference title every year, to win a conference title on a regular basis and to be consistently relevant on a national basis (particularly with the four-team College Football Playoff starting next year).

So what has to happen for Nebraska to get from here to there? What does Pelini need to do for Nebraska to get from a four-loss team in the hunt for a divisional title to a conference title contender? There are a lot of specifics that can be identified, and all of them are important. But ultimately, those specifics can be wrapped up in one very simple idea.

Grow up.

I know that sounds harsh, and I really don’t mean it that way. Pelini is an experienced coach who has been through the fires, seen a lot and grown as a leader and a head coach since his hiring in 2007. But the fact remains that Pelini is still a first-time head coach, learning the job as he goes at a school ranked by Forbes as the tenth most valuable college football program in the nation.

And it’s not like Pelini hasn't had accomplishments during his tenure in Lincoln. Nebraska fans watching their team trudge off the field in Lawrence, Kansas, after NU had been drubbed 76-39 by the Jawhawks, would have struggled to imagine their team even being above .500 in two years’ time, much less coming within a point of knocking off the no. 3 team in the nation and winning the conference.

But after six years, we’ve seen Pelini-led teams self-destruct year after year after year. This season might have been Pelini’s tenure in microcosm. Nebraska outgained and, for the most part, outplayed Michigan State in Lincoln. But Nebraska had five (!) turnovers and Michigan State had none, so Michigan State went on to the Big Ten title game and won.

The Iowa game played out almost identically to the Michigan State game, with the same result on the scoreboard. Add on top of that Pelini’s sideline, spittle-flecked hat-swipe which cost his team fifteen yards and himself an incalculable amount of dignity, and you get a really embarrassing picture of a man out of control of himself and his program.

The profanity in his post-game press conference masked what may have been the more disturbing things Pelini said, though. When asked about the hat-swipe—a juvenile and immature act unbefitting of a man in Pelini’s position of leadership—he responded by blaming the referee for a poor call and complaining that the opposing coach was also behaving badly.

Of course, there were extenuating circumstances, with the controversy swirling around his job and Eichorst refusing to make a statement one way or the other about Pelini’s position. But this is big-time college football, and there will almost always be extenuating circumstances. Success at the level demanded by the Nebraska faithful comes from overcoming those circumstances, not making excuses about them.

Right now, the biggest thing keeping Nebraska from competing at the upper echelon of college football is the maturity of the team. Penalties, turnovers, wild swings in performance both during a game and between games—the things that have been killing Nebraska for years—are symptoms of a team lacking in maturity.

And that maturity starts from the top. In many ways, Pelini has been given a new lease on life after his “Coach Chickenbleep” performance in the Iowa post-game press conference. And he will be going in to his seventh year at the helm, his fourth through the B1G.

It’s time. The talent is in place, both on the field and in the recruiting pipeline. The support, both from the fans and the athletic department financially, is there to win at the highest level.

The time for excuses is over. It’s time for Nebraska under Pelini to grow up, get out of its own way, and take its place on the conference and national stage.

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge

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