NCAA Football News

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.

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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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Georgia Football: Which Nebraska QB Do Dawgs Want to See in the Gator Bowl?

When the Bulldogs went up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers last year in the Capital One Bowl, they took it to quarterback Taylor Martinez, as they sacked him five times and forced him to throw two interceptions en route to a 45-31 win.

Martinez will not be playing in the rematch on January 1 because of a foot injury, so senior Ron Kellogg III or freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. will get the nod to play in the Gator Bowl. Both players have played well at times, and both players have also struggled. So it will be interesting to see who head coach Bo Pelini goes with when it’s time to announce the starter.

But the real question is who the Bulldogs want to see play in the Gator Bowl. It would be easy to say they want to see Kellogg start because he is coming off a loss to Iowa in the season finale. And he did not fare well, as he completed 51 percent of his passes and threw one touchdown and two interceptions. But the right call for the Bulldogs would be Armstrong.

And the reason for that is experience. Armstrong has seen a lot of action this year, but he’s still a freshman.  He showed glimpses of what he’s capable of when he led a comeback against Michigan. But he has also had his fair share of mistakes, as he threw one interception and completed only 42 percent of his passes against Michigan State.

Armstrong is a young player who has a lot of upsides. But he is still learning the system, and the Bulldogs defense can benefit from someone who is not very accurate with the football.

Kellogg is more accurate and, as a senior, is very familiar with the offense. With this game being the final one of his career, Kellogg wants to go out with a bang, which is why the Bulldogs can’t have him playing. The secondary has struggled all season long and since Kellogg was given a month to prepare, he could have a career day against the Bulldogs.

But no matter who is under center, if the Bulldogs can’t stop Ameer Abdullah, it will be a long day on defense.

Abdullah has rushed for 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns, and he has rushed for over 100 yards in 10 of the Cornhuskers 12 games. One game he did not run for 100 yards was against UCLA, when he ran for 98 yards.

The Bulldogs run defense was solid this season, as they ranked fifth in the SEC with 148 yards per game. But they did give up 232 yards against Georgia Tech in the regular season finale and 323 yards against SEC Champions Auburn two weeks prior. The Bulldogs have to find a way to contain Abdullah before they worry about the quarterback situation.

With this being the final game of the 2013 season, as well as a really early look into the 2014 season, the Bulldogs defense wants to put on a show to give fans hope that they will be better. It would be a better fit to see Armstrong under center than Kellogg, but the reality of the situation is the Bulldogs should not care. If they want to make a statement, they need to get after everyone on offense and prepare for anyone and anything.

 

 

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Pitt vs. Bowling Green: Score, Grades and Analysis from Little Caesars Bowl 2013

The Pittsburgh Panthers benefited from a virtuoso performance by sensational freshmen James Conner and Tyler Boyd en route to a 30-27 upset victory over MAC champion Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Thursday.

The hefty but surprisingly nimble Conner ran for a Pitt bowl-record 229 yards and a key 15-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter to respond to an early field goal by the Falcons at Detroit's Ford Field.

Boyd had eight receptions for 173 yards and took a punt to the house to give the Panthers some second-quarter momentum.

It was amazing to see what the two youngsters did to an opponent that ranked No. 8 in total defense entering the evening as the Panthers improved to 7-6. The hard running from Conner even compelled ESPN's Damon Sayles to make a gaudy comparison:

However, the 17-3 lead that Pittsburgh had built was erased in short order around the intermission. The Falcons had some fight in them after all, as quarterback Matt Johnson tossed a 29-yard touchdown to Alex Bayer, which cut the deficit to seven points at halftime.

In the blink of an eye, Bowling Green's special teams became special on the second-half kickoff, as Jerry "BooBoo" Gates went 94 yards to paydirt, knotting the game at 17 apiece.

The first-year phenom Boyd's prowess as a playmaker in Pitt's passing game was most critical and the difference in the game.

Senior signal-caller Tom Savage went down with a rib injury, which forced the Panthers to turn to freshman Chad Voytik, who had thrown just two passes all season before Thursday's contest:

He was forced to grow up quickly, and having a precocious fellow freshman in Boyd to turn to helped the cause immensely.

The tandem connected on a big gain that set up Voytik's untouched scamper to the end zone from five yards out to put the Panthers on top 27-20 with 9:31 left.

Unfortunately for Pitt, the unflappable Johnson roared back, often running for his life and taking one of seven sacks on the evening amid a great nine-play, 75-yard drive. It culminated in a touchdown toss to Ryan Burbrink from 15 yards out to even things at 27 apiece.

Thanks to some punishing runs from Conner and a 19-yard scramble by Voytik, Pitt moved into field-goal range. Kicker Chris Blewitt didn't live up to what his surname might imply, booting the winning kick through the uprights from 39 yards away.

Johnson and Co. attempted to rally, but back-to-back sacks and a turnover on downs on a crazy multiple-lateral play secured the victory for the Panthers.

Here are the grades for the key performers in a bowl that did not garner much attention but was thrilling nonetheless.

 

Grades

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh: A

Although he was a little quieter toward the end once Conner became more of a focal point in the game plan, Boyd proved he is maybe the most underrated freshman in the country.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit weighed in about how promising Boyd's career looks moving forward:

Between the electric punt return and being the only Panthers receiver to catch more than one pass—tight end J.P. Holtz had two catches—it was just a great all-around performance from a star who put himself on the map. He and Conner will lead Pitt into a new, flourishing era as they continue to improve.

 

Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green: A-

It's a shame that Johnson didn't get better protection. Even under constant duress, he managed to complete 20 of 32 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns, keeping the Falcons in it until the very end.

Bowling Green needed better play from its typically strong defense in the end to give Johnson one more chance to win it. By the time Pitt strung together a late drive to take the lead, it was too much to overcome that pass rush.

 

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh: A

It took awhile for Conner's physicality to take a toll on the Falcons, but it was evident that his pounding caused Bowling Green to crack.

In the second half, he ran for 165 yards on 16 carries and was not going to be denied. His efforts—and those of the Pittsburgh offensive line—were instrumental in taking the outcome out of the inexperienced Voytik's hands. 

 

Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green: C-

What a disappointing way for the Falcons' leading rusher to close out an otherwise outstanding sophomore campaign. Greene went out with a whimper, registering just 39 yards on 18 carries and two catches for 12 yards.

There was no balance to be had thanks to an excellent performance from Pitt's defensive front, which was keyed by senior lineman Aaron Donald, who will likely be playing on Sundays sometime in the next year. He even garnered a comparison to Detroit Lions star Ndamukong Suh:

Nevertheless, the Falcons could not establish the ground game, which took Greene out of rhythm and made the offense one-dimensional, thereby causing Johnson to be vulnerable.

 

Quick Takeaways

This is a big win for Pittsburgh, which ends the season on a high note at 7-6. The Panthers are above .500 and built something for the future.

The absence of Falcons head coach Dave Clawson—who took the job at Wake Forest—seemed to cause Bowling Green to come out flat, and the future of the program appears even more precarious at the moment.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

One of Nick Saban's many strengths as a college football coach is his ability to bring in and develop talent better than anyone else.

Saban has signed the No. 1 recruiting class the last three years and is on track to make it a fourth straight, according to 247Sports.

With 23 commitments already, the class is just about wrapped up, but like always there will be a few moving parts and things to sort out before the Feb. 5 national signing day.

Stay tuned here from now until then for all of the latest news about Alabama's 2014 signing class. We'll be updating this with commitments, decommitments and all the latest Alabama recruiting news over the next few weeks.

All recruiting information comes via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

 

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LSU and Iowa Players Ate More Than 5,000 Pounds of Food at Outback Steakhouse

It looks like the LSU Tigers and the Iowa Hawkeyes are making the most out of their bowl experiences.

The two squads combined to eat more than 5,000 pounds of food at an Outback Steakhouse, as the Hawkeyes tweeted:

LSU and Iowa were treated to feast by Outback Steakhouse tonight, devouring a combined 5,000 lbs of food.

— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) December 26, 2013

KGAN's Jared Aarons was able to get a breakdown of the feast.

LSU and Iowa don't meet in the Outback Bowl until Jan. 1, so there will be plenty of time to digest the food. 

Hat tip to College Spun's Matt Lombardi for the find.

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LSU Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

LSU had another successful season under Les Miles in 2013, but the Tigers lacked the talent and depth needed to contend for an SEC Championship. The 2014 recruiting class must be phenomenal for the future of the program. 

LSU already has a stacked class, but recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson still has his eye on numerous 5-star targets. If Wilson and the staff can reel in the elite prospects, the Tigers could finish with the No. 1 overall class. 

Keep up with the latest news and notes on the recruiting trail here. 

 

Note: All 2012 stats via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Which 2014 College Football Recruits Are Wavering on Commitments?

With January right around the corner, many recruits' feet start to get a little chilly during this time. Prospects make commitments, but some start to waver on their pledges.

The 2014 class is no different from its predecessors, as it has several players who appear to be wavering on their commitments. These recruits are unsure of their decisions, which has them scheduling last-minute trips and visits.

Florida is sweating over the final decision of a 5-star running back, while a 4-star defensive end is re-thinking his commitment to an ACC school. Plus, USC and UCLA both have commitments who are wavering.

 

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Michigan Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

National signing day is quickly approaching, and the Michigan Wolverines, yet again, have another potential top-10 class waiting to sign letters of intent on Feb. 6. 

This tracker will provide the latest updates pertaining to the 2014 recruiting haul, which is headlined by all-around superstar Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star athlete out of Paramus Catholic (N.J.).

Drake Harris, a 5-star wideout from Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.), is also among the class that holds a No. 14 national ranking from 247Sports, which serves as the guide for player and class rankings within this slideshow.  

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Texas Bowl 2013: Highlighting Top Stars in Syracuse vs. Minnesota Matchup

In an era of spread college football offenses lighting up scoreboards across the nation, the 2013 Texas Bowl isn't likely to offer such thrills.

When the Syracuse Orange and Minnesota Golden Gophers do battle on Friday, Dec. 27 in Houston's Reliant Stadium, there won't be prolific passing games on display.

Rather, each team's top running back will go a long way in deciding the outcome, while a couple defensive stalwarts in the trenches should also play massive roles in determining who wins.

Let's take a closer look at the biggest stars from each team in this ACC-Big Ten showdown and the type of impact each of them should have.

 

Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse

It's been tough sledding for the Orange all season on offense, as the program has fought its way to a 6-6 record in the first season of the post-Doug Marrone era.

Smith has been a big reason why Syracuse stayed afloat after its first two contests. The 226-pound junior has ground it out between the tackles with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average and has managed 11 rushing touchdowns.

With plans to enter the 2014 NFL draft, Smith will be stepping onto the field in a college game for the final time. He'll want to end his career with a bang—especially after recording just 46 yards in the team's last-second win over Boston College that made Syracuse bowl eligible.

The Orange offense has found some traction in the past two games under the guidance of quarterback Terrel Hunt, whose improved play has lessened the pressure on Smith to be the go-to guy.

However, in a game of this magnitude, it would be wise for Syracuse to pound the ball with Smith and limit what Hunt has to do in order to have a chance at pulling off the upset.

And Smith has the frame to be the bell-ringer. Also, having the opportunity to prove himself to pro talent evaluators should spur him into having a great final performance.

 

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have a similarly punishing runner who is both more consistent and versatile. Cobb has run for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 16 receptions for 162 yards.

Even in facing the nation's top-ranked rush defense in Michigan State on Nov. 30, Cobb managed 101 yards on 27 carries in a 14-3 loss. That is all the context necessary to expect that he will flourish against the Orange.

Syracuse is no slouch versus the run, but Cobb is talented enough to be productive. As tweeted by Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Cobb emphasized the need to capitalize on scoring opportunities:

Minnesota's offense has done well in the red zone this year, converting 24 of 26 of those chances into touchdowns, with 20 scores coming on the ground.

Earlier this month, Orange head coach Scott Shafer assessed how tough it would be to stop Cobb, per SUAthletics.com:

They've got a doggone good running back in Cobb. He can run the football and he runs it well because they block it well up front. They're a sound, tough team. They're going to be a team that doesn't shoot themselves in the foot. I've seen them get more consistent with the way they approach the game, the mistakes they don't make. They don't throw a lot of interceptions and they play a good, tough brand of football, but it's the run game first and foremost.

 

Look for Cobb to do just as well as Smith or even outperform him in what should be an outstanding showcase of two hard-nosed backs determined to carry their teams to victory.

 

Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse

At 6'6" and 294 pounds, the senior defensive tackle is an absolute force on the inside. He is second on the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and first with eight sacks.

Bromley should be able to wreak havoc up front and neutralize Cobb's effectiveness between the tackles while also collapsing the pocket on elusive Golden Gophers QB Philip Nelson.

What gives Bromley an edge is that he seems to have an understanding of what the Golden Gophers are doing offensively, noting that there isn't much difference between what they did in 2012 to this season:

Linebacker Durell Eskridge leads the Orange in tackles with 78 tackles but will not be available for the Texas Bowl due to an upper-body injury, per Syracuse.com's Hank Domin.

That puts the onus all the more on Bromley to get penetration and allow Syracuse linebackers to make plays and shut down Cobb.

 

Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota

The 6'6" redshirt sophomore is a menace to handle coming off the edge with his great length and athleticism, and it's helped him register 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Syracuse quarterback Hunt will have to be on the lookout for Cockran swiping at the ball, even if he gets pushed too far upfield. Considering Cockran is a first-year starter, it's all the more impressive that he's been able to be so productive.

This is a great opportunity for the precocious defensive end to showcase his skills, and it's something he feels he needs to do. Fuller reported on Dec. 23 that Cockran is itching to be a bigger contributor after not recording any tackles in last year's bowl loss to Texas Tech:

"Coach [Jerry] Kill always says it starts up front, so it's up to the D-line to set the tone," said Cockran. "I feel a lot better this year. I feel like I'll be able to make more of an impact this year."

Syracuse's offensive line will have a tough time focusing on both Cockran and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, who is an all-conference player and a disruptive force up the middle.

With the attention focused on Hageman in order to better establish Smith and the Orange's ground game, the stage is set for Cockran to have a breakout performance on a national stage.

 

 

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Davante Adams' 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Reportedly Hiring Agent

Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Davante Adams has been the top target of college football's No. 1 passing attack this season, and he is reportedly set to take his talents to the NFL level.

According to DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline on Thursday, Adams will enter the 2014 NFL draft after hiring an agent:

Now the fun part begins: projecting how a prolific wideout who leads the nation in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24) will translate to the pros. First in this analysis is figuring out where Adams might be drafted in May.

Some receivers who put up such gaudy numbers are products of their offensive systems. In the spread-crazed era of college football that is engulfing the game today, it is possible for coaching, spacing and matchups to yield eye-popping numbers.

While some of those factors have aided Adams' efforts—along with a cannon-armed quarterback in Derek Carr—the junior has exceptional skills that suggest he will continue to flourish on the NFL gridiron.

NFL.com scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah compared him to San Diego Chargers' emerging rookie Keenan Allen:

The former University of California standout fell to the third round of last year's draft but has come on for a respectable maiden campaign in San Diego.

Allen and Adams are about the same size at around 6'2" and 210 pounds. Both have great ball skills and show mature route-running ability—an uncommonly polished attribute for collegiate players who are making the transition to the pros.

One recent comparison that comes to mind regarding Adams and Carr is the receiver-QB tandem from Oklahoma State that was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft: Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden.

However, Adams has none of the off-field issues that Blackmon—who is suspended indefinitely at the moment—has.

That puts him in ideal position to be drafted early. The bad news is the wide receiver class promises to be deep.

CBSSports.com's rankings list as many as eight receivers who might be chosen in Round 1, but Adams is a firm second-round grade and the 10th-rated prospect at his position. The outlet's Jeremy Fowler also reports that Adams is seeking to improve the third-round grade that he received from the NFL draft advisory board:

If he lives up to the Allen comparison offered by Jeremiah, though, Adams will make several franchises regret passing on him if he is drafted later than expected.

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Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Ran out of Pizza

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl reportedly ran out of pizza for the media. 

Let's just say it's probably not the best publicity for the company.

Thanks to David Dermer for making this public.

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Poinsettia Bowl 2013 Utah State vs. Northern Illinois: Live Score and Highlights

Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1) will take on the Utah State Aggies (8-5) in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. 

The Huskies will be looking to avoid a possible hangover in this contest. Had NIU won its last game of the season versus Bowling Green, it would have been playing in its second straight BCS bowl game. 

As for the Aggies, freshman Darell Garretson has played well in the absence of Chuckie Keeton. 

It should be a very entertaining contest. Lynch, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is an absolute terror on the ground. Utah State is allowing only 107.3 yards per game on the ground. It's also allowing only 17.3 points per contest. 

The game will begin at 9:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

The full box score is available at NCAA.com. 

Bleacher Report appreciates you sticking with us tonight. Tune in for up-to-the-minute scores, analysis, media and much more!

 

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Bill O'Brien's Houston Texans Interview Reminds Fans He Won't Be PSU Lifer

The Joe Paterno's and Bobby Bowden's of the world are nearly an extinct breed in college coaching these days, and on Thursday, we got a reminder that the era of JoePa likely won't repeat itself in State College anytime soon. 

Word of the NFL sniffing around Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is nothing new, but O'Brien having an interview with an NFL team is. 

Perhaps the first clues as just how serious O'Brien could be about a return to the NFL came when two staffers left the program following the season-ending win over Wisconsin.

It's hard to blame the NFL for wanting one of the brightest stars in the coaching fraternity in its grasp. O'Brien has guided the Penn State program to two straight winning seasons and a 15-9 overall record to date. 

All of that while being blindsided by crippling NCAA sanctions and a fractured fanbase too. It impressed former Minnesota head coach and current BTN analyst Glenn Mason enough to declare the program on solid ground for the future, according to Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer

What Bill O'Brien and Penn State have been able to accomplish the last two years is nothing short of miraculous. I thought what he did in Year 1 was unbelievable but was outdone by what they did this year. I thought the first year would be their best production, and then it would probably downward spiral to some degree for a variety of reasons - emotions of the players wearing off from the standpoint of an us-against-the-world mentality, the lasting down effect of not being able to compete for a championship or go to a bowl. After seeing the way they performed against Wisconsin, that has changed my opinion about them. I would say they're in good shape and going in the right direction.

That will attract the attention of just about anyone with a pulse in NFL circles. Yet, this is the furthest confirmation we've gotten that O'Brien is serious about the NFL at this time. 

He's managed to say and do all the right things to help heal and move Penn State forward over the last two years, and many thought O'Brien would see that reclamation project to its conclusion at a bare minimum. 

Should O'Brien leave, it throws the program back into limbo when it least needs it. Sure, the new coach will have more scholarships available, but Penn State will still be years away from having a full 85-man roster (eligible for that in 2020). 

Not to mention the impending decision of star wide receiver Allen Robinson. O'Brien leaving could have major implications for that choice, and with it, a lot of the immediate future of Penn State's offense. 

The relationship Robinson developed with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was one of the more lethal in the Big Ten, and another year together could be very tempting for any coach to want to stick around.

O'Brien's decision can't be an easy one, as the Penn State football program and the kids in it have gone through a lot in the past two years and leaving them behind after just two years on the job would feel like yet another punch to the gut to those who've stuck around.

Then again, being a head coach in the NFL is the pinnacle of his chosen profession and how often will the NFL come calling?

The constant rumors and innuendo associated with O'Brien and the NFL haven't gone away, and those situations won't until O'Brien makes a definitive statement one way or the other. 

So far, he's been mum on his future plans since his season-ending press conference, so clues as to his future intentions have not been easy to come by.  

No matter if O'Brien stays at Penn State or leaves, the fact that he is taking NFL interviews seriously should serve as a reminder to everyone involved—Bill O'Brien is not going to stay at Penn State for very long.

 

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

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