NCAA Football News

USC Trojans Football: The Road Back to Glory

For most college football programs struggling to get to the pinnacle of their sport, it is easy to gaze forward and say, "Wait until next year."

Of course, not many programs are USC, and certainly there are few who not only have to overcome their opponents on the field of play, but also the administrative bludgeoning of their sport's governing body.

Yet that is what the Trojans will face next year as they try to overcome a change of coaching staff as well as deal with the last year of NCAA-mandated sanctions handed to them courtesy of the Reggie Bush fiasco.

While few would argue that a coaching change was needed following a poor finish by former head coach Lane Kiffin, only those who truly despise the Trojans would argue that the NCAA dealt with them with an even hand.

Nonetheless, that's where USC is going into 2014, and although the road back to dominance will be difficult to say the least, the first steps to that goal have already been undertaken.

With the Trojans welcoming Steve Sarkisian as their new head coach, the uncertainty that enveloped the 2013 season at that position has now been addressed.

But as one question is answered, others remain, and the most significant of those concern Sarkisian's staff—who exactly will make up the assistant coaching staff?

Although some of those subordinates have been identified—welcome back, Tee Martin and Clay Helton—others remain in limbo, and the statuses of some respected members of the prior Kiffin regime, such as special teams coach John Baxter, have recently been the subject of some ominous tweets:

RT @evanbud: RT @InsideUSC: #USC special teams John Baxter was among those cleaning up his office yesterday

— James Tate (@jamesgtate) December 24, 2013

And while most Trojan fans would lament the loss of Baxter—one of the most respected special teams coaches in the nation—those same fans remain on pins and needles waiting for Sark to drop the other shoe regarding his appointment of a defensive coordinator.

Will Justin Wilcox—Sark's defensive coordinator at Washington—be coming south to join his former boss at USC, or will it be Clancy Pendergast, the guy who did such an admirable job in that capacity for the Trojans in 2013?

So many questions and so few answers, and those aren't the only mysteries that need solving for  Sarkisian as he attempts to forge his own brand on this inaugural staff that represents the "Sarkisian Era."

Now back to those sanctions, which remain like an albatross around the neck of USC's football program. While I won't further editorialize about the unfairness of that arbitrary punishment, the reality is that USC has suffered under the constraints of that sentence and will continue to do so.

In fact, the Trojans can't be expected to vie for a conference championship—much less a national title—until they are allowed to compete under the auspices of the same rules that are applied to everyone else.

And that won't occur until around 2015 or the year after, when USC will have stocked a roster that reflects the same number of scholarship players as those they compete against.

Of course, this is not to say that Sarkisian will be able to use this as an excuse, because he won't and Trojan fans wouldn't allow him to anyway.

Fair or not, USC's expectations won't be diminished by the notion that it simply doesn't have the same number of scholarship players as others. If you don't believe me, just ask former head coach Lane Kiffin if that excuse—viable or not—helped him retain his employment at the university.

Finally, at least for the upcoming year, the road back to glory will depend on which players Sarkisian has coming back in 2014.

With a depleted roster already teetering with reduced numbers, it is crucial that the new coach has a large portion of his NFL-eligible juniors and redshirt sophomores return for the 2014 season.

Speaking of which, USC fans already know that stud nickelback/safety/linebacker Dion Bailey won't be returning:

USC junior S Dion Bailey announced that he is leaving for the NFL. The three-year starter has already earned his degree.

— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 23, 2013

While Sark and USC will miss the versatile Bailey—who is a hell of a player—everyone concerned hopes that his departure does not signal an exodus of players who can opt for the professional ranks.

Though this possible wave of departing players remains a concern, at least USC received some welcome news when tight end Randall Telfer gave the Trojans a yuletide gift:

One more year! I'll see you guys next fall! Merry Christmas Trojan Family!  #fighton

— Randall Telfer (@RandallTelfer) December 25, 2013

A few more of those and Sark's short-term efforts to return the Trojans to glory may be realized sooner than many could realistically hope for.

But while those who follow the Trojans will keep their fingers crossed that success will occur sooner rather than later, they should keep those expectations tempered by the reality of what USC has ahead of it.

And as they do, they must understand that every journey begins with a single step and that some roads wind on a bit longer than others.

But when they get there, the taste will be all the sweeter.

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Florida Football: New OC Kurt Roper a High Risk, High Reward Hire

Florida head coach Will Muschamp needs a one-year turnaround to keep his job in Gainesville, and he's tying his fate to a school that paved the way for the greatest coach in Florida history.

The Duke Blue Devils.

Duke was where former head coach Steve Spurrier cut his teeth as a head coach prior to joining his alma mater before the 1990 season, and it is where new Gator offensive coordinator Kurt Roper spent the last six seasons on David Cutcliffe's staff in Durham, N.C.

Muschamp is excited about the opportunity for Roper to kick-start the Gator offense.

"I'm excited to have Coach Roper join our staff," Muschamp said according to GatorZone.com's Scott Carter. "He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though is he has always remained balanced."

Roper has enjoyed a tremendous career as an innovative offensive mind, guiding quarterbacks to five 3,000-yard seasons and producing four 1,000-yard receivers at Duke—something that hasn't been done at Florida since Taylor Jacobs did it in 2002.

It's a big risk for Roper and Florida because while his track record of developing quarterbacks and using an up-tempo system is nice, quarterback is a position that has been a sore spot for the program ever since Tim Tebow moved on following the 2009 season.

Rising senior Jeff Driskel will likely be the starter when toe meets leather in 2014. The dual-threat quarterback from Oviedo, Fla., has dual-threat capabilities that will help him thrive in a system that's better suited for him. Sure, Will Grier—a 5-star quarterback in the 247Sports.com composite—could get a look. But if we're talking about a one-year turnaround, will Muschamp really want to tie his fate to a true freshman quarterback? Probably not.

If Florida is going to turn things around in a hurry, the adaptation is going to have to be a two-way street.

The risk is especially great on Roper's side. 

He had a good thing going with the Blue Devils, and now he's coming back to the SEC in a situation where he absolutely must turn things around in one year; otherwise, he'll be looking for new work again next December.

That's exactly why Florida will make it worth his while, according to Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

Roper will make $600,000 a year, The Sun has learned.

— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) December 26, 2013

The reward could be huge for both parties.

Florida has the athletes to be successful, and Roper's up-tempo style and track record of adapting to personnel on the roster will allow athletes to be athletes—and there's no shortage of athletes on Florida's roster. 

If he can get Florida back to a competitive level in one year in the SEC, he will quickly become a legend in Gainesville.

The "win-now" mentality coupled with a new offensive scheme and several stars returning from injuries should make the next 12 months quite a ride in the Sunshine State. 

 

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BCS Bowl Schedule 2013-14: Viewing Information and Top NFL Prospects to Watch

The BCS bowl games are nearly here and not only will they provide us with some great games to watch, but they will also showcase some of the best incoming NFL talent that will likely be drafted in May.

Some of the best teams in the country will be going head-to-head in January, and there will be plenty of intriguing matchups to watch for.  Of course, all eyes will be on the national championship game between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers, but the Rose Bowl between the Michigan State Spartans and the Stanford Cardinal could be just as exciting, if not more.

Below is a complete schedule for the BCS bowl games, followed by a breakdown of one NFL prospect from each team to watch for.

Note: All statistics provided by CFBStats.com.

 

Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State

Stanford: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB

With 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, it's hard to ignore what Trent Murphy has been doing this season for Stanford.  The senior outside linebacker/defensive end has a ton of potential as a pass-rusher at the pro level.  He has a great frame at 6'6'' and 261 pounds that helps him dominate opposing offensive linemen.

Although there are a number of athletic and talented pass-rushers in this year's draft, Murphy has a great chance to go at the end of the first round.

 

Michigan State: Darqueze Dennard, CB

This year's draft class is quite simply loaded with NFL talent at the cornerback position, but Darqueze Dennard is one of the names that is quickly climbing up draft boards with his recent play.  He's had four interceptions and 10 passes broken up this season along with 59 total tackles, and he will be a player to watch out for in this game.

Dennard is a physical corner despite his size.  He has the speed to keep up with most receivers and some fluid hip movement that will transition to the next level, so it's hard to see him going any later than the second round.

 

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Central Florida vs. Baylor

Central Florida: Blake Bortles, QB

With Marcus Mariota deciding to stay another season and Derek Carr struggling against the USC Trojans, one quarterback that might skyrocket up draft boards after the Fiesta Bowl is Blake Bortles.

At 6'4'' and 230 pounds, Bortles has the ideal size for a quarterback combined with the intangibles and football IQ that makes him a great signal-caller.  He was able to complete 68.1 percent of his passes this season with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, giving him a 163.3 pass rating.  Along with a strong arm and a strong mind, it means that he could find a way to sneak into the top 10 with some luck.

 

Baylor: Cyril Richardson, OG

Few offensive guards get a lot of love, especially in college.  But Cyril Richardson is a special talent that could be the first player taken at the position.  He has a big frame at 6'5'' and 335 pounds, plus he has some long arms to eat up defensive players to open up some big running lanes for his running backs.

Richardson is an aggressive player in pass protection and in the ground game, so he should have no problem making an immediate impact on any team.  Unfortunately for him, offensive guards just aren't valued that high, but he still should be taken early in the second round.

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Oklahoma: Aaron Colvin, CB

After playing at safety during his sophomore season, Aaron Colvin has successfully made the transition to cornerback for the Oklahoma Sooners.  He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection his junior year with 52 tackles and four interceptions, and while he hasn't been as productive this year, he's still a strong prospect.

Colvin is a physical corner that can come in and help make plays in the running game, using his toughness to get in and tackle the ball-carrier near the line of scrimmage.  He doesn't have the top-end speed to cover slot receivers, but he has the upside to be a shutdown guy in press coverage, and a team will likely take him in the second round.

 

Alabama: C.J. Mosley, LB

C.J. Mosley could have been a top-tier prospect in last year's draft, but he decided to stay for his senior season.  That turned out to be a fine idea, as he still has a chance to be taken very early in the draft.

With 102 total tackles and nine tackles for loss, Mosley is able to find the ball from almost anywhere on the field.  He has some nice length at the position and does a good job staying low to create separation and get to the ball-carrier.  He's a very intelligent linebacker that can read opposing offenses, and he has a very good chance at being a top-10 pick.

 

Discover Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State

Clemson: Sammy Watkins, WR

Tajh Boyd may be trying to help his draft stock at the quarterback position, but all eyes will be on Sammy Watkins, as he's easily the top receiver in the 2014 draft class.  With 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, Watkins has been one of the most productive receivers in the country.

As a vertical threat alone, Watkins would be one of the top receivers drafted, but he does so much more than run deep routes.  He does a great job making plays in the open field and picking up yards after the catch, which is why he should be taken somewhere in the top 15 of the draft.

 

Ohio State: Carlos Hyde, RB

Carlos Hyde just keeps finding ways to help his draft stock.  Despite not playing in the team's first three games, Hyde has already run for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

The senior running back from Naples, Fla. isn't small at 6'0'' and 242 pounds, but he has a surprising amount of speed.  He has no problem finding the hole and shooting through it, using his big size to pick up yards after contact and break off big runs.  He's quickly becoming one of the top running backs in the draft class, and he'll likely be a third-round selection.

 

BCS National Championship Game: Florida State vs. Auburn

Florida State: Cameron Erving, OT

Considering the fact that he's blocked for both EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston, it's safe to say that Cameron Erving knows a thing or two about blocking for NFL-caliber quarterbacks.

With a 6'5'', 310-pound frame, Erving is surprisingly quick on his feet and can keep up with even the quickest of pass-rushers.  Along with the ability to protect the quarterback, Erving's footwork also helps him considerably in the running game, and this versatility is what will help him be a first-round pick in a draft class littered with great offensive tackles.

 

Auburn: Tre Mason, RB

Along with a magical run for the Auburn Tigers, the team has also had the nation's best running game, averaging 335.7 rushing yards per contest thanks to Nick Marshall and Tre Mason.  For Mason, he's run for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, including an impressive 304-yard, four-score game in the SEC championship against Missouri.

Even though he's just 5'10'', Mason is a great downhill runner who isn't afraid to make contact with defenders.  He has great vision and has no problem running north-south when he sees a hole.  After making a run for the Heisman Trophy, Mason should be a third- or fourth-rounder.

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Bowl Schedule 2013-14: Viewing Information for Remaining Slate of Games

A handful of exciting bowl games have already taken place and left us with thrilling finishes, but we're just getting started in a 2013-14 college football postseason that is certain to captivate.

The matchups just get better by the day leading up to the BCS National Championship game between Florida State and Auburn on Jan. 6. Many of the nation's best schools will take to the gridiron against one another in some exciting New Year's Day spectacles, as well as a couple of notable games on other days.

Here's a look at the remaining schedule of games heading into the post-Christmas slate. 

 

Biggest Matchups to Watch

Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

Date: Jan. 1

Time: 1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

One of the best games of the New Year's Day slate unfolds in Orlando, Fla., every year, and this season should produce more of the same with an enticing matchup between No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 9 South Carolina.

The 10-2 Gamecocks have won five straight to close out their regular season, including a 14-point win over then-No. 6 Clemson in their regular-season finale. If not for a road loss to Tennessee on Oct. 19, Steve Spurrier's crew would have won the SEC East thanks to a head-to-head win over Missouri.

Wisconsin had a shot at an at-large BCS bid before a Senior Day loss to Penn State, but the 9-3 Badgers are their typical, physical selves. Led by rushing duo Melvin Gordon and James White, who each have topped 1,300 yards this season, Wisconsin can run it down the throats of many teams.

That will be easier said than done against the Gamecocks. They have the SEC's second-best scoring defense, giving up an average of just 20 points per game. Their rushing defense also ranks No. 2 in the conference. 

When you throw Jadeveon Clowney—the hero of New Year's Day in 2013—into the mix along with an elite defense against one of the nation's best rushing attacks, it just about does it for old-fashioned football spectators. This war in the trenches will be among the best you'll see in the postseason. 

The SEC trumps the Big Ten overall, and that's not really an argument, but it's always a dogfight whenever teams from the top echelon of each conference go at it. 

And since it's not a national championship game, the Big Ten will actually have a chance to win it. 

 

Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

Date: Jan. 3

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: Fox

Missouri's surprise season in 2013 was so big that the Tigers earned a ticket to the SEC Championship Game with a chance to get into the national title game. Although they'll wonder what could have been, going from 5-7 to the Cotton Bowl isn't too shabby.

The Tigers' No. 8 rank in SEC run defense isn't a fair indicator of their season. One of the nation's best front sevens stifled some of the conference's best run games, but giving up 500-plus yards to Auburn will water down your season averages quite a bit. 

Missouri's offense has stood tall through quarterback changes, thanks to Henry Josey's rushing success and unstoppable wideouts L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. James Franklin quickly returned to midseason form late in the year after missing over a month with an injury.

On the other end of things, Oklahoma State also stayed near the top of the national rankings all season. Without a season-ending loss to Oklahoma, the Cowboys would be representing the Big 12 in the BCS as conference champs.

Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf has led a potent Oklahoma State offense that has surpassed 42 points six times this season. He should continue to have success in this one, going up against a Mizzou pass defense that ranks second-to-last in the conference.

This Cotton Bowl has all of the makings of a shootout. 

 

BCS National Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn

Date: Jan. 6

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Nearly anyone would have looked funny at you before the season if you proposed Florida State vs. Auburn as the BCS National Championship game. 

With the Tigers coming off a 3-9 season and a coaching change, their fans would have been happy to simply see progression from their team. A couple of miracles later, Auburn is one win away from winning its second national title in four years. 

But it's Florida State that comes in as the team to beat. The unbeaten Seminoles disposed of their ACC slate this season in dominating fashion, as Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston carved up every defense that was put in front of him.

This game will feature a contrast of very different, yet insanely productive, offenses. Florida State's pass-happy attack has averaged 53 points per game, which ranks second in college football. The Seminoles throw for 322 yards per game on average. 

Not to be outdone, Auburn's rushing offense has been tearing apart SEC defenses all season. Nick Marshall and Tre Mason lead a running game that tops the NCAA by averaging 335 yards on the ground, as the duo have combined for 33 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Whichever defense can keep up the most in this contest will help lead its team to a national championship. 

 

Notes: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and SECDigitalNetwork.com

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B/R CFB 250: Top 15 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks in College Football

Editor's note: This is the 12th 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.

Who is the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback?

The idea has evolved from a runner who could throw a little to a quarterback who is adept at doing both. This advancement in the art of quarterbacking has led to increased production from the position and, more importantly, put incredible stress on defenses.

To define a “dual-threat” QB” for the purposes of the B/R CFB 250, we went to the numbers. If rushing yards comprised 15 percent or more of the quarterback’s total production, he fell into the dual-threat category. If they accounted for less than 15 percent, "pocket QB" was the classification.

Accuracy, arm strength, decision-making and elusiveness were the criteria used to evaluate these quarterbacks. Decision-making was quite interesting because, through packaged plays, zone-read and option plays, run-threat quarterbacks have plenty to process on any given play. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

Keep in mind, these dual-threat quarterbacks are 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 slide.

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Syracuse vs. Minnesota: Biggest Keys for Orange and Golden Gophers in Texas Bowl

The Texas Bowl is set for an intriguing Big Ten/ACC showdown between the Syracuse Orange and Minnesota Golden Gophers. It will take proper execution from the winner in some key parts of the game. 

The 8-4 Golden Gophers are making a second straight appearance in Houston's Reliant Stadium, hoping that they can close things this time around after a loss to Texas Tech in which Minnesota gave up the lead late. With two more wins than last season, it's surprising that Jerry Kill's squad didn't land a bigger bowl. 

As for Syracuse, it had a tough time even getting into bowl contention with a 34-31 win over Boston College to close the season with a 6-6 record. The Orange have lost two different games by 56 points this year.

Here's a look at the biggest keys for each team in the Texas Bowl.

 

Syracuse Orange

Establish the Run Early, Maintain it

If there's one strength to this Syracuse team, it's the run game, and it cannot be lost at any point against the Golden Gophers.

The Orange rushing attack ranks 39th in the FBS, racking up 194 yards on the ground on average. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley have both been successful out of the backfield and Minnesota gives up 154 yards per game rushing.

Perhaps most important is that both will be healthy. Gulley missed most of November with an ankle sprain, but is set to return in the Texas Bowl, according to The Daily Orange's Trevor Hass.

The Orange don't have much of a passing game, so they'll have to rely on their lone advantage offensively in order to stay in this one. 

 

Bend, Don't Break on Defense

Syracuse's defense has been successful in stretches this season, but only when they've been able to bend and not break against its opposing offense.

When it breaks, the floodgates open. The Orange have given up point totals of 48, 49, 56, 59 and 31 in this season alone—those first four were losses. 

They've also had success at times, however, holding Pittsburgh to 16 points recently and also giving up a total of three points in a two-week span against Wake Forest and Maryland.

Minnesota's offense isn't explosive by any means, but it can put up points in a hurry if the opportunity presents itself. Syracuse has presented plenty of said opportunities to its opponents this season and will have to avoid doing so again in the Texas Bowl.

 

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Get out to Early Lead

In Minnesota's best outings as of late, it has had an early lead fuel the team throughout the rest of the game, and they will need that trend to continue against Syracuse.

The Golden Gophers scored all 24 of their points in the first half in a 24-10 win over Penn State. They also scored 28 points in the first half to beat Indiana. Both of those results came in November. 

Minnesota's rushing attack with David Cobb does well milking the clock and churning out long drives to keep a lead, but it first needs a lead to work with. This team is a lot less effective when it has to battle from behind and take chances offensively. 

 

Force Orange to Throw the Ball

As was stated in Syracuse's keys, the Orange passing attack isn't going to win this game by any means. That's exactly why Minnesota needs to force it upon its opponent. 

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt has thrown for multiple touchdowns just once since September, only amassing three total touchdowns in that span. During one stretch of the season, he went six games without a passing touchdown.

When the Orange are able to sustain their running game, it's a different story. But if the Golden Gophers stack eight in the box in the early goings and have some success offensively, Syracuse may be relegated to the pass.

Minnesota's defense played well against Wisconsin and Michigan State in recent losses, but it trailed for much of those games and couldn't keep its opponent from running the ball at will.

If they prevent Syracuse from doing that, Minnesota should win this one by double digits. 

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BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: X-Factors for Each Underdog

The big stars will have all the attention before the BCS bowl games begin, but by the time clocks strike zero on the 2013 college football season, a group of unlikely heroes may have surfaced. 

The Baylor Bears, Alabama Crimson Tide, Stanford Cardinal, Ohio State Buckeyes and Florida State Seminoles are all favorites to win their respective bowl games. Some are bigger favorites than others.

The underdogs will not only have to rely on their best players to upset the odds, but they will also need key contributions from lesser-celebrated guys.

Here's a look at potential X-factors for each underdog in the BCS bowl games.

 

Fiesta Bowl - Baylor Bears vs. UCF Knights

P, Caleb Houston

Against a high-powered offense like Baylor's, the Knights can't afford to turn the ball over or give the Bears a short field when they begin their possessions.

Obviously, limiting interceptions and fumbles is the key to the first aspect of the concept. Field position is another important factor. Punting effectively will go a long way in ensuring Baylor at least has to sustain lengthy drives to score points.

Houston is a freshman punter whose punt yardage average is 42.38 this season. He'll need to improve that number in an effort to push Bryce Petty and the Bears offense deep into their own territory.

 

Rose Bowl - Stanford Cardinal vs. Michigan State Spartans

WR, Keith Mumphery

All the talk about the Spartans is usually about their defense. Everyone expects Michigan State to at least contain its opponents. The concern—especially in the Rose Bowl—is with whether or not the Spartans score enough points to win.

Be on the lookout for junior wide receiver Keith Mumphery. He has big-play potential, and a deep pass could be the play that breaks open what figures to be a defensive struggle.

In the Big Ten title game, Mumphery caught a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first half to give the Spartans a 10-0 lead. Against Stanford, he could be a major weapon.

 

Orange Bowl - Clemson Tigers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

RB, Roderick McDowell

Can Clemson slow down Ohio State's dominant rushing attack? Probably not. The Buckeyes ran for 273 yards against the Spartans in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans have the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation.

Perhaps the best way for Clemson to combat the Buckeyes' running game is to establish one of its own. McDowell is the Tigers' leading scorer, but he has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season. Clemson likes to air it out, but quick scores and/or three-and-out drives aren't the best ways to keep its defense fresh.

Getting McDowell the ball early and often could give the Buckeyes a new wrinkle to consider and elongate Clemson's drives. The Tigers' front seven is going to need all its energy to contain Ohio State's running game. 

 

Sugar Bowl - Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oklahoma Sooners

DE, Charles Tapper

The Alabama run game will be the most important weapon against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The only chance the Sooners have to slow it down is to load the box with extra defenders to win the numbers game.

If the Sooners can keep Bama from running wild, it'll force A.J. McCarron to make plays with his arm. He's proven he can do this, but the Sooners defensive line—led by Tapper—must win its one-on-one matchups to apply pressure on McCarron.

Tapper leads the team in sacks, but he has just 5.5 this season. If he can generate a two-sack performance, he'll have done his part in Oklahoma's effort to beat Bama.

 

BCS Title Game - Florida State Seminoles vs. Auburn Tigers

QB, Nick Marshall

Auburn is going to run it—and then run it some more. That's the philosophy that has gotten it this far. The Tigers had success with this approach against Bama's vaunted defense in the Iron Bowl. It stands to reason, similar success could be had against the Seminoles.

The difference between the 'Noles and Bama is that the former has more dynamic weapons in the passing game. 

At some point, Marshall is going to have to make some plays with his arm if Auburn is going to keep pace. There is no doubt as to whether Marshall can be a factor as a runner. He needs to come up big as a thrower to allow Auburn to complete its dream season with a national championship.

 

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Bowl Games 2013-14: NFL Draft Prospects to Watch for Before New Year

With the college football bowl season officially underway, there are a number of exciting NFL draft prospects to watch for before the new year begins.

The NFL draft will take place from May 8-10 this year, and the NFL combine in Indianapolis will start on February 18.  With six bowl games already over with, we've seen the likes of Derek Carr, Brandin Cooks and Khalil Mack already play, but we are bound to see a lot more draft prospects over the next few weeks.

Below is a look at a few key NFL prospects to watch for before the 2014 calendar year, breaking them down and projecting where they could be drafted in May.

 

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

The two exciting tight ends who could be entering the NFL draft this year are Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech and Eric Ebron out of North Carolina.  According to Dan Greenspan from NFL.com, Amaro still hasn't made a decision about his future, which could potentially make Ebron the top tight end in the 2014 draft class.

It's been a productive season for Ebron, as he's caught 55 passes for 895 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an impressive 16.3 yards per reception.  Over his college career, he's caught 105 passes for 1,727 yards and eight scores.  

While those aren't the huge numbers that a guy like Jimmy Graham puts up, keep in mind that the Tar Heels average just 286.3 passing yards per game and have used two different quarterbacks this season.

At 6'4'' and 245 pounds, Ebron uses his size well to adjust to the ball and make difficult catches.  He's a gifted athlete who can also play on the outside and uses impressive footwork to make tough catches.  With his bigger frame, Ebron can also finish through defenders and pick up yards after the catch.

While he doesn't have the most reliable hands, Ebron has the potential to be the next great pass-catching tight end in the NFL, and that's why some team will likely take a chance on him in the first round.

 

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

A few running backs have burst onto the scene this season, but none of them have been as productive on the field as Boston College's Andre Williams.

Williams led the nation in rushing by more than 200 yards this year.  He finished with 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year, averaging a very impressive 6.4 yards per carry.  Williams also finished fourth in the Heisman voting while winning the Doak Walker Award and being named a unanimous All-American.

What makes Williams such an interesting prospect is that he's a bigger running back at 6'0'' and 227 pounds and he uses that size to pick up yards after contact.  While he isn't the fastest back and it takes him a while to get going, Williams is still able to pick up plenty of yards due to the fact that he stays down low and keeps his legs moving.

With so many talented running backs potentially coming out after this season, Williams is still near the top of the list and should be able to find a home in the third round. 

 

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

When it comes to NFL prospects, it's hard to leave out Teddy Bridgewater on this list.  If he decides to go pro, many scouts, including Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, have him as their No. 1 overall player.

The junior quarterback for the Louisville Cardinals has continued to improve during his time at school.  He's completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,523 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season, giving him a passer rating of 169.7.  As you can see below, those numbers have improved every season he's played.

It's really hard to not like Bridgewater's potential if he goes to the NFL.  He has terrific mechanics along with some impressive accuracy and good touch on the ball.  He's capable of extending the play by rolling out of the pocket and finding the open receiver and is fearless when stepping into the pressure inside the pocket.

While he sometimes lofts throws too much, the accuracy from Bridgewater is too impressive to ignore.  He may have been playing in a weaker conference this year, but almost everything that he's done this year has been impressive.  Though he hasn't yet announced whether or not he will declare for the draft, Bridgewater would likely be a No. 1 overall pick if he decides to go pro.

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Bowl Games 2013-14: Highlighting Best of Remaining Non-BCS Contests

If BCS bowl games are the electricity that keeps the college football house running, most non-BCS contests are the mink carpet.

What seems like a good idea at the time (rewarding as many teams as possible) almost instantly turns into something gaudy and unnecessary—an unseemly high-cost venture you wind up throwing in the closet. 

As a result, you get games like the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. I, like most self-respecting human beings, did not watch a second of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite a pretty awesome name, watching Buffalo and San Diego State slap-fight for three hours sounded about as fun as sweeping my floor.

So I swept my floor instead.

Such is the case for many of these contests. I'm all for these kids getting a free trip and all the #SwagPacks in the world, but Syracuse-Minnesota? Pass. Pittsburgh-Bowling Green? Thanks but no thanks. Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane? I would rather set myself on fire.

But, like everything in life, if you rummage through the bad, you get the good in the non-BCS bowls. As per usual, the games gradually get better as the bowl season swims along. You survive the muck long enough there's bound to be some light ahead.

With that in mind, let's switch to a more positive tone and highlight the best non-BCS contests remaining on the slate.

 

Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Louisville Cardinals

Now that we know Teddy Bridgewater will declare for the NFL draft, we should look forward to appreciating him one last time in a Louisville uniform.

Though oft-praised by scouts and folks who prognosticate draft outcomes, Bridgewater's career with the Cardinals has been one ripe with relative obscurity. Because Louisville plays in a dreadful conference against absolutely no one on a weekly basis, you could watch Bridgewater on Saturdays—or you could watch an actually entertaining football game.

Only rarely did the two intermingle. ESPN's relationship with the school gave it a national stage on a near-weekly basis, but Louisville's series of Thursday and Friday contests gave everything a secondary #MACtiony feel. Most casual fans never got to experience Bridgewater in college because it just never felt all that important to watch the Cardinals play.

What those fans have missed is some of the most efficient and stellar quarterback play in recent college football history. Over the past two seasons, Bridgewater has thrown 55 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, steadily improving his numbers every step of the way. Louisville's talent at the skill positions is fine, but uninspiring, which in some ways helps offset the shaky competition.

In Miami, Bridgewater's final collegiate game will probably be much like his others. The Hurricanes' 7-0 start was exposed as smoke and mirrors in the second half of the season, and their defense certainly isn't going to inspire any comparisons to the nation's elite. Football Outsiders' defensive play efficiency ranks Miami as the No. 106 defense in the nation. 

Compared to the competition in the American Athletic Conference, Miami surprisingly represents a step down. 

However, the national stage of a semi-attractive bowl game coupled with the Hurricanes' national prominence means there may be more eyeballs on Bridgewater than ever before. It's something that will only increase in the pre-draft workout phase, and the scrutiny will only continue to grow as we head toward May's NFL draft. I've been saying for months that Bridgewater will be the No. 1 pick—not Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews or whoever else.

One game isn't going to change whether that's the case. With the world watching, though, let's just see how Bridgewater performs. If the last couple years are any indication, odds are that things will go awfully well for him against the Hurricanes.

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke Blue Devils vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin Badgers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

If aesthetics are your thing, the Capital One Bowl isn't for you, and if close, down-to-the-wire football games are your thing, the Chick-fil-A Bowl isn't going to be for you, either.

Both games have their inherent flaws, and I'm willing to bet that South Carolina and Texas A&M win their contests quite handily. They're just better football teams than their counterparts.

Why, then, do these games move the needle? Johnny Manziel and Clowney in what will almost certainly be their final collegiate games. Neither player has officially declared for the draft like Bridgewater has, but let's just say that neither has exactly played or talked like players coming back to school next fall either.

While we'll get to see Manziel and Clowney at the next level—likely as top-10 picks who will be expected franchise cornerstones—this may be the last time we get to see both reach the collegiate heights. There are more questions about Manziel's transition to the next level than Clowney's, but the South Carolina defensive end will never have the same size, speed and athleticism advantage in the NFL. The league may not be filled with Clowneys, but it's damned close.

Despite Clowney going through the 2013 season at essentially half-speed and hoping not to get injured, it's hard not to wonder what he'll do for an encore to "The Hit" in the Outback Bowl against Michigan last season. 

As for Manziel, frankly, this could be the last time he's ever good at football again. Scouts differ wildly on their opinions of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Some are deathly afraid of his diminutive size, questionable footwork and inconsistent motion. Others see the spectacular plays he has pulled off in college, are encouraged by the proliferation of "running" quarterbacks in the NFL and see a player who could be molded into a superstar by the right coach.

I have no clue what the future holds. for Manziel The success of players at the next level is so often tied to their situations that the line between "bust" and "superstar" is often the difference between one or two draft positions.

The present, though, will see one of the most exciting college football players in history close out his career. If that's not enough reason to watch, then, I'm not quite sure what is.

 

Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Missouri Tigers

It's almost unfair to call the Cotton Bowl a non-BCS game.

One of the oldest and most storied contests in college football history, the Cotton Bowl is akin to The Players Championship in golf. Its exclusion from the "major" conversation is mere semantics built in historical designations.

Case in point: The Cotton Bowl will become one of the hosts in next year's College Football Playoff. If there is any higher compliment than that, I'm having trouble finding it.

This year's Cotton Bowl falls in with the pseudo-BCS standing. Both Missouri and Oklahoma State blew their shots at a BCS bowl in the regular season's final week, when the Tigers possibly came within a couple of touchdowns away from playing for their first national championship. Oklahoma State's inability to close out a Big 12 title was slightly less depressing, but the reality of the Cowboys having allowed rival Oklahoma to earn a BCS bowl berth while they will head to the Cotton Bowl can't sit well with their fans.

Nonetheless, Oklahoma State fans should get a more than entertaining showcase come Jan. 3. You'll have a difficult time finding two teams better matched. Oklahoma State averages 39.8 points per game, Missouri averages 39.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys give up an average of 20 points per outing while the Tigers' defense averages 22.5 points. Missouri's yardage totals are more favorable, but Football Outsiders' advanced metrics give the slight edge to Oklahoma State. 

Not even Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy could find a spot where his team has a huge advantage except one: playing at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. 

“They’re a good football team and we’re playing in a location that benefits us,” Gundy said, via CBS Sports. “And they’re as familiar with us as we are with them. I just think it’s a great matchup. I don’t know that it’s an advantage either way.”

These two teams also know each other well from playing in the Big 12, although Oklahoma State's switch to a more run-oriented style has changed. Missouri has the biggest potential game-changing talent in wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, but he's not consistent enough to put any real stock into his presence.

For every point in one team's favor, there's a counterpoint for the other, which makes this game sound fun as hell. 

 

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College Football Bowl Picks 2013: Predictions for Best Remaining Non-BCS Games

There have been six bowl games played thus far in the college football postseason, so as the holiday action on the gridiron continues, there are still plenty of marquee matchups to look forward to.

And those don't even include the BCS bowls. A number of ranked teams will be doing battle within the next couple of weeks and should make for some compelling entertainment.

Below is a look at the best non-BCS games left on the schedule and predictions for them, along with a list of picks for every remaining contest.

Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com. Individual defensive statistics were obtained via CFBStats.com.

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31, 2013): No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 24 Duke

The good news is that sophomore sensation Johnny Manziel has had some time to recuperate from putting the Texas A&M program on his back.

Manziel succeeded in compensating for a horrendous defense for much of 2013, but his performance dropped off in the final two contests—both Aggies losses.

As if the outlook couldn't get any worse for the No. 105-ranked Texas A&M defense, freshman middle linebacker Darian Claiborne won't be making the trip to Atlanta's Georgia Dome due to a suspension.

Duke is no cakewalk, either, because the Blue Devils—the loss in the ACC title game to No. 1 Florida State aside—have improved a ton this season and have enough weapons on offense to be a force in this game.

Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (96 receptions, seven touchdowns) is a dynamic punt returner in addition to being an amazing target for QB Anthony Boone.

However, with the time Manziel has had to mend and with this being his last chance at making an impression on NFL scouts, expect the Johnny Football legend to grow in one (probably) last virtuoso performance in an Aggies victory.

Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Duke 31

 

Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1, 2014): No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 19 Wisconsin

Speaking of top-flight prospective NFL players getting their last chance to impress evaluators, that goes for some notable players in this bowl game and obviously Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

The 6'6", 275-pound freak of an athlete has had a bit of a lackluster 2013 campaign (35 total tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble). This matchup presents a chance to go out with a bang.

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah weighed in with a Dec. 9 piece discussing the top bowl games NFL scouts will be keeping an eye on:

Now that he's had time to rest and heal, will Clowney show improved effort? I'm not that concerned about the drop in Clowney's production. He still puts his imprint on every game because opposing teams devote extra resources to slowing him down. However, I am a little concerned about the up/down motor he's displayed.

Not only is Badgers QB Joel Stave deceptively elusive, but he also has one of the most consistent, sizable offensive lines protecting him. Plus, Stave has the electric running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and James White to hand the ball to.

A big loss for South Carolina is that of Damiere Byrd, the team's second-leading receiver who averaged 17.6 yards per catch on 33 receptions this season.

The onus will be even more on Gamecocks running back Mike Davis to carry the load offensively, but Wisconsin has the sixth-ranked rush defense in the country, while USC's is 33rd.

Given the depth of the Badgers backfield with White, Gordon and even freshman Corey Clement (515 yards, seven TDs), this physical Big Ten foe has all the elements to knock off its SEC adversary in Orlando.

Prediction: Wisconsin 24, South Carolina 20

 

Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3, 2014): No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State

Until the SEC Championship Game loss to Auburn, Mizzou hadn't lost a game all season with senior James Franklin under center.

That game wasn't Franklin's fault, either, because he was unable to play defense and threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns while running for 62 yards and another score.

There is a bit of a geographic advantage for the Cowboys, who will have the benefit of closer proximity in playing at the Dallas Cowboys' NFL stadium.

Oklahoma State is coming off a crushing loss in Stillwater to Oklahoma, though, so it will be interesting to see how Mike Gundy's bunch responds to the adversity.

The inconsistent accuracy of Cowboys QB Clint Chelf showed itself against the Sooners, and he won't have a much easier time when he goes up against the likes of Kony Ealy, Michael Sam and a terrifying Tigers front seven.

Mizzou got lit up on the ground by Auburn and will be eager to prove itself on this grand stage and justify its status as still being a top-10 team—even after this massive turnaround catalyzed by head coach Gary Pinkel.

Cornerback Justin Gilbert is a great player, but the Cowboys' 86th-ranked pass defense is a sign of their overall shaky secondary. Gilbert alone won't be enough to account for the Tigers' plethora of sizable targets in L'Damian Washington (6'4", 205), Dorial Green-Beckham (6'6", 225) and Marcus Lucas (6'5", 220).

Combine that with the balance provided by Franklin's mobility and running back Henry Josey (13 rushing TDs), and the Tigers have too much firepower for Oklahoma State to keep up with.

Prediction: Missouri 35, Oklahoma State 17

 

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Marshall vs. Maryland: Preview and Prediction for 2013 Military Bowl

Everything was going great for the Maryland Terrapins until Oct. 5. That's the day the team was blasted 63-0 by the Florida State Seminoles. The Terrapins were 4-0 heading in but left Tallahassee, Fla., with a dented record and pride.

The team lost three of its next four games but still managed to finish 7-5 and found its way into a bowl game.

The Marshall Thundering Herd's season didn't have as many bumps—though it didn't include a date with the No. 1 team in the nation. Head coach Doc Holliday led his team to a 9-4 record. The Thundering Herd won five of their last six games to earn them a spot in the postseason.

Marshall and Maryland will try to end their seasons on a winning note at the 2013 Military Bowl from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

Here's the viewing information and some deeper analysis into the matchup.

 

When: Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN

 

Players to Watch

Rakeem Cato, QB - Marshall

The Conference USA Player of the Year is an explosive dual threat. He's thrown for 36 touchdown passes and run for six. 

He's the conductor of the Thundering Herd's well-balanced attack. Marshall scores 43 points per contest and its running game is ranked 22nd in the nation, while the passing game is ranked 21st.

Cato's ability to orchestrate this attack and maintain a fast pace is key. As he goes, so goes Marshall.

 

Marcus Whitfield, DE - Maryland

Whitfield has 3-4 outside linebacker written all over him. He's explosive off the edge and has recorded nine sacks this season.

The senior will be charged with getting pressure on Cato and disturbing the Thundering Herd's rhythm. If he can get into the backfield regularly, he'll impress scouts in his final game for the Terrapins and give his team a chance to win.

 

Key Stat

Turnovers

In Marshall's nine wins, the team is plus-eight in turnover margin. In its four losses, it is minus-six. That's a drastic difference and proof that teams must take the ball away to slow this offense down.

Maryland's chief objective should be forcing takeaways to disturb the flow and confidence of Marshall's offense.

 

Prediction

Cato and Marshall are just too explosive for Maryland. The Terrapins defense hasn't held a team under 20 points since September. There's little reason to believe the team has what it takes to stop Marshall's attack.

Over the last eight games, Maryland is scoring just 20.1 points per game. Without a ton of firepower, Maryland can't keep pace with Marshall.

Thundering Herd win 40-27.

 

Stat references per CFBStats.com

 

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Max Bullough Suspended by Michigan State for Rose Bowl vs. Stanford

With a huge game looming for the Michigan State Spartans, senior linebacker Max Bullough has been been suspended by the team for the Rose Bowl game against the Stanford Cardinal for violating team rules.

ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy reported the suspension late on Dec. 25 in what was a huge surprise for Michigan State football fans:

As a senior leader of the defense, Bullough's suspension was a shocking blow to the team.  Matt Charboneau from The Detroit News tweeted out his reaction to the suspension:

The decision to suspend Bullough clearly says a lot about Mark Dantonio and the way he runs his program, as Scout.com's Mike Wilson pointed out:

Kevin Gehl of WLNS-TV provided a statement from head coach Dantonio on the suspension:

The Spartans have allowed just 12.7 points per game this season, which ranked fourth in the nation, also allowing just 248.2 total yards and 3.9 yards per play. But the loss of Bullough is a tough one, as he's had 76 total tackles with 9.5 of them going for a loss this season.

Of course, with this being his senior year, the suspension could hurt his NFL prospects as well. CBS Sports has Bullough as its 170th overall player and No. 9 inside linebacker for the 2014 draft, while Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller ranks him as his No. 6 inside linebacker and 126th overall player on his latest big board.

SI.com's Chris Burke still believes that Bullough has a future in the NFL:

Regardless, this is obviously a major loss for the Michigan State defense heading into the Rose Bowl against such a tough opponent, but the team will have to find a way to make up for his absence.

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Jackson Jeffcoat Is NFL-Ready After Facing Adversity with the Texas Longhorns

With the regular season completed, the 2013 fall graduation class commenced, and an Alamo Bowl battle ahead with the Oregon Ducks, senior Jackson Jeffcoat is NFL-ready after fighting adversity throughout his collegiate career as a member of the Texas Longhorns football team.

In four years, Jeffcoat suffered three devastating injuries and 20 painful losses. Or is it three painful injuries and 20 devastating losses?

Whatever the adjective may be, the noun is adversity.

While on the "40 Acres," Jeffcoat had three defensive coordinators. He's found recent success under Greg Robinson. He made adjustments with Manny Diaz. And he spent his first year with Will Muschamp, the defensive coach that recruited him.

In his freshman year, Jeffcoat played in the first six games. He recorded half-sack in the season opener against Rice. His first full sack came three weekends later in a shocking home loss to UCLA. Then came the Oklahoma game.

Jeffcoat had been making an impact on the defensive front. Though down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were in fingertips' length of grabbing the momentum and making a comeback. It was 3rd-and-20, and the Longhorns defense made a huge stop.

But Jeffcoat's emotions got the best of him. See embedded video.

The freshman was flagged for a late hit on an Oklahoma lineman well after the play. Even though Jeffcoat's hot temper was quickly cooled by the Texas coaching staff (one of the last times it would be seen in his career), the Longhorns lost momentum and the game. 

Four games later Jeffcoat suffered his first injury that would cost him the next four. It was a sprained ankle, something that had bothered Jeffcoat while at Plano West High School. The injury suffered in a win over No. 5 Nebraska subtracted depth from a well-balanced defense littered with NFL prospects.

Jeffcoat faced his first setback while the team severely failed to reach expectations. A 5-7 season record brought changes to the Texas coaching staff that went to the BCS National Championship in the year before.

In his second year, Jeffcoat welcomed new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. It took time for the defensive end to adjust to Diaz's defensive style. In the seventh game of the season, Jeffcoat recorded his first sack.

From then he made huge strides.

He went on to record six sacks in the next six games and had 10 tackles against Missouri. But two games later, he ruptured his left pectoral muscle in the historic 27-25 win over Texas A&M.

It was his second collegiate injury, yet it didn't slow him down. With a bum shoulder and surgery looming at the end of the year, Jeffcoat picked up two sacks in a Holiday Bowl win against California showing his true grit, what the NFL is made of.

He then underwent a procedure to fix the shoulder in January 2012, reported by Christian Corona of SportsDay DFW. Around the time of surgery, the defensive end tweeted.

He understood adversity. It wasn't going to be an easy road ahead, but the man could handle it. The man did handle it.

The third season had arrived for the 6'5", 245-pound then-junior from Dallas, Texas. He was flourishing in 2012, recording four sacks in six games. He even recovered a key fumble for a touchdown in a matchup against Geno Smith and the West Virginia Mountaineers (see embedded video).

But in the next game, the Sooners slowed him down. And in that defeat, the Longhorns lost Jeffcoat to another shoulder injury, this time a right pectoral rupture, according to a team press release. His third injury in as many years. He was out for the remainder of the season.

Jeffcoat was projected preseason to go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, per NFL analysts Rob Rang and Dan Brugler of CBS Sports, highlighted in a July 2012 article by Christian Corona of SportsDay DFW. Surely Jeffcoat was NFL-ready. But the injury was another step back, and Jeffcoat would return to school for his senior year.

In three years with the Longhorns, Jeffcoat had three injuries, and the team lost 16 losses. He could have packed it up and transferred. Look at former Longhorn quarterback Garrett Gilbert from the 2009 recruiting class. He left the program after a shoulder injury ended his third season in Austin.

After the struggles and injury, Gilbert decided to transfer. A statement was released by Gilbert and reported by Chuck Carlton and Kate Hairopoulos of SportsDay DFW saying, "I just think I’m at a point in my life where I need a fresh start."

Jeffcoat faced that same adversity. But he stayed put in Austin further highlighting his mental toughness and physical strength for NFL scouts to take note of.

"Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records," William Arthur Ward.

Now with one game remaining in his senior year, Jeffcoat has 73 total tackles and 12 sacks.

Comparing that to Longhorn greats in their last year: 31 more tackles and a half-sack more than former All-American and NFL Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo; five more tackles and three more sacks than second-round pick and current Oakland Raider Lamarr Houston; 36 more tackles and three more sacks than the current Vikings defensive end Brian Robison; and three tackles less and 3.5 sacks more than current NFL veteran and former first-team All-Big 12 defensive end Cory Redding.

Jeffcoat also racked up the end-of-the-season awards. He was named an Associated Press first-team All-American; he won the co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year; he earned a first-team All-Big 12; he was elected as a Walter Camp first-team All-American; and he was named winner of the 2013 Hendricks Award given to the best defensive end in the country.

But the statistics and honors earned don't stack up close enough to the strength and knowledge that Jeffcoat gained during his time in Austin. He was able to accomplish all the accolades in a stellar senior season after fighting off three aggravating injuries from the three years before. While some players diminish in the face of adversity, Jeffcoat fought it and won.

And finally, Jeffcoat graduated from the University of Texas in three-and-a-half years as he announced the outstanding accomplishment via Twitter.

As an early graduate, the Wonderlic test should be a breeze for Jeffcoat come the 2014 NFL combine.

If there's anything to take away from Jeffcoat's career filled with adversity at the University of Texas, it's that he's ready to make the next leap to the NFL gridiron.

Jackson Jeffcoat is currently projected by CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout to go in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. With a solid Alamo bowl and a strong NFL combine, he could boost himself into the first round.

 

Stats via Texassports.com

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Michigan Football: Why Landing Malik McDowell Is Imperative

For college football coaches, winning recruiting battles on their home turf is essential. There are very few things that frustrate coaches and fans alike more than losing elite talent to an out-of-state suitor, and the logic makes sense. 

With national signing day looming on the horizon, there's one recruit Brady Hoke and co. have to land: defensive tackle Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich.

The 4-star recruit (and 33rd overall, according to Rivals.com) has great size at 6'7", 290 pounds, and as this film against crosstown rival Cass Tech shows, he's rock solid against the run and can get in the backfield in a hurry. The Wolverines rank 28th in the nation in rushing yards allowed, and while they've done a decent job slowing down opposing runners, adding a player like McDowell could propel them to the next level. 

Allen Trieu of Scout.com describes McDowell as having "a rare combination of size and athletic ability. He's a pure playmaker, disruptor and pass rusher. He has to continue to develop, but has an elite set of tools." Speaking of pass-rushing, the Wolverines could use a little help on that front. 

They rank just 69th in team sacks this season with an average of 1.9 per game, and they've been even worse in team tackles for a loss, where they currently rank 85th. They've consistently struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks without a blitz, which has to be a major concern for Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. 

If Michigan can snag McDowell, he'd join fellow 2014 defensive tackle and 4-star recruit Bryan Mone of Salt Lake City, Utah. Weighing in at a whopping 338 pounds with surprising lateral mobility, Mone and McDowell could become a menacing tandem in the middle.

The existing interior of the defensive line that will be battling for playing time next year is made up of nose tackles Ondre Pipkins and Richard Ash and defensive tackles Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley. It's worth noting that Mattison's base defense, a 4-3 under, does have a nose tackle while a standard 4-3 doesn't. 

Defensive end Frank Clark will be the most tenured member of the defensive line in 2014, with him and Taco Charlton likely seeing the majority of snaps on the ends. 

They'll be a very young bunch in the middle, but a standout like McDowell could make a significant impact right away.

McDowell would also add much-needed depth to the defensive line and soften the blow of losing Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama. His commitment to Michigan would also move them up a few spots in the national recruiting race; ESPN.com (subscription required) currently has their 2014 class ranked 10th. Recruiting doesn't always directly foreshadow success, but Ohio State (subscription required) currently sits in the fifth spot. Surely the Wolverines staff would love to leapfrog them. 

As you'd expect, McDowell has a long list of major programs chasing his services. He's already visited Alabama and Florida and has scheduled visits to Ohio State, LSU and Florida State in January. Michigan State is also high on his list.

The good news for Michigan fans is that 247Sports.com's "Crystal Ball" feature gives the Wolverines an 82 percent chance of McDowell choosing Michigan. There's no doubt that landing McDowell would be a huge offseason win for the Wolverines. 

Don't miss the chance to watch McDowell in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, Texas. 

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Bo Pelini and a Cat with a Santa Hat Make for the Best Christmas Tree Ornament

Here's a Christmas tree ornament that's likely to be the only one of its kind. You have to admit, that cat rocks the Santa hat.

Head coach Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will take on the Georgia Bulldogs on New Year's Day in the Gator Bowl.

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