NCAA Football News

Pros and Cons of Teddy Bridgewater Entering NFL Draft

Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a problem.

Should he return to school, where he'll be a local and national star, a Heisman Trophy candidate and in the race for the national title? Or should he head off to the NFL draft, where he'll almost surely be a top-five pick?

That's a pretty nice problem to have, huh?

It is a debate that the Louisville junior has been considering all season long, but one he'll wait to make until after Louisville's Russell Athletic Bowl tilt with Miami (Fla.), as he told The Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer:

At the beginning of this season, I knew I had a decision to make. I wanted to make it through this season first and then take care of what’s down the road.

When you have your priorities in order and you know what you want to accomplish, it’s not difficult at all.

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

While the answer to that parley might already be made, no decision has been announced one way or another by Bridgewater and won't be until after the Cardinals close out their 2013 campaign.

Until then, we'll take a look at some of the reasons why he should go pro, as well as a few reasons why coming back to Louisville would be beneficial.

 

Pros

Will Probably Be a Top-5 Pick

Bridgewater is almost as close to a lock to be a top-five pick as possible.

Even if he returns and has an incredible senior season, his stock can't improve all that much.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently projected the Louisville signal-caller to be the first quarterback off the board at pick No. 4. Other draft pundits see him going even higher.

With plenty of talk swirling around the star junior, it appears as though he might be taking notice at just how high his stock is for this draft. He pressed the enter key on a cryptic tweet last Friday, which could be taken to indicate that he'll be heading toward the personal glory of being a top pick in May.

It's a tough decision that Bridgewater is mulling: Return to the school he loves, or head to the NFL. But a sure top-five landing spot makes the decision easier.

 

No Risk of Injury or Poor Season

One of the chief concerns for any highly touted NFL prospect is injury. Whenever a player decides to return to college, he runs the risk of suffering an injury that will jeopardize his professional career.

The Miami native has some history with injury in the past, including a broken wrist and sprained ankle in 2012. At 6'3", 205 pounds, Bridgewater isn't exactly a towering, durable quarterback, making the risk of injury apparent.

While the perils of that kind of injury are always present, Tim Sullivan of USA Today recently broke down the dangers of a serious head injury that could cost Bridgewater his promising career:

Bridgewater might still be the country's most coveted quarterback prospect a year from now were he to return for his senior season at Louisville. But with his diploma already in hand, with his draft stock screaming "sell," and with career-ending concussions becoming increasingly common in football, Bridgewater would be almost foolish to tempt fate.

Today, Bridgewater has a good head on his shoulders. The problem with playing quarterback is that you can't always count on tomorrow.

The tomorrow is the biggest concern for all prospects in Teddy's shoes, but might be even more for the UL field general. As the Cardinals head to the ACC, Bridgewater will no longer take on soft AAC foes and runs the risk of actually regressing next year.

While his stock really has no room to rise, it has plenty of room to fall, whether that happens due to injury or a new environment.

 

Could Find Success on a Talented Texans Team

With the Houston Texans heading into their final game with an NFL-worst record of 2-13, they'll likely take the No. 1 overall pick and at least consider drafting Bridgewater.

Recently, Greer quoted ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay projecting the Texans to take Bridgewater with that top pick:

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, in his first “mock draft” for 2014, projects Bridgewater as the top pick in the 2014 draft, selected by the Texans.

“The question for the Texans is going to be this: Do you have a player at another position who grades out considerably higher?” McShay wrote. “If not, given their need at QB and the importance of that position, my guess is that they’d talk themselves into taking Bridgewater.”

While this season was a nightmare for Houston, that doesn't make the franchise a total loss. The Texans won two straight AFC South titles before this injury-riddled disaster of a season.

Even through this rough season, the Texans boasted a top-10 defense. They lost star running back Arian Foster for the season and the offense struggled through poor quarterback play by Matt Schaub.

With a little health and help and the quarterback position, they could be right back in the playoff hunt next year. Bridgewater would be throwing to a potential Hall of Fame receiver in Andre Johnson, as well as speedy former first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, who will be in his second year in the league.

It would also help that Bridgewater would enter a weak AFC South division that features just one team above .500. As far as No. 1 overall selections go, the situation couldn't be much better for Bridgewater, if that is his fate.

 

Might Not be No. 1 Pick Next Year

While Bridgewater is nearly a lock to be the top pick this year, he might not be in the same position a year from now.

Even if he returns, has another solid season and does nothing to hurt his draft stock, he could be passed up in the draft pecking order.

Florida State's Jameis Winston will be eligible for the NFL draft next season and many believe he'll be the No. 1 overall pick.

While Winston's draft value is likely to eclipse that of Bridgewater, the UL quarterback could also be passed up by Oregon's Marcus Mariota. With Mariota returning, he also stands to raise his stock above Bridgewater's.

Bridgewater will almost assuredly be the top quarterback taken this year, but he could fall to third or worse next time around.

 

Cons

Will Miss out on ACC Exposure

Louisville's move to the ACC is a big question mark for next season. As previously mentioned, the move could bring struggle, as it has for several other programs through the recent conference realignment.

On the other hand, it could also bring immense prosperity to Bridgewater and the Cardinals. Against more respectable competition, if Bridgewater continues to find success, he could have NFL squads fighting over him in next year's draft.

The Cards will have an early taste of what they can expect in the ACC in this year's Russell Athletic Bowl, where they will take on Miami (Fla.). Recently, UL head coach Charlie Strong pointed to that contest as a measuring stick going forward, per Ken Hornack of Fox Sports:

We're playing a quality opponent. We're playing an opponent who will be on our schedule next year with us going into the ACC. And that's big. It's a program that has a lot of tradition. We're trying to get there. And we're going to use this as a measuring stick to see how far we need to come.

If Louisville comes out with a strong performance against an ACC contender in Miami, it could be a preview of success next year.

And success in the ACC would take Bridgewater much further than success from his days in the Big East and AAC.

 

Will Be a Heisman Favorite Upon Return

With that ACC exposure would also come a new Heisman Trophy campaign for Bridgewater.

He began 2013 on the short list of Heisman favorites but saw his run for the award derail in an early-season loss to Central Florida.

If he returns, he'll be right back in the conversation, though it will be crowded with Winston and Mariota returning. However, Bridgewater is no stranger to making Heisman-caliber plays and will be in great position to win the award in the ACC.

If he can best Winston and win the conference, he'll have an outstanding chance at taking the Heisman. 

 

Could be in National Title Hunt

Louisville had an outside shot at the national title this season, though its weak schedule would've made the run a challenge.

Next year, that won't be the case. Florida State proved as much this season by winning the ACC and earning a berth in the national title game.

While the Cardinals would have likely been passed up by one-loss SEC champion Auburn this season, they won't miss out on the first College Football Playoff if they take care of business next season.

With Bridgewater linking up with top receiver DeVante Parker once again, the UL offense will be dangerous. Additionally, the Cardinals finished the regular season No. 2 in total defense, though several key players will be gone off that unit.

Regardless, Bridgewater and Strong have been the key cogs for the Cardinals—and if both return, they'll be national contenders.

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Military Bowl 2013 Marshall vs. Maryland: Live Score and Highlights

The local Maryland Terrapins (7-5) are informally "hosting" the Marshall Thundering Herd (9-4) in Annapolis, Md., on Friday in the 2013 Northrop Grumman Military Bowl.

Keep it locked here for updates throughout the game.

Current Score: Marshall 7, Maryland 0 — First Quarter

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Miami vs. Louisville: Key Players in Russell Athletic Bowl Clash

It might not be the sexiest bowl game on the college football schedule, but it might end up being the most entertaining, as two very good offenses meet when Louisville takes on Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Miami is 26th in the nation with 25.9 points per game, while Louisville is just behind them at 29th with 35.1 points per contest. Can you say shootout?

So in a game between two very prolific offenses, which players will be key for either side? Who must step up for either team to ensure a win to close the year?

Let's find out.

 

Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley, WR, Miami

Hurns is arguably Miami's best offensive player, finishing the year with a team-leading 60 receptions, 1,138 receiving yards, 19.0 yards per catch and finishing second on the team with six touchdown catches. 

Coley might just be the team's most explosive weapon, however. Despite making just six starts this year, he caught 30 passes for 559 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added a rushing, punt return and kick return touchdown on the season, making him a very, very dangerous player every time he touches the ball.

In a game likely to become a shootout, these two weapons on the outside will need to come up big.

 

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Well, duh.

The unflappable Bridgewater is undoubtedly Louisville's key player, throwing for 3,523 yards, 28 touchdowns, just four interceptions and an impressive 70.2 completion percentage. He led the Cardinals to an 11-1 record behind an 18th-ranked pass offense that averaged 302.9 yards per game. 

Quite possibly the top pick in next year's NFL draft, Bridgewater will want to complete an excellent college career with a win. And he should have little problem carving up a Miami defense that ranked 71st in pass defense, allowing 233.4 yards through the air per game.

It's pretty simple for Louisville—if Bridgewater plays poorly, they lose. Of course, it's also very unlikely that Bridgewater will play poorly.

 

Miami's Front Seven 

The only way Miami is likely to disrupt Bridgewater is by generating pressure, thus making the play of the front seven very vital in this contest.

Miami did register 28 sacks on the season, a respectable mark, and players like Tyriq McCord (four sacks, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles) will have to step up. Of course, getting after Bridgewater is easier said than done, as safety A.J. Highsmith told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald:

You have to give him difficult looks, things that are hard for them to pick up. And when you get to Teddy, you have to do a good job of tackling him, because he makes a lot of guys miss when the pressure does get there.

He’s very elusive in the pocket.

Miami's only chance on defense is to keep Bridgewater out of a rhythm. If he's given time to sit in the pocket and dissect the defense, well, it will be a long afternoon for the Canes.

And Louisville is pretty solid on defense—12th in the nation in points allowed per game, 12.4—so simply assuming Miami's offense can save the day and outscore Louisville is a risky game to play. The Canes absolutely must slow down Bridgewater, and that starts and ends with the team's front seven on defense.

 

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Cancel Your NYE Plans to Watch the Johnny Manziel Experience Just One Last Time

Don’t go downtown. Don’t go to dinner. Don’t spend $75 on that wristband that doesn’t include top-shelf goodness and does include obscenely long lines. Don’t even leave your house. And if you do, ensure the viewing options are in order well in advance.

Celebrate New Year’s Eve with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the closest thing to a video game cheat code that we have in real life. Ensure you're by a television by 8:00 p.m. EST, a few hours before the ball will begin to work its way downward, and enjoy the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

It’s not just a special night and showcase—although it has the makings to be that and more—but it will also likely serve as Manziel’s final game at the college ranks.

Maybe this isn’t it. Maybe Johnny Manziel will grab ahold of the microphone following a Chick-fil-A Bowl win, freshly fallen confetti glued to his face and parachuting cows falling from the sky, and he’ll bellow out, “I love Texas A&M, and I can’t wait to do it again next season!”

We’ll cheer, trying not to spill on any of the nice furniture or that new carpet that was just put in, and we’ll embrace the prospects of more Johnny Football.

Heck, maybe we’ll get two more years of Manziel doing absurd things to college defenses, making future NFL stars and SEC defenders look helpless in their efforts to corral him. 

Maybe he’ll choose to exhaust his eligibility that already feels exhausted in its short lifespan. Maybe, just maybe, Manziel will hang around a while longer, choosing to entertain the masses for free for one (or possibly two) more seasons. 

The door isn’t completely shut on this scenario, one most Texas A&M fans would hug and never let go. In all likelihood, however, the Chick-fil-A Bowl will serve as Manziel’s final college showcase. He will then take his talents—and goodness the plural feels necessary here—to the NFL.

Before we enter an offseason jam-packed with debate over his NFL worth at the position he plays—debate that will be tired before it even begins—there’s still a showcase against a Duke team that many will refuse to take seriously.

Not Manziel, though. It will be up to him to push the offense as he had all year, ensuring that A&M’s point total is enough for a defense that has, well, had its issues all season.

Texas A&M can score. Duke can certainly score as well. What better to celebrate the end of the year by taking a scoreboard and lighting it on fire?

The term “must see” is often overused, but it's certainly warranted here. We tend to lean on this phrase in sports for just about every athlete that we have deemed worth. In truth, however, few athletes require your utmost attention always.

For Manziel, it applies. It always applies, but it feels slightly more important knowing this is it. What makes Manziel “must see,” however, is you never quite know what you’re going to see.

From the exceptional, to the insane, to the plays that don’t work out but are still spectacular in failure, Manziel provides a bit of everything on nearly every snap.

And in 2013, he again delivered quality weekly entertainment yet again.

Like his jump ball against Alabama earlier in the year in a losing effort, a play so off-script that it had to be planned. It wasn’t, of course, and it was laced with luck, but there was something believable about this unbelievable moment. Mainly because who was involved.

Or his double spin move against Mississippi State that resulted in a 26-yard completion once every button on the controller had been pressed. 

Were both spin moves necessary? I’m sorry, are you turning away free spin moves? Of course, they were necessary.

These are just a handful of the highlights that Manziel delivered in a small window, but the full Manziel experience comes by watching the entire 60 minutes.

It’s his fidgety lower body settling in on a blueprint for that particular play, deciding whether to take off or wait just long enough for his wideout to get open. It’s his underrated and often overlooked accuracy with his passes, dropping the ball in a bucket at a regular clip. And yes, it’s even the bad that surfaces every now and then—the occasional sack from prolonged scrambling or the interception from overconfidence.

It all comes together in one strangely wrapped package, the gift of all gifts. Unfortunately, for all of us, the era is approaching darkness.

You don’t need to be told to watch the most exciting player in the sport on one of the most exciting nights of the year, a time where we can throw out the calendars, hit the “refresh” button and start over. 

In the instance of Manziel, we don’t want to start over. We don't want it to stop. We want more.

Unless something drastically changes, however, we won’t get it. New Year’s Eve will serve as our final college serving of Johnny Football, which means you best shuffle your plans accordingly and enjoy every last second.

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Bowl Schedule 2013-14: Full Listing of Remaining Games

Bowl season is alive and kicking, and like always, it features a fantastic slate of games. Starting with the New Mexico Bowl, which featured a dazzling comeback by Colorado State, each game has had exciting teams and close matchups.

Going forward, the games are only going to get better, and there are a few games that are simply can't-miss. 

Below is a full listing of all the remaining games. After that, we'll preview some of the most scintillating matchups of bowl season.

 

Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (FL) vs. Louisville

Date: Dec. 28

Time: 6:45 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

This will be Teddy Bridgewater's final chance to impress NFL scouts in his bid to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

It's been a fantastic season for Bridgewater, who has thrown for 3,523 yards, 28 touchdowns and only four picks. 

He'll face a decent Miami pass defense, as the 'Canes only give up 233.4 yards through the air per game.

The 'Canes know that the only way to beat Louisville is to stop Bridgewater. Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald:

He definitely does a great job of making decisions, that’s the first thing.Does a good job of getting the football where it’s supposed to go, does a good job of being patient as far as taking a checkdown or being able to escape — and he throws extremely well on the run.

It would be surprising if Miami blitzes Bridgewater all game. The team does have an impressive 28 sacks on the season.

The key will be getting back to what has worked. The 'Canes have not really beaten a good team all year—they were dominated by Florida State. Their only good win was against Florida when the Gators were ranked 12th. Stephen Morris needs to have a big game, as does Dallas Crawford.

Louisville is undeniably the favorite here, and it would be a bit of a shock if they lost. That said, Miami does have talent and should be able to make this game interesting. 

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke vs. Texas A&M

Date: Dec. 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

This is likely Johnny Manziel's final game for the Aggies, capping off a fantastic career.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe gushed over Manziel, telling Laura Keeley of the Charlotte Observer:

As I’ve said, they should be excited. As I said, he truly is one of the more dynamic, if not the most dynamic player, over a long period of time in college football. So if you are a competitor, we know it’s a challenge, but you’ve got to be excited about that, and we are excited about that challenge.

Despite not winning the Heisman again, Manziel had a typically fantastic season. He threw for 3,723 yards and 33 touchdowns, while rushing for 686 yards and eight touchdowns.

It's going to be tough for Duke to stop Manziel. The Blue Devils have the 46th-ranked defense, giving up 24.7 points and 409.3 yards per game. They were torn up by Jameis Winston and Florida State, with the Seminoles notching 569 yards of total offense.

The Blue Devils will probably have a tough time stopping Manziel and Mike Evans. But we can't count them out. For one, they have the Maxwell Coach of the Year in David Cutcliffe:

For another, they did beat good teams in Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech. They also had arguably the best season in school history.

The Aggies are the favorites, but counting out the Blue Devils is unwise. This game should be very exciting. 

 

Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin

Date: Jan. 1

Time:  1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

It's likely the final chance to see Jadeveon Clowney in a college uniform, and it was during last year's Capital One Bowl that the stud defensive end made himself known to the country:

Even though Clowney is undoubtedly the game's biggest star, the real action will take place with the running backs. Wisconsin features a two-headed monster of Melvin Gordon and James White, who have combined for 2,803 yards and 25 touchdowns.

For the Gamecocks, Mike Davis handles the load and does so brilliantly. He's rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Badgers have the sixth-ranked rush defense in the country, giving up just 101.3 yards per game. South Carolina, on the other hand, gives up a healthy 142.3 yards per game on the ground.

In this matchup, it's going to come down to who can run the ball better. And even though the Badgers lost in their last game to Penn State, they have the better running game. 

However, if Clowney can play at his best, then it's hard to see the Badgers running wild. Steve Spurrier gushed over Clowney's impact on the program, telling Scott Hood of the Times and Democrat:

We have 31 wins right now in the three years he’s been here. Hopefully, we can get some more. He has helped us win a bunch of games. Clearly, the profile we had this summer was national. His hit against the Michigan running back was shown worldwide from January through August.

Clowney is the wild card here and may play his best game with every NFL evaluator watching.

It will be a fun matchup, featuring a number of star players. Don't miss this one.

 

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Mack Brown Has Every Right to Aim for a Higher Buyout from Texas

Mack Brown's resignation as Texas' head coach was a convoluted process, if not downright messy. Based on one report, it would appear his post-resignation relationship with Texas may not be all smooth sailing either. 

Kirk Bohls and Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman report that Brown is angling for a larger buyout package than the one he previously agreed to. 

Specifically, the Statesman claims Brown, with the help of his attorney, Joe Jamail, is "seeking as much as $1.3 million annually for the next seven years—the duration of his existing contract—under the title of special assistant to Texas president Bill Powers," a source with knowledge of the talks told the paper. 

By resigning, Brown is set to receive at least $500,000 annually under that title. His buyout is a one-time payment of $2.75 million if the school terminates him before Dec. 31, 2014, according to both the Statesman and ESPN's Darren Rovell. 

What are the chances Texas pays Brown the new amount he wants? According to one official who spoke with the Statesman, they're not particularly good. 

The UT System Board of Regents must approve any final agreement. A high-ranking UT source said that $1.3 million figure would not be approved.

“They haven’t approved it yet,” Jamail said. “That price has not been agreed on.”

At $5,453,750 in total pay, according to the USA Today, Brown was the second-highest paid coach in college football in 2013. Broken down, Brown received around $681,000 per victory. That's stealing money. Eight or nine wins a season with no conference or BCS titles isn't going to get it done at Texas, especially not with that kind of dollar amount being dished out.  

But in January, 2012, Texas' board of regents unanimously approved Brown's four-year extension to keep him through 2020. That came on the recommendation of former athletic director DeLoss Dodds and university president Bill Powers. 

The same Bill Powers who, according to Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, recently had a change of heart on Brown's future—and sent new AD Steve Patterson to deliver the news. 

The source told Yahoo! Sports that Patterson arrived at the football building with a jarring change of heart for Brown: You need to resign. That was the decision of University of Texas president Bill Powers, and Patterson was the apologetic messenger. The source said Powers, a longtime friend and supporter of the football coach, abruptly yanked the rug out from beneath Brown after supporting his continued tenure the previous two days.

Thus, the 16-year Mack Brown Era at Texas was terminated, not by the coach himself, but at the insistence of an embattled school president. Although the school's official release and every public statement has said Brown decided on his own to step down, he was pushed—after being told the decision was his.

Whether the reported change of heart was on Powers or the regents, who control Powers' job status, is unclear. Either way, it would be an about-face from two years ago. Yet, Brown insisted in his resignation press conference that the decision was a mutual one.  

Other than the immediate parties, no one knows for sure how the whole series of events went down. However, if there's even an iota of truth to Forde's report, it makes sense that Brown would ask for more money. 

If the decision was essentially made for Brown but was spun for public consumption, then Brown isn't really resigning. Why, then, should he be compensated like he is? That doesn't mean Brown will get more money from Texas, but there's absolutely no risk in shooting for it. 

Texas' mediocrity over the past four years is Brown's fault; Texas' previous decision to reward that mediocrity isn't. As Sean Adams of ESPN Austin notes, how many people would leave their current job for a bare minimum salary?

The amount of confusion and conflicting reports in the week leading up to Brown's resignation would indicate few people were on the same page. Those tea leaves suggest this was not a completely harmonious situation. 

In the end, Texas did what is best for the program—as it should. Brown shouldn't need the extra money, but he's reportedly doing what he feels is best for himself—as he should. The marriage between Brown and Texas, as it used to exist, is over. There's no need to put up an agreeable face anymore. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the Lead Writer for Big 12 football. Follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval

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What Is the Chick-fil-A Bowl Mascot Doing to Johnny Manziel?

The Texas A&M Aggies had their official Chick-fil-A Bowl welcome party at Dave & Buster's, and it seems the bowl mascot was on hand to provide awkward photo ops like this one. 

Check out more photos from the party at Good Bull Hunting

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Big Ten Football: Predicting Each Team's Bowl Game

Welcome to bowl season, Big Ten football fans! It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

You know who's enjoying this season? None other than Michael Bolton in these hilarious Honda commercials. I've heard some people complain about them and wonder why the former hit pop singer is doing commercials now, but I just love them. He has accepted his place in (or out of) music quite well, and his comic timing and facial expressions certainly are humorous.

Somebody who probably wishes fans would think about Michael Bolton commercials and not him is Michigan State All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough. Per Kirkland Crawford of USA Today, Bullough was suspended for the Rose Bowl matchup with Stanford for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Two of the conference's most mobile quarterbacks, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Devin Gardner, will miss their team's bowl game because of injury. Martinez hasn't played since Nebraska's loss to Minnesota in October, while Gardner will miss the the final game of the season because of a broken foot sustained in Michigan's loss to Ohio State.

By the way, how great was that game?

Don't worry, though. It's not all about suspensions and injuries. There is plenty to enjoy for the conference in this, the greatest of seasons. Even Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois, who aren't bowl eligible, are all celebrating, as their coaches will all be back next year. Oh, and you know they're going to enjoy the shared bank from both Michigan State and Ohio State in BCS bowls. 

Of course, I can imagine Penn State being a little leery with Bill O'Brien interviewing with the Houston Texans, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com). Who knows, maybe he'll chum it up with the Texans brass during the Texas Bowl on December 28. Hopefully he can explain why his Nittany Lions lost at Minnesota in November and alternated wins and losses from the second to the final game of the season.

By the way, how come Capital One Bowl Week is, like, two weeks long? They've got to think of a better name.

On to the bowls!

Begin Slideshow

Taylor Lewan Is Michigan's Most Important Player in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Weeks of speculation ended on Thursday as Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke named freshman Shane Morris the starter for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Instantly, one player became more important than anyone else to Michigan's chances of success—left tackle Taylor Lewan. 

Michigan's star senior and first-team All-Big Ten selection will be tasked with protecting the front side of a left-handed quarterback making his first ever start. 

Protecting a blindside for 12 games and having to reconfigure your footwork in a month's time can be a challenge, even for the best of linemen. 

"Just because he's a left-handed quarterback, we might run things a little bit different about how he feels it," said Lewan during Thursday's media day at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. "Other than that, we're confident in him running the same offense that Devin ran, try to put him into a position to be successful."

Lewan and the Wolverines will be going up against a defense that has continuously gotten better as the season has gone on, and it shows in where it ranks nationally.

Kansas State enters the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl giving up just 23.7 points per game (35th nationally) and recoding 27 sacks as a team (47th nationally).

Michigan's offensive line has come under fire this season, thanks to poor rushing results (ranking 100th nationally in rushing yards per game) and giving up 35 sacks on the year.

Only Northwestern (36) and Purdue (38) gave up more sacks than the Wolverines in the Big Ten. 

That's an issue considering Lewan will be going head-to-head with Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Ryan Mueller—who ended the regular season with 61 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and, most worrisome for Michigan, 11.5 sacks. 

Lewan's presence and NFL-caliber ability will be put to the test big time against Mueller, and he will need to be on point from the very get-go to help Morris ease into his first career start. Yet, it's a matchup Lewan is looking forward to. 

"If I get the opportunity to go up against him a bunch, I'd love that," said Lewan. "I'm sure he'll have a good game, but my job is to make sure he doesn't have a good game."

It shouldn't be a problem according to Hoke, who says Lewan has had his best season of football in his career. 

"He's (Lewan) had a better year in football than he's ever had," said Hoke. "He's played his best football. He took on a lot of responsibility as a captain and as a guy who felt entitled to help young offensive linemen grow. I think he did that in a very positive way. I think his maturity, all those things that go along with being a year older, really has helped."

Lewan and the rest of the offensive line will also help to take the pressure off of Morris by opening up holes in the run game—another area of consternation all season long for the Wolverines. 

Michigan finished 11th in the Big Ten, rushing for just 130.8 yards per game as a team. With Morris at quarterback, the Wolverines may be a bit more committed to the power run game they've wanted to run. 

It appears that it will be running back by committee for Michigan on Saturday night: 

Just don't expect the offense to change all that much with Morris in for Devin Gardner. 

"Everything has been the same," wide receiver Jeremy Gallon said. "Just because he's (Shane Morris) a younger quarterback doesn't mean he doesn't know his material. I feel like he's on point with his material. He knows what he has to do. He's good at reading the defense, checking out of things if he has to. He's a smart kid. So, I don't feel like anything has changed."

Morris may be the focal point of the game on Saturday night, but it is Lewan who will set the tone for the success or failure of the Wolverines offense, and that makes him the most important player Michigan has.

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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SEC Football: 2013 End of the Season Accountability

The 2013-14 season is in the books, and the holiday season is upon us. As is the case every year, it's time to reach under the tree and hand out gifts in the form of some end of the season accountability.

Florida wasn't really going to struggle this year, right? Is Dan Mullen really on the hot seat at Mississippi State? Zach Mettenberger as a Heisman candidate? Say what?

Did you think that something that was written or said in the offseason was crazy and demanded answers when the season was over? Well, this slide show is for you.

Here's a look back at some good, bad and ugly predictions from the 2013-14 SEC football season.

 

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Texas Longhorns Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

After the inevitable resignation of Mack Brown on Dec. 14, the Texas Longhorns find themselves in a weird sort of purgatory state, entering the meat of recruiting season with a new athletic director, Steve Patterson, and no long-term vision at head coach, despite being linked to seemingly every potential candidate—pro or college; realistic or utterly absurd—who's ever roamed a sideline in his career.

Heading into post-Christmas bowl season, Texas has the No. 12 overall class in the 247Sports team rankings, though it's unclear how (or if) Brown's resignation will affect the status of those who have already committed to UT. Still, until something changes, the Longhorns have the best incoming class in the Big 12...by a lot.

Things can still get better, too. The Longhorns have a realistic shot to land a couple of undeclared 5-star prospects, which could help them weather the storm of this coaching change and dull the roars from their (rightfully) apprehensive fanbase.

Here's a live, updating primer of the entire class.

 

Note: All measurements, grades and rankings, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of the 247Sports composite.

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Virginia Tech Football: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The Virginia Tech football team picked up some new coaches this past offseason, and the new assistants have helped the Hokies reach areas of the country they never have before to assemble a quality 2014 recruiting class.

Frank Beamer and company have hit the trail hard for this recruiting cycle in order to help restock a defense that’s losing seven starters this offseason.

The team is also busy searching for its quarterback of the future to replace Logan Thomas, all while trying to keep pace with other ACC powerhouses like the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers.

Check back for all the latest news about Virginia Tech’s recruiting targets, recent commitments and more. All star ratings and stats courtesy of 247 Sports.

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Justin Wilcox Will Reportedly Join Steve Sarkisian at USC

New USC Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting no time in making the program his own.

As reported by CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Sarkisian will bring former Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to take the same role in Los Angeles. The announcement is expected to be made after UW's tilt with Brigham Young in the Fight Hunger Bowl Friday night.

Wilcox's move has plenty of backstory, as he'll be replacing current defensive boss Clancy Pendergast, who led the Trojans to be the No. 1 total defense in the Pac-12 Conference this season, yielding just 335 yards per game. 

Pendergast was a USC defensive assistant early in his coaching career in 1992. His resume included time as defensive coordinator in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as assistant experience with several other franchises.

He then became the defensive coordinator upstate at California. After three seasons in Berkeley, he headed south and transformed USC's defense from the No. 7 total defense in the Pac-12 to the league's best in just one season.

Despite the impressive resume, he will apparently be on his way out as Sarkisian looks to make his own stamp on the program.

His replacement, Wilcox, was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee before joining Sark's staff in Seattle. Prior to that, he was the defensive boss at Boise State under Chris Petersen. 

Petersen recently replaced Sarkisian at UW, but Wilcox has apparently chosen to follow his boss to Los Angeles, rather than reunite with his old one in Seattle.

As reported by Feldman, Wilcox was also responsible for identifying and recruiting Boise legend Kellen Moore, who ended his career as the NCAA's all-time wins leader as a starting quarterback.

It is an intriguing decision for Sarkisian to dump the Pac-12's top defensive coordinator—and one with NFL experience. On the other hand, it makes sense for the new USC coach to bring in his own coaches as he looks to bring the Trojans back into the national-title picture.

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Why Notre Dame Is the Only Team Sad to See the BCS Go

After Florida State and Auburn decide this season's national champion, all of college football can celebrate. There's no more BCS, and there will finally be a playoff system! 

Well, everybody except Notre Dame can celebrate. 

The Fighting Irish are probably the only team in the entire country sad to see the maligned BCS system go by the wayside. 

The reason? The BCS system favored Notre Dame more so than any team in America, including the ones in the automatic qualifying conferences. 

The famous "Notre Dame Rule" stated that, should the Irish have finish the top eight of the BCS standings at the end of the season, they were automatically granted a bid into a BCS bowl. No other independent team, or any team for that matter, had that luxury. 

While non-AQ schools only had to finish in the top 16 of the BCS standings, they also had to finish ahead of a school from an automatic qualifying conference. 

Notre Dame didn't have to do that. 

In the BCS era, the Irish have earned a BCS bid four times, including to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Only twice did Notre Dame finish in the top eight; the rest were at-large bids. Of course, the system of at-large bids in BCS games were very subjective, and bowls often took the most marketable teams.

That system of subjectivity led to some squads that, in theory, met the requirements laid out for Notre Dame being left out of the BCS altogether. Just look at the 2011 Kansas State Wildcats, who finished eighth in the BCS but were relegated to the Cotton Bowl.  

You can also look at the 2007 Missouri Tigers team that finished in the top eight of the BCS and only had two losses, both to ranked Oklahoma, and was not selected for a BCS bowl. 

Now, as college football transitions out of the BCS and into the new playoff system, the Fighting Irish are nowhere near as favored in the new system. 

Per Trey Iles of NOLA.com, Notre Dame is contractually obligated with just one of the former BCS bowls, and that's the Orange Bowl. And that's not even a guarantee, as the Orange Bowl will be forced to pick an ACC team plus either a Big Ten school, SEC school or the Irish. 

At the end of the day, Notre Dame was blessed by the football gods to be under the BCS system. But with it being scrapped in favor of a more fair playoff system, the Fighting Irish may actually have to start meeting their own lofty expectations consistently if they want to start playing in prime-time bowl games year in and year out. 

 

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