NCAA Football News

Gator Bowl 2014 Nebraska vs. Georgia: Live Score and Highlights

The 2014 Gator Bowl will host a rematch between Nebraska and Georgia. The teams played each other last year in the 2013 Capital One Bowl, which saw the Bulldogs come out on top as 45-31 winners.

The Cornhuskers come into this game with an 8-4 record. They are one of the best running teams in the country, averaging 221 yards per game. Ameer Abdullah is the reason why they have been running the ball so well, tallying 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.

The Bulldogs also come into the game with an 8-4 record. Their strength is throwing the ball, averaging 313 yards per game. Aaron Murray was the reason why the Bulldogs were strong through the air, but he will not play in today's game because of a torn ACL.

Hutson Mason will take his place.

Mason is coming off a performance against Georgia Tech in which he threw for 299 yards and two scores to complete a comeback win in November. 

Be sure to keep this blog open for the latest scoring updates and highlights. 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Biggest Storylines to Watch in Oklahoma vs. Alabama Clash

Although the national championship won't be on the line when Oklahoma and Alabama meet in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, there is no question that college football fans will have their eyes glued to the television as two of the most storied programs in college football history attempt to end the season on a positive note.

The Sooners and Crimson Tide took very different routes to get to this point, as Oklahoma defeated rival Oklahoma State to position itself for a BCS berth, while Alabama suffered an agonizing defeat against rival Auburn, which prevented it from competing for the national title.

With so many intriguing factors at play, here is a closer look at the biggest storylines to keep tabs on while watching the 2014 Sugar Bowl.


A.J. McCarron's Final Collegiate Game

Although Alabama's defense and head coach Nick Saban have received much of the credit for the Tide's success over the past few seasons, quarterback A.J. McCarron has unquestionably been a big part of it as well. McCarron hasn't put up gaudy statistics like some of his counterparts, as he has submitted himself to a team-focused game over personal production.

With that said, though, the Sugar Bowl will be McCarron's final official collegiate game, which means plenty of NFL scouts will be on hand for McCarron to impress.

McCarron's winning mentality has been enough to garner him praise while with Alabama, but it won't mean much at the NFL level. Becoming a top NFL prospect has everything to do with having great tools, and while McCarron may not be elite in that regard, he's likely better than he has had the opportunity to showcase. One person who fully realizes that is Oklahoma safety Gabe Lynn, according to Mike Herndon of

"He's like a coach on the field," Lynn said. "He's a sharp guy, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and then his arm is great too. He puts the ball in a lot of places where only the receiver can get the ball. He's real good at that."

McCarron's decision-making has been great as Alabama's starter, as evidenced by the fact that he has completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown no more than five interceptions in a single season over the past three years. He'll need to be more than a game manager to succeed at the next level, though. If Saban loosens the reins and allows McCarron to air it out a bit against the Sooners, it could potentially be huge for McCarron's stock.


Handicapping Oklahoma's QB Situation

While Oklahoma has had better seasons during head coach Bob Stoops' tenure, it can certainly be argued that his most impressive work has been done in 2013. The Sooners managed to finish the season with a 10-2 record despite the fact that a surefire starter never materialized at the quarterback position. Stoops waffled between Blake Bell and Trevor Knight all season long, and that remains true ahead of the Sugar Bowl, according to Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World.

Using two quarterbacks is something that can be effective to a certain extent at the collegiate level, but it is unquestionably always better to have a defined starter. As much as it can keep opponents off balance, switching between signal-callers can also prevent the offense from settling into a rhythm. Luckily for Oklahoma, though, the running game has been effective with Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Knight and Bell all contributing, while the defense has been stout as well.

Even so, all eyes will be on the quarterback position in the Sugar Bowl. Bell is likely the favorite since he is a junior while Knight is a freshman. It isn't easy for anyone to contend with Alabama's defense, but Bell might be able to contend with it a bit better. Also, Bell is big and physical at 6'6" and 252 pounds, so he can handle the physical punishment that the Tide will look to dish out.

Stoops is trying to give his team the advantage by concealing the identity of the starting quarterback leading up to the Sugar Bowl, but it remains to be seen if either of them will play well enough to upset 'Bama.


Will Nick Saban's Team Be Motivated?

There is no question that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't believe that Alabama has the advantage over Oklahoma in terms of overall talent. The Tide looked like a national title team all season long, and while the Sooners had a great year in their own right, they were never quite at that level. With that said, there are several factors that need to be taken into account prior to the Sugar Bowl. Among them is the varying feeling of motivation that each team figures to have.

One has to assume that Oklahoma will be fired up and ready to go in this game because of the quality of its opponent. Alabama, on the other hand, may struggle to get excited. The Sugar Bowl is a game that many teams would love to be a part of, but the Tide's mentality entering the season was essentially national title or bust. Even Saban admitted that the team is still dwelling on the loss to Auburn to a certain degree, according to Michael Casagrande of

"We're all a little disappointed with the way the season ended," Saban said.

Based upon how close Alabama came to playing for another championship, it's important for the players to not be disappointed. If that manifests itself against Oklahoma, though, the Tide will be ripe for an upset. It happened back in 2009 when Alabama was shocked by Utah in the Sugar Bowl, and it could very well happen again. Saban is the best coach in college football, so he should have ability to rally the troops, but there certainly aren't any guarantees.


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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Preview and Prediction for UCF vs. Baylor

The No. 15-ranked UCF Knights are not only trying to win a BCS bowl game, the school is also trying to score a victory for the American Athletic Conference. Formerly known as the Big East, the conference has undergone massive reconstruction and doesn't boast the same top-tier programs as it once did.

If UCF can stick it to the No. 6-ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, it will earn its league some respect.

This game will pit two of the nation's best quarterbacks against each other. Knights junior Blake Bortles has been fantastic this season. He's thrown for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller has Bortles going third to the Jacksonville Jaguars in his latest mock draft.

If Baylor's Bryce Petty was coming out, this could be a battle of two of the most highly touted prospects in the 2014 draft. Bortles hasn't officially said he's coming out early, but the consensus belief is that he will bolt.

Petty has already committed to returning to Waco, Texas, for his senior season. NFL scouts will have another year to salivate over his talent. In 2013, Petty threw for 3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. 

Needless to say, fans should expect high-caliber QB play in this one. Here's how you can watch the action as well as the betting information.


When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines: (via Covers)

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Baylor (-16.5)


What UCF Must Do to Pull Upset

Without a doubt, the Knights can't win a shootout with the Bears. UCF doesn't have the necessary weapons at skill positions to compete with a Baylor offense that averaged a nation's best 53.3 points per game.

Pulling this major upset starts with defense. Asking the Knights to shut down Baylor is unrealistic. The Bears were held under 30 points just one time this season.

That came against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Bears' only loss. 

The key in that game was takeaways. Baylor fumbled three times inside the Cowboys' territory—twice inside their 5-yard line. Oklahoma State turned those miscues into 14 points, and Baylor never really got on track.

The Bears are a rhythm team on offense. If UCF is to have any shot, they must disturb that flow early with turnovers and big plays defensively.


What Baylor Must Do to Prove It Deserved to Be the Favorite

The biggest mistake Baylor could make in this game would be to take its opponent lightly. The winning percentage of the teams UCF has beaten this season is only .401. Still, Art Briles' team has to know the Knights will show up ready to compete and with a chip on their shoulders.

Baylor can't afford to get off to a slow start.

The Bears must match the Knights' intensity from the beginning and remind them they are out of their league—literally and figuratively. 



Baylor will win this game in grand fashion. The Knights don't have the overall team speed to curtail the Bears.

Too much speed on the outside and not enough pass rush from UCF will lead to a lopsided win for the Bears.

Baylor wins it and covers the spread.


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2014 NFL Draft: Marqise Lee Re-Establishes Spot in Top 10 on January Big Board

With the NFL regular season finally coming to a close, draft talk will being reaching a fervor in the coming months as fans and media ponder the future of their organizations.

Bowl season also lets us get a closer look at some of these prospects in big games, as underclassmen debate whether or not to declare for the draft, which has affected a bunch of rankings since my December big board

Here is a list of who has declared and who has decided to return to school. It will be updated until the deadline on January 15.

Remember, this is not a mock draft; it is simply ranking the 50 best draft-eligible college football players. 


*Denotes underclassmen


1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Clowney has not declared yet for the draft, but it would be extremely surprising if he returned to school. It will be discussed endlessly over the next few months, but I believe that his character issues are way overblown and the consistent impact he makes on the game has been under-discussed. Previous: 1


2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Matthews is the clear No. 2 prospect in this draft, and there’s a pretty significant gap down to the next tier of prospects. If the Texans (or whoever they trade their pick to) aren't sold on a top QB and want to avoid the media circus of Clowney, Matthews would be an ideal selection. He’s better than Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel were last year. Previous: 2


3. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

In his senior year, Barr has taken a backseat in terms of media attention and hype despite elevating his level of play. His athletic ability is off the charts, and he is the prototypical fit for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Previous: 4


4. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

I almost had Bridgewater sliding a little more than this but ended up just swapping him with Barr after an impressive bowl victory over Miami. His arm strength may not be elite, but he throws a really nice ball and shows phenomenal accuracy, touch and anticipation along with underrated quickness inside and out of the pocket. Previous: 3


5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

After finally getting to watch a good bit of tape on Mack, I came away incredibly impressed. His quickness and acceleration is unbelievable for a linebacker, and he plays with an intensity and intelligence that make him a turnover-forcing machine. Then senior has the NCAA all-time forced fumble record with 16 and is tied for the most tackles for loss with 75. Previous: 7 


6. *Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Watkins has a huge matchup Wednesday night with Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, but his stock is already mostly cemented after an impressive junior campaign. While fans will love his speed and elusiveness after the catch, scouts have to note his deceptive strength and balance that make him difficult to re-route before the catch and difficult to bring down once he has the ball. Previous: 5


7. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Although he may not be the most dynamic prospect in the top 10, Mosley is the type of inside linebacker who can come in and stabilize a defense immediately, much like Luke Kuechly has done for Carolina. Previous: 6


8. *Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California

After being extremely high on Lee coming into the season, I soured on him too quickly, and his big rise up the board this month was more due to an overreaction negatively last month. He’s had a bumpy season but showed his elite athleticism and playmaking ability in USC’s dominating bowl victory. The gap between him and Watkins is very, very small and could be eradicated completely with a great combine and pro day from Lee. Previous: 29


9. *Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Kouandjio ended the season strongly after a mediocre start and has supplanted Taylor Lewan to become the No. 2 tackle on my board. He’s impressively quick and flexible for a guy with his amount of mass, and that combined with his experience makes him an ideal plug-and-play tackle prospect. Previous: 10


10. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

I may be higher on Hageman than others, but his combination of explosiveness and quickness is just so rare for a 6’6” defensive tackle. Some may balk at his list of off-the-field issues, but a deeper inquiry reveals a good-natured kid who has overcome a lot of obstacles and now gotten himself steadied. Previous: 11


11. *Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

We are just missing out on having three receivers in the top 10 here, but Evans is still a high-end prospect whose physical skills are hard to come by. He’s 6’5” with long arms and impressive leaping ability, and his coordination and hands are impressive for such a big guy. Inconsistency is the only thing keeping him out of the top 10. He has still not declared for the draft, as Johnny Manziel's instagram (linked under Manziel's ranking) stated on Tuesday. Previous: 18


12. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Lewan has fallen a little this season, although the stakes were extremely high from the start. There’s a lot to like about his size, intensity, leadership and experience, but questions remain about his quickness and flexibility, which could scare some teams off and caused him to fall behind Kouandjio for the first time this season. Previous: 8


13. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young

Van Noy is another prospect who doesn’t get a lot of hype over at BYU, but he’s a super athletic linebacker who is perfectly suited for today’s NFL. He’s relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback but is also more than athletic enough to be effective in coverage and has the strength and tenacity to be a run-stopper. He’s versatile enough to play on the outside in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme in the NFL. Previous: 12


14. *Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Hundley has fallen out of favor a little bit as the season's worn on. Other quarterbacks may be the flavor of the month, but Hundley is still an impressive talent.

As a redshirt sophomore, he is inconsistent but flashes tremendous arm talent and is the best athlete at the quarterback position other than Johnny Manziel. The quarterbacks are all extremely close here, as is evidenced by the rankings. The slight break between these two and the next two shows a small gap in tiers, but it's very close and will likely change in the coming months. Previous: 13


15. *Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

After first learning about Bortles from an Optimum Scouting article back in September, I kept him on my radar throughout the season. I didn’t necessarily think he’d rise this high, and I still think he’s a risk as a top-five pick (which some are now predicting), but there is certainly a lot to like about his natural arm and athletic talents. As with Carr, there has to be some concern about his lack of good competition and ability in the pocket under pressure. A big game against Baylor would help Bortles immensely. Previous: 46


16. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

Richardson is not quite as high-profile of a prospect as other premier tackles and won’t get a chance to showcase his talents in a bowl game, but the massive left tackle is a legitimate talent. His footwork is impressive for a 345-pound guy, and he’s good enough to start on the blind side right away. Previous: 23


17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

In a weak safety class, Clinton-Dix is the only one worth taking in the first round. He’s at his best in coverage down the field, where he can use his agility and speed in space to track the ball and make plays. Previous: 19


18. *Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (scouting report here)

Manziel is a polarizing prospect, and his athletic ability is off the charts. Questions about his character will be addressed throughout the process, but I expect teams to come away impressed with his intelligence, toughness and leadership potential. Manziel has still not declared yet for the draft, despite reports. Previous: 22


19. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Carr’s stock was not necessarily hurt in a big way by his disappointing bowl game performance against USC, but he definitely lost a major opportunity to climb the charts further and claim his spot as the No. 2 quarterback in the class. The senior has a great arm and a wealth of experience and productions to his name, but there are questions about his pocket presence under pressure which keep him here in the rankings. Previous: 14 


20. Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian

I bunched all three of these cornerbacks together because there's so little separating them. Verrett is still my preference at this time because he's such a steady NFL-ready corner. Although he's a little undersized, he attacks the ball in the air and doesn't let his height affect him. Previous: 26


21. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Dennard has the most potential of these three corners. He's a strong, rangy athlete who is extremely aggressive in coverage and can step up and make a hit just as easily as knocking down a good pass. He rose quickly after an extremely strong finish to an exceptional season for himself and Michigan State's entire defense. Previous: NR


22. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Gilbert is an incredibly fast corner who has the most big-play ability out of these three players. He's played well in big games and can also be a great returner in the NFL, which will add value for many teams. Previous: 35


23. *Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Shazier's rank has remained relatively steady throughout this season because he's one of those guys where you know what you're getting. He's an athletic, instinctive tackle machine who will make a great weakside 4-3 NFL linebacker. His upside is just a notch under where Lavonte David is now. Previous: 24 


24. *Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Robinson debuts on my big board this month after a great finish to the season. I was hesitant about Robinson, being that he's only a redshirt sophomore, but with his potential it wouldn't be a surprise if he came out, especially with a good showing in the BCS National Championship. He's the kind of talent that I'd definitely go back and watch in detail if he decides to come out and could see a big rise up the board as a result. Previous: NR


25. *Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

I had held Nix in the top 20 for the whole season even as his (and all of Notre Dame's defense) performance waned, but it was inevitable that he'd get moved down now. It's still rare to find a guy as big as Nix, especially one with the footwork that he possesses, but his lack of impact has to be noted. Previous: 15


26. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor

Richardson is still the top guard prospect in the nation, although David Yankey and Xavier Su'a-Filo are gaining quickly. But Richardson is the mauler of the group, and you can't teach 6'5", 340 pounds. His experience in an up-tempo offense like Baylor's will serve him well in the NFL. Other players have passed him more because of their play and not because of Richardson performing badly. Previous: 16


27. *Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (scouting report here)

Ebron is a really talented tight end who will be a dynamic playmaker in the NFL. He isn't the best blocker, although he really needs to work more on his aggression and consistency because his technique is there when he wants it. His hands are a little inconsistent, but he can overcome that to be a big-time threat in the NFL. He has declared for the draft. Previous: 33


28. *Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT/G, UCLA

Su'a-Filo continues to be a favorite of mine and was impressive in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. He started 13 games at left tackle (the most ever by a non-kicker Bruin) in 2009, then went on his Mormon mission before returning in 2012 and earning coaches first-team all-conference honors as a guard. He has played both guard and tackle in 2013 but projects best as a guard in the NFL because of his 6'3" height. Previous: 47


28. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

Tuitt's production sagged this year, and in similar fashion to Nix I held on as long as I could before finally dropping him down the ranks. But he's undeniably talented and still may be the best 3-4 defensive end prospect in this class. Previous: 17


29. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Matthews does not do any one thing exceptionally well, but his strong hands, solid route running and impressive coordination make him such a productive player. He was the first SEC wide receiver in history to record 100 catches in a season, a truly remarkable feat. Previous: 21


30. *Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

People were really high on Beasley halfway through this season, but I never fully bought into the hype. He's incredibly quick off the edge and has an impressive physique, but 225 pounds is just too light for a linebacker, let alone a defensive end. Previous: 27


31. *Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Robinson is an ultra-athletic receiver who can do it all. He's strong over the middle but also extremely fast down the field and has impressive leaping ability. If he declares, quarterback Christian Hackenburg will really miss him in his sophomore season. Previous: 30


32. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford

Murphy's a talented pass-rusher and probably should have won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award over Will Sutton. But I have some reservations about his burst and bend around the edge, and NFL teams will be watching closely to see how he performs at the combine. Previous: 32


33. *Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Amaro is an incredibly lethal weapon as an over-the-middle pass-catcher. The 6'6" redshirt sophomore has good hands and looks like a less explosive version of Jimmy Graham at times. But he avoids a surefire first-round grade because he isn't used much as a blocker and benefits from Texas Tech's system. Previous: 20


34. David Yankey, OT/G, Stanford

Yankey has been the anchor on Stanford's offensive line and is an extremely efficient blocker who is solidly built and has good fundamentals with his hands and footwork. He's started at both tackle and guard, but like Su'a-Filo, is built more like a guard. Previous: 28


35. *Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Ealy makes his debut on the board as talk about him declaring for the draft has heated up recently. He's gotten a lot better throughout the season and throughout his career, and he showed his ceiling when he absolutely dominated against Kentucky. He can put on a little more weight but looks like an ideal 4-3 defensive end. Previous: NR


36. *Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Opinions seem to be divided on Jernigan. There are some who see his natural ability and say he has to be a top pick, but his lack of consistency and penchant for getting off the line slowly have caused others to hesitate. I guess I'm somewhere in between but am a little more on the cautious side about him. Previous: 36


37. *Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

There's a lot to like about Benjamin. At 6'5" with a lot of speed, he's the most naturally gifted wideout in this class and can make some spectacular grabs. But he'll need to get a lot more consistent, and the fact that he'll be 23 when the draft happens yet is just a redshirt sophomore makes him a bit of a wild card. Previous: NR   


38. *Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

Although his teammate, Odell Beckham Jr., started this season as the more heralded player, Landry has supplanted him as the better prospect. He's shown the strength and consistency that is needed to be effective in the NFL and would be an ideal No. 2 wideout who could play right away for many teams. Previous: NR


39. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

Sutton fails to rise much despite putting up great numbers this season. He looks slow at his heavier weight, and I'm not sure where he will fit in the NFL. Teams will have to figure out what they want out of him and if they can count on him to be consistent at a certain weight and position. Previous: 40


40. *Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State

Jameis Winston may get most of the credit for Florida State's turnaround, but don't discount the man protecting his blind side. Erving has a lot of natural talent and could end up moving into the first round. Previous: 45


41. *Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

Ogbuehi has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle for A&M this season. He's a bit of a project and boom-or-bust prospect right now, and he could decide to move over to the left next year like Matthews did. Previous: 43


42. *Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss

Moncrief flies under the radar, but he's a physically imposing receiver who could shoot up boards if he lights up the combine. Previous: NR


43. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina

Hurst broke his left leg in his final collegiate game, which is a real shame for a guy who would have been pushing to elevate his draft stock. He's been a great four-year starter for UNC. Previous: 31


44. Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford (scouting report here)

Skov's upside is a bit capped because of his lack of elite quickness, but he could develop into a phenomenal run-stopper and every-down middle linebacker in the NFL. There's a lot to like about his toughness and leadership. 


45. *Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

He may not have put up the numbers we were expecting this year, but Seferian-Jenkins is still the most polished all-around tight end prospect in the class. He has declared for the draft. Previous: NR


46. Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State

Florida State's defense is incredibly fast and suffocating, and Joyner is a big part of that. His 5'8" height may limit him to cornerback in the NFL, but he's succeeded in college as a safety as well. Previous: 46


47. Brent Urban, DE, Virginia

Urban may still be a relative unknown, but at 6'7", 295 pounds, he's an impressive specimen who makes a big impact on the game. He may also be able to play defensive end in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, which could make him more enticing to NFL teams. Previous: NR


48. *Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

Oakman has had a rough past few years but seems to have settled in some at Baylor. After redshirting at Penn State in 2011, he then transferred and was forced to sit out the 2012 season. At 6'9", Oakman has the natural length that scouts salivate over and is a basketball-type athlete. Previous: 50


49. *Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

Some teams will be put off by his skinny frame, but Richardson is an explosive playmaker who has been a big contributor as the lone weapon on Colorado's offense. He has declared for the draft. Previous: 38


50. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford

Reynolds is an athletic, physical safety who had a really impressive year and leaves Stanford with a number of accolades. His experience in a shutdown defense like Stanford's and his already well-built frame should help him make an impact right away in the NFL. Previous: NR

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Rose Bowl 2014: Key Matchups for Michigan State vs. Stanford

It might be called the Rose Bowl, but don't expect anything flowery in this New Year's Day classic when No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2) in the 100th edition of the Grandaddy of Them All. Both teams are very similar with stout and physical defenses, workhorse running backs and solid quarterbacks.

In this new age of college football where teams love to spread it out and pass the ball, the Rose Bowl provides a vintage powerhouse matchup of the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions.

While MSU stunned the football world by beating Ohio State, 34-24, in the Big Ten championship game to keep the Buckeyes out of the BCS title game, Stanford muscled its way to a convincing 38-14 win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.

Here's a look at the key matchups for both teams entering this year's Rose Bowl classic on Wednesday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), in what figures to be a close battle that will be decided in the fourth quarter.


Running Backs vs. Stout Front Sevens

In such a physical matchup, it's no secret that both teams will be trying to establish the run.

Both Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney and MSU running back Jeremy Langford will have to work hard to earn their yards against two of the toughest run defenses in the nation.

Gaffney established himself as a bell cow in his senior season, a year after stepping out of football to pursue his baseball career, as detailed by Lindsay Schnell of Grantland. The senior is one of five FBS players to have at least 300 carries this season, totaling 1,618 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.

But Michigan State entered bowl season with the nation's top-ranked rush defense, allowing only an average of 80.8 yards per game. Right behind the Spartans on the national leaderboard is Stanford, which has allowed just 91.2 rushing yards per game.

The Cardinal will be tasked with containing Langford, who was quietly one of the most prolific backs in the Big Ten and the country in 2013. The junior racked up 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, and is keeping a workman-like approach, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

“Go get the four yards that we need,” Langford said. “I might not be biggest but I’m going to run with power and I play the whole game. Take no plays off blocking or running. I grind."

Both running backs need to enter the Rose Bowl with the same attitude if they want to lead their teams to victory.


Stanford LB Trent Murphy vs. MSU O-line

Trent Murphy's teammates call him the "Yeti" because he has a fiery mean streak in between the lines. Before bowl season started, he was the nation's leading sack artist, with his 14 quarterback takedowns tops in the FBS.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News recently profiled the hulking outside linebacker in Stanford's stout 3-4 defense:

Whether outside linebacker Trent Murphy is Stanford's best player and top NFL prospect is subject to debate, but this much is beyond dispute: On a team that relishes old-school football, that batters and bludgeons opponents, Murphy is the meanest, nastiest, orneriest player on the roster.

Just ask ... well, everyone.

"It's not even close," coach David Shaw said. "Shayne Skov is unbelievably intense. But Trent is in his own category. I'm just glad it's not directed at us."

The 6'6", 261-pound Murphy has also been key in setting the edge for Stanford's stout defense against the run, but he's made a name for himself this year by getting to the quarterback. On Wednesday, efficient MSU signal-caller Connor Cook (2,423 yards, 20 touchdowns, five INTs) will be in his sights.

The Spartans have been among the nation's best when it comes to protecting the quarterback, surrendering just 13 sacks in 13 contests this season. It will take another strong effort to slow down Murphy, who is sure to be fired up in the final game of his college career.


MSU Pass Defense vs. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Of all the players who step on the field Wednesday afternoon in Pasadena, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard figures to have the best NFL prospects in 2014. As Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noted, Dennard has come a long way since being an unheralded recruit out of high school.

Now Dennard is pegged as a top-10 pick by CBS Sports' Rob Rang, being recognized as one of the elite cover corners in college football. The 5'11", 197-pound Dennard has also caught the eye of Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, according to Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"He locks people down," Bloomgren said. Opposing receivers rarely make much yardage on him. "Not many people even catch the ball on him," he said.

Dennard and his opposite number, Trae Waynes, allow their teammates to often commit nine players to stopping the run, Bloomgren said. "Not many people in college football - or any level - can do that."

The former Jets assistant coach said Dennard "does for their defense what (All-Pro)Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York."

That's high praise for Dennard, who will be tasked with slowing down Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who amassed 2.487 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2013. But Dennard isn't the only explosive playmaker who excels for Michigan State against the pass.

Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, junior safety Kurtis Drummond and senior safety Isaiah Lewis were also named to the Big Ten First Team, giving Hogan and Stanford's passing game a tall order in the Rose Bowl.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Players Who Will Dictate Outcome of Stanford vs. Michigan State

Fans of traditional football would be wise to not miss the 2014 edition of the Rose Bowl when the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans (12-1) and the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) clash in a game sure to be a battle of wills.

Both the Spartans and Cardinal love to play gritty football on the ground flanked by strong defenses. Individual stars will be few and far between, but those talented enough to rise above will stick out to fans in attendance and watching from home.

Here are three names to watch in a game sure to be a low-scoring affair grounded in the traditional sense.


Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

There is no better NFL prospect on the field than Darqueze Dennard when these two sides meet.

Dennard has shut down any and all comers this year as he has slowly made his way up the ranks of draft-eligible corners. In fact, Dennard is now the No. 1 overall corner prospect according to CBS Sports.

Dennard is the piece that allows the Michigan State defense to be the No. 4-ranked unit in the land with an average of just 12.7 points allowed per game. Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren broke down how, per Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"He locks people down," Bloomgren said. Opposing receivers rarely make much yardage on him. "Not many people even catch the ball on him," he said.

Dennard and his opposite number, Trae Waynes, allow their teammates to often commit nine players to stopping the run, Bloomgren said. "Not many people in college football - or any level - can do that."

The former Jets assistant coach said Dennard "does for their defense what (All-Pro) Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York."

No. 31 is far and away the biggest name to watch, especially when it comes to defense. Stanford is far from known for its passing attack, but Dennard must hold up well to ensure the Spartans can throw everything they have at stopping the next man on the list.


Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

Dennard is the best player on the field, but Stanford's Tyler Gaffney may be the most feared.

The definition of a workhorse, Gaffney carried the ball 306 times in 2013—which translated to 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Gaffney is backed by a top-10 defense that allows an average of 18.6 points per game. But make no mistake, his ability to churn out yardage (5.3 yards per carry) and keep the ball in the hands of the Cardinal offense is a major factor in the overall success of the team.

Expect to see a heavy dose of Gaffney all day long as the Cardinal attempt to break down the elite Spartans defense through brute force. If one man is capable of accomplishing the feat, one would have to think it is Gaffney.


Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Michigan State's counter to Gaffney is junior running back Jeremy Langford. He rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 on five yards per carry.

As David M. Lombardi of KNBR suggests, Langford may be the key to a Rose Bowl victory:

Langford is no stranger to showing up big when his team needs him most. Under the bright lights of the Big Ten Championship, Langford rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

At this point, sophomore quarterback Connor Cook is not the liability he once was, but Langford will still have to carry the load for the offense against a top defense. His ability to do so will determine the game.


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Cotton Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For both Missouri and Oklahoma State, the 2014 Cotton Bowl is a step down from what the schools had in mind. Both had a chance to win their conference championship in the final game and came up short.

As a result, the No. 9 Tigers and No. 13 Cowboys will face off in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, Jan. 3 in Arlington, Texas.

Although these programs did not face each other this season, they have a long history. These two schools have met 51 times from Missouri's time in the Big 12. 

Now, the Tigers have moved on to the SEC, and after struggling in their transition season last year, they are thriving. Missouri advanced to the SEC Championship Game before falling to No. 2 Auburn. This doesn't seem to have robbed the Tigers of their enthusiasm:

Losing the conference championship game had to be a bitter pill to swallow, but not as bitter as the one Oklahoma State was forced to choke down. 

As the sixth-ranked team in the nation, the Cowboys fell to in-state rival Oklahoma in their final game. The Cowboys are trying to put that championship-losing effort behind them. 

"It was an upsetting loss but we can't dwell on it. It's the past," Oklahoma State senior running back Kye Staley said via the Associated Press (h/t "We didn't even watch film, we just go on to the next team. We're very excited to play Missouri, an SEC team, in Dallas. ... You can't look behind you."

All of this sets up for what should be a well-played and entertaining game. The leaders of each school's state seem to think so:

Here are the vitals for this entertaining matchup:  


When: Friday, Jan. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas 

Watch: Fox

Betting Line (via Bovada): Missouri -1.5


Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)


Key Storyline: Can Missouri End Its Skid Against Oklahoma State?

The Tigers have a 28-23 edge in the all-time history of this rivalry, but the Cowboys have won the last three meetings.

The Tigers have the talent to end that streak. 

Were it not for Auburn running away late in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers, in all likelihood, would be playing for the national championship. Missouri has a strong defense and running game, and senior quarterback James Franklin gives them a steady leader in the pocket who has been battle-tested in the tough SEC.  

Still, it won't be easy for Missouri. The Cowboys are excellent on offense and defense. In fact, they are one of just two teams to be ranked in the top 15 in both scoring offense and defense. 

The Cowboys are more dangerous through the air, but they have solid balance on offense. Nationally, they rank 29th in passing and 64th in rushing. Conversely, Missouri's offense is 40th in passing and 16th in rushing 


Prediction: Missouri 42, Oklahoma State 34

This game will be a blast. I see both of the offenses taking over and a shootout ensuing. This will play into the hands of Missouri. The Tigers have a stronger rushing attack, which will allow them to control possession in the fourth quarter and wear the Cowboys down. 

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Orange Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The 2014 Orange Bowl features two of the nation's top college football programs, as the No. 12 Clemson Tigers (10-2) and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1) will hit the gridiron on Friday, Jan. 3 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla. 

The players and coaches from both teams come into the BCS bowl game with the foul taste of losing on their tongues. 

Ohio State had a chance to go to the BCS National Championship Game heading into the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Michigan State Spartans buried that dream with a 34-24 win. 

Clemson lost to South Carolina in the final game of the regular season, 34-17, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had one of his worst games of the season.  

The Orange Bowl offers both teams a final chance at redemption, and Boyd expressed his excitement for the challenge, as noted by David Furones of the Miami Herald: "Big stage, big venue, beautiful city. We’re excited about a great team we’re going to play against. Both teams definitely have something to play for. I don’t think it’s one team that has more to play for than the other."

Judging by this picture of Ryan Shazier and C.J. Barnett, however, it appears Ohio State is equally motivated for the upcoming battle:

Here's what you need to know about the 2014 Orange Bowl, along with a final prediction:


When: Friday, Jan. 3, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN


Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Ohio State (-2.5)


Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)


Can Ohio State's Defense Slow Down Clemson's High-Powered Offense?

Braxton Miller did his part to help the Buckeyes beat Michigan State, scoring three touchdowns.

But Ohio State's defense failed to respond in kind, allowing sophomore quarterback Connor Cook to have the biggest game of his season and lead the Spartans to a 10-point win in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

But it wasn't really a shock that the team's defense proved vulnerable—it's something fans groaned about all season long and a point of weakness that nearly cost the Buckeyes against Michigan just one week before the championship game at the Big House. 

Team sack and tackles-for-loss leader Noah Spence didn't make the trip for the game, dealing with personal issues, as reported by Tim May and Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. His absence will be challenging for Ohio State's front seven to overcome. 

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder highlights the challenge:

With or without Noah Spence, the Ohio State defense is going to have its work cut out for it against the Clemson Tigers' attack. Spence is growing into a phenomenal pass-rusher, but the key to the Buckeyes stopping Clemson is the pass coverage, not just the pass rush.

Making matters worse, All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby could potentially miss the game as he rehabs from a a knee injury, as noted by Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch

On paper, it appears Braxton Miller must have a career game in order to give Ohio State the victory because Clemson's high-scoring offense (40.2 points per game) should have a field day. 

Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins typically shred inferior secondaries, and the dynamic duo will put up huge totals against Ohio State's depleted and disjointed defense. 



Clemson's defense will have its hands full keeping Ohio State's Carlos Hyde in check, and Miller is usually good for one or two game-changing plays per contest.

Nobody should expect a low-scoring offensive output by either team.

But Ohio State's defense is going to be overwhelmed by the time halftime rolls around.

This is Clemson's game to lose. 

All season long, there were Ohio State detractors in the national media.

Those who weren't sold on the Buckeyes pointed to the team's easy schedule. Wisconsin and Northwestern both gave this team a scare early, and lo and behold, once this team faced some stiff competition in the championship game, it failed to execute under pressure.

Clemson will pull out a big win, and Boyd will finish his career in style with a signature game.


Final Score 

Clemson wins, 38-31.


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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