NCAA Football News

Cotton Bowl 2014: X-Factors in Huge Matchup Between Former Rivals

Both Missouri and Oklahoma State had expectations of making a BCS bowl at some point this season. Unfortunately, the two teams faltered and landed just outside of the BCS picture.

Luckily for college football fans, they ended up taking on one another in what is sure to be a great Cotton Bowl between two old rivals on Friday night (7:30 ET, Fox).

The two schools met 51 times when Missouri was still a member of the Big 12. Needless to say, they have a history that will be rekindled on Friday night.

With playmakers on both sides of the ball for the two teams, here are the X-factors that will be the difference in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri

One of the most physically imposing defensive linemen in the country, Michael Sam has been a catalyst for the Missouri defense all season. With 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss on the season, Sam is a player to watch any time he touches the field.

The one thing that Sam is well aware of is the success that his defense, as a whole, has enjoyed this season. He actually gave Oklahoma State a bit of a warning ahead of their showdown on Friday, according to a tweet by David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

The senior linebacker is enjoying his best season of his college tenure, with more sacks and tackles for loss in 2013 than he had in his prior three seasons combined with the Tigers. 

But going against an offense that spreads the ball around in the passing game—Oklahoma State ranks 29th in the nation in average passing yards to go with 24 passing touchdowns—the importance of rushing the passer will be of the utmost importance for Missouri.

One promise Sam did make before the game is that he will leave it all on the line for his final game as a Tiger, according to Morrison:

 

Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State

Quarterback Clint Chelf has gotten a lot of credit for the success that Oklahoma State has enjoyed this season, and deservedly so. But Tracy Moore deserves at least a mention when talking about the Cowboys 10-win season.

The senior wide receiver has stepped up this season with 638 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Although he only had one touchdown through the first seven games of the season, he's proven to be one of Chelf's favorite targets with five touchdowns in his last five games and 75 yards or more in two of those games.

Much of Chelf's success this season has been due to the consistency of Moore. With the senior playing his last game in a Cowboys uniform, there is certainly reason to believe that Moore can have another breakout game against a weak Missouri pass defense.

Facing a defense that ranks 99th in the nation in passing yards allowed this season, Moore should have a huge game. With the Tigers also allowing over 10 yards per completion, expect Moore to be able to swing the momentum if the Cowboys are able to pull out the win.

 

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri

With a lot of attention being put on Dorial Green-Beckham and his breakout ability, Henry Josey has been able to flourish this season. The junior running back has shredded defenses this season with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Josey's success has led to him to being one of the top running back prospects in the 2014 NFL draft. An Instagram photo that he posted earlier this week had Mizzou fans worried that he would be leaving early, as he wrote "Last time getting to do this thang with my boys!! Lets make it a good 1."

Here is the photo:

But Josey made it clear that he will not forgo his senior season, according to Morrison:

Where am I going? I ain’t dying or anything. Of course I’ll be back. I’m not done yet.

It’s always a dream as a kid. You want to be able to get to the next level and further your career as a football player. I’ve probably thought about it a whole lotBut I can’t just sit here and say, ‘Yes, I’m leaving’ or ‘I’m staying.’ I haven’t made a decision about any of that. My main focus is on playing and having fun with my teammates.

Yes, I want to come back and yes, I want to graduate. That’s something I’ve made a promise to my grandma and a couple other people in my life. It’s a big decision. But I’m just staying in the moment right now and focusing on the football game.

With that out of the way, the Tigers will need a big game out of Josey. In his last four games, he has put together four straight performances of 95 yards rushing or more and totaled five touchdowns along the way.

However, the junior workhorse faces a stout rushing defense in Oklahoma State, which ranks 23rd in the nation against the run. The Cowboys allow just 132.9 rushing yards per game and are tied for third in the country with only eight rushing touchdowns allowed this season.

The matchup might not be in Josey's favor, but in order for Mizzou to open up the passing game, Josey's success in the running game will be crucial if the Tigers plan to pull off a huge win in the Cotton Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson vs. Ohio State: Top Matchups to Watch in 2014 Orange Bowl

The 2014 Orange Bowl, featuring the No. 12 Clemson Tigers and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, promises to be full of offensive fireworks, as both teams present matchup nightmares on paper. 

The two programs finished the season with just three losses between them, and they both rank in the top 10 nationally in points scored. 

Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins lead an explosive passing attack for Clemson, while Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde lead a potent running game for Ohio State. 

Here's a look at the biggest matchups in the upcoming BCS bowl game. 

 

Sammy Watkins vs. Ohio State's Secondary 

Ohio State's top pass-rusher, Noah Spence, won't be playing in this game after being suspended for three games, as reported by Erick Smith of USA Today:

Even with Spence in the game, Ohio State was going to have a tough time corralling Clemson's passing attack, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder: "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."

Adding to the challenge, cornerback Bradley Roby isn't expected to play as he's dealing with a knee injury, as noted by ESPN Big Ten:

Ohio State struggled to defend the pass throughout most of the second half of the season, finishing with the nation's No. 103-ranked passing defense (259.5 passing yards allowed per game) while allowing 26 passing touchdowns.

With Roby.

Without Roby, going up against Sammy Watkins, who has wowed Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Ohio State's defensive secondary could be doomed:

The talented junior receiver finished the year with 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's a force to be reckoned with. Given Ohio State's weakened defense, he's going to go off at the 2014 Orange Bowl—likely his last game in college before he heads to the pros. 

 

Ohio State Running Game vs. Clemson's Defensive Front Seven

The Auburn Tigers have a shot at winning a national championship thanks to their top-ranked rushing offense. Ohio State has been nearly as impressive this season, however, coming into the Orange Bowl with the No. 3-ranked rushing attack, averaging 317.5 rushing yards per game.

Clemson features the nation's 50th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 152.6 yards per game, which is just above average, and the Tigers allowed 19 rushing touchdowns.

Carlos Hyde and Miller combined to rush for 2,441 yards this year—both players eclipsing 1,000 yards—and 24 touchdowns.

Hyde feels confident coming into the game, noting that he watched Todd Gurley run for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson earlier in the year, as reported by Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com:

It's worth noting that South Carolina's running game was stymied in part during the final game of the season—a loss for Clemson. Mike Davis was held to just 22 yards on 15 carries, while Connor Shaw did the bulk of the work on the ground for the Gamecocks, totaling 94 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries.

That doesn't necessarily bode well for the Tigers in this upcoming game because Miller is much more dangerous than Shaw in the open field. 

Needless to say, Clemson's front seven must play with discipline, leverage and fire in order to keep Ohio State's potent offense in check. In particular, defensive end Vic Beasley, who's known for his pass-rushing abilities, must be razor-sharp against the run in this one. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Leonard Fournette Choosing LSU Will Be Key to Tigers' Rise in SEC

Regardless of whether he's No. 1 overall or just the No. 1 running back, Leonard Fournette is at the top of every prospect list in the country. When a player draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson, like he did from Albert Breer of NFL.com, it means they're pretty good:

Jeff Duncan, a columnist for NOLA.com, made it simple when talking about how significant the commitment is for LSU:

What Fournette does well is, well, just about everything. But his skills that will translate well to the SEC are his physicality and the fact that he's much more a downhill runner than even the likes of Jeremy Hill from this season. Fournette appears to be a guy who enjoys contact, but he has the elusiveness and the speed to get away from would-be tacklers in open space.

One intangible similar to Peterson that he also possesses is his nose for the end zone. The senior from St. Augustine High School finished his career with 88 touchdowns, and as ESPN Stats & Info reported, he put together a ridiculous all-purpose year in his final season:

As for comparisons to former SEC running backs that carried their teams, Eddie Lacy might be the most similar recent back. Though Fournette actually has an extra two inches in height to Lacy coming in as a freshman, he is only six pounds heavier than Lacy was during his junior campaign.

Aside from his physical talents on the field, St. Augustine head coach Cyril Crutchfield believes the reason Fournette has risen to the No. 1 ranking is because of his time he spends working off the field. 

"No doubt Leonard took his game to a new level," Crutchfield told Mike Strom of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. "You look at his work ethic away from the game. He already was a hard worker, but his elevation of his work ethic elevated the team's work ethic."

The man that does just about everything well has pretty lofty expectations for himself. When he spoke to reporters at the Under Armour All-American Game, Fournette spoke about wanting not only individual success but also team success with the Tigers.

"I plan on winning a Heisman and a national championship with my fellow teammates," Fournette said, according to Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN. "I can handle the pressure. I can handle it."

Since 2004, eight of the 10 Heisman Trophy winners just so happened to go on to play in the BCS National Championship Game, including Jameis Winston this season.

If Fournette plans on winning the Heisman, his team will likely need to be contending for a spot in the four-team playoff during his tenure with the Tigers. That's what LSU fans want to hear with the best running back prospect since Peterson entering their backfield.

Whether it's his ability to carry a team with over 3,500 all-purpose yards in a season or 88 rushing touchdowns over four of them, shed tacklers or elude them, or meticulously work on the field or off it, Fournette is a special player that will dominate the SEC.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. FSU: Ranking Top Playmakers in BCS National Championship Game

The 2014 BCS National Championship Game between Auburn and Florida State could quite possibly be the first game in history that features too much offense. 

Of course that's not possible, just like one can never have too much bacon. 

All kidding aside, these two teams could easily surpass the 100-point threshold on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl, as both programs come into the contest with supercharged offensive attacks. 

Auburn's triple-option offense, led by speed-freak quarterback Nick Marshall, finished the season with the nation's top-ranked rushing attack, averaging an astonishing 335.7 rushing yards per game. 

Florida State, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, put up more points per game than any other team in the nation, averaging 53 points per game. 

With so much offensive firepower on one field, it seemed crazy not to rank the top playmakers. Here's how they stack up. 

 

1. Jameis Winston, QB, FSU

This one's easy. 

Winston blew away his competition in the recent Heisman race, earning the most points since Cam Newton back in 2010, as Warchant.com pointed out:

Nobody came close to taking him down in that contest of greatness, and similarly, the playmaker is the clear choice for No. 1 on this list. 

The redshirt freshman accumulated over 4,000 total yards, completing 67.9 percent of his passes while scoring 42 total touchdowns. He also led the nation with a passer efficiency rating of 190.1.

A capable pocket passer, Winston's athleticism comes in handy when he's flushed out of the pocket. He can either make a play with his legs or buy time for one of his capable receivers to get open. Once he sees an open passing lane, he has the arm strength to drop dimes.

 

2. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

What do you get when a former cornerback takes over Gus Malzahn's triple-option offense? A nearly unstoppable monstrosity of a rushing attack that can score from anywhere on the field. 

Nick Marshall possesses raw speed that compares favorably to that of Robert Griffin III before his knee injury. He was excited about running Malzahn's offense before the season began, as Justin Hokanson of Rivals relayed:

13 games later, everyone knows about Marshall's "ability."

He totaled 2,782 yards in 2013, scoring 23 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions.

In particular, Marshall's final three games against Georgia, Alabama and Missouri (741 total yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions), highlighted his unique speed and open-field skills.

Marshall is lightning in a bottle. Now meet the thunder.

 

3. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Only three players in the FBS scored more rushing touchdowns than Mason, who took the ball into the end zone 22 times in 2013. 

A patient runner who possesses excellent vision and a quick burst through the hole, Mason routinely wore down defensive fronts over the course of the year, finishing with 1,621 rushing yards on 283 carries (5.7 yards per carry). 

More impressive than his overall body of work is Mason's second-half surge. 

During Auburn's final five games, the junior toted the rock 30.8 times on average per game, gaining 868 total rushing yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. 

After such a brutal final stretch, the oft-utilized jackhammer of a running back needed time off to recuperate, as pointed out by Auburn Gold Mine:

Now that he's had a chance to recharge the batteries, so to speak, Mason will be as tough to stop against FSU as a locomotive picking up steam on a steep downhill grade.

 

4. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, FSU

When asked about which FSU playmaker would be the biggest threat in this upcoming game, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit picked receiver Kelvin Benjamin, noting his particular effectiveness in the red zone:

NFL draft analysts are drooling at the pro potential of the FSU playmaker. 

Coming in at 6'5" and 234 pounds, the sophomore looks the part of a No. 1 receiver at the next level, and he's been playing like it of late, too.

In his last three games, Benjamin has hauled in 17 passes for 392 yards (23 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Those are ridiculous numbers, in case you didn't know.

He finished the season with 14 touchdown catches, which tied for the fifth most of any receiver in the nation. With his tremendous size and equally impressive leaping abilities, Benjamin has become Winston's most trusted target in clutch situations.  

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages