NCAA Football News

5 Potential Candidates to Replace Nick Aliotti as Oregon Defensive Coordinator

Through three different head coaching regimes and various tweaks to the program’s identity, one constant was defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Replacing the 15-year Ducks assistant, whose retirement was announced Friday, is the biggest challenge head coach Mark Helfrich faces in his young tenure, and it's a potentially era-defining decision.

Aliotti molded Oregon’s defense in recent years to complement the up-tempo offense that has been the program’s calling card. The next Ducks defensive coordinator must strike a balance between the speed, depth and athleticism that defined Aliotti’s groups with the nastier, more powerful defenses that win conference and national championships.

To that end, the university athletic brass is ready to make a sizable financial commitment to the search, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins reports.

Aliotti reportedly has his suggestion. B/R has a few names in mind, as well.

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Oregon's Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti to Retire After Alamo Bowl

Expect the Oregon Ducks defense to give its 110 percent against the Texas Longhorns when the two face off in the 2013 Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30 (6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN).

That’s because Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will be coaching the final game of his career, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman:

Nick Aliotti will announce that he is retiring and that the Alamo Bowl game against Texas will be his last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, a source told CBS on Friday. An official announcement is expected later in the day.

The Ducks soon after confirmed the report, via

Following team practice, Aliotti made sure the team knew where his loyalties lie:

The 59-year-old has spent the last 36 years prowling the sidelines as an assistant coach.

Aside from Oregon, Aliotti has coached with Oregon State (running backs), Chico State (offensive coordinator), UCLA (defensive coordinator) and even spent three seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams (special teams).

But the Walnut Creek, Calif. native has spent the majority of his career in Eugene. He was a graduate assistant from 1978-79, the outside linebackers’ coach from 1988-92, the defensive coordinator from 1993-94 and again as defensive coordinator from 1999 onward.

Although the Ducks are most prominently known for their flashy uniforms and high-powered offense, Aliotti’s defense has been instrumental to the team putting together six consecutive 10-win seasons. Oregon has ranked inside the top 50 in total defense in four of the last five years.

Furthermore, the team has finished in the top 25 in turnover margin in each of the last four seasons, including No. 1 in 2012.

The job Aliotti has done this season has been commendable. He has taken a defense ravaged by the loss of players and a staff shakeup following Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL, and turned them into a formidable unit.

Aliotti will present the Ducks next defensive coordinator with some pretty large shoes to fill.


All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at

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USC Football: Trojans' Marcus Martin Declares for 2014 NFL Draft

As the USC Trojans transition into the Steve Sarkisian era, they'll have to do so with a new man at the center of their offense.

Junior center Marcus Martin announced on Twitter Friday that he will forego his senior season for the NFL draft.

The Los Angeles native was the only Trojan to be named to the All-Pac-12 first team on offense, an honor he received earlier this month.

Martin joined USC in the class of 2011 as a 247Sports composite 3-star and was named Freshman All-American after starting 10 games at guard in his first season in Troy. He remained at guard the following year, starting 10 games and appearing in 12.

He then moved to center as a junior, where he replaced All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes, who was taken in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts in last year's draft.

The 6'3", 310-pound Martin started 13 games for the Trojans this year but left the regular-season finale against UCLA with a knee injury, as detailed by Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. He was also held out of USC's 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State.

The kneecap injury, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily Newswill not require surgery.

While it wasn't indicated by Martin, risk of future injury certainly could have weighed on his choice not to return to college.

Martin's decision leaves USC's new staff with the task of replacing three starters along the offensive line, while also grooming the team's third center in three years.

Senior Abe Markowitz took Martin's place in the Las Vegas Bowl, while sophomore Cyrus Hobbi was listed as his backup.

Looking forward, USC should have plenty of help on its way along the offensive front. In the Trojans' 2014 class, their top three verbal commits are all composite 4-star guards: Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn and Chris Brown.

Depth will likely still be an issue for a few seasons for the Trojans as they come off of NCAA sanctions, so they could end up relying on another upperclassman to take over at center, just as Martin did last offseason.

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If a Position Change Means More Playing Time for KSU QB Daniel Sams, so Be It

Two-quarterback systems aren't always successful, but Kansas State made it work with Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. 

Anyone who has watched K-State this year knows a big reason why Waters and Sams can co-exist is because they're selfless players. Sams is usually the first one to congratulate or console Waters when he comes off the field and vice versa. 

K-State coach Bill Snyder tends to stick with Waters because of his passing ability, but Waters and Sams are effective in their own way. Sams is easily one of the most gifted runners in the Big 12, and had 784 yards on the ground along with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2013. 

Because Sams is so good with the ball in his hand, it's possible a position switch is in his future. Or, at the very least, he could be given additional responsibilities within the offense. 

But don't bank on Sams moving around too much in time for Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan. 

"I haven’t discussed that with any of the coaches. Our focus is on Michigan at this point," Sams said via the Kansas City Star. "But I will talk to Coach Snyder about it. I just want him to know I want to be on the field. … When that time comes we will see how it goes."

2014 will be an interesting year for Sams, who will be a junior. Does he stay at quarterback, likely backing up Waters again, or does he move to another position—say, wide receiver? Former quarterback Collin Klein, whom Sams sat behind in 2012, was a former receiver for the Wildcats. 

Trevone Boykin, who started 13 games at quarterback for TCU while Casey Pachall sat out with personal and injury issues, recently moved to receiver. It's a move that already looks like it will benefit him, as Boykin finished tied for fourth on the team in receptions with 26. 

Kansas State will definitely lose receiver senior Tramaine Thompson, and junior Tyler Lockett could depart early for the NFL draft. Point being, receiver is going to be an area of need for the Wildcats. So, too, will running back, since John Hubert is a senior as well.  

Sams has played multiple positions before.

Maybe Sams plays a little running back—he already does, to an extent—or a little wide receiver. If that means he's on the field more often, so be it. He's too athletic to leave on the sidelines. 

That doesn't mean Sams has to abandon the quarterback spot, but his ceiling is too high to only be a backup. The only thing Snyder would have to be careful about is not asking too much of Sams. 

"When he prepares himself well, he does pretty well underneath center," Snyder said of Sams via the Star. "We will dissect it when the season is over, but I don’t see any foreseeable change. Maybe we could give him some additional responsibilities.”

That would behoove Snyder, and it would benefit Kansas State's offense. 


Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited elsewhere. 


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Michigan Football: What to Expect from Shane Morris in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Quarterback Shane Morris will be instrumental to the Michigan Wolverines’ chances of victory when they take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN).

But more than that, the true freshman will be just a kid living out his childhood dream.

“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to start at quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said, via The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Snyder. “I grew up in Michigan. I have baby pictures of me in Michigan jerseys. It’s really cool.”

The Warren, Mich., native was thrust into the spotlight when it was announced that starting quarterback Devin Gardner was ruled out after breaking his foot against Ohio State in the season finale, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman (h/t Tom Fornelli).

Now, Morris is set to become the first true freshman to start for Michigan since Tate Forcier in 2009.

But unlike Forcier—6-9 career record as a starter—there are much higher expectations for Morris.

A 4-star prospect out of De La Salle Collegiate High, Morris was ranked No. 4 at his position by 247Sports. Other outlets, including Scout, even had him listed as a 5-star prospect.

Regardless, Morris has already showcased the qualities of a true leader.

Even before stepping on campus, he was a vocal leader for the Wolverines, helping the team draw in top recruits via social media. One of those players successfully brought in by Morris was 4-star running back/safety Dymonte Thomas.

Now, expect Morris to bring that leadership to the field, where he will be playing with a group of players whose experience trumps that of his.

One of those veteran players—fifth-year senior tackle Taylor Lewan—has already noticed some maturation in Morris.

“It’s almost been day and night,” Lewan said, via’s Nick Baumgardner. “(It feels like) he’s been committed to the university (since I was a freshman). I’ve gotten the opportunity to be around him (a lot), and (watched him change from) this guy that’s worried about Twitter followers, to a guy who could truly care less.”

Furthermore, Morris has shown the potential to back up the hype on the field.

Don’t be fooled by his stats in limited playing time during the 2013 season—65 yards and one interception on 5-of-9 passing. Morris can definitely play.

During 2012’s Elite 11 summer camp, Morris shined. He earned the gold jersey for winning the accuracy contest with his pinpoint precision passing and showcased his arm strength. Rivals’ Mike Farrell was so impressed with Morris that he ranked him No. 1 among the 11 quarterbacks participating.

It all adds up to give him a great shot at topping the performances of some of the former Michigan quarterbacks in their first-ever starts:

Interestingly enough, six of the last seven quarterbacks led the Wolverines to victory in their first start. However, only Gardner played away from home and none made their debut amidst the pressure of a college football bowl game.

Fortunately for Morris, if he ever falls on tough times he’ll have top-tier talent to bail him out.

Look for All-Big Ten wide receiver Jeremy Gallon to be the go-to-guy. The senior has caught 80 passes for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns and has the ability to tack on yards after the catch to help make Morris’ job easier.

You can also expect Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to rely on running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green to take some of the pressure off the passing attack. The pass-blocking experience of Toussaint will especially come in handy when Morris drops back to throw.

All in all, it will definitely be a challenge going up against a Kansas State secondary that has been pretty solid all year—No. 47 against the pass (221.8 YPG). 

However, Morris believes he is more than up to the task.

“I prepared for 12 weeks like I would be the starter,” Morris said, via Snyder. “They always say you’re one play away. Well, it’s true.”

Fittingly, Morris now stands just a game away from transforming his childhood dream into a permanent reality.

No pressure, kid.

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at

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Oregon Football: Ducks Must Avoid an Alamo Bowl Letdown

A month of bowl game preparation can be a blessing or curse for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, as his team readies for an Alamo Bowl date against Texas.

Blessings are evident. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, hampered by a left knee injury in the regular season’s final month, practiced without a brace on Thursday. A healthy Mariota is obviously paramount to the Ducks’ offensive game plan, but especially so given Texas’ deficiencies.

Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost have had ample time to study the Texas defense, a unit that struggled mightily against up-tempo, spread offenses similar to that which Oregon runs. In particular, the Longhorns struggled against mobile quarterbacks like Brigham Young’s Taysom Hill and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace.

The Longhorns haven’t struggled quite as mightily since Greg Robinson settled back in as defensive coordinator of head coach Mack Brown’s staff, but this hasn't exactly been the 2005 Texas defense, either.

With Byron Marshall healthy again, Oregon has the leader of its multifaceted run game spearheading the attack. Add Mariota at full strength and the dynamic ball-carrying his knee injury limited last month, and the Ducks present Texas with one of the most difficult-to-contain looks in college football.

Conversely, the inherent curse is in the additional preparation time that Texas has been afforded to examine and replicate the issues that vexed Oregon late in the season.

The season’s final month erased the unbeatable air surrounding Oregon as it blasted one opponent after another through its 8-0 start, dominating on both sides of the ball.

BCS chaos shaking out as it often does, a one-loss Oregon team could have factored into the BCS Championship equation. A single blemish suffered at Stanford may not have necessarily eliminated Oregon for the title game bid Auburn earned, but a two-loss Oregon squad had no shot at a BCS bowl game, let alone the crystal ball.

Opponents rushed with confidence on the Ducks defense in the final month. Stanford and Arizona went with an approach of quantity over quality, nickel-and-diming at fewer than five yards per carry.

However, the ability of each offensive line to dominate in the trenches and turn those medium-length rushes into sustained drives kept the ball away from the explosive offense and ultimately became Oregon’s undoing—and is an area for Texas to potentially exploit.

To give up big yards on more than 40 carries from Pac-12 pace-setters Tyler Gaffney and Ka’Deem Carey is one thing. Allowing Oregon State, the conference’s No. 11-ranked rushing offense, to go for 231 yards on the ground is much more disconcerting.

Stopping the Texas rush isn't just necessary for an Oregon win, it’s about making a statement for a defense that’s still maligned for its ability to stop high quality competition.

The Ducks’ motivation—or lack thereof—is an often cited factor in their late-season woes. With Texas playing in its home state and with the opportunity to give Brown a victorious sendoff, the Longhorns would seemingly have a monopoly on motivation.

 “If you want to try and find a reason for motivation, you can nitpick on anything. You can say our motivation for wanting to win is just because it’s our coach’s first season,” senior safety Brian Jackson told The Oregonian.

And indeed, notching Helfrich win No. 11 is of particular significance because of what that number means in recent program history.

With records of 12-1 in 2010, 12-2 in 2011 and 12-1 last season, Oregon is a benchmark for consistency in college football. Only Alabama and Pac-12 North rival Stanford have been as consistent in that same period.

A loss sends Oregon to its worst final record since going 10-3 in 2009, Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach.

Surely there is no shame in first-year Coach Helfrich finishing 10-3. However, the expectations Helfrich inherited from Kelly differ from those Kelly took on after Mike Bellotti.

Where Kelly’s first season was a step forward—the program’s first BCS bowl in eight years and first Rose Bowl in 15—this season has shown a slight regression. The Alamo Bowl is an opportunity to take a step back in the right direction and for the Ducks to earn their national championship contender status heading into 2014.



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Minnesota Winning a Bowl Game Could Shake Final Cobwebs out of Dormant Program

Minnesota football claims seven national titles to its credit, but most people alive today have never witnessed a truly great Gophers team. However, with a win in the Texas Bowl, Minnesota could be on its way to clearing the last cobwebs out of a dormant program and heading toward greater things.

Just how dormant has the program been? Minnesota last won the Big Ten in 1967, a season in which it went 8-2 and split the title with Indiana and Purdue (my, how times have changed). 

Since then, the Gophers have managed to win eight games just one time (1999) and more than eight once—going 10-3 in 2003 and winning the Sun Bowl. 

The next season Minnesota would go and win the Music City Bowl, 20-16, over Alabama. It would be the last time a Gopher team won a bowl game. 

Breaking that streak would just be another hurdle overcome this season under Jerry Kill and his coaching staff. 

Kill and his longtime assistants have had a pattern of historic third seasons everywhere they've been, and this season is no different.

His teams have gone a combined 27-47 in the first two years of play at Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota, but the third year has been a breakout year—with Kill coached teams going a combined 28-9 (to date) in year three. 

The history-making at Minnesota this year began with a 4-0 start and a win over Nebraska for the first time in school history. Minnesota has already won eight games for just the third time since 1967 as well.

Now, the next hurdle in the way—winning a bowl game for the first time since 2004—is a streak that stands at five games currently.

Doing that would not only break another barrier for the program but put Minnesota on the cusp of doing something great. It would mean just the eighth time in school history that a team has won nine games. 

It's all just a stepping stone to what Kill wants this program to be, but the significance of a win in the Texas Bowl isn't lost on Kill. 

"We have a great opportunity to compete and continue to make history as a team," Kill said to the Associated Press via Fox Sports North. "Nine games, winning nine games is important to us, winning a bowl game is important to us."

One of the key parts to that building process has been the emergence of junior running back David Cobb. He came virtually out of nowhere, playing almost exclusively on special teams before this season (just 11 carries entering this year). 

In 2013, Cobb has run for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. 

He's been the catalyst to one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks, helping the team average 200.9 yards per game—which was the fifth-best total in the B1G and 32nd nationally.

Cobb will be key to the Gophers' chances against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl for sure, but this has always been a team effort, and Minnesota's defense will play just as big of a role. 

The defense has been very solid against the pass, ranking fifth in the Big Ten this year—giving up just over 200 yards and only 16 passing touchdowns during the regular season. 

Defenders Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for their efforts individually, becoming the first duo of Gophers to earn first-team honors together since 2008.

Hageman finished with 34 tackles, a team-high 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, eight passes defensed and one fumble recovery—just to name a few of his statistics this season. 

Vereen had 56 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception as a defensive back this year. 

For Hageman and Vereen, it is their last game in the maroon and gold and a chance to leave a lasting legacy for the program with a win.

However, for 12 players from the state of Texas it is also a chance to erase the bad memories of coming home and losing last season. 

"We enjoyed our experience last year and wish we could have come away with a victory," Kill told Fox Sports North. "I know our players, especially the 12 from Texas, welcome the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota in a state that has great football tradition."

Minnesota is just a few short steps away from being taken seriously by not only the hardcore football fan but the casual one too, and a win in the Texas Bowl will go a long way toward building that credibility. 

Consider it just par for the course for a third-year team under Jerry Kill, though.


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

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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.



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.



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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