NCAA Football News

Penn State Head Coach Search: Latest Rumors and Buzz After Bill O'Brien's Exit

With Bill O'Brien recently agreeing to become the next head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans, the Penn State Nittany Lions find themselves in the midst of a head-coaching search for the second time in as many years.

O'Brien, who took over for Joe Paterno and interim coach Tom Bradley in 2012, went 15-9 in two seasons at State College and leaves behind mighty expectations for the next head coach. 

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson was recently promoted to interim head coach while Penn State begins its search for a replacement.    

According to Penn State beat writer Bob Flounders, the search committee will include several key figures, headlined by university athletic director Dave Joyner:

PSU football search committee is Dave Joyner, Dr. Tom Poole, Charmelle Green, Dr. Linda Caldwell, Bob Warming and Wally Richardson

— Bob Flounders (@BobbyFlo7) January 2, 2014

The York Daily Record on Twitter adds that the committee expects to make a hire relatively quickly: 

Joyner said head coach search should be finished in a matter of days, not weeks. #PennState

— York Daily Record (@YDRPennState) January 2, 2014

As far as qualifications and attributes are concerned, Joyner has made it clear what he's looking for in a potential candidate, per Reading Eagle's Richard Scarcella on Twitter:

Joyner: Characteristics he's looking for in next coach include intergrity, championships and academics.

— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) January 2, 2014

ESPN Big Ten on Twitter reports that there will be no guarantee that the next head coach has ties to the university:

Joyner says past PSU ties not a requirement for next coach but will be in thought process. Job is select best coach available, ties or not

— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) January 2, 2014

While it remains to be seen whom Joyner and his staff bring in to take over the beloved football program, it's clear that expectations will be lofty for the next regime. The Nittany Lions are coming off a 7-5 season in which they beat Michigan and Wisconsin. 

However, the new head coach will have more scholarships to work with in the coming seasons. The NCAA announced in September 2013 that it would begin restoring scholarships over the coming seasons as a result of the university's improvements in the wake of 2011's child sex abuse scandal, according to former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who has been appointed by the NCAA to oversee the school's progress via The Centre Daily Times' Mike Dawson:

While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program. The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh report recommendations and its obligations to the athletics integrity agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved.

Penn State is still serving a four-year bowl ban that is scheduled to last two more seasons. But there's a possibility that the NCAA could reduce the ban if the university remains on track with its overall improvement.

Regardless of whom Penn State hires, the move will mark the program's third head coach since 2011 after five decades under Paterno.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Sideline Fan at Capital One Bowl Gets Trucked While Filming Cellphone Video

Nothing beats capturing a sideline view at a college bowl game, but you have to check your blind spots—unless you want to get steamrolled by 200-pound wide receiver Bruce Ellington. 

This fan at the Capital One Bowl between South Carolina and Wisconsin was seemingly unaware of his surroundings while filming some of the game with his smartphone. Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward pushed Ellington out of bounds after his touchdown, which started the domino effect. 

The fan seemed to be OK after the hit and presumably got to see the Gamecocks finish off a 34-24 win over the Badgers.

 

Thanks to Jim Weber of Fox Sports for the find. 

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Why Bob Stoops, Not Nick Saban, Was the Best Coach of the BCS Era

Forget Big Game Bob, there’s a more fitting moniker for Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops: Mr. BCS.

As most of the college football world gladly prepares to bid good riddance to the Bowl Championship Series following Monday’s tilt between Auburn and Florida State, the game’s passing will have far more significance to Stoops.

The BCS was first introduced in 1998. The following year, a fresh-faced, 38-year-old Stoops was announced as the new head coach of the Oklahoma football program.

But while his peers struggled to adapt to the changes, the Youngstown, Ohio, native thrived.

In just his second season at the helm, Stoops led his Sooners to a 13-0 record and the BCS title. By the completion of year six, he had made four BCS appearances and played in three national championships.

Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Stoops will be playing in his ninth BCS bowl when Oklahoma takes on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. 

That puts him at the top of the class when compared to other coaches during the BCS era:

*Still has a bowl to play in 2014


Haters will be quick to point out that Stoops has been anything but Big Game Bob in those first eight appearances, compiling a 3-5 record. But those same people forget to mention that no other coach has won more games than Stoops since the inception of the BCS.

As far as consistency goes, there hasn’t been anyone better.

Since 2000, Stoops has posted a 152-34 record, finished with 12 10-win seasons, won eight Big 12 titles and has seven bowl game victories to his credit.

Year in and year out, he has helped Oklahoma remain relevant. Even in the darkest of seasons, Stoops has always found a way to pick out the silver lining.

Take the 2005 season, for example. The Sooners had just lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White along with many other key contributors, including 11 players who were taken in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Behind inconsistent play from freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar, Oklahoma struggled to a 7-4 regular-season record. However, the team still managed to upset a 10-1, No. 6-ranked Oregon team in the 2005 Holiday Bowl, 17-14.

This season has been no different, as Stoops and the Sooners were tasked with trying to replace the school’s all-time passing leader, Landry Jones.

Through 12 games, the team hasn’t had much luck finding a successor, rotating as many as three quarterbacks. In fact, with the Sugar Bowl just hours away, Oklahoma still doesn't know who its starting quarterback is.

Yet somehow, someway, Stoops has still managed to carve out another 10-win season and once again has the Sooners playing in a BCS bowl.

Ironically, on Thursday night, he’ll be going head-to-head with the only other man who can contend that he is more deserving of the honor of being the BCS era’s most successful coach: Nick Saban.

In seven seasons at Tuscaloosa, Saban has led the Tide to a ridiculous 74-14 record. He has won three of the last four BCS titles and appeared in five BCS bowl games since 2009. 

While all of that is nice, let’s not forget that Saban only managed to put together two 10-win seasons and two BCS bowl appearances from 1998-2007.

Altogether, his overall resume is hardly enough to be considered the BCS’ all-time best.

Not to mention, with a win on Thursday, Stoops will become the first head coach to win each of the four BCS bowls—Orange, Fiesta, Rose and Sugar. In comparison, Saban has only won the Sugar.

You can call Stoops a fluke, a choke artist or a beneficiary of good luck. Heck, some have even grown fond of “Big Game Boob”.

But hate him or love him, the best adjective to describe Stoops during the BCS era is a simple two-syllable word that is synonymous with some of the best to ever walk the sidelines in college football history.

Winner.


All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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USC Football: Grading Steve Sarkisian's First Month on the Job

A month has passed since USC athletic director Pat Haden named former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian to the same position with the Trojans.

In that short time, Sarkisian has done what he can behind the scenes as he tiptoes around a disappointed fanbase that would have preferred that former interim head coach Ed Orgeron been tabbed as the guy to lead the men of Troy going forward.

Bruised feelings aside, coach "Sark" has made his presence felt, although he wisely kept his distance from the team as they prepared to meet Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl—a game the Trojans would win handily, 45-20.

Instead, Sarkisian addressed the two components of his new program that he knew he could affect without distracting the 2013 Trojans as they prepared for their bowl game.

First, Sark started crafting the football staff that he would lead going forward in 2014.

With uncertainty surrounding the personnel that would constitute his staff at USC, Sark immediately brought in Johnny Nansen to coach running backs and special teams, Keith Heyward (defensive backs) and Peter Sirmon (linebackers and recruiting coordinator).

All three of the aforementioned coaches plied their trade under Sark at Washington, and all are highly respected by their peers.

Shortly thereafter, Sark announced that Tee Martin—a holdover from the Kiffin staff—would stay on as the wide receivers coach, a move that was roundly applauded by those who follow the men of Troy.

After that flurry of moves, the formation of Sark's staff slowed, and with the exception of Clay Helton retaining his offensive coordinator position—the same duties he held this year for Kiffin—speculation ran rampant regarding the identity of the remaining staff.

However, there was a likelihood that the reason for Sark not naming any further staff was due to Washington's participation in their own bowl game, and as soon as that was over, things would shake loose.

That was borne out as Sarkisian immediately named Justin Wilcox as his defensive coordinator, Marques Tuiasosopo tight ends coach and Ivan Lewis as the strength and conditioning coach following the Huskies win over BYU.

That news was soon followed by the naming of Tim Drevno as the offensive line coach—another move that was widely applauded by those who follow the game.

So as of this writing, only defensive line coach remains as a vacant position.

But that is only one portion of the impact Sark has had on the program in his short stay with the Trojans.

Another area where Sarkisian has effected change for the Cardinal and Gold has been in the area of recruiting. He wasted little time exerting his influence in this all important aspect of his duties as head coach.

It was well known that Sark was a good recruiter, and that was borne out when almost immediately he convinced cornerback Jonathan Lockett to flip from Washington to USC and secured an early enrollment commitment from JUCO defensive lineman, Claudeson Pelon.

Sark was just getting started, and those two commitments were followed up by another early enrollee in defensive lineman Don Hill and a huge "get" when offensive tackle Chris Brown gave Sark his pledge a couple of weeks ago.

And that was followed up with a commitment by Scout.com 3-star quarterback Jalen Greene.

For Sarkisian, it has been quite a whirlwind month, but he has plenty more to do before the February letter of intent signing day.

Still, that remains in the future and this article is dealing with the last (and first) month of the "Sarkisian era."

To that end, Sark gets a solid "B+" so far, and while some may say I am being too charitable, I think the new Trojan head man has done an admirable job under trying circumstances.

Once entrenched in his position, Sark will more firmly put his stamp on this program but considering his short time on the job, he has done very well in a short period of time.

Now fans of the program can only hope that carries through the entirety of 2014. 

 

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: T.J. Yeldon Will Be Instrumental to a Crimson Tide Victory

The Alabama Crimson Tide have been one of the most dominant teams in the country for a number of years, and they will complete another quality season at the 2014 Sugar Bowl. 'Bama's explosive offense will be taking on the stingy defense of the Oklahoma Sooners, who are coming off a season-defining win over Oklahoma State. 

In the Sugar Bowl, sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon will be on display in one of the biggest games of his career.

The Sooners will be getting a full dose of Yeldon on Thursday night, an unenviable task by most standards. Although Oklahoma has a stellar defense, Yeldon will find some success after being named an all-conference player by The Associated Press.

As a sophomore, the running back has made statement after statement en route to a 1,163-yard, 13-touchdown season—all while splitting carries with Kenyan Drake. He has notched 133-plus yards in each of his last three starts and will carry that momentum into this game. 

The young runner from Daphne will become the face of Alabama football with the departure of A.J. McCarron, and this will be his coming-out party. Yeldon has received praise from many, including Oklahoma defender Chuka Ndulue, per AP:

For a guy to be that strong, you don't expect him to be able to move side-to-side. You need more than one guy to bring him down on most of the film we've watched and that's what jumps out to me.

Alabama has an efficient passing attack behind McCarron, but Yeldon will be the true star of the show on Thursday night in more ways than one. He does a whole lot more than run the ball, and that will be important for Alabama. He has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss in space, and he is a good blocker in pass protection as well.

He plays a big a role in the passing game for 'Bama, but not just with catching the ball. Alabama has a reputation for an explosive offense, but it wouldn't have nearly as much success with the pass if Yeldon wasn't such a threat on the ground.

Believe it or not, he is also a part of the Tide's defense. He may not line up with the rest of the defense, but his ability to sustain long drives keeps the other team's offense off the field and the ball in Alabama's possession. 

Coming into this game, Yeldon is averaging 102 yards per game, third most in the SEC. He's progressed immensely from his freshman season, improving his numbers in every major stat category. When asked about how this season went, he modestly said it went "pretty well," according to Chris Kirkpatrick of the Decatur Daily.

Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report's SEC Lead Writer, believes that the 2014 Sugar Bowl could spark a Heisman campaign for the soon-to-be junior. Yeldon could start his case for the Heisman with a powerful performance in this game and ride that into his junior season.

While it is too early to have any firm candidate for the next trophy, one thing is for sure—Oklahoma will have its hands full with No. 4.

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Oklahoma Players Who Will Give Alabama Problems

If it weren't for Chris Davis' improbable 100-yard touchdown return on an Adam Griffith missed field goal, Alabama would be playing for its third consecutive national title game.

Instead, the one-loss Crimson Tide were relegated to tonight's Allstate Sugar Bowl where they'll matchup with an Oklahoma Sooners team thinking upset. How exactly does Oklahoma go about shocking No. 3-ranked Alabama? The Sooners will need a couple of players to step up big time in New Orleans.

Luckily, they have players that are more than capable of competing with the Crimson Tide's star-studded cast of characters.

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight

Sooners head coach Bob Stoops has yet to name a starting quarterback for the Sugar Bowlhowever, speculation believes that Trevor Knight could be the man getting the call. The 6'1" freshman signal-caller hasn't exactly shined from the pocket this season, throwing for just 471 yards on 47 completions in limited action this season. However, there's one facet of his game that makes him appealing in this game: His mobility.

In Alabama's lone loss of the season, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was able to beat the Crimson Tide defense with his legs and instincts. Marshall ran the ball 17 times for 99 yards and a score. He also used his mobility to set up the pass, especially on a late 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates. Marshall ran left and caught the attention of the entire Alabama defense. Then at the last second, he whipped the ball to an open Coates who trotted down the field for the easy touchdown.

In an interview with Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, Knight addressed the offensive game plan for the upcoming game.

We're gonna try to run the zone read and pick up the tempo a little bit on them just like those teams have done,” Knight told Kersey referring to the performances of Auburn and Texas A&M against Alabama. “We've got a great game plan coming in.”

If Stoops and Knight want to have any success against the stingy Crimson Tide defensive front, they'll have to emulate the successes of Marshall and Auburn.

 

Defensive Back Aaron Colvin

For Alabama, quarterback A.J. McCarron's best friend is big-play threat Amari Cooper. Taking away Cooper's big-play ability is crucial for a successful defensive showing by the Sooners. Senior corner Aaron Colvin should be the guy in charge of shutting down Cooper.

Colvin, a first-team All-Big 12 defensive back, has battled through injuries this season. However, after some much needed rest, Colvin looks primed and ready to make an impact against the Crimson Tide.

The 6'0" corner has the size to play with bigger receivers, but he also has the ability to step up in the run game and make plays. In 10 games this year, Colvin has had 49 tackles for Mike Stoops' defense.

Taking away McCarron's favorite target might be the first step in limiting a talented Crimson Tide attack.

 

Wide Receiver/ Returner Jalen Saunders

Often times, in order for an underdog to pull of an upset, it needs big plays that can change the scope of a game in a single snap. Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders can accomplish that in a multitude of ways.

Saunders, a speedy transfer From Fresno State, is pivotal to the Sooners attack on both offense and special teams. Against Oklahoma State in the final game of the season, he put all of his skills on display.

Saunders had a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown, had two carries for 49 yards and caught five passes for 39 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.

Saunders is without a doubt the "x-factor" in the Sugar Bowl. If he has a similar performance against Alabama like he had against Oklahoma State, the Crimson Tide could be in trouble.

 

 

 

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BCS National Championship 2014: Does Auburn or FSU Benefit More from Layoff?

Both teams could have done without the wait. In fact, Auburn and Florida State would have gladly suited up a week later, touched gloves and got right back to work. 

Each had momentum entering the long layoff before the national championship, one of the most valuable commodities in the sport. Over the course of a month—with banquets, the award show circuit and the holidays taking over—such momentum can be lost.

Yes, the long break before the BCS National Championship can take its toll, although this time can also serve as a positive. For Auburn and its most dynamic playmaker, quarterback Nick Marshall, this time could serve as a time for further growth.

For that reason, Auburn stands to benefit most from the long wait, although the process remains utterly unpredictable.

Full disclosure: I said the same thing about Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson at this time last year. Given his incredible skill set and development over the course of the season—a path not nearly as defined by Marshall—I thought Golson would take advantage of the extra time with Brian Kelly and deliver a monster performance against Alabama.

That… didn’t exactly happen. Basically the opposite happened.

Golson, of course, isn’t the first player to fall flat following the long break. He also won’t be the last. 

Potent offenses have come out sluggish, struggling with the unique scenario and unfamiliar routine. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar gap in the action, allowing rust to settle in. Maybe it’s the bright lights and the enormity of the moment that creates predictable sloppy play. Or perhaps it’s simply an upgrade in competition—the simplest of excuses—resetting expectations because the team on the other side is better.

Regardless of why, the four-week break between games can be both a positive and a negative.

For Alabama, it made the most of this extra time in recent years, coming out firing in the past two BCS National Championships. For LSU and Notre Dame—the last two title game losers— it was a different story. 

Each team came out flat and overmatched, unable to do much of anything against Nick Saban’s squad. Blaming these lackluster performances solely on the layoff would be impossible and unfair. Saying either team was unable to capitalize off the extra time is simply stating facts. 

Auburn and Florida State will each try to avoid these types of slow starts, looking to play the role of the Crimson Tide. That’s easier said that done, of course, although there’s reason to believe each could get better with more time. 

The Seminoles have showcased machine-like production this year, a ceiling-less display of talent that could be developed further with more practice and prep. 

The defense will certainly benefit from the extra time to prepare for this dynamic running attack. It will attempt to do what Alabama struggled against, what Missouri really struggled against and what every team in the SEC struggled to figure out.

On offense, Jameis Winston—still just a redshirt freshman, which is easy to forget—could also benefit from more time, snaps and film study. As easy as he has made it look at times, he’s still learning the position.

Florida State could take full advantage of this break, and yet it’s Auburn that could benefit more from this time. The Tigers probably lost the most momentum during this time, putting the offensive boom, miraculous finishes and exponential development on ice. Still, they also have plenty of room to grow.

"This group has really, each game, improved,” Malzahn said to Joel A. Erickson of Al.com. "It is hard to improve each game, especially in college football, but our guys have done it, and that's a tribute to them." 

It may not matter in the end, with the depth and overall team talent propelling the favorited Seminoles to a win, but Nick Marshall’s progression serves as the wild card entering the matchup. 

His development throughout the season was one of the biggest storylines in all of football, and he can and will get better. Giving him extra snaps and film room sessions with Gus Malzahn is an enormous luxury at a time when his game is taking off.

He can run, this much we know. He can also throw the ball, but he hasn’t been tasked to do it much given the success of the ground game. Earlier in the year, however, it was Marshall's arm that kept his team undefeated against Mississippi State.

In the last six games, Marshall threw more than 20 passes only once. Against Florida State, he will be put in more 3rd-and-long situations, and that rare passing threshold for this offense will be tested.

How much did Marshall grow in a few extra weeks of work? Will his rapid path of development continue, or will it finally hit a wall? Will the incredible stage have an effect on how he plays?

These are the unanswerable questions that come with the national championship, and thankfully the long wait is almost over. 

"We're a quarterback-oriented offense," Malzahn said to ESPN.com. "If he plays well, we play well. If he doesn't, we don't.”

It’s that simple, really.

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Florida State vs. Auburn Betting: BCS National Championship Odds, Prediction

The SEC has won all seven BCS Championship games and covered the spread each time as well, but neither the oddsmakers nor the computers are picking that streak to continue.

The No. 2 Auburn Tigers will look to extend the SEC’s reign over the national title game against No. 1 Florida State Seminoles, the nation’s only unbeaten team. But they were 8.5-point underdogs to break the streak engineered by the freshman Heisman winner, quarterback Jameis Winston.

The computer is predicting a one-sided game that soars over the total, but Auburn has bucked long odds several times this season to earn this opportunity.

 

Auburn-Florida State point spread: Florida State opened as 6.5-point favorites, but the number was approaching nine points as of Jan. 2; the total was 67.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark BCS computer prediction: 49-35 Florida State

 

Why Florida State will cover the BCS title game spread

The Seminoles lay claim to the most complete and dominant team in all of college football. Florida State ranks sixth in total offense with the most efficient passer in the country in Winston and a potent rushing attack led by Devonta Freeman.

Their third-ranked defense makes the Seminoles the only team ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense. Florida State also ranks second in the nation in turnover margin, with an impressive plus-17 differential.

Auburn’s offense may stack up against the Seminoles, but on the defensive side of the ball, Florida State runs away with it.

And FSU historically dominates bowl spreads, going 9-0-1 ATS in its last 10 bowl games.

 

Why Auburn will cover the BCS title game spread

No matter how they did it, the Tigers (12-1) survived the SEC. There’s no denying the dominance of the conference, as the SEC has won seven straight national titles, covering the spread each time as well, according to the BCS title game betting history.

Auburn is 4-1 against the spread in its last five bowls and has thrived as an underdog. The last two times Auburn entered the game as an underdog of nine points or more, it won the games outright.

The Tigers lead the NCAA in rushing, with 335.7 yards per game, and elite defenses don’t slow them down, shown by their 296 yards on the ground against Alabama.

 

Smart Pick

It can be a scary bet to lay more than a touchdown against the No. 2 team in the nation, but don’t let that deter you from Florida State in this one. The Seminoles are 11-2 as a favorite of nine or more points and are 9-0-1 against the spread in their last 10 bowl games.

Florida State has proven that, not only can it beat the best teams in the country, but it can blow them out. In the four games against ranked opponents this year, the Seminoles won by a combined score of 200-35.

This year, the SEC’s reign comes to an end.

 

BCS Championship Game Trends:

Florida State is 9-0-1 ATS in its past 10 bowl games.

Florida State is 11-2 ATS as favorite of nine or more points.

Favorite is 4-1 ATS in the past five BCS title games.

SEC won and covered all seven BCS title games.

Auburn is 4-1 ATS in its past four bowl games.

Auburn has won outright in its past two times as an underdog of nine or more points.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark—follow on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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B/R CFB 250: The Overall Top 250 Players in College Football

Editor's note: This is the final installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranks the top 250 college football players, based on his scouting evaluations and scoring for his rankings at each position.

In this overall ranking, Felder lists players across all positions. Where players have the same score, he breaks the ties based on which player he'd rather have playing for his team right now.

As with the entire series, the evaluations and rankings are based on players' performances as collegians in 2013. They are not based on players' pro potential.

However, B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller does offer a draft projection for each player (including players who would not be in the 2014 draft).

You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for all the positions.

Begin Slideshow

Auburn vs. FSU: Biggest Obstacle for Both Teams Heading into National Title Game

Don't look now, but the 2014 BCS National Championship Game is finally on the precipice of arrival. I mean, there's still four days between now and when the No. 2 Auburn Tigers and No. 1 Florida State Seminoles will meet. But...we're almost there!

If you've somehow gone into a winter hibernation filled with eggnog and champagne and forgotten who these teams are, well, it's tough to blame you.

By the time Florida State and Auburn take the field in Pasadena, Calif., it will have been exactly one day less than a month since they were both in action. The ridiculous prolonging of this bowl season at times turns this title game into a farce, a high-cost spectacle that rarely produces actual good football.

It took about six seconds last season before we all realized Alabama would turn Notre Dame into toothpaste. 

As we say goodbye to the BCS, it's hard not to look back and realize how little we've learned. Only twice in the past decade has the national championship game come down to one score, and of those contests, only USC-Texas in 2005 truly felt like something special. Whether it's due to the layoff or merely a sample bias, something clearly was awry with the system.

That said, it's still the one we have. For now. And looking at these rosters, you start to get a little fear. No one ever wants to go out with a dud.

With that in mind, then, let's check in on the biggest obstacle facing both these clubs. 

 

Auburn: So. Much. Talent.

The problem for Auburn in this game isn't necessarily to identify one player and curtail its game plan around stopping his effect. And that's not because the Seminoles are an offense run on socialistic principles where all get their equal share. There are stars on this roster—whom it would benefit the Tigers to stop.

Unfortunately, stopping one star merely means another equally talented player will be able to take advantage.

NFL talent adorns this Seminoles roster to the point you have to wonder how all these players got out of the SEC's grasp. There are six Florida State players in the top 100 of ESPN's 2014 NFL Draft prospect rankings (subscription required for full list), and 10 who would theoretically be drafted if those rankings represented the order of selection.

Keep in mind that zero of those players are named Jameis Winston, who will not be eligible to leave school until after next season. The Heisman winner was the most consistently excellent player in college football, a rare combination of otherworldly physical skills and charisma. Only Bryce Petty and Zach Mettenberger remotely approached Winston's uncanny 10.95 yards per pass attempt. He dipped below a 70 adjusted QBR in just one game all season long.

Keep in mind, again, that this is a freshman quarterback. You would have to dig through the all-time coffers to make a proper judgement, but Winston might be the most polished freshman quarterback in college football history.

Of course, it helps that he has the type of athletes at skill positions that would make NFL quarterbacks' mouths water. Running backs Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams each average at least 5.8 yards per rush; Williams averages more than eight. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is one of the most explosive wideouts in the nation, Rashad Green is one of the most steady and Kenny Shaw is a damned good third option.

I say this all for one reason: Auburn has to stop those guys. Together. On a football field. With people watching them and stuff.

This is important, for a second reason: Auburn's defense might not be equipped for such a task. The Tigers grade out fine, but unspectacularly on that end. They're 38th in points allowed, and Football Outsiders' defensive S&P has them 32nd. 

Missouri dropped 42 points in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn has given up at least 20 points eight times this season. Florida State has done so once. 

It's anecdotal information, and we won't know how these teams fare against one another until the opening kickoff. But for Auburn to have a chance in this game, it's going to need an absolutely out-of-this-world performance from its defense. I'm just not sure this team has it in them.  

 

Florida State: Can the Seminole Defense Slow Down Tre Mason? 

For all of the excitement about Winston and the offense, it sometimes goes unnoticed that Florida State has the best defense in the country as well. The Seminoles possess a propensity for stifling opponents on the scoreboard, with 10.7 points allowed per game leading the nation. 

The power of the defense is built in Jeremy Pruitt's elite secondary. Led by likely first- or second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State has suffocated passing games this season. Opposing quarterbacks averaged an FBS-low 152 yards per game through the air, throwing just 12 touchdowns against 25 interceptions. They completed a mere 52 percent of their passes.

Remember Clemson's Tajh Boyd? He threw for just 156 yards, throwing two picks and completing only 17 of 37 passes. Miami's Stephen Morris? He fared a little better, if you're satisfied with 192 yards, two picks and two touchdowns. No matter the talent level, Florida State's secondary has destroyed opposing quarterbacks.

Just one little thing: All that is just fine with Auburn.

The Tigers may not vomit at the sight of a forward pass, but Gus Malzahn's offense gets pretty close to it. They rank in the bottom 20 of FBS in passing yards per game, with Nick Marshall's passing attempts meant only to keep defenses on their toes. Malzahn has built an offense that serves as a polar opposite to the high-flying passing attacks you see in major football today and created something arguably more exciting.

Spearheading that charge is Tre Mason, the spectacular junior running back whose SEC title game was one of the most impressive masterpieces of 2013. He rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns against Missouri, helping him finish sixth in the Heisman voting. It was the second-most rushing yards in Auburn history and concluded a red-hot run that helped push Auburn to the title game. 

And while Florida State is still a stellar run defense, it pales in comparison to its passing game. Instead of being the best by a country mile, Pruitt's unit is merely excellent. The Seminoles allowed 116.5 rushing yards per game, ranking 13th in the nation. Just ahead of them? Alabama, which allowed Mason to go for 164 yards in the Tigers' upset victory.

Oh, and Missouri? It was a top-15 run defense before Mason and Malzahn's rushing attack came barreling through Atlanta. Anyone who can thrash such elite front sevens in back-to-back games deserves all the adoration he can get.

One could say the month layoff will allow Auburn to figure out how to stop the read-option handoffs, but that seems nonsensical. Everyone knew what was coming. No one in the state of Alabama would even lie and pretend the Tigers have an interest in passing. What makes Auburn and Mason special is that they can scamper all over elite defenses by keeping things simple. The play calls are the same, the formations are just different.

Sometimes, when you're at a talent disparity, just keeping it simple is for the best.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Key Players for Alabama and Oklahoma in Exciting Matchup

This year's Sugar Bowl is a battle of two traditional football powerhouses, Alabama and Oklahoma, but smaller battles across the field will determine this contest. 

While Alabama will be motivated after failing to reach the BCS National Championship, it has proved to be more vulnerable on defense than we've seen in years past. Of course, Oklahoma has played with two quarterbacks rotating throughout the season, so it brings its own questions into this game.

So, which players must step up for each team? Which players have the ability to make a difference? Let's find out.

 

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma

The pair have shared quarterback duties for much of the season, with Blake Bell being the better passer (1,648 yards, 12 touchdowns, five interceptions) and Trevor Knight the more dangerous runner (438 rushing yards, 7.1 yards per carry, two touchdowns).

With Nick Marshall and Auburn having so much success against Alabama utilizing the read-option, Oklahoma could mimic that game plan and utilize Knight in a similar fashion. While he isn't as dangerous as Marshall, Knight's ability to run the ball could give Alabama fits. 

If nothing else, Oklahoma's ability to run either the read-option with Knight or a spread attack with Bell should give Alabama trouble as it attempts to devise a defensive game plan. So long as each player produces in his role and protects the ball, Oklahoma should be able to find a way to attack this tough 'Bama defense.

 

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

Oklahoma has been quite good against the pass this year, allowing just 198 passing yards per game (15th in the nation) and 15 touchdowns through the air while picking off 14 passes. So AJ McCarron and the passing game might find themselves stymied a bit in this game.

That means talented runner T.J. Yeldon will have to step up for the Crimson Tide. He's been excellent again this season, rushing for 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he and the 'Bama offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and wear down Oklahoma's front seven, it will be a very long 60 minutes for the Sooners.

 

Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma

Let's be honest—few teams can just line up across from Alabama and hit them in the mouth. Instead, to beat a powerhouse like the Crimson Tide, you need to win other battles: protect the ball and force turnovers, fool them with your offensive game plan, get a special teams touchdown, generate chunk plays.

The latter two are where Jalen Saunders comes into play. The diminutive wideout is a dangerous pass-catcher, sure, but he's also Oklahoma's big-play threat.  And Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows that the Crimson Tide will have to keep a keen eye on Saunders' every move, as reported by Trey Iles of NOLA.com:

“We have to keep an eye on him at all times,’’ said Clinton-Dix, whose team will face the Sooners in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday. “I think he’s the best weapon if you ask me. He’s a small guy but that guy is amazing. He’s fast. He can get open and runs great routes. So we have to keep our eyes on that guy.’’

Oklahoma State would agree.

Saunders scored two touchdowns in the Sooners’ 33-24 victory, including catching a 7-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left that gave Oklahoma a 27-24 lead.

He has 56 receptions this year for 654 yards and six touchdowns. But his pass catching ability is only half the story. Saunders is a dangerous punt returner. He averages 16.8 yards per attempt, sixth best in the nation, and has scored twice.

If Saunders can hit on a few big plays against Alabama, it will go a long way for an Oklahoma team that will find itself facing a more talented overall team, at least on paper. Saunders might also keep the Crimson Tide from playing too aggressively on defense, as they might fear he'll beat them on a big play. 

Oklahoma will need a few things to go their way if they are to beat Alabama. But a huge game from Saunders would certainly tip the scales closer to their favor.

 

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

For the second straight year, C. J. Mosley was named an Associated Press first-team All American. He also won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. It's no wonder, as he not only finished the year with 102 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five defensed passes, but he's also received comparisons to Ray Lewis.

Yes, Ray Lewis. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jay Norvell compared the two, according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com

He's similar in his ability to communicate, his sense, his football senses, the way he sees the field, gets everybody lined up. He's a really good football player and as good a linebacker as we've seen this year, and we've gotta do a great job of understanding where he's at and making sure we block him.

When we played Ray Lewis when I was in National Football League, I was just amazed where he always seemed to be in the right position all the time. That's the way Mosley is.

High praise, indeed, and praise Mosley will have to live up to, as Oklahoma will surely look to establish the running game early. If the Sooners turn to Knight to run the read-option, you can bet Mosley will be tested. 

How he answers that test will be a major factor in this game. Given that he generally wins his battles, however, don't expect Oklahoma to get the best of the nation's top linebacker.

 

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BCS Championship 2014: Most Important Matchups for Auburn vs. Florida State

Florida State or Auburn better hope to come out on the right end of the title game's most important matchups if it wants to win the national championship.

Football is a game of matchups. How can one team stop the opposing team's best players?

Much of Auburn's game plan will focus on stopping Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner threw for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. Winston has been a sensation since Day 1, and there's little that makes you think he'll shrink from the spotlight in the national championship.

It isn't all about Winston, though. Plenty of star players look poised to have a major say in how the game unfolds.

The victor may well be determined by who wins these three matchups.

 

Tre Mason and Nick Marshall vs. Florida State Front Seven

Auburn ranks first in rushing offense, racking up 335.69 yards a game. Nick Marshall and Tre Mason have been marvelous on the ground.

Florida State gave up only 116.54 yards a game, but it's safe to say the Seminoles haven't faced an offense like this. Nobody has found a solution for the Tigers' simplistic yet effective running game.

The Missouri Tigers came into the SEC Championship with a respectable defense, yet they conceded 545 yards rushing.

The key will be stopping Marshall and Mason in the second level of the defense.

Mason isn't a speedy home-run back, so Florida State will have to ensure that he's wrapped up after four or five yards so those runs don't turn into 10- or 15-yard runs.

Marshall is a great athlete, though, with the speed and athleticism to elude the defense in the open field.

If Auburn finds success with both Marshall and Mason, the Noles won't have a chance.

 

Dee Ford vs. Florida State Offensive Line

Although Auburn ranks 54th in sacks per game, the Tigers have a sweltering pass rush. Gus Malzahn and Ellis Johnson are adept at finding new ways to get after the quarterback. If the QB doesn't get sacked, he's at least been pressured enough to disrupt his throw.

Dee Ford has been the standout performer.

The senior defensive end leads the team in both tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (8.5). He's so quick off the edge and more than capable of being a nuisance in the pocket.

Malzahn praised Ford last week, via James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser:

“There’s no doubt he is an impact player,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of Ford. “He has the ability to make a play when the game is on the line. He’s showed that this year. He plays his best games in the biggest moments, and we are going to need him to do that again.”

If Ford can hassle Winston in the pocket, the problems in Auburn's secondary won't play a big role in the national championship. After all, the best way to stop an opposing team's aerial attack is preventing it from getting off the ground.

The Tigers rank 103rd against the pass, surrendering 259.3 points a game. Should the 2013 Heisman winner get time in the pocket, he'll find open receivers.

Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw all had at least 900 yards receiving this season, and they're all more than capable of getting loose for big plays.

 

Florida State vs. Fate

As dumb and simplistic as it sounds, some teams lead charmed lives.

Growing up in Ohio, I watched as the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes combined talent with a little bit of magic en route to a national title. Time and again, the stars aligned for the Bucks, whether it was Craig Krenzel's touchdown to Michael Jenkins against Purdue, Chris Gamble's pick-six against Penn State or the entire national championship against Miami.

You get the same feeling with Auburn. Everything has fallen into place for the Tigers. They've had the "Kick Six" and "Prayer at Jordan Hare," not to mention how Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, Michigan State and Baylor all faltered, allowing a one-loss team into the title game.

At this point, who's going to doubt Auburn? Florida State may have lost before it even takes the field.

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