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Sugar Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Alabama vs. Ohio State

Many are expecting Alabama to cruise to victory over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. However, the outcome of this highly anticipated showdown will come down to a few key battles.

While football is a team sport, each person on the field has to do his job to help win a game. In a tough matchup like this one, a few players have an even bigger role to take on the tough challenges of All-Conference players at just about every position.

These players in particular will have to do their jobs to help their team win in the College Football Playoff.


Cam Robinson vs. Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa might just be a sophomore, but he has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season.

Senior Bowl director Phil Savage had great things to say about the Ohio State defensive end:

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted that most of the country agrees with the player's abilities on the field:

Along with tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. This will be a serious challenge for all of Alabama to try to handle in the Sugar Bowl.

While right tackle Austin Shepherd will see a lot of Bosa, the real challenge will be whether freshman Cam Robinson can live up to the challenge on the left side of the line. The Louisiana native has done a great job of protecting Blake Sims' blind side to this point, but stopping Bosa will be another story.

If he can't contain the All-American, the Crimson Tide will have a tough time moving the football in this one.


Devin Smith vs. Landon Collins

Ohio State doesn't always have the most consistent offense, but it can score in a hurry with a big play from out of nowhere. In a lot of cases, Devin Smith is the one coming through with a long touchdown.

Smith finished the Big Ten Championship Game with three scores, each of which going at least 39 yards. Although he only has one game of more than four receptions, he has an incredible eight catches for over 40 yards on the year.

If he is able to break a few of these against Alabama, the Buckeyes will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

The person capable of stopping this is Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins. While he likely won't be lining up directly opposite Smith, he will need to cover the field to prevent any open opportunities down the field.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes he has this ability:

Collins will have a lot of responsibilities in this game, but one of the safety's biggest jobs will be to keep anyone from getting any easy touchdowns.


Ezekiel Elliott vs. Reggie Ragland

The pressure is certainly on quarterback Cardale Jones in this game, but the Ohio State offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott. Going into the bowl game, he has 1,402 rushing yards on the year, including 220 in the Big Ten game.

Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner explained his thoughts on the young running back, via Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated:

All the ingredients were there. We just had to wait and see what happened. [...] 

He was very talented and explosive, but he was obviously young and, playing wise, inexperienced. We had to see how he would handle those situations -- the week-to-week grind and the physical stress that puts on you.

It will take the entire front seven to help contain Elliott in this game, but Reggie Ragland will be the one expected to do the heavy lifting. The linebacker might not have the same press as past Alabama defenders like C.J. Mosley or Rolando McClain, but he still ranks second on the team with 88 tackles.

Ragland has the ability to cover sideline to sideline, and he has to prove it to slow down the rushing attack and keep the Buckeyes off the scoreboard.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Oregon vs. FSU


While dozens of players will help decide the 2015 Rose Bowl, a few key performances will make the real difference in this one.

Florida State and Oregon have taken different paths to the national semifinals, but there is no denying the amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Many of these players will be competing on Sundays in the future with others being stars at the college level.

This game will come down to which big-time players can win their individual battles to help give their team an advantage. Here is a look at the biggest matchups to watch in the Rose Bowl.


Hroniss Grasu vs. Eddie Goldman

Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman was injured against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and it almost cost the Seminoles the game. The Yellow Jackets were able to run all day long without a force causing problems in the middle.

The good news is he should be healthy in the Rose Bowl, which is bad news for the Ducks. 

Of course, one person that can take the tackle out of the game is Oregon center Hroniss Grasu. The second-team AP All-American has been a major part of the team's success this season with his ability to control the offensive line and clear space in the middle.

Unfortunately, he has been out since injuring his foot on Nov. 8. The hope is he can return for the upcoming game and help lead the Oregon offense the way he has earlier in the year.

If only one of these two players is healthy, it will give their team a huge advantage in this one. If both are in the game, however, the winner of this will have a big impact on Oregon's rushing attack.


Rashad Greene vs. Troy Hill

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the top cornerbacks in the nation for Oregon, but he will miss the Rose Bowl after suffering a knee injury in practice.

As a result, Troy Hill will have to step up to be the No. 1 option in the Ducks secondary. While the senior has been overshadowed by his teammate in the past, he still has the ability to shut down an opponent's best player.

Matt Prehm of 247 Sports thinks Hill has this type of talent:

Still, this will not be an easy task against Rashad Greene. The senior has been one of the most productive players in college football over the past two years, and this season ranks eighth in the nation with 1,306 receiving yards.

Greene has become a game-changing player and a reliable option for Jameis Winston whenever Florida State needs a big play.

Hill needs to find a way to slow down Greene and limit the Seminoles' best option in the passing attack.


Marcus Mariota vs. Jalen Ramsey

Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota has put together an outstanding career at Oregon and this season has separated himself from the rest of the country. This year, his efficiency has been through the roof with 38 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Besides his physical abilities, Mariota helps himself by doing his research on his opponents. The bad news is he sees a real challenge in Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey, via Natalie Pierre of AL.com:

I mean, Ramsey, if you just watch him on film is one of those types of guys that will single-handedly turn a drive and stop it. He's a great player, he's gonna make his plays; we just gotta continue to be ourselves and try to execute against those guys.

Ramsey is one of the best defensive playmakers in the nation and he always has a way to be near the football. He heads into the bowl season with 75 tackles, including three sacks and 9.5 for loss. He also makes a huge impact in the passing game with two interceptions and 13 passes defended.

Quarterbacks always have to know where he is on the field in order to be successful.

Mariota is arguably the best player in the nation at any position, but even he can end up struggling if he isn't ready for Ramsey.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets 12/26/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Denver Nuggets looked to bounce back from a recent rough patch on Friday when they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets had dropped two straight and faced the T-Wolves, who had dropped six straight and 12 of their last 13. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for NC State vs. UCF

The North Carolina State Wolfpack raced out to an 18-point lead behind a highlight-reel effort from quarterback Jacoby Brissett and hung on to beat Central Florida 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

The star junior transfer from Florida stole the show for much of the game. Then, a thunder-and-lightning rushing attack from Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes stretched the lead. 

NC State needed every bit of the cushion, too, as UCF quarterback Justin Holman led the pesky Knights back, but an onside kick wasn't recovered late, and the Wolfpack capped their comeback season with an 8-5 record. The Knights fell to 9-4.


NC State Game Analysis

Pass Offense

Brissett continued the resurrection of his career to cap off a season that saw him throw 23 touchdowns and just five picks. As he has much of the year, Brissett evaded pressure with his nimble feet, stepped up in the pocket and found various receivers for big gains. He was calm, poised and competitive.

Though he didn't put up massive numbers, he was extremely effective, and he had a near-perfect game other than taking a sack at the end of the first half that cost the Pack points.


Run Offense

Following a stagnant first half when it seemed Brissett was the only real ground threat, the Pack found their sea legs after the break. In a dominant third quarter, Thornton and Dayes combined to take UCF out of the game.

The duo wound up rushing for 174 combined yards, and Brissett added more than 30 of his own. Dayes had two scoring runs, and the Pack wound up with 187 rushing yards. The 3.8 average wasn't great, but there were big plays all night.


Pass Defense

Justin Holman got his passing yards and (frustratingly) had three touchdown passes to Josh Reese, but the Pack did get an interception from Josh Jones. Also, Holman threw the ball 53 times, but he was nowhere near completing 50 percent of his passes and still didn't get to 300 yards. Yeah, there were some big plays NCSU would like to have back, but it was still a stellar performance.


Run Defense

Any time you can hold a rushing offense as good as UCF's to fewer than 100 yards, that's a strong showing. Star runner William Stanback wound up with just 12 carries for 38 yards as the Pack took UCF's running game completely out of the game.


Special Teams

As excellent as Niklas Sade was, he gets docked a little for missing the 47-yard field goal that would have iced the game and put it out of reach. Yeah, that's a little tough to dock a kicker for missing one so long, but that was a big one, and he's the best kicker in the history of the school. Wil Baumann averaged 46.5 yards over four punts. All in all, a good night.



Dave Doeren had a perfect game plan for the first three quarters, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up some really stellar play calls that worked. But it's frustrating when a coach gets ultra-conservative at the end of the game, and it nearly cost him. Doeren was just trying to hang on at the end. Ultimately, his team did, so it's all good.


UCF Game Analysis

Pass Offense

There were times on Friday night when Justin Holman showed flashes of NFL potential.

Then, there were others where he looked like an unseasoned sophomore. Holman is an immense, unpolished talent, and he nearly led his team back. But he had some terrible overthrows, and he also was intercepted once on the night. It really could have been twice.

All in all, it was a nice performance in his first bowl start, but it wasn't good enough. He'll be back.


Run Offense

This was pretty much a disaster. The NC State defense was stellar all night in the front seven, to the point where UCF coach George O'Leary abandoned the run totally. With the Knights down by 18, he went exclusively to the air, and any hope for balance was lost. They finished with 82 yards and a 2.9 average.


Pass Defense

Too many times, there were breakdowns and busts in a secondary that had been among college football's best this year. Brissett bought time with his feet, and the Knights defensive backs didn't stick with plays. On one quick-strike drive in particular that eventually made the score 31-13, UCF was just lost in the backfield. That can't happen against a quarterback as good as Brissett.


Run Defense

The strength of UCF's team was very strong in a first half where it took over the game at times in the front seven. But when the Wolfpack charged out of the locker room after halftime, they pummeled the Knights with Thornton and Dayes, and there was no answer. They flat-out won the game on the ground in the third quarter, and they made UCF like it.


Special Teams

It was pretty much a flawless game from a special teams standpoint as Shawn Moffitt made both his field goals, and Caleb Houston averaged 42.8 yards per punt. The Wolfpack had just one opportunity to return a kick all night. UCF was stellar here.



O'Leary is known for being a very good game-day coach, but Doeren had his number tonight. With the game being virtually in UCF's backyard, you'd have expected the Knights to come out fired up, ride the crowd momentum and soar to their third consecutive 10-win season.

Instead, they were flat defensively, and it took them too long to wake up. Like most O'Leary-coached teams, they didn't quit and they were right there in the end, but there were too many lapses for this to be a good grade.


Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players. 

In 2014, this premise continued. Players such as Jaleel Wadood and Kenny Young saw extensive time as true freshmen. 

This piece won't look at the freshmen who've played this year—but rather it will focus on those freshmen who redshirted this past year. 

Five youngsters in particular will be analyzed. Enjoy this piece on the potential future stars of the UCLA football program.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players...

Begin Slideshow

NC State vs. UCF: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl

The North Carolina State Wolfpack cashed in at the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl with a 34-27 win over the University of Central Florida Knights on Friday night.

In the first half, quarterback Jacoby Brissett victimized the Knights with his elusiveness and abilities as a dual threat. Brissett's play and some inaccuracy from his counterpart, Justin Holman, helped to push the Wolfpack to a 17-10 halftime lead. 

Holman was only able to complete 23 of 53 pass attempts. He threw three touchdowns, but he undershot and overthrew receivers on a regular basis.

To Holman's defense, he was under duress the entire night. The Knights' offensive line didn't do a great job protecting him. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly.

After the break, NC State's potent running game led to some separation between the teams, though UCF would battle back late.


How It Was Settled

The Wolfpack running backs got involved early, but they did damage through the air before their legs made a mark. On a halfback option, Shadrach Thornton tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to give NC State the 7-3 lead in the first quarter.

Check out the play in The Score's tweet:

The Knights responded with a strong drive that culminated in Holman's six-yard strike to Josh Reese. The score briefly gave the Knights the lead in the second quarter. Before halftime, the Wolfpack would regain the lead and never relinquish it.

Brissett kept plays alive throughout a beautifully crafted drive. The junior quarterback hit Johnathan Alston for a 37-yard touchdown pass that made the score 14-10 in NC State's favor. For the game, Brissett completed 15 of 26 passes for 262 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pack Pride has a clip of the play:

Chip Patterson of CBS Sports admired Brissett's performance in the first half:

Niklas Sade would add a field goal to give the Wolfpack the seven-point advantage at intermission. 

After the break, the Wolfpack run game started to chew up the Knights defense. Speedy Matt Dayes was the primary culprit. You won't find many collegiate running backs who hit the hole as quick or as decisively as Dayes.

This electric 24-yard run (via Pack Pride) gave NC State a 14-point edge:

Dayes finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

The Wolfpack would blow the lead up to 34-13, but they ultimately settled for the seven-point win as the Knights added two fourth-quarter scores to make it interesting.

NC State finishes the season at 8-5. Head coach Dave Doeren engineered a huge turnaround from the 2013 season, when the Wolfpack won just three games. With a good number of sophomore contributors like Dayes returning, as well as Brissett, 2015 looks promising for the Wolfpack.

ACC Now provides comments from Doeren, who reflected on the season after the win:

This is a team that could potentially challenge the Florida State Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

UCF drops to 9-4 and wraps up a solid season with a disappointing ending.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly Updates Quarterbacks, Injuries, Depth Chart

After a three-day holiday break, Notre Dame arrived in Nashville Friday for final preparations for next Tuesday's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against No. 24 LSU (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Irish held their first of four practices Friday evening leading up to the game, with head coach Brian Kelly addressing the media afterward. 

As it has been for most of Kelly's five seasons at Notre Dame, the quarterback position is the big story. Junior Everett Golson was benched during the regular-season finale against USC, with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire providing a bit of a spark in the second half.

Both will play against the Tigers, but Kelly wasn't quite ready to declare a starter Friday evening.

"I haven't made the decision on who the starter is yet," Kelly said. "Both are getting quality reps. I probably have to make it here in the next 24 hours. They're both going to play, and I'm just going to have to just get a feel for it and the flow of the game."

Having to juggle multiple quarterbacks is nothing new to Kelly.

"I've done it several times over several years," Kelly said "I've gone into playoff games when I was in Division II and had to run option with a guy that couldn't throw it. We can do a lot of things with two quarterbacks. It can be pretty exciting."

Zaire has shown a stronger grasp of the zone-read element of Kelly's offense than Golson has. While Zaire and Golson don't present the stark contrast in styles that Golson and Tommy Rees did, the two are far from mirror images of one another.

"It opens up everything," Kelly said. "Everything is available to you. You're going to see the best from both of them."

The only notable injury updates were regarding senior offensive tackle Christian Lombard and defensive tackle Sheldon Day. While Kelly did not rule out Lombard for the game, his outlook was pessimistic for the chances of the third-year starter playing in his final college game.

"He's been fighting a back injury, and it's flared up," Kelly said. "He's been limited in practice. He's been a warrior for us. He would definitely play if he was physically able to. That's a major question mark for us."

If Lombard can't go, redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey will make his first career start at right tackle.

The news was much more positive on defensive tackle Sheldon Day. After missing the last two-and-a-half games with an MCL injury, the junior is expected to be close to full speed against LSU.

"Sheldon Day will play," Kelly said. "We'd like him to play every play. We don't think that's realistic. If we can get between 40 and 50 plays, I think we'd be ecstatic."

With first semester grades finalized in the past week, Kelly said that no players were ineligible for the game due to academics. 

Despite being the healthiest of the four position groups on the Irish defense, the two safety spots has been a revolving door this season for Note Dame.

Junior Elijah Shumate and sophomore Max Redfield are the most talented players at the position on the Irish roster, but they have struggled to stay on the field at times this season. Kelly said both will start and raised the bar for their level of play.

"We still need to see more," Kelly said. "We have higher expectations for Elijah, and we have higher expectations for Max. They know it. I've met with them individually. [Defensive coordinator] Brian [VanGorder] has met with them. They know what they need to do."

Notre Dame has faced just one SEC opponent in the last eight seasons—Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Did Kelly call on former assistant Butch Jones, now the head coach at Tennessee, for some advice on LSU?

"No," Kelly said. "We've talked, because the families are close, but more Christmas stuff than football."

Notre Dame returns to the practice field Saturday. LSU will arrive in Nashville Saturday afternoon and practice Sunday and Monday leading up to Tuesday's game.


Note: All quotes from Brian Kelly were obtained firsthand.

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Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Rutgers vs. North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights steamrolled the North Carolina Tar Heels, 40-21, in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

Driven by a powerful offensive line, Rutgers racked 340 rushing yards during the impressive victory, which capped the program's first season in the Big Ten at 8-5. North Carolina dropped to 6-7 with the loss.

Pass Offense: Gary Nova connected on seven of 14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and the senior could've had higher marks without a couple drops. During the latter half, however, Nova threw three should-have-been interceptions that UNC mishandled.

Run Offense: Robert Martin raced to a career-high 202 yards and one touchdown, while Josh Hicks added a career-high 100 yards and two scores. If two running backs setting "career-high" marks doesn't explain Rutgers' success enough, well, both of Nova's 30-plus-yard passing touchdowns were a result of play-action calls.

Pass Defense: The Rutgers pass rush simply dominated UNC's offensive line. Darius Hamilton was the only Scarlet Knights player to record a sack, but Marquise Williams was constantly pressured and forced to throw mostly checkdowns because of great coverage by the secondary.

Run Defense: Run defense was Rutgers' glaring issue, considering the Tar Heels managed 219 yards on the ground. However, since the Scarlet Knights offense continued to build a nearly insurmountable lead, North Carolina couldn't rely on their backs.

Special Teams: Kyle Federico connected on two field goals (19, 31 yards) but missed one of his five extra points. Punter Joey Roth averaged 44.7 yards per kick, and the coverage team held dynamic returner Ryan Switzer to five yards on three attempts.

Coaching: Kyle Flood utilized a perfectly timed fake punt, which sparked Rutgers during the third quarter and effectively sealed the game. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen capped his first year at the school by calling an outstanding game for Nova and Co.


Pass Offense: Marquise Williams terribly underthrew Mack Hollins on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Switzer was called for a pass interference on what would've been a 58-yard touchdown. Jack Howard was flagged for OPI in the end zone after catching a touchdown. It just wasn't the Tar Heels' day through the air.

Run Offense: T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood found running room and combined for 172 yards, and Williams scampered for 64 if a 13-yard sack is ignored. Logan averaged 9.6 yards per first-down attempt (8 CAR, 77 YDS), but Carolina failed to capitalize on that success.

Pass Defense: The Tar Heels secondary allowed too many open receivers, even if a throw ultimately became an incompletion due to poor placement or a drop. Although Nova only completed nine of of 20 passes, six gained 19 yards or more.

Run Defense: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the UNC run defense. Rutgers manhandled the Heels up front, smashing its way to 8.2 yards per rushing attempt and scoring three touchdowns. The 340 yards allowed was only the fourth-worst season performance.

Special Teams: North Carolina blocked a punt and recovered two onside kicks, but the poor plays heavily outweighed the favorable. In addition to Thomas Moore pushing a 31-yard field goal wide right, Nick Weiler and Joey Mangili combined to manage just 31.2 yards over five punts.

Coaching: Larry Fedora called a disastrous fake field goal, both in design and execution. Then, he actually attempted a field goal down 20 points—a truly horrific decision. From top to bottom, UNC wasn't ready for the Quick Lane Bowl. And it showed.


Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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West Virginia and Florida Players Among Those Injured in Christmas Eve Shooting

Florida freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson and West Virginia freshman wideout Jacky Marcellus were reportedly injured during a shooting on Christmas Eve in Immokalee, Florida.

Kristine Gill of the Naples Daily News reported that Jackson, Marcellus and Marcellus' brother, Jackinson, were shot by an assailant(s) in a red car. Meanwhile, Christina Lusby of WINK News in Fort Myers, Florida, reported that one or two men walked up on foot and fired shots into the automobile carrying the three former Immokalee High School teammates.

"It just happened so fast," said Jackinson Marcellus, who was hospitalized on Friday after getting shot below his eye, per Gill. "I looked left to see him fire."

According to a police spokeswoman, Jacky Marcellus and Jackson were discharged from the hospital after suffering minor injuries. WINK News' Chelsa Messinger reported that bullets grazed both players during the shooting:

Police in Collier County, Florida, continue to investigate the shooting and haven't made any arrests yet.

Jacky and Jackinson Marcellus and Jackson were all in Immokalee to celebrate Christmas.

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Rutgers vs. UNC: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Quick Lane Bowl

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights capped off a successful debut season in the Big Ten with Friday's 40-21 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.

In the process, senior quarterback Gary Nova exploited a defense that entered the contest ranked 119th, going 9-of-20 for 184 yards and two scores.

ESPN College Football tweeted the final score and pertinent numbers:

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, Rutgers was far from the favorite entering Friday's showdown:

Even without leading rusher Desmon Peoples, the freshman duo of Josh Hicks and Robert Martin led the way for the Scarlet Knights on the ground with 202 yards and a score and 100 yards and two scores, respectively. Both found the end zone in the second quarter to help build a 23-0 halftime lead that would prove insurmountable.

Nova, who threw for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this year, got things started with an opening drive that spoke volumes to the game's eventual course. He led the Scarlet Knights down the field 75 yards on just five plays and then hit Andre Patton for a 34-yard touchdown.

Jason Radowitz of DoubleGSports.com summed up the precision of the offense:

The floodgates opened shortly thereafter.

Hicks reached the end zone first on a dash from 21 yards out to cap off a 91-yard drive in just seven plays. Martin followed him on the next drive with an eight-yard score of his own to make it 20-0.

As many—including Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media—could see, Rutgers appears to have some burgeoning talent in its backfield:

North Carolina proved worthy after halftime, though.

Junior Tar Heels signal-caller Marquise Williams was one of the nation's more underrated dual-threat quarterbacks this season, thanks to 2,870 yards and 20 touchdowns with another 737 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

The Charlotte native put that on full display right out of the break by leading a 12-play drive capped off by a quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to 23-7.

As WCHL 97.9 FM's Matt Oakes noticed, though, the Rutgers' defensive front overwhelmed UNC's line for most of the night: 

After a brief flirtation with competitiveness, North Carolina's defense once again collapsed.

The Tar Heels score to start the half woke up Nova, too. The senior hit Andrew Turzilli for a 34-yard score before Martin broke free for a 28-yard touchdown near the start of the final frame, bringing it to 37-7.

To their credit, the Tar Heels then made an epic run to improve upon the lopsided 40-7 score. In fact, they recovered not one, but two onside kicks in the span of a couple of minutes while posting 14 points.

ESPN's Dustin Fox wondered if another bowl classic was set to unfold:

Williams hit Jack Tabb for a touchdown, and then backup Mitch Trubisky tossed a touchdown to Kendrick Singleton to make it 40-21. That proved to be the end of the spark, as the drive after the second successful onside kick ended with a pass out of the end zone on fourth down.

For some, the conference implications of the Rutgers win are noteworthy, as CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli explained:

The triumph means Rutgers can now turn a confident eye toward next season. Peoples and other offensive weapons will be back in the fold, as will dominant nose tackle Darius Hamilton, who recorded a sack and shut down a fake field goal Friday. The importance of Hamilton's return after Friday's defensive performance is not lost on coach Kyle Flood.

"He's a great player for us and will be a great leader for us going forward next year with the experience he's had with the three years he has been here," Flood told reporters before the game.

Things are bleaker for North Carolina, a trendy preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal division before finishing the regular season at .500. Coach Larry Fedora faces a serious rebuilding task now that the program's record has dipped in each of the past two campaigns.


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Outback Bowl Dinner for Wisconsin and Auburn Includes 2,400 Pounds of Meat

They grow 'em big in Wisconsin, and the SEC boys down South are no scrubs either. As such, the Outback Bowl provided the Wisconsin Badgers and Auburn Tigers (who will face off on New Year's Day in Tampa, Florida) with plenty to eat for a special dinner before the game. 

The Auburn Gold Mine Twitter account tweeted out details of the feast:

Outback Bowl dinner for Auburn & Wisconsin: 750 pounds of steak, 900 lbs. of ribs, 750 lbs. of chicken, 1,600 shrimp, 1,200 lbs. cheese cake

— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) December 26, 2014

Wisconsin redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Walker Williams sure seemed to enjoy himself:

After 2 chicken breasts, 4 steaks, 2 side salads, potatoes, shrimp, an onion bowl, and cheesecake im gunna throw in the towl #outbackbowl

— Walker Williams (@W_Squared2) December 26, 2014

Apparently playing in a bowl sponsored by Outback Steakhouse has its perks.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for NC State vs. UCF

The Central Florida Knights and the North Carolina State Wolfpack will meet in the St. Petersburg Bowl for one of the more intriguing early matchups of the bowl season.

Both teams are riding little surges, as the Pack dominated rival North Carolina 35-7 to close the season at 7-5 in coach Dave Doeren's second year in Raleigh. Meanwhile, Justin Holman's crazy Hail Mary upset East Carolina and gave UCF a share of the American Athletic Conference crown.

Even though Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are no longer roaming the field for the Knights, they finished 9-3 and are back to play another power-conference program.

This one looks like a toss-up that could go either way. One program is established and looking to be thought of among the giant killers while the other is a middling ACC program on the rise. 

It should be a good football game, and we'll get started at about 8 p.m. Check back here for live blogging, highlights and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

After Up-and-Down Career, Longhorns Seniors Can Redefine Legacy in Texas Bowl

Anyone who has played at an elite level of athletic competition does not play to lose. In fact, many competitors do not handle losing very well.

Unfortunately for the Texas Longhorns, losing has been all-too familiar for the senior class.

The 2011 recruiting class suffered a lot of losses before ever stepping foot onto the 40-acres. After the Longhorns went 5-7 in 2010, former head coach Mack Brown was forced to replace six assistant coaches, most of whom were responsible for recruiting the now-senior class.

But the Longhorns stuck together, signed their letters of intent and went into their careers with the goal of changing the course of the Texas football program.

Four years have passed, and the goal appears to be incomplete.

"It's been tough," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said of all of the ups and downs he has experienced during his time playing for the Longhorns.

"It's hard when you have guys that just come in for a bit and you don't really know much about them, don't know what they plan on doing. But at the same time, you've just got to go out and play. We were put in these spots. We've just got to go out and do what we do and just go out and have fun."

Diggs and other defensive players know better than anyone how difficult it is to adjust to change, especially when it comes to coaches. The senior committed to Texas with the hopes of playing for former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Diggs never started a down with Muschamp as his coach.

He then learned the tendencies of Muschamp's replacement, Manny Diaz. But Diaz struggled to put together a solid defense and was eventually fired after the Longhorns gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU in 2013.

In came Greg Robinson, a former Texas assistant coach and former head coach of Michigan. Robinson helped rebuild the Longhorns defense only to be sent packing when Brown was fired following the 2013 season.

Now the seniors will end their time in Austin with Vance Bedford as their leader. The former Texas defensive back is relatable to the players and has helped formulate one of the nation's top defensive units in college football.

Diggs is thankful for the opportunity to play for his new coach and how his career could change the future of Texas football.

"I really wouldn't change anything because if you change, maybe we wouldn't have these guys right now. I'm just blessed for the opportunity to be able to come back and play for these guys," Diggs said. "I think everybody will always remember this senior class and everything we've been through.

"We went through it when the staff changed the first time when we were getting recruited. I went through the defensive coordinator getting fired after the first game of the season. But we've been really resilient, and we stuck through it all as a class."

The Longhorns have a chance to end their careers on a high note with an upset victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.

If you are reading this, you might be thinking, "How can a win over a 6-6 opponent define the legacy of the seniors?" It's a valid question and almost seems depressing for Texas fans to think this class' legacy is on the line against a .500 team.

But the big-picture aspect of the senior class' legacy is something one cannot ignore.

The class is the definition of what it means to fight through adversity, and it's an even better description of resiliency.

There were many times where the seniors could have given up on the season, mainly when the Longhorns were sitting at 3-6 heading into November.

But quitting was never an option for the seniors, and the rest of the team needs to battle to give the senior class what it deserves: a win in their final game at Texas.

"I think we're a prime example of sticking together through it all and continue to strive," said Diggs. "We want to be the class to do great things and get this thing turned back around."


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Reasons Why Alabama Will and Won't Beat Ohio State

Nobody is really giving Ohio State much of a chance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Bleacher Report has Alabama in a close one. All of ESPN’s SEC writers are picking Alabama. All but one of Sports Illustrated’s experts picked the Crimson Tide. Las Vegas oddsmakers have Alabama by nine points.

You get the picture.

Still, college football teaches us seemingly every day not to put any kind of stock into this pontificating and postulating. In fact, last time Alabama played in the Superdome, it was a 17-point favorite and ended up losing.

So, as if it really needed to be said, this game could go either way.

Here, we’ll present a couple of reasons for why Alabama will and won’t beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

Begin Slideshow

WVU QB Clint Trickett Retires from Football Due to Multiple Concussions

Having suffered five concussions in a span of 14 months, West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett retired from football on Friday.

The Mountaineers announced that the senior will walk away from the game, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. Trickett is not leaving football altogether. He may replace his cleats for a clipboard as he hopes to become a football coach.

Trickett thanked WVU fans on Twitter after the announcement was made public:

Trickett suffered a concussion in what proved to be a 26-20 loss to Kansas State back on Nov. 20 and hasn't returned to the field since. On Dec. 18, he received medical clearance to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29, but head coach Dana Holgorsen announced on Friday that Trickett would be out, per Greg Madia of WVSports.com:

Then came Trickett's retirement.

He revealed that two of the five concussions weren't revealed to the West Virginia medical staff, and he accepts full responsibility for his actions, per Allan Taylor of WVMetroNews.com:

ESPN.com's Kevin Van Valkenburg wonders how many players have acted similarly in regard to hiding concussions:

Trickett acknowledged that in order to become a football coach, he needed to retire before the damage to his body was irreparable:

Should Trickett become a coach, he'd be following in the footsteps of his father, Rick, who's an assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Florida State.

Between his time at Florida State and West Virginia, Trickett threw for 5,837 yards and 32 touchdowns.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Vital Viewing Information for Alabama vs. Ohio State

The 2014-15 bowl season is full of intriguing matchups, but the game that will steal the show will be the College Football Playoff semifinal between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 2015 Sugar Bowl is must-watch television.

With two of the most prestigious schools in the nation going head-to-head in the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoff, fans of the sport will be treated to some of the most exciting action of the season.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 Sugar Bowl and the biggest difference-maker.



Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

When: Thursday, Jan. 1

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN



Biggest Potential Difference-Maker

Both teams have rosters full of players who will be looking to make a name for themselves on the big stage, but few have the ability to control the pace of the game more than Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.

The senior star has emerged as a serious weapon for the Crimson Tide, and he has the potential to achieve mainstream notoriety with a standout performance.

Sims is not a typical college quarterback in the sense that he doesn't rack up huge numbers every game. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has kept the pressure off Sims by allowing him to thrive in the right situations. With 3,250 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions, Sims is a true game manager with playmaking abilities.

Bleacher Report lead writer Marc Torrence shared Sims on the cover of ESPN, one of several mainstream appearances he has made since the SEC Championship:

Add in Sims' 321 yards and six touchdowns rushing, and he is the kind of quarterback who could give Ohio State trouble.

When asked about the doubts early in the season that Sims could be the No. 1 quarterback, Alabama center Ryan Kelly told John Zenor of the Associated Press, “I don't think anybody doubted him on this team. We knew wherever he was going to go he was going to give it his all. That's the result that came out this year. He gave it his all and look what happened.”

The key for the entire Crimson Tide offensive unit will be exploiting Ohio State's defensive issues. As seen in the marquee matchup against Michigan State earlier in the season, opposing offenses can rack up big points against the Buckeyes.

While the program is ranked a respectable 23rd in the nation allowing 21.2 points per game, the Buckeyes haven’t faced an offensive unit as balanced as Alabama’s. Using star receiver Amari Cooper on the outside and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the ground, the Crimson Tide should be able to advance to the championship game.

As long as Sims protects the football and makes smart decisions like he has all season, Alabama will be victorious and the senior quarterback will have his chance to be the top star on the field.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24



All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Heart of Dallas

One of the ugliest and most thrilling bowl games took place at the Cotton Bowl on Friday between Illinois and Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Both teams made their share of mistakes, but the Bulldogs made more big plays and were able to get two key scores late in the fourth quarter for a 35-18 win. 

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman will be kicking himself all offseason because his team gave this game away on multiple occasions. There isn't one area you can pinpoint as the problem, as the offense, defense and special teams were a mess. 

Louisiana Tech didn't play a crisp game either, but it was able to overcome its mistakes to secure the school's first bowl win since 2008. 

The most surprising part of Louisiana Tech's win was that star running back Kenneth Dixon was held in check on the ground. He did have a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but was limited to 63 rushing yards on 13 carries.

The star junior did have an impact in the passing game with an 80-yard touchdown catch on a busted coverage in the first quarter to give Louisiana Tech a 14-3 lead, via Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports: 

In addition to securing the Bulldogs' victory, Dixon's late one-yard touchdown run was historic, as it gave him at least one in every game this season, via Conference USA Football on Twitter:

On that touchdown drive, Bulldogs wide receiver Carlos Henderson had the big play. He got behind the Illinois defense for a 70-yard gain that really helped quarterback Cody Sokol's stat line, via Sean Isabella of The News Star:

Sokol didn't have the best statistical day, but he was involved in the key play of the game. After he was sacked and fumbled, Illinois' Jihad Ward recovered the ball and would have had it deep in Louisiana Tech territory. However, Ward was caught from behind and fumbled, leading to Sokol recovering the ball. 

If that play description made your head spin, that's basically the kind of game the Heart of Dallas Bowl turned out to be. Paul Myerberg of USA Today also noted how appropriate the sequence was given Illinois' years of frustration:

For more evidence of how baffling this game was, Matt Loveless of WAND-TV in Illinois offers a stat line on Sokol to put it all in perspective:

Despite his struggles, Sokol said leading up to this game that it was going to be an emotional time for the Bulldogs as presently constructed, via Isabella, writing for The Shreveport Times:

It’s really cool to see how things come full circle. I’m excited for those Texas boys on this team to be able to play at home. We’ve come a long way as a football team and this is our last time together. We’re going to enjoy it. …

…If you go out there and don’t put together a win, it kind of just all fades away. You kinda remember the season as something that wasn’t accomplished. But that’s what we’re planning on doing is winning.

For Illinois, quarterback Reilly O'Toole put together a solid stat line with 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception despite getting knocked around like a pinball. He basically became best friends with Louisiana Tech's Houston Bates, who had 5.5 sacks and earned a new nickname from Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times:

Rubbing salt in the wound for Illinois, Bates transferred from Illinois to Louisiana Tech after the 2013-14 season.

Illinois' problems on Friday were vast. The Fighting Illini missed an extra point, a two-point conversion and two field goals. They also had two turnovers, including the wacky fumble play when Louisiana Tech was clinging to a 21-18 lead. 

Taking a glass half-full look at the loss for Illinois, this was the first bowl appearance in the Beckman era and the program has increased its win total in three years under the coach. The Illini still have a long way to go before becoming relevant in the Big Ten, but at least there appears to be some progress. 

As for Louisiana Tech, Skip Holtz has done a terrific job in two years as head coach. The Bulldogs won just four games last season, but went 9-5 following Friday's win and 7-1 in Conference USA. They may not become a national power like other small schools have recently, though they are moving in the right direction. 

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5 Candidates to Replace Pat Narduzzi as Michigan State DC

Michigan State just lost arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football. 

Not that Pat Narduzzi was going to stay at the assistant coaching level forever. His new job as the head coach at Pitt is well-deserved and perhaps long overdue. The Broyles Award winner in 2013 for top assistant coach has led the Spartans to a top-10 defense in each of the last four years, according to CFBStats.com. 

Now, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has the tough assignment of replacing Narduzzi while maintaining the program's high standards for defense. 

"Pat brings a lot of energy to our program, and he's extremely organized, extremely innovative," Dantonio said, via Mike Griffith of MLive.com

Who are some of the coaches that should be on Dantonio's short list? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Rutgers vs. North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the North Carolina Tar Heels will meet Friday afternoon in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

Senior quarterback Gary Nova can finish his Rutgers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) tenure on a high note, starting his 41st career outing while searching for bowl victory No. 1.

North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC) is looking to win bowl games in consecutive years for the first time since the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

ESPN will broadcast the matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET. Bleacher Report will provide scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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