Feed aggregator

Sugar Bowl 2014: Despite the Loss, Alabama QB AJ McCarron Is a Legend

Legacy.

It's a tricky word that has a moving target in college football.

For Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, it includes video-game statistics and a Heisman Trophy. For Georgia's Aaron Murray, it features SEC records in career passing touchdowns and passing yards.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's legacy is a little more concise, and can be wrapped up in one word.

"Winner."

Just don't judge him based on Thursday night's Sugar Bowl, because it wasn't his finest moment.

The fifth-year senior quarterback of the Crimson Tide ended his career on a low note in a 45-31 Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. The Mobile, Ala., native completed 19-of-30 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns.

This game won't be remembered for McCarron's impressive numbers through the air, however. It will be remembered for his mistakes.

McCarron was picked off twice, one of which was returned 43 yards by Zack Sanchez all the way to the Alabama 13-yard line, setting up a Sooner touchdown. He was rattled early thanks to an offensive line that gave up seven sacks on the night.

As B/R's Matt Miller pointed out, it wasn't all McCarron's fault.

You can justify McCarron's bad play because his OL, but he's also not handled the pressure well. That's the major concern for me tonight.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 3, 2014

His last offensive snap—when he was sacked by Eric Striker and fumbled away Alabama's last chance—was fitting for the night, but not of his career.

In true McCarron fashion, he took responsibility for the loss, according to Fox Sports Live.

"I'll take the loss, and I'll definitely take the blame." - AJ McCarron #Alabama

— FOX Sports Live (@FOXSportsLive) January 3, 2014

His 36 wins as a starting quarterback is one more than Jay Barker, who held the school record coming into the season. Counting McCarron's redshirt season in 2009, he has one more loss as a starter—four—than he has BCS National Championship rings.

The final image of McCarron will be him laying on the turf as Geneo Grissom returned his fumble eight yards for the final score of the Sugar Bowl, but the lasting image of his career should be how he helped build and subsequently maintain a dynasty in the golden age of SEC football.

Was he a "game manger?" Sure. 

Good quarterbacks are supposed to manage the game. 

He did that at an elite level, while also taking control of several big games, including the 21-0 victory over LSU in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season in which he was awarded offensive MVP.

If that isn't enough, then so be it. 

Leaving a legacy of being an elite "game manager" with five total BCS and SEC Championship rings isn't a bad legacy to leave behind, especially at a tradition-rich program like Alabama.

McCarron's Alabama career ended on a sour note, but it doesn't take away from what he left behind—a legacy loaded with wins.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl 2014: Derrick Henry Is the Next Great Alabama RB

Although the 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the BCS Sugar Bowl is going to replay in the heads of Alabama fans all offseason, the future at the running back position is looking brighter than the morning sun.

Derrick Henry saved the last game of the season for his best performance, giving the Crimson Tide something to drool over for the next seven months.

Needless to say, Henry, who stepped on campus last year as one of the top recruits of the 2013 class, had high expectations this season. It's what happens when you finish high school with more rushing yards than any other player in the history of the game.

However, his 28 carries for 282 yards and two touchdowns weren't what Alabama fans expected. He was banged up in a few games and often overshadowed by the consistent production of the flashier T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. This will no longer be the case heading into next season. The monster has awoken. 

Henry, who entered the game with five or more carries in only three games, finished the Sugar Bowl with eight touches for 100 yards and one touchdown. In just one game, he proved that he was well worth the hype heading into the season, and he now gives the Alabama coaching staff something to think about. Sorry Yeldon, but Henry has to be the new starting running back. 

At 6'3", 238 pounds, Henry is bigger than Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson ever were. He's just as powerful as either one was during their collegiate days, and surprisingly, he has the breakaway speed to match. 

This unique, elite skill set makes him a nightmare for defenders. How do you tackle someone this big? How do you keep him from bouncing to the outside and breaking off the big run? In other words, how do you defend the unknown?

I may be getting a little too excited, but Henry might as well be considered the modern-day Bo Jackson. This complete package hasn't quite been seen before. A running back this massive, fast, athletic and explosive puts him a class of his own. There's nothing he can't do. Literally nothing. 

Alabama can also be known as Running Back University.

Before Richardson and Lacy made their mark at the next level, guys such as Shaun Alexander, Le'Ron McClain and Tony Nathan paved the way. Yes, it's going to take more than one game before Henry fills those shoes. But let it be known that this performance was no fluke. Henry is the real deal, and it wouldn't be surprising if he takes on the lead role next season.

Since Alabama fans will never forget this game, they might as well also take in the performance from the freshman running back. It's the start of something extremely special. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Derrick Henry Flashes Heisman Potential in Thrilling Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl was certainly not Alabama's finest hour, but it was in the young college career of freshman running back Derrick Henry. 

The Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners played a fast-paced and high-scoring Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma led for most of the game, but Alabama battled and had the ball with a minute to go and a chance to get a tying touchdown.

After Cyrus Kouandjio was beaten off the edge for a strip-sack by Eric Striker to seal the game for Oklahoma, and a terrible bowl showing by Kouandjio, the Crimson Tide limped out of this season with a humbling 45-31 defeat. 

It is not all doom and gloom coming out of this game for Nick Saban and his team. Henry's phenomenal showing should have all Crimson Tide fans excited for next year.

The freshman carried the ball just eight times, but he gained 100 yards and a touchdown on those carries.

He also added a catch that he took 61 yards to the house. 

This comes after a season where he gained just 282 yards on 28 carries. 

After watching the Sugar Bowl, I have to wonder why Saban didn't find a way to get this talented freshman more touches. I doubt his lack of touches will be a concern next year.

Henry has all the tools to be a star. He has freakish speed for his size, and he has ample size:

He looked like a man among boys in the Sugar Bowl as he blew through arm tackles and ran past would-be tacklers. He runs more straight up than you'd like to see, but he is all knees and elbows with a viscous running style. 

The way he attacks his runs actually conjures up visions of the great Adrian Peterson, who happened to be standing on the Oklahoma sideline for this game. 

His showing was certainly enough to get sports personality Jim Rome gushing: 

With this performance in a BCS bowl game, Henry put himself on the minds of college football fans for next season, and this is going to lead to Heisman hype. 

Alabama perennially has a good offensive line and strong running game. Henry is in the perfect spot to excel, and he has all the tools to do just that. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Looking for Validation with Victory over Clemson

A bowl ban kept Ohio State from playing on a pivotal postseason stage in 2012. Michigan State and its vaunted defense kept the Buckeyes from playing in the national championship this season.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have won 24 of their last 25 games, but none of those victories came against an opponent ranked in the Top 15. On Friday, in the Discover Orange Bowl, No. 7 Ohio State will have the opportunity to validate its historic run against the No. 12 Clemson Tigers.

The Buckeyes (12-1) are approaching the Orange Bowl as a chance to not only get back to their winning ways, but to also prove that they're the championship-caliber team that winning 24 consecutive games would suggest.

Ohio State senior center Corey Linsley wants the Buckeyes to show their true colors, according to Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.

Obviously by validating it in our eyes, it will validate in the eyes of others. The thing we're worried about is just showing our character, showing who we are as people by working hard and working towards a win.

That win will need to come against a team that's perfectly equipped to exploit Ohio State's biggest weakness.

Led by senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Tigers boast one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the country. Junior receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, who average 169 receiving yards per game, present matchup nightmares on the perimeter.

That dynamic trio lifted Clemson all year as the Tigers rank 11th in the country with 329.3 passing yards per game.

Ohio State, of course, has struggled tremendously defending the pass. The Buckeyes have given up an average of 260 passing yards this season, good for 103rd nationally. Over its last two games against Michigan and Michigan State, Ohio State surrendered more than 750 yards and seven touchdowns through the air.

On top of that, the Buckeyes will be without two of their impact defenders. Sophomore defensive end Noah Spence, who leads the team with eight sacks, was suspended for three games for violating an unspecified "Big Ten Conference rule." Junior cornerback Bradley Roby, Ohio State's best pass defender, is expected to miss the game because of a bruised knee he suffered against Michigan State.

That's a fitting parallel for the Buckeyes as they get ready for Clemson. Can Ohio State shake off the bruises left by Michigan State and earn the validation it's looking for. According to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, Buckeyes running back Carlos Hyde is confident.

“This is a BCS bowl. This is still a huge game,” Hyde said. “You don’t really need too much motivation. This is still a huge game, just got to get past that last game. I’m sure we are past that."

 

All stats via NCAA.com

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Leonard Fournette's Commitment Is Major Step Forward for LSU Tigers

Leonard Fournette is the hero that Baton Rouge both needs and deserves.

The No. 1 recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings announced his commitment to the LSU Tigers during the Under Armour All-America Game.

Fournette said that the idea of playing close to home was trumped everything, via Jerit Roser of The Times-Picayune:

The coaches, and overall, Louisiana, they kept pushing me to stay home...It wasn't too much pressure, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere that I was getting from the whole state, so I decided to stay home.

The process was still Alabama and LSU, so overall, I had to put in the odds and evens of which school I would go to was best, and I just think LSU is the best place for me.

Needless to say, it's a decision that's sent shock waves through the college football landscape.

Fournette is already being described as the next Adrian Peterson, which may be premature, but is a strong indicator of how highly he's regarded by recruiting experts.

For LSU, this commitment helped to boost what had previously been a lackluster recruiting class. Les Miles had watched as many of his targets signed elsewhere, which left the Tigers in the lurch and looking up at their biggest rivals.

It got to the point where you were wondering if Miles might have to answer for whatever problems he was having on the recruiting trail. Then Fournette came along and made everything better.

Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com put it best:

This will no doubt buy Miles a little more time and rebuild some of the faith he may have lost among Tigers fans who have been upset at the school's inability to match Alabama's success.

LSU laid down a major marker with Fournette. No longer will it be the bridesmaid of the SEC. It has national title aspirations and won't stop until it reaches the summit again. In addition, the Tigers showed that they can still lure the best prospects in the country.

The rest of the SEC is on notice.

From an on-field aspect, Fournette is the running threat LSU will need next year.

Getting a steady presence on the ground will be a huge boost to LSU's offense. There's no telling how the passing game will perform in Zach Mettenberger's absence, so it will be nice to have a running back take some of the pressure off the signal-caller next year.

Jeremy Hill looks like he's headed for the pros, and his departure would mean Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard were the best threats to take the starting job in 2014.

That was before Fournette announced his decision.

He should be able to come right into the team and start from Day 1. There's no doubt about his talent, and at 6'1" and 226 pounds, he's got the body to handle the rigors of college football.

Maybe Miles could bed him into the role in the first few nonconference games, but by the time the SEC games roll around, the soon-to-be freshman should get the lion's share of snaps in the backfield.

Fournette has everything you look for in a blue-chip running back. He's got enough speed to get out on the edge and break out for big runs, yet he's capable of going in between the tackles for positive yardage. There's very little not to like about his game.

It's a bridge too far to call LSU title contenders immediately off the basis of the Tigers signing one player. After all, the Oklahoma Sooners couldn't win a BCS bowl during Adrian Peterson's three seasons in Norman.

But Leonard Fournette is the kind of player the LSU Tigers will need if they want to climb back into national championship contention.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma vs. Alabama: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Sugar Bowl

The BCS No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners lit up the venerated defense of the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and won the 2014 Sugar Bowl, 45-31, on Thursday, Jan. 2 at New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight experienced one of the most interesting breakout performances in recent memory en route to being named the game's MVP.

Knight began the season as the starter but was benched until the middle of the year and proved to be a more effective runner than a passer. That changed against the two-time reigning national champions, as the freshman threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, displaying decisiveness and accuracy previously unseen.

The number of points given up by the Tide defense was also unprecedented for head coach Nick Saban:

ESPN's Trent Dilfer liked what he saw from Knight, who looks to have a bright future after this showing:

This was also a milestone of sorts for Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, who was vindicated for his faith in Knight and made significant history from an individual standpoint, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The play of the evening came when Knight, who helped his team overcome a 1st-and-30 earlier in the drive, improvised and found Sterling Shepard for a key nine-yard touchdown that gave the underdogs some insurance:

Yes, that play was being compared to the Joe Montana-Dwight Clark "The Catch" connection, and given the collegiate equivalent of the stakes, it was rather appropriate.

What made Knight's eruption more impressive was not only the quality of the Tide's No. 2 scoring defense but also that he upstaged Alabama senior signal-caller AJ McCarron, who threw two interceptions in the first half that led to 14 Oklahoma points.

In fact, the typically disciplined Tide gave the ball away three times in the opening half, leading to three Sooner touchdowns.

The costliest one wasn't McCarron's fault, though. Running back T.J. Yeldon was the culprit, as he fumbled the ball away when the Tide were in position for a critical score. Not long after that, Knight dropped it in the bucket to Jalen Saunders for a beautiful 43-yard touchdown bomb:

Just about everything imaginable went the Sooners' way before the intermission. That continued when a Christion Jones' 70-yard punt return that would have cut the deficit to seven in the third quarter was called back.

Bleacher Report expert Matt Miller observed how the Sooners defensive front was devastating Alabama up front early on, as it consistently got pressure on McCarron—something he isn't used to:

That didn't necessarily apply to the running game, which Miller noted the Tide are geared for.

Much to the surprise of many, it wasn't Yeldon who kept Alabama in this game, but another Tide running back, Derrick Henry.

The 6'3", 238-pound freshman had carried the ball 28 times all season entering this contest. In adding substantially to that total, Henry proved in his increased opportunities that he has an eye-popping combination of size and speed.

Following the punt-return TD taken away due to a block in the back, the Tide forced a three-and-out and handed the rock to Henry, who bowled his way through the Oklahoma defense en route to the end zone with 8:49 left in the third quarter:

Knight responded later on with his outstanding touchdown march, which then set up Henry for further heroics on a swing pass:

Unfortunately for the Tide, another protection breakdown caused McCarron to fumble after he was hit on his blindside by Eric Striker. Geneo Grissom then picked up the loose ball and went nine yards to sco the game-clinching touchdown.

Some may argue the Tide had an inevitable letdown after losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but ESPN's Desmond Howard didn't want to hear any of that:

The truth is, the Sooners came to play and Alabama was not as prepared and sharp as usual, costing the Tide another landmark victory for their powerhouse program.

Stoops has critiqued the celebrated SEC in the past. After the game, he professed his respect for Alabama—but still spun it in a positive way and drove home the point that his Sooners were among the nation's best, per the USA Today's George Schroeder:

Below is a letter-grade evaluation of some of the key performers who defined this offensive shootout.

 

Grades

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: A

Few could have expected anything resembling the display Knight put on for all college football fans to enjoy.

Stoops took heat for playing Knight early on over Blake Bell, and nothing suggested the strategy was sound until Thursday, when the freshman took flight.

NBC Sports' Josh Norris felt like he was watching a different player:

It might as well have been, because Knight capitalized on his promise after a season of struggles. The payoff was a big win in a big game—something Knight and Stoops both needed.

 

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: B

This wasn't McCarron's best game by any stretch. Still, he battled back from two early mistakes and was still making plays in that stretch, keeping his team in the game while the defense didn't help him.

McCarron may catch a lot of flack for being a game manager, yet he made some big throws and set the stage for Henry's emergence. The last sack—and most of them on the evening—also can't go on the seasoned QB.

 

Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma: A

The scrappy senior may be diminutive, but he makes up for it with quickness and route-running precision. That was evident on his hitch-and-go route on the 43-yard touchdown in the first half.

Saunders also made an excellent catch on his first TD grab—an eight-yard reception that saw him barely get in the front corner of the pylon. His awareness characterized the focus the Sooners displayed and the experience he had to close his collegiate career in style.

 

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: A

Why should we not be surprised? Another Alabama running back tearing it up, seemingly out of nowhere. Saban can sure recruit depth to that backfield, which begs the question: How would some who opt to take their talents to Tuscaloosa fare elsewhere?

Henry's patience paid off, because he was the driving force that kept the Tide afloat.

The early turnovers turned out to be too much to overcome, ending Alabama's season on a rare two-game losing streak under Saban.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Wins Sugar Bowl on a Sack, Katherine Webb and Adrian Peterson React

The Oklahoma Sooners stunned the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, 45-31, and this strip-sack and score by Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom sealed it. 

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's girlfriend Katherine Webb and mom Dee Dee Bonner were shocked.

Minnesota Vikings running back and Sooners alum Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, was fired up. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bill O'Brien's Departure Completes Penn State's Descent into Bleak Anonymity

It took Joe Paterno decades to build Penn State football into a national powerhouse. It took a terrible scandal a couple of years to deconstruct what Paterno had built.

Nobody thought Bill O'Brien would spend decades coaching the Nittany Lions. That said, even the most jaded and world-weary observers probably thought he'd stay long enough to see the rising sophomores he inherited graduate.

He didn't. And the circumstances surrounding O'Brien's departure are almost certainly more troubling to Penn State's legion of followers than the fact that he is actually gone.

For starters, look where O'Brien is going, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.

Yes, O'Brien got a National Football League job. Just about.

The Houston Texans just finished a 2-14 season following two straight AFC South titles. Sure, the overall No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft is a real asset.

But most 2-14 teams are not one player or even one healthy draft away from playoff contention. Plus, Matt Schaub's implosion means Houston probably has to take a quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater?) at No. 1.

Those are the circumstances O'Brien looked at and affirmatively preferred to staying in Happy Valley for even one more season. Based on recent reporting from David Jones of the Patriot-News, it is pretty hard to blame O'Brien.

Jones published the following quote from O'Brien only after the coach revealed that he was leaving Penn State, out of respect to O'Brien and because, well, it would have triggered shock waves in State College and beyond:

You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a ---- what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.

Yeah, that does not sound like a happy employee. O'Brien went on: "I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty ----ing sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker."

So, to recap: O'Brien came to Penn State at the school's lowest point—not the football program's nadir, mind you, the lowest point in the history of the university—and did whatever the NCAA would permit him to do (after they took scholarships and bowl bids away) to keep Penn State competitive.

In gratitude, at least some portion of Penn State's football backers did not think O'Brien was doing enough, or doing it the right way.

That was Jones' own read of it in his column: "As perfect as Bill O’Brien was to lead Penn State’s football program at the time of his arrival, it’s now clear to me that it’s time for him to move on."

Cilches are a pox, but in this case there really is no other way to get this point across: Hey, Penn State, be careful what you wish for.

Because O'Brien's departure is the last shovel of dirt on the coffin that holds the Grand Experiment.

Bill O'Brien left Penn State for a nondescript NFL job. O'Brien is now likely to be replaced by some relatively anonymous guy, and then in a few years that guy will leave and some other guy will come, and so on until college football ceases to be.

Which makes Penn State football no more or less notable than, say, Arkansas football. Bret Bielema's hiring was a big story. Then it wasn't.

As long as O'Brien was head coach at Penn State, there was still a story to be told—the story of the man painstakingly rebuilding Penn State's football program brick by stubborn brick.

That story is over now. With the end of that story comes the new world order in State College where Penn State football is just another veneer-less program trying to win enough games to sneak into a bowl game.

So they are still Penn State. But they are not special.

Not anymore.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Why Irish's 2013 Season Was a Success

You would have questioned my sanity had I told you Notre Dame finishing 9-4 would be the mark of a successful 2013 campaign for the Irish one year ago at this time.

It never ceases to amaze how rapidly and significantly things change in the course of a calendar year, though.

Once fourth-year head coach Brian Kelly and his team capped a 29-16 victory against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City on Dec. 28, the final page was turned on what was an incredibly bumpy, tumultuous ride for the Irish that began with a 42-14 drubbing in last season's BCS National Championship at the hands of Alabama.

Despite that ugly result, Notre Dame's sole aspiration never wavered in the immediate aftermath.

"National title or bust" was the rallying cry of the program, and rightfully so, as quarterback Everett Golson and eight starters from a legendary defense were slated to return for the 2013 season.

While Kelly's brief flirtation with the Philadelphia Eagles and Manti Te'o's catfishing debacle created what felt like a endless vortex of negative sentiments, spirits remained high but were shredded and mashed like fruit in a blender when Golson was expelled from the university in May for what was later revealed to be cheating.

Without a mobile athlete at the quarterback position, it's tough sledding against quality competition, of which there is a tremendous amount year in and year out on Notre Dame schedules.

It's not a knock on former quarterback Tommy Rees; he did everything asked of him throughout his career, and the Irish would have found themselves in dire straits without his services this season (see the second half of this season's USC game).

Adding in the tempered expectations for the season following Golson's expulsion—national championship dreams transformed to last ditch efforts to simply qualify for a BCS bowl game—it's no secret that the quarterback position is the most influential of all organized sports.

Despite the overwhelming amount of criticism launched in Rees' general direction, the Lake Forest, Ill., native guided a Notre Dame offense that averaged approximately two more points per game than it did during last season's national championship run.

Sure, the offense wasn't as dynamic due to the inability to implement the zone read, but it was as productive as it possibly could have been given the circumstances.

But for all the talk regarding Rees' effect on the offense and 2013 season as a whole, he was far from the lone factor.

Even with those aforementioned returning starters from a defense that was one of the best in the country last season, the unit experienced a rather surprising regression, particularly against the run.

After resembling a steel curtain a year ago, the Irish defense was anything but during 2013, finishing 70th nationally in rushing defense while allowing 168 yards per game on the ground. Though it likely won't ever be verified, the losses of Te'o, safety Zeke Motta and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, three outstandingly influential leaders, seemed to have a negative effect on the 2013 defense.

When also considering the injuries the defense suffered this season, the Irish's 9-4 final record is even more impressive.

From a macro-perspective, that final result takes on an added significance.

Notre Dame played three BCS bowl teams: Stanford (Rose Bowl), Michigan State (Rose Bowl) and Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl). The Irish were 1-2 against that trio, with the lone victory arriving against the Spartans, who won the Big Ten Conference Championship Game, as well as Big Ten Conference's first Rose Bowl since the 2009 season.

Also worth noting are the Irish's victories against Arizona State and USC, two teams that finished ranked 14th and 25th, respectively, in the final BCS standings.

Fans and anyone else associated with the program can wonder "what if" as much as they'd like, but it won't change how the 2013 season played out. Either way you view it, the season was a success, even if 9-4 isn't your cup of tea.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Does Gator Bowl Victory Mean for Nebraska's Bo Pelini?

On New Year’s Day, Nebraska won the Gator Bowl, beating Georgia 24-19. In doing so, Nebraska ended a bowl drought that stretched back to the 2009 Holiday Bowl and gave this year’s senior class its first and only bowl victory. The win was an upset, as Nebraska was a nine-point underdog to Georgia.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s head coach, came into the Gator Bowl after surviving what many thought could have been his last game against Iowa. After a turbulent year that included Deadspin’s release of a profanity-laced audio tape where Pelini called Nebraska fans “fair-weather,” a series of ugly and mostly self-inflicted losses and a bizarre postgame press conference after the Iowa loss, few would have been surprised if athletic director Shawn Eichorst had taken Pelini up on his offer of “if they want to fire me, go ahead” (as reported by USA Today).

But Eichorst stuck with Pelini, a decision for which Pelini was clearly grateful in his postgame comments. And as Pelini stood in the Jacksonville rain, holding a trophy aloft and looking forward to “championships to come,” the question on the minds of many Nebraska fans was what exactly the bowl win meant for Pelini and for the Nebraska program as a whole.

What didn’t happen in the game stood out as much as what did. Against Michigan State and Iowa, Nebraska lost in large part because it turned the ball over. Against Georgia, Nebraska only had one turnover to the Bulldogs’ two. As a result—much like what Nebraska saw in reverse against the Spartans and the Hawkeyes—Nebraska was able to win the game despite being outgained by Georgia, 416-307.

But it was more than just turnovers. Despite the sloppy conditions, Nebraska had a relatively penalty-free game (six penalties for 50 yards). More importantly, Nebraska’s tackling was as good as it has been in recent memory. Because of this, the Blackshirts were able to contain Georgia tailback Todd Gurley to 86 yards on 21 carries. In comparison to Nebraska’s defense of other backs at the end of the season, the performance against Gurley—easily the most talented back Nebraska faced all year—is even more impressive:

 

Carries

Yards

Yards/Carry

Cobb (Minn.)

31

138

4.45

Langford (Mich. St.)

32

151

4.71

Zwinak (Penn St.)

35

149

4.26

Weisman (Iowa)

24

72

3.00

Gurley (UGA)

21

86

4.10

It’s one game, to be certain. But it does prove a point that a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst has made before: Nebraska is ready to win if Nebraska gets out of Nebraska’s way.

Winning the turnover battle. Winning (or, in this case, not losing) the special teams battle. Limiting penalties. Tackling well. The fundamentals of football that, at least for one soggy morning in Florida, Nebraska executed. As a result, the Big Ten notched a win over the vaunted SEC, and Nebraska won a game in which it was a nine-point underdog.

Is that what we will see in 2014? Has one good performance in a second-tier bowl righted the problems that have lingered in Lincoln for the last six years?

Obviously, such a sea change from one game would be far-fetched. But it is not unreasonable to think that the Gator Bowl performance could at least provide a model for Nebraska as it heads into the offseason.

Nebraska’s front seven on defense look imposing for next year. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong cushioned his lead for the upcoming quarterback battle with Johnny Stanton this spring. If I-back Ameer Abdullah decides to return for his senior season (which may be less of a sure thing after his Gator Bowl performance), he should be the backbone of an offense that possesses a number of exciting weapons.

There will be work to do in the offseason, of course. Nebraska will be replacing most of its offensive line, as well as key pieces of its secondary. While Nebraska’s return game didn’t hurt NU against Georgia, it certainly wasn’t a source of strength.

But the bigger question will be, mentally, how the coach and team handle adversity next season. The pressure of Pelini’s job status clearly wore on everybody, and it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that said pressure affected performance on the field. Particularly against Iowa, between the hat swipe 15-yard penalty on Pelini and the mind-boggling fake punt call that helped turn the game, actions taken under pressure by Pelini and company helped dig a hole from which Nebraska could not emerge.

Those difficulties and challenges will arise again in 2014. If Pelini reverts to form and some version of “Coach Chickenbleep” makes an appearance, then a repeat of previous seasons—four losses, struggling to win a division and no conference title—is a reasonable expectation.

But the Gator Bowl performance provides a model for something different. And if Pelini, now in year seven at the helm in Lincoln, is able to build off that performance and capture some of that long-awaited consistency and stability, 2014 may very well be something special for Nebraska fans.

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AJ McCarron's Interception Results in a Katherine Webb Struggle Face

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron tied a career high by throwing his second interception in the first half of the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, and his girlfriend Katherine Webb did not look pleased.

She wasn't the only person who was stunned by Alabama's performance. These girls look pretty upset. 

No one looks happy here. 

He's just hanging his head in disgust. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 4 Culture Changes the Next Head Coach Must Prioritize

As the Texas Longhorns narrow their list of head coaching candidates, the changes that Mack Brown's successor must prioritize have become apparent.

The 'Horns need a culture change. They have gone from a perennial contender on the national scene to a them that has lost its edge and become accustomed to mediocrity. An uncompetitive 30-7 loss to Oregon serves as the latest example of this regression.

The Longhorns can be labeled as soft and complacent. They can be accused of paying more attention to the country's perception of them than what they actually do on the field.

The next man up, whoever he may be, has to change all of that. 

 

The Perception That Texas is Soft

Between last season's rash of missed tackles and getting pushed around in five losses this season, Texas has earned a reputation for being soft. That is not a quality shared amongst winning programs.

The notion that the Longhorns lack toughness may not be new, as B/R's Lisa Horne points out, but it's undeniable at this point. The 'Horns lost all five of their games this season by 19 or more points, including the infamous 40-21 drubbing in which BYU ran up 550 rushing yards.

Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel wrote a scathing profile of the program's ignominious label. In it, he cites NFL scouts that have stated they perceive a "spoiled mentality" from Texas' athletes as well as a "'country club atmosphere." 

If that's the case, it is little surprise that Texas will finish outside the Top 25 for the third time in four years. It is even less surprising that the Longhorns have not had an offensive lineman, a position that requires true toughness, go in the first round since 2002.

The next Texas coach has to work on changing this perception from his first day on the job. If the Longhorns are going to make a return to the top, they have to bring the same edge that teams have brought against them on a weekly basis.

 

The Head Coach Being a CEO

Mack Brown has been called a CEO throughout his tenure at Texas, troubling himself more with the off-field product than his team's Saturday showings. The next guy has to be all about the game.

Between the Longhorn Network and other significant media obligations, Brown came off as more of a manager than an Xs and Os football coach. It was all fine and dandy when he was reeling off nine 10-win seasons in row, but hard to justify when you're 30-21 over your last four seasons.

This is an area in which the entire athletic department has to bend. In the arms race that is modern college football, the head coach's first and foremost priority must be producing wins. Patterson and the rest of the university have to make it clear that football will come first, second and third before the media.

Being the most popular guy in the game is nice, but never at the expense of valuable preparation time.

 

The Expectation That Texas Will Win No Matter What

Fans expect Texas to win, and players at Texas should expect to win every game they play. That confidence is appropriate until it becomes entitlement, which the Longhorns have displayed in recent years.

How else do you describe a team that was down 7-0 to New Mexico State, which has not played in a bowl since 1960, at home? What else would explain the lack of urgency in the aforementioned BYU game?

The answer is that the Longhorns felt they just had to show up. Instead of coming out swinging, they trusted their overall superior talent to carry them.

Those expectations and misguided self-perceptions need to be squashed. Texas' next head coach has to have his guys playing their hardest on every snap, even if it means bullying a lesser program. Playing at half-speed does nobody any favors.

 

The Continued Failure to Take Advantage of Talent

According to Rivals.com, the Texas Longhorns produced a top-five recruiting class every year between 2009 and 2012. However, Texas is just 30-21 with only two first-round picks since 2010.

Is the discrepancy between wins and recruited talent the result of bringing in the wrong players? Former safety Kenny Vaccaro thinks so, telling the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "I think the mentality at Texas isn't where it needs to right now."

Perhaps Vaccaro is right, as Texas has failed to mine its considerable, nationwide talent base. Mack Brown wanted Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III to play defensive back, and he never returned Jameis Winston's calls. As you know, all three are now Heisman Trophy winners for other programs.

The problem could also be that recruits aren't seeing results. Former 5-star quarterback Garrett Gilbert regressed at Texas, and the lack of high draft picks has not acquitted the program of any fault.

The Longhorns' next head coach has to turn talent into both wins and first-round picks. Doing less with more is not acceptable at Texas.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Vad Lee Reportedly Will Transfer from Georgia Tech

It's one and done for Vad Lee. After what was his first season as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback, the sophomore reportedly plans to transfer.

According to Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

After one season as a starter, Georgia Tech quarterback will transfer, according to a person close to the team who is familiar with Lee’s decision.

Lee, a redshirt sophomore, will have two years of eligibility remaining. Tech completed its season Monday at the Music City Bowl, where the Yellow Jackets lost 25-17 to Ole Miss. Rivals website first reported Lee’s planning to transfer earlier Thursday.

Back when Lee committed to the Yellow Jackets out of high school, it seemed a great fit. He's an athletic quarterback—the exact kind of player Paul Johnson would need for his triple-option offense.

Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out, and the triple option has become the main reason why Lee is transferring, per ESPN's Joe Schad.

GT QB Vad Lee said he will transfer. "The triple option was never really my thing," Lee said.

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 3, 2014

According to Pack Pride, this decision could have stemmed from Georgia Tech's inability to adapt the offense more to his style.

Wish Vad Lee the best at his next school. Remember during his recruiment he commented that GT said they were changing the offense.

— Pack Pride (@PackPride) January 3, 2014

During his only season as the starting QB, Lee threw for 1,561 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 45.6 percent passing. He also ran for 513 yards and eight touchdowns.

It will be interesting to see where Lee lands next. If he moves to another FBS school, he'll have to sit out another season, which means he'll be a senior the next time he steps on the field. He may not want to burn a year of eligibility, so perhaps an FCS school is the better option for the former Yellow Jacket.

Depending on your opinion of Lee, this could be good news. The Yellow Jackets have a plethora of young quarterbacks who will be vying for the starting job in 2014. Kelly Quinlan of JacketsOnline.com noted which players have a shot.

Expecting a wide open #GaTech QB competition this spring with Lee out of the mix. Justin Thomas, Tim Byerly, Ty Griffin and Matt Jordan.

— Kelly Quinlan (@Kelly_Quinlan) January 3, 2014

Only time will tell if Lee made the right decision and whether or not Georgia Tech will be better off without him.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Is 2014 a Make-or-Break Year for Mark Richt ?

Mark Richt has been through this before.

After going through a season full of disappointment, the Bulldogs are expected to be much better in 2014. Richt went through this after the 2010 season when Georgia went 6-7 and bounced back to win 10 games in 2011.

But the expectations for this team next season will be high despite not having Aaron Murray. So the question is: Will 2014 be a make-or-break year for Richt?

The loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl was a really early preview of what the 2014 season could be. The Bulldogs did not play particularly well, but there are some things to take away from the loss.

It starts with Todd Gurley, who had 86 rushing yards and 97 receiving yards against the Cornhuskers. Gurley was not 100 percent, but he was still the most valuable player for the Bulldogs. He will be back along with a healthy Keith Marshall.

Also, the receiving corps will be healthy and ready to go. It’s uncertain if Malcolm Mitchell will return for his senior season, but Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley should return and make the unit very strong.

Three offensive linemen will not return in 2014, but with a slew of reserves that saw a lot of action in 2013, the unit will be experienced and should have no issues coming together quickly.

As for the defense, nearly all but one starter will return next season. They struggled in 2013, especially the secondary, but the group will be more mature and not make the mistakes they made this past season.

Hutson Mason benefited from starting in the final two games of the season. Mason was solid in both but still has room for improvement. He will have a lot of time to be even better than he was in the Georgia Tech and Nebraska games. And he will need to be because Clemson comes to Athens to start the season.

Speaking of the schedule, the Bulldogs will not only face Clemson, they will also have road trips to South Carolina and Missouri, as well as a home battle with Auburn. Those are three swing games that could determine the Bulldogs' fate.

It’s clear that Richt will have his work cut out for him, but the talent is there on both sides of the roster to overcome the competition. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, there is no reason they can’t win 10 games.

Mark Richt doesn't want to talk about next year. But his players, with justification, are expecting "big things." http://t.co/dtJQJsSbfl

— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) December 29, 2013

But the fans want more. They want to see this team win the SEC and have a chance to play for a national championship instead of coming up short when it matters most.

This is not to say that Richt will be fired or on the hot seat if things go south next season, but there has to be a realization that if there is no improvement and the Bulldogs make the same mistakes, the fans, alumni and supporters will not be happy with the state of the program.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Under Armour All-America Game 2014: Top 7 Outstanding Performers

So, there you have it folks. The 2014 Under Armour All-America Game is in the books, and it was another fantastic contest that featured a lot of future stars.

While every player invited to the game will have his chance to shine in college, a couple recruits stood out from the rest tonight. Also, keep in mind that all-star games do not spend a lot of attention focused on the offensive line and interior portion of the defensive line.

Yet, a pair of 5-star defensive ends were monsters during the game. Also, a pair of 5-star running backs shined bright, while an underrated quarterback played well on the big stage.

 

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: 4 Best Moments of 2013

The UCLA Bruins (10-3) had plenty of quality moments in 2013. 

For one, the victory over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl gave UCLA its first 10-win season in nearly a decade. Fans of the Bruins were able to watch multiple true freshmen make their proverbial marks on the season. One in particular has the look of a future NFL star. 

Whether it was important victories or emotional circumstances, 2013 was a year to remember for the Bruins. 

The four most prominent moments from the 2013 season are highlighted in this piece. While all important, these remembrances rank from least memorable to most impactful. 

Take a look and enjoy. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: 4 Best Moments of 2013

The UCLA Bruins (10-3) had plenty of quality moments in 2013. For one, the victory over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl gave UCLA its first 10-win season in nearly a decade...

Begin Slideshow

USC Football Recruiting: Jordan Poland Reportedly Decommits from USC

Offensive lineman and 4-star recruit Jordan Poland decommited from USC and flipped to the University of Arizona on Thursday evening, according to Scout.com's Jason Scheer:

Greg Biggins of Rivals.com elaborated on the situation. Poland was supposed to be an early enrollee at USC, but grades appear to have been a holdup. 

With the loss of Poland, Steve Sarkisian has just four offensive linemen in the class of 2014. The coach noted in December that the O-line had been hit the hardest by depth issues and thus was an area of emphasis during recruiting.

Expect the Trojans to recruit 5-star offensive guard Damien Mama and 4-star offensive tackle Casey Tucker even harder now that Poland is out of the mix. 

With Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn, Chris Brown and Jordan Austin still aligned with Troy, USC is still in good shape as far as its future O-line talent is concerned. But if shoring up depth is still the priority, landing either Mama or Tucker will be critical on national signing day. Mama is still considered a USC lean, while Tucker might be more of a stretch as the recruiting trail heats up. 

As USC's O-line stands now, it looks like a shadow of its former self. In 2011, the Trojans' front line was stout; since then, it has struggled to provide adequate protection, especially in passing situations. In 2013, Cody Kessler was sacked an astounding 30 times. 

For a complete look at USC's recruiting class and the latest news and updates, click here.


Follow me on Twitter: @TreniseFerreira

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: Jordan Poland Reportedly Decommits from USC

Offensive lineman and 4-star recruit Jordan Poland decommited from USC and flipped to the University of Arizona on Thursday evening, according to Scout.com's Jason Scheer: Greg Biggins of Rivals...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Troy Football Player Jadarius Garner Found Dead at the Age of 20

Troy Trojans sophomore defensive end Jadarius Garner passed away on Thursday, Jan. 2. He was 20 years old.

Garner's body was found on U.S. Highway 61 in Mississippi, three miles south of Oreilly.

Per the Associated Press:

Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Anthony Dunn said that the 20-year-old Garner was found lying on U.S. Highway 61 in Bolivar County at 2:27 a.m. after two cars had run over him.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Trojans head coach Larry Blakeney addressed the news in a statement via Troy's official site:

This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to Jadarius' family in this time of grief. Jadarius was a well-respected member of our football team and his loss will be felt by all of us.

Troy offensive lineman and Garner's teammate Caleb Carbine offered his condolences to Garner's family:

RIP Jadarius "G" Garner. Terrible news. Trojan family is praying for you and your family

— Caleb Carbine (@caleb_carbine) January 2, 2014

Garner was fresh off what was a productive second season at the school. He had joined the Trojans following a short spell at Jones County Community College, per the AP. He graduated from Clarksdale High School, which isn't far from where his body was found by police.    

After redshirting last year, Garner appeared in all of Troy's 12 games during the 2013 college football season. He made 21 total tackles, including seven tackles for loss and three sacks.

He earned Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 9, following a strong performance against Savannah State. Garner had seven tackles, three of which were for a loss, and two sacks. He also forced fumbles with each of the two sacks.

The Trojans went on to win 66-3, due in large part to how much of a force Garner was defensively.

After such a strong 2013, there's little doubt that the Garner would have had a bigger role in the defense come 2014.

A cause of death has yet to be determined. The AP report states that Mississippi state police were responding to what they thought was a two-car accident, only to find Garner's body.

The autopsy will hopefully provide some further details on this terrible tragedy.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages