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Under Armour All-American Game: 6 Things We Learned from Contest

It's never good to jump to football conclusions based on one game, but the Under Armour All-American Game offers a unique opportunity to see high school's best recruits all take the field at once.

Most of the BCS' major programs were represented at the game, with participants committed to teams ranging from Alabama to Arizona.

When the dust settled, we were left with a few takeaways from an interesting showcase.

Watch out for the following players, among others, over the next few years in the NCAA.

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Clint Chelf Falters Again on Big Stage, Costs Cowboys Game

If success was somehow awarded in gut punches, Oklahoma State would be the undisputed king of college football and quarterback Clint Chelf would be the Heisman Trophy winner. 

For having 10 wins, perhaps no team lost more heartbreakers in 2013 than the Cowboys. The Pokes were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl when Oklahoma connected on a game-winning touchdown in the Bedlam rivalry to end the season. An end-of-game fumble returned for a touchdown resulted in the Sooners winning 33-24, but the damage was done. 

Oklahoma would go to the Sugar Bowl with an at-large berth, stunning Alabama 45-31; Oklahoma State watched its conference title hopes slip away. 

The Cowboys also dropped a head-scratcher of a game to West Virginia, 30-21, in September. A mixture of turnovers and special teams blunders for Oklahoma State contributed to the loss, and the Mountaineers (4-8) won just one game the rest of the season. 

Similarly, a series of mistakes cost the Pokes in a 41-31 loss to Missouri on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl. 

Chelf threw two picks and lost a fumble with under a minute remaining, which was returned 73 yards by Mizzou's Shane Ray for the game-sealing touchdown. Chelf played well in the second half of the regular season, highlighted by the 49-17 win over Baylor in November, but he's had his share of turnover issues as well. 

Against the Tigers, one Chelf interception came on an ill-advised throw on the run when he could have scrambled for positive yards. He also missed a few wide open receivers, including Josh Stewart on a fake bubble screen. 

Though the Cowboys finished with 548 yards, things didn't really pick up until the fourth quarter. That's when Chelf and running back Desmond Roland found success in the ground game. As has been the case in the past couple of months, when OSU's offense was able to run the ball, the rest of the offense opened up and the points followed. 

For the majority of the game, though, the Pokes were stagnant on offense. Roland had a hard time getting going—head coach Mike Gundy briefly switched to Jeremy Smith and Rennie Childs to try to find a spark—and Chelf couldn't find open receivers. 

Then, there was 34-yard field goal that kicker Ben Grogan missed as the kick bounced squarely off the top of the right goal post. Though the placement of the ball is actually quite impressive in retrospect and probably could never be duplicated on another try, the fact remains it counted for nothing. 

For what it's worth, Oklahoma State committed a delay of game penalty which moved the attempt to 34 yards from 29. 

The Cowboys, who rank tied for 90th in the country in penalties per game, also racked up 100 penalties yards on 10 infractions. Fifteen of those yards came on a defensive pass interference call that wiped out a pick-six by Tyler Patmon for the Pokes. 

"I felt as if both guys were competing for the ball,” head coach Mike Gundy said via The Oklahoman. “I didn't really see the pass interference.” 

It's hard to point to just a few things that decided the game, but the combination of Grogan's missed field goal, the negated pick-six and Chelf's fumble inside the Mizzou 30-yard line are three events that really hurt the Cowboys. 

The miscues certainly weren't limited to Oklahoma State, however. The Tigers had three turnovers of their own. It wasn't a particularly clean game. But, in that vein, the Cowboys have been one of the best teams in college football in forcing turnovers, ranking fourth in turnover margin.

Known for offense and big plays, Oklahoma State actually relied on its defense in 2013. First-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has coached up one of the best defensive groups in Stillwater, if not the best, in recent memory. The Pokes were especially good at two things: swarming to the ball and taking it away. 

Highlighted by cornerback and Thorpe finalist Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State's defense, especially its secondary, could play with anyone, anytime, anywhere. 

Friday night, Oklahoma State's defense played well enough to win despite giving up 34 points. It's definitely odd that, in a year when Oklahoma State's defense consistently played at an elite level, its offense didn't. 

It's that backwards narrative which could make 2013, a season of what-ifs, even more gut-wrenching for Oklahoma State. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oh What a Night, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl Give Us Best Night of Bowl Season

Friday night was an evening built for multiple televisions, a full fridge and an extra set of eyeballs. And if you were functioning with only one screen at your disposal, hopefully your remote-control skills was up to par.

This was, without question, the most exciting, most exhausting night of the college football bowl season. There were 147 points in 120 minutes and 2,013 combined yards, a strange, gargantuan and fitting tribute to the year that was. 

The action at the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl was relentless, chaotic and a pleasurable conundrum to have in terms of viewing options. Starting these two prestigious bowls at nearly the exact same time didn’t seem like the brightest idea as the night fired up.

In the end, however, it worked out brilliantly. 

The Cotton Bowl was the first game to kick off, but it was also the last to finish. This was a product of a rough start, as early returns were not for the faint of heart for either Missouri or Oklahoma State.

Offensively, both teams struggled. It got better, though, much better.

After sputtering through the better part of three quarters, the fourth quarter morphed into a touchdown buffet. The two teams combined to score 41 points in the final 15 minutes, although the last seven proved to be the most significant.

With Oklahoma State down just three and driving with a little more than a minute left in the game, the Cowboys looked poised to tie up the game or take the lead, but linebacker Michael Sam knocked the ball out of quarterback Clint Chelf’s hands. 

Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray grabbed the ball and took it 73 yards the other way.

This play locked up a thrilling 41-31 win for the Tigers, capping off an unexpected season for a team that was nowhere near the radar of most college football fans before the season began. This, of course, called for a little celebratory dancing from the team's head coach.

While it would have been enough in and of itself, the Cotton Bowl finish was just a nightcap. Getting there included the Orange Bowl conclusion, a game that reached emotional swing capacity.

Like the Cotton Bowl, it didn't come with the best of starts. The night felt like it would be over early, as Clemson jumped out of the gates fast and showed no signs of slowing down. Ohio State battled, however, and two second-quarter Braxton Miller touchdowns gave the Buckeyes the lead at half.

From there, Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins went to work, playing in what was likely his final collegiate game. Watkins finished with 16 catches for 227 yards and two scores, one of which was a pretty 30-yard score late in the third quarter.

Despite Watkins' incredible evening, the Buckeyes were able to respond time and again. Running back Carlos Hyde caught a touchdown to put Ohio State ahead in the fourth. Clemson then regained the lead five minutes later on a Tajh Boyd touchdown pass.

After Miller fumbled on a tough hit—a theme throughout the evening—Ohio State gave the ball back to Clemson with only a few minutes remaining. Only then, Boyd gave the ball back to the Buckeyes with his second interception of the game, giving OSU a chance to win with less than two minutes on the clock.

Only Miller gave it back to Clemson one final time, throwing his second interception of the night and thus ending the shootout. When it was all said and done, and the final bit of momentum was swung in the Tigers direction, Clemson bested Ohio State 40-35.

The "Clemsoning" alarm was silenced.

Head coach Dabo Swinney celebrated the victory slightly different from Gary Pinkle, although the results were equally as impressive. Swinney, often times a verbal jab partner with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, unleashed this trolling fury with his postgame remarks:

Dabo says during #OrangeBowl trophy presentation "we're the only team from South Carolina to win a BCS game."

— ESPN ACC (@ESPN_ACC) January 4, 2014

All of the action: the fantastic plays, the fantastic players, the mistakes, the points, the destruction and the trolling occurred during one brilliant evening of football.

This is why you watch, hoping to see the game’s best players perform on the biggest stages imaginable and maybe something unexpected along the way. Rarely, however, do these performances coincide with tight games, and rarely are we treated to multiple showings at once. 

The bowl season can be a mixed bag, often times delivering blowouts and a lack of competitive moments. That has not been the case in recent days, although Friday night’s action somehow topped it all. 

Perhaps the final BCS National Championship will top this remote workout, although it certainly has its work cut out for it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kony Ealy Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Kony Ealy is striking while the iron is hot. He declared for the 2014 NFL draft on Friday, Jan. 3, following the Missouri Tigers' 41-31 Cotton Bowl win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys, per Matthew Fairburn of the Missourian:

The junior defensive end felt the time was right, per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

It's hard to blame Ealy too much, as he was a force for Missouri on Friday night in Arlington, displaying a strong variety of moves to shed blocks and finding himself in the Oklahoma State backfield on most downs.

Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller couldn't stop raving about the player during the game:

In his most recent mock draft, Miller had Ealy going at No. 11 to the Tennessee Titans. He wrote:

Missouri's Kony Ealy will draw comparisons to Aldon Smith, and they aren't far off. Ealy is long but has strength on his 275-pound frame to attack blockers, runners and passers. He's also versatile enough to play outside the tackle, head-up or even inside as a three-technique on passing downs. That type of do-it-all pass-rusher is what the Titans desperately need next to Jurrell Casey.

The sky appears to be the limit for Ealy, and now that he's declared, he can focus all of his attention on boosting his draft stock.

While he's never going to supplant Jadeveon Clowney as the top defensive end on the board, he can at least work his way into the top 10 and maybe even better than that. The Cotton Bowl has positioned him perfectly heading into the NFL Scouting Combine and Missouri's pro day.

If you haven't watched much film of Ealy before Friday night, make sure to check out some of his highlights because you're going to hear his name a lot in the coming months. This is a player who will likely make an immediate impact when he reaches the NFL.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

It wasn't a BCS bowl game, but you couldn't tell that from the massive crowd and the on-field intensity seen during Friday night's Cotton Bowl between Missouri and Oklahoma State.

After nearly three quarters of defense controlling the tempo, the offense exploded for both sides, with Missouri coming out on top, 41-31. More than 72,000 people attended the game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the old Big 12 rivals made up for lost time with a classic battle.

So much happened in this game we could write about it forever (please don't make us do that!), but here's what we think are the 10 most important things we learned from the 2014 Cotton Bowl.

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Orange Bowl 2014: Has Urban Meyer Lost Big-Game Edge?

Everything was going Urban Meyer's way to start his career at Ohio State. He was 24-0, and it appeared that no one could beat his Buckeyes from the Big Ten. 

Two games later and two Top 15 teams have now come out victorious over his Buckeyes, as Clemson beat OSU, 40-35, in the Orange Bowl on Friday night.

Meyer is now on a two-game losing streak after seemingly doing no wrong during the Buckeyes' 24-game win streak. 

How the last two losses have happened—questionable play-calling on offense and a lack of taking advantage of opportunities—have some questioning if the magic of Meyer in big games is gone. 

For as much as the past two games matter, it's not just those losses that give us clues that Meyer's big-game edge may have slipped. 

If you go in the way-back machine and enter 2010, you see the big-game edge crumbling in his final season at the University of Florida. That team went 8-5 on the year and just 4-4 in SEC play.

More importantly, Meyer's Gators went 0-4 against Top 25 teams that season, and a negative trend was being set.

Perhaps that was the beginning of the end for the legend of Meyer as nearly invincible, especially coming off a loss in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

Yet, there was no questioning Meyer's Buckeyes during the 24-game win streak, as they went 5-0 against Top 25 teams. 

However, those were just regular-season games, and when championships and BCS games were on the line for the first time, the Buckeyes let every opportunity slip through their fingers.

In the Big Ten title game it was scoring 24 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead, only to see Miller and the offense sputter out in the fourth quarter and the defense get gashed for 17 unanswered points for the 34-24 loss to Michigan State. 

On Friday night in the Orange Bowl, it was a lack of an ability to score when Clemson made mistakes that cost them dearly. 

It started early on, after getting a safety and pulling the game to 14-9, the Buckeyes went three-and-out on the following possession. Opportunity No. 1 missed. 

Early in the second quarter, Clemson was knocking on the door for a touchdown to make the game 21-9. Then Ohio State freshman safety Vonn Bell made a great pick at the 1-yard line. What happened next? 

You guessed it—another Ohio State three-and-out and a chance to take the lead gone. Opportunity No. 2 missed. 

Fast forward to the last two minutes of the game and Ohio State is down 40-35, needing a defensive stop like yesterday. They got just that courtesy of a C.J. Barnett interception of Tajh Boyd and a return inside Clemson territory with 1:27 left in the game. 

Two plays later and Braxton Miller badly misses a receiver in the post and it winds up in the hands of Clemson's Stephone Anthony. Opportunity No. 3 missed, and game over.

In both of the losses, Ohio State was given every opportunity it needed or hoped for, and nearly every time it couldn't come through in the clutch. 

That's unlike the Meyer teams of the past. Heading into this year, Meyer had lost just one conference championship game his teams played in and was 7-1 in bowl/national championship games. 

Even the conference championship game situation suggests that Meyer's big-game edge is slipping. He's currently on a two-game losing streak in that department, losing to Alabama in 2009 and Michigan State this season. 

It all leads to Meyer being just 5-6 against ranked opponents in the past three years.

Panicking over two games, however important they are, may seem a bit crazy—but when you're Meyer and expectations are Big Ten titles at a minimum and national titles preferably, losing the first two cracks at big games doesn't cut it. 

Meyer will have plenty of time to correct the current trend, but losing a few more big games on the national stage will certainly make the folks in Columbus more than unhappy. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2014: Who Would Have Thought Missouri Would Carry the Torch for SEC?

Missouri just put the cherry on top of a delicious treat that was the 2013 season with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Not only did the win give the program 12 wins for the first time since 2007, but it showed folks that the Tigers are legit. The victory also comes just one day after Alabama fell apart in the BCS Sugar Bowl. 

Only two seasons in the conference, Missouri is keeping the SEC winning tradition alive and doing its part in silencing those critics who can't wait to scream how overrated the conference is every chance they get. 

Who would have thought?

The same team that was treated like a red-headed stepchild last season and often looked down upon for even thinking it could play in the big-boy conference, is now truly one of the big boys and doing a lot of the conference's dirty work. 

The SEC really took a hit after the Crimson Tide lost in upset, embarrassing fashion to the Sooners. Fans from other conferences finally witnessed the giant fall and were out in the streets beating their chest like King Kong. It was finally a glimpse of hope that maybe parity in college football actually does exist. And after the season the SEC had, it's tough to blame those rabid fans.

Georgia and Florida both took a major step back this season. With a combination of freak injuries, poor execution and just bizarre losses, two teams that were expected to compete for an SEC East title finished the season with a combined record of 12-13.

Texas A&M proved it has serious flaws defensively, ranking 96th in the country in points allowed. The Aggies lost four regular-season games, including losing the last two, and nearly lost to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. A 9-4 season in the SEC West is still nothing to sneeze at, but this year should still be considered a letdown given the expectations heading into the season.

LSU lost to Ole Miss, was destroyed by Alabama and needed all four quarters to put away Iowa in the Outback Bowl. With Alabama losing back-to-back games and a BCS bowl for only the second time in Nick Saban's career, the SEC titans were finally showing some weaknesses. Even with an overall 6-2 record in bowl games, the conference didn't have the same feel as it usually does.

If Missouri had lost to Oklahoma State, the Internet may have crashed. And crazy enough, the offense tried everything it could to give that game away by turning the ball over three times. Supporters of other conferences would have really been doing back flips and trolling on Twitter. But like much of the season, Missouri held its own and had the SEC's back.

It's time the rest of the conference returns the favor. After all, Missouri has quickly adopted the conference's winning tradition, while the fans have done their part as well:

It's crazy to think that a couple of years ago a matchup between Missouri and Oklahoma State would have been a typical conference meeting in the Big 12. Friday night, it was a statement game for Missouri, as well as the conference as a whole. 

Auburn will have a chance to do the same Monday night against Florida State in the national championship. But for now, the Missouri Tigers continue to earn their stripes as they are carrying the torch and doing their part in keeping the SEC alive and well. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Sammy Watkins Reminds NFL Scouts How Special He Is

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd turned in an impressive performance against Ohio State in the Tigers' 40-35 Orange Bowl victory, throwing for 378 yards and five touchdowns. However, it was his go-to receiver, Sammy Watkins, who stole the show and reminded the nation why he is one of the best wide receivers in the game.

Watkins has put up big numbers for the bulk of 2013, there's a reason the junior was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in December. He entered the game with 85 catches, 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Then, in the Orange Bowl, things came together for Watkins against a depleted and hapless Ohio State secondary.

Clemson's star receiver posted 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns on the way to breaking and then setting a new Orange Bowl receiving record.

Watkins' effort was tremendous against the Buckeyes, but there were some who doubted him after lackluster performances in the Tigers' two losses this season. He totaled 15 catches for 161 yards and just a single touchdown in those games. But on Friday—playing in the Orange Bowl and on the big stage—he got a chance to put any worries about him to bed, and did just that.

Yet for Watkins and his Clemson teammates, this game was about more than just capping off the 2013 campaign. In the Orange Bowl following the 2011 season, Clemson was boat-raced by West Virginia, 70-33, with Watkins posting five catches to the tune of 66 yards and one touchdown. Against Ohio State, the junior redeemed himself for the shortcomings of his freshman bowl appearance.

As expected, the speedy Watkins showed that there are few better than him when it comes to getting vertical down the field and taking the top off the defense. No. 2 can fly, and he showed that against a the Ohio State defense.

In addition to the speed, Watkins' steady diet of bubble screens allowed him to display the shifty, stop-and-start quality that makes him so dangerous in the open field. Watkins also showed an ability that he rarely is forced to display: he's capable of making tough catches in traffic. Ordinarily, Watkins blows the top off the defense and is so open, he makes clean catches without worry. Here, against Ohio State, he shows he too can climb the ladder and make the clutch grab.

Watkins is still working on becoming a complete receiver. His success in the Orange Bowl—and at Clemson in general—came from working out of the slot, using motion and being stacked with other receivers to help him avoid press coverage. At the next level, he'll have to prove that more physical coverage does not limit him from making plays. However, as it stands now, B/R's top draft analyst, Matt Miller, views Watkins as one of the top instant impact players in the 2014 draft.

The junior had a big game in his home state of Florida and his showing in the Orange Bowl served as a true reminder that he'll be a hot commodity at the next level. With Watkins expected to declare for the NFL Draft, the productive outing in Miami Gardens will not be lost upon scouts.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma State vs. Missouri: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Cotton Bowl

The eighth-ranked Missouri Tigers concluded one of the best seasons in program history with a 41-31 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday, Jan. 3, per USA Today Sports:

The thrilling back-and-forth matchup was highlighted by a fourth-quarter explosion that saw a combined 41 points scored between the two former Big 12 rivals.

Surprisingly, both offenses started slow in the opening quarter, as a James Franklin interception on Mizzou's opening drive gave way to three consecutive punts, per Fox Sports columnist David Ubben.

Following a turnover on downs for the Tigers, Oklahoma State returned the favor with a Clint Chelf interception on the very next play, setting the tone for what would ultimately be a first-half defensive struggle.

Much to the delight of Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel, the Tigers would capitalize on the excellent field position created by E.J. Gaines' turnover, marching 50 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

The game's first scoring drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Henry Josey. 

However, the Cowboys would answer immediately, covering 75 yards in just over 70 seconds to even things up. The big play on the crucial drive was Chelf's 40-yard touchdown pass to Josh Stewart, who ran uncovered down the middle of the field. 

After more struggles from Franklin and a missed field-goal attempt by Oklahoma State's Ben Grogan, Pinkel would roll out Maty Mauk at quarterback to help spark the Tigers' offense. The bold move would pay off right away for Mizzou as the freshman reeled off a pair of big runs, per The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison, and found Marcus Lucas for the go-ahead touchdown from 24 yards out in the second quarter.

Following a pair of stalled drives for the Cowboys, Mizzou would engineer a successful two-minute drill resulting in a successful Andrew Baggett field goal at the halftime horn.

Although the Tigers led 17-7 at the break, the halftime numbers for Mizzou's offense were head-scratching to say the least, per Morrison:

Both defenses would continue to steal the show in the third quarter until a poor exchange between Franklin and Josey resulted in a key turnover. The Cowboys, who began the third quarter with three straight punts and an interception, would take over at Mizzou's 33-yard line before finally showing signs of life on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Chelf to Jhajuan Seales that would make it 17-14, Tigers.

In response to the pivotal error, Pinkel would send Mauk back out for the following drive. But a quick three-and-out saw Franklin back on the field to start the fourth quarter.

A few plays later, Franklin made another costly error, pitching the ball to a covered teammate on an option play that resulted in another fumble. The Cowboys would recover just 11 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown.

Mizzou's defense would deliver a massive stop, but Grogan's chip-shot field goal was enough to tie things up at 17 points apiece. 

Both offenses decided to wake up at that point.

Sensing the game was starting to slip away, Franklin and the Tigers offense responded on their ensuing possession, driving 60 yards in six plays to take the lead on an explosive 25-yard touchdown run from Josey, per Morrison: 

But Chelf and company would go 75 yards in less than two minutes to tie the game for a third time. The senior quarterback showed off his jets on the game-tying 23-yard touchdown run.

Tragedy struck just moments later for Oklahoma State, though, as a controversial defensive pass interference penalty would negate a pick-six for the Cowboys, per Stillwater NewsPress' Jason Elmquist: 

As a result of the blown call, Mizzou's drive continued before Baggett put the Tigers ahead 27-24 with a career-long 46-yard field goal. 

After the two teams traded touchdowns yet again, a Shane Ray 73-yard fumble return touchdown would seal the deal for the Tigers, who closed the game on a 14-0 run. Michael Sam made the play on Chelf and Ray had the presence of mind to scoop up the ball and run it all the way back.

While the Cowboys end the season having lost two in a row, the win is Missouri's 12th on the season and ties 2013 for the Tigers' best season in program history. Pinkel led them to a 12-2 mark back in 2007 in a season that also concluded with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

Pinkel celebrated the win with his team in excellent fashion:

Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides these quotes from Pinkel:

Key Player Grades

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: C-

Although Franklin didn't get a ton of help from his receivers on Friday, his struggles (15 of 40 for 174 yards and an interception) were awfully surprising given his impressive play in recent matchups with Auburn and Texas A&M.

Whether it was Oklahoma State's defensive pressure, jitters playing in his final game close to home or a combination of both, Franklin was a shell of himself on Friday night. Fortunately, he still closed out his college career with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Clint Chelf, QB, Oklahoma State: B

Cowboys signal-caller Clint Chelf certainly made his fair share of mistakes on Friday, but he did account for three of Oklahoma State's touchdowns and managed to outshine Franklin throughout the night. Not to mention he played fearless down the stretch, taking shots and putting his body on the line.

Unfortunately, his late fumble in game-tying field-goal range is the play he'll remember most.

 

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A

Henry Josey will likely be wondering why he didn't get more than 13 touches on Friday. Nonetheless, the dynamic rusher made the most of his limited opportunities against the Cowboys, racking up 102 total yards and scoring three touchdowns on a night when the Tigers' aerial attack was almost nonexistent.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

When Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly after last season's Fiesta Bowl, he did a fabulous job of not only keeping the Ducks' 2013 recruiting class together but adding even more talent to it...

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Clemson vs. Ohio State: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Orange Bowl

Urban Meyer is going to need a lot of pizza.

In an up-and-down game that had both sides' fanbases on the edge of their seats throughout, the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2) fell, 40-35, to the No. 12 Clemson Tigers (11-2) in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made sure to make a not-so-subtle dig at South Carolina after the game.

With the superb quality of both offenses and a plethora of deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball for Clemson and OSU, it was no surprise that this game turned into a shootout. The purists may not have liked it, but watching the Tigers and Buckeyes score one touchdown after another made for a thrilling affair.

It was a fitting end to the collegiate career of Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd, who is graduating, accounted for six total touchdowns in the game, five coming the way of the pass. Boyd's favorite target on Friday and this season, Sammy Watkins, is also expected to leave Clemson by making himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

Watkins, in particular, was fantastic all game. Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris did a great job of running a lot of screens that allowed Watkins to get the ball quickly and turn upfield.

Watkins had 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Even Larry Fitzgerald was compelled to praise the wideout's performance.

This win was even bigger for Boyd, who struggled in big games against Florida State and South Carolina earlier this season. Despite some poor decision-making at the end of the game, the senior quarterback managed to have a strong performance, finishing 31-of-40 passing for 378 yards and two interceptions. He also had 127 yards on the ground.

Boyd had the first score of the game with this 48-yard touchdown run, which set the tone for what was to come.

That run helped Clemson jump out to a 20-9 lead in the second quarter.

Then the Tigers were nearly undone by their porous defense.

For example, look at Jeff Heuerman's 57-yard touchdown reception that got the Buckeyes back into the game and cut the deficit to five points, 20-15.

There wasn't a Tigers defender within 10 yards of him when he caught the ball, and from there, it was a rather easy path to the end zone.

Matt Hinton of Football Outsiders saw where there could've been some miscommunication.

There would be a similar defensive breakdown on Carlos Hyde's 14-yard touchdown pass that put Ohio State back on top, 35-34 in the fourth quarter.

Ironically, it was a defensive play that would ultimately seal the game for the Tigers.

Clemson was clinging to a 40-35 lead with a little over three minutes left in the game, and the Buckeyes were in Tigers territory. Then OSU QB Braxton Miller fumbled, giving the Tigers offense a chance to ice the game away.

Unfortunately, Boyd threw an interception to hand Ohio State one more chance to find the go-ahead score.

Yet, the Clemson defense answered the call once again, with Stephone Anthony picking off Miller to put the final nail in Ohio State's coffin.

 

Key Player Grades

Sammy Watkins, Clemson: A+

Sammy Watkins is going to the NFL, right? After a performance like this, he can't possibly feel staying in school for another year is going to help his draft stock.

Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller has Watkins as the No. 1 wide receiver on his board.

It's not hard to see why, as the junior wideout was the best player on the field on Friday night. He was a beast in the receiving game. Anytime Watkins touched the ball, it seemed like he had a chance to score.

And seriously, how do you defend this?

Tajh Boyd deserves plenty of credit, but it was Watkins who won the game for Clemson.

 

Tajh Boyd, Clemson: B+

Boyd very nearly threw this game away and cemented whatever negative narratives he's built during his time at Clemson. His interception in the fourth quarter could have been disastrous for the Tigers and his legacy at Clemson.

But the defense came through and saved Boyd's bacon.

 

Braxton Miller, Ohio State: B

Braxton Miller deserved better.

Time and again he was getting harassed in the pocket and hammered after the pass. By the end of the game, it was a shock he was able to walk.

Robert Flores of ESPN put it best.

Meyer praised his QB after the game, per Dieter Kurtenbach of the Sun Sentinel.

That interception at the end of the game was pretty bad, though. There was no excuse for making that pass.

But by that point in the game, though, Miller wasn't 100 percent, and it would be tough to lay blame for the entire game on him after he accounted for 269 total yards and combined for four touchdowns via the pass and on the ground.

 

What's Next?

Clemson is losing a lot of bodies to the NFL next season. It will be interesting to see how Swinney is able to rebound in 2014.

Miller is a junior and if he returns, expect the Buckeyes to be highly ranked entering the 2014 season as they look to rebound from this disappointing loss.

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Missouri Seals Cotton Bowl Win over Oklahoma State with Fumble Recovery TD

The Cotton Bowl ended with a wild finish, as the Missouri Tigers were able to come away with a huge win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Up 34-31 with just over a minute left, Mizzou lineman Michael Sam was able to sack Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf and knock the ball loose. Defensive lineman Shane Ray picked up the loose ball and returned it 73 yards to seal the victory for the Tigers.  

You can watch the the sideline celebrate at the end of the game below.

Perhaps the best part of the play was Gus Johnson's reaction, as it was the perfect ending to what was a great game.

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7 Teams Whose Schedules Have Them Set Up for a Title Run in 2014

As we are just days away from ending the 2013 college football season, it's time to take an early look at the upcoming season. A very, very early look. We're still waiting for key players to decide whether they will leave for the next level, coaching changes are taking place, and recruiting is still unfolding. But one way to determine success this early in the process is by glancing at the schedules. 

Even if a team isn't the most talented, it could still make a run if the schedule is easy enough. Getting tough opponents at home and having a favorable non-conference schedule are just some of the ways a team could find itself in the national title hunt at the end of the year.

Here are some of the top teams that not only have talent to make a run, but also have a schedule that favors their chances. 

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Charlie Strong Rumored to Be the Next Texas Football Head Coach

Talk about a quick coaching decision—the Texas Longhorns are rumored to have offered Charlie Strong the head coaching job of the prestigious football program, and he is rumored to accept the position. This coming way before the Jan. 15 deadline set by athletic director Steve Patterson.

Bobby Burton of 247Sports.com, a football recruiting website in partnership with CBSSports.com, first reported the news via Twitter:

Burton was the first to report, but is he right? Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com tweeted, shortly after Burton, that a source has told him Strong will be the next football coach:

Brown has been covering the coaching search since former head coach Mack Brown stepped down. Brown also followed up by tweeting that Strong has indicated he will accept the job, via Twitter:

Strong was a finalist for the job with Vanderbilt's James Franklin, per Brown on Twitter. However, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that Strong has not accepted the job:

Forde does not cover Texas athletics like Burton or Brown, but certainly has credibility as a verified Twitter user and sportswriter. If the rumors are true on the part of the Texas media, then Strong would be Patterson's first major hire as the athletic director.

Finally in the mix, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reported on the Strong deal. He tweeted that Strong agreed to terms to be the next Texas head coach:

It appears to be a nice hefty contract for Strong, if the rumors are confirmed. Per USA Today salaries database, the coach made $2.3 million in 2012.

Strong started his head coaching career at Louisville in 2010. While at Louisville he won three bowl games, including the 2012 BCS Sugar Bowl. His recruiting ties are strong to the state of Florida, and there were 15 players from Miami on the 2013 Louisville football roster.

Before taking over for the Cardinals, Strong was a defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators and won two BCS National Championships with the program.

The next step for Strong, if the rumors hold true, is to appoint a worthy coaching staff to assist him with future goals for the Longhorns. Expect the University of Texas and Patterson to make a comment on the reports and for Patterson to hold a press conference announcing Strong.

Again, if the reports hold true, things should be moving quickly for Strong and the Longhorns. Finally for 'Horns fans, the search appears to be over.

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Charlie Strong Reportedly Set to Become Head Football Coach at Texas

A new era of Texas Longhorns football may be near, as the university has reportedly reached an agreement that will make Louisville coach Charlie Strong the next head football coach, according to Bobby Burton of 247Sports.com:

BREAKING: Horns247 first to report that Texas will hire Louisville coach Charlie Strong.

— Bobby Burton (@BobbyBurton247) January 4, 2014

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated provides details about the deal:

High ranking Texas official said Texas and Charlie Strong have agreed to terms. Five years, $5 mill per. http://t.co/He5hGAU3Em

— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 4, 2014

ESPN's Brett McMurphy contends a deal has not been formally agreed to yet:

Louisville coach Charlie Strong has not been formally offered the head coaching job at Texas but would accept it if he was, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Friday night.

Another source told McMurphy that Strong said he has not accepted the Texas job, but wants to talk to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and university president Jes Ramsey.

Jason Higdon of Fox Sports passes along another development:

Charlie Strong has called for a 9am staff metting.

— Jason Higdon (@Jason_Higdon) January 4, 2014

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provides more details:

Louisville players have been told Coach Strong is meeting with AD and president right now.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 4, 2014

Strong would replace Mack Brown, who announced his resignation on Dec. 14 after 16 seasons at the helm. Brown lost four or more games in each of his last four seasons in Austin, but still leaves behind massive shoes to fill after bringing Texas its fourth national championship in 2005.

The Longhorns are coming off an 8-5 season that concluded in disappointing fashion with a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30. 

Although the high-profile program has been plagued by mediocrity in recent seasons, expectations will be high moving forward. Texas remains one of college football's premier programs and boasts a rabid fanbase that expects double-digit-wins year in and year out. 

Strong is coming off a four-year run at Louisville that saw him return the program to the same BCS glory it had experienced under Bobby Petrino in the mid-2000s. The 53-year-old Strong went 37-15 during his time with the Cardinals, going 23-3 over his past two seasons.

Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong spent several seasons on Florida's coaching staff, making a name for himself as a brilliant defensive coordinator in college football's toughest conference. The Gators won two BCS titles during his time in Gainesville.

In Strong, Texas will have hired a tough-minded coach whose first priority would be to fix the Longhorns porous defense. Keep in mind that Texas ranked 69th nationally in total defense in 2013 (407.2 total yards allowed). Meanwhile, Strong's Louisville squad ranked tops in all of college football in that category last season, allowing just over 251 total yards per game.

While it remains to be seen whether Strong is the man capable of lifting Texas football back into the national championship discussion, his impressive track record at Louisville confirms that Texas is on the verge of bringing on a worthy candidate. 

For now, Longhorn fans can sleep soundly knowing the future is near.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Martavis Bryant Reels in Sick Bobbling Touchdown Catch in Sugar Bowl

In a game littered with terrific catches, Martavis Bryant stepped up big for the Clemson Tigers with a bobbling, go-ahead touchdown catch in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State.

To add to the degree of difficulty, the defender on Bryant was called for pass interference.  You can get an even better look at the amazing concentration by Bryant to reel in the pass below.

The catch helped give the Tigers the lead for the first time in the second half, putting them up 34-29.

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Sammy Watkins Hauls in Crazy Touchdown Pass in Sugar Bowl

In case you haven't noticed, Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins is pretty good.

With the Tigers down 29-20, a muffed punt by Ohio State put Clemson in Buckeyes territory. Shortly after, Tajh Boyd found Watkins on a beautiful 30-yard touchdown on third down. Watkins simply snatched the ball out of the air, showing the country why he's considered one of the best receivers in college football.

The touchdown made it a one-possession game with the Buckeyes up 29-27.

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Michigan Football: 2014 Running Back Depth Chart Prediction

Michigan struggled to run the ball consistently during the 2013 campaign and will need to improve drastically to turn things around next season. Problems on the offensive line (nine players were rotated through the five starting positions) because of injuries and performance issues contributed to the problems in the running game. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, returning from a catastrophic leg injury that ended his 2012 season, also failed to regain top form.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges prefers to have one primary back, and with Toussaint’s graduation the competition will be on among the returning backs.

Derrick Green (5-11, 240, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (83 carries for 270 yards, 3.3 yards-per-carry, 2 touchdowns)

Green was injured in training camp and questions about his weight and conditioning dogged him until an injury sidelined Fitzgerald Toussaint for the Northwestern game.

Green then showed why he was such a highly touted recruit, running with authority and making holes with his bruising running style. Despite his late-season surge, Green was disappointed with his production and predicted that, “[He] and De'Veon are going to come back next year real strong and…get it done.”

2014 Outlook: Expect Green to Compete to be Primary Back

De’Veon Smith (5-11, 224, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (26 carries 117 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)

Smith was mired on the depth chart but surged at the end of season to run with both power and elusiveness. Smith showed tantalizing glimpses of speed that could set him apart from the rest of the running backs next season.

2014 Outlook: Expect Smith and Green to Compete to be Primary Back

Justice Hayes (5-10, 192, 2014 Eligibility: Junior)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 6 yards, 3.0 yards-per-carry)

Hayes played in 11 games but wasn’t featured in the offense until the bowl game, where he earned playing time by shining in practice. Hayes seems to be back of choice when it comes to getting passes from the backfield.

2014 Outlook: Hayes will need to shine in spring and fall practice to move past Green and Smith. He’ll also need to work on his blocking.


Thomas Rawls (5-10, 217, 2014 Eligibility: Senior)
2013 Stats:
(3 carries 12 yards, 4.0 yards-per-carry, 1 touchdown)

Rawls has been missing in action. As a senior, he’ll get a look in spring practice and probably a chance in the early-season games next season.

2014 Outlook: He’ll need to produce big time to move up the depth chart.

Drake Johnson (6-0, 213, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 9 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)

Johnson was injured in the third quarter of Michigan’s first game of the season with an ACL injury. He may be eligible for a medical redshirt since he was injured so early in the season. He had moved up the depth chart before his injury and was listed as Toussaint’s backup.

2014 Outlook: Johnson’s status will depend on when he returns injury.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

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Blake Bortles' Updated 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Fiesta Bowl Win

Blake Bortles very likely threw himself into the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with a strong performance in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

Since he plays at Central Florida, Bortles didn't get too many chances for national exposure this season. For many fans, it was a first look at this hot new quarterback who's shooting up experts' draft boards.

Those who tuned in to the Fiesta Bowl weren't disappointed.

The junior quarterback helped spark the Knights' 52-42 upset of the Baylor Bears. Bortles finished 20-of-31 for 301 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for another 93 yards and a touchdown.

It was a great showcase of his ability, and, in terms of his NFL draft stock, it couldn't have come at a better time.

Plenty of scouts were likely wowed by Bortles' performance against Baylor. Keep in mind that despite their high-powered, fast-paced offense, the Bears rank 12th in passing efficiency defense. Shredding them for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns wasn't easy.

Since Bortles has another year of eligibility, he's in a position where he can wait if he doesn't feel he's rated highly enough. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, he wants to wait to see what kind of grade he'd get from the league before declaring for the 2014 draft.

Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage illustrated the possible dilemma for Bortles.

However, it's a problem he may not have to worry about, as Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports reported the UCF QB received a majority of first-round grades from the draft advisory board.

Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller sees Bortles as a top-five pick and compared him to Andrew Luck.

Between now and May, much can change, but it looks as though Bortles would be battling with Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel to be the first QB off the board.

Bridgewater is regarded as the No. 1 guy on many experts' boards, so you feel comfortable in saying that he's going to be a top-five pick. If he doesn't go with the first overall pick, he won't fall far.

Manziel is the wild card.

Johnny Football's draft stock is about as unpredictable as his game. He's a tremendous athlete and has improved as a passer in 2013, but with the read-option offense decreasing in popularity this year, a team may not be as seduced by Manziel as it would've been last year.

Or, maybe he goes No. 1. Who knows?

A lot will depend upon who picks where and whether or not any teams decide to trade up.

ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli reported the Houston Texans would be open to parting with the No. 1 overall pick. Owner Bob McNair said, "Maybe we'll trade down and still get a quarterback that can do the job and get an outstanding defensive player. It's an exciting time. Everything's a moving target. Lot of different pieces."

In the event  that the Texans don't trade the pick, they'll almost certainly go with a quarterback. Should Bridgewater be the guy, Bortles would have no shortage of potential suitors from No. 2 and beyond.

The St. Louis Rams don't need a quarterback, nor will Jadeveon Clowney help, so they may try and trade down a few picks.

Beyond the Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, Oakland Raiders at No. 5 and Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 all need a QB. It's hard to see how Bortles falls out of the top 10 riding the wave of momentum that he has.

The issue for Bortles is that should he fall past the Tennessee Titans at No. 11, it could be an Aaron Rodgers-like drop. The next team that is looking for a signal-caller would be the Browns at No. 26. If he's still on the board there, Cleveland will take him, barring it takes Manziel fourth overall.

So it would seem all roads lead to Bortles declaring for the 2014 NFL draft and being a first-round prospect. The only question is where he'll be selected.

Final Projection: No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars

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USC Football: How Marqise Lee Declaring for NFL Draft Impacts Trojan Offense


Late Friday night, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee announced that he will forgo his senior year and enter the 2014 NFL draft. 

The junior wide receiver leaves USC with 248 receptions for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career. He owns or shares 22 USC records and leaves college as the only Biletnikoff Award winner in school history. 

Though hampered by injury for most of 2013, he still remained one of the Trojans' most exciting and prolific playmakers. This season, he had just 57 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns (the lowest marks of his college career). In the Trojans' Las Vegas Bowl, however, he really put on a show and gave NFL scouts a taste of what they can expect from him at the next level. 

His early departure from USC comes as no surprise, as CBSSports.com projects him to be a first-round pick. 

Of note, athletic director Pat Haden cited "continuity" as a reason for hiring Steve Sarkisian back in December. Since then, four of USC's juniors (Lee, safety Dion Bailey, defensive tackle George Uko and offensive lineman Marcus Martin) have all chosen to declare for the NFL.

With Lee now officially out of the mix, the USC wide receiver corps will undoubtedly be led by Nelson Agholor, the sophomore phenom who has shown he is ready to be the next big thing for the Trojans. He led USC in receptions and touchdowns in 2013, and we can expect him to do the same next year. 

Aside from Agholor, though, things are a little less clear.

Darreus Rogers looked like a stud at times, but injuries have hampered his progression in 2013. 2014 could be a breakout year for him, as depth issues will give way to lots of time for the young receiver. Then there's the oft-injured George Farmer, Steven Mitchellwho missed this year due to an ACL injuryand Victor Blackwell, the only other scholarship receiver to catch a pass during the 2013 campaign. 

These three should all be healthy and ready to compete during spring ball, and current Trojan commit Shay Fields Jr. could also be in the mix, bringing more depth to the position.

But the loss of Lee, though expected, surely has to impact Sarkisian's 2014 strategy just a bit. 

Beyond just the wide receiver corps, the departure of Lee could mean more receptions for the tight ends. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have often been neglected as ball-catchers, though their big frames and sticky hands make them excellent targets. 

At Washington, we saw Sarkisian utilize Austin Seferian-Jenkins almost as much as his wide receivers, making him a staple playmaker of the Huskies offense. Grimble and Telfer are perhaps the most talented tight end tandem in the Pac-12; now is the time for Sarkisian to really let them put their talents on full display. 

They weren't used a ton as pass-catchers in the 2013 offense but will be in good position to see more balls come their way in 2014.

Because USC won't have Lee as a deep threat anymore, the Trojans running backs will have to step their game up. Agholor has the potential to become that for USC, but in the meantime, the stable is really going to have to get better, due to the fact that opposing defenses will be able to key on the run. We know that breakout star Javorius "Buck" Allen is capable, but it will be important that Tre Madden and the rest of the running backs stiffen up during the offseason as well. 

Though he will be sorely missed in the Trojans offense, Sarkisian is now in a position where he can really change up the way the Trojans move the ball, now that relying on Lee is not an option.

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