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Gator Bowl 2014: Todd Gurley Once Again Proves He's Nation's Top RB

Healthy or not, Georgia’s Todd Gurley has staked his claim as college football’s No. 1 running back for 2014.

Although the Bulldogs ultimately fell short to Nebraska, 24-19, during Wednesday’s Gator Bowl, the sophomore put in yet another sensational effort. He rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries while recording team highs with seven receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Given the absolutely miserable conditions of the field, Gurley put together one heck of a performance.

B/R SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee put it best:

Gurley’s lone touchdown came off a 25-yard pass from quarterback Hutson Mason in the fourth quarter to pull Georgia within 24-19. It could be said that without the play of the Tarboro, N.C., native, the team wouldn’t have even been in position to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the game.

With starting quarterback Aaron Murray set to graduate this year, Gurley’s presence will be more important than ever for the Bulldogs next season.

In 10 games this season, Gurley rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns on 165 carries while hauling in 37 catches for 441 yards and six scores. One can only imagine how deadly he could have been had he played in all 13 of Georgia’s games.

In fact, Gurley’s projected 2013 statistics in 13 games would rank pretty well among those of a few returning running backs next season:

Out of those running backs, only Auburn’s Mason pulled in more combined touchdowns (22) than Gurley’s 21. The other two with at least 20—Sankey (20) and Gaffney (21)—will most likely be playing in the NFL in 2014.

Furthermore, Gurley is the only running back among those listed that brought in more than two receiving touchdowns. Moreover, his 573 receiving yards are considerably more than the next best running back's total (Sankey, 304). 

As for whether Gurley can be the lone contributor for the Bulldogs, he’s already proven he’s more than capable of taking on the challenge.

In Georgia’s regular-season finale against Georgia Tech on Nov. 30—the first game after Murray’s season-ending injury—Gurley put the team on his back, finishing with 122 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and another score.

Now, picture that contribution over an entire season. The 2014 Heisman Trophy is easily a possibility.

Needless to say, opposing defenses will be dreading the day they face Gurley and the Bulldogs in 2014.

 

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

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

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If 2014 Outback Bowl Was Jeremy Hill's Last Game, the LSU RB Went out on Top

Jeremy Hill shredded Iowa in the best performance by a LSU running back in the Les Miles era. 

Hill rushed for a career high 216 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 Tigers victory in the 2014 Outback Bowl. No other LSU running back under Miles has rushed for more than 200 in a game.

Hill's final stats do not do his performance justice. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. True freshman Anthony Jennings made the start, which allowed Iowa to load the box to stop the run. 

Iowa's efforts were ineffective. 

Hill broke a 42-yard run on LSU's opening drive, which would eventually end with a Jennings touchdown run. Hill has had at least one rush of 40 yards or more in six of the 12 games he played this season. For perspective, Iowa only had one rush of 40 yards or more all season. 

Hill would score his first touchdown when he carried multiple Iowa defenders into the end zone on a 14-yard scamper to extend LSU's lead to 14-0. 

As the game wore on, Jennings began to struggle mightily. He threw an interception that gave Iowa life in the second half. But Hill still dominated in spite of poor quarterback play. 

Great running backs get stronger as the game goes along. Hill proved that to be the case against Iowa, saving his best for last in his masterful performance. 

 

LSU was only up 14-7 late in the fourth quarter. The Tigers regained possession at their own 8-yard line after a Craig Loston interception. The Tigers had yet to score in the second half.

Hill would then take over the game.

Hill lead the LSU charge 92 yards down the field that ended with a 37-yard touchdown that put Iowa safety Tanner Miller on skates. Three of his four rushes on the drive went for 20 yards or more as he glided past tacklers with ease.

What won't show up on the box score or highlight reels were Hill's runs for short yardage. On nearly every run, he would break numerous tackles and fall forward for extra yardage. This wore down an Iowa defense normally known for wearing its opponents down the same way. 

LSU fans should savor this performance from Hill, as it was likely his last in a LSU uniform. He is eligible for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore. He would be continuing a recent trend of Tigers running backs leaving with eligibility remaining. 

 

LSU head coach Les Miles put his reputation on the line by keeping Hill on the roster after his poor off-the-field behavior and legal issues. With performances like this one, it is easy to see why Miles kept his prized thoroughbred. The All-SEC running back wins football games.  

While Hill's performance was impressive, it should hardly be a surprise. Hill is a damn strong football player trying to prove to professional scouts he is ready for the next level. 

Hill's LSU career will never be forgotten. He burst on to the scene last season as a freshman against South Carolina and never looked back. He was the difference in the Tigers' victory over National Championship finalist Auburn earlier this season. 

But for now, college football fans should savor one of the most magnificent performances from an LSU Tiger ever witnessed. Hill eviscerated the Hawkeyes in his swan song, and it was a thing of beauty.  

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

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Outback Bowl 2014: LSU's Offense Is a Work-in-Progress Without Zach Mettenberger

The Outback Bowl between LSU and Iowa wasn't pretty.

At times, in fact, it was downright ugly.

The Tigers and Hawkeyes got into an old-fashioned slugfest at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, as Jeremy Hill rushed 28 times for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-14 win over Iowa.

As ESPN's official Twitter account pointed out, Hill was impossible to take down.

Jeremy Hill is certified battering ram. #OutbackBowl

— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2014

LSU head coach Les Miles was lucky Hill was there because the rest of the offense was left somewhere else on Florida's west coast.

Aside from Hill's work on the ground, the Tigers gained just 86 yards on the Hawkeyes.

In his first start at quarterback, freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings completed just 7-of-19 passes for 82 yards, zero touchdowns and one pick.

"I think he did, for a first start...well done," Miles said on ESPN's broadcast after the game. "[He] managed it to a point. He did some things that we'll not have him do, but it was a nice start and we'll see where we go from here."

There's a long way to go from here.

Hill is three years removed from high school, and thus, eligible for the NFL draft. If he goes pro—and after that performance against the Big Ten's fourth-best rush defense (120.75 YPG), he should—LSU's offense may undergo a complete overhaul in Cam Cameron's second season as offensive coordinator.

In addition to Hill, LSU will likely lose running back Alfred Blue, and could lose junior wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry early to the NFL draft as well. This, in addition to the departure of seniors Zach Mettenberger at quarterback and J.C. Copeland at fullback.

The cupboard isn't bare in Baton Rouge by any means, but it appears that the Tigers will have to hit the reset button on offense this offseason.

That's not to say all is lost. 

Jennings was making his first career start against the Hawkeyes, and a full offseason of work will certainly help him progress. It also will allow Cameron time to tweak his scheme to fit the duality that Jennings brings to the table.

LSU's dramatic turnaround on offense was one of the most surprising storylines of the 2013 season.

If several of its stars move on, its ability to keep the ship headed in the right direction will be one to watch early in the 2014 season.

 

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Steve Spurrier Trolls Clemson After Capital One Bowl Victory

South Carolina won its second Capital One Bowl in three years, but the Gamecocks' 34-24 victory over Wisconsin on Wednesday wasn't the only thing on coach Steve Spurrier's mind.

The Gamecocks pulled out a 31-17 victory over the Clemson Tigers on Nov. 30. After South Carolina won the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier took a shot at the school's instate rival:

Steve Spurrier: 'These two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain't bad either.'

— GoGamecocks.com (@gogamecocks) January 1, 2014

Clemson plays Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on Friday, so stay tuned to see if the Tigers have a response.

Thanks to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the video.

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Iowa vs. LSU: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Outback Bowl

The No. 16 LSU Tigers survived in the 2014 Outback Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 21-14 affair that will surely go down as one of the bowl season's ugliest.

The Tigers held the ball for more than 35 minutes and were saved by sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed 28 times for 216 yards and two scores.

LSU overall managed 302 total yards and a 10-of-21 mark on third down, in large part because the Tigers had to start freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings in place of Zach Mettenberger, who went down for the year with a torn ACL in early December.

Jennings went 7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception. He found the end zone once on the ground.

Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock had no answer for the LSU defense. He completed nine of his 22 passes for 102 yards and a pick before leaving the game with an injury. The Hawkeyes managed just 233 total yards and a 6-of-19 showing on third down.   

It was apparent on the first drive of the game how LSU would attack the Iowa defense, which entered the game ranked No. 10 overall: protect Jennings through the ground game.

The Tigers did just that, rushing eight times for 77 yards before the freshman took it in himself from two yards out:

From there, the two sides mostly exchanged punts until early in the second quarter, when Iowa junior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley committed a grievous error by muffing a punt. The ensuing result was LSU taking a 14-0 lead shortly after via a gritty rush by Hill for a 14-yard score:

Iowa showed signs of life in the middle of the third quarter by finally forcing Jennings into a mistake. Junior defensive back John Lowdermilk intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 71 yards before committing a boneheaded play, which Rob Metzger of WTOV sums up nicely:

It was as bad as it sounds:

As Metzger hints, Lowdermilk was absolved of his sin three plays later as junior running back Mark Weisman found the end zone from two yards out to make it 14-7 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter.

Things picked up again with time winding down in the fourth. With Iowa freshman quarterback C.J. Beathard under center in place of the injured Rudock, the Hawkeyes gambled on fourth down from the LSU 16 while down by seven.

The gamble proved erroneous, as Beathard rolled out to his right and threw the ball right into the hands of LSU's senior safety, Craig Loston.

Then things got a bit hectic. Hill decided to take over the game on his own after the interception, recording runs of 28, 20 and 37, the last of which went for a touchdown to put LSU up 21-7 with 2:02 left in the game:

But Iowa responded in kind one play later. Senior receiver Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards. Two plays later, Beathard found Martin-Manley for a four-yard touchdown to move the Hawkeyes back within a score.

LSU's special teams then rose to the occasion after giving up the big play and recovered the onside kick, which allowed Jennings to kneel the ball to seal the win, 21-14. 

 

Key Player Grades

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: A

It was widely accepted that Hill was the star of the show entering the contest. He was the main component that would help the Tigers overcome having to start a freshman under center. 

Hill did just that as he bruised his way to an impressive day against a stout defense. With LSU's offense looking anemic, his taking the game into his own hands late was beyond impressive—and perhaps a fitting way to end his collegiate career should he choose to go pro.

 

Odell Beckham, WR, LSU: B

In a defensive battle, junior star receiver Odell Beckham got lost in the shuffle. He brought in just two receptions for 35 yards, but he did manage to reel in the highlight of the game:

While a great play, Beckham disappointed overall.

 

Jake Rudock, QB, Iowa: C

Rudock was either going to make or break the game for the Hawkeyes, as the team was tasked with somehow scoring on a strong LSU defense.

The sophomore signal-caller put together a miserable outing before making his exit in the fourth quarter due to injury.

Beathard entered the game and fared a bit better. He put up a 4-of-7 mark for 55 yards with a touchdown and interception.

 

Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU: C

The spotlight was on Jennings in his first career start. He did about as expected for a young quarterback who had only attempted 10 passes entering the contest, which happened to be an important bowl game to close an underwhelming season.

So yes, taking it all into consideration, Jennings did just fine against an elite defense. He certainly did not propel the Tigers to victory, but he did not cost them the game, either.

 

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Capital One Bowl 2014: Jadeveon Clowney Reminds Us Why He's so Special

In the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina beat Wisconsin 34-24, giving Steve Spurrier's team its third straight 11-win campaign. As the Gamecocks got the win, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did what he's done all season: show flashes of elite talent that make the NFL folks drool.

Then the junior, live on ABC, told the nation something everyone already expected: he was declaring for the NFL draft.

The victory over Wisconsin went like much of the season for the defensive end shouldering Herculean expectations: those who know the game saw a guy capable of being a star in the NFL and stat watchers walked away disappointed.

New Years Day was another sackless outing for Clowney, something the numbers-watching critics have bemoaned for much of the season. This game fit every narrative of the season with respect to the Clowney angles. It gave those saying the junior was lazy plenty of ammunition, something B/R's Ian Kenyon pointed out.

Yet, Kenyon and others who watch more than the numbers got another shot to see Clowney show why he's so high on so many folks' NFL draft boards. Against Wisconsin, Clowney forced the quarterback to throw before he was comfortable, showed a newly developing skill of batting down passes and the athleticism to pursue plays away from him. The junior also drew the double team to help his teammates force the issue against Wisconsin.

The package is very much there for the next level. Clowney showed that in his explosion, he also showed he has work to do from a polish standpoint when he arrives in the NFL. He's a player still looking for a reliable pass-rush move and who needs to find a backup plan for when the speed rush off the edge does not get him to the quarterback.

He can certainly learn that at the next level. What his future NFL coaches will not be able to teach is the first-step quickness, the raw power he generates through his explosion or the speed that helps him track down ball-carriers.

This year's Capital One Bowl was Clowney's season, in a veritable nutshell. Glancing at the numbers does not do his performance justice. Stat sheets are never kind to defensive players; in the case of a guy facing runs away from him, quick passes to thwart his rush efforts and doing little things to help his teammates, the numbers are even more unforgiving.

Clowney's ready to hit the next level, and in his final game the junior reminded the collegiate landscape that he can still do special things. Some NFL team, likely near the top of the draft, will be quite pleased with its first pick of the 2014 NFL draft.

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Wisconsin vs. South Carolina: Score, Grades, Analysis from 2014 Capital One Bowl

Thanks to inspired efforts by quarterback Connor Shaw and receiver Bruce Ellington, No. 9 South Carolina defeated No. 19 Wisconsin to win the 2014 Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 by a score of 34-24.

The thrilling contest featured plenty of offensive fireworks by each team, even after both got off to cold starts.    

After Wisconsin's Joel Stave threw an interception with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Shaw kicked off the action in exhilarating fashion with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Ellington, putting the Gamecocks up by seven points heading into the second quarter. 

Wisconsin didn't take long to respond, however, as Shaw's touchdown strike seemed to open up the offensive floodgates for both teams.

Starting out the next drive at their own 29-yard line, the Badgers marched down the field on a six-play, 71-yard scoring drive that concluded with a one-yard touchdown pass from Stave to little-used tight end Sam Arneson, tying the game at seven. 

South Carolina responded with another scoring drive on its next possession—a superb 12-play masterpiece that ended with a tricky touchdown pass from Ellington to Shaw.

South Carolina failed to get in on a two-point conversion, putting the Gamecocks ahead by six points instead of seven, 13-7.

Not surprisingly, given the way the second quarter went, Wisconsin responded with a 16-play touchdown-scoring drive of its own. Stave connected with senior receiver Jeff Duckworth on a three-yard score with just 13 seconds on the clock before halftime, putting Wisconsin up 14-13 at the half. 

After Wisconsin opened up the second half with a field goal to take a 17-13 lead, Shaw gave Gamecocks fans a collective panic attack. 

He coughed up the ball on South Carolina's first play on the next drive, setting up the Badgers with excellent field position on their opponent's 31-yard line. 

But South Carolina's defense held and Wisconsin's Jack Russell missed his 42-yard field-goal attempt, giving the Gamecocks a new lease on life.

Nine plays and 75 yards later, Shaw hit Ellington for the dynamic duo's third touchdown strike, putting South Carolina up 20-17, but it almost never happened.

On 4th-and-7 at Wisconsin's 44-yard line, Shaw threw a pass to Ellington that should have been incomplete, but the receiver made a jaw-dropping play to secure the ball and keep his team's drive alive:

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, both teams had forgotten all about their punters, who hadn't touched the field since the first quarter.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin's offense suffered a tremendous blow just before the final stanza, as Stave suffered a shoulder strain and was lost for the game, as reported by ESPN's Tom Luginbill (via CBS Sports' Eye on College FBall): 

Senior Curt Phillips, who had thrown just two passes all year, replaced Stave in the starting lineup.

Shortly thereafter, South Carolina made a tremendous defensive stand on the second play of the quarter, stoning running back Melvin Gordon for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Gamecocks' 26-yard line. 

Shaw threw his third touchdown pass of the day just six plays later, capping off a 74-yard drive and putting his team up by 10 points, 27-17, with just over 11 minutes to play. 

Without its starting quarterback and down by 10 points, Wisconsin was in trouble. However, on the next play, junior receiver Kenzel Doe took the kickoff 91 yards to pay dirt, which pulled the Badgers back to within three points, 27-24.

But as he'd done throughout the game, Shaw drove his offense right down the field once more. His one-yard touchdown run finished off a relentless nine-play drive that chewed up 88 yards in just under four-and-a-half minutes.

It also put South Carolina up by a score of 34-24 with just 6:27 left in the fourth quarter. 

The teams then traded three turnovers—two interceptions by Wisconsin's Phillips and one lost fumble by South Carolina's Brandon Wilds—setting up South Carolina with the ball on its own 20-yard line with just over three minutes remaining on the game clock.

Wisconsin failed to score on a last-ditch effort late in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on a fumble to give the Gamecocks the 10-point win.  

 

Grades

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: A

It's hard to poke any holes in Shaw's brilliant performance at the Capital One Bowl.

The senior quarterback was unflappable—as always—totaling 368 yards and five touchdowns (three passing, one rushing and one receiving) while turning the ball over just once on a lost fumble.

It remains to be seen if the quarterback will find success at the next level in the NFL. Not surprisingly, he received a ringing endorsement after the game by head coach Steve Spurrier, as noted by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports:

Regardless of what kind of success he finds at the next level, there's no denying Shaw had a stellar college career, and he couldn't have scripted a better way to close it out.  

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: B+

The only reason to knock Gordon's performance against South Carolina is that he didn't score a touchdown during the game.

Toting the rock 25 times for 143 yards (5.7 yards per carry), he carried Wisconsin's offense throughout the game. Unfortunately, the sophomore wasn't able to find his way into the end zone, sending he and the Badgers home with the taste of losing in their mouths.

Look out for this kid next year, as he will return for his junior season and should be one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.  

 

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina: A+

Ellington had one of the best games of his young life on Jan. 1 against Wisconsin.

As Ryan Wood of The Post & Courier pointed out, the junior receiver was making a strong case for NFL scouts, totaling six catches for 140 yards and two touchdown grabs:

Don't forget about his touchdown strike to Shaw, either.

Ellington's tip-drill 22-yard reception on fourth down to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter was also noteworthy, and it's clear he was one of the best college football players in the nation to open up 2014. 

 

What's Next?

For both teams, the Capital One Bowl represented the final phase of the 2013-14 college football season. 

Some players, like Jadeveon Clowney, will now head into a rigorous training regimen as the 2014 NFL draft approaches. It's long been suspected that Clowney would enter the draft after the season and he confirmed those suspicions after the game, via Brugler:

The coaching staffs for both teams will now focus on recruiting for next year and beyond, and both programs—as always—will be aiming for a better result next season.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Johnny Manziel Needs to Declare for NFL Draft After Strong Chick-fil-A Bowl

Was that Johnny Football's final act for Texas A&M?

In a span of two seasons, Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has captivated the college football world with his high-wire act and gunslinger mentality under center. On Tuesday night, Manziel turned in a vintage Johnny Football performance while guiding Texas A&M to a wild 52-48 comeback win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Manziel tossed two second-half touchdown passes and rushed for another, finishing 30-of-38 for 382 yards and four scores while rushing the ball 11 times for 73 yards and a TD.

But the box score hardly does justice to the display Manziel put on in Atlanta. Throughout his career, Manziel made a habit of improvising out of bad situations and making jaw-dropping plays, and he delivered another instant classic highlight against the Blue Devils.

With his team trailing 38-17 early in the second half, Manziel turned in this gem that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Labhart.

That's an incredible display of athleticism and pure instincts that you can't teach, and it's what makes Manziel so great.

As a redshirt sophomore three years removed from high school, Manziel is eligible to declare for the 2014 NFL draft. Together with others like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Manziel is considered one of the top draft-eligible prospects at quarterback.

On Wednesday, Bridgewater made news by declaring through the Cardinals' official site that he would be leaving school early to pursue an NFL career, ending months of speculation surrounding the talented signal-caller.

With Manziel's stock so high following his performance against Duke, he should follow Bridgewater's lead and declare for the draft.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com was on hand in the Georgia Dome to see Manziel's latest masterpiece and was clearly blown away:

In a glowing column about Manziel's NFL prospects, Brooks gushed about the quarterback's abilities on the big stage while also addressing some of Manziel's most pressing questions.

Does he have NFL arm strength? Can he handle the mental demands of NFL playbooks and defenses? Will his athleticism be compromised at the next level? Brooks is convinced Manziel has the right answer to all of those doubts and will thrive at the next level.

There's no way to simulate the intensity of the NFL, but Manziel got the next closest thing by playing in the SEC. The entire conference has been littered with first-round NFL defensive talent over the past two seasons, but it couldn't slow down the 2012 Heisman winner from making history:

Earlier this year, Nick Saban watched Manziel pile up 464 passing yards, 98 rushing yards and five touchdowns against his vaunted Crimson Tide defense. The respected Alabama coach told Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard that Manziel is a "unique player" with an "NFL future."

I'm on board with Saban's assessment and think the time is right for Manziel to test his skills against the best.

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Vin Scully Highlights 2014 Rose Parade as Grand Marshal

If Robin Williams ever granted me three wishes, one of those would definitely be to have Vin Scully narrate my life.

The Voice of the Dodgers is terrific in almost every way imaginable, and if you needed any more proof of that, look no further than his work as Grand Marshal at the 2014 Rose Parade on Wednesday morning. 

ABC7 News in Los Angeles gives us a look at the 86-year-old kicking off the new year in style:

There's really no question that Scully was the right choice to usher in the 125th edition of the famous parade through Pasadena. To call him an icon in Los Angeles might not even do him the necessary justice. He has been working with the Dodgers for an unbelievable 65 years and perhaps has one of the most recognizable, legendary voices in all of sports. 

Someone like Scully serving as Grand Marshal for such a prestigious event is the perfect fit. Naturally, he used a baseball metaphor to help explain the honor, via Brian Bencomo at Pasadena Magazine:

Well, I think besides the overwhelming honor -– and it is overwhelming when you arrive at the Tournament House and they show you the pictures of some of the previous Grand Marshals, and the thought comes that your name will be linked with them — I guess to bring the numbers into play, it’s like a hitter in baseball hitting .300 as opposed to .299. Or a pitcher winning 20 as opposed to 19. I think the number 125 for the parade, 100 for the game, just adds a little extra luster. Although you certainly don’t need any extra luster.

Another example of Scully's legend? Check out some sports media figures, who are used to being around some of the biggest superstars in the world, showing their excitement about meeting him:

As for the actual parade, it was your typical Rose Parade, just with more Scully, which is always a good thing. 

The Dodgers' official Twitter feed and the Vin Scully fan account provide some photos of the illustrious event:

Of course, pictures don't quite do it justice in this instance. You need to hear the man with the golden voice. You can listen to him reading the "I Love a Parade" poem here, which is sure to provide some goosebumps, or here he is wishing everyone a happy new year:

Yep, 2014 is definitely off to a better start than 2013. 

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Nebraska's Win over Georgia Just the Start Bo Pelini Needed in 2014

What a difference a year makes. Better yet, what a difference one day makes.

Nebraska’s 24-19 win over No. 22 Georgia in the Gator Bowl was the start to 2014 that Bo Pelini had to have. It wasn’t perfect or pretty, and it came with a little bit of luck, but this is an enormous victory for a coach who needed it in the worst way.

Last year started with a gut punch. The Huskers lost 45-31 to the Bulldogs on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl, giving up 589 yards along the way. This prompted many to question the leadership of the head coach, and the regular-season results that followed didn’t exactly settle matters.

There was the second half against UCLA back in September. The Cornhuskers, seemingly in control early on, were outscored 31-0 in the third and fourth quarters, losing 41-21.

Shortly after the UCLA loss, the now infamous Pelini audio surfaced on Deadspin. The context, which is well known by now, prompted immediate backlash at a time when the team was already down.

Along the way, Pelini also lost his starting quarterback to a foot injury. Senior Taylor Martinez missed a majority of the year—including the bowl game—forcing the coach to adjust his offense entirely.

And in the final regular-season game of the year, Nebraska was thoroughly handled by Iowa at home, losing 38-17. The blowout prompted more speculation over Pelini’s status, more doubt in the program and a postgame rant that was overblown to a degree. 

In short, momentum appeared lost.

Only one day into the New Year, however, the picture is a bit brighter. 

Despite entering the Gator Bowl as more than a seven-point underdog against Georgia, the Huskers delivered an unexpected win.

Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. wasn’t perfect, but he did flash moments of brilliance. Operating in his own end zone, Armstrong’s 99-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa proved to be the biggest moment in the game. 

Of course, Nebraska finally got a little luck, as well. (OK, a little more luck if you’re thinking back to the game-winning Hail Mary against Northwestern.)

With Georgia driving in the final minute, reliable Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch dropped a pass on fourth down in the slippery conditions. This gave the Cornhuskers the ball and the win.

Following the game, Pelini shared the moment with everyone involved.

Pelini at trophy presentation: "The way we do things at Nebraska, this is a team win." Team includes administration and fans.

— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) January 1, 2014

For Pelini, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Athletic director Shawn Eichorst backed the head coach following the final regular-season game, which served as a bit surprise given the circumstances.

In a statement sent out by the school, Eichorst—while somewhat cryptic in his delivery—cooled the rumors.

My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices.  However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska—that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family.  We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.

Of course, the issues at Nebraska aren’t immediately erased with one unexpected win. Questions and concerns regarding the long-term outlook of the program remain.

Pelini has somewhat quietly won at least nine games in every season, however, and perhaps is under-appreciated to a degree.

There’s also this, which provides some perspective on his tenure at Nebraska.

They announced that Bo has now the same number of wins in his first 6 years as the legendary Tom Osborne did.

— Ben Cotton (@BenCotton81) January 1, 2014

At the very least, Pelini can take a well-deserved deep breath. 

There will be questions going forward surrounding the performance of the team, the need to spark recruiting and the other issues which have hampered the program in recent years. But for one day, the first day of 2014, Pelini can (and should) enjoy this. 

It certainly beats last year.

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fact: The Baylor Bears have scored 57 touchdowns on drives that lasted two minutes or less—the most by any team in the past 10 seasons.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN 

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Sugar Bowl 2013: Keys to Victory for Alabama and Oklahoma

Almost no one is expecting the No. 3-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide to have any difficulties with the 11th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners Thursday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Besides the appearance that Bama simply has the superior talent, it hasn't lost a nonconference game in six years. Per Covers.com, the Sooners are 16.5-point underdogs. 

What does Bob Stoops have to do to guide his team to an improbable win? What does Nick Saban need to get from the Tide to finish the season on a winning note?

Check out the keys to victory.

 

Slow Down Bama's Balanced Attack

Yes, AJ McCarron has proven he is capable of making plays with his arm. McCarron was big-time all season, most notably against Texas A&M and Auburn. He completed 63 percent of his passes, had seven touchdowns and no interceptions in those games.

However, the run game is still the engine for the Crimson Tide machine. Sophomore stud, T.J. Yeldon, is the leading rusher with 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

If the Sooners are to have any prayer of upsetting Alabama, they have to contain the rushing attack. Bama only failed to dominate on the ground in two games. The Virginia Tech Hokies and Colorado State Rams—of all teams—were the only teams that held the Crimson Tide under 100 yards rushing all season.

It happened early in the campaign and both teams obviously still lost. Is the Sooners' offense better than the Hokies and Rams? Is it better suited to capitalize if the defense can contain Bama on the ground? Those points are certainly debatable.

If defensive coordinator Mike Stoops can dial up a scheme that prevents his front seven from being trampled, that's the first step towards a monumental upset.

Per Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, Stoops knows what he and his defense are in for. He said this during a press conference in New Orleans on Sunday:

[This] will be the most physical game that we have played all year.

Offensively, they are probably the most complete or they are the most complete team we have faced. When you at the offensive line, you look at the skill, you look at the running backs, you look at the tight ends, they present challenges across board.

Turnovers

Whenever a team is heavily favored, the quickest way to eliminate that advantage and level the playing fields is by turning the ball over. Alabama survived two games during the season in which it lost the turnover battle, but in those games, the talent discrepancy was larger than it will be against Oklahoma.

The Tide shook off two miscues against Kentucky and won 48-7, and four giveaways when they beat Mississippi State 20-7. 

It's possible that could happen again, but it would be an example of playing with proverbial fire.

The Sooners need to play a near perfect game, and that includes limiting or completely eliminating turnovers. Bama's talent will create its own opportunities, Oklahoma will only make the hill steeper to climb by giving away the football.

 

Alabama Can't Take the Sooners Lightly

Perhaps the biggest potential problem Alabama might face is overconfidence. This team naturally feels as if it should be playing for a national championship. The Sugar Bowl is merely a consolation prize.

If the players are not engaged, it could open them up to a slow start. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit thinks the Sooners may surprise some folks. Per Jon Solomon of AL.com, Herbstreit said:

I think Oklahoma definitely has a chance in this game because I think they're going to play with some urgency and with a major chip on their shoulder. I think the game will be much, much closer than what a lot of people who I'm listening to or talking to think.

Allowing Oklahoma to believe it has a chance to win will make the game tougher. The Sooners are already gearing up to shock the world. Running back Brennan Clay said this, per Alabama Sports Now:

If Bama comes out with intensity from the beginning of the game—especially on the defensive side of the ball—it should have no problems handling Oklahoma.

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fact: The highest attendance for the Rose Bowl was 94,392, when Washington took on Purdue in 2001. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: BCSFootball.org

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Jadeveon Clowney Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

To the surprise of no one, South Carolina Gamecocks junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has declared himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.  

CBS' Dan Brugler broke the news:

Clowney is considered one of the premium pro prospects in the upcoming draft. If there were any lingering doubts that he would jump to the next level—even after walking out with the Gamecocks' senior class for the team's final home game—they were put to rest by Clowney's announcement on New Year's Day.

At 6'6" and 274 pounds with incredible speed, athleticism and burst, there haven't been too many defensive-end prospects like Clowney to come along.

Thanks to Clowney's size, strength and nimbleness, he can even play on the inside in some packages, as well as drop back in coverage if need be. Oh, and of course he's a nightmare to handle as a pass-rusher.

However, production was an issue for Clowney in his final season in Columbia, where he registered 35 total tackles (10.5 for loss) and three sacks in 10 games, per CFBStats.com.

That is way down from his previous campaign of 54 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, but Clowney had one more chance to showcase his talents in South Carolina's Capital One Bowl clash against Wisconsin on Jan. 1.

Whether or not the decline from his sophomore to junior season—or questions about his injuries and work ethic—will hurt him remains to be seen. Chances are, though, that Clowney's draft stock won't be hampered due to his seemingly limitless upside.

In a Dec. 8 mock draft, B/R expert Matt Miller had the Houston Texans selecting Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick to place opposite reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

That would be terrifying for any opposing offense to handle, and it certainly made B/R's Aaron Nagler shudder:

Wherever Clowney lands, he should be an immediate impact player as long as his health permits him to be. A very lucky franchise will likely be getting a franchise cornerstone who will enjoy a sensational NFL career.

 

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Nebraska vs. Georgia: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Gator Bowl

This one's for the Big Ten.

The conference no doubt got a nice boost with Nebraska's 24-19 win over Georgia in the 2014 Gator Bowl. It's the first victory for the Big Ten this bowl season and the first loss for the SEC.

Entering the matchup, it was clear this was going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair. The Cornhuskers averaged 199.5 passing yards a game, while the Bulldogs were without Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL in November. The wet, windy conditions only served to ground both offenses.   

As a result, the winning team would be the one that established the running game more, and that ended up being the Cornhuskers.

You could certainly do worse than watching a battle of Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley. They were two of the best running backs during the regular season and were the bellwethers for their respective offenses on the afternoon.

Abdullah finished with 122 yards rushing and a touchdown on 27 carries. CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler thinks the Nebraska running back should receive more attention for his abilities.

His opposite number wasn't so lucky. You could tell Gurley wasn't 100 percent, but he still managed to carry the ball 21 times for 86 yards. He also had seven receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

The Nebraska offense could be encapsulated by Abdullah imploring the coaching staff on the sideline to give him the ball close to the goal line after Tommy Armstrong's sneak went nowhere. The junior running back would pound it in from a yard out to give the Cornhuskers a 17-9 lead in the third quarter.

Abdullah ran the ball so much that his jersey began resembling some sort of artistic masterpiece, according to Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer.

Whereas Abullah was always there for Nebraska, Gurley's health meant he couldn't be there for Georgia, especially late in the game. It was fitting that on the Bulldogs' final drive, Gurley looked sure to get a first down on a critical 3rd-and-10, only to come up three yards short.

The Gurley of earlier in the season would have bulldozed his way to the first down and possibly even to the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

Of course, as much as the running game was successful for Nebraska, the Cornhuskers probably wouldn't have won had it not been for a major play in the passing game.

They had a 3rd-and-14 on their own 1-yard line. Almost everybody expected the them to go with a QB sneak or run inside in order to get out of their own end zone and then punt the ball away.

Unfortunately for Georgia, its secondary was of the same opinion.

Bo Pelini opted for the pass, with Armstrong connecting with Quincy Enunwa for the 99-yard touchdown pass. It was a great play call from Pelini, as the Bulldogs' corners and safeties bit hard on the run, and there wasn't a defender within yards of Enunwa when he caught the ball.

Free safety Quincy Mauger went for the big hit, but Enunwa instead bounced off and had nothing but green in front of him.

That gave Nebraska a 24-12 lead with a little under five minutes in the third quarter.

Gurley closed the gap early in the fourth quarter with a 25-yard touchdown reception, and the Cornhuskers looked like they were teetering on the brink with a 24-19 lead.

The Bulldogs only have themselves to blame, as they had plenty of chances to find the go-ahead score toward the end of the game.

Georgia first had a 1st-and-10 on the Nebraska 22-yard line. After he saw his team get eight yards on the first three downs, Mark Richt chose to go for it on 4th-and-2. Mason's pass to Rantavious Wooten was incomplete.

The Bulldogs had another chance late only to see another Mason pass fall incomplete at the Nebraska 16-yard line with 25 seconds to go.

From there, Nebraska took a knee, and it was game over. The Cornhuskers were deserved winners. While they were out-gained 416-307, they took chances at the right times and stifled the Georgia offense in the red zone.

 

Key Player Grades

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: A

Abdullah was the tone-setter for Nebraska. If he would have had a bad game, the Cornhuskers could have gotten run out of the stadium. Armstrong only attempted 14 passes, eight of which were incompletions, so it was imperative that Nebraska could establish a steady presence on the ground.

Time and again, Abdullah was there to move the ball and eat up the clock.

 

Hutson Mason, Georgia: B

The conditions in Jacksonville weren't conducive for a strong passing performance, but Hutson Mason did his best to keep Georgia in it. The junior QB finished with 320 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 21-of-39 passing.

Taking into account all the circumstances, Mason arguably performed above expectations.

 

Todd Gurley, Georgia: B

Let's not be too tough on Gurley. He clearly wasn't healthy yet gave a strong performance. Even at 70 or 80 percent, he was a handful for the Nebraska defense. Gurley was both a threat on the ground and through the air.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to come up with the big plays when the Bulldogs needed them the most.

 

What's Next?

Nebraska built some strong momentum for 2014. In addition, Bo Pelini looks much more assured as head coach. Had the Cornhuskers lost, there may have been some talk about him being on the hot set. That's not a problem anymore, though.

Perhaps that's the case for Mark Richt. Sure, Georgia was hammered by injuries, but many Bulldogs fans may look at a final record of 8-5 and expect more.  

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Rose Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Stanford vs. Michigan State

If you’re a fan of smash-mouth football, then the 2014 Rose Bowl is the game for you. Power offense and hard-hitting defense will steal the show when Michigan State battles Stanford at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN.

This is the 100th Rose Bowl, and it’s sure to end in a nail-biter. Many expect it to be a low-scoring contest, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of excitement.

Michigan State will be without its star middle linebacker Max Bullough, who was suspended, but the Spartans should still give Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal offense a hard time.

David Shaw is a hot commodity in the coaching community, as many NFL teams want to steal him away from Stanford. Could he be an even bigger name in the rumor mill after tonight’s game?

Keep it locked right here with Bleacher Report for live score updates, highlights and much more!

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LSU's Zach Mettenberger Gets Caught Picking Nose on Sideline

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger tore his ACL in the Tigers' final game of the regular season, so he is forced to watch his team take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl.

When players have too much time on the sideline, things like this can happen. Cameras caught the senior picking his nose and then having a snack.

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Iowa's John Lowdermilk Costs Himself Pick-6 After Dropping Ball Too Early

Iowa's John Lowdermilk made a nice play to pick off LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings and return it 71 yards. However, he cost himself a pick-six by dropping the ball before he crossed the goal line.

Oops.

The blooper wasn't a complete disaster. The Hawkeyes took over at the Tigers' 1-yard line and scored a touchdown a few plays later to get on the board.

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Gator Bowl 2014: Despite Loss, Georgia QB Hutson Mason Looks Ready for the Job

Hutson Mason has been the heir apparent to Aaron Murray since the moment he signed with the Bulldogs in February 2010. He even took a redshirt as a junior in 2012 to give himself one year of separation from Aaron Murray, who was also a junior that season.

He didn't look like a superstar against Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, but he certainly looked ready for the job despite some early-game jitters.

One month after leading Georgia to a double-overtime win over Georgia Tech in place of Murray, who tore his ACL the previous week against Kentucky, Mason came out rattled in the 24-19 loss to the Cornhuskers on Wednesday afternoon—as was the case against the Jackets.

Mason again led his team back out of a hole and into a position to win. But this time, his teammates let him down.

Wide receiver Rantavious Wooten and tight end Arthur Lynch, in particular.

Statistically, Mason was on point.

The Marietta, Ga.,-native completed 21 of 40 passes for 320 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

He was rattled in the pocket early, kept his eyes on the pass rush rather than his receivers and routinely made bad decisions, like throwing a four-yard curl into double coverage on 3rd-and-5 early in the fourth quarter when Michael Bennett was wide open on a corner route.

But then it clicked.

With the Bulldogs down five in the middle of the fourth, he led them down the field and into the red zone, before Wooten dropped a 4th-and-2 pass for a first down after getting rocked by the Nebraska defender. Earlier in the drive, Lynch dropped a 2nd-and-10 pass on the Nebraska 22-yard line.

On Georgia's last drive of the game, Wooten again dropped a pass over the middle on 1st-and-15, and Lynch got stone hands on the final offensive play of the game for the Bulldogs—a 4th-and-3 from the Nebraska 16.

Lynch and Wooten—two seniors—closing out their careers in heartbreaking fashion.

CBS Sports' Tim Brando puts Lynch's drop in perspective.

Gut wrenching drop for Arthur Lynch as Senior TE for the Bulldogs. I'm so happy though for Pelini as he has endured so much this season.

— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) January 1, 2014

Don't blame the loss on Mason. 

Sure, he could have done more early on to prevent the Bulldogs from being in that position to begin with. But he was making just his second career start in sloppy conditions in Jacksonville. He's not going to step in and instantly become an Aaron Murray clone.

Now Georgia knows what his strengths are and, more importantly, what he needs to work on during the offseason. With Clemson looming in the opener and South Carolina in Week 3, that kind of knowledge is power.

 

 

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LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. Makes a One-Handed Catch vs. Iowa

Add this to the other one-handed grabs LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has made a routine.

The athletic wide receiver stretched out for an incredible catch on the sideline during the Tigers' matchup against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. 

Here's another look at it. 

 

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