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Orange Bowl 2014: Top Playmakers to Watch in Clemson vs. Ohio State

The 2014 Orange Bowl will pit  Clemson's pass-happy offense against Ohio State's gritty defense in what could prove to be the most entertaining bowl game of the season. This game will also feature some of the best draft prospects in the country, but none more notable than Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

Watkins' ability to gain yards after the catch and his overall athleticism are what made him one of the hottest receivers in the country, and he will be an integral part of Clemson's game plan versus the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes, who narrowly missed out on a trip to the BCS National Championship, will attempt to wrap up their impressive 2013 campaign with a victory but could run into some problems against Watkins and co.  

 

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

As one of the most highly touted receivers in this upcoming draft, Sammy Watkins has played lights out for Clemson all season long. He's totaled 85 receptions for 1,237 yards along with 10 touchdowns.

Watkins has been Tajh Boyd's favorite target this season and has been the Tigers' leading receiver by a lot; he has at least twice as many catches as anyone else on the team. In fact, the difference between Watkins' season stats and Martavis Bryant's (Clemson's second leading receiver) is greater than Bryant's season totals.

The Buckeyes defense will be down three defensive starters in this game, including star corner Bradley Roby. This sets Watkins up for a huge day, and it could give more nightmares to Ohio State players.

 

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Although Watkins is the brightest star on Clemson's roster, Boyd isn't far behind. His compact build along with his athleticism is what makes him so effective in the Tigers offense, and his skills will be on display in the school's 13th straight bowl game.

Boyd's thrown for 3,473 yards with 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions this season. His 102 career passing touchdowns is the most of any ACC quarterback ever.

Boyd will also be benefiting from the absence of Roby in the lineup and could be in for a bigger day than most expect. This will be one of his final chances to prove himself as a top quarterback in this coming draft, and things are set up for him to have a nice game.

 

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

As the Buckeyes' best tackler, Ryan Shazier will be leading the defensive charge come Friday night. Especially with pass-rusher Noah Spence out, his presence will be especially needed against Clemson's offense.

Teams have had the most success against Boyd and the Tigers when they heavily rush the passer to disrupt his connection with Watkins, and Shazier will be a key in that game plan should OSU go that route.

As a first-team All-American, Shazier has tallied 123 tackles (22 of which were for a loss) and seven sacks. His impact will be felt when the Buckeyes take the field, and this game's outcome could fall squarely on his and the defense's shoulders.

 

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

Carlos Hyde has been one of the most impressive runners in the country this season, totaling 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's been a consistent battering ram for the Buckeyes, and his 7.7 yards-per-carry average is fifth best in the NCAA.

Hyde's power running style will be key in breaking down Clemson's defense and opening things up for Braxton Miller and OSU's passing attack.

Clemson's defense has allowed an average of 159 rushing yards per game this season, foreshadowing a big dose of Hyde, courtesy of Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

This game will mean a lot for both teams heading into next season, with the winner carrying much momentum in 2014. It'll be a close game, but Ohio State's running game and resiliency on defense should carry the Buckeyes to victory over the Tigers.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers Shouldn't Sweat Anthony Jennings' Outback Bowl Performance

Don't give up on Anthony Jennings after one sour outing as a true freshman in the 2014 Outback Bowl.

Oh my, who could have predicted LSU fans throwing an abundance of grievances regarding Jennings' performance 48 hours ago? On second thought, we should have all seen that coming.

So maybe the true freshman didn't shine brightly against one of the best defenses in the nation. That doesn't mean Tigers fans should throw in the towel on what still should be a bright future for Jennings. Fans set the bar too high after his performance against Arkansas, though, and they were destined to be let down.

This is why I stated one month ago that Jennings isn't the second coming of Johnny Football after his heroics against Arkansas. Because people jump to conclusions so quickly, Jennings fell a great distance from his pedestal Wednesday afternoon.

A common theme on Twitter and in the comment section of my live blog following the 21-14 LSU victory was how Jennings was not the answer at quarterback. It became so overwhelming that instead of addressing everyone individually, I decided to call a "town meeting," if you will, with this article.

Before we go any further, here are the facts:

  • Jennings is a true freshman, who saw fewer than 12 game-time minutes on the field before starting against Iowa.
  • The true freshman completed 37 percent of his passes for 82 yards and an interception in the Outback Bowl.
  • Following Jennings' interception, he lost confidence, overthrowing wide receivers and never looking comfortable in the pocket, with Iowa linebacker James Morris wrecking havoc consistently.

Now, before we exterminate Jennings as the starting quarterback, let's look at a few reasons why the Tigers' fans are going overboard with criticism of this young star.

 

Iowa's Defense One of the Best Tigers Fans Have Seen This Season

First things first, Jennings is not Zach Mettenberger, so don't expect him to be.

While I've been told by Mettenberger and others that Jennings is excellent at progressing through his reads, I see him as a dual-threat quarterback before I see him as a pocket passer. He needs to gain experience before he can sit back in the pocket and pick defenses apart.

He couldn't do that against Iowa, and you know, not many teams could do it against the Hawkeyes this season. Iowa was 10th in the nation in passing defense, giving up just 175 passing yards per game.

So when a veteran linebacker corps and stout secondary faced off against a true freshman quarterback, who did you think would win?

Jennings' performance was underwhelming, but having to play against one of the best defenses in the nation in your first collegiate start is a massive task for any true freshman.

 

Cam Cameron Capable of Developing

Here's where the good news comes into play. Cam Cameron, the man who helped transform Mettenberger into a better quarterback (473 more passing yards, 6.1 better completion percentage and 10 more touchdown passes under Cameron's tutelage), can focus more of his time on Jennings.

And Cameron should have Jennings' full attention after his struggles in the bowl. Not that Jennings is that type of young man, but what if he would have dominated the game and relaxed a bit as a result in the offseason?

Instead of blaming his failures on a teammate or his youth, Jennings accepted his performance on Twitter and challenged himself for improvement. 

Even though Jennings' showing was far from what Tigers fans anticipated, it should serve as a nice teaching tool for Cameron to sharpen his quarterback's skills.

 

Brandon Harris Will Challenge Him

Speaking of sharpening...

Judging by the way the reporters on site have talked about Brandon Harris at the Under Armour All-America High School Game, Harris has the tools to push for the Tigers' starting job.

Jennings will have a leg up in competition with his knowledge of Cameron's system, though, and the more time he spends with Cameron, the better he'll be for it.

Jennings, an intelligent young man, understands this.

Moving forward, I think LSU fans should take a smarter approach about jumping to conclusions. Don't crown a player after one drive, and surely don't doom a freshman's future after one bad game.

One bad performance is simply one bad performance. I can remember quite a few from Mettenberger in 2012. Look at what 2013 brought us.

With Cameron instructing Jennings and Harris providing depth to the position,  let's learn from recent history and be patient with Jennings' development.

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BCS Championship 2014: Blueprint to Florida State Victory

It has been 14 years since Florida State last won a national championship and 13 since it last played in a title game. In those years, the Seminoles have experienced heartbreak, disappointment, letdowns and oh-so-closes. 

Now, they're 60 minutes away from finally bringing a crystal ball trophy back to Tallahassee. 

It won't be simple, however. They'll face an Auburn team that runs on opponents at will, that has pulled off miracle after miracle to keep its unbelievable season going. Tre Mason, the junior Heisman finalist, is one of the best running backs in the nation and is the spearhead of a rushing attack that ranks first in the country, as the Tigers are averaging 335.7 yards per game. 

FSU must be able to put points on the board in the same manner it has this season as the No. 2 scoring offense in the country. Auburn will inevitably score points, and to put it plain and simple, whoever scores the most points is going to win the football game. Hard-hitting stuff there. 

 

Exploit Auburn's defensive weakness

Where the Seminoles need to attack the most is through the air, which is Auburn's biggest weakness on defense. The Tigers give up 260.2 passing yards per game, which is the 104th-worst mark in FBS football. Against two teams that have a similar level of talent at wide receiver as FSU, Texas A&M and Missouri, Auburn gave up 454 and 303 passing yards, respectively.

Here is Bleacher Report's Michael Felder showing how Auburn struggles on pass coverage, from his piece on Florida State's biggest X-factor for the big game.

"Auburn is no stranger to coverage issues," Felder writes. "Here, against Georgia, Chris Davis is lined up over tight end Arthur Lynch and the Tigers are going to play man coverage with one-high safety in the back-end."

"Davis bites on the play action and instead of doing his job on Lynch, flows toward the line of scrimmage allowing the tight end to get a free run on the corner route. The result is a touchdown for the Bulldogs."

Jameis Winston will look to exploit that by way of FSU's dynamic trio of receivers—Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene—in addition to tight end receiving threat Nick O'Leary, who is one of Winston's favorite targets. A&M's Mike Evans, who is similar to Benjamin in stature and playing style, had 287 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn, so if Winston can get going, it'll be a long day for the Tiger defense. 

Here is Evans against Auburn:

The counterpoint to Auburn's weakness in the secondary is that despite giving up all those yards through the air, it still managed to pull off wins against the Aggies and Tigers, due mostly to Auburn's amazing presence on the ground. 

 

Eliminate the rushing attack

For Florida State, the biggest step in securing a victory is stopping Auburn's run game, which serves as the lifeblood of Tiger football. The 'Noles have the 14th-best rush defense in the country, as opponents have rushed for only 116.5 yards against them. Interestingly, the first-string Florida State defense hasn't allowed a single rushing touchdown this year, which is a feat considering they played against top backs in Boston College's Andre Williams and Miami's Duke Johnson. 

Bleacher Report's college football staff breaks down Florida State's defense versus Auburn's offense in the video below.

The key to stopping Auburn's running game is staying at home and being disciplined, something that the Tigers' opponents haven't been able to do consistently. Defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Christian Jones will be essential in stopping the run, since they'll have to be able to combat the read option, something that Auburn is quite skilled in doing. 

Throw out the "Team of Destiny" narrative, the SEC vs. ACC plot line and even the strength of schedule argument. If Florida State can exploit Auburn's weakness in the secondary and play disciplined run defense, the Seminoles will be national champions. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Connor Cook Came Through for Spartans in Rose Bowl When It Mattered Most

When Michigan State sophomore quarterback Connor Cook tossed an ill-advised second-quarter pass that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson, it could have all unraveled for the fourth-ranked Spartans in their first Rose Bowl trip since 1988.

The pick-six and ensuing extra point put MSU down 17-7 with just 2:51 remaining before halftime. Cook had been lucky enough to have Anderson drop what could have been an interception in the first quarter, but wasn’t so lucky the second time.

To top it off, the Spartans were also having trouble running the ball against the Cardinal defense—and Cook was going to need to connect through the air if MSU was going to make up its first double-digit deficit of the campaign before 95,173 onlookers in Pasadena, many of them wearing green and white.

So what did Cook do?

The Hinckley, Ohio, native marched MSU 75 yards down the field in seven plays for seven points, connecting with fullback Trevon Pendleton from two yards out with just 28 ticks left in the half to put the green and white down by three after 30 minutes.

And he was just getting started in Big Ten champion MSU’s 24-20 win over No. 5 Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl game.

"It's a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force," MSU head coach Mark Dantonio told the Associated Press (via msuspartans.com). "I'm very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long."

No. 18 showed perhaps the most resilience of all, less than a month after guiding MSU (13-1) to a 34-24 victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Cook got the Spartans in position for a tying field goal early in the third quarter against Stanford, while also getting some more luck a couple more times in the second half. Another Stanford player dropped what again seemed to be a sure interception, and another Cardinal pick was wiped out by a penalty.

Early in the final frame, after the Spartans shook off a fumble by halfback Jeremy Langford deep in Stanford territory, Cook gave MSU its first and only lead of the afternoon.

And the only one it would need.

After a 19-yard punt return by Macgarrett Kings Jr., Cook drove MSU 27 yards in three plays, finishing things off with a 25-yard scoring toss down the middle to wide receiver Tony Lippett to put State up 24-17.

Langford (23 rushes, 84 yards, TD) and the Spartan defense then ground down the Cardinal (11-3), who managed a field goal with 4:15 remaining to pull within four points—but it was as close as Stanford would get.

After the Cardinal was stopped on a last-ditch 4th-and-one try with more than a minute remaining, on a tremendous play by linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris, Cook took two knees and then senior replacement Andrew Maxwell took one to close out MSU’s first Rose Bowl win in 26 years, and the Big Ten’s first triumph in the Granddaddy of Them All since 2000.

Yet in time-honored sports tradition, Cook gave kudos to his teammates rather than talk specifically about anything he accomplished Wednesday.

“Our defense, they have been doing their thing the entire year," he told the Detroit News. "They’ve been shutting out our opponents and then our offense has really stepped up and become a lot more balanced in the pass game and run game. That’s allowed for success.”

That offensive balance began and ended with State's sophomore signal-caller. Cook completed 22 of 36 passes for a career-high 322 yards, along with two scores and one interception, and completed passes to nine different teammates.

That was after he earned Big Ten MVP accolades after finishing 24-of-40 for 304 yards for three scores and one pick against the Buckeyes last month, a game in which MSU led 17-0 before OSU came back to take a lead that Cook and company short-circuited with another 17-point run.

“It’s awesome to watch Connor Cook,” MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said afterward to the Lansing State Journal. “He’s got a short memory. He threw that pick-six, gave up seven points there and I said, ‘The great thing about Connor, is he’ll just wipe it right off.’ ”

He still got the job done on Jan. 1 after making a couple of mistakes and getting a little bit of luck in the process.

You have to be good to win, and you also have to be lucky. Once again, Connor Cook was both for the Spartans.

And now, they're both Rose Bowl champions.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Art Briles Would Be Perfect Coach to Fill Mack Brown Void at Texas

Change was necessary at Texas. Mack Brown did a lot of great things during his extended tenure with the Longhorns, but the program had become stagnant in recent years. Bringing in a coach like Art Briles would be the first step to getting back on a championship level.

In today's college football world, the teams challenging for national titles are the ones that sport a clear identity. Auburn owns the nation's best rushing attack. Florida State has the best scoring defense, which finally got the offensive support it needed thanks to the arrival of Jameis Winston.

Last season, the championship game featured Alabama and Notre Dame, both extremely strong defensive teams. Also in the mix was Oregon, an outstanding offensive team.

While Texas has been solid in many areas, it hasn't had that overarching identity. Those top teams always have something to lean on to get through big regular-season games. The Longhorns need to find that to get back on top.

That's why Briles is such an intriguing option. He took a Baylor program that was struggling mightily, created an offensive haven that would attract prospects and turned the Bears around without the resources or recruiting clout of the Longhorns.

He's seemingly a realistic option, too. Kirk Bohls and Brian Davis of the American-Statesman cite sources which go as far as stating Briles would accept the Texas job if it was offered to him:

The Baylor source said that Briles has no plans to remain in Arizona and is scheduled to return to Waco on Wednesday with the rest of the Baylor team. Two sources, including one close to Briles, has told the Statesman that Briles would accept the Texas job if offered.

Exactly how interested the Longhorns are and where he would fall on their wish list is unclear, but if he's as intrigued by the job as those sources suggest, he's a great target.

It's important to remember how far out of the picture Baylor was before Briles arrived. It hadn't secured a winning season in more than a decade and had four winless Big 12 campaigns over that span. The Bears were a complete non-factor.

The turnaround took a couple years, as Briles recruited the type of players he needed to make his system work and to change the program's identity on a national basis for recruiting, but the Bears cracked the .500 mark three years later, and the non-factor label is gone.

Similarly, it would take some time for Briles to get the Texas program where he would want it. In other words, pushing the Longhorns into immediate title contention wouldn't be a realistic expectation, but signs of clear progress would be.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN passed along comments from Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, who made it crystal clear what he thought of the job Briles had done:

Earlier this season, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury called Briles' rebuilding job one of the "greatest feats in college football history."

"I still don't think he gets the credit he deserves for the job he's done at Baylor," Kingsbury said. "I don't think people nationally understand how down the program was when he took the job."

If you give a head coach with that type of ability to rebuild a program the backing of Texas' resources and national recognition, great things are once again possible. It may take some time, but the future would once again be bright instead of remaining on the current course.

Texas needs a team identity. Briles is the coach that can build it, getting one of the nation's top programs back on the right path.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl 2014: Top NFL Prospects to Watch in Oklahoma vs. Alabama Contest

Although the 2014 Sugar Bowl matchup between Oklahoma and Alabama may not be ideal in the eyes of some college football fans, there are plenty of reasons to tune in. Chief among them is the fact that several players will have their final chance to impress NFL scouts in a game situation before entering the draft.

The Sooners have thrived despite a surprising lack of NFL-ready prospects. That isn't the case for the Crimson Tide, however, as several 'Bama players figure to be taken in the draft's first few rounds should they decide to declare.

For those who aren't necessarily worried about who wins and who loses the Sugar Bowl, here are three NFL prospects that you should keep tabs on as draft banter starts to heat up.

 

Cyrus Kouandjio

Alabama's defense gets a ton of credit for the team's success, but the offense was excellent in 2013 as well. Quarterback A.J. McCarron was barely touched, and running back T.J. Yeldon ran wild. The offensive line had a lot to do with that, and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was the anchor. Kouandjio would almost certainly be a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, but he is still torn when it comes to whether or not he wants to declare, according to Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News.

As things currently stand, Kouandjio is definitely behind Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews in the rankings, but he is in the mix with Greg Robinson of Auburn and Cameron Erving of Florida State. If Kouandjio can stifle a solid Oklahoma defense in the Sugar Bowl, it is entirely possible that he can solidify himself both as the No. 2 offensive tackle prospect as well as a prospective top-10 pick in the draft.

The decision ultimately lands on Kouandjio's shoulders, and it would be tough to blame him for returning to 'Bama in hopes of winning another national title next year. However, he also has a great opportunity in the NFL. Provided Kouandjio doesn't have an uncharacteristically awful performance against the Sooners, look for him to throw his name into the hat for the 2014 draft.

 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

There is no question that the 2013 season was a trying one for Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but he managed to persevere and have a productive campaign. Clinton-Dix was a force on the field with 45 tackles and two interceptions in nine games, but he faced trials and tribulations as well. They included a two-game suspension for receiving improper benefits, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

'I think I handled it very well, but it was my teammates, coaches and family members that kept me motivated and kept me calmed down and humble about the whole situation,' Clinton-Dix said. 'I really give them a big thanks to my coaches and teammates and family for doing that.'

Since Clinton-Dix has seemingly put that incident behind him, he can now focus on preparing for the NFL. Clinton-Dix is a junior like Kouandjio, so the Sugar Bowl doesn't necessarily have to be his final collegiate game, but it's difficult to imagine him improving his draft stock much by returning to Alabama for another season.

Returning would put another year between him and the improper benefits scandal, but it's likely that NFL teams will be understanding and will instead focus on his production instead. Clinton-Dix is easily the best draft-eligible safety, and he is a likely first-round pick. He can sew up that distinction by having a strong Sugar Bowl.

 

C.J. Mosley 

Although inside linebackers don't often receive much respect heading into the NFL draft, they tend to become impact players at the next level. Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is the perfect example, as he fell to the second round of the 2013 draft despite having first-round ability. He went on to have a spectacular season and is now the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This is relevant because Alabama happens to have an elite inside linebacker in the form of C.J. Mosley. He is a senior who has led the defense for the past few seasons, and it can be argued that he is the heart and soul of the team. Mosley led the Tide with 88 tackles and nine tackles for loss this season. He has been so good that he has drawn comparisons to a future NFL Hall-of-Famer, according to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman.

While it's way too early to compare Mosley to Ray Lewis, the comparison is certainly well taken. Mosley is a playmaker and a leader, and any NFL team would be lucky to have him. It isn't easy for inside linebackers to crack the first round of the NFL draft, but it shouldn't be a problem for Mosley. Since the Sugar Bowl will be Mosley's swan song at Alabama, expect all-out effort and perhaps one of the best games of his collegiate career.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Cold Hard Fact for Thursday, January 2, 2013

Fact: Oklahoma and Alabama are the two winningest programs in bowl history. Their combined 61 bowl wins make the most bowl wins by any teams to meet in a bowl game. 

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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Georgia Football: Don't Worry Bulldog Fans, Mike Bobo Isn't Going Anywhere

All it took for fans of the Georgia Bulldogs to finally appreciate offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was a little interest from another football program.

The oft-maligned assistant, who has turned Georgia into one of the most prolific offenses in the country, suddenly became a commodity worth keeping when it was learned that the Georgia Southern Eagles had an interest in him as a head coach. Fan concern only heightened when reports began to surface that the interest was mutual

While an unsavory ending to a rocky season leaves plenty of reasons for Georgia fans to be unsettled over the offseason, there is one thing that they don’t need to worry about. Mike Bobo is not going to leave Georgia for Georgia Southern—or any other second-tier program for that matter.

On Wednesday, Bobo affirmed to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph that he does in fact have head coaching aspirations. But he tapered that statement by adding, “But I also aspire to win a championship here at Georgia.”

For Bobo, both of those aspirations are very much on the table, but the opportunity to be a head coach is hardly a closing window. 

 

Rising Stock

Although he’s been at the University of Georgia for 13 seasons, Mike Bobo is still young at the age of 39. When that youth is combined with his long tenure at one of the nation’s premier programs and an impressive recent track record, it’s understandable that his head coaching stock is rising.

In 2012, Georgia shattered every school record for offensive production. As star after star went down with injuries this year, Bobo’s offense did not level off. His performance this year garnered him recognition as the nation’s best offensive coordinator according to 247Sports. And despite Aaron Murray's departure, Bobo could have his best coaching display ahead of him yet, with the Bulldogs returning a host of talent around new starter Hutson Mason.

In that regard, it doesn’t make sense for the young offensive guru to jump ship for the first head coaching offer he receives.

 

Small Program Challenges

Although the initial offer, if it does indeed come from Georgia Southern, may be flattering, it would also be littered with obstacles. Having coached under Mark Richt for over a decade, Bobo understands what it takes to be a successful head coach and establish oneself as a figurehead of the university. He’s also had a front-row seat to the criticism and pressures that come with the gig.

But he hasn’t experienced the challenges that less-dominant football programs face. Bobo has never had to recruit against a more powerful in-state program. He’s never had to campaign for a locker room renovation or more stadium seating. He’s never had to pinch pennies to squeeze together a coaching staff.

If he went to Georgia Southern or another second-tier program, he’d have to do all of those things without a road map or reference guide. Such intricacies would make his first head coaching job infinitely more challenging.

 

Financial Compensation

Furthermore, Bobo would likely be fulfilling all of those duties while being paid below market value. Although he’s arguably underpaid as an assistant, Bobo still made more than twice as much as Georgia Southern’s last head coach in 2013. 

The compensation gaps between major conferences and smaller programs is drastic. In total, 31 FBS head coaches earned salaries less than Bobo's $575,000 annual salary this year.  Only one of those coaches led a major conference team.

Until other, presumably better, offers present themselves, he’ll be better served as an assistant coach at Georgia, even from a financial standpoint.

 

What’s Best for Bobo

Bobo told Emerson that his confidence in Mark Richt and the players at Georgia cause him to believe the Bulldogs are close to winning a championship. 

While that assessment may have seemed more accurate following the 2012 season than it does now, he is around the program on a daily basis and is likely capable of evaluating the situation. If there is truth to that sentiment, then there is no reason for Mike Bobo to leave Georgia. After all, if the Bulldogs do in fact compete for championships over the coming years, it will because of Bobo’s offense.

If that happens, he’ll be glad he didn’t leave for a second-tier head coaching job as he’ll be fielding offers from some of the nation’s best programs. On the other hand, there will always be another Georgia Southern looking to give a talented offensive mind his first shot as a head coach.

For now, Mike Bobo’s not going anywhere.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fact: The Oklahoma Sooners are 1-4 in bowl games against SEC opponents under Bob Stoops.

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

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Bob Flounders (@BobbyFlo7) January 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) January 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks to Jim Weber of Fox Sports for the find. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Still has a bowl to play in 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winner.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

 

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Oklahoma Players Who Will Give Alabama Problems

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

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

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

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight

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

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

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

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

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

 

Defensive Back Aaron Colvin

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

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

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

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

 

Wide Receiver/ Returner Jalen Saunders

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s that simple, really.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Odds Shark BCS computer prediction: 49-35 Florida State

 

Why Florida State will cover the BCS title game spread

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

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

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

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

 

Why Auburn will cover the BCS title game spread

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

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

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

 

Smart Pick

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

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

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

 

BCS Championship Game Trends:

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

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

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

SEC won and covered all seven BCS title games.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Auburn: So. Much. Talent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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