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Bowl Schedule 2014: Full List of Games Following New Year's Day

After an amazing six-game feast of college football concludes on New Year's Day, there are still six more bowl games left on the schedule. And like a gourmet chef who crafts a glorious seven-course meal, the football gods have saved the best for last. 

Starting with the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and ending with the final BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6, football fans will be treated to three BCS bowl games and three non-BCS games. 

Here's a quick peek at the schedule for all six games, followed by a closer look at the three BCS bowl games:

 

Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma (11) vs. Alabama (3)

The last time Alabama went to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC representative, the Crimson Tide were shocked by Utah, which won 31-17.

After the brutal loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl to close out the regular season, this team will need to guard against a similar fate on Jan. 2 against the dangerous Oklahoma Sooners.

The SEC is widely viewed as the strongest conference in the nation, but 'Bama head coach Nick Saban recently downplayed any notion that Oklahoma would be a pushover, as noted by Marq Burnett of the Ledger-Enquirer:

If you look at Oklahoma, they've made their living this year really being able to run the ball effectively... That's pretty good rushing football. If you look at a conference that's supposed to be a spread, spread you out, throw it all over the place, kind of loose play kind of conference, I think they have the ability to do that because they have really good skill guys and their quarterbacks are capable.

Oklahoma will surely give Alabama its full attention in this upcoming BCS bowl game, and nobody should be surprised if the Sooners come away with a big win. 

It'll take a tremendous effort by Oklahoma's defense to slow down Alabama's balanced offensive attack, however. And on the other side—whether it be Blake Bell or Trevor Knight behind center for the Sooners—Alabama's defense is a tough nut to crack. 

 

Orange Bowl: Clemson (12) vs. Ohio State (No. 7)

After contending for the national championship for most of the year, Ohio State could finish the season with two straight losses if Clemson can execute its offense at the Orange Bowl. 

The Buckeyes will be without their sacks (8) and tackles for loss (14.5) leader. Defensive end Noah Spence was suspended by the program for this upcoming bowl game and two more games in 2014 for violating Big Ten rules, as reported by Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports:

Additionally, cornerback Bradley Roby could miss the game with a knee injury, as Eric Seger of TheLantern.com noted on Dec. 30. 

Ohio State's defense was going to be hard-pressed to stop Clemson's explosive offensive attack (40.2 points per game) even with Spence and Roby. Without the two top defenders, the Buckeyes could be doomed.

Kyle Rowland, who is an OSU beat writer for ElevenWarriors.com, recently gave his prediction for the game, via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier, taking into account this recent news:

Based on the way things are trending – Ohio State missing key defensive players – Clemson could win big. I was siding with the Buckeyes until this week, but I’m starting to think something like 42-31 Clemson. 

Count this author among those who are of the same opinion. 

 

BCS National Championship Game: Florida State (1) vs. Auburn (2)

The 2013-14 college football season comes to its conclusion on Jan. 6, when Florida State and Auburn hit the gridiron at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Both teams feature explosive offensive attacks that finished the season as top-10 scoring teams (FSU No. 2; Auburn No. 10). 

Gus Mahlzahn's triple-option offense, led by speedy quarterback Nick Marshall and jackhammer running back Tre Mason, was unstoppable down the home stretch. The Tigers took down Georgia, Alabama and Missouri in their final three games, outscoring the SEC powerhouses by a combined total of 136-108.

Clearly, Auburn's offense is capable of putting up points with the best of them. 

But nobody—and I mean nobody—has been able to slow down Jameis Winston and the Seminoles this season. FSU was second in the nation in scoring, averaging 53 points per game, and it featured the top-ranked scoring defense, which allowed just 10.7 points per game.

As good as Auburn has been leading up to this pivotal contest, it's hard to imagine Florida State will lose. If anything, the Seminoles will roll over Auburn, just like they've did to every other team in 2013. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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BCS Bowl Games 2014: Full Schedule and Can't-Miss Showdowns

Bowl action has picked up as of late, thanks to games like the Chick-fil-A bowl, but these less noteworthy bowls have nothing on the action about to unfold during the BCS slate.

Sure, Johnny Manziel's epic performance as he led No. 21 Texas A&M over No. 24 Duke was thrilling, but the two sides were left out of BCS action for a reason.

The big boys are in play for the season's final marquee events, and two games rise above the rest as contests fans would be wise to work their schedule around.

 

 

Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes

Fans that love the high-flying offense the collegiate game is known for should look no further than the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Ohio State to fulfill their need.

Tigers senior quarterback Tajh Boyd (3,473 passing yards and 29 scores) will square off with the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller (1,860 passing yards, 1,033 rushing and 32 total scores) in a prolific matchup featuring two of the nation's top offenses.

So yes, both offenses are evenly matched, as Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was not thrilled to point out, as captured by ESPN:

Ohio State ranks No. 3 in the nation with an average of 46.3 points scored; Clemson No. 9 at 40.2. The Tigers are attempting to shake off the memories of the last time they played in the Orange Bowl—when the 2012 edition saw West Virginia paste Clemson, 70-33.

Ohio State is simply looking to right the ship, as the school has gone 2-4 in its last six bowl appearances—including two losses in title games.

In a game sure to turn into a shootout, this is easily the most unpredictable game of all. Translation—a must-watch for fans. 

Prediction: Buckeyes 38, Tigers 20

 

BCS National Championship: No. 1 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 2 Auburn Tigers

The BCS did right by fans this year.

Florida State and Auburn were simply made to play each other in 2013. The undefeated Seminoles tout Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns to 10 interceptions on the year.

Auburn was arguably the best underdog story of year—the Tigers won nine straight and pulled off perhaps the most memorable play in college football history to upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

The Tigers certainly pack a punch on the ground, as they average 335.7 yards per game for the nation's top attack. Together, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason totaled 2,644 yards and 33 touchdowns.

As prolific as Auburn has been this season, the team will need to be at its best to overcome the nation's No. 2 offense, which scores an average of 53 points per game. Even Auburn alum Charles Barkley is not comfortable with his team's chances, as he told NFL Network's Rich Eisen:

This one has the feel of a heavyweight bout that will come down to the final possession. The fans are the real winners as the BCS fades to black.

Prediction: Seminoles 49, Tigers 34

 

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How Bill O'Brien Leaving Penn State Will Impact Recruiting for Nittany Lions

As Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans, I had several different thoughts run through my head:

Good for him, you can't really fault him for this decision. Boy, Penn State is pretty much in the same boat it was a couple of years ago. Maybe this is when the sanctions really impact the program and Penn State is dead as we know it. Who's going to replace O'Brien to continue righting the ship? Wait, what about the recruiting?

Ask anybody who follows college football, and they'll tell you a program is really only as good as its recruiting. You could have the best coach in the world, but if your program isn't attractive and you aren't drawing attention to some of the best players, more likely than not, said team is struggling just to qualify for a bowl game. Not every recruit pans out, but there's a reason Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon are consistently dominant.  

O'Brien did the most with what he had and surprisingly put together some incredible recruiting classes. In fact, he's leaving a 2014 class that ranks 17th in the country, according to 247Sports

So, now what?

The good news is that Penn State is in greater shape than it was a couple of years ago. O'Brien leaving isn't the same as Joe Paterno being fired and the NCAA bringing the hammer down. It does return Penn State back to the unknown, but recovering from this minor setback will be a lot easier. This is why the fanbase shouldn't pretend the sky is falling and should feel confident for what is to come.

Even better, recruits who have committed early aren't wavering with their decision. Instead, they have rallied behind one another and seem committed to Penn State more than ever:

Of course, there's still a lot of time between now and national signing day in February. As the program witnessed after the Jerry Sandusky incident, recruits can say one thing and do another. Other coaches around the country are certainly going to make it tough for Penn State to keep these kids. And it wouldn't be surprising at all to see one or two actually leave. 

Defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who is a 5-star recruit, knows the drill and left the door open for the possibility of other teams to make a case, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports:

“I will wait and see but as of right now there are no changes in my recruitment,” Holley said. “I am still a Nittany Lion."

This type of support goes a long way with keeping this class together and convincing others to even hop on board. But it only goes so far. The team still needs to replace O'Brien, and it needs to happen fast.

According to pennlive.com, there are rumbles that Vanderbilt's James Franklin is the guy Penn State wants. If the program can land him, they would have twice won the lottery. It would also without question take recruiting to another level.

Franklin has helped build Vanderbilt from the ground up, and it's started with incredible recruiting classes. He's been able to steal a few diamonds in the rough and currently has a top-30 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

Let's be honest—Vanderbilt has its perks, but it is a far cry from Penn State on a national level. He'll have a lot more to sell than great academics. 

But no matter who becomes the head coach, Penn State is still in a solid position. Like it or not, this is still a prestigious program that will continue to get national attention. You can't remove decades of success from the history books.

The Nittany Lions are still a powerhouse football program that is still on the radar of most recruits. If the sanctions didn't slow things down in the first two years, it's safe to assume this program is soon out of the woods.

The NCAA was generous enough to restore scholarships moving forward. This means that Penn State will have 75 scholarship players beginning in 2014-15 and will be back to the full 85 starting in 2016-17.

This is a huge step forward in getting the program back to competing for national titles. Let's also not forget that there is already great talent on the roster, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg, defensive back Jordan Lucas and tight end Jesse James.

You never know what these recruits are thinking, and anything can happen. But O'Brien did a lot of the dirty work, making the future a much brighter place for Penn State. The recruiting class shouldn't be negatively impacted. 

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Capital One Bowl 2014: Viewing Info and Preview for Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

New Year's Day is usually a sign that bowl season is about to head into overdrive, and that is certainly the case on the first day of 2014. One of the day's marquee matchups features Wisconsin taking on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.

The Badgers will be looking to rebound after a lackluster performance in the regular-season finale against Penn State. Before that loss, the team's only defeats came on the road against a pair of strong teams in Arizona State and Ohio State.

South Carolina got its head-scratching loss out of the way a little bit earlier, dropping a game against Tennessee in mid-October. The Gamecocks bounced back strong, though. They won their last five games, including triumphs over Missouri and Clemson.

Let's check out all the key details for the Capital One Bowl, followed by a preview and prediction for which side will end the season on a high note.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET

Watch: ABC

 

Preview

Connor Shaw put together a terrific season for South Carolina. After throwing 13 interceptions over the previous two seasons, he had just one to go along with a career-high 21 touchdown passes as a senior to help pace the Gamecocks offense.

He was particularly impressive down the stretch, with 10 touchdowns and no picks in the final five games after the loss to Tennessee. He even showed off his dual-threat ability in the regular-season finale, rushing for 94 yards and a touchdown in a win over Clemson.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Shaw's improvement was that he was able to play that well without a truly dominant wide receiver to work with. Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington are solid targets and Shaq Roland flashed some potential, but it's not an elite receiving group.

Add in running back Mike Davis, and South Carolina has an underrated offensive group. It's a unit that will need to find a way to move the ball consistently against a Wisconsin defense that ranks fifth in points allowed at less than 15 per game.

As illustrated in comments passed along by Ryan Wood of The Post and Courier, Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda knows slowing Shaw down is the biggest key to success:

While you (pressure him), don't let him out of the pocket. Those two things don't always go hand in hand, and so it's difficult to accomplish. I think the mix is the best thing. The mix is the answer in my mind, whether it's going from man to zone to four-man to three-man.

So we'll see how all that goes. We were talking earlier today. I think a lot of people have tried, and not a lot of people have been successful.

The Gamecocks defense isn't far behind at 20 points per game, good for 13th in the nation. Since the teams are pretty even on that side of the ball, the game will likely come down to which offense is able to make one or two big plays in the second half.

For Wisconsin, which provided an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the team's preparations leading up to the bowl game, it all starts with the ground game.

The combination of Melvin Gordon and James White tallied over 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. They set the tone for the entire offense and take a lot of pressure off quarterback Joel Stave, who tossed three interceptions when asked to take on a more pass-heavy attack against Penn State.

So the key for Wisconsin is establishing that rushing attack early. If it can get Gordon and White rolling and it turn lessen the amount of throws Stave needs to make, the Badgers should be able to control the pace of the game.

Of course, South Carolina understands that as well and will be loading up to stop the run. Don't be surprised if that leads Wisconsin to use some play-action early in an attempt to stop the Gamecocks from stacking the box. That's where Jared Abbrederis would come into play.

Ultimately, this should be one of the closest battles of bowl season. In the end, Shaw will be able to make enough plays late to push South Carolina over the top.

Prediction: South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 23

 

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Michigan State vs. Stanford: Keys to Victory for the Spartans and Cardinal

Not much separates the No. 4-ranked Michigan State Spartans and the No. 5-ranked Stanford Cardinal in the 2014 Rose Bowl. Both teams are keyed by their defenses and running games.

In this type of matchup, the winner will be determined by the team that does the little things well. Whether it's a matter of discipline or execution, the following factors will determine the 100th Rose Bowl champion.

 

Penalties

In Michigan State's only loss this season to Notre Dame, it committed 10 penalties for 115 yards. Teams that are predicated on defense and field position can't afford to be penalized that often and for that many yards in a game. 

That contest has proven to be an exception to the rule for the Spartans. The team was penalized only 5.2 times per game in every other other game this season. It must make sure it plays a disciplined brand of football against Stanford to be successful.

The Cardinal haven't had enormous issues with penalties and they must stay away from that pitfall on Wednesday—especially on the offensive side of the ball. Great defenses like Michigan State don't need any help shutting teams down

 

Spartans Must Force Turnovers

Michigan State is a team built around its defense. It was ranked No. 1 in the nation in total yards allowed per game. You can bet senior Denicos Allen and Co. will be looking to make one last statement as a team this season.

In order to really put the Spartans offense in the best position to score, the defense needs to take the ball away. The plus-minus category has told the story for both teams this season. Michigan State is plus-14 on the season in turnover margin.

Stanford has had some issues taking care of the ball. It is minus-five in turnover margin in its two losses.

The Cardinal doesn't possess the type of firepower to dig itself out of a huge hole—especially not against a defense like Michigan State's. If the Spartans can get out early and force first-half turnovers, it could create an insurmountable deficit for Stanford.

 

Cardinal Must Limit Big Plays

The Spartans don't have a high-powered offense themselves, but quarterback Connor Cook does have some explosive weapons. Keith Mumphery isn't the Spartans' most prolific pass catcher, but he is a threat to go the distance when he catches the ball.

He had a 72-yard touchdown reception against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game. 

Plays like that can and will break Stanford in what will likely be a close contest.

 

Make an Impact on Special Teams

In the return game, the Cardinal have the more dangerous weapon. Ty Montgomery has already taken two kickoffs back for touchdowns this season. The Spartans may want to avoid him to keep from giving Stanford great starting position after a score.

While the Spartans don't have an explosive return man like Montgomery, freshman kicker Michael Geiger gives them the edge in the kicking game. He's made 14-of-15 field goal attempts this season. That includes a perfect 2-for-2 against the Buckeyes.

In a hard-fought game like this one, either man could be the X-factor.

 

Follow me for news and opinions on sports.

 

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 2014 Legacy Class a Throwback to the Glory Days

The six "legacy" commitments in Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class are going to be instrumental in helping the Volunteers try to move on from this ugly half-decade and restore the program to prominence.

For Dillon Bates, Todd Kelly Jr., Evan and Elliott Berry, Vic Wharton and Neiko Creamer, that task carries an extra weight that can only benefit the Vols moving forward.

While Kelly's and Creamer's fathers roamed the field during Johnny Majors' heyday of the 1980s and early '90s, Bates' and the Berrys' dads helped shepherd UT through the rocky Bill Battles-to-Majors transition.

The Tennessee legacies provide an important thread between the Vols' rich history and a future that head coach Butch Jones wants to resemble the glory days of the past.

They also lined up at the perfect time for Jones' rebuilding efforts.

In a year where Tennessee is able sign a huge class and has a huge need for quality players at every position, the legacies provide a foundation of talent who know firsthand about experiences that made UT one of the most storied programs in the nation.

That isn't going to make them play better, but it may make them harder. At the very least, it will give them an additional burden to turn around the Vols' recent fortune than a prospect with no ties to the program.

Four-star linebacker Bates—whose father, Bill, was a UT standout and NFL All-Pro with the Dallas Cowboys—acknowledged to Govols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription) that he simply feels something different when it comes to Tennessee.

Ever since I was little, I always wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps, whether that be through high school, through college, through hopefully the NFL. I know that I'm on the right track to following in his footsteps, with him leading the way years ago, and I'm trying to do everything that he's done, and hopefully better, and (go) into the NFL after Tennessee.

All the other visits that I've ever been on, they haven't really felt like I'm at home or felt as comfortable as I have been at Tennessee. It's that little something, whenever you step out on the game field during games and you kind of get those goosebumps that you feel at Tennessee, that I didn't really feel at other places, that made me kind of realize that this was the place for me.

That was the case with all the players with ties to the program. Every legacy UT offered eventually gave their verbal commitments to Jones. They've all stayed firm, too.

It all started with Vic Wharton on Christmas Day 2012 when the 3-star athlete chose the Vols over several other SEC offers, becoming Jones' first pledge of the '14 class. Wharton's uncle Brandon was a standout basketball player for the Vols.

While Wharton isn't the highest-ranked commit in UT's class, he may be the most important. He immediately began networking with other recruits over social media and using his ties to a couple areas of the state where he'd lived (Knoxville and Nashville) to recruit.

Wharton's recruiting persistence paid off, as he helped lure 4-star safety Todd Kelly Jr., who followed his father's path by committing to UT in March. The elder Kelly was a star defender for Majors' teams that went 38-9-2 from 1989-92.

Earlier in the week Kelly committed, UT secured Neiko Creamer, a 3-star jumbo athlete whose father Andre played for Majors from 1984-87 when the Vols were 33-12-1.

Four-year runs such as the one the elder Kelly and Creamer enjoyed were made possible by Bill Bates and James Berry helping UT rebuild when Johnny came marching home from Pittsburgh. While those late 1970s and early '80s seasons weren't always pretty, they set the table for the program's surge.

It's kind of the same position these 2014 commitments are in today.

Wharton told Volquest's Brent Hubbs (subscription) this week how he'd targeted those players with Tennessee ties:

T.K. (Todd Kelly, Jr.) and I grew up with each other when I lived in Knoxville. I know with his dad going to Tennessee I knew he might go to Tennessee. I had in my heart that he would. I thought after he committed if we could get someone else and when Jalen (Hurd) committed I just felt like we could really do something with our class. Having that first five star committed and now having Josh Malone as well, we couldn't ask for a better class.

Getting Evan and Elliott Berry to commit in early November was the bow on top of a legacy class Jones wrapped up. The twins' father was a running back and a captain at UT, and their brother, Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro safety Eric Berry, starred for the Vols during the tenures of Phillip Fulmer and Lane Kiffin.

With each legacy pledge, the link between the past and future became stronger. While that may seem insignificant to outsiders, it is a major change from the previous two coaching regimes that ignored rather than magnified UT traditions.

Kiffin infamously had posters of USC stars like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart on display in UT's Neyland-Thompson Sports Center rather than Vols stars of old. Then, Derek Dooley alienated former players as well as recruits.

Jones wants to do the opposite in Knoxville. He understands how important and significant the traditions are to the fans, and he wants to make them important to the current players.

Having players who understand the past can benefit the future. For the legacy pledges, they hope to usher in a new era that restores Tennessee to its place among the nation's elite and bring the glory days back to the present.

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Outback Bowl 2014 Iowa vs. LSU: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers

The No. 14 LSU Tigers (9-3) meet the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) Wednesday in the Outback Bowl. It is the first meeting between the schools since the 2005 Capital One Bowl, when the Hawkeyes beat the Tigers on a last-second touchdown in Nick Saban's final game at LSU.

LSU, of course, will be without quarterback Zach Mettenberger, out with a knee injury, and freshman Anthony Jennings will make his first career start for the Tigers. 

Iowa relies on an outstanding defense and a strong running game. Sophomore Jake Rudock is under center for the Hawkeyes. 

Will today be the last game for several Tigers? Players such as Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham and Jeremy Hill are among those who will have decisions to make regarding their futures. 

You can watch the game live at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN, and make sure to stay with us here at Bleacher Report for live grades, analysis and postgame coverage. You can find today's box score at NCAA.com.

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2014 BCS Championship Game: Auburn's Blueprint for Victory over Florida State

The Auburn Tigers' most important piece of advice to digest before an impending BCS championship clash with Florida State should be "if it ain't broke, don't break it."

Indeed, the Tigers' rushing game, under the influence of Gus Malzhan, is one of the most efficient attacks in college football. Auburn has calculated a meticulous running style that's totaled the nation's largest output in rushing with 336 yards per game.

Coming off of a 545-yard rushing performance against Missouri, Auburn should in no way abandon the running game against a defense that's allowing 10.7 points per game. That little 10.7 stat stands as the best in the nation for those of you keeping track at home.

Still, Auburn's rushing attack behind the legs of Tre Mason, Keith Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne has to be the focal point of the Tigers, especially going against a stingy Seminole defense.

If Auburn generates success running the football, like it has in most games this season, the Tigers will bring the SEC its eighth straight national championship.

But of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds in college football. While the running game will be the primary choice of attack by Malzahn and his staff, he has to intelligently set it up. That's easier for Malzahn than most.

 

Continued Unpredictability

Ask any defensive coordinator who's studied Auburn this season to reveal the secret to Auburn's offensive success and you'll likely get differing answers. Chalk that up to unpredictability.

It's nearly impossible to pick up a trend with this offense, as Malzahn calls from play-to-play, rather than series-to-series. What that illustrates is that Malzahn will always keep opposing teams guessing by altering play calls, never developing a distinct rhythm for defensive coordinators to catch.

That's why he's a brilliant play-caller, and that's why he's as good as it gets calling plays on the fly. Take a second and relive the Iron Bowl. No, not Chris Davis' unbelievable field-goal return for a touchdown, but look at the series that tied the ballgame.

It's 3rd-and-2 from the Auburn 40 with 1:42 to play. No surprise here. Auburn gives it to Mason, who broke the school record for rushing touchdowns in a single season.

Quickly back to the line of scrimmage, Marshall hands to Mason again for a minimum gain. The clock is winding down fast, and it seems Malzahn's inability to abandon the run might cost him an opportunity to tie the game. With 1:12 remaining, Mason receives the handoff again on second down, which falls short of a first down. By now, everyone has to be wondering what Malzahn could possibly be thinking.

Third down was much of the same. Marshall hands the ball to Mason, and this time Auburn gets a first down. However, only 47 seconds remain in the game with Auburn just inside Alabama's 40-yard line. The Tigers have to get a touchdown to win, remember? So why on earth did Malzahn not call a timeout and allow the clock to run down?

As we soon found out, Malzahn was setting up one particular play, as he was one step ahead of everyone. As you all remember, Marshall fakes the handoff on the next play, rolls to his left and throws to a wide-open Sammie Coates to tie the ballgame. It was the greatest series called ever by a play-caller.

Like the Iron Bowl, Malzahn has to be one step ahead of Florida State's defense in order to generate points in such a fashion only he can fabricate.

 

Get Sammie Coates Involved

Malzahn may have an obsession with running the football, but he's going to have to throw the ball around the yard a little bit in this one.

The Seminoles enter the national championship game with an impressive 117 rushing yards allowed per game statistic. What's more impressive, though, is the defense's ability to shut down passing games, limiting offenses to 152 passing yards per game. That's the best in the country.

Credit cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks for those gaudy stats. But even though the Seminoles possess one of the best secondaries in college football, Malzahn will have to keep Florida State from loading the box against his dynamic running game.

How can he do that? Well, Mr. Coates on the outside should garner the respect of the defense.

Coates has nearly triple the amount of yards the Tigers second leading receiver Ricardo Louis has. As often as the Tigers run it, Coates has produced a staggering 841 yards and seven touchdowns, simply because of the deep threat he is.

He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch, and if Malzahn wants to stay in front of Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, he should come up with more creative ways to get Coates the ball.

Abandoning his biggest deep threat could cost Malzahn his first championship as head coach. A betting man foresees Marshall looking Coates' way quite often.

 

Utilize the Talents of Robinson Therezie

Defensively, Auburn will have its hands full with Jameis Winston. We all know that. Heck, the homeless guy down the street could tell you that.

With dynamic receivers Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, the Auburn secondary will need tremendous help from the Tigers' athletically gifted front four. If Winston gets longer than three seconds to throw, Auburn will forfeit numerous big plays.

Luckily for the Tigers, Auburn may possess the most athletic defensive line in college football with Carl Lawson and Dee Ford developing quite a knack for getting in the quarterback's face. The two have combined for 24 quarterback hurries and 12.5 sacks this season.

Don't think Auburn fans aren't praying they can grab hold of Winston in the backfield. If the Tigers' front four dominate the line and throw Winston off his game, it will obviously bode well for Auburn, but that won't secure victory alone.

Auburn needs to be creative in the way it disrupts Winston and an offense that's produced 53 points per game, second behind Baylor in the nation (only .3 points separated the two).

There might not be a more natural player to scheme around than Robinson Therezie.

When you watch tape of Therezie, his instincts jump off the screen. He's known for his team-leading four interceptions, but he's a sure tackler and is almost always in perfect position to make tackles in run pursuit. 

He's also a fantastic blitzer coming off of the edge, and it wouldn't come as a surprise to see Auburn use him to get to Winston on various occasions.

The Auburn defense will need its best showing of the season undoubtedly, but with the great effort up front and the utilization of Therezie in multiple situations, the Tigers can force enough stops to win a championship.

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Capital One Bowl 2014 Wisconsin vs. South Carolina: Live Score and Highlights

2014 Capital One Bowl

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

Both the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks and No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers were hoping to earn a spot in the BCS this season.  While that didn't happen, these teams will face off against one another in what has annually become one of the best—and highest-paying—non-BCS bowl games: the Capital One Bowl.

The Badgers and Gamecocks have never met on the gridiron before, but both teams will find similar mentalities in one another on New Year's Day 2014.  Both teams have strong defenses and hard-nosed offenses, and with the aura of a Big Ten-SEC showdown, you can expect another thriller.

Wisconsin has lost its last three bowl games—all Rose Bowl Games—while South Carolina is looking to add to its streak of three straight wins.  Last season, South Carolina outlasted Michigan, also from the Big Ten, in the 2013 Outback Bowl.

The big question in Wednesday's game will likely turn out to be how well Jadeveon Clowney—in what is surely his final game as a Gamecock—and his defensive teammates can bottle up the powerful Wisconsin running attack.  

Will Clowney be motivated to play all four quarters?  Can South Carolina handle repeated powerful runs (where the Gamecocks have struggled) for 60 full minutes?  Can Wisconsin find enough success in the passing game to open up room for its runners?

We'll find out in the 2014 Capital One Bowl!

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Ohio State Players Who Must Step Up with Noah Spence Suspended

When Ohio State left Columbus minus star defensive end Noah Spence, speculation and intrigue followed. OSU would only say he was "dealing with a personal issue," and no more.

Ohio State finally ended the speculation Wednesday morning, announcing Spence had been suspended for three games.

His suspension was due to a "violation of Big Ten rules," without further explanation as to what B1G rule it was that he violated.

While that information is likely to come out over time, the more important thing going forward is how OSU replaces a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end and a player who recorded a team-high eight sacks.

Luckily, Ohio State has a lot of talent and depth on the defensive line and replacing Spence for three games may further build that depth for the future.

Spence will miss the Orange Bowl and two intriguing matchups in 2014, with OSU facing Navy and Virginia Tech to open the season.

It's not the cupcake city OSU opened 2013 with, so there are players who will need to step up.

Who are those players? Let's explore the players who need to step up in his absence.  

 

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Iowa vs. LSU: Last-Minute Look at Players to Watch in 2014 Outback Bowl

The Iowa Hawkeyes and the No. 16 LSU Tigers are set to meet at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1 in the 2014 Outback Bowl in a game where both will look to find redemption for underwhelming seasons.

The Hawkeyes (8-4) faced a brutal schedule, with all four losses coming to teams that ended with a combined 45-6 record. The Tigers (9-3) managed to beat the national-championship-bound Tigers of Auburn, but dropped winnable games against Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss.

In a game of such magnitude for both schools, a handful of players will rise above the rest and prove to be worthy of an observer's attention.

 

Jake Rudock, QB, Iowa

Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock had a strong year with his 2,281 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. By all accounts, he is enjoying the trip back to his home state, as detailed by the team's Twitter account:

The fun stops here for Rudock.

He is now tasked with posting enough points to defeat LSU, a team that scores an average of 37 points to rank in the Top 25. Rudock and the Hawkeyes offense has scored more than that total just three times in 2013—two of those performances came against one-win teams (Purdue and Western Michigan).

Above all, Rudock must play at a high level and keep the ball in his team's hands in order to keep the LSU offense and the next two players off the field.

 

Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU

Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the Outback Bowl is the one concerning LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings.

The freshman has a lot on his plate as the man expected to take the torch after starter Zach Mettenberger went down for the year. A daunting task for any freshman whose first career start comes in a bowl game, but coach Les Miles seems confident in his signal-caller, per the team's Twitter account:

Jennings will need plenty of poise against the nation's No. 10 defense that allows an average of 18.8 points per game and touts one of the country's best linebacker cores, as Dave Miller of the National Football Post illustrates:

With just 10 career passing attempts to his name, Jennings will need to show a big-play ability from the opening gun to overcome a vaunted defense. How he handles the pressure may very well decide the outcome of the game.

 

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

Above all else, Jeremy Hill is the name to watch.

Surely a hot NFL prospect if and when he declares, Hill ran for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns with a superb 6.8 average as a sophomore. He will now be tasked with not only helping to mask a potential weakness under center, but be productive in the face of an elite defense surely dialed in on stopping him.

But there is a silver lining—the Hawkeyes struggle in 2013 against backs of Hill's caliber. Wisconsin's James White ran for 132 yards and two scores as Iowa lost, 28-9. Ohio State's Carlos Hyde saw similar success with his 149 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-24 Iowa loss.

Hill is no stranger to such days as shown by his six games with more than 100 yards rushing—four of which came in at 143 or more.

Can Hill succeed and carry the Tigers with a defense's game plan surely focused on him? The answer is one fans should not miss.

 

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Lorenzo Featherston to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Page High School (Greensboro, N.C.) 4-star defensive end Lorenzo Featherston has reportedly committed to play for the Florida State Seminoles in 2014.

Gerry Hamilton of ESPN broke the news on Wednesday:

One day after Florida State flipped No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), the Seminoles struck again, picking up a commitment from No. 27 Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page).

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound defensive end officially visited Florida, Florida State and Clemson before picking Jimbo Fisher's squad.

Featherston is the No. 10 weak-side DE prospect in the class of 2014, according to the composite rankings provided by 247Sports.com. The site also lists him as the No. 183 overall recruit in the country.

What stands out most about Featherston is his massive size. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, he has plenty of room still to get thicker—something he essentially must do to have success at the collegiate level.

But all the raw physical tools are there. As ESPN notes, he recorded the highest vertical leap (38.2") of all the defensive ends tested. Combine that with his height and wingspan, and it will be difficult for any quarterback to get the ball past the outstretched arms of Featherston.

Although very slender for his size, anything that Featherston lacks in that regard is made up for by his speed and quickness.

He has a lightning-quick first step that allows him to get the outside edge over most tackles, yet that can backfire at Florida State if he continues to get too far up the field and allows opposing quarterbacks to step up in the pocket.

Nevertheless, the tale of the tape shows that Featherston takes exceptional pursuit angles and is able to harness his explosive athleticism while staying disciplined on his assignments and making plays.

Featherston has great hands at the point of attack and can burst through the gap before the offensive line knows what hit them. That also makes him a threat against the run; although, again, he will have to put on more muscle for that trend to transition to college.

There is plenty of promise for Featherston to be a future star, but he may need a year or two to grow and progress before developing the game-changing impact he has the potential to produce.

If nothing else, Featherston could be a huge difference-maker as a true freshman on special teams given his skill set, particularly with regard to blocking kicks.

Another possibility is that Featherston becomes an offensive player and lines up at tight end, which is the position at which 247Sports.com lists him on that side of the ball. He would likely create matchup nightmares for linebackers thanks to his height, speed and quick-twitch agility.

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Capital One Bowl 2014: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin (9-3) and South Carolina (10-2) play in the 2014 Capital One Bowl, widely considered to be the best of the non-BCS bowl games.

Will the wild Badger rushing attack led by Melvin Gordon find openings against the aggressive Gamecocks defensive front led by Jadeveon Clowney? The Big Ten needs it to happen for a big win.

Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on ABC.

For the pregame statistics and the full box score, check out NCAA.com.

Stay tuned during the game as we grade the performances of Wisconsin. Grades will be updated at halftime and at the end of the game.

 

 

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Ohio State DL Noah Spence Suspended 3 Games for Rule Violation

Ohio State defensive star Noah Spence was suspended for three games for violating a Big Ten Conference rule, which means he will miss the Orange Bowl and the first two games of the 2014 regular season.

Erick Smith of USA Today passed along the news:

Austin Ward of ESPN previously provided comments from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who didn't provide any specifics about the situation, but said the lineman was dealing with personal issues:

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer confirmed Sunday that the All-Big Ten defensive end was absent as the final preparations shifted to South Florida ahead of Friday's matchup with No. 12 Clemson, but he didn't provide any details about the sophomore's situation or offer a definitive update on his availability this week.

"[Spence] didn't fly down with us," Meyer told reporters after the team's flight landed. "He's working through some personal issues at home."

Here's the complete release from Ohio State regarding the suspension, including details about appeals by Spence's parents, courtesy of Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:

It has been determined that Ohio State University sophomore Noah Spence has violated a Big Ten Conference rule and he has been suspended for three games, starting with the Discover Orange Bowl this Friday.

Spence's parents, who did not agree with the rule violation nor the penalty imposed, were assisted by the Ohio State Department of Athletics in exhausting the appeals process that was available to them with the Big Ten.

Spence is an Academic All-Big Ten honoree and an OSU Scholar-Athlete. He will continue course work toward his sociology degree next semester and he will be able to practice with the team this spring, but he will not be eligible to play in a game until Ohio State’s third game of the 2014 season, Sept. 13 vs. Kent State.

The Department of Athletics will have no further comment on this issue.

Spence's absence is a huge blow to a defensive line that made major strides in 2013. He finishes his sophomore campaign with 52 total tackles, 14.5 of which were for a loss, a team-leading eight sacks and a forced fumble.

After being a highly touted recruit, his freshman campaign was underwhelming with just a dozen tackles and one sack. But he stepped into a much larger role on the revitalized defense in his second season and started living up to that top billing.

He was expected to serve as a key piece of the puzzle as the Buckeyes defense attempted to slow down Tajh Boyd and the talented Clemson offense. Without him, the task for the rest of the Ohio State pass rush becomes much tougher.

Although it's a major setback for the Orange Bowl, the suspension is slated to end after the first two games of next season, so the impact beyond this season should be minimal.

Exactly what rule he violated to earn the punishment is unclear, however.

 


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10 Bold Predictions for 2014 Army All-American Bowl

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is back for the 14th time and will take place at 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 4, on NBC. It's a must-watch for any football fan, as these kids could play for your favorite college team and will eventually become the superstars of the NFL. DeSean Jackson, Vince Young and Reggie Bush are just some of the names who have participated in this popular event. 

And while this is nothing more than a chance for some of the best high school players to shine one last time before packing their bags for the collegiate level, it's still a game at the end of the day. Kids want to win and are going to play hard, which opens the door for bold predictions.

In this year's matchup, the game will finally be competitive, a Baylor wide receiver will win MVP honors and there will be a few commitment surprises. 

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It's Tough to Swallow, but Leaving Penn State Is the Right Move for Bill O'Brien

I remember Bill O’Brien at his first Big Ten media day, absorbing all punches like a seasoned vet who had been put through the meat grinder before. He had the delivery and presence of an experienced head coach who had been at it for much longer than a few months.

Despite having zero games at Penn State under his belt at the time, O’Brien looked like the savior. He sounded like the savior. Heck, he was the savior.

But it’s never that easy or defined, and nothing in the bizarre yearly ritual that is the coaching carousel is ever written in stone. It’s about leverage and the next opportunity, which is both frustrating and assumed. 

And while college football will dearly miss O’Brien, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up for the soon-to-be former savior of Penn State.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, O’Brien will leave Happy Valley after coaching the Nittany Lions for two seasons.

Filed to ESPN from me and @mortreport: Bill O'Brien has reached agreement to become the new head coach of the Houston Texans, per sources.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 1, 2014

He will inherit an incredible amount of talent, the No. 1 pick in upcoming NFL draft and a few more numbers on his paycheck. He will leave behind a program that has brilliantly navigated some of the most significant NCAA sanctions ever handed out, largely because of his influence.

After a rocky start in his first season, O’Brien led Penn State to an 8-4 record. This year, PSU finished with a record of 7-5. While the season had its ups and downs, it closed with a bang. The Nittany Lions' upset victory over Wisconsin in the final week as more than a three-touchdown underdog served as one of this season's biggest surprises.

More impossible than the wins, or turning former Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin into an NFL starter—which is truly unbelievable if you watched him before the 2012 season—is the fact that O’Brien was able to recruit at a time when many thought it would be impossible.

He kept the program together in large part because of the talent he landed at Penn State, headlined by blue-chip quarterback Christian Hackenberg. 

One of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2013, Hackenberg stayed committed to the program throughout the Jerry Sandusky saga. When he arrived on campus, and as he developed throughout his freshman season, he showed the promise and potential that many hoped he would bring.

Beyond simply landing one great player, O’Brien will leave the school with the No. 17 recruiting class in the country in 2014, according to 247Sports. This, of course, will likely change and change quickly.

Things were going incredibly well despite the scholarship limitations and two more seasons of being banned from bowl games. 

Back in September, the NCAA reduced the penalties against Penn State, giving the program some scholarships lost in the original ruling. There’s reason to believe that the NCAA could again reduce the punishment before it’s all said and done.

Such potential future rulings will come on another head coach's watch, however. O’Brien will take his talents back to the NFL, seizing an opening that coaches would have lined up for. 

While the Houston Texans struggled mightily in 2013, there is talent on this team. It didn't mesh in 2013, and injuries certainly didn't help, but there is plenty of reason to believe this team could have a Kansas City Chiefs-like resurrection sooner than later.

There is also the prospect of landing the quarterback of the future with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Perhaps O’Brien will take Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, or maybe Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel will move shop down the road a ways.

Regardless of how this evaluation process plays out, it’s a wonderful opportunity for both the Texans and its new head coach. O’Brien is one of the great quarterback gurus in the  country, and while nothing is a given at his new stop, he’ll likely have the chance to work with a gifted player.

The move makes sense. You don't have to like it, but you can understand it.

It's a decision that just about any other coach would've made if they were put in this position. It never felt like O’Brien was at Penn State for the long haul. That much became apparent last year when he flirted with NFL openings after one season and picked up a nice raise in the process. 

Of course, the term “loyalty” will be discussed over the coming days and weeks, or, more specifically, a lack thereof. Despite his commitment to the school, O’Brien has decommitted at a volatile time. And while it’s not a part of the business that anyone enjoys, it is a business.

O’Brien was able to capitalize on his perceived star power after only 15 wins. If he had stayed at Penn State longer, perhaps his star would have grown. Or, after the roster limitations and depth concerns kicked in a little further, perhaps his reputation would have taken a hit with average seasons.

We’ll never know.

What we do know is O’Brien has climbed an impossible ladder in record time, and he has the rare luxury of landing in an NFL spot with a solid foundation already in place. Although Andy Reid might disagree, it’s almost unheard of.

With all that being said, it’s an enormous loss for Penn State and a loss for college football. O’Brien’s departure highlights how shock value in these coaching changes is now gone. It’s happened before, and it will certainly happen again. 

Leaving the Nittany Lions, given everything they’ve endured, makes this particular situation more complicated and difficult. 

Loyalty is a word built for press conferences. The business typically does the talking.

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Outback Bowl 2014 Iowa vs. LSU: Live Score and Highlights

A hard-nosed Iowa football team will look to upset the LSU Tigers in the 2014 Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.

While a Hawkeye victory would serve as an upset, the Tigers can't overlook this Iowa team. With a smart dual-threat quarterback, a few physical running backs and one of the best linebacker corps in all of college football, don't be surprised to see a close encounter this afternoon.

The Tigers will be without senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, so it's up to freshman Anthony Jennings to lead the Tigers to victory. Is he capable of gashing one of the better defenses that LSU has faced this season?

Check back here for kickoff and stick around pregame as I dissect the important matchups and key storylines ahead of this New Year's Day clash. 

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Gator Bowl 2014 Nebraska vs. Georgia: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Cornhuskers

Nebraska 7, Georgia 3—Mid 2nd Quarter

The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Georgia Bulldogs are meeting in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, and the battle can be seen on ESPN2.

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Heart of Dallas Bowl 2014 UNLV vs. North Texas: Live Score and Highlights

UNLV 7, North Texas 7—Early 2nd Quarter

Caleb Herring and Devante Davis lead the UNLV Rebels against a North Texas Mean Green squad headlined by Brandin Byrd and Derek Thompson in today's Heart of Texas Bowl (ESPNU, 12 p.m. ET). This is the first bowl for UNLV since 2000, while North Texas hasn't been in one since 2004.

Keep it tuned here for all of the action as these two squads fight for their first bowl victory in legendary Cotton Bowl stadium. 

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Gator Bowl 2014 Nebraska vs. Georgia: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs and Nebraska Cornhuskers are currently locked in a battle in the Gator Bowl.

2nd Quarter: Nebraska 7, Georgia 3

For full stats, check out NCAA.com.

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