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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke Bets the Farm on Current Staff

Brady Hoke is a man of his word. In the wake of a disappointing regular season followed by a 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, there have been no announced changes to his coaching staff.

Last month, Hoke told reporters that he didn’t expect any staff changes headed into next season.

Hoke seems determined to bet next season—and possibly his future as Michigan head coach—on his current staff that won 11 games in his first season (11-2) but only 15 in the two seasons since (15-11). Worse still, Michigan finished this campaign losing six out of its last eight games.

The team’s skid began with a confounding four-overtime loss to Penn State and hit bottom during a 29-6 loss to in-state rival Michigan State. Michigan competed well during the losing streak until falling in a listless performance in its bowl game versus Kansas State when starting quarterback Devin Gardner was unavailable because of a foot injury.

Michigan’s coaching staff has taken criticism for the team’s lack of progress in key areas.

 

Offensive Coordinator Al Borges

Borges has taken the brunt of the criticism for his play-calling and management of quarterback Devin Gardner.

Borges is both offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach while calling plays from the press box. It seems that Gardner would benefit from having a separate quarterbacks coach—someone to provide input to Borges’ play-calling and counsel on the field between offensive drives.

Borges’ play-calling has run the gamut from brilliant (Ohio State, Notre Dame) to the incomprehensible (Penn State, Northwestern, Kansas State).

He answers critics by blaming player execution, which sounds to many like refusing to take responsibility.

Even Borges has admitted that he can’t remember a four-game stretch during his career when his offense “has sputtered so bad[ly].”

Michigan offense can pile up points and yards—against weaker opponents. The surge against Ohio State is more exasperating than comforting. The Al Borges show is getting old.

Grade: D

Evaluation: Hire a quarterbacks coach ASAP.

 

Offensive Line Coach Darrell Funk

Michigan rotated nine players though the five offensive line positions this season. Injuries and poor performance caused the offensive line to be shuffled for practically every game.

Funk has been criticized for the lack of development, but more than any other group, the offensive line needs time to jell as a group. Poor performance and injures prevented that from happening all season long. Coupled with the wear and tear of a long season, this was a problem with no solution—only experience and more offseason weight training can fix this.

With tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield graduating, Michigan loses its two most consistent linemen from this season.

Grade: D

Evaluation: Hope that offseason weight training for the returning offensive linemen coupled with experience gained this year will bear fruit next season—if not, watch out.

 

Running Backs Coach Fred Jackson

The offensive play-calling was atrocious and the blocking from the offensive line nonexistent, but was Fitzgerald Toussaint the best choice at running back? The late-season surges of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith make people wonder.

Grade: C

Evaluation: Michigan should have a stable of running backs next season. No excuses for not running the ball.

 

Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison

Maybe the most troubling aspect of Michigan’s collapse was the inability of the defense to stop teams at critical stages during the season.

Mattison, who worked magic his first season, seemingly lost his touch this year. Indiana, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State shredded the Michigan defense. The defensive line wasn’t able to bring pressure on opposing passers, and opponents could run the ball throughout the heart of Michigan defense.

Grade: D

Evaluation: Mattison needs to focus on improving the defensive line play—on this everything depends.

 

Conclusion

Hoke is staying loyal to his coaches. If Michigan bounces back next season to compete for the Big Ten championship, his decisions will be hailed.

But, if Michigan has another epic collapse, Hoke will bear the blame for not making changes. They might all be looking for new jobs.


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

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UCF vs. Baylor: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Fiesta Bowl

Heading into the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, there were many who questioned whether Central Florida even deserved a BCS bowl berth. The representative of the American Athletic Conference—easily the weakest conference represented in this year's games—the Knights' high-powered offense was bound to be exposed against a "real" team.  

Quarterback Blake Bortles and Co. worked from the opening snap to smash all those assumptions.

Bortles accounted for four total touchdowns, running back Storm Johnson rushed for three more and the UCF defense held Baylor's vaunted offense just enough times to pull off a 52-42 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium on New Year's Day.

The win is unquestionably the biggest in program history. An FCS school as recently as 1995, the program George O'Leary took over in 2004 was in shambles. The Knights went 0-11 in his first season. A decade and two conference switches later, O'Leary has built UCF into a possible sleeping giant. 

Not that anyone believed in this team coming into the Fiesta Bowl. Facing a Baylor team that led the nation at 53.3 points per game, the expectation was the Bears would wipe the floor with the upstart but overmatched program.

Once the game began, though, it was clear just how much everyone had underestimated the Knights. Within the first seven-plus minutes of the first quarter, Johnson had scored two touchdowns to give UCF a 14-0 lead that set the tone of the entire contest. Although Baylor would work its way back into the game, getting within a single point in the first half and tying the game at 28 in the third quarter, the Bears were constantly scrambling just to stay in the game.

The defense that had allowed more than 20 points just four times all season became a sieve and the offense that topped 70 four times had to scramble late just to get half of that.

Quarterback Bryce Petty finished with 356 yards and two touchdowns, but he rarely resembled the Heisman Trophy contender from the regular season. The junior signal-caller struggled locating the ball and couldn't create any positive headway as UCF was pulling away late. 

But more than anything, Art Briles' team just looked totally unprepared following the lengthy layoff. Five of the Bears' first six drives ended in a punt or turnover on downs, the offense becoming a series of mistimed throws, botched snaps and sloppy play. The Bears committed 17 penalties, giving away 135 yards that helped offset the 550 yards worth of success their offense did have.

Baylor's sloppiness not only helped UCF get comfortable on the big stage, it also helped atone for mistakes that could have crippled the Knights. 

After running out to the 14-0 lead, UCF allowed Baylor back into the game with three costly turnovers on consecutive possessions. Bortles threw two straight interceptions and Johnson fumbled once, as Baylor turned that two-touchdown deficit into being down just 14-13 following a Petty touchdown pass to Levi Norwood with 8:01 left in the second quarter.

With more hype surrounding his name than ever before, though, Bortles was able to block out the mistakes and get back to work. The junior quarterback finished with 301 yards and three touchdowns with the two picks, highlighted by a 10-yard strike to Breshad Perriman that gave the Knights a 35-28 lead in the third quarter they would not relinquish.

Bortles also used the national stage as a showcase for his athleticism. After rushing for only 179 yards in the first 12 games of the season, Bortles scampered for 93 alone on Wednesday night. His 15-yard touchdown run with 13:37 remaining in the fourth put his team up two touchdowns, giving them the necessary cushion to start draining time. 

That responsibility went to Johnson, who finished with 124 yards on 20 carries. Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk nearly matched him every step of the way with 117 yards, but UCF did a solid job of swallowing up the running game otherwise.

Baylor came in expected to dominate with its two-way attack. As the Fiesta Bowl proved, though, perception is not always reality. 

 

Player Grades

Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor): B

Like just about everyone in this contest, Petty didn't have a perfect game. He threw an interception for just the third time all season, looked noticeably flustered early on and suffered multiple timing mistakes with receivers.

Whether a receiver runs the wrong route or the quarterback throws to the incorrect place is always the subject to debate—almost always depending on whether the quarterback or wide receiver is speaking. But it was jarring to see Baylor, arguably the most efficient and well-oiled offense in the nation, look merely mortal.

The Bears and Petty righted the ship in some spots like we knew they would, but Baylor can thank some major UCF mistakes for even keeping them in the game in the first half. But we're grading individuals here, not teams or perceptions.

The reality is that Petty still scored five touchdowns. That's not a bad night of football. And one of those touchdowns was this:

So, yes, "B" sounds right.

 

Lache Seastrunk (RB, Baylor): B

Seastrunk hasn't made an official decision on whether he'll return to Waco for his senior season, but this was a pretty darn good way to go out if he's declaring for the draft. The Baylor back picked up his seventh 100-yard game of the season on Wednesday, all of which came on fewer than 20 carries. 

More importantly, this was an excellent reminder of just how good Seastrunk can be when he's healthy. While he was in the lineup for the last two games of the season, Seastrunk was obviously still working his way back from the groin injury that cost him the better part of three contests. 

He didn't break off any 80-yard scampers or anything, but the performance was impressive because nearly every run produced a positive result for Baylor. Petty's ability to find space on his designed runs came as a result of the UCF defense being afraid to crash and give Seastrunk room to roam.

Based on the short shelf-life of running backs, I'm leaving if I'm Seastrunk. He'd arguably be the best player at his position, a borderline first-round or second-round choice. Either way, it's been fun watching Seastrunk excel in Waco. 

 

Blake Bortles (QB, UCF): B

If you were looking to tune in to the Fiesta Bowl and decide whether Bortles' top-five hype was legit or ridiculous, well, sorry about that. Bortles gave everyone a bit of everything.

For those on the Bortles bandwagon, there was plenty to like. He came out and flashed his athleticism, keeping the ball on designed runs and buying himself extra time in the pocket on blitzes. The arm strength was also there, as Bortles threw strikes on out routes and flung the ball impressively down the field a few times. All of the physical tools in the book, this kid has them.

For those on the Bortles bust bandwagon, though, you don't have to look hard for nits to pick. The criticism about Bortles isn't that he lacks physical tools—it's that he lacks experience against elite competition and has a propensity for making poor decisions. Both of those traits were on display Wednesday. He started the game wildly inaccurate, threw two interceptions and made a couple "raw talent" mistakes.

Overall, though, this was a solid enough national introduction for the Bortles experience. Now to see whether he'll be taking his talent to Sundays. 

 

Storm Johnson (RB, UCF): A-

On top of making me jealous my parents didn't name me Storm, Johnson had quite the coming out party himself. The powerful back scored the game's first two touchdowns and was sensational in short yardage when the Knights were trying keep their lead. 

Bortles gets most of the attention for this offense, and rightfully so. But Johnson deserves more credit for the integral role he plays making the high-powered unit hum. 

Unfortunately, his quarterback was again good enough to make him a supporting player. Assuming Bortles takes advantage of his soaring draft stock, though, Johnson could be a force to be reckoned with as a featured player in 2014.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

 

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Charlie Strong or Art Briles: Who Is the Better Fit for the Texas Longhorns?

Aside from Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn and the rest of their like, the Texas Longhorns could be looking at offering head coaching contracts to either Art Briles of Baylor or Charlie Strong of Louisville.

According to Kirk Bohls and Brian Davis of The Austin American-Statesman, Briles would accept the Texas head coaching job:

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.

Briles never denied interest in Texas when questioned recently in his answers that were tweeted by Craig Smoak of ESPN Central Texas which can be found via Storify. As for Strong, his interview with Texas athletic director Steve Patterson went "very well", per Bohls, who also tweeted that Strong could be prepping to accept the job.

Perhaps Strong has a good feeling about taking over the program in Austin, or he could be wary of the spotlight. What does he bring to the table if he's offered—and accepts—the Texas head coaching job?

 

Charlie Strong

Strong has had coaching experience on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. Since first working as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida in 1983, Strong has been a wide receivers coach, outside linebackers coach, defensive ends coach, defensive tackles coach, a defensive coordinator and now a head coach.

In 2013, Louisville's defense ranked third in the nation in points allowed at 12.2 per game. In his tenure at Louisville, Strong went 37-15 with a 3-1 bowl record, including a BCS Sugar Bowl victory over Florida in 2013. He also developed former Rivals.com 4-star dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in becoming a projected first overall pick for the 2014 NFL draft, per B/R's Matt Miller.

The question surrounding Strong is whether or not he can recruit the state of Texas. He had no Texas players on his 2013 Louisville roster. Make no mistake about it, Strong is a good recruiter, especially in the state of Florida, when it comes to Rivals.com's 3- and 4-star recruits. Despite not landing any 5-star recruits while at Louisville, he's been able to coach lesser-rated prospects to success.

Obviously, 5-star recruits don't just waltz into Louisville. Let's look at one player, not named Bridgewater, who Strong has coached to become a success—Louisville senior defensive end Marcus Smith. 

In 2010, Rivals.com gave Smith a 3-star ranking. His only other offer was from Florida, but that was when Strong was still the defensive coordinator with the Gators. Coming out of high school, Smith was a 6'3", 210-pound athlete. Through four years under Strong, Smith added over 40 pounds and led the nation with 14.5 sacks in 2013. Smith is now an early-round draft projection by NFLdraftscout.com.

The main takeaway from Strong is that he's a great coach and good recruiter. He's made a living by going into Miami and leaving with recruits that fit his program.

That was also the case while he was at Florida, when he was able to get Rivals.com 5-star defensive players. He finds fast players who he can coach. In 2003, Strong helped the Gators get Rivals.com 5-star recruit Jarvis Moss from Denton, Texas. Who knows? Maybe Strong can go into Houston and find the next Vince Young.

All of that leads to his weakness. Can Strong go into the unknown areas of Texas and find talent? Where's the next Colt McCoy? Can he go into Port Arthur, Texas, and find the next Jamaal Charles? Is there an Earl Thomas from Orange, Texas, waiting to be found by Strong in 2014?

With so much abundant talent in Texas, what will Strong be able to come away with? Those are all good questions for the Texas athletic director and advisory committee to ponder when deciding if Strong's unknown Texas recruiting ability overrides his coaching ability to not be worth the gamble.

 

Art Briles

Briles is a Texas success story. He began his coaching career under the Friday night lights of Texas high school football. His first NCAA head coaching job came in 2003, when he took over at the University of Houston after coaching running backs at Texas Tech.

While at Houston, Briles went 34-28 and was winless in four bowl games. In 2008, he came to Baylor and turned the program around, eventually going 11-2 in 2013 and giving the Bears their first-ever BCS berth. In just six years, Briles has turned the Bears into an offensive juggernaut. In 2013, the Bears led the nation in total offense with 53.3 points per game.

Briles' strengths come from his ability to develop players. Specifically, Briles excels at developing quarterbacks. Briles took Rivals.com 3-star quarterback Kevin Kolb and made him into a star. In his third year as the senior starter for the Houston Cougars, Kolb threw for 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions and was taken in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft.

In 2008, Briles got Robert Griffin III to commit to Baylor. Griffin was considering going to Houston, but when Briles moved to Waco, Texas, Griffin enrolled at Baylor. Griffin started four years there and won the Heisman Trophy in 2011. Just like Kolb, Griffin developed in his three-plus years under center.

Briles made Nick Florence a star in 2012 when the quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Florence was once a Rivals.com 3-star quarterback. In 2013, Briles had former Rivals.com 3-star quarterback Bryce Petty throw for 32 touchdowns and four interceptions.

What does this have to do with Texas?

The Longhorns get the talent, but struggle to develop their players. Could Briles have developed top-rated Garrett Gilbert into the greatest Texas quarterback ever? That's a good, but drastic, question.

The Longhorns have also had several top players transfer, including Rivals.com's third-best quarterback from 2010, Connor Wood, and heavily recruited quarterback Connor Brewer, from the class of 2011. Either player could have made an impact for the 'Horns in 2013 when quarterback David Ash went out with an injury.

Briles and Baylor are on the rise. Even though his defense's have been historically mediocre, the Bears ranked 21st in the nation in points allowed this season. However, giving up 52 points to Central Florida in the Tostito's Fiesta Bowl wasn't something to write home about.

Finally, what discipline would Briles install if at Texas? Baylor doesn't have much, Bears running back Glasco Martin alluded to in a tweet minutes after after he didn't touch the ball much in the Fiesta Bowl:

That's not something a football coach should want a player to tweet after a game. It questioned Briles' accountability and discipline. Texas should want a guy who players respect and fear, as any big-time program should want.

If Briles comes to Texas, he would have to hire a prolific defensive coordinator. Is Gene Chizik someone who's willing to come back to Austin? Maybe Briles would keep Greg Robinson on board. Surely, prominent defensive backs coach Duane Akina would keep his spot on coaching staff.

Hiring Briles is less of a gamble for Patterson, but will Briles leave Baylor after recently signing a contract extension through 2023, per college football insider Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports?

 

Recap

Strong will bring back the Texas defense. With the right offensive coordinator in place, the offense could prosper. They key is whether or not Strong can recruit in Texas.

Briles will bring back the Texas offense. With the right defensive coordinator in place, there's no telling how complete the Longhorns could be for many years to come. The question is what Briles will do on the defensive side of the ball.

 

What do you think? Briles or Strong? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below.

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Michigan Football: 3 Ways Shane Morris Can Develop into Star QB for Wolverines

Shane Morris needs more seasoning before he evolves into the quarterback he’s meant to be.

Development takes time, but the soon-to-be Michigan sophomore certainly has a few things working for him—size, talent and a pro-style system.

As a first-time starter, Morris held his own while his Wolverines were shelled 31-14 by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. His 63 percent completion rate and composure in the pocket were enough to assume that 2014 could be his year.

With a bright future ahead in Ann Arbor, Morris has plenty of time to shine—as long as he continues to adjust, that is.

 

Take Notes

Morris doesn’t have to look far to see what hopping a few hurdles can do for confidence. On New Year’s Day, Connor Cook led Michigan State to a 24-20 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

He wasn’t perfect by any means. In fact, he probably should have thrown at least three picks; he was lucky on two would-be interceptions but not-so lucky on the other, a pick-six in the first half.

Cook is twice the player he was in camp. A case for the nation’s most-improved quarterback could be made for the sophomore who won the No. 1 job over senior Andrew Maxwell, a former Rivals 4-star.

Next fall, Morris will start his second season with the Wolverines—he too will compete with a senior, Devin Gardner, for top dibs.

If Cook can dethrone a vet, Morris, a former Rivals 4-star, certainly can.

That’s not to say that Morris will lead Team 135 to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl Championship. But stranger things have happened.

It takes a special kind of focus to shake off the negative and embrace the positive. For Morris, the “negative” was a 7-6 finish in 2013 and what equates to garbage time on the field. The "positive" is his potential. 

Denying his upside would be foolish. 

He wasn’t allowed to bloom in 2013 because the Wolverines needed every minute possible from Gardner. Another spring and summer will only equip Morris for the better.

At 6’3” and hovering in the neighborhood of 215 pounds, he’s more than physically ready for his upcoming role.

The next phases are upstairs and in the film room. Watching Cook's game tapes wouldn't hurt. It's safe to say that Morris has his eye on the competition. 

 

Stay True to Self

As a program, Michigan tortures itself by attempting to live up to age-old standards set by legendary coaches and players from eras passed. That approach, obviously, isn’t working.

Today’s players and coaches suffer while a passionate fanbase yearns for progress. Morris, a hometown kid out of Warren De La Salle, has to be himself—a young gun with promise. He grew up watching Wolverines football.

He knows that his time is coming—with “his” being the keyword.

There’s no harm in paying homage to greats—there would be something wrong if he didn’t. He wears No. 7, but Morris doesn’t have to be Rick Leach or Chad Henne.

In 2013, Morris was the No. 4-ranked prep QB in the land, per Rivals. He doesn't have to completely forget that, but he shouldn't rely upon it. All of the elite camps and pre-college hype needs to take a backseat.

Focusing on the now is of top priority.

No longer a freshman, it’s time for Morris to grow up and seize control. Judging by what he did in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he looks to be on the right path.

 

Encourage the Run Game

So maybe the whole “forget the past” thing was a little too much. Morris—and Michigan, for that matter—should absolutely refrain from a rearview approach.

But let’s be honest here. There is one thing that will always be a part of Wolverines football: running backs.

Although it wasn’t quite evident this past fall, Michigan has running backs—and good ones, too. Derrick Green will be a sophomore. As classmates, Green and Morris will likely be measured against one another.

A great Michigan quarterback needs a program-worthy runner. That’s one thing Henne, Leach and John Navarre had, as did others throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.

Team 134 had the No. 11-ranked rush offense in the Big Ten—very un-Michigan like, right? Ground woes were emphasized as Michigan crawled to just 10 yards during the first half of its loss to K-State.

Championship teams can run the ball. Old Michigan teams ran the ball. Future successful teams will have to do the same. There’s no way around that.

Disappointing results have been common over the past few years. The Wolverines grossly underachieved with Gardner at the helm.

Morris isn't the be-all just yet, but he's most certainly part of the solution. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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Reliving the 1979 Sugar Bowl: Alabama's Iconic Goal-Line Stand Stops Penn State

The Sugar Bowl turns 80 Thursday night when Alabama takes on Oklahoma in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Perhaps no moment—and no game—has meant more to the history of the Sugar Bowl than Alabama’s goal-line stand that decided the 1979 victory over Penn State.

That year, long before the BCS matched up the nation’s top two teams at season’s end, the Sugar Bowl scored a major coup by matching up the top-ranked Nittany Lions with No. 2 Alabama.

Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Alabama linebacker Barry Strauss turned in a season-defining play when he met Penn State running back Mike Guman shy of the goal line.

Strauss’ fourth-down stop meant the Crimson Tide thwarted the biggest fourth-quarter threat of a high-powered Penn State offense that struggled to move the ball on the biggest stage. ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel later ranked the play No. 6 of “The 100: The Plays, Performances and Moments That Define College Football.”

The goal-line stand essentially sealed the victory as well as Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s fifth national championship.

Bryant broke through for another national championship, while heartache again befell Penn State coach Joe Paterno.

Ironically, Paterno and Penn State handpicked the Crimson Tide for the bowl game. Marty Mule’s book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” detailed Paterno’s decision to spurn the Orange Bowl, wanting to secure a national championship with a win.

The move made sense for Paterno and Penn State.

Paterno, who led PSU to No. 1 for the first time in program history during the 1978 season, wanted to leave nothing to chance toward the end of another undefeated regular season.

At the time, Paterno had never won a national championship despite having finished with unbeaten, untied campaigns in 1968, 1969 and 1973. The Nittany Lions finished no better than No. 2 during those three seasons.

When Penn State chose to take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it set up the ideal matchup of the nation’s top two teams.

Even better, the game lived up to the hype, making it arguably the best Sugar Bowl, historically.

Alabama’s goal-line stand effectively won the national championship for the Crimson Tide.

Penn State’s vaunted offense, led by quarterback Chuck Fusina and the passing game, struggled to move the ball against the Alabama defense for the majority of the game.

The Nittany Lions appeared to get their big break midway through the fourth quarter. Alabama quarterback Jeff Rutledge pitched to unsuspecting running back Major Ogilvie. The ball bounced off Ogilvie and fell to the ground where Penn State recovered it at the Alabama 19-yard line.

Two plays later, Fusina completed an out pattern to tight end Scott Fitzkee. It appeared Fitzkee had a chance to score, but Alabama cornerback Don McNeal, who was covering a receiver deeper in the end zone, came off his assignment to blast Fitzkee out of bounds at the 1.

Considering the Nittany Lions’ offensive struggles, this certainly seemed to be their best—and potentially last—opportunity to tie the game.

Penn State running back Matt Suhey tried to jump over the top on third down, but Alabama defenders Curtis McGriff and Rich Wingo met him approximately one foot shy of the goal line.

Confident from a day of dominance, Crimson Tide defensive lineman Marty Lyons delivered possibly the greatest trash-talk line in Sugar Bowl history. “You better pass,” Lyons warned Fusina.

The words proved prophetic on the following play. Penn State again tested the middle of the Alabama defense on fourth down. Running back Mike Guman seemed to have a path to the end zone before Crimson Tide linebacker Barry Krauss shot through the middle to deliver a punishing hit just shy of the end zone.

The collision left the Nittany Lions empty-handed—both on the drive and in the national championship department.

Meanwhile, Alabama, behind coach Paul “Bear” Bryant won back-to-back national championships for the 1978 and ’79 regular seasons. The 1979 Sugar Bowl gave Bryant his penultimate title.

Bryant’s defense, which he described as “a bunch of average players,” held Penn State to just 182 total yards of offense and one third-quarter touchdown.

Bryant’s team did just enough on offense to win the game against a fantastic Penn State defense that allowed 8.8 points per game during the regular season.  

Rutledge broke a scoreless tie shortly before halftime. With time winding down, Alabama called a play-action pass from the Penn State 28-yard line.

The Alabama quarterback lofted a pass into the middle of the field to receiver Bruce Bolton, who made a diving catch in the front of the end zone with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Bryant said at halftime that the Crimson Tide would have tried one more pass before settling for a long field-goal attempt—a strategy that might have backfired considering the lack of time remaining.

Penn State tied the score during the third quarter when Fitzkee hauled in Fusina’s 17-yard pass for a sensational diving touchdown in the back of the end zone.

A spectacular punt return by Lou Ikner set up Alabama for the go-ahead score later in the third. Ikner brought back a Penn State punt 62 yards to the PSU 11.

Three plays later, Ogilvie scored when he turned the corner on a third-down option pitch.

Alabama stymied another Penn State scoring threat late in the third quarter when McNeal intercepted a Fusina pass into the end zone.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s team staged just one more threat, resulting in Alabama’s season-defining goal-line stand.

Since the 1979 Sugar Bowl, the annual contest has featured the nation’s top two teams four more times.

One such meeting saw Penn State coach Joe Paterno finally break through for his first national championship, beating No. 2 Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl.

No Sugar Bowl featured a more dramatic, defining play with so much at stake than Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss’ hit on Penn State running back Mike Guman.

It might be another 80 years before anything can match it.

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Michigan State: Spartans Prove They Are an Elite Team with Rose Bowl Victory

There have been so many questions this season about how good the Big Ten Conference really is. Those questions mainly surrounded the Ohio State Buckeyes because there weren't really any other strong teams in the conference this season.

At least that is what we all thought. Michigan State showed us why we were wrong with its Rose Bowl victory on Wednesday evening.

The Spartans flew under the radar all year. Everyone seemed willing to acknowledge that the Spartans were a solid football team that was worthy of a Top 25 spot, but their name was nowhere to be found when the talk of elite college teams came up.

The reason they were not considered elite had to do in large part with an early-season loss to Notre Dame. The Spartans came up short on the road in a tough game against their rivals and it made people seriously doubt how good the team really was.

Just look at the first BCS standings of the season. The Spartans were not even in the Top 25.

Sparty managed to creep into the Top 25 the next week, though, and as the team's wins began to pile up on the year, it slowly climbed higher.

Eventually, the Spartans climbed all the way to the No. 10 spot in the BCS before their Big Ten Championship Game showdown with the Buckeyes. The Spartans were certainly given a chance in the game and many people thought they would pull the upset off because of their talented defense. 

The win in the title game over Ohio State propelled the Spartans to the No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings and sent them into the Rose Bowl for a battle with No. 5 Stanford.

Coming into the game, however, the Spartans still did not seem to be getting a whole lot of respect. Vegas Insider indicates that the game was being picked about 50/50 between college experts and fans, but the Spartans were underdogs by a touchdown to a Stanford team that was considered to have a far superior offense to that of the Spartans.

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook stole the show in Pasadena and helped propel the Spartans to a 24-20 win over the Cardinal. The young quarterback completed 22 of his 36 attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

One of the more impressive things he did in the game, though, was respond so well to a pick-six that he threw in the first half. Cook could have gotten flustered and the Spartan offense could have been derailed by the error, but he stayed poised and continued to lead his team as though the mistake had never happened.

The Spartan defense was outstanding in the game as well.

After an opening-drive touchdown by Stanford, which made people quickly question whether or not Michigan State could hang with the Cardinal, the Spartan defense responded and did not allow another touchdown from the Cardinal offense for the rest of the game.

The win was in no way a dominating performance by Michigan State, but it was a great performance against the defending Rose Bowl champions. The Spartans showed their toughness on defense, but also proved that they could put up the numbers offensively.

It truly was an elite performance. Is Michigan State an elite team, though?

There is no doubt that the Big Ten Conference is very weak. The level of competition week in and week out does not even compare to the talent levels that teams in the SEC and Pac-12 face each week. However, this should not take anything away from the Spartans.

They went on a neutral field and proved against one of the top teams in the sport that, not only could they compete, they could compete and win.

They certainly proved that they were an elite team this season and deserve to be a Top 10 or possibly even a Top Five team going into next season.

When next season comes around, the Spartans will certainly get their chance to prove once again that they are an elite team. Michigan State makes a trip to Autzen Stadium for its second game of the season to face off against the Oregon Ducks.

If the Spartans win that game and can go undefeated in the Big Ten once again, it would certainly be enough to propel them to a national championship.

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Michigan State Celebrates Rose Bowl Win by Dancing in Locker Room

The Michigan State Spartans held on for a 24-20 victory over Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl on Wednesday, and the players let loose in the locker room.

After a big win, MSU had every reason to celebrate.

The Spartans danced to Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It," via the Big Ten Network's Sean Merriman:

And yes, Rich Homie Quan made an appearance, via Lawrence Thomas on Instagram:

Hat tip to College Spun's Matt Lombardi for the find.

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Rose Bowl Game 2014: Biggest Takeaways from Stanford vs. Michigan State

With a vicious battle in the trenches dominating the 100th Rose Bowl, Michigan State proved to be physically superior. The Spartans wore down the Stanford Cardinal and emerged with a 24-20 victory. 

Stanford looked like it was going to run away with this game early. It took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter, and the powerful offensive line and running game were finding success against the strong Michigan State defense. 

The Spartans, however, began to take this game over. It was an impressive showing, and one that taught us something about these two physical teams. Here are my three biggest takeaways from this game. 

 

Mark Dantonio Knows His Team

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has done a wonderful job with this team. He had the Spartans improving all season, and he got the offense to buy into a safe and conservative system that allowed his defense to win games. 

The Spartans certainly seem pleased with Dantonio's coaching performance:

Dantonio saved his best for last this season:

Michigan State was physically dominant in the second half. It is clear that whatever Dantonio said at halftime resonated with his players. 

His ability to inspire such an impressive performance on the huge stage of the Rose Bowl shows that Dantonio knows what makes his players tick. 

 

David Shaw Does Not Trust Kevin Hogan

Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan was not terrible in the Rose Bowl. He went 10-of-18 passing for 143 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. 

The interception was not pretty:

On that throw, Hogan flashed his potential. It was a beautiful pass that was right on the money. The problem was that it was a horrible decision and wound up going to a receiver in double coverage. 

These kinds of decisions will drive a coach crazy, and Shaw's frustration was evident as he avoided calling pass plays at all costs. 

In the late stages of this game, Stanford chose to run on third down even when there was more than five yards to go. They also opted to try to blast away up the middle on fourth down of their final possession against a Spartans defense that was not losing in the trenches. 

 

Spartans Fans Should Be Excited by Connor Cook 

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook did not inspire a lot of confidence in fans this season. He struggled with his accuracy and decision making. 

In crunch time, however, he was fantastic:

Against Stanford, he went 22-of-36 passing with 332 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. 

It was not a perfect performance. For instance, he threw an ill-advised pass in the first half that turned into a pick-six. 

As he settled into this game, however, he began to find his rhythm and confidence:

Cook's decision making will improve with experience, and as his confidence grows, he has all the tools needed to be an excellent college quarterback. 

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Baylor's Bryce Petty Gets Flipped into End Zone on 13-Yard TD Run

It's not often you see quarterbacks getting flipped, but Baylor's Bryce Petty did just that on his way into the end zone.

Petty took off with the football, and when he got close to the goal line, he decided to leave his feet. Central Florida defensive back Jacoby Glenn got underneath the quarterback and flipped him into the end zone for the touchdown.

Take another look look at this awesome play:

Petty's mom (wearing jersey) was in awe when watching the replay:

ESPN's Travis Haney now has something to add to Petty's scouting report:

The 13-yard touchdown brought the Bears to within a point of the Knights late in the first half of the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

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Rose Bowl Performance Has Connor Cook Poised to Be Big Ten's Best QB in 2014

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook just put the nation on notice with his monstrous performance in the Spartans' 24-20 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Get used to seeing Cook in the spotlight, and don't be surprised if he emerges as the Big Ten's best signal-caller in 2014.

The sophomore from Ohio, who's rated by CBS Sports as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL draft class, torched the Stanford Cardinal defense to the tune of 332 yards, a season high, and two touchdowns. 

Those numbers are the best that any Big Ten quarterback has put up in the bowl season so far, with only Braxton Miller from Ohio State left to play. 

With Miller graduating, the stage is set for Cook to take the throne as the conference's best gunslinger. 

In all honesty, he was widely underrated in the 2013 season. He didn't have a single multi-interception game all year, he threw for at least 200 yards eight times and had seven games with two or more touchdown passes. 

In the Big Ten, among quarterbacks who attempted at least 300 passes (seven players), Cook threw the fewest interceptions with just five. 

Before the Rose Bowl, his best showing was against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship, when Ohio State was one win away from a national title berth. 

In that game, Cook threw for a then-season-high 304 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 34-24 win. 

Among Cook's competitors for the title of the conference's best quarterback will be Christian Hackenberg from Penn State, Nate Sudfeld from Indiana and either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris, whoever ends up winning the Michigan job in the offseason. 

But all of those teams are on a downslide, while Michigan State is looking like a possible national title contender next season. 

If the Spartans want to have a chance at playing for a national title next season, it'll be Connor Cook to take them there. 

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Texas Football Recruiting: 10 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

The high school football all-star games are about to kick off with Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game and Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. These two games bring in the best high school prospects in the country and will feature a handful of the top targets making their college decisions live on TV.

The University of Texas has offered more than 30 athletes competing in the two all-star games, but nine of those either plan to commit to Texas or are still in the mix to land on the 40 Acres.

Here's a look at whom to watch in the high school all-star games.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Conservative Cardinal Own Worst Enemy vs. Michigan State

Stanford hasn’t lost much in the three seasons David Shaw has been head coach. The Cardinal’s 24-20 loss against Michigan State in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl was just their seventh in Shaw’s tenure, but a recurring critique from the more recent Stanford stumbles is the coach’s offensive play-calling.  

Shaw didn’t deviate from the game plan that carried Stanford to a second consecutive Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance. The Cardinal stepped up toe-to-toe with Michigan State’s ballyhooed defense for a throwback slugfest, and the Spartans punched just a little bit harder.

Aside from Tyler Gaffney’s 47-yard carry in the first quarter and touchdown rush on the game's opening drive, Michigan State showed exactly why it’s the nation's premier rush defense by rendering Gaffney a non-factor much of the day.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Gaffney carried 24 times for 91 yards, a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. Take away his big gainer, and his average was half that. 

When Gaffney couldn't get free taking handoffs from quarterback Kevin Hogan, Shaw lined the running back up in a single wing, or Wildcat. The formation has been a point of contention between Shaw and his naysayers for all three of his seasons leading the Cardinal. 

Gaffney defended the Wildcat just this week when asked at his Rose Bowl press conference, per GoStanford.com

"I love the [W]ildcat," Gaffney said. "It gives you an opportunity to be an athlete. You get the ball, you see there's not just one hole drawn up. There can be multiple. You hit it with everything you've got and hope for the best."

Gaffney was Stanford’s top offensive playmaker throughout 2013. He led the way for the Cardinal with 1,618 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns coming into the Rose Bowl. Shaw chose to stick with the one who brought him to the dance.

But while rushing Gaffney behind Stanford's outstanding offensive line pounded speed-based Oregon and blitz-happy Arizona State into submission, Michigan State gave no quarter. 

Going away from Gaffney offered the Stanford offense no relief, however.

On Stanford's final possession and facing 3rd-and-2, a Gaffney rush out of a shotgun handoff fell short. In a jumbo package on fourth down, Shaw called fullback Ryan Hewitt's number. It was Hewitt's first carry of the game, and Stanford's last offensive snap of the season. 

That Stanford’s five losses in the last two seasons have all been by single digits makes it easier to put every decision under a microscope. Such was the case in a 20-17 loss at USC on Nov. 16, as well as a 27-21 defeat at Utah on Oct. 12. 

The narrative in those Pac-12 tilts, however, was that Shaw went away from Gaffney in calling for Hogan to pass more. He threw 27 passes at Utah and 25 at USC, including a critical red-zone interception in the latter.

Hogan passed 18 times against Michigan State, completing 10, including his first attempt, a 43-yard connection with Michael Rector. Hogan also found Devon Cajuste on a 51-yarder in the third quarter.

Otherwise, big plays were hard to come by against Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" secondary. 

Stanford receivers dropped a few passes. Hogan's lone interception went through Rector's hands and landed in Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes'. It was a difficult play for Rector in double-coverage, but as indicative of Stanford's inability to mount much offense as Gaffney's snuffed-out rushes. 

Certainly some of the Cardinal's offensive anemia is due to the conservative approach. 

But play-calling was not the only reason Stanford lost. Hardly. 

The Spartans defense answered the bell against a stout offense and lived up to its billing. The offense also found a way to do just against against a Stanford defense that played admirably and kept a Cardinal victory within reach. 

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook stepped up against the outstanding Cardinal defense, sustaining drives with his poise in the pocket. 

When Stanford's pass rush reached Cook—and it happened often—he was able to get the ball out quickly. He was also unfazed by throwing a first-half interception returned for touchdown. 

The Spartans made more plays than Stanford, something that has happened all of seven times in Shaw's career. But with an offseason to marinate on his team's Rose Bowl loss, Shaw will have an opportunity to make additions to his playbook to perhaps bridge that gap.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Conservative Cardinal Own Worst Enemy vs. Michigan State

Stanford hasn ’t lost much in the three seasons David Shaw has been head coach. The Cardinal’s 24-20 loss against Michigan State in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl was ...

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Rose Bowl 2014: Mark Dantonio Takes Place Among College Football's Elite Coaches

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has become one of college football's elite coaches almost overnight. A 24-20 win over David Shaw's Stanford program in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday solidifies his standing among the best in college football.

He has turned into the Spartans' best coach since 1953—even better than Nick Saban, Duffy Daugherty and Denny Stolz when they were in East Lansing.

And he's done it by building his team into a legitimate national title contender. The only issue with an elite status is that Texas could come calling, and Michigan State needs to make sure he's locked up for years.

There's a group of talented coaches out there known as college football's elite. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong, David Shaw, Jimbo Fisher and now Mark Dantonio are just a half-dozen members in this elite group.

These coaches have been built up their teams and turned them into conference champions and national title contenders. Dantonio has done just that in East Lansing. In fact, he's taken a team that was 4-8 the year before he took over and turned it into one that could have been in the national title game in 2013.

But this all started when he took over the job in 2007. Since then, Michigan State has been in a bowl every single year. After a mediocre first three years under Dantonio when the Spartans went 7-6, 9-4 and 6-7 and lost in bowl games each year, they took a massive leap into a regular conference title contender.

Over the past four seasons, the Spartans have won 11 games or more three times. They have won two conference titles and their division within the conference once. On top of that, they've won three of their past four bowl games.

Great coaches take mediocre teams and build them into squads that are in the national title conversation. With Michigan State at 13-1 and winning the Big Ten Conference in 2013, it would have been a primary target if Florida State had lost to Duke in the ACC title game. Michigan State would have also been a prime candidate for the new College Football Playoff that is coming in 2014.

Dantonio's Spartans aren't mediocre anymore. They aren't even close. And that's a testament to their head coach. A head coach who led them to their first Rose Bowl berth—and victory—since 1988. This Rose Bowl win is just an exclamation point to the job that Dantonio has done—an elite one.

 

Could Texas come calling?

Speaking of mediocre programs that need some coaching help, Texas is in the middle of a long coaching search. While it would be a long shot for the Longhorns to offer the job to Dantonio, he would be a great fit for the role of Mack Brown's successor.

Dantonio understands how to build a defense that can compete with anyone and slow down even the best offenses. With Texas' resources, it could easily pay for any sort of buyout that would be in Dantonio's new contract, according to an ESPN report.

Texas should try to sign Dantonio to a contract before Michigan State can extend him. Unfortunately, the Longhorns won't have the same foresight to hire a defensive-minded head coach from Michigan State whom LSU had back in 2000. That time, the coach was Nick Saban.

 

All stats used are either from ESPN or CFBStats.com. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.

Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.

Follow @ScottCarasik

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Rose Bowl: Are Michigan State Spartans Legit National Title Contenders in 2014?

For Michigan State fans, it's bittersweet to wonder what might have been; to picture what might have happened without a few phantom pass-interference calls at Notre Dame in September. But it's fun as heck to wonder what might be.

The Spartans beat Stanford, 24-20, in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night, refusing to be content with merely playing in Pasadena for the first time since 1988. A four-point margin was hardly indicative of the performance, either. They physically dominated a team that was billed as physically dominant, and they did so on both sides of the ball.

By every objective metric, 2013 was a rousing success for Michigan State—especially on the heels of last year's star-crossed 7-6 campaign, when five conference games were lost by 13 total points. The Wolverines' little brother is all grown up, and given the direction of this program, it's fair to question its ceiling.

Can this team contend for a national title next season?

The upcoming offseason will be an important one in East Lansing. First and foremost, the Spartans need to ensure that they retain head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. The former is rumored to be a candidate for the Texas opening (via Josh Slagter of MLive.com)—perhaps you've heard about it—and the latter has already been offered (and rejected) a head-coaching job for a team, Connecticut, that played in the Fiesta Bowl just three short years ago.

Still, both men seem genuinely committed to building up this program, and even though loyalty means little in the sordid world of college football, Dantonio's recent extension is a very good sign that he will stay. And if the band stays together in 2014, why can't MSU compete for a spot in the first College Football Playoff?

The losses on defense will be felt, but Narduzzi's return would be more important than that of any player. Guys like Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Darqueze Dennard cannot be replicated, but the Spartans have dealt well with personnel losses these past few years. There's no reason to expect anything different.

Remember, after all, that before winning the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013, Dennard himself was replacing a Michigan State legend in Johnny Adams. There were questions about how this defense would fare after losing its best pass-defender, along with important front-seven players like William Gholston.

It seems to have turned out just fine.

Trae Waynes was one of the breakout stars in the Big Ten this year, and just like Dennard, he should thrive with a promotion to No. 1 cornerback. The same goes for almost every position on Michigan State's defense.

Narduzzi keeps this cupboard well-stocked; as long as he remains in East Lansing, the defense will be good enough to compete for a Big Ten championship. The real question comes on the other side of the ball.

To that end, Michigan State's fate rests squarely on the arm of rising junior quarterback Connor Cook, who ended the year with two very strong performances against Ohio State and Stanford. He was so-so for most of the season—remember, Michigan State scored just 14 points against Purdue in October—but appeared to turn the corner late, once the team was officially "his."

He needs to carry that momentum into the offseason while challenging himself to get better. This cannot be the extent of his potential. The ranking will certainly improve after the Rose Bowl, but Football Outsiders' F/+ still placed MSU as the No. 51 offense in America during the regular season.

Since that statistic was initially recorded in 2007, no national champion has finished with an offense below No. 5, checking in with an average of No. 2.5. Half had the top-ranked offense in the country.

Defense alone might win Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but balance wins crystal-football trophies. Especially if the defense takes a slight step back next season, the offense must find a way to catch up. Cook will be back. Running back Jeremy Langford will be back. Of the 18 Spartan players who caught a pass this season, 17 are underclassmen.

If Cook can make the "leap" and the coaching staff remains intact, this team is good enough to beat every team on its schedule—even a slate that includes a road trip to Oregon and a visit from Ohio State in 2014. The advantage is clearly in Michigan State's favor, especially with Michigan mired in such a funk.

After Wednesday's game, Dantonio spoke of being satisfied with his team's "completion," according to ESPN Big Ten. That's all well and good for now, but the Spartans' ascent is not yet complete. Starting next season, this squad will have a target on its back and goals that exceed winning the Rose Bowl.

But that's a good problem to have.

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Rose Bowl 2014: Michigan State Saves New Year's Day for the Big Ten

The Big Ten started New Year's Day 1-2, and Michigan State went down 10-0 early to Stanford in the Rose Bowl—if you listened closely you could hear the eulogy of the Big Ten being typed out all over the country once again.

Instead, the Spartans found 17 unanswered points and took down No. 5 Stanford, 24-20, in the Rose Bowl.

Suddenly 2-2 on New Year's Day has a lot nicer of a ring to it than the typical 1-3 and an offseason of asking questions about the future of the Big Ten and where it is all going wrong for the conference. 

Those who doubted it could happen can be forgiven; after all, we've been here plenty of times before—with the Big Ten starved of a win in the Rose Bowl for the majority of the past decade.

The Big Ten did hold a 1-9 record entering the 100th Rose Bowl this year, after all.

Following a quick 10-0 Stanford lead in the first quarter, the "here we go again" feelings seemed appropriate.

Cue the heartbreak and long offseason of Big Ten bashing. But then Michigan State woke up—or more appropriately, MSU quarterback Connor Cook woke up. 

Cook, the sophomore quarterback who was overshadowed all month by the talk of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, had the game of his young career for the Spartans. 

He completed 22 of 36 passes for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns. The only blemish on his near-perfect night was an interception that ended up going for a 40-yard pick-six the other way, making it 17-7 Cardinal. 

Like all good quarterbacks do, Cook put the mistake in the rearview mirror quickly and led his team to another victory over a supposedly better team. 

For all that Cook did, perhaps the most fitting moment of New Year's Day across the Big Ten took place on the biggest play of the Rose Bowl. 

With Max Bullough suspended, his replacement, Kyler Elsworth, would make the ultimate save. 

Stanford faced a 4th-and-1 with under two minutes remaining, only to see a play to fullback Ryan Hewitt be stuffed short of the needed yardage by an airborne Elsworth. 

With the win, Michigan State saved the Big Ten from becoming the brunt of all jokes, although some have found a way to rain on the parade already. 

Somewhere Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is having the last laugh, popping champagne bottles and handing out high-fives—and he has Michigan State to thank for making New Year's Day a success instead of the usual dismal failure for his conference. 

Now, perhaps the Big Ten can go forward and actually put up a winning record in the not-too-distant future.

Crazy idea, right?

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Auburn vs. FSU: Top NFL Prospects in BCS National Championship Game

Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston might be the best player on the field for the BCS National Championship Game, but his standing as a redshirt freshman will push the exploits of some talented NFL prospects to the forefront.

Both Auburn and Florida State feature NFL talent with the potential to be taken in the early rounds of May's 2014 NFL draft. Winston will get his turn as a touted NFL prospect next season, but for now, that honor belongs to a few other competitors in the BCS title game.

This contest has the capability to be one of the better bowl games of the season, and expect the following NFL prospects to leave their marks on the outcome.

 

Greg Robinson, OL, Auburn

Greg Robinson often gets overlooked in an NFL draft that will likely see offensive lineman Jake Matthews taken within the top five. To be honest, Robinson's ceiling is nearly just as high as Matthews'. One NFL scout is particularly high on Robinson, telling Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

He's a stud. Left tackle. You're talking about a ton of athleticism, size, strength. He's not getting a lot of attention because people don't realize he's a redshirt. Not quite sure why (Gene) Chizik redshirted him. I think that was a big mistake. He's in the top 10, 15 easy if he comes out.

Robinson can make a name for himself on Jan. 6 on college football's biggest stage. While offensive linemen aren't generally fun to watch, you'd be foolish not to respect the work they do in the trenches on a weekly basis.

The way he fights on every snap to create gaps for his running back or seal up holes for quarterback Nick Marshall is a sight to behold. He'll be showing that off against an aggressive front of the Florida Seminoles on Monday.

He figures to be an early first-round pick, and the New York Giants at No. 12 have an obvious need for a young lineman to protect Eli Manning. Pairing Robinson with 2013 rookie Justin Pugh would create a nice tandem for the Giants moving forward.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Kelvin Benjamin's athleticism and propensity to get open in the red zone make him a candidate to get selected outside of the top 20 on draft day.

He had a breakout season in 2013, and not just because Winston was throwing him passes. He progressed from being just a possession receiver in 2012. In total, he brought in 50 receptions for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He's a serious threat in the vertical passing game, which makes him the perfect fit for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 24. Alex Smith could use another weapon in the passing game alongside Dwayne Bowe.

Auburn will have difficulties matching up with Benjamin, and that makes him a candidate to perform well and improve his draft stock. Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel broke down Benjamin's advantage:

Given his size and physicality, Benjamin creates headaches for smaller corner backs in jump-ball situations. Auburn’s starting corners, Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy, are 5-foot-11 and 5-foot-10, respectively, so they give up half a foot to Benjamin.

Look for him to shine against the Tigers in the BCS title game.

 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist and dynamic rusher, likely won't hear his name called in the first round. In fact, it could be several rounds before he gets the call.

NFL teams will be tentative to select him. One NFC general manager told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com that Mason is a product of Auburn's system: "He's a solid runner, but my gut is the offense is really the engine that drives the production."

Regardless, Mason is explosive. He's exciting enough that a NFL team would be willing to take a chance on him in the fourth or fifth round.

Just take a look at his numbers this season. He totaled 1,621 yards on 283 carries and found the end zone 22 times. Yes, Auburn is a run-first team that possessed a strong offensive line to pave the way for big runs, but that doesn't stop the fact that he averaged 5.7 yards per rush.

Yards and touchdowns aside, it is hard to argue with that type of efficiency.

A team like the Cleveland Browns or Giants could take a flier on him late. He's a high-upside pick with good potential because of his speed and quickness.

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Spartans Coach Mike Dantonio Dodges Gatorade Bath, Talks Rich Homie Quan

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had quite an interesting few minutes after his team wrapped up a 24-20 victory in the 2014 Rose Bowl.

First, he successfully managed to dodge a Gatorade bath:

The coach wasn't done having fun.

Rich Homie Quan was on the Michigan State sideline during the game, so Dantonio decided to pay tribute to the rapper during a postgame interview by dropping a "Some Type of Way" reference:

Nicely done.

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Stanford vs. Michigan State: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Rose Bowl

In a Rose Bowl that featured two hard-nosed running games, it was a quarterback who led his team to victory.   

Game MVP Connor Cook threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns, as No. 4 Michigan State overcame an early 10-point deficit and stuffed No. 5 Stanford on a late drive to cap a 24-20 win in the 100th Granddaddy of Them All on Wednesday afternoon.

It wasn't always pretty. 

With just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cook made a poor decision under pressure, dumping the ball into the hands of Stanford's Kevin Anderson, who returned the interception 40 yards into the end zone to put the Cardinal ahead, 17-7. 

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was uncharted territory for the Spartans in 2013. 

But the sophomore Cook refused to fold. On the very next possession, he connected on plays of 24, 11 and 37 yards before finding Trevon Pendleton in the end zone, as the Spartans marched 75 yards in 1:39 to cut the lead to three before halftime.

The Spartans continued to control both sides of the ball, eventually taking their first lead at 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Stanford never really looked comfortable against an equally physical team and couldn't lead the comeback.

The Cardinal exploded out of the gates with a dominant first quarter, but in rare fashion for a David Shaw-coached team, they struggled to run the ball after that, wasted opportunities on defense and committed eight penalties. They had a chance to win in the final minutes but went four-and-out when the Spartans stuffed them on two runs. 

For Mark Dantonio, who is reportedly in line for a big raise, per ESPN.com's Joe Schad, the late fourth-and-one stop is a fitting cap to a tremendous season that was powered by an incredible defense. This is the Spartans' first Rose Bowl win since 1987. 

It is also a win that will give the Spartans a boost in the postseason polls (via Bryan Fischer): 

 

Player Grades

Kevin Hogan, Stanford: C+

Kevin Hogan, you just can't make plays like this:

The junior QB throws a nice deep ball, as he proved on the next drive with a 51-yard strike on the money to Devon Cajuste, but that interception was a horrendous decision and largely sums up his forgettable night. 

His final numbers weren't terrible (10-of-18 passing, 143 yards), but Hogan could just never get in a rhythm against the Spartans defense. 

 

Connor Cook, Michigan State: A-

Cook was far from perfect on the night. At times, he made poor decisions and forced throws into tight coverage. One of those went for a pick-six, and his final line could have looked much worse if Stanford didn't drop a couple of interceptions.

Still, at the end of the day, he showed great resiliency, made some tremendous plays, put up big numbers against a very stout defense (completed 61.1 percent of his throws for 9.2 yards per attempt) and played confidently:

Arguably the best game of his career in the 100th Rose Bowl. Not bad. 

 

Shayne Skov, Stanford: A

Shayne Skov was everywhere. As the game wore on, it appeared as though he was actually playing every position on defense.

The senior linebacker made plays all over the gridiron. He flew to the ball for tackles, consistently caused pressure in the backfield and forced a key fumble in the red zone late in the third quarter. 

Skov had a tremendous season, and this was an appropriate collegiate swan song. 

 

Michigan State Front Seven: A

Not one individual player here, obviously, but the Spartans' entire front seven deserves credit. The defensive line controlled the trenches for much of the game and the linebackers got impressive penetration on running plays. 

After Tyler Gaffney tallied 68 yards on his first five carries, his next 19 went for just 23. Put it all together, and he finished with 3.8 yards per carry. Against a smash-mouth team like Stanford, the Spartans defense was terrific.

A game-winning stand cemented the fantastic performance.

 

 

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Michigan State Stuffs Stanford on 4th Down to Win 2014 Rose Bowl

Down 24-20 to Michigan State with just over three minutes left in the 2014 Rose Bowl, Stanford needed 66 yards to win the game.

With everything on the line, the Cardinal called three straight running plays to set up a crucial 4th-and-1 from their own 34-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. Both teams took a timeout leading up to the play.

When it came time to run the play, the Spartans stuffed Cardinal back Ryan Hewitt before he got to the first-down marker.

It came down to power against power. Michigan State's defense was able to jump over Stanford's offensive line and make the play. From there, a few kneel-downs ended the game.

The fourth-down stop was an incredible way to end the 100th Rose Bowl.


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