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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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Ty Montgomery Injury: Updates on Stanford WR's Knee and Return

Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery left the Cardinal's Rose Bowl matchup against Michigan State and is unlikely to return after sustaining what appears to be a left knee injury.  

ESPN's Joe Schad reported that Montgomery was wrapped in ice on the sideline, and the prognosis for Wednesday's contest did not look good:

Stanford WR Ty Montgomery consoled by teammates after left knee wrapped in ice. Appears done for day.

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 2, 2014

Jon Wilner of the Mercury News had official word from Stanford on Montgomery's status:

Stanford official statement on Montgomery: "He will be re-evaluated soon." No other info.

— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) January 2, 2014

Montgomery sustained the injury on a kickoff return following a score that put the Spartans up 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. Although there was seemingly nothing atypical about the play, which featured a Montgomery return to the Stanford 30-yard line, the junior wideout was in obvious pain and laid on the field for multiple minutes.

He was then tended to by the Stanford medical staff before being taken off the field while putting little weight on his left leg. The severity of the injury is unknown at this time, and will likely take further testing to figure out its full extent.

Before going down, Michigan State had done a surprisingly solid job of keeping Montgomery in check. He had only three catches for 21 yards, as the Cardinal passing game struggled mightily. Looking for back-to-back Rose Bowl victories for the second time in school history, Stanford had been rendered mostly ineffective by a stout Spartans defense.

Montgomery had been the team's most explosive weapon on the outside all season. He came into January having set career-highs in catches (58), yards (937) and touchdowns (10). Without Montgomery, the onus will be on quarterback Kevin Hogan to find his secondary targets.

With the way the game has gone thus far, though, that task is going to be awfully difficult.


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Ty Montgomery Injury: Updates on Stanford WR's Knee and Return

Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery left the Cardinal's Rose Bowl matchup against Michigan State and is unlikely to return after sustaining what appears to be a left knee injury...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Stanford Band Forms 'Snapchat' Logo During Rose Bowl Halftime Show

Halftime shows continue to sweep the nation. 

Stanford's marching band took advantage of its time on the national stage and formed the "Snapchat" ghost logo at halftime of the Rose Bowl, providing the country with another unique look at marching band formations.

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Michigan State's Connor Cook's Terrible Pass Turns into Pick-6 for Stanford

Michigan State was looking to score a touchdown to take a lead into halftime against Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but quarterback Connor Cook threw a terrible pass that turned into a pick-six.

Stanford's Kevin Anderson took the pass 40 yards for the touchdown, giving his team a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter.

The Cardinal defense pressured Cook, which caused a poor throw. His pass never came close to reaching a receiver, allowing Stanford to extend its lead to 10 points right before the half. 

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Texas A&M Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

Bleacher Report brings constant news, updates and analysis on Texas A&M's 2014 recruiting class, ranging from the quarterback position to the secondary. Each section will be consistently updated through national signing day this February. 


*All rankings and information courtesy of 247sports.com.

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Connor Shaw Cements South Carolina Legacy in Capital One Bowl

So many times over the last three years, South Carolina has won football games largely because of the efforts of quarterback Connor Shaw.

Thus, it was only appropriate that Shaw conclude his college career with a virtuoso performance that not only won yet another game for the Gamecocks, but also sealed his status as the greatest quarterback in school history.

In his final college game, Shaw completed 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, rushed 16 times for 47 yards and a touchdown and caught a nine-yard touchdown pass in South Carolina's 34-24 Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

It was an absolute slam dunk that he earned Capital One Bowl MVP honors.

He ends his career with a record of 27-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback, the most victories and by far the best winning percentage in school history among quarterbacks who have won at least 20 games.

However, listing his career statistics is an almost mind-numbing enterprise that, in fact, does him a grave disservice because it limits the scope of his accomplishments.

Shaw's legacy transcends statistics. More impressive than the numbers is the manner in which he produced them—like playing on a bad knee and throwing three touchdown passes in a comeback victory over Missouri earlier this season.

Then, there are simply intangible, hard to describe moments in a game where Shaw shows his magic—a timely scramble for first-down yardage or a seemingly impossible completion on fourth down.

He is a playmaker with an uncanny instinct for improvisation, like the play against Wisconsin where he dropped back, took off as if he was running and lobbed the ball at the last second over the heads of defenders to a wide-open Jerell Adams for a critical first down.

Like a true maestro, Shaw has the uncanny ability of lifting up those around him, making them better and orchestrating a team effort that is nearly impossible to stop.

Those around him rise to the occasion—like receivers Bruce Ellington and Shaq Roland did against the Badgers.

Ellington caught six passes for a career-high 140 yards, and Roland caught a career-high six for 112. Each receiver had at least two receptions where Shaw threw the ball where only they could catch it.

And they did.

Not only that, but Ellington also threw the touchdown pass to Shaw off a reverse—a bit of trickery from South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Not surprisingly, Shaw, a perfectionist at quarterback, ran a perfect route and caught a perfect pass from Ellington.

For his entire career, Shaw has been an overlooked talent, playing in the shadow of more heralded teammates like former Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore and All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

It was nice to see Shaw end his career with an effort that the entire college football world couldn't help but notice.

There may be more to come from Connor Shaw.

Some NFL team will give him a shot, if nothing more than as a training camp arm.

Don't be surprised if Shaw works his magic and turns it into more.

After what he has accomplished, only a fool would bet against him.

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Miami Football: 5 Best Moments of 2013

The Miami Hurricanes' 2013 campaign ended on a sour note, but a few moments highlight the 'Canes' 9-4 season.

Al Golden's team caught the nation's attention, defeating in-state rival Florida before the Gators had many key players fall to injury.

Though questions about the coaching staff arose by the end of the season, Golden has this team headed in the right direction. Miami started 7-0 for the first time in 10 years and won nine games for only the second time since 2005.

And when a program is improving, the players are making some things happen that are worth revisiting.

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Jadeveon Clowney's 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Declaring After Capital One Bowl

Welp. That sure didn't take long. Within seconds of the final whistle of South Carolina's 34-24 victory over Wisconsin, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked the question that has been on everyone's mind for months: Will he enter his name into the 2014 NFL draft?

The answer: an emphatic "Yes sir."

"It's been great. We've put everything into this," Clowney said, per CBS Sports' Will Brinson. "I'll miss everything about Carolina. I love it here."

This, of course, is about as surprising as a rash of DUI arrests on New Year's Eve.

Everyone knew Clowney was declaring—we just didn't know how soon or how he would do it. Barring catastrophic injury (and maybe even then), Clowney declaring for May's draft was about as close to a sure thing as you can get in college football.

What comes next, however, is the far more interesting question.

The reason everyone so expected Clowney to declare is because, at this time a year ago, we were still reacting to The Hit. You know, the time Clowney burst through the Michigan offensive line, collapsed a rushing play almost at the handoff, barreled through Wolverines running back Vincent Smith like a blow-up tackling dummy, and then caused and picked up a fumble to give the ball back to the Gamecocks.

It came in a season where Clowney set single-season sacks records at South Carolina, but that hit was his lasting legacy. 

SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays" had to retire it because it won the "best of the best" vote so many times. Multiple highlights of said hit have more than a million views on YouTube. Clowney's hit was his version of Bo Jackson breaking a bat with his knee, his LeBron James scoring 25 straight points against the Detroit Pistons.

Like James and Jackson, Clowney was viewed as the prototype. A human specimen specifically designed to do right and kill everything on the football field. He would have been the No. 1 overall pick last year without question if he'd been eligible.

But, despite avoiding any major injuries and looking like the exact same player, there are few more polarizing prospects in this year's class. 

What gives?

Well, let's get this out of the way first: Clowney is still going to be a top-five selection. Teams still marvel at his combination of size, athleticism and strength. When engaged, there are few players in college football history who have been better at affecting a game from the three-point stance. He's a marvel to watch, and he has the type of infectious personality that could make him a franchise cornerstone.

We won't need the Caveman to tell us he's All-Pro linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Yet the man who once seemed predestined to be the No. 1 pick in 2014 will have to play the catch-up game to regain his spot. That distinction will likely belong to Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose grip on the top spot has become something of a stranglehold. The Houston Texans need a franchise quarterback after their dumpster-fire duo of Matt Schaub and Case Keenum—to go from 12-4 division champions to 2-14 top-pick holders requires a special level of putridity. 

It's fair here to say that being taken first overall doesn't necessarily require being the best player. Quarterback is the most important position in football, and if you have the chance to grab someone at that position who can be a franchise guy, you take it; solid defensive ends are readily available in free agency. I also still have Clowney as the No. 1 prospect on my draft board.

But the reality is that Clowney wouldn't have to scramble had his 2013 season not been a complete and utter disappointment.

He finished with three sacks, 10 fewer than in 2012 for those who don't feel like doing math on a holiday. 

And it's not just that the numbers weren't there. The scary perception going on about Clowney now can be boiled down to an October quote from his head coach (via Josh Kendall of The State):

Effort. It's been the word hanging over Clowney's head since we all decided as a nation that he was out of shape for South Carolina's season-opening win over North Carolina. The reactionary sports kingdom, watching Clowney on his first national showcase since The Hit, deemed his performance unworthy. He was fat and happy with praise. He was saving his body for the NFL. He looked like someone who didn't remotely want to be wearing a Gamecocks jersey.

This would all be laughably written off as narrative if some of it didn't show up on film. Clowney did take plays off. There were times when he'd just disappears for quarters on end, as if we were all supposed to forget this athletic freak was on the field.

"What you're seeing right now with Jadeveon, you're starting to have questions about really what is he motivated by?" ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said recently, per the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson

There are many excuses that could be written for Clowney's down season. He was facing double- and at times triple-teams while playing in the toughest conference in the nation. He battled through a series of injuries all season, a knee on top of ribs on top of a shoulder.

Those were all contributing factors, and smart teams will focus on those before casting any aspersions on a 20-year-old kid they just spent the past 12 months fawning over.

That said, "effort" is one of those unteachable traits that scare teams to death. You can't coast on talent the same way on Sundays—everyone is super awesome at playing football. When deciding between a Bridgewater or a Clowney, sometimes it's the tiniest swing factors that take a team in one direction.

Clowney's stock is slightly down because of that perception, and merely because of situation. The Texans have J.J. Watt. The St. Louis Rams have Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Defensive end is not a priority for either team. It seems that the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 are the first possibility, though it would shock no one if St. Louis decided to deal that selection.

And I suspect the team that drafts Clowney won't have many complaints. As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, Clowney showed just how dominant he can still be without sacking a quarterback against Wisconsin:

Anything can happen between now and May. Clowney's measurables at the combine will be something to watch, as a freakish performance could cause the Texans to consider a Long-Clowney pairing or a disappointing one could cause more handwringing.

The reality, though, is that Clowney is still the player he's always been. He "disappointed" only because of the absolutely unrealistic expectations his play caused.

He's not the Human Hit Parade like we all wanted, but don't be surprised when we're all marveling at this kid on Sundays—no matter where he winds up.


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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for UCF vs Baylor

The final showdown on New Year’s Day is the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. UCF and Baylor will battle it out starting at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Bryce Petty and the Bears’ high-powered offense have been a treat to watch throughout the year. However, one shouldn’t sleep on Blake Bortles and the Knights. After all, they did upset Teddy Bridgewater earlier in the season when nobody gave them a chance.

Bortles is gaining a great deal of buzz for the NFL draft, and his performance in the Fiesta Bowl will be heavily scrutinized. Of course, he does still have the option to return to school.

Art Briles vs. George O'Leary should be a fantastic showdown, as both head coaches aim to win a BCS Bowl for the first time in each of their school’s history. There's a lot on the line tonight! 

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

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Mark Dantonio and Michigan State Reportedly Agree to New Contract

Mark Dantonio is getting a raise. 

The Michigan State head coach, who led the Spartans to a Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl this season, has agreed to a new contract with the school, according to ESPN's Joe Schad. The new contract will make him one of the three highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten and will place his staff among the three-highest paid in all of college football, a source told Schad.

Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal adds more detail:

Hollis said the specifics of the deal are not ready for release, but he confirmed in a text message that Dantonio will be in the top three—which would mean an increase from $1.96 million (ninth in the Big Ten) to the $4 million range.

According to a recent USA Today report, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is tops in the Big Ten at $4.6 million, Michigan’s Brady Hoke is second at $4.154 million and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is third with a salary of $3.985 million.

Texas reportedly wanted to interview Dantonio for its vacancy at head coach, per Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com, but this news means it's presumably safe to cross the 57-year-old's name off that list. 

The raise is well-deserved. 

Since coming over from Cincinnati in 2007, Dantonio has led the Spartans to a combined 63-29 (.685) record. MSU made just one bowl in the four seasons preceding Dantonio's tenure, but he has brought consistency and stability to the program. During his reign, the Spartans have made a bowl every season, never winning fewer than six games and hitting double-digit victories in three of the past four years.

The year 2013 was a new high for Dantonio and Michigan State, though.

After a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2012, the Spartans, who weren't ranked in the preseason, won 12 games, including a victory over previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, to climb to No. 4 in the rankings and earn a spot in "The Granddaddy of Them All" against Stanford. 

Dantonio credits the team's success to chemistry, via Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News:

We’ve had things that have disappointed us in the past, and we rally and close ranks and move forward. We’re going to protect our people in every sense of the way, the people that are here and the people that aren’t. We’ve always had great chemistry and we’ve won because of chemistry.

Whatever the reason for the success, Dantonio has established the Spartans as a legitimate force in the Big Ten. After signing this new contract, he's not going anywhere. 

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Capital One Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

South Carolina defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the 2014 Capital One Bowl on January 1 thanks to a career day by senior quarterback Connor Shaw. In his last game in a South Carolina uniform, Shaw not only guided his team to another 11-win season (South Carolina's third consecutive), but also made a strong statement for NFL scouts and general managers.

But Shaw's audition for the NFL isn't the only thing we took away from this game.

Wisconsin's defense struggled against Shaw's accuracy and the speed of the Gamecocks receiving corps, while South Carolina's defense—Jadeveon Clowney included—had difficulty at times stopping the Badgers' power run game.

We'll discuss all this in greater detail and a whole lot more in our list of things we learned during the 2014 Capital One Bowl.

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Outback Bowl 2014: Even in Loss, Kirk Ferentz Restored Faith in Iowa's Future

Even thought Iowa fell short of the upset bid against LSU in Outback Bowl, the season should be viewed as an overwhelming success for a program (and a coach) that desperately needed it.

Kirk Ferentz makes a lot of money. You probably know this by now. In fact, his salary is typically a popular topic of conversation each time Iowa loses or underperforms.

In recent years, those instances to bring up his incredible compensation—nearly $4 million, according to USA Today's yearly database—have surfaced more times than they should.

Last season was the low point of his tenure. After making (and winning) the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season—followed by respectable eight- and seven-win seasons—Ferentz’s team won just four games. 

The offense struggled mightily, averaging under 20 points per game for the entire season. Defensively the team wasn’t awful, although it wasn’t good enough to take over games, either. The end result was a four-win season, the first losing season for Iowa since the year 2000.

In turn, expectations heading into 2013 were lower than they’d been in quite some time. “Make a bowl” served as an acceptable goal coming in.

Iowa did much more than that.

After losing a heartbreaker to Northern Illinois in the opener, the Hawkeyes won their next four. After battling against Michigan State and Ohio State in losses, Iowa closed out the regular season by winning four of its last five.

Making a New Year’s Day bowl was not in the cards before the season began. And while Iowa fell to LSU 21-14—unable to overcome early offensive woes and to slow down Jeremy Hill—there are plenty of positives to take away from both the game and the season.

For one, Iowa battled. This was a theme throughout the entire year, and this fight was on display yet again against the Tigers. These moral victories can often be over-hyped, but this team should be commended for the second-half surge. At halftime, it looked like it could get ugly.

Iowa responded with a takeaway, however, as safety John Lowdermilk picked off young Anthony Jennings and took it the other way. He didn’t take it back all the way, though. 

In one of the strangest plays you’ll see all season—and one that the sport is somehow familiar with—Lowdermilk dropped the ball before crossing the goal line.

Thankfully, no one picked up the “loose” ball, and Iowa got it back on the 1-yard line. Running back Mark Weisman punched it in, making the blunder a moot point. 

Despite a late touchdown to make things interesting—especially for those invested in the point spread—Iowa could not recover the onside kick. The game effort and comeback attempt fell just short.

While the loss should sting, Ferentz delivered in a critical year. Following the game, Ferentz was emotional when talking about the path to get there:

Coach Ferentz very emotional when talking about this team and where it's come the last 13 months.

— Rick Brown (@ByRickBrown) January 1, 2014

Some will say that this kind of performance should be the floor, given Ferentz's salary, and perhaps that’s difficult to argue against. The improvement in this team—particularly the offense—was noteworthy, however, and suddenly Iowa can again feel good about where it is.

More importantly, it can feel better about where it's headed. 

Does this mean that it will be Rose Bowl or bust for the Hawkeyes next year? Unlikely. But the offense and the defense will get some nice pieces back.

At the very least, the storied program has stability. Ferentz will continue to make a large sum of money and will be expected to deliver. Given the improvements on display this season, there’s no reason to expect otherwise.

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Miami Football: The Regression of Stephen Morris in 2013

There really is no other way to pose the question, so I may as well just throw it out there.

What the hell happened to Miami Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris between his junior and senior seasons?

The overall stats between both campaigns weren't worlds apart. In 2012, Morris threw for 3,345 yards, completing 421 passes with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This year, 344 completions led to a 3,028-yard, 21-touchdown and 12-interception showing, including the recent bowl loss to Louisville.

Numbers aside, the quarterback's lost his mojo and there was noticeable regression in just about every aspect of his game.

As a freshman in 2010, Morris' redshirt was burned at halftime against Virginia after starter Jacory Harris was knocked out of the game. The newbie almost led the Hurricanes back from a 24-point deficit in his first career start.

A week later, Morris tossed a 35-yard game-winning touchdown with half-a-minute remaining in his first-ever start—a thrilling comeback against Maryland. Next up, a crisp 230-yard performance at Georgia Tech for a convincing win, Miami's first in Atlanta since 2004.

Morris played sparingly for the rest of the season and again backed up Harris in 2011, but earned his shot as a junior and appeared primed for a solid senior year.

The most obvious reason for Morris' regression in 2013—an ankle injury suffered in late September, which continued nagging him throughout the season.


Where Does Miami's Season Go Had Offensive Stars Remained Healthy? 

Morris played sparingly in the opener against Florida Atlantic and was handcuffed a bit the following week in what coaches expected to be a slugfest against a defensively sound Florida team. Miami then welcomed a bye before taking on Savannah State, where Morris was rolled up and his night over after a few early possessions.

The severity of the injury, his inability to heal in-season and the limited mobility because of it all played a part in Morris being unable to rediscover his groove, as did setbacks with other key offensive personnel.

Rashawn Scott hit the turf with a shoulder injury on opening night after two receptions and was a non-factor after a midseason return.

A year before, the up-and-coming wide receiver was good for three to six receptions per game—including a 180-yard, two-touchdown performance against North Carolina State. Morris also lost deep threat Phillip Dorsett to a torn MCL six games into 2013, with the junior merely used as a decoy upon his return in the regular-season finale.

Duke Johnson's ankle injury in early November proved even more detrimental, making the Miami offense one-dimesional when no other running back was able to fill the sophomore's shoes.

The Hurricanes were a completely different team offensively for the final five games of the year, with issues much bigger than just quarterback play. The injury bug was the most glaring, obvious reason for Morris' setback, but behind the scenes it's impossible to ignore the coaching effect—especially with rotating offensive coordinators.

Morris cut his teeth under the air-it-out stylings of Mark Whipple in 2010. The former NFL coordinator preferred Morris' rocket-arm ability to Harris' style of play. When the true freshman saw the field by way of a starter's injury, Whipple suddenly had a player capable of throwing deep every other play. 

With top to bottom staff changes in 2011, Morris was then under the tutelage of Jedd Fisch, who had nine years of NFL experience and spent the previous season coaching up quarterbacks for Seattle. As a backup to Harris, Morris spent his sophomore season learning Fisch's system from a true quarterback guru, and the message resonated, as proven by the junior's efforts in 2012.


After Departure of Fisch, Coley's Arrival Greatly Impacted Morris' Progress

Fisch's return to the NFL in January had Miami scrambling for a replacement. Head coach Al Golden tapped the inexperienced James Coley to call the shots on offense. Coley spent time as Florida State's coordinator, with a caveat that head coach Jimbo Fisher called all the plays on game day.

The South Florida native was also the Seminoles' chief recruiting coordinator, which wasn't lost on Golden's decision to give Coley a shot. Especially with "signing day" weeks out and both the Hurricanes and Seminoles battling over some key recruits—like the prized Stacy Coley, who now had one more reason to choose "The U".

While Coley brought Miami his recruiting prowess, it's been a slow learn on the coaching front. Fisch's innovation was missed this past season and a quick look at 2012 shows a more diverse Hurricanes offense that helped Morris thrive.

In a fourth-quarter comeback and overtime win at Georgia Tech in his final season, Fisch pulled out some wrinkles unseen up to that point.

Morris hit speedy receiver Davon Johnson on a slant route four plays in a row as the Yellow Jackets had no way to stop it. There were also consistent passes to both running backs—Johnson and Mike James—including a 16-yard pass to Johnson and a 10-yard dump-off to James for the tying score.

As running backs, James and Johnson combined for 57 receptions in Fisch's second-year offense. Under Coley, the explosive Johnson only hauled in four grabs, while three other backs combined for 20.

Fisch also opened up the Miami offense with some calculated trickery during his short-lived stint. Over a three-game span in 2012, Johnson, Dorsett and running back Dallas Crawford threw a combined four passes. Dorsett threw to a wide-open Morris for a 20-yard gain in a win over Virginia Tech, while Johnson hit Allen Hurns for an eight-yard touchdown at Virginia, after convincing coaches the play would work.

"I told the whole offense the first time we get inside the 10-yard line we're calling this play. And when we got to the 10-yard line, I didn’t want to be a liar," Fisch told the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro two Novembers back. "You have to hold your breath and say 'We're going to call it.' And he executed fantastically well, threw a beautiful ball."


Miami Chapter Closed But Morris Can Rise From Ashes

Two head coaches and three coordinators over four years, multiple changes in offensive philosophies and injuries to both himself and a handful of key teammates needed to move the ball.

All played a role in the senior's regression, which is unfortunate considering expectations were so high coming into the season—yet all make the senior's struggles that much easier to accept and understand. 

Morris was also considered a quality NFL prospect. ESPN analyst Todd McShay had the quarterback third behind Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Brett Hudley (UCLA), but ahead of AJ McCarron (Alabama), Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Aaron Murray (Georgia).

While the ending at Miami was far from fairy-tale, it's far from the end of the football road for Morris. The next several months will be spent getting NFL draft-ready, and with some proper guidance, training and the cleaning-up of some bad habits, what's been broken can still be repaired.

Three years ago, Sam Shields ended a disappointing four-year career at Miami. Originally recruited as a wide receiver, Shields failed to live up to expectations and converted to defensive back as a senior.

Always a superior athlete, Shields had the speed, but at times lacked the desire, which made it difficult for Hurricanes assistants to properly coach him up.

Shields went undrafted in 2010 as a pot-related arrest hurt his stock. Green Bay signed him as a free agent. Four seasons later, Shields is a decorated NFL cornerback, having won Super Bowl XLV while earning Defensive MVP honors in the NFL championship in his rookie season.

Morris has the arm and at one point of his career had the head for better decision-making. For his sake, here's hoping a Shields-like opportunity presents itself, as well as a coaching staff that can pull the most out of him next season.

Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.


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UCF Coach George O'Leary Compliments Blake Bortles' Girlfriend

"She deserves six million Googles."

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles isn't quite as popular as his girlfriend, Lindsey Duke. 

When Googling the two, Duke easily wins in terms of results. UCF coach George O'Leary would like it to be the other way around. However, he definitely understands why it's that way, as his quote up top shows.

Thanks to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the video, and hat tip to The Big Lead's Stephen Douglas for the find.

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