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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Preview and Prediction for UCF vs. Baylor

The No. 15-ranked UCF Knights are not only trying to win a BCS bowl game, the school is also trying to score a victory for the American Athletic Conference. Formerly known as the Big East, the conference has undergone massive reconstruction and doesn't boast the same top-tier programs as it once did.

If UCF can stick it to the No. 6-ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, it will earn its league some respect.

This game will pit two of the nation's best quarterbacks against each other. Knights junior Blake Bortles has been fantastic this season. He's thrown for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller has Bortles going third to the Jacksonville Jaguars in his latest mock draft.

If Baylor's Bryce Petty was coming out, this could be a battle of two of the most highly touted prospects in the 2014 draft. Bortles hasn't officially said he's coming out early, but the consensus belief is that he will bolt.

Petty has already committed to returning to Waco, Texas, for his senior season. NFL scouts will have another year to salivate over his talent. In 2013, Petty threw for 3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. 

Needless to say, fans should expect high-caliber QB play in this one. Here's how you can watch the action as well as the betting information.


When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Betting Lines: (via Covers)

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Baylor (-16.5)


What UCF Must Do to Pull Upset

Without a doubt, the Knights can't win a shootout with the Bears. UCF doesn't have the necessary weapons at skill positions to compete with a Baylor offense that averaged a nation's best 53.3 points per game.

Pulling this major upset starts with defense. Asking the Knights to shut down Baylor is unrealistic. The Bears were held under 30 points just one time this season.

That came against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Bears' only loss. 

The key in that game was takeaways. Baylor fumbled three times inside the Cowboys' territory—twice inside their 5-yard line. Oklahoma State turned those miscues into 14 points, and Baylor never really got on track.

The Bears are a rhythm team on offense. If UCF is to have any shot, they must disturb that flow early with turnovers and big plays defensively.


What Baylor Must Do to Prove It Deserved to Be the Favorite

The biggest mistake Baylor could make in this game would be to take its opponent lightly. The winning percentage of the teams UCF has beaten this season is only .401. Still, Art Briles' team has to know the Knights will show up ready to compete and with a chip on their shoulders.

Baylor can't afford to get off to a slow start.

The Bears must match the Knights' intensity from the beginning and remind them they are out of their league—literally and figuratively. 



Baylor will win this game in grand fashion. The Knights don't have the overall team speed to curtail the Bears.

Too much speed on the outside and not enough pass rush from UCF will lead to a lopsided win for the Bears.

Baylor wins it and covers the spread.


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Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 NFL Draft: Marqise Lee Re-Establishes Spot in Top 10 on January Big Board

With the NFL regular season finally coming to a close, draft talk will being reaching a fervor in the coming months as fans and media ponder the future of their organizations...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

2014 NFL Draft: Marqise Lee Re-Establishes Spot in Top 10 on January Big Board

With the NFL regular season finally coming to a close, draft talk will being reaching a fervor in the coming months as fans and media ponder the future of their organizations.

Bowl season also lets us get a closer look at some of these prospects in big games, as underclassmen debate whether or not to declare for the draft, which has affected a bunch of rankings since my December big board

Here is a list of who has declared and who has decided to return to school. It will be updated until the deadline on January 15.

Remember, this is not a mock draft; it is simply ranking the 50 best draft-eligible college football players. 


*Denotes underclassmen


1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Clowney has not declared yet for the draft, but it would be extremely surprising if he returned to school. It will be discussed endlessly over the next few months, but I believe that his character issues are way overblown and the consistent impact he makes on the game has been under-discussed. Previous: 1


2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Matthews is the clear No. 2 prospect in this draft, and there’s a pretty significant gap down to the next tier of prospects. If the Texans (or whoever they trade their pick to) aren't sold on a top QB and want to avoid the media circus of Clowney, Matthews would be an ideal selection. He’s better than Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel were last year. Previous: 2


3. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

In his senior year, Barr has taken a backseat in terms of media attention and hype despite elevating his level of play. His athletic ability is off the charts, and he is the prototypical fit for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Previous: 4


4. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

I almost had Bridgewater sliding a little more than this but ended up just swapping him with Barr after an impressive bowl victory over Miami. His arm strength may not be elite, but he throws a really nice ball and shows phenomenal accuracy, touch and anticipation along with underrated quickness inside and out of the pocket. Previous: 3


5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

After finally getting to watch a good bit of tape on Mack, I came away incredibly impressed. His quickness and acceleration is unbelievable for a linebacker, and he plays with an intensity and intelligence that make him a turnover-forcing machine. Then senior has the NCAA all-time forced fumble record with 16 and is tied for the most tackles for loss with 75. Previous: 7 


6. *Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Watkins has a huge matchup Wednesday night with Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, but his stock is already mostly cemented after an impressive junior campaign. While fans will love his speed and elusiveness after the catch, scouts have to note his deceptive strength and balance that make him difficult to re-route before the catch and difficult to bring down once he has the ball. Previous: 5


7. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Although he may not be the most dynamic prospect in the top 10, Mosley is the type of inside linebacker who can come in and stabilize a defense immediately, much like Luke Kuechly has done for Carolina. Previous: 6


8. *Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California

After being extremely high on Lee coming into the season, I soured on him too quickly, and his big rise up the board this month was more due to an overreaction negatively last month. He’s had a bumpy season but showed his elite athleticism and playmaking ability in USC’s dominating bowl victory. The gap between him and Watkins is very, very small and could be eradicated completely with a great combine and pro day from Lee. Previous: 29


9. *Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Kouandjio ended the season strongly after a mediocre start and has supplanted Taylor Lewan to become the No. 2 tackle on my board. He’s impressively quick and flexible for a guy with his amount of mass, and that combined with his experience makes him an ideal plug-and-play tackle prospect. Previous: 10


10. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

I may be higher on Hageman than others, but his combination of explosiveness and quickness is just so rare for a 6’6” defensive tackle. Some may balk at his list of off-the-field issues, but a deeper inquiry reveals a good-natured kid who has overcome a lot of obstacles and now gotten himself steadied. Previous: 11


11. *Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

We are just missing out on having three receivers in the top 10 here, but Evans is still a high-end prospect whose physical skills are hard to come by. He’s 6’5” with long arms and impressive leaping ability, and his coordination and hands are impressive for such a big guy. Inconsistency is the only thing keeping him out of the top 10. He has still not declared for the draft, as Johnny Manziel's instagram (linked under Manziel's ranking) stated on Tuesday. Previous: 18


12. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Lewan has fallen a little this season, although the stakes were extremely high from the start. There’s a lot to like about his size, intensity, leadership and experience, but questions remain about his quickness and flexibility, which could scare some teams off and caused him to fall behind Kouandjio for the first time this season. Previous: 8


13. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young

Van Noy is another prospect who doesn’t get a lot of hype over at BYU, but he’s a super athletic linebacker who is perfectly suited for today’s NFL. He’s relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback but is also more than athletic enough to be effective in coverage and has the strength and tenacity to be a run-stopper. He’s versatile enough to play on the outside in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme in the NFL. Previous: 12


14. *Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Hundley has fallen out of favor a little bit as the season's worn on. Other quarterbacks may be the flavor of the month, but Hundley is still an impressive talent.

As a redshirt sophomore, he is inconsistent but flashes tremendous arm talent and is the best athlete at the quarterback position other than Johnny Manziel. The quarterbacks are all extremely close here, as is evidenced by the rankings. The slight break between these two and the next two shows a small gap in tiers, but it's very close and will likely change in the coming months. Previous: 13


15. *Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

After first learning about Bortles from an Optimum Scouting article back in September, I kept him on my radar throughout the season. I didn’t necessarily think he’d rise this high, and I still think he’s a risk as a top-five pick (which some are now predicting), but there is certainly a lot to like about his natural arm and athletic talents. As with Carr, there has to be some concern about his lack of good competition and ability in the pocket under pressure. A big game against Baylor would help Bortles immensely. Previous: 46


16. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

Richardson is not quite as high-profile of a prospect as other premier tackles and won’t get a chance to showcase his talents in a bowl game, but the massive left tackle is a legitimate talent. His footwork is impressive for a 345-pound guy, and he’s good enough to start on the blind side right away. Previous: 23


17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

In a weak safety class, Clinton-Dix is the only one worth taking in the first round. He’s at his best in coverage down the field, where he can use his agility and speed in space to track the ball and make plays. Previous: 19


18. *Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (scouting report here)

Manziel is a polarizing prospect, and his athletic ability is off the charts. Questions about his character will be addressed throughout the process, but I expect teams to come away impressed with his intelligence, toughness and leadership potential. Manziel has still not declared yet for the draft, despite reports. Previous: 22


19. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Carr’s stock was not necessarily hurt in a big way by his disappointing bowl game performance against USC, but he definitely lost a major opportunity to climb the charts further and claim his spot as the No. 2 quarterback in the class. The senior has a great arm and a wealth of experience and productions to his name, but there are questions about his pocket presence under pressure which keep him here in the rankings. Previous: 14 


20. Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian

I bunched all three of these cornerbacks together because there's so little separating them. Verrett is still my preference at this time because he's such a steady NFL-ready corner. Although he's a little undersized, he attacks the ball in the air and doesn't let his height affect him. Previous: 26


21. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Dennard has the most potential of these three corners. He's a strong, rangy athlete who is extremely aggressive in coverage and can step up and make a hit just as easily as knocking down a good pass. He rose quickly after an extremely strong finish to an exceptional season for himself and Michigan State's entire defense. Previous: NR


22. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Gilbert is an incredibly fast corner who has the most big-play ability out of these three players. He's played well in big games and can also be a great returner in the NFL, which will add value for many teams. Previous: 35


23. *Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Shazier's rank has remained relatively steady throughout this season because he's one of those guys where you know what you're getting. He's an athletic, instinctive tackle machine who will make a great weakside 4-3 NFL linebacker. His upside is just a notch under where Lavonte David is now. Previous: 24 


24. *Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Robinson debuts on my big board this month after a great finish to the season. I was hesitant about Robinson, being that he's only a redshirt sophomore, but with his potential it wouldn't be a surprise if he came out, especially with a good showing in the BCS National Championship. He's the kind of talent that I'd definitely go back and watch in detail if he decides to come out and could see a big rise up the board as a result. Previous: NR


25. *Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

I had held Nix in the top 20 for the whole season even as his (and all of Notre Dame's defense) performance waned, but it was inevitable that he'd get moved down now. It's still rare to find a guy as big as Nix, especially one with the footwork that he possesses, but his lack of impact has to be noted. Previous: 15


26. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor

Richardson is still the top guard prospect in the nation, although David Yankey and Xavier Su'a-Filo are gaining quickly. But Richardson is the mauler of the group, and you can't teach 6'5", 340 pounds. His experience in an up-tempo offense like Baylor's will serve him well in the NFL. Other players have passed him more because of their play and not because of Richardson performing badly. Previous: 16


27. *Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (scouting report here)

Ebron is a really talented tight end who will be a dynamic playmaker in the NFL. He isn't the best blocker, although he really needs to work more on his aggression and consistency because his technique is there when he wants it. His hands are a little inconsistent, but he can overcome that to be a big-time threat in the NFL. He has declared for the draft. Previous: 33


28. *Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT/G, UCLA

Su'a-Filo continues to be a favorite of mine and was impressive in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. He started 13 games at left tackle (the most ever by a non-kicker Bruin) in 2009, then went on his Mormon mission before returning in 2012 and earning coaches first-team all-conference honors as a guard. He has played both guard and tackle in 2013 but projects best as a guard in the NFL because of his 6'3" height. Previous: 47


28. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

Tuitt's production sagged this year, and in similar fashion to Nix I held on as long as I could before finally dropping him down the ranks. But he's undeniably talented and still may be the best 3-4 defensive end prospect in this class. Previous: 17


29. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Matthews does not do any one thing exceptionally well, but his strong hands, solid route running and impressive coordination make him such a productive player. He was the first SEC wide receiver in history to record 100 catches in a season, a truly remarkable feat. Previous: 21


30. *Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

People were really high on Beasley halfway through this season, but I never fully bought into the hype. He's incredibly quick off the edge and has an impressive physique, but 225 pounds is just too light for a linebacker, let alone a defensive end. Previous: 27


31. *Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Robinson is an ultra-athletic receiver who can do it all. He's strong over the middle but also extremely fast down the field and has impressive leaping ability. If he declares, quarterback Christian Hackenburg will really miss him in his sophomore season. Previous: 30


32. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford

Murphy's a talented pass-rusher and probably should have won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award over Will Sutton. But I have some reservations about his burst and bend around the edge, and NFL teams will be watching closely to see how he performs at the combine. Previous: 32


33. *Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Amaro is an incredibly lethal weapon as an over-the-middle pass-catcher. The 6'6" redshirt sophomore has good hands and looks like a less explosive version of Jimmy Graham at times. But he avoids a surefire first-round grade because he isn't used much as a blocker and benefits from Texas Tech's system. Previous: 20


34. David Yankey, OT/G, Stanford

Yankey has been the anchor on Stanford's offensive line and is an extremely efficient blocker who is solidly built and has good fundamentals with his hands and footwork. He's started at both tackle and guard, but like Su'a-Filo, is built more like a guard. Previous: 28


35. *Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Ealy makes his debut on the board as talk about him declaring for the draft has heated up recently. He's gotten a lot better throughout the season and throughout his career, and he showed his ceiling when he absolutely dominated against Kentucky. He can put on a little more weight but looks like an ideal 4-3 defensive end. Previous: NR


36. *Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Opinions seem to be divided on Jernigan. There are some who see his natural ability and say he has to be a top pick, but his lack of consistency and penchant for getting off the line slowly have caused others to hesitate. I guess I'm somewhere in between but am a little more on the cautious side about him. Previous: 36


37. *Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

There's a lot to like about Benjamin. At 6'5" with a lot of speed, he's the most naturally gifted wideout in this class and can make some spectacular grabs. But he'll need to get a lot more consistent, and the fact that he'll be 23 when the draft happens yet is just a redshirt sophomore makes him a bit of a wild card. Previous: NR   


38. *Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

Although his teammate, Odell Beckham Jr., started this season as the more heralded player, Landry has supplanted him as the better prospect. He's shown the strength and consistency that is needed to be effective in the NFL and would be an ideal No. 2 wideout who could play right away for many teams. Previous: NR


39. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

Sutton fails to rise much despite putting up great numbers this season. He looks slow at his heavier weight, and I'm not sure where he will fit in the NFL. Teams will have to figure out what they want out of him and if they can count on him to be consistent at a certain weight and position. Previous: 40


40. *Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State

Jameis Winston may get most of the credit for Florida State's turnaround, but don't discount the man protecting his blind side. Erving has a lot of natural talent and could end up moving into the first round. Previous: 45


41. *Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

Ogbuehi has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle for A&M this season. He's a bit of a project and boom-or-bust prospect right now, and he could decide to move over to the left next year like Matthews did. Previous: 43


42. *Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss

Moncrief flies under the radar, but he's a physically imposing receiver who could shoot up boards if he lights up the combine. Previous: NR


43. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina

Hurst broke his left leg in his final collegiate game, which is a real shame for a guy who would have been pushing to elevate his draft stock. He's been a great four-year starter for UNC. Previous: 31


44. Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford (scouting report here)

Skov's upside is a bit capped because of his lack of elite quickness, but he could develop into a phenomenal run-stopper and every-down middle linebacker in the NFL. There's a lot to like about his toughness and leadership. 


45. *Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

He may not have put up the numbers we were expecting this year, but Seferian-Jenkins is still the most polished all-around tight end prospect in the class. He has declared for the draft. Previous: NR


46. Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State

Florida State's defense is incredibly fast and suffocating, and Joyner is a big part of that. His 5'8" height may limit him to cornerback in the NFL, but he's succeeded in college as a safety as well. Previous: 46


47. Brent Urban, DE, Virginia

Urban may still be a relative unknown, but at 6'7", 295 pounds, he's an impressive specimen who makes a big impact on the game. He may also be able to play defensive end in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, which could make him more enticing to NFL teams. Previous: NR


48. *Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

Oakman has had a rough past few years but seems to have settled in some at Baylor. After redshirting at Penn State in 2011, he then transferred and was forced to sit out the 2012 season. At 6'9", Oakman has the natural length that scouts salivate over and is a basketball-type athlete. Previous: 50


49. *Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

Some teams will be put off by his skinny frame, but Richardson is an explosive playmaker who has been a big contributor as the lone weapon on Colorado's offense. He has declared for the draft. Previous: 38


50. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford

Reynolds is an athletic, physical safety who had a really impressive year and leaves Stanford with a number of accolades. His experience in a shutdown defense like Stanford's and his already well-built frame should help him make an impact right away in the NFL. Previous: NR

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2014: Key Matchups for Michigan State vs. Stanford

It might be called the Rose Bowl, but don't expect anything flowery in this New Year's Day classic when No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2) in the 100th edition of the Grandaddy of Them All. Both teams are very similar with stout and physical defenses, workhorse running backs and solid quarterbacks.

In this new age of college football where teams love to spread it out and pass the ball, the Rose Bowl provides a vintage powerhouse matchup of the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions.

While MSU stunned the football world by beating Ohio State, 34-24, in the Big Ten championship game to keep the Buckeyes out of the BCS title game, Stanford muscled its way to a convincing 38-14 win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.

Here's a look at the key matchups for both teams entering this year's Rose Bowl classic on Wednesday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), in what figures to be a close battle that will be decided in the fourth quarter.


Running Backs vs. Stout Front Sevens

In such a physical matchup, it's no secret that both teams will be trying to establish the run.

Both Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney and MSU running back Jeremy Langford will have to work hard to earn their yards against two of the toughest run defenses in the nation.

Gaffney established himself as a bell cow in his senior season, a year after stepping out of football to pursue his baseball career, as detailed by Lindsay Schnell of Grantland. The senior is one of five FBS players to have at least 300 carries this season, totaling 1,618 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.

But Michigan State entered bowl season with the nation's top-ranked rush defense, allowing only an average of 80.8 yards per game. Right behind the Spartans on the national leaderboard is Stanford, which has allowed just 91.2 rushing yards per game.

The Cardinal will be tasked with containing Langford, who was quietly one of the most prolific backs in the Big Ten and the country in 2013. The junior racked up 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, and is keeping a workman-like approach, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

“Go get the four yards that we need,” Langford said. “I might not be biggest but I’m going to run with power and I play the whole game. Take no plays off blocking or running. I grind."

Both running backs need to enter the Rose Bowl with the same attitude if they want to lead their teams to victory.


Stanford LB Trent Murphy vs. MSU O-line

Trent Murphy's teammates call him the "Yeti" because he has a fiery mean streak in between the lines. Before bowl season started, he was the nation's leading sack artist, with his 14 quarterback takedowns tops in the FBS.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News recently profiled the hulking outside linebacker in Stanford's stout 3-4 defense:

Whether outside linebacker Trent Murphy is Stanford's best player and top NFL prospect is subject to debate, but this much is beyond dispute: On a team that relishes old-school football, that batters and bludgeons opponents, Murphy is the meanest, nastiest, orneriest player on the roster.

Just ask ... well, everyone.

"It's not even close," coach David Shaw said. "Shayne Skov is unbelievably intense. But Trent is in his own category. I'm just glad it's not directed at us."

The 6'6", 261-pound Murphy has also been key in setting the edge for Stanford's stout defense against the run, but he's made a name for himself this year by getting to the quarterback. On Wednesday, efficient MSU signal-caller Connor Cook (2,423 yards, 20 touchdowns, five INTs) will be in his sights.

The Spartans have been among the nation's best when it comes to protecting the quarterback, surrendering just 13 sacks in 13 contests this season. It will take another strong effort to slow down Murphy, who is sure to be fired up in the final game of his college career.


MSU Pass Defense vs. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Of all the players who step on the field Wednesday afternoon in Pasadena, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard figures to have the best NFL prospects in 2014. As Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noted, Dennard has come a long way since being an unheralded recruit out of high school.

Now Dennard is pegged as a top-10 pick by CBS Sports' Rob Rang, being recognized as one of the elite cover corners in college football. The 5'11", 197-pound Dennard has also caught the eye of Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, according to Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"He locks people down," Bloomgren said. Opposing receivers rarely make much yardage on him. "Not many people even catch the ball on him," he said.

Dennard and his opposite number, Trae Waynes, allow their teammates to often commit nine players to stopping the run, Bloomgren said. "Not many people in college football - or any level - can do that."

The former Jets assistant coach said Dennard "does for their defense what (All-Pro)Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York."

That's high praise for Dennard, who will be tasked with slowing down Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who amassed 2.487 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2013. But Dennard isn't the only explosive playmaker who excels for Michigan State against the pass.

Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, junior safety Kurtis Drummond and senior safety Isaiah Lewis were also named to the Big Ten First Team, giving Hogan and Stanford's passing game a tall order in the Rose Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2014: Players Who Will Dictate Outcome of Stanford vs. Michigan State

Fans of traditional football would be wise to not miss the 2014 edition of the Rose Bowl when the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans (12-1) and the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) clash in a game sure to be a battle of wills.

Both the Spartans and Cardinal love to play gritty football on the ground flanked by strong defenses. Individual stars will be few and far between, but those talented enough to rise above will stick out to fans in attendance and watching from home.

Here are three names to watch in a game sure to be a low-scoring affair grounded in the traditional sense.


Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

There is no better NFL prospect on the field than Darqueze Dennard when these two sides meet.

Dennard has shut down any and all comers this year as he has slowly made his way up the ranks of draft-eligible corners. In fact, Dennard is now the No. 1 overall corner prospect according to CBS Sports.

Dennard is the piece that allows the Michigan State defense to be the No. 4-ranked unit in the land with an average of just 12.7 points allowed per game. Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren broke down how, per Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"He locks people down," Bloomgren said. Opposing receivers rarely make much yardage on him. "Not many people even catch the ball on him," he said.

Dennard and his opposite number, Trae Waynes, allow their teammates to often commit nine players to stopping the run, Bloomgren said. "Not many people in college football - or any level - can do that."

The former Jets assistant coach said Dennard "does for their defense what (All-Pro) Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York."

No. 31 is far and away the biggest name to watch, especially when it comes to defense. Stanford is far from known for its passing attack, but Dennard must hold up well to ensure the Spartans can throw everything they have at stopping the next man on the list.


Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

Dennard is the best player on the field, but Stanford's Tyler Gaffney may be the most feared.

The definition of a workhorse, Gaffney carried the ball 306 times in 2013—which translated to 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Gaffney is backed by a top-10 defense that allows an average of 18.6 points per game. But make no mistake, his ability to churn out yardage (5.3 yards per carry) and keep the ball in the hands of the Cardinal offense is a major factor in the overall success of the team.

Expect to see a heavy dose of Gaffney all day long as the Cardinal attempt to break down the elite Spartans defense through brute force. If one man is capable of accomplishing the feat, one would have to think it is Gaffney.


Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Michigan State's counter to Gaffney is junior running back Jeremy Langford. He rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 on five yards per carry.

As David M. Lombardi of KNBR suggests, Langford may be the key to a Rose Bowl victory:

Langford is no stranger to showing up big when his team needs him most. Under the bright lights of the Big Ten Championship, Langford rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

At this point, sophomore quarterback Connor Cook is not the liability he once was, but Langford will still have to carry the load for the offense against a top defense. His ability to do so will determine the game.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For both Missouri and Oklahoma State, the 2014 Cotton Bowl is a step down from what the schools had in mind. Both had a chance to win their conference championship in the final game and came up short.

As a result, the No. 9 Tigers and No. 13 Cowboys will face off in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, Jan. 3 in Arlington, Texas.

Although these programs did not face each other this season, they have a long history. These two schools have met 51 times from Missouri's time in the Big 12. 

Now, the Tigers have moved on to the SEC, and after struggling in their transition season last year, they are thriving. Missouri advanced to the SEC Championship Game before falling to No. 2 Auburn. This doesn't seem to have robbed the Tigers of their enthusiasm:

Losing the conference championship game had to be a bitter pill to swallow, but not as bitter as the one Oklahoma State was forced to choke down. 

As the sixth-ranked team in the nation, the Cowboys fell to in-state rival Oklahoma in their final game. The Cowboys are trying to put that championship-losing effort behind them. 

"It was an upsetting loss but we can't dwell on it. It's the past," Oklahoma State senior running back Kye Staley said via the Associated Press (h/t FoxNews.com). "We didn't even watch film, we just go on to the next team. We're very excited to play Missouri, an SEC team, in Dallas. ... You can't look behind you."

All of this sets up for what should be a well-played and entertaining game. The leaders of each school's state seem to think so:

Here are the vitals for this entertaining matchup:  


When: Friday, Jan. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas 

Watch: Fox

Betting Line (via Bovada): Missouri -1.5


Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)


Key Storyline: Can Missouri End Its Skid Against Oklahoma State?

The Tigers have a 28-23 edge in the all-time history of this rivalry, but the Cowboys have won the last three meetings.

The Tigers have the talent to end that streak. 

Were it not for Auburn running away late in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers, in all likelihood, would be playing for the national championship. Missouri has a strong defense and running game, and senior quarterback James Franklin gives them a steady leader in the pocket who has been battle-tested in the tough SEC.  

Still, it won't be easy for Missouri. The Cowboys are excellent on offense and defense. In fact, they are one of just two teams to be ranked in the top 15 in both scoring offense and defense. 

The Cowboys are more dangerous through the air, but they have solid balance on offense. Nationally, they rank 29th in passing and 64th in rushing. Conversely, Missouri's offense is 40th in passing and 16th in rushing 


Prediction: Missouri 42, Oklahoma State 34

This game will be a blast. I see both of the offenses taking over and a shootout ensuing. This will play into the hands of Missouri. The Tigers have a stronger rushing attack, which will allow them to control possession in the fourth quarter and wear the Cowboys down. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The 2014 Orange Bowl features two of the nation's top college football programs, as the No. 12 Clemson Tigers (10-2) and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1) will hit the gridiron on Friday, Jan. 3 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla. 

The players and coaches from both teams come into the BCS bowl game with the foul taste of losing on their tongues. 

Ohio State had a chance to go to the BCS National Championship Game heading into the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Michigan State Spartans buried that dream with a 34-24 win. 

Clemson lost to South Carolina in the final game of the regular season, 34-17, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had one of his worst games of the season.  

The Orange Bowl offers both teams a final chance at redemption, and Boyd expressed his excitement for the challenge, as noted by David Furones of the Miami Herald: "Big stage, big venue, beautiful city. We’re excited about a great team we’re going to play against. Both teams definitely have something to play for. I don’t think it’s one team that has more to play for than the other."

Judging by this picture of Ryan Shazier and C.J. Barnett, however, it appears Ohio State is equally motivated for the upcoming battle:

Here's what you need to know about the 2014 Orange Bowl, along with a final prediction:


When: Friday, Jan. 3, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN


Betting Lines (via Covers) 

  • Over/Under: 69.5 points
  • Spread: Ohio State (-2.5)


Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)


Can Ohio State's Defense Slow Down Clemson's High-Powered Offense?

Braxton Miller did his part to help the Buckeyes beat Michigan State, scoring three touchdowns.

But Ohio State's defense failed to respond in kind, allowing sophomore quarterback Connor Cook to have the biggest game of his season and lead the Spartans to a 10-point win in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

But it wasn't really a shock that the team's defense proved vulnerable—it's something fans groaned about all season long and a point of weakness that nearly cost the Buckeyes against Michigan just one week before the championship game at the Big House. 

Team sack and tackles-for-loss leader Noah Spence didn't make the trip for the game, dealing with personal issues, as reported by Tim May and Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. His absence will be challenging for Ohio State's front seven to overcome. 

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder highlights the challenge:

With or without Noah Spence, the Ohio State defense is going to have its work cut out for it against the Clemson Tigers' attack. Spence is growing into a phenomenal pass-rusher, but the key to the Buckeyes stopping Clemson is the pass coverage, not just the pass rush.

Making matters worse, All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby could potentially miss the game as he rehabs from a a knee injury, as noted by Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch

On paper, it appears Braxton Miller must have a career game in order to give Ohio State the victory because Clemson's high-scoring offense (40.2 points per game) should have a field day. 

Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins typically shred inferior secondaries, and the dynamic duo will put up huge totals against Ohio State's depleted and disjointed defense. 



Clemson's defense will have its hands full keeping Ohio State's Carlos Hyde in check, and Miller is usually good for one or two game-changing plays per contest.

Nobody should expect a low-scoring offensive output by either team.

But Ohio State's defense is going to be overwhelmed by the time halftime rolls around.

This is Clemson's game to lose. 

All season long, there were Ohio State detractors in the national media.

Those who weren't sold on the Buckeyes pointed to the team's easy schedule. Wisconsin and Northwestern both gave this team a scare early, and lo and behold, once this team faced some stiff competition in the championship game, it failed to execute under pressure.

Clemson will pull out a big win, and Boyd will finish his career in style with a signature game.


Final Score 

Clemson wins, 38-31.


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Alamo Bowl Win Shows That the Ducks Program Has Grown Up in a Big Way

Once a college football program reaches a certain level, it can be hard for fans to consider the season a success if it doesn't end with a bid to a January bowl game.

No matter how much success a college football program has, a team and its season are defined by so much more than national championships and conference titles.

Once an elite program loses its chance for a championship, it isn't uncommon for the team to pack it in and play uninspired football for the rest of the season. 

That is exactly what happened to the Oregon Ducks in 2013. At least that was the case before they took the field in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas. While it wasn't the cleanest game they have played this year, the Ducks dominated the Longhorns in a somewhat unexpected fashion.

Beating a good team by 23 is nothing new for the No. 10 Ducks, but after the way they finished the season, it might have surprised some when the Ducks completely dominated the Longhorns.

After being unable to overcome quarterback Marcus Mariota's knee injury and the rugged Stanford defense in a highly publicized loss to the Cardinal in early November, the Ducks turned into a shell of their former selves over the final three games of the regular season.

Oregon did win two of its final three contests, but those wins were weren't exactly pretty, but a win is a win. However, the embarrassing 42-16 setback to Arizona raised some serious questions about the team's leadership and level of motivation.

A last-minute touchdown drive in the "Civil War" against Oregon State saved Oregon from one of the biggest collapses in college football history. The Ducks won the game, but they didn't appear to have the fire to allow them to play the way they were capable of.

Leading up to the game against Texas, many were picking the Longhorns to keep the game close and possibly even beat the heavily favored Ducks. With its longtime head coach in his final game, Texas was expected to play with reckless abandon as the team tried to send its legendary coach out a winner. 

The Longhorns showed a lot of guts and did everything they could to help Mack Brown end his career the way he deserved to, but Oregon didn't allow it because they showed up the way championship teams do.

Pac-12 teams have a history of playing flat in bowl games that were considered a disappointment after a strong season. Look no further than the 2004 Holiday Bowl for proof of that.

In 2004, Cal was enjoyed a 10-1 season in which its only loss came to top-ranked USC. The BCS didn't seem to care, and after being behind Cal in every BCS release of the year, Texas jumped the Golden Bears in the final BCS standings of the season.

Excited to be in the Rose Bowl, the Longhorns went on to win a thriller over Michigan in Pasadena. Meanwhile, Cal instead went to the Holiday Bowl and played just like they felt after being screwed by the BCS, losing 45-31 to an unranked Texas Tech squad. 

The following season, Oregon found itself in the exact same position at 10-1, with its only loss coming to No. 1 USC. After being left out of the BCS, the Ducks played poorly and lost to a seven-win Oklahoma team, 17-14.

Arizona State suffered the same fate in this year's Holiday Bowl. The Sun Devils were blown out by Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game and missed out on a trip to the Rose Bowl. Instead, they headed to San Diego and were blown out by a 7-5 Texas Tech team which was coming off five consecutive losses.

Perhaps the Ducks learned their lesson from previous letdowns, or perhaps they wanted to win it for Nick Aliotti, their longtime defensive coordinator who was coaching his final game before retiring. 

Whatever it was, the Ducks made as big of a statement in the Alamo Bowl as they did in any of their BCS appearances from 2009-2012. The Ducks played with the heart, fire and determination of a championship team and should be applauded for their effort in all phases of the game.

The Ducks may have lost focus after the Stanford loss, but there was no quit in the Ducks this season.

No one would have blamed the Ducks for suffering a loss to a motivated Texas team, which had much more talent than its record indicates. The Longhorns were trying to win one final game for their well-liked coach in a game less than 100 miles from their campus. 

With nothing really left to play for and the emotional and geographical odds stacked against them, the team that many called the biggest disappointment of the season went out in a way that all of its fans should be proud of.

Being a champion isn't always about winning the final game of the college football season. By winning their final game of 2013, the Ducks showed everyone that they are still a championship program that has staying power.

Head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff rallied the troops during a time in which many thought they might be losing control of the team. The program's leadership had been called into question in previous weeks, but that won't be the case heading into the offseason.

A young roster loaded with talent is coming back in 2014, and a gutty performance to end the 2013 campaign should provide plenty of confidence for the program as it looks toward the future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Alamo Bowl Win Shows That the Ducks Program Has Grown Up in a Big Way

Once a college football program reaches a certain level, it can be hard for fans to consider the season a success if it doesn't end with a bid to a January bowl game...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Chick-fil-A Bowl: A&M D Gives Johnny Football Surprise Assist, Glimpse to Future

It was a tale of two halves for Texas A&M on Tuesday night at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and as usual, the team's inconsistent defense found itself at the center of the ordeal. And while a heavy majority of SportsCenter highlights will be of Johnny Manziel doing Johnny Football things, the Aggie defense's second-half recovery was the difference between a stunning victory and a crushing defeat. 

Not only did the squad bail itself out of trouble on New Year's Eve, but it also gave a slight glimpse into the future of the young—but highly talented—unit of defenders. 

"As a team we came out and each and every one of us was a man," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "We just stepped up in the end and made plays when it counted, came out with a W."

The A&M defense kicked off the game by allowing Duke to score on all six of its first-half possessions, five of which were touchdowns, and entered halftime down 38-17 to a surging Blue Devils squad. 

Following halftime, though, the Aggie defense only allowed Duke 10 points on six drives, forcing two interceptions—including the game-winning pick six—a turnover on downs and a missed field goal. The result was the difference in the game, as it allowed Manziel the opportunity to mount a second-half rally which included five consecutive touchdowns and victory formation. 

On the game, A&M allowed 661 total offensive yards but played a critical role in the largest comeback in school history. 

And all with a starting unit littered with inexperienced and youthful talent.

The defense used approximately seven freshmen or sophomore defenders consistently throughout the game, not including suspended freshman starting linebacker Darian Claiborne, who led the team in tackles entering the matchup. Freshmen Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Jay Arnold, Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall, Noel Ellis and Shaan Washington, along with sophomore Alonzo Williams, played crucial roles in A&M's brilliant second-half resurgence. 

"Our young guys who played a lot of football this year, got on the stage like the one tonight, national television with everybody watching and responding, not quitting, that really sets the tone for things to come," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "A bunch of those freshmen that played a lot this year, they're going to have to draw on these experiences and get better and be leaders for us going into next year."

The youth and inexperience blatantly shined through during the Aggies' miserable first-half performance, but a strong outing following halftime adjustments proved the unit effective under pressure and able to compete at a high level despite a large deficit. 

And while Manziel's professional future in the NFL continues to hang in the balance, the defense's dense talent in its young athletes allows a positive spin for a unit that underperformed in the 52-48 bowl victory. 

And following a rough finish such as that, an encouraging spin is just what the doctor ordered for the A&M defense. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

With the college football season winding down, recruiting is heating up. Over the next few days, high school all-star games will showcase the stars of tomorrow, and feature a ton of talent that'll be playing in South Bend. 

Notre Dame sits at 22 official commitments with nine recruits participating in high school football's two biggest all-star games. The Irish are also in the mix for a handful of undecided players as well.

Let's get you up to speed on the Notre Dame prospects you should be keeping an eye on. 


Game: Under Armour All-America Game

Date: Thursday, January 2, 2014

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Place: Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Television: ESPN


Game: US Army All-American Bowl

Date: Saturday, January 4, 2014

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Place: Alamodome (San Antonio)

Television: NBC


All recruiting information comes from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Best Moments of 2013

The Virginia Tech Hokies wrapped up the 2013 season on Tuesday with a humbling 42-12 loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl. 

It was another disappointing campaign for the Hokies with a record of 8-5. That's 11 losses in two years if you're counting. 

While the results were less than stellar, there were good moments in what feels like another lost season to most fans. Whether it was the emergence of talented, young freshmen or complete defensive dominance, the 2013 Hokies had their fair share of good moments.

Here's a list of the top five moments of the 2013 season. 

Begin Slideshow

Chick-fil-A Bowl 2013: Johnny Manziel Moves Up College Football's Mount Olympus

At the likely end of a career filled with phenomenal plays, unimaginable triumphs and unforgettable moments that only he could provide, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel saved his best for last.

From very early on in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Aggies seemed utterly defeated by a Duke team that was simply playing better football than its counterpart from the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Despite being a massive favorite, Texas A&M found itself trailing its ACC foe by three touchdowns at halftime. The Aggies defense was inept as it had ever been, and with Duke receiving the ball to start the second half of play, it looked as though nothing would stand in the way of the Blue Devils executing a stunning upset.

A report by NFL.com's Gil Brandt surfaced earlier this week that this would be Manziel's final game at the collegiate level, and thus, it seemed inevitable that the Heisman Trophy winner would host one last hurrah before heading to the pros.

But at the Georgia Dome, that happy ending was nowhere to be found.

Surely, Johnny Football's career couldn't end like this. It couldn't end with Manziel ripping into his favorite receiver Mike Evans on the sideline. It couldn't end with a loss to a team that, prior to last year, hadn't been to a bowl since 1995.

Manziel knew the last page of his lore couldn't be written this way—so he made sure it wasn't.

And of course, Manziel's collegiate finale couldn't come to its conclusion without a circus act by the impossibly talented quarterback.

After a quick defensive stop to start the second half, Manziel pulled out one last magic trick. After being bottled up in a collapsing pocket, No. 2 hurdled a defender, running straight into one of his offensive linemen in the process. He somehow evaded two Duke defenders, spun back out of the pocket to his left and then threw across his body to receiver Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown.

As Labhart—a former practice player for the Texas A&M women's basketball squad—reached the ball across the goal line, the energy of the game shifted toward the Aggies sideline, where Manziel was going wild with his teammates and coaches.

He needed some help from his maligned defense, including two late interceptions, to complete the 52-48 comeback victory, but it all wouldn't have been possible if Manziel hadn't turned in a flawless performance.

The redshirt sophomore finished 30-of-38 passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns, while running 11 times for 73 yards and a score.

This was Manziel's masterpiece.

Throughout the game, ESPN counted down the top five moments of Manziel's career.

The native of Kerrville, Texas, turned Texas A&M into a contender its first year in the SEC. He was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman and became a national celebrity seemingly overnight. Much of that was thanks to the No. 1 moment in ESPN's countdown, which came in a shocking upset of Alabama in 2012 that won him the Heisman.

The highlight that has been played thousands of times since its inception, the near-fumble turned touchdown, played one last time on the air before Manziel's career likely ended.

But by the time he settled into the victory formation to cap the comeback victory on New Year's Eve, he had a new No. 1 moment.

The previous one sealed his Heisman victory, but there's no telling where the new one will take him. It could make him the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Even if it doesn't slide him up in the eyes of professional scouts and general managers, it cements his place as one of the greatest to ever play college football.

It also exposes this year's Heisman results, which tabbed him as just the fifth-best player in the nation, as a total farce. With all due respect to Jameis Winston, AJ McCarron, Jordan Lynch and Andre Williams, there isn't a player that is as "outstanding" as Manziel.

Even when the Aggies were down, with an embarrassing defeat—and potentially a blowout one at that—staring them in the face, there was still hope.

More than hope, there was a lingering inevitability that somehow, some way, Johnny Football would make something happen and bring A&M back.

And he did it.

College football's Mount Olympus is a crowded one with countless legendary players, recent and historic, vying for the top spot.

But after tossing lightning bolts on defenses across the nation for the last two years, Manziel made his case as college football's Zeus.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chick-fil-A Bowl 2013: Of Course Johnny Manziel Gets His Storybook Ending

You didn't think Johnny Manziel would let a New Year's Eve stage go by without putting on a show, did you?

The redshirt sophomore quarterback for the Aggies closed the curtain on 2013 with a spectacular performance in a 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Ga. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2013 finalist completed 30-of-38 passes for 382 yards, four touchdowns, rushed 11 times for 73 yards and another touchdown on the ground. 

Not a bad night's work—but one that was necessary for the Aggies to take down Duke.

The Aggies' defense let Manziel down time and time again in the first half, but Manziel kept fighting, giving his team a puncher's chance. The defense finally came through in the end, when safety Toney Hurd Jr. picked off a pass from Blue Devil quarterback Anthony Boone and took it 55 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Now three years removed from high school, Manziel's next item on the agenda is to decide whether to make the jump to the NFL. He was noncommittal after the game.

"I can't think of anything other than this game right now," Manziel said. "This is unreal. I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of these guys. I love Texas A&M. I love my teammates. Unreal."

What was even more unreal was the play of Manziel, who sliced and diced the Duke defense to lead his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit, throwing only one incompletion in the second half.

Included in his heroics was a touchdown pass for the ages, as Manziel took off up the middle, jumped into his own offensive lineman, popped out and hit Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.

"When I left my feet originally, I thought I was in a little bit of trouble, because I looked down and somebody from Duke was staring right up at me laying on the ground," he said. "From there, I don't really know what happened. I just shot backwards and bounced off of somebody and got out of there and saw Lab [Travis Labhart] sitting wide open."

He didn't know what he was doing, but his head coach did.

"That...that's coaching," Kevin Sumlin said.

The play resembled the one that put him on the map: the fumble, scramble touchdown to Ryan Swope in last season's upset win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

If this was it for Manziel, what a way to bookend a career—polishing off Duke with a signature play to the one that put him on the map in the first place.

So is this the end?

He may not have been thinking about anything other than the game in the minutes following the comeback victory, but that may be because he has already made up his mind.

"I feel like I showed them that I can beat one-on-one coverage," he said. "I know if a jump happens or whenever the decision comes that they like to play some man in the NFL, no doubt. We did a great job in the second half, receivers ran great routes, continued to get open, and I tried to put it on them as much as I could."

It looked bleak at times, but Manziel put on a show on New Year's Eve under the big top at the Georgia Dome. If the book on his college career closes in the coming days, he got his storybook ending.


*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chick-Fil-a Bowl 2013: Despite Bitter Loss, Duke's 2013 Season Still a Success

Johnny Manziel, with a little help from his defense, took home the win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, beating the Duke Blue Devils 52-48. However, David Cutcliffe's Duke team certainly walks away from the 2013 season deserving of praise.

After a slow start, including Duke jumping out to a 38-17 halftime lead, Texas A&M got things on track and ultimately would keep the Blue Devils from getting the win. After a game where points and yardage were surrendered at will, two late Aggies interceptions would seal Duke's fate.

Yet, despite suffering the heartbreaking loss, when the dust settles on the 2013 campaign, Cutcliffe and his players turned in an outstanding season. A year that saw the Blue Devils not only win the Coastal for a trip to the ACC Championship Game but also cross the 10-win plateau.

Even with the loss, finishing 10-4 (6-2 in ACC play) gives Duke plenty to celebrate. More importantly, these young Duke football players got a taste of success and will enter next season with an appetite for more. This is not a team set to simply fade out of the ACC Coastal's picture; Duke is hoping to build on 2013.

Cutcliffe's team will enter spring with all of its rushing, passing and the bulk of its receiving production intact. These same players who carved up Texas A&M on New Year's Eve will be back to do it again in 2014. That includes Jamison Crowder, who jumped off the page for B/R's Alabama lead writer, Sanjay Kirpalani.

Certainly the loss hurts. Anthony Boone was out-dueling Manziel with under four minutes to go in the ballgame before the interception bug bit him in unfortunate fashion. Crowder's tremendous effort, 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown, was nice but not enough to get the Blue Devils over the hump.

Duke outgained A&M 661 to 541 and seemed poised to run away from the Aggies for the first 30 minutes. When the dogfight ensued in the second half, Manziel became the Johnny Football the nation was hoping to see, and Duke's defense simply had no answers, as evidenced by the latest unreal highlight added to Manziel's tape.

The Blue Devils played their collective behinds off, not just against Texas A&M but in the 2013 season. The loss in Atlanta should not change that fact. Cutcliffe's work to change the culture, create an environment that produces wins and upgrade the talent was on display for the nation in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Cutcliffe's team will be fighting to get better in 2014, and the squad returns enough pieces to be a problem for ACC foes. Although this team fell just short of the 11th win it wanted, the season was certainly worthy of big praise on the collegiate landscape.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bill O'Brien Said Right Things, Did Another to Penn State

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior." 

Those words, spoken by author Stephen M.R. Covey, seem rather appropriate with the reports of Bill O'Brien's departure from Penn State for the Houston Texans of the NFL, per Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN.

Penn State should say thank you to Bill O'Brien for his on-field results after leading the program to a 15-9 record in his two-year stint in Happy Valley under harsh NCAA sanctions.

Off the field, though, the Nittany Lions have every right to feel slighted by their now ex-head coach—because what Bill O'Brien said and did at Penn State were two very different things, despite what were probably the best of intentions.

No words in O'Brien's departure echo more than ones spoken in September ahead of Penn State's matchup with UCF, when he told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

The players who are here now and the guys who were here last year could've gone anywhere. They didn't have to stay at Penn State, but they committed to each other, they committed to Penn State, and they committed to our coaching staff. I felt it was important that they understood that I was committed to them. What are you if you're not a man of your word?

O'Brien was adept at saying exactly the right things at exactly the right times, no matter the audience and right up to the last days in State College.

It started at the very beginning for O'Brien, who set a tone of rising above the fray and focusing the attention on the players in the program.

To say fans were initially split on his hire would be an understatement. The Penn State "family" was even more upset about O'Brien being hired over someone from within the ranks of said "family," typified by former Penn State linebacker Brandon Short's comments: "Penn State is a family and it is real and if they choose to get rid of (defensive coordinator Tom) Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then they've turned their backs on our entire family."

Who can forget the epic post-hire rant by another former linebacker, LaVar Arrington?

By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty. You might as well call it all the same thing. What we stood for and what we represented for so long, what we have been taught, what we have been trained to know and the values that I raise my own children with, you're basically telling me it's good, only as long as times are good.

At his introductory press conference, O'Brien said all the right things and walked the tightrope needed in becoming the man to replace the legend, Joe Paterno.

"Replacing a legend, I've heard it a lot in the past few days. I'm not here to be Joe Paterno. There's only one Joe Paterno," O'Brien said. "What I'm going to try to do is be Bill O'Brien and we're going to do the best we can to continue the success that he's had here for many, many years."

During the Penn State scandal and impending sanctions, O'Brien once again was there to be the rock for the program, publicly and privately saying all the right things.

He continuously reaffirmed his commitment to the players and the program, emphasizing how much this team needed to become a family and rally around each other during the tough years ahead.

That same pitch worked in recruiting, where O'Brien reeled in prized quarterback Christian Hackenberg as part of the Big Ten's fourth-best class in 2013 (according to 247Sports) and had the third-best Big Ten class going for 2014.

The big name for 2014 is Thomas Holley, and as recently as a week ago O'Brien was still committing his future to Penn State despite the rumors of an NFL return.

“I just off the phone with him," Holley told 247Sports' Luke Stampini. "He said he isn’t going. It’s not true."

Maybe it should've been a case of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," because O'Brien's actions said he wasn't long for Penn State's future.

First it was reworking his contract for a bigger payday following an unexpected 8-4 season in 2012—one in which he also got a massive bonus as of 12:01 on January 1, 2014.

That should've been the clue players and recruits needed to show them just how "committed" O'Brien was to them and the Penn State program.

However, the biggest one emerged just before Christmas, when word got out that O'Brien asked for his NFL buyout clause to be reduced, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

If that didn't put up red flags that something was about to happen, not much will.

For recruits and their families, a coach's word is all they have to go on sometimes. After all, you are about to entrust your child to a coach and school for the next four years or so. If you can't trust that coach, you have nothing.

Bill O'Brien has every right to do what he thinks is in his and his family's best interest, and if that's going to the Houston Texans, he's making the right choice for that situation.

How O'Brien went about his apparent exit from Penn State also gives clues as to why Penn Staters have every right to be upset.

O'Brien's words and actions over the last two years don't add up to a man that was ever truly committed to Penn State for the long term, like he claimed from day one to the bitter end.

For the players who stuck around and the recruits who committed to the program despite its uncertain future, O'Brien's departure serves as a harsh reminder that words and actions need to be aligned for trust to really occur.


Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Duke vs. Texas A&M: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl

No. 24 Duke and No. 21 Texas A&M refused to wait until midnight to start the fireworks.

The two teams combined for 1,202 total yards of total offense and 100 points during Tuesday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl, but it was a fourth-quarter pick-six by Toney Hurd Jr. that capped a 21-point A&M comeback and propelled the Aggies to a scintillating 52-48 win in a (really, really) late contender for the best game of 2013.

Of the 22 total drives in this one, 12 went for touchdowns (13 if you count the pick-six), and 15 featured points. There was a whopping one punt all game, which came in the first quarter.

In what many believe was his collegiate swan song, Johnny Manziel put on a next-level show. He completed 30 of 38 throws for 382 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 73 yards and a score, leading the Aggies back from a 21-point halftime deficit. 

From Manziel's unbelievable throws to his motivation of his teammates on the sideline to his game-changing plays, Hollywood honchos couldn't write a better ending for the game's MVP.

It wasn't easy, though.

Anthony Boone threw for 427 yards and tallied four total touchdowns for Duke. In the first half, he carved up an A&M defense that resembled a colander—which may be an insult to colanders—but he came up just short of giving the Blue Devils their first bowl win since the 1960 season.

The Blue Devils scored on all six of their possessions in the first half, with the first five going for touchdowns and the sixth—following a surprise onside kick—only going for a field goal because they ran out of time.

David Cutcliffe's squad entered the locker room with a 38-17 lead.

But the Aggies didn't quit. The defense began to string together some stops in the second half, and it opened up an opportunity for Manziel to work some of his magic.

After a slow start, he led the Aggies on six straight touchdown drives, including four consecutive in the second half to cut the deficit to 48-45 with 5:44 remaining.

Five plays later, Texas A&M's defense finally delivered, as Hurd picked off the previously red-hot Boone and went 55 yards down the sideline for the game-winning score:

It's a disappointing defeat for Duke, but Cutcliffe has done an unbelievable job, and his boys should hold their heads high:

As for the Aggies, this marks a third straight bowl win. All eyes now turn to (or stay on) Manziel, whose decision regarding the NFL draft will help determine whether or not they can make it four in 2014.


Player Grades

Anthony Boone, Duke: B+

It's probably important to note that Texas A&M's secondary made this seem like a walk-through for Boone and the Blue Devils, but that shouldn't take away from his performance. He simply made a bad defense look even worse with some absolutely stellar play.

While the junior QB may have been dealing with soft coverage, he was getting the ball out quickly, hitting receivers in stride and delivering some absolute dimes on long balls. Exhibit A:

Also, he was on another planet on third downs:

Two late interceptions, one of which went for a pick-six on a poor decision, are likely what most will remember, which is unfortunate. For almost every other play of the game, Boone was terrific.


Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: A+

Johnny Football did everything that could be imagined.

Duke brought lots of pressure on later downs in an attempt to keep Manziel in the pocket (of course, he still managed to rack up 73 rushing yards on the night), but he took it in stride and looked terrific throwing the ball.

He slightly missed on a couple of deep balls early in the game, but Manziel made the right reads, worked through his progressions and connected on countless big-time throws, including this silly-good toss late in the fourth quarter:

Manziel reinforced the claim that he is much more than a running quarterback: He's a throwing quarterback who can make enthralling, transcendent, elusive plays with his legs, such as this one, which will be replayed for a long time:

College football will miss Johnny Football.


Josh Snead, Duke: A

You want versatility? Josh Snead ran for 104 yards and this electric touchdown:

He also caught three passes for 21 yards and another touchdown—and he blocked a punt late in the first quarter. It's tough to make more of a wide-ranging impact than that. 


Mike Evans, Texas A&M: C+

It was a roller-coaster game for Evans.

On the one hand, he made some terrific grabs, pulling down three throws that went for 15 yards or more. He finished with four catches and 72 yards.

On the other, though, he had two early unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and on those two drives, the Aggies finished with a missed field goal and a punt. Those were the only two drives of the game on which Texas A&M didn't come away with points. 

Looking to improve his draft stock, this likely wasn't the kind of night Evans anticipated. 

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USC Football Recruiting: 7 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

The high school All-American games are just around the corner, and the nation's top seniors will bring in the New Year by showcasing their talents to a national audience before joining the collegiate ranks next fall...

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Penn State Football: Loss of Bill O'Brien Leaves Nittany Lions Plenty of Options

In a move that surely smacks of betrayal to the Nittany Lions faithful, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has elected to take his talents back to the NFL—this time as head coach of the Houston Texans.

Yet, the Nittany Lions are just fine without O'Brien.

ESPN's Adam Schefter helped to break the expected news on New Year's Eve:

But this move has been in the pipeline for weeks. While O'Brien was seemingly torn on the decision (or attempting to incite a bidding war), Penn State was ensuring its future success as hinted by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

That is the same Greg Schiano who lost his gig with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers around the same time:

While a crushing blow to fans and student athletes who remained faithful to O'Brien in a tough rebuilding period after the scandal that rocked the collegiate football world, the framework of O'Brien's work remains intact for the next man up to assume.

O'Brien kept the program afloat the last two seasons after taking over for Joe Paterno. Despite being hit with a postseason ban and a loss of scholarships, the Nittany Lions went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013.

Even more, O'Brien performed much better than anticipated in recruiting in the wake of the scandal, remaining in the top 50 in Rivals' recruiting rankings in 2013 and inside the top 25 in the 2014 cycle.

This framework will now go to a man like Schiano, who clearly has no intention of returning to the NFL anytime soon. In fact, the NFL likely will not want him after a tenure in Tampa Bay lined with chaos.

But Schiano is an excellent collegiate coach and is made for a school like Penn State. He spent six years with the Nittany Lions as an assistant from 1990-95. He then turned around the Rutgers program, going 68-67 in 11 years, with the high point being his final seven in which he ran up a record of 56-33.

He also appeared in six of the school's nine total bowl games, not to mention the fact the school is now set to join the Big Ten.

Not a bad deal. O'Brien jumps ship and the Nittany Lions scoop up Schiano, a man well-versed in rebuilding programs.

Or the Nittany Lions can go after Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, the other name that has been tossed around by folks such as CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:

Franklin is a local man from Langhorne and has taken the Commodores of the SEC, normally only known for their academic prowess, and gone 23-15 in three seasons. He has also taken them bowling each year—Vanderbilt has only been to six bowls all-time.

So no, O'Brien's departure is not the end of the world. In fact, it is just the beginning. O'Brien was the man for the job to guide the ship through tough waters.

Could he have taken the team all the way in a few years? Sure, but there are plenty of other willing and capable candidates who can assume the mantle and make the transition a seamless one as Penn State football continues on its upward trajectory.


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Johnny Manziel Throws Incredible Touchdown to Travis Labhart in Chick-fil-A Bowl

Many view Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the most exciting player in college football, and he reminded fans why during the Aggies' Chick-fil-A Bowl clash with Duke on New Year's Eve.

With his team trailing the Blue Devils by 21 points early in the third quarter, Manziel did what only Johnny Football can by avoiding the Duke rush in spectacular fashion and finding Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown, as seen in this GIF courtesy of CJ Zero:

A play that incredible deserves multiple angles, so here is another look provided by CJ Zero:

The Chick-fil-A Bowl will reportedly be the final game of Manziel's fantastic collegiate career, per Gil Brandt of NFL.com, and he gave fans one more dynamic play to remember him by.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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