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Penn State Football: Greg Schiano Would Be a Good Hire for Nittany Lions

As Penn State looks to replace head coach Bill O'Brien, who recently departed Happy Valley to lead the Houston Texans, debate will wage about which coach is the right man for the tricky job.

Before O'Brien even departed, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner is seriously considering making a pass at former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano:

The response among the Nittany Lions fanbase wasn't ideal, as detailed by A.J. Perez of the Star-LedgerHowever, despite what the PSU faithful think, Schiano would be an excellent hire.

Rather than voicing support for Schiano, the fanbase seems to favor Vanderbilt's James Franklin, as shown on a poll on PennLive.com where Dustin Hockensmith broke down the top candidates for the opening.

Franklin would also be a smart hire, but the Vandy boss is one of the hottest commodities still on the job market and he could be up for a move to the NFL or to lead college football's most valuable program: Texas.

The attraction to Franklin and disinterest in Schiano isn't all that puzzling. Likely, it's just a result of a short-term memory.

Franklin has been excelling at Vanderbilt—a situation where success doesn't come easily. The Commodores have been to three straight bowls, navigating the tough Southeastern Conference with gusto under Franklin.

Meanwhile, Schiano was fired from Tampa Bay after a dismal 4-12 season that was lowlighted by drama between he and quarterback Josh Freeman. However, Schiano's struggles with the Bucs seem to just be a disconnect between his philosophy and the nature of the NFL. In short, he's just another coach who is better suited for the collegiate level.

His undoings in Tampa Bay also overshadow his excellent tenure at Rutgers. Like Franklin at Vanderbilt, Schiano took a program that was starving for success and gave it sustenance.

Before he arrived in Piscataway, the Scarlet Knights hadn't been to a bowl game since 1978. Before he left for the pros, he took them to six bowl games in his final seven seasons.

He would also bring PSU ties to the head job in Happy Valley. Schiano was an assistant under Joe Paterno in the early 1990s during some of the program's most successful seasons.

He knows the culture of the Penn State program and he knows how to recruit the East Coast region from his time at Rutgers.

As reported by Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com, Schiano was unsure of his future as of his firing in Tampa Bay:

Like I said, I woke up this morning planning on being the head coach of the Bucs, so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about what I want to do.  Literally, as I just mentioned, we were meeting with players and taking care of exit interviews and then WHAM, so I’m ... kind of getting through today and then I’ll take some time. I know that I’ll lean on my wife, kids, family, and faith; we’ll kind of figure out what the next stop is for us.

As Schiano looks to make his transition, PSU is also in a crucial time of its own. O'Brien did an excellent job at leading the Nittany Lions through a tumultuous time fresh off their ugly scandal.

But now, as Penn State enters its next chapter, it needs a coach that can return the focus to the field and rebuild it into a program that competes for Big Ten titles.

The storied program will attract many coaches—and it just might pull in the fan favorite, Franklin. However, even though he isn't the top choice among the Nittany Lion faithful, Schiano knows how to win at the collegiate level.

While Franklin might be the coach PSU wants, Schiano could be just the coach it needs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Outback Bowl: Best Tweets from LSU's Win over Iowa

The LSU Tigers have historically enjoyed success in the postseason, as the program had won 11 of its past 16 bowl games, but the Iowa Hawkeyes were looking to buck that trend in their matchup in the 2014 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. 

Coming into the game, both teams were certainly well-nourished given the amount of food they consumed at the Outback Bowl dinner: 

Hungry? LSU & Iowa combined to eat 5,000 POUNDS of food at Outback Bowl dinner - including 750 lbs. of steak and 80 gallons of BBQ sauce.

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 28, 2013

 

LSU Freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings was making his first career start with Zach Mettenberger sidelined with a torn ACL. That didn't keep him from causing a stir with his nose-picking controversy: 

If you're a QB for LSU...don't pick your nose & eat the boogers on the sideline. You will be seen on national TV. pic.twitter.com/9NW1s4VoL2

— SportsNation (@SportsNation) January 2, 2014

 

Jennings didn't do too well throwing against a stout Hawkeyes defense, but he did score the game's first touchdown on the first drive of the game as seen in this photo:

 

LSU leads Iowa 14-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter. #LSUWIN pic.twitter.com/aG4V9Z1dJt

LSU Football (@LSUfball) January 1, 2014

 

He and running back Jeremy Hill helped establish a dominant ground game that the Hawkeyes were unable to contain, and Hill carried the Tigers to a 21-7 lead into the final two minutes of the game: 

Ground & Pound. #LSU's Jeremy Hill puts the Tigers up 21-7 with authority: http://t.co/QFqPkLwHjl

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2014

 

But the Hawkeyes made things interesting thanks to a big kickoff return by Jordan Cotton, which led to a quick Iowa score to keep the game interesting:

Not over. Cotton's 96yd kickoff return sets up #Iowa. Kevonte Martin-Manley grabs CJ Beathard's TD pass. 21-14 #LSU, onside kick coming

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2014

 

But after LSU recovered the onside kick, they ran the clock out and hoisted the Outback Bowl trophy:  

@LSUfball coach Les Miles accepts the @outbackbowl Championship Trophy pic.twitter.com/GtFqfOGrEk

— Outback Bowl (@outbackbowl) January 1, 2014

 

And Hill was named the game MVP in what may have been his last game as a Tiger as he mulls over a chance to go to the NFL:

Our @outbackbowl MVP Jeremy Hill. 28 carries for 216 yes, 2 TDs. 7.2 avg. #OutbackBowl #TeamBloominOnion pic.twitter.com/Hl69uHIxUr

— Outback Bowl (@outbackbowl) January 1, 2014

 

Expect LSU's Jeremy Hill to announce he is coming out early for 2014 NFL draft. 3rd round pick, if he stays clear of trouble before draft.

— Michael Detillier (@MikeDetillier) January 1, 2014

 

Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz was very impressed with LSU: 

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says #LSU looks like an NFL team and "they're not a finesse outfit."

— Steve Schneider (@9SportsDirector) January 1, 2014

 

The real winners of the Outback Bowl were the fans though, as they get  a nice discount at Outback Steakhouse:   

FACT: You get a FREE Bloomin' Onion with any purchase today thanks to LSU's victory! Just say Outback Bowl to redeem pic.twitter.com/Rn9xQAk9YK

— Outback Steakhouse (@Outback) January 2, 2014 

 

Now that LSU's season is over, they'll await the decisions of several underclassmen on whether they'll return to school or declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, but none of them have made that decision just yet: 

Miles said he never said Odell Beckham Jr. And Jarvis Landry are declaring for the #NFL Draft. Said it is definitely a possibility. #LSU

— Spencer Hutchinson (@Hutch_TDR) January 1, 2014

 

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Is 2014 a Make or Break Year for Brady Hoke?

Michigan fans aren't the most patient bunch in college football. How could they be? 

Great coaches who've preceded Brady Hoke have set a remarkably high precedent, and whether or not that's fair to Hoke is a moot point. When people become accustomed to a program winning Big Ten championships and being nationally relevant year in and year out, anything less simply doesn't cut it. Like so many things in life, it's all relative. 

So after a disappointing 7-6 record in 2013, the second consecutive season that Hoke's teams have regressed in the win column, is 2014 a make-or-break year for Brady Hoke? 

I think it is, to an extent.

The talent is certainly there, as Hoke and his staff have done an outstanding job from a recruiting standpoint. Come National Signing Day on Feb. 5 he'll likely wrap up his third consecutive top 10 class, according to ESPN.com's RecruitingNation.

Hoke, who will be entering his fourth season as the head coach, will have the luxury of coaching his own recruits next season with the exception of a few fifth-year seniors. He'll also have a talented senior quarterback in Devin Gardner running the offense and a fairly friendly schedule, not to mention an entire offseason to fortify the team's weak spots. 

Expectations will be particularly high for next year's team, and despite their struggles in 2013, the Wolverines really have no excuse for not performing at a high level in 2014. 

If the Wolverines regress yet again, it wouldn't be surprising to see Michigan "move in a different direction," as the euphemism goes. It sounds harsh, but it's the reality of the position that he enthusiastically accepted. 

In that sense, it is a make or break year for him. 

Another regression would mean that Michigan would have suffered a losing season, which would be seen as unacceptable to alumni, the general fan base and, most importantly, athletic director Dave Brandon. Brandon confidently stood behind Hoke when he penned a widely-read blog post via MGoBlue on Nov. 27, saying that "Hoke is the right leader for Michigan football." He's under contract through 2017, earning an average of $3.25 million per year. 

But things can change quickly in the crazy world of college football, and while there's little doubt that Brandon will stay in Hoke's corner for as long as he can, a major decision like firing a football coach is larger than one man's opinion. 

What people need to see in Hoke's fourth year is genuine progress. 

That progress certainly has to manifest itself in the form of wins, but it also has to be evident in the effort and preparation displayed by the players on the field. The 2013 season ended on a major down note when the Wolverines were drubbed by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. They looked lifeless, almost apathetic in their final game as they failed to establish a rhythm on offense and gave up big play after big play on defense. 

Sophomore linebacker James Ross III didn't shy away from offering a brutally honest assessment of the defensive effort in the game. As per MLive, "It was our mindset from the jump, we weren't totally into it I would say," Ross said. "We didn't come out with a lot of energy."  

This is a baffling quote to hear from a player, particularly an impressionable underclassmen. While exclusively blaming Hoke for this lack of effort isn't fair, it does raise red flags around his ability to adequately prepare his team. We saw similar listless performances from the Wolverines against Akron, Connecticut, Michigan State and in the second half of the Iowa game.

This most recent bowl game was hardly an outlier. 

Next season is a make-or-break year for Hoke, but he doesn't have to lead Team 135 to a Rose Bowl berth or a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff. What he does have to do is prove that he's moving the program in a positive direction, and that he's capable of turning highly rated recruits into great college football players. 

Sounds easy enough, right? 

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Bowl Schedule 2014: When and Where to Watch Remaining Games

After spending New Year’s Day recovering from the madness that was the celebration of the annual holiday, the focus for college football fans has turned to the remainder of the 2014 bowl schedule.

With the BCS National Championship yet to be decided and several other marquee games left on the schedule, college football fans are ready to witness all of the action that will close the 2013-14 season.

Here is the remaining bowl schedule and a quick preview of the most interesting remaining matchups.

 

 

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

The most interesting game left on the schedule is the BCS National Championship between the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) and the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC).

With a playoff system implemented for the 2014-15 season, this will be the final title game as we have to come to know them over the years. While few fans are sad to see the outdated system go, the matchup it has produced this season will be amazing.

Auburn comes into this national title game with a victory in the SEC Championship, a last-second upset over Alabama and nine consecutive wins since losing to LSU on Sept. 21. Led by the elite combination of running back Tre Mason and dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers have amassed the third-best rushing attack in the country.

As well as Auburn has played this season, the program is running into a buzz saw against FSU.

The Tigers have faced tough SEC competition all season. While Florida State is a member of the ACC, the program is built like the defensive powerhouses college football fans would find in Auburn’s conference.

As Nevada head coach Brian Polian told Paul Myerberg of USA Today, the Seminoles are an SEC-style team in every facet of the game:

They physically look like an SEC football team. The one thing that struck me was that in today's world of spread-out, basketball-on-grass, they were physical in all three phases of the football game. They were physical in the kicking game, they were physical on offense and they were physical on defense.

They play SEC-type football, for what it's worth, whatever people think that means. They can line up with a fullback and come downhill and knock you backwards. In the ACC, where you see so much spread and people want to turn it into a space game, this team has the ability to line up and be physical with you on both sides of the ball.

Florida State has been one of the most dangerous programs in the nation offensively, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and the balanced offense has averaged an astounding 53 points per game this season.

As strong as FSU’s offense has been, the defensive unit has been just as impressive.

Despite the ACC being known for its high-powered offenses, the Seminoles have allowed just 10.7 points per game this season and have allowed 17 or fewer points in 12 of 13 matchups during the undefeated campaign.

As well as Mason and the Auburn offense have played in 2013, the new year will bring a monumental victory for the Florida State program after a tumultuous season.

Predicted Final Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 24

 

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

The Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) were serious BCS National Championship contenders all season, but a devastating loss in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State has halted the team’s momentum and confidence.

Ohio State will now play a Clemson Tigers (10-2, 7-1 ACC) team coming off a loss to South Carolina in the last week of the regular season. With neither team playing its best football right now, how each program handles the pressure will determine the eventual outcome of this game.

While predicting a winner will be tough, there is no question that this game will be a high-scoring affair.

The Buckeyes are dealing with several issues on the defensive side of the ball, though. Star defensive end Noah Spence will be suspended for the game, per Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports, and cornerback Bradley Roby could miss the game as well with a knee injury, according to Eric Seger of TheLantern.com.

For the ninth-ranked Clemson offense—averaging 40.2 points per game—this will be an ideal matchup.

There is no questioning the power and scoring prowess of quarterback Braxton Miller and the entire Ohio State offensive unit—averaging 46.3 points—but the Tigers boast a defense that only allows just 21.1 points per game.

The Buckeyes had a defense of their own that could stifle Clemson’s high-paced offense, but the lack of Spence and possibly Roby will be a blow that the program will not be able to recover from.

The Tigers will find a way to steal the win.

Predicted Final Score: Clemson 42, Ohio State 30

 

*All stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

 

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

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

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

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

 

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

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

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

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

 

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

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

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

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

 

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before we go any further, here are the facts:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cam Cameron Capable of Developing

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

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

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

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

 

Brandon Harris Will Challenge Him

Speaking of sharpening...

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

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

Jennings, an intelligent young man, understands this.

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Championship 2014: Blueprint to Florida State Victory

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

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

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

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

 

Exploit Auburn's defensive weakness

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Evans against Auburn:

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

 

Eliminate the rushing attack

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

So what did Cook do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the only one it would need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, they're both Rose Bowl champions.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Cyrus Kouandjio

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

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

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

 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

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

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

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

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

 

C.J. Mosley 

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

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

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

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Cold Hard Fact for Thursday, January 2, 2013

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

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

Source: ESPN 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rising Stock

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

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

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

 

Small Program Challenges

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

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

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

 

Financial Compensation

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

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

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

 

What’s Best for Bobo

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

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

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

For now, Mike Bobo’s not going anywhere.

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Thursday, January 2, 2014

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

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

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Bob Flounders (@BobbyFlo7) January 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) January 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks to Jim Weber of Fox Sports for the find. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Still has a bowl to play in 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winner.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

 

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Oklahoma Players Who Will Give Alabama Problems

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

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

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

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight

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

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

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

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

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

 

Defensive Back Aaron Colvin

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

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

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

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

 

Wide Receiver/ Returner Jalen Saunders

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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