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Breaking Down USC's New Coaching Staff

Steve Sarkisian has almost finished assembling a new coaching staff at USC, aside from the defensive line coach and special teams coach positions...

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Baylor Won't Overlook UCF Defense

Scottsdale, AZ — No. 6 Baylor (11-1) will face off in the desert with underrated No. 15 UCF (11-1) in the  Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.

Both will play in their first BCS bowl game in school history. Baylor won 11 games for the first time and clinched its first outright conference title since 1980 when it was a part of the Southwest Conference. UCF, on the other hand, won 11 games and its second conference title in four years.

Baylor has the best offense in the nation and is averaging an astounding 53.3 points and 624.5 total yards per game. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears will be overconfident when they take the field on Wednesday night, though.

“They bring a lot to the table. They’re very talented, very disciplined,” starting Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said about the UCF defense. “Whenever you have that, it makes it tough.”

Head Coach Art Briles went on to say, “They do a great job schematically defensively. They don’t get themselves out of position with alignment.”

UCF has held its opponents to 19.6 points per game (12th in the nation) and 116.5 rushing yards per game (13th in the nation) this season. 

Explosive redshirt junior running back Lache Seastrunk will have his work cut out for him, as he will look to maneuver his way through a stingy Knight rush defense. Seastrunk mentioned, “You got to be poised, focused and confident.” 

UCF has all-conference playmakers in quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson on the offensive side, but it will be critical for the defense to step up and keep Baylor off the scoreboard. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Longhorns AD Steve Patterson Wants New Head Coach by January 15

With the Mack Brown era officially over in Austin after a loss to the University of Oregon in the 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas Longhorns athletic director Steve Patterson wants a new head coach for the football team by January 15.

Texas football and Big 12 beat writer Max Olson of ESPN.com reported Patterson's expectations 45 minutes before the game via Twitter:

The clock is now officially on for the Longhorns in regard to finding a new head coach. Rumors are going to be flying off the walls as coaching changes begin to happen in the NFL and as bowl games in the NCAA start coming to an end.

Is a guy like Nick Saban of Alabama still in play? College football analyst Paul Finebaum cites Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News as having a source who believes Saban could still make his way to the Longhorns' campus. Finebaum tweeted:

If you're the Texas Longhorns, who is on your radar? A school like Texas certainly draws in all sorts of names, but nothing is set in stone. The search committee for the new coach, led by Patterson, will be spending many hours trying to find the right fit for the prestigious job.

Having a search committee is nothing out of the norm, as a group was once formed to find Brown 16 years ago. This was best explained by B/R's Taylor Gaspar in her December article on the new committee:

When Texas fired John Mackovic in 1997, the school assembled a search committee that ultimately helped land Mack Brown. Former Texas regent Don Evans addressed his involvement in the committee that was responsible for hiring Brown. So a message to those concerned about this committee: Calm down. Search committees are normal in college sports.

The first two weeks of the new year should be interesting for the Longhorn faithful. Be advised of random Twitter users and message-board posters claiming to have "sources." It's very unlikely for a strong search committee to prematurely spill details of the next coach without actually reaching a new deal.

Whom do you think the search committee will go after? Leave a comment or two in the comment section below, but please don't just only name the top three coaches in the NCAA as replacements. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina: Whose 2014 Recruiting Class Is Better Right Now?

Wisconsin and South Carolina will duel in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. The Gamecocks come into the game as the more stable program under Steve Spurrier, while the Badgers are guided by first-year head coach Gary Andersen.

Spurrier is one of the best to do it as a coach and recruiter, but Andersen is also doing well on the recruiting trail. The game should be a physical one, but the real fight is deciding who has the better recruiting class right now.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Alamo Bowl 2013: Greg Robinson Has Chance to Remain Texas' Defensive Coordinator

Defense was a major liability when Texas began the 2013 season at 1-1. In Mack Brown's final game as head coach, however, defense was reason the Longhorns had the slightest chance to upset Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. 

Texas didn't, of course. The Ducks won 30-7 and Brown ended his 16-year career in Austin in the loss column.

But the defeat can't be pinned on Greg Robinson's defense. Texas allowed just one touchdown to Oregon: a 16-yard shovel pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota to receiver Josh Huff. In fact, the 'Horns had the play well-covered, but Huff broke a couple of tackles on a fine individual effort. 

Other than that quick scoring drive—the Ducks covered 88 yards in 1:24—Oregon failed to get in the end zone and was forced to attempt four field goals. Freshman Matt Wogan made three, with the fourth one bouncing off the right upright. 

Texas gave up yards—469 to be specific—but when it mattered, the defense tightened up.

Simply put, it played more than well enough to win the game. As B/R's Michael Felder tweets, it was an energized effort from start to finish. 

Now, go back to Week 2, when Texas lost 40-21 to BYU and gave up a whopping 550 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired a day later and Robinson, a former DC for the 'Horns in 2004, was promoted from an administrative role. 

The turnaround under Robinson has been nothing short of amazing, especially considering the injuries. Defensive tackle Chris Whaley and linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond are just some of the players who were lost for the season due to injuries. 

During a six-game winning streak, Texas gave up just 22 points a game and was much better against the run. The Longhorns improved at every level, all the way down to the tackling problem that had plagued them for the past two years. 

Robinson can just coach a defense. He simplified the scheme from Diaz's blitz-happy philosophy, and the results followed.

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat went on to become the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year too. Robinson even put Jeffcoat at middle linebacker in a 41-16 win over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving with outstanding results. 

Imagine if Diaz had been let go after last year and Robinson had a full offseason with his players. 

Even in two losses at the end of the season against Oklahoma State and Baylor, Texas' defense wasn't as problematic as it had been previously. Senior quarterback Case McCoy threw a combined five interceptions to one touchdown in those games. 

It's unrealistic to expect a defense to pitch shutouts when it's on the field all the time and/or backed up in its own territory. 

Against Oregon, McCoy threw two pick-sixes, technically accounting for more points for Oregon than his own team. 

Freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who had his redshirt burned earlier this year, wasn't any better. He finished 1-of-6 passing for eight yards and was promptly returned to the sidelines after a three-and-out. 

Without McCoy's interceptions, the Alamo Bowl is possibly 16-7 and a completely different game. 

Hiring Robinson two games into the season may not have saved Brown's job, but it proved to be the smartest move he made. 

It's also why Robinson should get some consideration by whoever takes over the Texas job next.  

It's common for a coach to come into a new job and clean house, and there's a good chance that happens with Texas. For all anyone knows, Robinson may be ready to move on to something else. 

However, Brown was adamant about Robinson being the team's defensive coordinator—not the interim defensive coordinator—when he was promoted in September. That decision was met with cynicism, especially given Robinson's recent track record at Michigan and Syracuse, but it turned out to be the right call. 

The job Robinson has done flies under the radar because the 'Horns finished 8-5 and got pounded in all their losses. But anyone coming in as the next coach will know Robinson deserves to be evaluated to see if he should retain his job. 

It doesn't mean Robinson will be retained, but it wouldn't be a shocker if he is either. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football Recruiting: 14 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

For the Miami Hurricanes, the 2013 season is officially in the rear view. Al Golden and his squad wrapped up the year with a 9-4 record, winning the final two ACC games but falling in the Russell Athletic Bowl to the Louisville Cardinals, 36-9.

Of course in the world of college football, the "season" is now year-round with recruiting taking on a whole new meaning. Miami currently has 29 verbal commitments and what Rivals.com ranks as the No. 4 class. There are also a few on-the-fence recruits remaining who could help the Hurricanes close strong.

Later this week some of the nation's best high school athletes will compete in both the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday and Army All-American Bowl come Saturday. 

Miami has a handful of committed players who will be suiting up, as well as some recruits the Hurricanes are chasing down the stretch.

Read on to find out who is solid, who could be Coral Gables-bound and who might shock the world, pulling out a "U" ball cap on national television in the coming days. 

All rankings courtesy of Rivals.com. Stats provided by 247Sports.com, MaxPreps.com and ESPN.com. 

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Alamo Bowl 2013: Rushing Marcus Mariota Is High-Stakes Game for Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ran with supreme confidence in the Ducks’ 30-7 Alamo Bowl win over Texas on Monday. His 15-carry, 133-yard performance demonstrated the kind of dangerous weapon he can be when unleashed in the run game, but it also exhibited the kind of double-edged sword a coach faces when turning a dual-threat quarterback loose.

Head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost unveiled a game plan that called on Mariota, typically a complementary piece in the run game, to operate on designed carries early and often.

Texas’ struggles with mobile quarterbacks this season necessitated the strategy. A month of recuperation time for Mariota made it possible.

A left knee injury suffered in the final stretch of Oregon’s schedule limited Mariota’s productivity, in turn eliminating a vital portion of the Ducks’ offensive strategy. The result was Oregon’s two worst offensive performances of the season, and its only two losses.

His health was no issue in San Antonio. He took to the Alamodome without a knee brace and showed none of the hesitation evident in his performances at Stanford and Arizona. Both his 15 carries and 133 yards were season highs.

Still, there were a few hold-your-breath moments against Texas. Mariota came up gingerly, rubbing his leg after one big gain. After losing his helmet on a few plays earlier in the game, the quarterback had his cap ripped from his head on a red-zone possession in the second half.

He endured, which Oregon will need throughout next season.

There arguably were not two more dynamic playmakers in college football this season than Mariota and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

For a second straight year, both recorded eye-opening statistics as both passers and ball-carriers. However, unlike 2012, injury slowed each. The two were noticeably limited in the final month, the rigors of weekly abuse evident.

Running wild after a month of time off is one thing. Replicating his Alamo Bowl performance—which was one of Mariota’s best two-way showings in his career—amid the grind of a regular season is a more difficult proposition.

Mariota and Manziel aren’t alone, as some of college football’s most notable dual-threat quarterbacks have battled injuries in their college careers. Baylor’s 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury.

Few programs understand the sting of losing a leading playmaker like Oregon, after presumptive 2007 Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon went down late in the season. With him went the Ducks’ BCS Championship aspirations.

Of course, these are extreme instances. And indeed, being overly conservative with a player can be equally detrimental to a team’s performance.

For coaches like Helfrich with an explosive, two-way quarterback like Mariota, determining how and when they’re used in the run game can be a high-wire act.

Mariota is the centerpiece of Oregon’s very realistic championship aspirations in 2014—but only if he’s healthy, as he was Monday vs. Texas. Likewise, he’s only captaining a championship-caliber offense when he’s free to play the style that suits him best, as he was in the Alamo Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alamo Bowl 2013: Rushing Marcus Mariota Is High-Stakes Game for Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ran with supreme confidence in the Ducks’ 30-7 Alamo Bowl win over Texas on Monday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alamo Bowl 2013: Mack Brown Should Be Celebrated, but Change Was Necessary

There was no upset, no surprise Gatorade bath, no dramatic carry off.

Mack Brown’s final game as Texas head coach ended with an anticipated thud against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, serving as one final piece of evidence that change was necessary.

Yet, conflicting this business decision—and that’s exactly what this was—is Brown’s incredible legacy in Austin.

It’s a legacy that has completely changed the Texas athletic program over the past 16 years, turning the school into the nation’s biggest cash steer. It’s one that has a national championship attached to it, a game that will go down as perhaps the greatest of our lifetime. 

And yes, Brown will leave the sidelines seemingly loved by all, a rarity in the cutthroat business that is college coaching.

That same cutthroat business demands results—perhaps to an unreasonable degree at times—although mediocrity at a school with unlimited resources simply won’t do.

It’s the nature of the business and Brown knows this better than anyone. In recent years, business has not been good to the Texas football program.

Although the word “resignation” will be attached to his departure, there’s no smiling ride off into the sunset. This, as documented by Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde, was anything but Brown’s call.

But it was also the right call despite being a difficult call to make, which can be a challenging thing to balance. Preserving a legacy and regaining momentum with overwhelming changes might be an impossible mountain to climb.

The 30-7 loss against Oregon on Monday night was further proof that something had to be done—not that any was needed—and a culmination of problems that have plagued the team in recent years. This wasn’t the final “told ya so.” That ship had already sailed. This was an end of an era that came without much surprise.

Although the score was relatively lopsided, the Alamo Bowl was not without its highlights for the Longhorns. The defense held tough, forcing Oregon to settle for field goals.

It bent as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota found endless space in the open field early on, but it settled in. It kept the team in the game, although it was the sputtering offense along with two Case McCoy interceptions returned for touchdowns that proved to be the difference.

This stat certainly doesn’t help.

For 2nd straight game #Longhorns QB Case McCoy has more passing yds to other team (75) in INTs than to Texas players (48).

— Chip Brown (@ChipBrownOB) December 31, 2013

The fourth quarter served more as a visual and audio collage with the game out of reach. It was a time for cameras to focus in on the Mack Brown-centric signs scattered throughout the stadium. It also gave the broadcast booth time to appreciate the man. 

Before that, the Texas band showed its appreciation at halftime.

Cool gesture by the Texas marching band at halftime, paying tribute to Mack Brown after 16 years in Austin. pic.twitter.com/RV8lkHqhXX

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 31, 2013

It wasn’t a script made for Hollywood, but perhaps it was unreasonable to expect anything else. The matchup wasn’t favorable by any means, the injuries mounted on both sides and it wasn’t just a Mack Brown problem. 

But a 30-21 record over the past four seasons—including zero 10-win seasons—is simply not good enough. In that same time, Alabama has amassed a record of 46-6.

While it’s unreasonable to compare any program to Alabama at a time when the program is thriving, this is the bar that has been set for Texas. More specifically, this is the bar that Texas—under Brown’s guidance—has set for itself.

Given the wealth of talent in the state, the facilities and the money the program brings in, the expectations are incredible each year. And they should be.

That doesn’t mean Texas has to be Alabama, but there’s no reason the canyon between the two schools should be this wide.

Therein lies the problem: we’ve grown accustomed to Texas being average.

Brown’s departure from the school will take some getting used to. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who took over the position early on this year and did well in his role, worded it perfectly following the loss.

"He's a hard coach to replace." - Greg Robinson, visibly emotional talking about Mack Brown #HookEm

— Justin Wells (@justinwells2424) December 31, 2013

He will be a difficult figure to replace, but he will be replaced. And while his legacy won’t end on the easiest of terms, it will live on in tremendous fashion. 

You don’t forget 16 years of accomplishments, nor should you. But the Alamo Bowl served as one final reminder that the Texas Brown built needs to be rebuilt by a new architect.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mack Brown Gives His Final Salute as Longhorns Head Coach After Alamo Bowl

Texas head coach Mack Brown's final game with the Longhorns ended with one last salute to the crowd during his dramatic departure.

Brown's 16-year tenure with Texas included a BCS National Championship, 15 bowl appearances and a 158-48 overall record.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Coaching Carousel: Top 10 Landing Spots for Clancy Pendergast

The prolonged quiet surrounding Clancy Pendergast's future at USC was disconcerting. Ed Orgeron hardly grunted a syllable before Pat Haden officially replaced him with Steve Sarkisian following the UCLA letdown...

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Cotton Bowl 2014: What to Expect in Oklahoma State vs. Missouri Rivalry Renewal

Both the No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys and No. 8 Missouri Tigers will look to turn things around when the rivals meet in the 2014 edition of the Cotton Bowl.

While not the most high-profile game of the bowl season, this one is going to be a must-see contest, as these two schools know each other all too well from Missouri's Big 12 days.

In fact, the Cowboys and Tigers have clashed 51 times prior to entering the Cotton Bowl. Even better, both teams tout elite offenses not only familiar with one another, but also capable of scoring in bunches in impressive fashion.

Oklahoma State is seeking redemption after a loss to then-ranked No. 18 Oklahoma to close the year, as the Sooners scored with 19 seconds left to ruin the Cowboys' season.

Missouri did much of the same to end their season, but on a much bigger scale—the Tigers lost in the SEC Championship to then-ranked No. 3 Auburn. As a result, the Tigers will be watching from home as Auburn gets to partake in the national championship.

In other words, both teams will come out firing to end their seasons on a high note.

For Missouri, the name of the game is a balanced attack. Former Heisman contender James Franklin threw for 2,255 yards and 19 scores his senior year, all while missing four games due to injury.

Franklin is flanked by star back Henry Josey, who rushed for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns on an impressive 6.6-per-carry average. The junior has a pretty simple motivation for beating Oklahoma State, as captured by David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

In order to do so, Franklin and Josey will have to be at their best to make up for a defense that allows an average of 22.5 points per game. While that does not sound like a lot, Oklahoma State ranks in the top 15 with an average of 39.8 scored per game (the Tigers score 39 on average).

Watch for Franklin to find success by spamming the ball to senior receiver L'Damian Washington and sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham—they were his favorite targets during the season and combined for 1,683 receiving yards and 22 scores in 2013.

Oklahoma State's offense will also be able to move the ball through the air on the Tigers defense. The combo of senior quarterback Clint Chelf (1,792 yards and 15 scores) and junior J.W. Walsh (1,333 and nine) have been effective in orchestrating one of the nation's top attacks.

The Cowboys utilize a committee approach on the ground, with two running backs having more than 400 rushing yards this year. Three players scored six or more rushing touchdowns, including Chelf—the team's third-highest rusher.

But do not think because this rivalry features two high-flying offenses that it lacks for star power on the defensive side of things.

The Cowboys tout an elite corner by the name of Justin Gilbert, who is likely destined for the first round of the 2014 NFL draft—he ranks as the No. 3 corner in the class over at CBS Sports.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy agrees, per Dave Matter of St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

But Missouri also has a star in senior defensive end Michael Sam—owner of 10.5 sacks and the title of SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He ranks as the No. 6 overall linebacker at CBS Sports with a second-round grade.

So not only is this a high-profile matchup of a classic rivalry already flying under the radar, but it also has plenty of interest value for those fans looking to watch top NFL draft prospects who could end up on their favorite team next season.

The BCS gets most of the attention, but the Cotton Bowl has done well for itself this year with two powerhouses from top conferences. Oklahoma State and Missouri are set to put on a show worthy of the national spotlight—fans do not want to miss this one.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Texas: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Alamo Bowl

Many thought No. 10 Oregon, a legitimate national championship contender before losing two games in November, would lack motivation during the Alamo Bowl against unranked Texas. 

Someone forgot to tell the Ducks. 

Mark Helfrich's squad out-gained the over-matched Longhorns, 469 yards to 236, en route to a dominant 30-7 win at the Alamodome on Monday night. 

Alamo Bowl MVP Marcus Mariota was at the forefront of the offensive assault for the Ducks. He looked a little rusty in the passing game at times, but still managed to throw for 253 yards and a touchdown. The QB was most dangerous on the ground, though, rushing for 133 yards on 15 carries.

If you noticed the lack of touchdowns in Mariota's final line and are wondering where Oregon's points came from, look no further than Texas quarterback Case McCoy. 

The up-and-down senior threw two pick-sixes on the night—one to Avery Patterson to start the scoring in the first quarter, and one to Derrick Malone to seal the blowout in the fourth quarter:

In a sense, it was the perfect sendoff for Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who is now off to enjoy retirement after 21 total seasons with the Ducks (over three separate stints) and 36 overall as a coach. 

As for legendary Texas head coach Mack Brown, who was coaching in his final game with the Longhorns, the farewell wasn't nearly as sweet.

No matter the rocky finish, though, it was an absolutely marvelous career at Texas for Brown:

A one-yard McCoy touchdown plunge after an impressive 16-play, 79-yard drive brought the Longhorns to within three at 10-7 after the first quarter. But the Ducks reeled off 20 straight points from there, as six of Texas' next seven drives went for less than 15 yards.

Oregon may not have been looking to see its season end before the new year, but the comprehensive win is another sign that the Ducks remain a consistent force in college football—likely finishing in the top 10 for the fourth consecutive year. The Ducks' Twitter account provided a cool infographic of the big win:

 

Player Grades

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: A

Well, I guess he's healthy. In the last five games of the regular season, Mariota combined for just 89 rushing yards (which counts sacks), but on Monday night, he tallied an impressive 133 on the ground, ripping off seven runs of 10 or more yards. 

The sophomore QB looked a bit inconsistent throwing the ball at times, yet he still managed to complete 69.2 percent of his throws for 9.7 yards per attempt. His explosiveness in the running game was what made the Ducks so difficult to stop while on offense:

Mariota did cramp up at times, and talked about it after the game via Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com:

Unfortunately for Pac-12 defenses, the ever-dangerous Mariota is coming back next season.

 

Case McCoy, Texas: D

Well, that wasn't pretty. 

There's only so much McCoy can do when his receivers are seemingly dropping every other pass, but he never looked comfortable in the pocket and threw two interceptions that each resulted in six points for Oregon.

In the end, he finished eight-of-17 for 48 yards, giving him an average of 2.8 yards per attempt. Yuck. Moving on.

 

Josh Huff, Oregon: A

The Longhorns had no answer for the Houston native, who finished with 104 yards on five grabs. He was the epitome of a big-play threat, too, as four of those receptions went for at least 20 yards.

And the fifth, which went for 16, was his most impressive of the night:

In a closer game, Huff would have put up some video-game numbers, but he'll have to settle for this:

 Huff wanted to talk about his QB after the game via Moseley: 

Malcolm Brown, Texas: A-

Brown put on display what downhill running is all about. Whether it was an inside run or a stretch to the outside, he patiently stayed behind his blocks and exploded forward when a hole developed. 

Moreover, his importance to the offense was clear from the beginning.

After Texas' first two possessions ended in an interception and a three-and-out, the Longhorns turned to Brown for their longest drive of the season:

Nine of those 16 plays—including the first five—went to Brown, and he took five of them for at least seven yards and three for first downs.

A big deficit meant the Longhorns couldn't continue to pound the ball to Brown, but he still tallied an impressive 130 yards on 26 carries (5.0 YPC). 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Football: Grading Robert Nkemdiche's Freshman Season

After some ups and downs with a season full of hype and expectations, a year of football is in the books for Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche

That means it's time to grade the superstar freshman's first year playing under the bright lights on Saturdays.

When grading a freshman, the best things to look at are how he impacted each game, how he improved week by week as he adjusted to the college game and how he handled the hype of being the No. 1-rated prospect of the 2013 class. 

 

Impact

Nkemdiche started in Week 1 and immediately began to make an impact. He showed his freakish athleticism by registering two tackles—one for a loss—and a pass breakup. He also showed his ability to carry the ball by converting on a fake punt. 

Throughout the year, Nkemdiche moved around the entire defensive line and even lined up at linebacker in some games, making him one of the most versatile players on the team. 

Four times this season, he registered four or more tackles in a game, including three times against SEC opponents. He often drew multiple defenders to try and stop him, as he was one of the biggest threats on the field. 

Against Mississippi State, he again showed his prowess in the running game with four carries for 21 yards. That's right, one of Ole Miss' best defensive lineman averaged 5.25 yards per carry in a game this year. 

This year, it seemed like wherever you looked, Nkemdiche was on the field making big plays for the Rebels. Although he was limited against Alabama and struggled to contain Johnny Manziel (who had over 450 total yards against Ole Miss), overall, Nkemdiche was one of Ole Miss' best weapons on defense this year. 

Grade: B+

 

Improvement

For most first-year guys around the nation, the name of the game is improvement. There are always struggles that come with adapting to the college game, but learning and making strides is what defines a good freshman player. 

Nkemdiche had a downswing midseason when he didn't register a tackle against Alabama, missed two games due to injury and was ejected against Arkansas. But he bounced back by registering 10 tackles over his last three games and even had those four carries for 21 yards in the regular season finale against Mississippi State. 

But perhaps the best mark of Nkemdiche's improvement is how well he played in the Music City Bowl. Not only did he have a sack, but according to Ben Garrett of the Ole Miss Spirit, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said that the bowl game was Nkemdiche's best game of the year. 

Clearly, the future is bright for Nkemdiche at Ole Miss. And the improvement he showed this season is proof of that. 

Grade: A

 

Handling the Hype

It's certainly not easy being hailed as the top recruit in the country. But those are the cards that Nkemdiche was dealt and forced to deal with this year. 

Overall, Nkemdiche handled the hype well. He played quality football through most of year despite missing two games due to injury, and he lived up to the hype of his ability by being one of the most dominant players for Ole Miss. 

Probably his biggest setback was against Arkansas. That game saw Nkemdiche get ejected for violently shoving Arkansas offensive tackle Dan Skipper to the ground. Maintaining one's composure is part of handling the hype of being one of the most focused-on players in the country, and that ejection was a huge slipup. 

The ejection hurts Nkemdiche here, but throughout the season he dealt with the hype just fine. He made freshman mistakes at times, but who doesn't in college football? 

Grade: B-

 

Overall

Nkemdiche proved this season that he is poised to be one of the nation's most dominant defensive lineman. Although he didn't put up gaudy numbers, he proved he's a versatile player, a freakish athlete and a great addition to the Rebels. 

He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and finished the regular season with 29 tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for loss. 

Not bad for a guy who just finished his first year playing college football in the country's best conference. 

Grade: B+

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army All-American Bowl 2014: 10 Sleeper Recruits You Need to Know More About

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is taking place on Saturday, but a good portion of the action has already started. The week of practices leading up to the game features some matchups recruiting fans can only dream about.

However, while the opportunity to see 5-star recruits battle each other for several days is great, sleepers also have a platform to prove they belong. 

Heading into Saturday's game, there's several recruits you need to know about who have not been in the spotlight as much as they deserve.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Bowl Schedule 2014: Breaking Down Top Remaining Clashes

The 2013-14 bowl season is well under way, and the remaining games on the schedule promise to be some of the top clashes of the entire year.

The slate of games from Dec. 31 through the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6 feature strong teams and compelling matchups that will leave college football fans on the edge of their seats. There are games that you simply won't want to miss.

Those can't-miss matchups will be the talk of the office in the days following, and you definitely don't want to be the one who missed out on the action.

Here are your top games to watch, along with viewing information and a brief breakdown. 

 

Capital One Bowl

A strong South Carolina defense takes on a potent Wisconsin run game in the Capital One Bowl, and on paper, it looks as if it could be a tossup.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White were unbelievable as a duo this season. They combined for over 2,600 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, and Gordon knows that he and the other big-time players need to step up if the Badgers are going to win.

The Gamecocks and their No. 14-ranked defense will have to force Joel Stave to lead the offense. The Wisconsin quarterback took a backseat in terms of production to Gordon and White this season. If South Carolina can limit the tandem on the ground, the Badgers will have to lean on Stave to put points on the board.

South Carolina will be able to put up enough points to win if they can prevent Gordon and White from finding paydirt. Stave likely won't account for more than a touchdown or two himself, and that's the type of outcome the Gamecocks will be planning for.

This will be a dogfight, but the running game of Wisconsin is too good to be completely silenced. They should come out on top.

 

Rose Bowl

The battle between Michigan State and Stanford figures to be one of the top games of the new year.

Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Connor Cook (Michigan State) will need to stay hot after both performed admirably in their conference championship games. Neither the Cardinal nor the Spartans will rely on their passers to win, but they will need each one to make a few plays with his arm.

By the time the game rolls around, both coaching staffs will have had 25 days to prepare for their opponents. This will be a huge advantage for the defenses.

While the Spartans defense is an overall better unit (with arguably one of the top defensive prospects in the nation in Darqueze Dennard), Stanford's defense is also a strong unit. They'll need to put pressure on Cook from the beginning and force him to lean heavily on running back Jeremy Langford.

Stanford can severely limit Michigan State's attack if it can turn their offense into a predictable unit.

Stanford has the experience at the BCS level to take care of business. It will be an exceptionally well-fought game by both sides, but the Cardinal won't let this opportunity slip away.

 

 

Orange Bowl

Braxton Miller (the passer) needs to show up against Clemson. While Miller (the runner) is a great weapon on offense, Ohio State will need the complete quarterback to score against a tough Tigers defense.

The Buckeyes' quarterback was just 8-for-21 for 101 yards and a touchdown through the air against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Those numbers against Clemson will likely result in a loss for Ohio State—period.

You can be sure that Clemson is preparing for the dual-threat quarterback. Via Brandon Rink of TheState.com:

Clemson makes no bones about its pressure prowess: No. 1 in tackles for loss (113) and No. 22 in sacks (33). But facing this kind of attack throws a wrench into the typical plan.

Putting the pressure on Miller from the start should bring good results for the Tigers defense. If he's pressured, it'll be difficult for him to stand in the pocket and make plays with his arm. This will flush him out of the pocket and into a place where he'll be vulnerable to blitzes on the outside or incoming defenders.

Miller can't win the game for the Buckeyes by himself on the ground. He'll need to incorporate his weapons through the air to make it happen. Clemson won't let that happen, though. They'll take care of business in the Orange Bowl.

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Music City Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned in Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech

Led by junior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Ole Miss Rebels defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 25-17 in the 2013 Music City Bowl.

Wallace accounted for 342 yards (256 passing, 86 rushing) and three touchdowns, and the Ole Miss defense made two key late-game stops to seal the game.

Darren Waller hauled in a 72-yard touchdown for Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack was held in check by the Rebels defense.

Ole Miss finished the year at 8-5, Georgia Tech ended at 7-6, and the Music City Bowl taught us a few lessons along the way.

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Texas Longhorns Band Pays Tribute to Mack Brown at Alamo Bowl

The 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon will be the final game of Texas head coach Mack Brown's career, so the Longhorn Band decided to pay tribute to the coach by spelling out his name on the field during halftime.

Brown is nearing the end of his 16th season as coach of the Longhorns. He led the team to a BCS National Championship in 2006.

Thanks to @LukeFritz64 for the photo, and hat tip to ESPN's Darren Rovell for the find.

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Oregon's Josh Huff Celebrates TD with 'Show Me the Money' Gesture

Receiver Josh Huff is playing his final game for the Oregon Ducks, and he is on his way to going out with a bang against the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl.

The senior celebrated his 16-yard touchdown late in the first half by doing the "show me the money" gesture.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota perfectly executed a shovel pass, and Huff did the rest:

Huff's touchdown marked the first time the Oregon offense found the end zone all night, but it gave the Ducks a 20-7 lead heading into halftime.

Of course Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel made this celebration popular earlier this season.

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Chick-Fil-A Bowl 2013: Top Storylines Heading into Texas A&M-Duke Clash

The No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies will square off against the No. 24 Duke Blue Devils in the 2013 Chick-Fil-A Bowl in what figures to be an exciting matchup featuring two struggling teams looking to right the ship.

Texas A&M (8-4) closed their season on a two-game losing streak. LSU and Missouri bested them in those two games, but the Aggies had been firing on all cylinders in weeks prior. All four of the Aggies' losses came against the four Top 25 teams they faced this season, and they'll be looking to buck that trend against Duke.

The Blue Devils are coming off a blowout loss to the Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game. At 10-3, Duke put together one of its best seasons in school history on the gridiron. Their other two losses came back-to-back against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, but they did take down Virginia Tech and Miami—both ranked teams at the time.

This matchup figures to be one of the more exciting games of the bowl season. Be sure to tune in at 8 p.m. ET on New Year's Eve on ESPN, and pay attention to the following storylines while viewing.

 

Johnny Manziel and Mike Evan's Last Go-Around

Gil Brandt of NFL.com reports (via Will Brinson of CBSSports.com) that Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans will leave Texas A&M to declare for the NFL draft following the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Manziel will likely be a top 10 selection in the draft (the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 and the Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 are potential landing spots), while Evans could easily go in the top 15 after Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins is off the board.

With this bowl game being their last go-around in an Aggies uniform, expect the two to go out in style. Manziel and Evans worked well together through the entirety of the season, and Duke will likely fall victim to a few big plays over the top of their secondary.

At 6'5", Evans has the ability to out-jump nearly every defensive back matched against him. Couple that with his deceptive speed to get behind the back of those defenders, and you've got yourself the complete package.

Expect Duke to throw two defenders at him at all times. If he makes plays, then the Aggies' chances of winning go way up.

 

Manziel's Last Audition for NFL Squads

In what will be Manziel's last audition for the NFL, look for him to exploit the Blue Devils' defense.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe told the Associated Press (via SportingNews.com) just what he expects from last year's Heisman winner:

He's an outstanding quarterback...He's not just an athlete. He beats you in a lot of different ways. Certainly he's got a great receiving corps. His ability to create plays is second to none. In my lengthy career I really haven't seen a player that creates and ad-libs as well.

Even though Duke appears prepared for the challenge, Manziel may still prove too much to contain. If they try to limit him through the air, he'll kill them on the ground. Needless to say, the opposite also holds true.

A poor showing in this bowl game could very well be the difference between Manziel going No. 3 to Jacksonville or later on in the first round. Several teams are in the market for quarterbacks in the first round, but there's no doubting the fact that Manziel would like to hear his name called earlier rather than later.

 

Can Duke Continue Successful Season?

Duke put together arguably its best season on the football field. Their 10-3 record was highlighted by wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, but losing against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game is currently the low point.

While their team peripherals were average across the board (they rank anywhere from No. 47 to No. 62 in terms of passing yards, rushing yards, points allowed and points scored), their consistency as a team is what propelled them to new heights.

Duke is new to this kind of stage, but playing against the Seminoles likely helped them to gain some needed experience.

It'll be interesting to see how they fare against Manziel. Jameis Winston lit them up in the ACC title game, but Manziel is not the same offensive threat. He's still a great quarterback, but there's a reason Winston won the Heisman this year and Manziel didn't.

Containing Manziel is the key. If they can do that, they'll win the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

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