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Pitt vs. Bowling Green: Score, Grades and Analysis from Little Caesars Bowl 2013

The Pittsburgh Panthers benefited from a virtuoso performance by sensational freshmen James Conner and Tyler Boyd en route to a 30-27 upset victory over MAC champion Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Thursday.

The hefty but surprisingly nimble Conner ran for a Pitt bowl-record 229 yards and a key 15-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter to respond to an early field goal by the Falcons at Detroit's Ford Field.

Boyd had eight receptions for 173 yards and took a punt to the house to give the Panthers some second-quarter momentum.

It was amazing to see what the two youngsters did to an opponent that ranked No. 8 in total defense entering the evening as the Panthers improved to 7-6. The hard running from Conner even compelled ESPN's Damon Sayles to make a gaudy comparison:

However, the 17-3 lead that Pittsburgh had built was erased in short order around the intermission. The Falcons had some fight in them after all, as quarterback Matt Johnson tossed a 29-yard touchdown to Alex Bayer, which cut the deficit to seven points at halftime.

In the blink of an eye, Bowling Green's special teams became special on the second-half kickoff, as Jerry "BooBoo" Gates went 94 yards to paydirt, knotting the game at 17 apiece.

The first-year phenom Boyd's prowess as a playmaker in Pitt's passing game was most critical and the difference in the game.

Senior signal-caller Tom Savage went down with a rib injury, which forced the Panthers to turn to freshman Chad Voytik, who had thrown just two passes all season before Thursday's contest:

He was forced to grow up quickly, and having a precocious fellow freshman in Boyd to turn to helped the cause immensely.

The tandem connected on a big gain that set up Voytik's untouched scamper to the end zone from five yards out to put the Panthers on top 27-20 with 9:31 left.

Unfortunately for Pitt, the unflappable Johnson roared back, often running for his life and taking one of seven sacks on the evening amid a great nine-play, 75-yard drive. It culminated in a touchdown toss to Ryan Burbrink from 15 yards out to even things at 27 apiece.

Thanks to some punishing runs from Conner and a 19-yard scramble by Voytik, Pitt moved into field-goal range. Kicker Chris Blewitt didn't live up to what his surname might imply, booting the winning kick through the uprights from 39 yards away.

Johnson and Co. attempted to rally, but back-to-back sacks and a turnover on downs on a crazy multiple-lateral play secured the victory for the Panthers.

Here are the grades for the key performers in a bowl that did not garner much attention but was thrilling nonetheless.

 

Grades

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh: A

Although he was a little quieter toward the end once Conner became more of a focal point in the game plan, Boyd proved he is maybe the most underrated freshman in the country.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit weighed in about how promising Boyd's career looks moving forward:

Between the electric punt return and being the only Panthers receiver to catch more than one pass—tight end J.P. Holtz had two catches—it was just a great all-around performance from a star who put himself on the map. He and Conner will lead Pitt into a new, flourishing era as they continue to improve.

 

Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green: A-

It's a shame that Johnson didn't get better protection. Even under constant duress, he managed to complete 20 of 32 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns, keeping the Falcons in it until the very end.

Bowling Green needed better play from its typically strong defense in the end to give Johnson one more chance to win it. By the time Pitt strung together a late drive to take the lead, it was too much to overcome that pass rush.

 

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh: A

It took awhile for Conner's physicality to take a toll on the Falcons, but it was evident that his pounding caused Bowling Green to crack.

In the second half, he ran for 165 yards on 16 carries and was not going to be denied. His efforts—and those of the Pittsburgh offensive line—were instrumental in taking the outcome out of the inexperienced Voytik's hands. 

 

Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green: C-

What a disappointing way for the Falcons' leading rusher to close out an otherwise outstanding sophomore campaign. Greene went out with a whimper, registering just 39 yards on 18 carries and two catches for 12 yards.

There was no balance to be had thanks to an excellent performance from Pitt's defensive front, which was keyed by senior lineman Aaron Donald, who will likely be playing on Sundays sometime in the next year. He even garnered a comparison to Detroit Lions star Ndamukong Suh:

Nevertheless, the Falcons could not establish the ground game, which took Greene out of rhythm and made the offense one-dimensional, thereby causing Johnson to be vulnerable.

 

Quick Takeaways

This is a big win for Pittsburgh, which ends the season on a high note at 7-6. The Panthers are above .500 and built something for the future.

The absence of Falcons head coach Dave Clawson—who took the job at Wake Forest—seemed to cause Bowling Green to come out flat, and the future of the program appears even more precarious at the moment.

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Alabama Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

One of Nick Saban's many strengths as a college football coach is his ability to bring in and develop talent better than anyone else.

Saban has signed the No. 1 recruiting class the last three years and is on track to make it a fourth straight, according to 247Sports.

With 23 commitments already, the class is just about wrapped up, but like always there will be a few moving parts and things to sort out before the Feb. 5 national signing day.

Stay tuned here from now until then for all of the latest news about Alabama's 2014 signing class. We'll be updating this with commitments, decommitments and all the latest Alabama recruiting news over the next few weeks.

All recruiting information comes via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

 

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LSU and Iowa Players Ate More Than 5,000 Pounds of Food at Outback Steakhouse

It looks like the LSU Tigers and the Iowa Hawkeyes are making the most out of their bowl experiences.

The two squads combined to eat more than 5,000 pounds of food at an Outback Steakhouse, as the Hawkeyes tweeted:

LSU and Iowa were treated to feast by Outback Steakhouse tonight, devouring a combined 5,000 lbs of food.

— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) December 26, 2013

KGAN's Jared Aarons was able to get a breakdown of the feast.

LSU and Iowa don't meet in the Outback Bowl until Jan. 1, so there will be plenty of time to digest the food. 

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

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LSU Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

LSU had another successful season under Les Miles in 2013, but the Tigers lacked the talent and depth needed to contend for an SEC Championship. The 2014 recruiting class must be phenomenal for the future of the program. 

LSU already has a stacked class, but recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson still has his eye on numerous 5-star targets. If Wilson and the staff can reel in the elite prospects, the Tigers could finish with the No. 1 overall class. 

Keep up with the latest news and notes on the recruiting trail here. 

 

Note: All 2012 stats via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Which 2014 College Football Recruits Are Wavering on Commitments?

With January right around the corner, many recruits' feet start to get a little chilly during this time. Prospects make commitments, but some start to waver on their pledges.

The 2014 class is no different from its predecessors, as it has several players who appear to be wavering on their commitments. These recruits are unsure of their decisions, which has them scheduling last-minute trips and visits.

Florida is sweating over the final decision of a 5-star running back, while a 4-star defensive end is re-thinking his commitment to an ACC school. Plus, USC and UCLA both have commitments who are wavering.

 

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

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Michigan Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

National signing day is quickly approaching, and the Michigan Wolverines, yet again, have another potential top-10 class waiting to sign letters of intent on Feb. 6. 

This tracker will provide the latest updates pertaining to the 2014 recruiting haul, which is headlined by all-around superstar Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star athlete out of Paramus Catholic (N.J.).

Drake Harris, a 5-star wideout from Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.), is also among the class that holds a No. 14 national ranking from 247Sports, which serves as the guide for player and class rankings within this slideshow.  

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Texas Bowl 2013: Highlighting Top Stars in Syracuse vs. Minnesota Matchup

In an era of spread college football offenses lighting up scoreboards across the nation, the 2013 Texas Bowl isn't likely to offer such thrills.

When the Syracuse Orange and Minnesota Golden Gophers do battle on Friday, Dec. 27 in Houston's Reliant Stadium, there won't be prolific passing games on display.

Rather, each team's top running back will go a long way in deciding the outcome, while a couple defensive stalwarts in the trenches should also play massive roles in determining who wins.

Let's take a closer look at the biggest stars from each team in this ACC-Big Ten showdown and the type of impact each of them should have.

 

Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse

It's been tough sledding for the Orange all season on offense, as the program has fought its way to a 6-6 record in the first season of the post-Doug Marrone era.

Smith has been a big reason why Syracuse stayed afloat after its first two contests. The 226-pound junior has ground it out between the tackles with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average and has managed 11 rushing touchdowns.

With plans to enter the 2014 NFL draft, Smith will be stepping onto the field in a college game for the final time. He'll want to end his career with a bang—especially after recording just 46 yards in the team's last-second win over Boston College that made Syracuse bowl eligible.

The Orange offense has found some traction in the past two games under the guidance of quarterback Terrel Hunt, whose improved play has lessened the pressure on Smith to be the go-to guy.

However, in a game of this magnitude, it would be wise for Syracuse to pound the ball with Smith and limit what Hunt has to do in order to have a chance at pulling off the upset.

And Smith has the frame to be the bell-ringer. Also, having the opportunity to prove himself to pro talent evaluators should spur him into having a great final performance.

 

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have a similarly punishing runner who is both more consistent and versatile. Cobb has run for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 16 receptions for 162 yards.

Even in facing the nation's top-ranked rush defense in Michigan State on Nov. 30, Cobb managed 101 yards on 27 carries in a 14-3 loss. That is all the context necessary to expect that he will flourish against the Orange.

Syracuse is no slouch versus the run, but Cobb is talented enough to be productive. As tweeted by Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Cobb emphasized the need to capitalize on scoring opportunities:

Minnesota's offense has done well in the red zone this year, converting 24 of 26 of those chances into touchdowns, with 20 scores coming on the ground.

Earlier this month, Orange head coach Scott Shafer assessed how tough it would be to stop Cobb, per SUAthletics.com:

They've got a doggone good running back in Cobb. He can run the football and he runs it well because they block it well up front. They're a sound, tough team. They're going to be a team that doesn't shoot themselves in the foot. I've seen them get more consistent with the way they approach the game, the mistakes they don't make. They don't throw a lot of interceptions and they play a good, tough brand of football, but it's the run game first and foremost.

 

Look for Cobb to do just as well as Smith or even outperform him in what should be an outstanding showcase of two hard-nosed backs determined to carry their teams to victory.

 

Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse

At 6'6" and 294 pounds, the senior defensive tackle is an absolute force on the inside. He is second on the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and first with eight sacks.

Bromley should be able to wreak havoc up front and neutralize Cobb's effectiveness between the tackles while also collapsing the pocket on elusive Golden Gophers QB Philip Nelson.

What gives Bromley an edge is that he seems to have an understanding of what the Golden Gophers are doing offensively, noting that there isn't much difference between what they did in 2012 to this season:

Linebacker Durell Eskridge leads the Orange in tackles with 78 tackles but will not be available for the Texas Bowl due to an upper-body injury, per Syracuse.com's Hank Domin.

That puts the onus all the more on Bromley to get penetration and allow Syracuse linebackers to make plays and shut down Cobb.

 

Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota

The 6'6" redshirt sophomore is a menace to handle coming off the edge with his great length and athleticism, and it's helped him register 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Syracuse quarterback Hunt will have to be on the lookout for Cockran swiping at the ball, even if he gets pushed too far upfield. Considering Cockran is a first-year starter, it's all the more impressive that he's been able to be so productive.

This is a great opportunity for the precocious defensive end to showcase his skills, and it's something he feels he needs to do. Fuller reported on Dec. 23 that Cockran is itching to be a bigger contributor after not recording any tackles in last year's bowl loss to Texas Tech:

"Coach [Jerry] Kill always says it starts up front, so it's up to the D-line to set the tone," said Cockran. "I feel a lot better this year. I feel like I'll be able to make more of an impact this year."

Syracuse's offensive line will have a tough time focusing on both Cockran and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, who is an all-conference player and a disruptive force up the middle.

With the attention focused on Hageman in order to better establish Smith and the Orange's ground game, the stage is set for Cockran to have a breakout performance on a national stage.

 

 

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Davante Adams' 2014 NFL Draft Stock After Reportedly Hiring Agent

Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Davante Adams has been the top target of college football's No. 1 passing attack this season, and he is reportedly set to take his talents to the NFL level.

According to DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline on Thursday, Adams will enter the 2014 NFL draft after hiring an agent:

Now the fun part begins: projecting how a prolific wideout who leads the nation in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24) will translate to the pros. First in this analysis is figuring out where Adams might be drafted in May.

Some receivers who put up such gaudy numbers are products of their offensive systems. In the spread-crazed era of college football that is engulfing the game today, it is possible for coaching, spacing and matchups to yield eye-popping numbers.

While some of those factors have aided Adams' efforts—along with a cannon-armed quarterback in Derek Carr—the junior has exceptional skills that suggest he will continue to flourish on the NFL gridiron.

NFL.com scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah compared him to San Diego Chargers' emerging rookie Keenan Allen:

The former University of California standout fell to the third round of last year's draft but has come on for a respectable maiden campaign in San Diego.

Allen and Adams are about the same size at around 6'2" and 210 pounds. Both have great ball skills and show mature route-running ability—an uncommonly polished attribute for collegiate players who are making the transition to the pros.

One recent comparison that comes to mind regarding Adams and Carr is the receiver-QB tandem from Oklahoma State that was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft: Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden.

However, Adams has none of the off-field issues that Blackmon—who is suspended indefinitely at the moment—has.

That puts him in ideal position to be drafted early. The bad news is the wide receiver class promises to be deep.

CBSSports.com's rankings list as many as eight receivers who might be chosen in Round 1, but Adams is a firm second-round grade and the 10th-rated prospect at his position. The outlet's Jeremy Fowler also reports that Adams is seeking to improve the third-round grade that he received from the NFL draft advisory board:

If he lives up to the Allen comparison offered by Jeremiah, though, Adams will make several franchises regret passing on him if he is drafted later than expected.

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Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Ran out of Pizza

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl reportedly ran out of pizza for the media. 

Let's just say it's probably not the best publicity for the company.

Thanks to David Dermer for making this public.

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Poinsettia Bowl 2013 Utah State vs. Northern Illinois: Live Score and Highlights

Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1) will take on the Utah State Aggies (8-5) in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. 

The Huskies will be looking to avoid a possible hangover in this contest. Had NIU won its last game of the season versus Bowling Green, it would have been playing in its second straight BCS bowl game. 

As for the Aggies, freshman Darell Garretson has played well in the absence of Chuckie Keeton. 

It should be a very entertaining contest. Lynch, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is an absolute terror on the ground. Utah State is allowing only 107.3 yards per game on the ground. It's also allowing only 17.3 points per contest. 

The game will begin at 9:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

The full box score is available at NCAA.com. 

Bleacher Report appreciates you sticking with us tonight. Tune in for up-to-the-minute scores, analysis, media and much more!

 

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Bill O'Brien's Houston Texans Interview Reminds Fans He Won't Be PSU Lifer

The Joe Paterno's and Bobby Bowden's of the world are nearly an extinct breed in college coaching these days, and on Thursday, we got a reminder that the era of JoePa likely won't repeat itself in State College anytime soon. 

Word of the NFL sniffing around Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is nothing new, but O'Brien having an interview with an NFL team is. 

Perhaps the first clues as just how serious O'Brien could be about a return to the NFL came when two staffers left the program following the season-ending win over Wisconsin.

It's hard to blame the NFL for wanting one of the brightest stars in the coaching fraternity in its grasp. O'Brien has guided the Penn State program to two straight winning seasons and a 15-9 overall record to date. 

All of that while being blindsided by crippling NCAA sanctions and a fractured fanbase too. It impressed former Minnesota head coach and current BTN analyst Glenn Mason enough to declare the program on solid ground for the future, according to Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer

What Bill O'Brien and Penn State have been able to accomplish the last two years is nothing short of miraculous. I thought what he did in Year 1 was unbelievable but was outdone by what they did this year. I thought the first year would be their best production, and then it would probably downward spiral to some degree for a variety of reasons - emotions of the players wearing off from the standpoint of an us-against-the-world mentality, the lasting down effect of not being able to compete for a championship or go to a bowl. After seeing the way they performed against Wisconsin, that has changed my opinion about them. I would say they're in good shape and going in the right direction.

That will attract the attention of just about anyone with a pulse in NFL circles. Yet, this is the furthest confirmation we've gotten that O'Brien is serious about the NFL at this time. 

He's managed to say and do all the right things to help heal and move Penn State forward over the last two years, and many thought O'Brien would see that reclamation project to its conclusion at a bare minimum. 

Should O'Brien leave, it throws the program back into limbo when it least needs it. Sure, the new coach will have more scholarships available, but Penn State will still be years away from having a full 85-man roster (eligible for that in 2020). 

Not to mention the impending decision of star wide receiver Allen Robinson. O'Brien leaving could have major implications for that choice, and with it, a lot of the immediate future of Penn State's offense. 

The relationship Robinson developed with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was one of the more lethal in the Big Ten, and another year together could be very tempting for any coach to want to stick around.

O'Brien's decision can't be an easy one, as the Penn State football program and the kids in it have gone through a lot in the past two years and leaving them behind after just two years on the job would feel like yet another punch to the gut to those who've stuck around.

Then again, being a head coach in the NFL is the pinnacle of his chosen profession and how often will the NFL come calling?

The constant rumors and innuendo associated with O'Brien and the NFL haven't gone away, and those situations won't until O'Brien makes a definitive statement one way or the other. 

So far, he's been mum on his future plans since his season-ending press conference, so clues as to his future intentions have not been easy to come by.  

No matter if O'Brien stays at Penn State or leaves, the fact that he is taking NFL interviews seriously should serve as a reminder to everyone involved—Bill O'Brien is not going to stay at Penn State for very long.

 

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

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Bowling Green's D.J. Lynch Takes Swings at Pittsburgh's Manasseh Garner

The second half of the 2013 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Bowling Green and Pittsburgh got off to a wild start.

Bowling Green's BooBoo Gates returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 94 yards for a touchdown, but it's what happened behind the play that is the story.

Falcons linebacker D.J. Lynch was spotted taking several shots at Panthers tight end Manasseh Garner away from the play.

They were called for offsetting penalties. Despite the offsetting fouls, the touchdown stood and tied the game at 17.

Thanks to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the video.

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