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BYU Football: Should Bronco Mendenhall Be on the Hot Seat?

“Our goal is to win a national championship."

These words have been spoken by Bronco Mendenhall countless times, ever since BYU dived into FBS independence. It is a worthy goal for all football programs—to be the best team in the country.

But is a national championship truly possible with Mendenhall at the helm?

I may not be one to judge, but the obvious answer is no.

To get to the national championship, not to mention winning it, the Cougars would almost certainly need to be undefeated and ranked higher than a Group of Five (Mountain West, C-USA, etc.) champion. From there, the selection committee would need to pick BYU.

The committee takes a good look at quality wins, strength of schedule and rankings. It would be necessary for the Cougs to have a strong schedule and essentially run the table, which is unlikely.

Bronco has a high winning percentage at BYU, but the closest he's gotten to undefeated is 11-2 (three times). That trio of two-loss seasons includes great wins, with triumphs over six ranked teams, but were haunted by bad losses.

Mendenhall's squads lost to Florida State, UCLA and Arizona, all of whom ended the regular season at 6-6.

It's been the same story since 2005; BYU wins most of the games it is expected to win and loses most of the ones in which it is the underdog. Mendenhall is 5-12 against ranked opponents, and although he has a few solid upsets on his resume, that kind of record is far from elite.

Not to mention the bad losses in which BYU was favored. In the last two years, the Cougars lost very winnable games against Utah, Virginia and San Jose State.

It is easy to blame factors other than the coaching for mistakes, but the final scores don't always tell the story.

Hideous play-calling, amateur clock management and poor preparation have been the story of back-to-back five-loss seasons. When you are trying to go on a "Quest for Perfection," maybe you should spend more time prepping for the week's game than the fireside.

BYU showed plenty of improvement from the Virginia game to the bowl, but some of the same mistakes still existed from week one. Notably on offense, there is a long way to go for Robert Anae and his staff.

I understand that there are plenty of people out there that love Bronco. He seems like a great guy, and at BYU, it is important to have that type of head coach. But on the field, he isn't someone that will get BYU to a national championship, much less win one.

I'm not a disgruntled spectator looking for a scapegoat. Mendenhall has given new life to this Cougar program, but the steam from the John Beck and Max Hall days is quickly fading.

Look at it this way—in any occupation, if you set a goal for yourself and the program, only to fall well short of it for nine years, will you keep your job?

Here’s a wake-up call to all Cougar fans. Put down the blue Kool-Aid and realize that Bronco will never take BYU to an elite level. That is the main goal of independence, but with this coaching staff, it isn’t going to happen.

In the words of Geoffrey Chaucer, "All good things must come to an end."

Amen, Geoffrey. Let’s stop settling for good, and move on to great.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

For both the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes, winning seasons culminated in a noteworthy bowl game to finish out the year—or start the new one. With both teams finishing 5-3 in their respective conferences, it is a matchup of two of the top-tier teams in the SEC and Big Ten this season.

LSU had another good year and finished out the regular season at 9-3 and ranked 16th in the country. Hiccups against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama all led to the Tigers falling out of contention in the conference, but five wins in the SEC is still a huge feat for any team.

As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes won eight games, thanks to a three-game winning streak to close out the season. Their struggles against top competition, however, has spoiled an otherwise great season and has the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl rather than a higher bowl game.

While they may not share much in common, the two teams do share a common bond of loving food, as they took care of a huge feast at Outback while getting prepped for the game, according to Jared Aarons of KGAN/KFXA TV.

With the game fast approaching, here's a look at the 2014 Outback Bowl and a final prediction for the game played on New Year's Day.

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. EST

Where: Raymond James Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

Watch: ESPN

Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: LSU -8 (Vegas Insider)

 

Top Storyline

Which Team Has the Better Defense?

Neither Iowa nor LSU has an explosive offense, and the Tigers are even more shorthanded without Zach Mettenberger, who ended his career with a knee injury. For both teams, however, the defense has been the catalyst for their success throughout the season, which could lead to a low-scoring affair.

For LSU, this year was seen as somewhat of a setback from prior seasons in which the team dominated the SEC. After holding opponents to 21 points or fewer in six games this season, though, the Tigers are still one of the best defenses in the country.

One of the Tigers' most notable defensive performances came against Auburn. In its fourth game of the season, LSU handed Auburn its only defeat of the season, with a 35-21 win against the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. The eventual No. 2 team headed to the BCS National Championship Game.

The Tigers have a defense that doesn't boast many great individual players, but the team has still had success this season. Guys such as Lamin Barrow (86 tackles) and Anthony Johnson (7.0 TFL, three sacks) have been huge for LSU this season, but their modest numbers certainly don't strike fear into opponents.

With a huge question mark on the offensive side of the ball after the loss of Mettenberger, LSU's defense will need to step up if it plans on defeating Iowa and finishing the season with 10 wins.

On the Iowa side, Anthony Hitchens has been the best player on the field.

The Hawkeyes' durable linebacker has tallied 102 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception on the season.

Hitchens is one of many defensive playmakers for an Iowa team that has the likes of another guy named James Morris (98 tackles, 14.5 TFL, five sacks, four interceptions) roaming the field beside him.

The Hawkeyes have allowed just 303.2 total yards of offense per game and rank 11th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering just 18.8 points per game. Unfortunately, they haven't fared as well in their losses.

In the four games Iowa has lost this season, the Hawkeyes have allowed 29.5 points per game. Two of those losses came against Top 25 opponents, Northern Illinois and a Michigan State team that, while it wasn't ranked in the Top 25 at the time they played, earned a Rose Bowl berth after claiming the Big Ten title.

If the Hawkeyes expect to pull out their first win over a Top 25 opponent this season in the Outback Bowl, they will need the defense to reverse its woes against top competition. With no Mettenberger on the field, however, stopping Jeremy Hill (1,185 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) could pay huge dividends.

 

Prediction

While oddsmakers see the Tigers still claiming a win in the Outback Bowl, the loss of Mettenberger is one that could be a game-changer. Coach Les Miles spoke to The Sports Network about his former quarterback:

We are very disappointed for Zach. He's been a tremendous leader for our team and he's as competitive a guy as I have ever been around. He's had a great impact on our program.

The loss of Mettenberger forces the Tigers to turn to freshman Anthony Jennings, who has thrown 10 passes in his collegiate career.

With one of the Tigers' best receivers Odell Beckham (57 receptions, 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns) listed as questionable for the game, his status could also be huge for LSU's success with a freshman signal-caller.

Hill could certainly carry the Tigers on his back to a win. Against an Iowa defense, though, that will be loading the box with rush defense as the top priority, and expecting Hill to be its only offense could doom LSU.

Instead of LSU running up the score like it could have done with Mettenberger behind center, expect quarterback Jake Rudock (2,281 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) to do just enough to lead his team past the Tigers in the Outback Bowl.

Prediction: Hawkeyes 23, Tigers 17

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Recruiting: 7 Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

The future of Florida State may be on your TV screen in the coming week, as potential Seminoles take part in nationwide high school All-American games, the biggest two being the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4. 

It's a mix of committed 'Noles and players who are being heavily recruited to be 'Noles, and they'll all be together on the same field trying to show the nation why they're the best of the best in high school football. 

Here are the top seven players to keep an eye on as the week goes by.

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Rice's Offensive Line Practiced Amazingly Hilarious TD Celebrations Just in Case

Presumably taking advice from Scar and his minions of hyenas, the big men on the Rice Owls offensive line are remaining prepared just in case one of them flies across the end zone with the football in their hands.

Deadspin's Tom Ley spotted the one video that will have you hoping beyond hope that things go awry just enough to have one particular offensive lineman scoring in Tuesday's Liberty Bowl featuring Rice and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

If that's the case, we might see an epic fishing-photo opportunity, a leapfrog chain or (dare we hope?) a photo booth. 

Senior center Nate Richards walks the Internet through the various celebrations Rice offensive linemen practiced throughout the year. 

Richards first asks us to imagine a world where the big guys on the field score with regularity and are actually allowed to drop some absurd celebrations right after. That is our kind of bizarro world. 

Now when the offense is done with their serious work for the day, the task at hand is frivolity: "We always run a play called 'Rugby,' and it's kind of a desperation play; you hope you never have to run it in a game." 

Or do you?

The only thing—and we really mean only thing—wrong with fat guy touchdowns is the manic manner they get the rock into the end zone. 

These guys have trained their entire lives to protect the quarterback and move the line forward, rarely imagining what life is like with all the glory in their own hands. 

Instead of loafing into the end zone, huffing and puffing with incredulity, we could use a little bit of creativity with the rest of the chubbier contingent on the field. 

Richards scoring, while extremely unlikely, would make for a highlight to end all highlights in this bowl season. 

Of course, the Liberty Bowl will come and go without the "Photo Booth," but that doesn't mean we haven't already set the DVR to record—because we learned from these young guys that it's always best to be prepared. 

 

Hit me up on Twitter: 

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Capital One Bowl: Why South Carolina vs. Wisconson Is Can't Miss-Game

The Capital One Bowl, as it's been known since 2003, is a climactic end-of-season matchup featuring upper-tier teams from the SEC and Big Ten conferences. This year, it will play host to the SEC East's second-place South Carolina Gamecocks and the Big Ten's second-place Wisconsin Badgers. 

The Gamecocks entered the 2013 college football season with high hopes. Returning major contributors on offense and defense, including quarterback Connor Shaw and projected top-five pick in the 2014 NFL draft defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina was as good a pick as any team to win the conference. 

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, two early losses all but eliminated them from BCS contention. Five straight impressive victories over the likes of Missouri and Clemson, however, spurred South Carolina to a regular season top-10 finish in the BCS standings.

As has seemed to become a trend for Wisconsin, the Badgers missed out on BCS contention by losing three games in heartbreaking fashion—falling by seven points or fewer in all three defeats.

 

What each team must do to win

South Carolina

South Carolina, a 1.5-point favorite (according to FoxSports.com), must be able to establish a solid threat in the running game against the sixth-ranked Badger defense that's allowing just 294 yards per game.

But most defenses have not handled well the two-headed monster of Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis.

Davis does well to establish the running game early. The threat of him running the ball, along with Shaw's scrambling, opens up opportunities for big plays in the passing game. These assets partly explain why Shaw has thrown just one interception in 259 attempts. 

Shaw's 511 rushing yards are good enough to rank him in the top 20 among quarterbacks in the NCAA. 

The Gamecocks are in very good position to win. All they need to do is execute.

 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin needs to do what every South Carolina opponent has done this season: avoid Jadeveon Clowney. The 6'6" 274-pound beast patrols either end and must always be accounted for by the offense.

It was this play in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day 2013 that made Clowney a household name.

In 2013, however, his production declined because of teams game-planning solely to avoid him. Clowney aside, South Carolina has a very opportunistic defense. The Gamecocks are plus-11 in turnover margin on the season.

Defensively, Wisconsin is no patsy. The Badgers demolished an Indiana team (51-3) that was averaging 508 yards per game. South Carolina's offense, however, is equally skilled and more versatile.

Wisconsin must make use of every possession and not turn the ball over to have a chance to win.

 

Prediction

South Carolina 28 Wisconsin 24

In the end, Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave won't be able to handle the relentless pressure of South Carolina's front four. The Gamecocks will control the clock and utilize a healthy mix of run and pass to demoralize the Badger defense.

An early double-digit South Carolina lead will give way to a late run by the Badgers, but the Gamecocks will hold on to win. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Expect a Big Show from Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel vs. Duke

If New Year's Eve is Johnny Manziel's swan song in college football, he's going to need to go out with a bang.

The Aggies will take on Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Tuesday night in Atlanta, with the possibility of Manziel—a redshirt sophomore—declaring for the NFL draft shortly after the game.

Despite the uncertainty about his future, Manziel hasn't had much time to think about the decision to jump to the NFL.

"Nowhere even close, just where I was back in New York, back in Orlando," he said, according to quotes released by the Chick-fil-A Bowl. "I haven't had any more time with the Bowl practice we had at College Station. Didn't get a chance to really do much."

Don't tell NFL.com's Gil Brandt that, because he reported on Monday that the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be the last college game for Manziel and Aggie wide receiver Mike Evans:

No surprise but Manziel and Evans will be playing final college games tomorrow, multiple sources tell me. #TAMUvsDUKE

— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 30, 2013

Let's be real, Manziel is as good as gone—and he has been for quite some time.

As was the case during the season, he's going to have to do "Johnny Football things" to go out a winner.

Texas A&M's defense is a major liability, and it became an even bigger one during bowl prep when linebacker and co-leading tackler Darian Claiborne was suspended following an arrest on two drug possession charges, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).

Not good news considering the Aggies posted the SEC's worst defense at 460.3 yards per game—33.1 yards per game more than 13th-place Kentucky.

Manziel puts up video game numbers because he has to, and he'll have to against the Blue Devils.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has long been considered an offensive genius and has led the program to previously unattainable heights. A 10-win program for the first time in history, Duke averaged 408.1 yards per game and features a balanced, up-tempo offense that puts stress on opposing defenses.

The combination of this likely being Manziel's last game with Texas A&M and the Aggies' inability to slow anyone down will create quite a show on New Year's Eve under the big top at the Georgia Dome.

The Blue Devils are giving up 233.2 yards per game through the air and an ACC-worst 47 pass plays of 20 or more yards. That sound like a recipe for success for Manziel and Evans as they close the curtain on their respective careers.

It will be point-a-minute football in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and Manziel will be leading the charge. He's made a habit of playing big in big games, and that shouldn't change on what's likely the final stage of his college career.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Wildcats Football: The 6 Best Moments of 2013

Arizona's 2013 regular season ended on a sour note in late November when it lost 58-21 at rival Arizona State...

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Ohio State Football: Should Braxton Miller Return to the Buckeyes?

Braxton Miller has a tough decision ahead of him. Should the Buckeyes quarterback declare for the NFL draft or return to Ohio State for his senior year?

Miller was a Heisman favorite going into this season, but an injury ended that run. He came back strong from the injury but faltered in the closing weeks of the season. Should he make the jump early and look to develop in the NFL?

Watch Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate whether Miller should make the jump to the NFL.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama QB AJ McCarron Photobombs 2 Unsuspecting Young Girls

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron pulled off an excellent photobomb on two unsuspecting girls on Sunday night.

Even McCarron was impressed with his performance:

@sophizzle_14 haha the best one I've ever done!!

— AJ McCarron (@10AJMcCarron) December 30, 2013

Thanks to Matt Lombardi of College Spun for the find. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Bold Predictions for 2014 Under Armour All-America Game

Mixed in among all of the college football bowl hype, the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game will take place on Thursday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Most of the nation’s top recruits will be in action during this game. More importantly, several of those recruits will be making a commitment during the game.

A lot is expected to happen, but why wait until Thursday to think about it?

Join B/R as we take a stab at making 10 bold predictions for this year’s edition of the game.

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Gator Bowl 2014: Nebraska's Defense Has Much to Prove vs. Georgia

It's not often that a team gets a do-over in college football, but after last year's 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, Nebraska gets that rare chance as it's set to take on the Bulldogs in this year's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. 

There may be no group more anxious for this rematch than the Huskers defense, a unit that gave up over 500 yards of total offense and over 400 passing yards to the Bulldogs in last year's contest.  

What will be different this year is the fact that Georgia will be looking to do more in the ground game, especially with star quarterback Aaron Murray out with a torn ACL. 

It means a rush defense that gives up an average of 161.2 yards a game (eighth in the Big Ten) will be challenged by one of the best running backs in the country, Todd Gurley. 

Gurley, who missed three games this season with an injury, averages 6.3 yards a carry and finished the regular season with 903 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games.

The sophomore was off to a huge start to the year before his injury, rushing for 450 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games of the season. 

In the finale against Georgia Tech, Gurley had the most attempts since a Week 2 matchup against South Carolina, rushing 20 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns in the overtime win. 

Nebraska's run defense has struggled with good rushing attacks all season long and ended the season giving up big games to some of the Big Ten's better running backs and running teams. 

Michigan State's Jeremy Langford went for 152 yards and three touchdowns, Penn State's Zach Zwinak went for 149 yards and Iowa racked up 156 yards as a team in the regular-season finale, with Mark Weisman scoring twice on the ground. 

Youth up front has been part of the problem against the run, but it appears as if some defenders have finally had the lightbulb go off and are ready to see more playing time moving forward. 

One player that could help make a big difference is freshman defensive tackle Maliek Collins. According to Brian Christopherson and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star, Collins has been seeing time with the No. 1 defensive unit leading up to the Gator Bowl.

Adding Collins to the mix gives Bo Pelini more flexibility at the defensive tackle position and the coach sees that group as almost interchangeable at this point.

Between Maliek and (Aaron) Curry and Thad … and obviously Vincent (Valentine), I think those guys have gotten better, and they’re going to make each other better. They’ve done that and they continue to work hard. I like that group.

That group needs to step up and be stout against the run for the Huskers to have a chance against Georgia's run game, which is averaging 176.1 yards per game. 

Nebraska also can't sleep on the pass game, even with Murray out. His replacement, Hutson Mason, proved he's capable of winning games too. 

Mason threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a 41-34 OT victory over rival Georgia Tech to end the regular season. 

The good news is the Huskers' pass defense has been a strength all season long, ranking fourth in the Big Ten (205.8 yards per game) and giving up just 16 touchdowns through the air. 

Adding more depth up front can only help the secondary that features two All-Big Ten performers in Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.  

It also appears that Nebraska will have a full complement of healthy players, another issue that has hurt both sides of the ball for the Huskers. 

Between health, young players stepping up and their memory of last season's bowl game loss to Georgia, there should be more than enough motivation for the Huskers defense. 

Now it's time for this group to put it all together. Without an improvement defensively, Nebraska's chances of revenge against Georgia are pretty slim. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alamo Bowl: 3 Keys for Texas to Send Mack Brown Off a Winner

Texas coach Mack Brown doesn't view Monday night's Alamo Bowl against Oregon as a goodbye party, but that will undoubtedly be the overriding theme. 

Now that longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has announced his retirement following the game, both teams will want to send their coach out a winner. 

“We love Coach Brown," said 'Horns safety Adrian Phillips to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We are just going to fight with Coach Brown every straw against Oregon and come out right."

The Ducks are still a heavy favorite to beat the Longhorns. VegasInsider.com has Oregon as a 14.5-point favorite. If Texas wants to make Brown's last game memorable for all the right reasons, here are three things it must do:

 

Contain a Finally Healthy Marcus Mariota

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was visibly limited in the second half of the season with a left knee injury. He should be ready to go against Texas, which means the Longhorns have to be prepared to defend both the pass and the run against him. 

There's no magic number Texas can hold Mariota under to slow down the Ducks offense; Oregon has won when Mariota is a non-factor running the ball and when he's thrown multiple interceptions. Rather, the key will be getting Oregon off the field on third and fourth downs and forcing multiple turnovers. Those were two common themes in the Ducks' losses to Stanford and Arizona. 

That sounds simple, but it's really not. Oregon ranks among the top teams in the country in fourth-down attempts (31), converting just under 50 percent. Texas' defense, meanwhile, has only lined up on fourth down 13 times this season. 

To contain Mariota and get Oregon off the field, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will have to live up to his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year billing. The Longhorns are fifth in the nation in sacks and tied for 22nd in tackles for loss. It's going to be hard to contain all of Oregon's weapons, but if Texas can contain Mariota, it's taking away nearly 60 percent of the Ducks offense. 

 

Malcolm Brown Must Have the Game of his Career

Texas' offense is at its best when the running game takes pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Yet the 'Horns will be thin at running back.

Johnathan Gray has been out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, which he sustained in a 47-40 win over West Virginia in November. Also, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet are academically ineligible. 

That leaves Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to carry the load. Brown has come on strong since the Oklahoma game, accounting for 711 of his 774 yards in his last seven games. Bergeron is a good short-yardage back, but he's had fumbling issues. That means Brown should see a bulk of the carries against the Ducks. 

Brown has battled health issues for most of his career, but he's shown over the past couple of months why he was such a heralded recruit coming out of Cibolo Steele high school—just outside San Antonio, of all places. 

In two losses to a pair of excellent rushing offenses, the Ducks have given up a combined 578 yards. Texas should look to exploit that again with Brown. 

“The 3‑4 [defense], we feel like we can do a great job of running the ball right at them,” Brown said of Oregon to the Dallas Morning News

 

Make Oregon Inefficient on Offense

When you can score as quickly as Oregon can, time of possession and playing from behind matter little. In fact, the Ducks have only led in TOP twice this season: against Colorado and Washington. 

But when combined with offensive inefficiency, suddenly TOP matters more. In two losses, the Ducks have run 176 plays—still roughly on par for their season average—while averaging just 18 points, a full 28 below their season average. 

Stanford flat-out stuffed Oregon in its 26-20 win, holding the Ducks to just over three yards per play. Arizona gave up double the yards per play but forced Oregon off the field on third down and allowed just one fourth-down conversion on three attempts. 

If Texas can play keep-away—hence the importance of the running game—while knocking Oregon off balance, it will have a realistic chance of winning. The Ducks will still run plenty of plays, but the less they can get out of each play, the better it is for the Longhorns. 

That's going to require not only great push up front by the Texas D-line, but the secondary will have to lock down receivers and make throwing the ball a nightmare for Mariota. 

“If you control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, you can beat these guys,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of Oregon, via the Dallas Morning News

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of the NCAA. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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BCS Championship 2014: Auburn's Biggest Concern vs. FSU Is Its Own Secondary

The final game of the BCS era will take place on Jan. 6, and it's dripping with intrigue. 

The hottest team in America will face off with the best, when No. 2 Auburn takes on No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

Auburn wasn't even ranked as late as the Oct. 13 USA Today Coaches Poll but came out of nowhere to win its final nine games—including the final two over Alabama and Missouri, both of which were ranked in the top five at the time.

The Tigers' success has been founded on a punishing and multi-dimensional running game that features Heisman finalist Tre Mason, quarterback Nick Marshall and speedster Corey Grant. Once Auburn got momentum going in that running game, the momentum snowballed and took some pressure off of its "bend but don't break" defense.

But was Auburn just hot down the stretch, or is it elite?

The answer to that question hinges on its secondary, which will have its hands full next Monday night with a talented and deep Seminole wide receiver corps that features Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense does, and for Auburn to have enough, cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy, safeties Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead and "star" defensive back Robenson Therezie better be on their game.

"It’s going to be a big challenge," Mincy said according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "That’s all I’ve been hearing about, is their wide receivers. It’s a great opportunity that we can go out there to show that we can be a proven defense." 

Benjamin presents the biggest issues. At 6'5", 234 pounds, he is a clone of Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham—who caught six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn.

Nobody in Auburn's secondary—or any secondary, for that matter—can match up with Benjamin. He turns 50-50 balls into 75-25 balls with his size and is the ultimate insurance policy when quarterback Jameis Winston gets pressured.

But while Benjamin is the most imposing figure outside for head coach Jimbo Fisher, Winston spreads the ball around to he, Shaw and Greene very well. Each member of the trio has more than 900 receiving yards.

As my colleague Michael Felder pointed out, blitzing Winston won't do the trick, because Auburn's back end needs help capitalizing on mistakes generated by pressure. In fact, as ESPN's David Hale notes, Winston has been elite against the blitz this season.

Jameis Winston vs. blitz this season: 70.6% comp, 20 TD, 3 INT, 12 sacks.

— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) December 30, 2013

Auburn will have to get pressure with four.

The good news for Auburn is, despite a big statistical day by Green-Beckham in the SEC Championship Game, Davis and Mincy actually played well against the NBA power forwards Missouri trots out at wide receiver.

Sure, there were a few blown assignments that led to big plays, but Mincy was in good position to high-point the football more times than not, and Davis' leaping ability and ability to break on the football played a critical role in the outcome of the game—including a fourth-down stop with Auburn up 10 with 4:27 to play.

That doesn't mean that it has to shut down Winston and his trio of receivers. That's not Auburn's M.O.

The Tigers have given up an SEC-worst 27 passing plays of 30 or more yards and 14 of 40 or more yards. Conversely, Florida State led the ACC and is fourth in the nation in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 71.

Auburn bends but doesn't break, so when an opportunity presents itself, whether it's generated from pressure or not, the Tigers have to pounce—just as they've done all year.

This group will have to come to play if the Tigers are going to have any hope of hoisting the crystal football for the second time in four years.

If not, it could be a long night in Pasadena.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Armed Forces Bowl 2013 Middle Tennessee vs. Navy: Live Score and Highlights

Navy - 10

Middle Tennessee - 3

Early-Second Quarter 

Bleacher Report will provide live, in-game analysis and scoring updates, so stay locked in here.

Want your voice to be heard? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Best Individual Performances from Week 1 of Bowl Games

College football rolls into its second week of the bowl season on Monday, and over half of the games on the bowl slate will have been played by the end of the night on Dec. 30.

But while many fans are looking forward to the bigger matchups that await on New Year’s Day and beyond, we’d like to take a step back and admire the performances of some of the talented players from the earlier bowl games.

Some of these players were the MVPs of their respective game; some weren’t. Some of the players were on the winning end; others had to walk off the field in defeat. But the one thing that all the players had in common is that they provided some great memories for those in attendance and watching on television.

In the following slides, we’ll take a look at the best individual performances from the first week of bowl action.

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Clemson Football Recruiting: Five Players to Watch in High School All-Star Games

Clemson, ranked No. 12, is in South Florida making final preparations for Jan. 3’s Orange Bowl showdown with No. 7 Ohio State, but that isn’t the only bowl game that Tiger fans should be paying attention to.

Elite recruits across the nation are taking part in high school all-star games, which serve as talent showcases and a final opportunity for players to show their skills in front of fans and college coaches recruiting them.

The best two games are the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-America Bowl. The Under Armour game is set for Jan. 2 and the Army game for Jan. 4. Players with Clemson recruiting ties are involved in both games. Here’s a look at the Clemson commitments and targets involved, and why you should pay attention.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 15 Pocket Quarterbacks in College Football

Editor's note: This is the 15th installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

Which quarterback was the best operating out of the pocket in 2013?

The classic dropback passer has given way to quarterbacks who operate largely out of the shotgun. Despite the process being different, the goal is still the same, getting the ball out to the receivers in order to make plays down the field. Each of the signal-callers ranked in this category—spread or pro style, under center or shotgun—fit that description.

To qualify as a pocket passer, the quarterback’s rushing production must account for less than 15 percent of his offensive production. Those with a number above the 15 percent line fall into the dual-threat category.

In order to sift through the myriad quarterbacks across the country for B/R’s CFB 250, we looked carefully at each player. Using the baseline criteria of accuracy, arm strength, decision-making and pocket presence, we carefully slotted each of the quarterbacks. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

Keep in mind, these pocket quarterbacks are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.

 

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2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Top Studs to Watch During Bowl Season

The bowl season is typically loaded with top prospects who are set to make some considerable noise in the NFL, and 2014 is no different. Plenty of stud performers who will soon be playing on Sundays are worth the watch in late December and early January.

While their teams may or may not cruise to victory in their final appearances of the season, these few stars will shine on the big stage and further prove how valuable they are heading into the 2014 draft.

It's impossible to note each of the hundreds of future NFL draft picks in action, but here's a look at three guys you must catch during the bowl season.

 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel didn't have the best 2013 season of any player in college football. But he's far and away the most entertaining player at this level, and he's not done dominating, as his game translates well to Sundays. 

The Texas A&M star is a lethal dual-threat quarterback and one of the quickest players on the gridiron at any moment. His speed eludes linebackers and pass-rushers, and he can often make plays beyond the line of scrimmage to turn decent gains into huge plays. 

His rushing ability may be somewhat stymied in the NFL. But a new wave of quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson (who also isn't very tall) has proved that as long as you can throw against great defense, you'll generate rushing success. Johnny Football can do that.

Manziel's ability to throw the deep ball with accuracy and his progression reads make him look much more like a Wilson than a Tim Tebow. He also has the escapability that is a sought-after commodity for great NFL quarterbacks.

In the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke, expect nothing short of fireworks on New Year's Eve for Johnny Football in what might be his last game in college. 

 

Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA

This UCLA linebacker is the top pass-rusher in the class by a landslide, and he has All-Pro written all over him at the next level. 

Barr has 20 tackles for loss on the season in 2013—seventh in the NCAA—along with a whopping 10 sacks and six forced fumbles, which is second in college football. He's lethal on the edge in containing the run, getting to the quarterback or even dropping back into coverage.

At 6'4" and 248 pounds, Barr will be able to translate immediately into life on Sundays and will make a quick impact wherever he goes. B/R NFL draft expert Matt Miller has him going fourth overall to the Falcons in his latest mock. 

The Bruins finished with a 9-3 record and a trip to the Sun Bowl, where they'll face a formidable Virginia Tech squad from the ACC. Barr will have his hands full trying to contain Logan Thomas, a dual-threat quarterback who loves to scramble the pocket and is a NFL draft prospect in his own right.

If Barr can corral Thomas and keep him from making plays with his legs, it will further boost his already substantial draft stock. 

 

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

He isn't the most talked-about receiver in the draft, by any means, but Vandy receiver Jordan Matthews may end up being the best wideout of the class when it's all said and done. 

Matthews' stellar career with the Commodores concluded with him breaking the SEC record for career receiving yards and receptions. Hundreds of great receivers have come through the conference, and Matthews has gone for more yards and catches than all of them.

He hasn't done too shabby in his senior season, averaging over 111 yards receiving per game. His touchdowns are down (five), but he's fourth in the NCAA in receptions and makes big plays every game despite constantly facing double coverage.

Matthews boasts a 6'3", 206-pound frame and is undoubtedly ready to face NFL cornerbacks. B/R's Miller has him going 26th in his latest mock, so a first-round selection may be in his future. 

The Commodores finished a respectable 8-4 in the SEC but only drew the BBVA Compass Bowl, where they'll face Houston on Jan. 4. This game is in a later time slot, when most of the best bowl games will be through, so viewers will get a treat by seeing a wideout who will soon be making plays at the next level. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

The 2013 season didn't go the way either the Nebraska Cornhuskers or Georgia Bulldogs envisioned, but both sides will get an opportunity to end it all on a positive note at the 2014 Gator Bowl.

For Georgia, the Gator Bowl appearance represents the absolute worst-case scenario. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 5 in the country, even receiving a first-place vote from one Associated Press member. Instead of a national title, however, Georgia's season was one mired in disappointment from the opening kickoff.

In Jacksonville, the Bulldogs will attempt to avoid being Mark Richt's first five-loss team since the nightmare 2010 season. With quarterback Aaron Murray out, and a bevy of other injuries adorning the roster all year long, we'll have to see how this team responds to a relatively shrug-worthy bowl invitation.

A year removed from a chance of playing for the Rose Bowl, Nebraska also didn't expect to only reach the Gator Bowl. However, with questionable losses and shaky wins from their schedule, the Cornhuskers should probably be grateful for a January bowl game. 

Bo Pelini's squad has lost each of its past three postseason contests, a streak the current Vegas oddsmakers expect to extend to four.

Whether that happens or not will be decided Wednesday. Here's a look at the 2014 Gator Bowl, complete with a prediction for the outcome. 

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Everbank Field in Jacksonville

Watch: ESPN2

Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Georgia -9 (Vegas Insider)

 

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Can Either Team Trust QB Play?

It's amazing how quickly injuries can change a game from a battle of two elite college quarterbacks to one of uncertainty. Neither Taylor Martinez nor Aaron Murray, both Heisman dark horses in the preseason, will suit up in what would have been their final collegiate games.

Martinez is missing his ninth game of the season, as he deals with a lingering foot injury. His being ruled out was not much of a surprise, though there were a few glimmers of hope that he would be able to play. 

The same could not be said for Murray, whose torn ACL cut his season short and may irreparably damage his pro prospects. Murray was already considered a mid-round prospect due to his lack of arm strength. Having a busted-up knee to go along with the noodle on his right shoulder won't engender him much to teams.

Without Murray and Martinez, the quarterback situation goes up in the air for both teams.

Hutson Mason will start in place of Murray. The junior signal-caller received his first start on Nov. 30, a 41-34 double-overtime victory over Kentucky. While the offense seemed to be running smoothly in the wake of Murray's injury, and Mason has been stellar every time he's gotten a chance, he has never entered a game of this magnitude.

It will be interesting to see how he fares against a stellar Nebraska secondary. The Cornhuskers didn't quite remind anyone of the vaunted Blackshirts in 2013, but they hung around the top 20 all season in terms of passing yards allowed per game.

They allowed only 16 touchdowns passes against 13 interceptions. Nebraska's noted struggles stopping the run have contributed to teams being predisposed to a more ground-oriented attack, but considering opposing quarterbacks aren't even completing 55 percent of their passes against the Huskers, let's just say Mason will be taking a step up from Georgia Tech.

Tommy Armstrong Jr. won't have the same troubles against Georgia, but his question marks are no less glaring. I'm not quite sure when it's a good time for a freshman quarterback not named Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston to start his first bowl game, but I'm pretty sure it's not when said freshman is coming off a bothersome ankle injury.

Armstrong is expected to play after getting more than a month off to rest the ailing ankle, but he's still listed on the injury report. That means there's at least a slight chance that he's not yet 100 percent, which could be just a bit of a problem.

Armstrong, when healthy, threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (seven) and had real trouble consistently hitting targets. He's far more an athlete than a quarterback at this point in his career. 

Georgia's secondary isn't great shakes. It rarely makes big plays and picked off only six passes, one of the lowest rates among bowl-eligible teams. But even the Bulldogs should be able to pull off a turnover or two against a hobbled, struggling passer in his freshman season. 

 

Prediction

Because faith in both quarterbacks is so up in the air, this matchup could really go either way. Armstrong may torch Georgia through the ground and air en route to proving incorrect everything we just noted. Mason may wind up proving a worthy successor to Murray in 2014, and this could be his coming-out party. 

But we're working in probabilities here. The odds of Armstrong excelling on this stage seem minimal. He's just not ready for this stage, nor are the Huskers' pass-catchers great enough to bail him out on questionable throws.

Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley are excellent, but just good enough to cancel one another out. The two running backs should both approach 100 yards, and it's probably important that they do. Otherwise, we'd be looking at an awfully unwatchable football game.

Instead, look for a semi-close, semi-sloppy affair that swings in Georgia's direction because of a key turnover.  

Score: Georgia 31, Nebraska 20

 

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

Two of the nation's most well-rounded teams square off in the 2014 Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, as Wisconsin (9-3) and South Carolina (10-2) will battle in what figures to be one of the more exciting games of the bowl season.

Unexpected losses for each team hurt their chances of playing in a BCS bowl game. South Carolina's 23-21 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 19 represented a low point for the Gamecocks this season while Wisconsin's 31-24 loss to Penn State on Nov. 30 was equally as shocking for the Badgers.

The Gamecocks enter having won five straight, including a double-overtime win over then-No. 5 Missouri and a 31-17 win over Clemson.

The Badgers have won six of their last seven games, although losses to Arizona State, Ohio State and Penn State would suggest that they have had trouble against better teams. That will be put to the test in the Capital One Bowl.

You're not going to want to miss this one, so here is the information that is crucial to your viewing experience, including betting lines and keys to the game that will help to keep you as informed as possible leading up to the action.

 

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ABC

Betting Lines: (via Covers)

  • Over/Under: 51 points
  • Spread: South Carolina (+1.5)

 

Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)

 

 

Can South Carolina Stop Wisconsin's Running Game?

Wisconsin boasts the eighth-best running game in the nation, checking in at 283 yards per contest. South Carolina's No. 13-ranked defense will need to play tough and prevent the Badgers from gaining yards after first contact when they run the ball.

The Wisconsin attack has been led by Melvin Gordon and James White. Gordon has gained 1,466 yards with 12 touchdowns while White has rushed for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns. Collectively, they have five more touchdowns than quarterback Joel Stave has passed for this season.

If that doesn't give you an indication of how the Badgers run their offense, then I don't know what does.

Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated notes that the Gamecocks might have a defensive line talented enough to make things difficult for the Badgers:

The Gamecocks' defensive line boasts two future NFL draft picks in (Jadeveon) Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles (9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss), who should make things difficult for Wisconsin tailbacks Melvin Gordon (1,466 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and James White (1,337 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns).

Regardless, the Badgers running game still might be too much to handle. While the Gamecocks defense is solid overall, Gordon and White should be able to run for big yardage if they can get past the defensive line. South Carolina's linebacking corps and secondary are not nearly as polished—nor NFL-ready—as its defensive line.

Stopping the ground game will be the biggest key for South Carolina.

 

Prediction

The NFL draft hasn't distracted South Carolina's biggest star, and it's crucial that Clowney's head remains in the game at all times. On Dec. 17, Clowney told the AP that, "Right now, my mind's on the team, trying to finish the season off strong and win this game against Wisconsin."

Without Clowney firing on all cylinders and focused throughout the game, the Gamecocks' chances for a win will suffer. Clowney is a dynamic playmaker on the defensive line, which is why he is a coveted NFL draft prospect.

Even so, a dynamic Clowney won't be enough to silence the Badgers. With the Wisconsin ground game working to move the chains, look for Stave to surprise the South Carolina defense with long plays over the top on play-action passes. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis will be a key factor in the vertical passing attack.

Wisconsin will pick up an easy win, even if the score doesn't necessarily suggest such it.

Final score: Wisconsin 30, South Carolina 21

 

 

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