Oklahoma Sooners: SEC

Twitter can be such a beautiful thing, but it can also be an outlet for impulse emotions and knee-jerk reactions that can leave you embarrassed and backtracking.

Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is on the backtracking front after taking a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban on Twitter Tuesday night, when he went after Saban's backing of the now tabled 10-second proposal that had most offensive coaches in a real tizzy.

Here's what Gundy tweeted from his account (@OU_CoachGundy):
Looks like someone came up short again. You better take that SEC country somewhere else. Let's Play Faster. #Boomer

You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out the subject of Gundy's tweet. And Gundy didn't have to be an Einstein to realize that he might want to retract those electronic shots he fired. Within an hour of throwing that tweet together, Gundy deleted it and add an apology (which has also since been deleted):
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner

— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy)
[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyNick Saban hasn't responded to Cale Gundy's tweet, and it's unlikely he will.
I get it. Gundy wanted poke fun at Saban and the fact that he stands with the controversial proposal that was created to slow down no-huddle offenses. He wanted to jab him for not getting something he'd like to see implemented at the college level. And he also wanted to point at the guy his team beat by two touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Saban's team was the favorite to win its third consecutive BCS national championship, and people are out for blood when you fail to meet expectations.

It makes sense because OU likes to run the hurry-up, and its offense left the Crimson Tide's defense panting down on Bourbon Street. I'm all for having fun on Twitter and showing that you aren't a robot coach, but you have to be careful poking the bear that is Nick Saban. We don't know when Saban will get a rematch with the Sooners or Gundy, but you'd better believe this is something that will be in the back of his mind the next time that opportunity comes.

Saban might not publicly respond to Gundy, but he'll be thinking about it. His team will know. The people around him will know. And he'll wait until he gets his chance to strike.

Maybe, he'll just retaliate by taking it out on the hurry-up offenses he faces in 2014. I'm sure he's anxious to make on on-field statement.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Auburn already has one of the top 2014 classes, but it got even better this week after adding a solid, three-star junior college defensive back; and you didn’t see any Big 12 coaches on the final ESPN recruiter power rankings, but there were still several coaches who did plenty of good things on signing day.


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Early Offer: It’s a wrap 

February, 6, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Alabama’s 2014 class is special, but is it the best class ever? Who were my biggest winners Wednesday, and what can we look forward to with the class of 2015?

Special class for Bama


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The 10 most memorable BCS moments

January, 13, 2014
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With the door closed on the 16-year reign of the BCS, we dove into the 72 BCS bowl games to find the 10 most memorable moments of the BCS era.

10. Utah’s hook-and-ladder: The first team ever dubbed a “BCS Buster” was the Urban Meyer-coached and Alex Smith-led Utah Utes in 2004. In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah led Pittsburgh 28-7 late in the third quarter and lined up at the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Smith swung it left to Steven Savoy, who lateraled to Paris Warren, who ran it in for the score as the Utes completed a 12-0 season.

9. Peerless Price down the sideline: Tennessee led Florida State 14-9 with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl with the first BCS Championship on the line. UT quarterback Tee Martin found Price down the right sideline, and Price took it the distance for a 79-yard score. Price had 199 receiving yards for the winning Vols, the most ever in the BCS title game.

8. Ginn’s costly return: Ohio State received the opening kickoff from Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship game, and Ted Ginn Jr. wasted no time in getting the game’s first score on a 93-yard return. What will always be remembered, however, is that Ginn suffered a foot injury on the ensuing celebration and was out for the rest of the Buckeyes’ 41-14 loss.

7. Warrick's juggling score: Though the championship of the 1999 season was marked by Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick, it was Florida State’s Peter Warrick who was named the most outstanding player. He had a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and his juggling catch on a 43-yard score midway through the fourth served as the dagger.

6. Vince Young, Part I: Facing Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Young was responsible for all five Texas touchdowns in a 38-37 win. Though he had runs of 60, 23 and 20 yards, the most impressive was a 10-yard run in which Young escaped the tackle of Michigan lineman Pat Massey before scampering to the right pylon.

5. Dyer isn’t down: Tied at 19 with Oregon with just more than two minutes remaining in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be tackled for a short gain at the Auburn 45-yard line. Having rolled over the defender, Dyer was never ruled down, and ended up gaining 37 yards on the play before he was taken down at the Oregon 23-yard line. Auburn would win on a field goal as time expired.

[+] EnlargeBoise
Steve Grayson/WireImageIan Johnson's two-point conversion run in overtime propelled Boise State over heavily-favored Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
4. Winston to Benjamin: Trailing Auburn 31-27 in the final BCS Championship Game, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston drove the Noles 78 yards in less than a minute to the Auburn 2-yard line. Receiving the snap with 17 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter, Winston threw a perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin, who brought it down for the game-winning score to complete an undefeated season.

3. Was it pass interference? Some will remember Maurice Clarett’s game-saving strip of Sean Taylor, but the lasting legacy of the game is the dubious pass interference call in overtime. Miami led 24-17 and Ohio State faced fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, giving the Buckeyes new life in a game they would win 31-24.

2. Boise State’s trick plays: In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State trailed heavily favored Oklahoma 35-28 with 18 seconds left and facing fourth-and-18 from the 50-yard line. Jared Zabransky completed a pass to Drisan James just short of the first down, but he lateraled it to Jerard Rabb, who took it the rest of the way for the tying touchdown. In overtime, down 42-35 on fourth down, wide receiver Vinny Perretta completed a 3-yard pass to Derek Schouman for a touchdown. Chris Petersen elected to go for two, and Zabransky faked a throw to his right before handing it behind his back to Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play for the winning two-point conversion. Johnson would propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on the sideline after the game.

1. Vince Young, Part II: After a Longhorns touchdown and key fourth-down stop, undefeated Texas trailed undefeated USC 38-33 with 26 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the 2005 BCS championship on the line. Vince Young dropped back to pass but saw nobody open, and immediately sprinted for the right pylon for the title-winning score in the marquee game of the BCS era.

Oklahoma focused on stopping Mosley

December, 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- When asked about his very first impression of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard was as concise as he could be, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
AP Photo/Dave MartinButkus Award winner C.J. Mosley leads Alabama in tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries this season.
"That dude's good; very, very good," Ikard, an All-American, said.

"He's obviously the most talented linebacker in the country."

Mosley, an All-American himself and the recipient of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, is quiet and gentle away from the field but a thunderous wrecking ball on it. He can cover the field from side to side, drop back to defend the pass, rush the passer and stuff the run.

He's the heart of Alabama's staunch defense and enemy No. 1 for Oklahoma's offense.

Ikard and his teammates agreed they'll game plan to try and thwart Mosley's effectiveness in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl. You'd think that added attention would put some pressure on Mosley, but this is nothing new for the nation's best.

"I can't really control that," Mosley said. "I just gotta do what I have to do and make plays when my name is called."

He's made plenty of plays this year for the Crimson Tide. A year removed from leading the Tide with 107 tackles while sharing time, Mosley leads Alabama this season in tackles (102), tackles for loss (nine) and quarterback hurries (eight) as a full-time starter at weakside linebacker. He's also defended five passes and forced a fumble.

"C.J. Mosley is probably the best player we've played against this year, probably one of the best I've played against in my four and a half years here," Ikard said.

"You always have to be aware of where 32 is at."

And that isn't easy to do. He's so active that one blink and you'll lose him. But spend too much time locking in on him and you'll lose focus, making it easier to blow an assignment. It puts many offensive players, especially offensive linemen, in precarious situations.

Like a playmaking receiver who can line up inside, outside or in the backfield, you have to account for Mosley in some form or fashion whenever he's on the field or he'll make you pay.

"Your eyes are just attracted to him just by the way he runs around and makes big plays," Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said.

"We're going to account for him like anybody else, but he's definitely a force to be reckoned with. He's all over the field and he's a great leader out there."

Despite lining up in the middle of Alabama's defense, the Tide's defensive quarterback finds ways to get to the ball, no matter where it is. He's so dangerous because he's so multitalented. He pores over extra film for hours each week, while still trying to motivate and push his teammates with his relentless practice habits.

The quiet tone and smoother demeanor he shows the media is only a small part of who Mosley is. He's an animal on the field, and the Sooners understand the challenge of making him obsolete is quite an undertaking.

"He's a great player. He won the Butkus Award for a reason," Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay said. "He's fundamentally sound, he gets to the ball, his technique is great."

But for all the good Mosley does, he admits he isn't perfect. He's actually pretty goofy in the way he looks when he plays. Though he carries an impressive, stone-like 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame, his legs can get the best of him at times with his "unorthodox" running style that gives him some awkward-looking strides when he runs. His legs sometimes get caught under him, making sprinting tough.

It doesn't impede his pursuit too much, but it does receive a few giggles in the film room from his teammates.

"I've been doing that since high school," Mosley said with a laugh.

The Sooners might have 10 other players to account for when Alabama's defense takes the field, but everyone knows the Tide's defense goes the way of its commander. Mosley is the linchpin, and disengaging his playmaking ability will go a long way for the Sooners inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"That kid is the defense, if you ask me," Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said.

"It's been a blessing having him on this team, and I'm definitely going to miss him next year."

Alabama ready for more of the zone-read

December, 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- When No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) looks at its matchup with 11th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide can't help but see similarities to their last opponent.

You know, the opponent that derailed Alabama's national championship hopes with a miracle of a kick return and a run game that churned out nearly 300 yards on the Tide's vaunted defense.

Oklahoma, which is averaging 235.8 yards per game this season, isn't quite Auburn, but it does possess that pesky zone-read that gutted the Tide on the Plains. For all the inconsistency that Oklahoma has had this season on offense, Alabama isn't overlooking the Sooners' running game, which could pose quite the threat if it gets going early.

"It's very important [to stop the running run early] because once they get started, they keep on rolling," cornerback Deion Belue said. "They're a tough team as it is because their offensive line is big and strong. The thing is stop the run. If all else fails, we have to do that. If not, they can keep on rolling and then they have the option to run and pass any time they want to."

The thing with Oklahoma is that the offense can get a little complicated at times with quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight sharing time. A starter hasn't even been announced for Thursday, but the good news is that both can run the zone-read, which has been pretty successful for the Sooners this season.

Oklahoma averages 7.2 yards per zone-read play when Knight is in and 4.5 yards per play with Bell, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Knight has gained 257 yards and is averaging 10.3 yards per play when he keeps the ball on zone-read rushes, which is the best among AQ players with at least 25 zone-read runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So while the Sooners aren't sure who will be under center first, Alabama knows to expect plenty of running plays, regardless.

"We're just going to look at it as them trying to take our manhood, kinda, and try and down us a little bit [with their run game]," defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oklahoma has run 138 zone-read plays this season and averaged 18.7 zone-read plays (130 yards per game) in each of its last three games (all wins) after averaging 9.1 plays per game (47.2 yards per game) in its first nine games.

"We're going to be all right against it," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "We've repped it. That's the same offense the last we guys we played [ran]."

In Alabama's 34-28 loss to Auburn, the Tigers gained 270 rushing yards on 38 zone-read plays (7.1 yards per carry), including seven runs of 10 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Alabama entered that game allowing 3.6 yards per rush on such plays, which second best in the SEC.

Senior running back Brennan Clay (913 yards) has been the bell cow back for Oklahoma, and while he's been very impressed with Alabama, he thinks Auburn's 296-yard outing against the Tide created a blueprint for how to hurt a rush defense that was allowing just 91 yards a game before facing Auburn.

"They're not the gods that everyone [claims] them to be," Clay said. "I feel like everyone was putting them on such a high pedestal, but anyone can get beat on any given day. It's whatever transpires in between those lines on the football field is what matters.

"If we come out being aggressive, being able to establish the run, make big plays, we'll be fine."

Establishing the run is easier said than done. Before Auburn, Alabama had allowed 100-plus rushing yards just four times and surrendered just five rushing touchdowns. With about a month to prepare, Alabama won't be startled by what it sees inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Thursday.

This isn't a defense prone to continuing its mistakes.

"They're just very technical. They don't make a whole lot of mistakes, they're really physical, they know how to make plays and stop offenses, especially high-powered offenses," Knight said. "That's been a staple of their program the last couple years."

What's also been a staple of this defense is winning up front. Getting the push up in the trenches will be important for both teams, and Oklahoma All-American center Gabe Ikard said winning there will dictate the game. Fail against their big uglies, and Ikard said Oklahoma is toast.

"They're extremely powerful and big up front -- biggest defense we've seen, most physical defense we've seen, best defensive we've seen all year," he said. "It's going to be a great challenge to control the line of scrimmage against those guys. They're D-linemen are bigger than anybody we've seen this year, and that includes Notre Dame.

"If we can't run the ball, it'll be a long day for us."

Stoops set to answer for SEC jabs

December, 10, 2013
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Talk is cheap, but it's never left the hype machine feeling shortchanged.

As if an Allstate Sugar Bowl featuring two of college football's most prestigious programs wasn't intriguing enough, we get to rehash a good old-fashioned war of words in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 2 showdown in New Orleans between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma.

Bob Stoops, the Sooners longtime coach, hasn't been bashful in his criticism of the Southeastern Conference, of which the Crimson Tide are a charter member. He's called it an overrated, top-heavy league with a history of overblown defensive prowess. And that's just what he's said on the record in the past year or so.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Bob Stoops gets a chance to make a statement against the SEC's Alabama Crimson Tide.
The last seven BCS national champions be damned, Stoops has been on a one-man mission to change the narrative surrounding college football's most dominant conference. He's shouted at the gates of Mike Slive's castle over and over again, and rather than send one of the commissioner’s meager lords to answer Stoops’ cries, the doors have opened and Alabama has come to call.

The Tide, owners of three of the last four national championships and arguably the best coach in college football, will represent the league in a game that many fans of the SEC hope shuts Stoops up once and for all.

Only don't count on it.

When Stoops was asked Sunday about his history of opining on the SEC it was as if he misunderstood the premise.

"What comments?" he asked in return.

Well let's see. You could start with the part about his seeing the SEC's dominance being sold as "propaganda." Or you could point to his comments about the league's poor defense in which he sarcastically mocked teams for struggling to defend Texas A&M, meanwhile neglecting how Oklahoma was blown out by the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl last season, 41-13. But instead the reporter in question noted how Stoops said that the bottom of the SEC was overrated.

"I'm not playing the bottom half," Stoops responded. "If the SEC is Alabama, there is nothing to talk about, right? If you want to say the SEC is Alabama, then sure, they're the ones that have won all the national championships, or most of them. Now, if you want to play in the bottom half, that's a different story. But we're not playing the bottom half, are we? So there's not a lot to talk about, is there? "

Stoops, however, failed to realize that when he initially made his disparaging comments about the bottom half of the SEC, Auburn and Missouri were included among that group after coming off dreadful seasons in which they combined for two wins in league play. But Auburn beat Alabama only a few weeks ago and on Saturday it bested Missouri in the conference title game. The bottom of the bottom half is now set to play Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

The last time Stoops went to the Big Game he lost to SEC champ Florida in 2009. In 2004 the Sooners lost to USC and the year before they lost to an SEC team again in LSU, who happened to be coached by Alabama's Nick Saban at the time.

Just don't look for Saban to take up for the SEC against Stoops and Oklahoma this time around. Providing bulletin board worthy quotes isn't a part of his M.O. He'll let the game on the field do the talking. The most you'll get from him was the blunt response he gave during the offseason: "I’ve got more important things to do than sit around and read what Bob Stoops has to say about anything."

But leave it to Bob's brother, Mike, who coaches the Sooners defense, to smooth the waters somewhat. Maybe he thought we'd had enough gossip already.

"I think they have great programs," he said of the SEC. "The athletes they have down there, the coaches they have down there, it's rated as the top conference in college football for many years, having won seven national championships, having a chance to win eighth. They've got great athletes. Every time you step on the field with a Southeastern Conference team, they're very well coached and they play very hard. They're very complete when you look at any of these top Southeastern Conference teams."

But one Stoops doesn't speak for all, and when brother Bob goes toe-to-toe with one of the SEC's best in Alabama, he'll either answer his critics or eat his words.

#CampusConnection: Afternoon Live

September, 28, 2013
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A top-10 SEC showdown between the hedges? Two of the winningest programs of all-time battling in South Bend?

We’ll be watching these games and many more on Saturday afternoon and we’d like you to join in on the conversation. Head on over to Campus Connection at 3:30 ET and follow the action along with eight of our reporters. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Big 12's unsung heroes

September, 2, 2013
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It's that time of year.

September is the time when new names start to emerge in the Big 12 and prove themselves as players who will be key components of their teams' success. Here's a look at one player from each school whose season-opening performance might have been overlooked, yet they could become important playmakers for their teams this fall:

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The Penn State transfer could end up being a terror for Big 12 offenses this fall. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, he brings terrific size and athleticism to the Bears’ defensive front. He was extremely disruptive against Wofford, recording six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss in Baylor’s 69-3 win.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: Against Northern Iowa, Brackens was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss for the Cyclones. He recorded 10 tackles and one sack,as he is trying to help Cyclone fans forget about A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. If Brackens continues to play like he did against UNI, the Cyclones should fell terrific about their linebacking corps with Brackens alongside Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller.

Safety Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Lining up alongside preseason All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman, Barnett could give the Wildcats the conference’s top safety duo if he continues to play like he did against North Dakota State. The sophomore finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss and an interception. He was a shining light in the upset loss to NDSU.

Defensive end Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops has been consistent in his praise of Tapper leading up to the season opener. The sophomore didn’t disappoint on Saturday as he was able to consistently get pressure on Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning in OU’s 34-0 win. Tapper had three tackles and one quarterback hurry in his first collegiate start.

Running back Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State: The junior could emerge as a solid No. 2 option in the Cowboys backfield this season. The buzz in Stillwater says he’s matured and found a renewed focus that should help him be an impact player in OSU’s offense. He had 10 carries for 46 yards against Mississippi State and saw extensive time alongside Smith and quarterback J.W. Walsh in the Pokes’ diamond formation.

Running back Jalen Overstreet, Texas: The Longhorns have so many explosive skill position players it’s unfair. Add Overstreet to the mix after his nine-carry, 92-yard, two-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. UT moved Overstreet from quarterback because the coaches recognized he was too talented to be standing on the sidelines, and now Overstreet gives the Longhorns another weapon to allow offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be creative with his play calling.

Cornerback Kevin White, TCU: Returning All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett gets all the headlines, but White was consistently around the ball against LSU. With the Tigers picking on him, he won some individual battles and lost some individual battles but held his own with four tackles, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. White made a strong case that the Horned Frogs have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo.

Linebacker Micah Awe, Texas Tech: Awe could emerge as one of the key players in the Red Raider defense as a sophomore. He’s an athletic, quick linebacker who plays with a physicality that belies his size. He was consistently around the ball against SMU with 5.5 tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss. If Awe can make plays from sideline to sideline in the Big 12, he’ll become more than just the other No. 18 for the Red Raiders.

Receiver Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia: The true freshman had been the buzz of WVU’s preseason camp and backed up the praise he received by leading the Mountaineers in receptions in his first collegiate game. He had seven receptions for 63 yards in their 24-17 victory over William and Mary.
Memphis will soon become a Big 12 bowl destination.

The conference has signed a six-year deal with the Liberty Bowl. Here are additional details on the deal:
  • Under the agreement announced Friday, the Liberty Bowl will match a Big 12 team against a representative from the Southeastern Conference. In a release announcing the deal, Liberty Bowl officials say they will have the fourth selection of Big 12 teams after that league's college football playoff representatives have been chosen.

Starting in 2014, teams from the Big 12 and SEC also will face off in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, which will feature both conference champions unless one or both teams are selected for the College Football Playoff, and the Texas Bowl in Houston. The Big 12 representative will take the place of a Conference USA team when that conference's contract with the bowl expires after this season.
Tags:

Big 12, SEC

ESPN.com's Preseason All-America team

August, 16, 2013
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The All-American wealth has spread across the land. The Pac-12 leads the conferences with seven, one more than the SEC. Dual-threat QB Marcus Mariota and RB Lache Seastrunk both originally signed with Oregon. Now that Seastrunk plays for Baylor, he and Mariota no longer have to share a backfield. Seastrunk and G Cyril Richardson make the Bears the only team with two on offense. Richardson is surely the first All-American named Cyril, but Lache is not the first body of water to make it. He joins 1939 Heisman winner Nile Kinnick.

Alabama has won three of the past four BCS titles with defense and placed LB C.J. Mosley and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on this team. Alabama and Oregon lead with three players apiece on the list. That's one more than the Big Ten and two more than the ACC and Conference USA. -- Ivan Maisel

View ESPN.com's 2013 Preseason All-America team here.

Links: Farewell to the BCS

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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This is the last year of the BCS, and our writers look at its impact on college football:

From Ivan Maisel: The BCS has moved NCAA football forward in a way no system before it could and given it a national stage, but along with exposure comes greater pressure and expectations, which in the end the series couldn't overcome.

From Mark Schlabach: As we prepare for the final season of the BCS, let's take a look back at its highs and lows.

From Brian Bennett: Five of the last seven national champions have had at least one loss, and with a playoff looming, going undefeated will be harder than ever.
Tags:

Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, NCF, ACC

Keys for OU in the AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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Three keys for Oklahoma in tonight’s AT&T Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M:

1. Protect Landry Jones, and the ball: When the Sooners have kept Jones upright, he’s been lethal throwing the ball to a quartet of playmaking receivers. But the few times that opposing defenses have gotten pressure, Jones has been subject to major mistakes, notably in a loss to Kansas State earlier this season. This will be OU’s toughest protection test yet, as the Aggies feature one of the top sack artists in the country in Damontre Moore. But if OU can keep Moore and his cohorts out of Jones’ face, the Sooners should be able to move the ball through the air against what’s been an inconsistent Texas A&M secondary.

2. Contain Johnny Football: OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said this week that you can’t stop Johnny Manziel. But you can contain him. That’s obviously easier said than done. Just ask Alabama. But if the Sooners can keep Manziel in the pocket and prevent him from reeling off big plays on the move, they should be in good shape.

3. Win the special teams battle: The Sooners have their best special teams units in years, especially in the return game. Jalen Saunders’ punt return touchdown against Oklahoma State helped sparked the Sooners in a come-from-behind Bedlam win. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have also been very good returning kicks, and punter Tress Way can swing field position with his leg. One way to counter Manziel is to make plays when he’s not on the field. The Sooners could use some big plays on special teams.

Pregame: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12)

Who to watch: Who else? Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will attempt to put the finishing touches on his freshman season. "Johnny Football” broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for offensive yardage and accounted for 43 touchdowns while becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy. Manziel, however, will be facing one of the better defensive backfields he’s seen all season, led by free safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- both All-Big 12 performers. Manziel will also have to overcome the distractions of a whirlwind month in which he not only won the Heisman but hung out with actress Megan Fox and played golf with the Jonas Brothers.

What to watch: The Aggies boast Manziel, but the Sooners counter with one of the top wide receiving corps in the country. Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard all have more than 500 yards receiving this season. Texas A&M is stout up front, but the Aggies have been vulnerable at times defending the pass, ranking 82nd nationally in pass defense despite competing in the run-oriented SEC. If OU quarterback Landry Jones gets rolling with his talented pass-catchers, this game could tumble into a shootout.

Why to watch: Outside the BCS National Championship, this is as good a matchup as any out there. This Cotton Bowl also features two of the top quarterbacks in the country, with the hotshot freshman in Manziel facing off against the elder statesman in Jones, who will be making his 50th career start on the same field in which his career began four years ago. There should be plenty of energy inside Cowboys Stadium, too, as the Cotton Bowl is expecting a record crowd of 90,000. This will be a BCS-caliber bowl in every way except in name.

Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Oklahoma 31. Coach Bob Stoops has a dominating 11-2 record against Texas A&M, including an average victory margin of three touchdowns. These, however, are not the same Aggies the Sooners faced in the Big 12. Manziel and coach Kevin Sumlin have brought a new attitude to Texas A&M, and the Aggies will be motivated to prove this on the field against their former conference foe.

10 Cotton Bowl stats you need to know

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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AP PhotoLandry Jones and Johnny Manziel have their teams poised for a Cotton Bowl win.
The Cotton Bowl kicks off at 8 ET on Friday night as the No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies face the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners. These former Big 12 rivals are meeting for the 17th straight season. Oklahoma has owned the series of late, winning 11 of the last 13 matchups since 1999.

Here are nine more stats you need to know to get ready for this game:

Going Streaking
The Sooners are looking for their first four-game bowl win streak since 1978-81, which would tie the school record for consecutive bowl wins. The Aggies are looking to win consecutive bowl games for the first time since a three-game streak spanning 1978-85.

Been Here, Done That
Texas A&M is no stranger to the Cotton Bowl. The Aggies are making their 13th appearance in this bowl, posting a 4-8 record in the previous 12. A&M has lost its last six trips to the Cotton Bowl. Its last win came in the 1987 season over Notre Dame.

What Heisman Curse?
Johnny Manziel plays his first game since winning the Heisman Trophy. The last three Heisman winners to play in a bowl game each won the game (Mark Ingram in 2009, Cam Newton in 2010 and Robert Griffin III in 2011).

Scrambling Man
Manziel has gained 784 of his 1,181 rush yards on scrambles. That's 18 more yards scrambling than Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein have combined this season.

Big-Play Johnny Football
Manziel has 70 plays that gained at least 20 yards this season, 10 more than any other FBS player. He was tied for the eighth-most passes (52) and the third-most rushes (18) of 20-plus yards.

Manziel Record Watch
Manziel is one rushing touchdown away from becoming only the fourth player with 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in a season in FBS history. Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick are the others.

Jones Record Watch
Landry Jones can become the second player in college football history to start and win four bowl games as a quarterback. He would join West Virginia’s Pat White, who accomplished the feat from 2005-08.

Jones Cool Under Pressure
Jones has excelled when facing the blitz this season, throwing eight touchdowns and only one interception when facing five or more pass rushers. Jones has been at his best in the last three games, completing 77.1 percent against the blitz with four touchdowns and no picks.

Sooner History
Oklahoma has 27 major bowl wins, tied with Georgia and Texas for the third-most all-time behind USC (31) and Alabama (33). However, just one of those wins has come in the Cotton Bowl – a 10-3 victory over Arkansas in the 2001 season.

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