Army Bowl notebook: Dec. 31 

December, 31, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl -- on the last day of 2013 -- has come to a conclusion. Here is Tuesday’s notebook featuring some of the nation’s elite athletes:

LB Williams: Law and order equals '98 percent'


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Three days of practice are now in the books and overall execution was sharper as the players begin to move into final preparations for the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday. The productivity of the players picked up as did the speed of the play, and they’re continuing to think less and display their natural ability more. It was a physical day, with the pads popping and some big hits throughout the practice. Here are some of the highlights.

Top performers


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Sumlin feeling at home in Aggieland

December, 31, 2013
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It looks like Kevin Sumlin will be staying awhile.

That news should come as no surprise, given that earlier this month Sumlin and Texas A&M put the finishing touches on a new six-year, $30 million contract that could keep the coach in Aggieland through the 2019 season.

But when it comes to a league like the NFL, you can never count out deep-pocketed owners and the allure of coaching at the highest level. That's hard for anybody to turn down. However, Chris Mortensen reported on Tuesday that Sumlin is essentially saying "thanks, but no thanks" to NFL teams that have openings.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsWith a new contract in place and facilities upgrades ongoing, Kevin Sumlin has laid to rest any possibility of a jump to the NFL in the immediate future.
So it looks like Sumlin's getting comfortable in College Station. That's good news for the Aggies and Sumlin is being richly rewarded for doing so.

Sumlin has publicly said that maybe there will be a time he chooses to look into NFL possibilities, but that it will be later. It seems he's making good on that promise.

The most ideal situation for Sumlin would have been in Houston with the NFL's Texans. Sumlin spent the 2008-2011 seasons as the University of Houston's head coach before the Aggies came calling. He had success there, and it would be an easy transition to move back and still keep his family in a familiar situation, which is important since he and his wife, Charlene, have four kids, all of whom are in school.

But Texans owner Bob McNair said after he fired Gary Kubiak that he was looking for someone who had both head coaching experience and NFL experience. So with the Texans off the table, it makes sense for Sumlin to stay put and continue to build on what he has already achieved in maroon and white.

Since taking over the Texas A&M program, Sumlin has guided the Aggies to success in the SEC faster than most anticipated. Heading into Wednesday' night's battle against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Aggies are 19-6 in two seasons under Sumlin, finished last season ranked fifth in the country and have a chance to finish in the top 25 once again this season should they win. Texas A&M is recruiting at a high level under Sumlin, turning in the No. 8 class in the country in the 2013 recruiting cycle, and the Aggies currently have the nation's fourth-ranked 2014 class with roughly five weeks until national signing day.

As the Aggies stockpile talent, Sumlin will be charged with continuing to move the program upward. In addition to incoming talent, facilities have and continue to be built (a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field is ongoing, and the Aggies added a new weight room, nutrition center and renovated the lobby of the football complex since Sumlin arrived), and the school continues to leverage its membership in the SEC in recruiting, marketing and myriad other areas.

When asked earlier this month why he believes so strongly in Sumlin, Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said that "the proof's in the pudding."

"You look at the excitement, the momentum and enthusiasm that the program, under his tutelage, has generated," Hyman said. "There's a wide cross-section of people in Aggieland who are so appreciative of the job that he has done. The future is in good shape. This is a long-term commitment to Coach Sumlin. I don't think there's any question about it, the belief that people in Aggieland feel toward their football coach, how he represents the university, how he goes about doing his business and his primary focus is on the student-athlete and that resonates with a lot of people."

While there was no question the Aggies were committed to Sumlin moving forward, this development of Sumlin declining NFL interview requests gives weight to Sumlin's idea of making a sincere commitment to Texas A&M in return.

"As Eric said, it speaks to the university's commitment to us as a program, to me personally, but also our commitment to the university," Sumlin said. "We've got a ways to go with what we're doing, but I think what it says is that people believe we're on the right track and not just from a contractual standpoint with me. But you look around this building and what's going on with Kyle Field and the facilities that have been put in place in the last couple of years and the what's coming down the road shows a commitment to all of our athletic programs, and particularly football, and you add all those things together and I think it's what Eric said, it shows a tremendous amount of commitment to where the program is headed and I'm extremely appreciative of that."

By all accounts, Sumlin and his family seem happy in College Station. The community has embraced the family in their return -- Sumlin was a Texas A&M assistant in the early 2000s under R.C. Slocum -- and he has a chance to build a strong legacy and elevate the program to a high level.

Charlene Sumlin said earlier this year that she knew they'd eventually return to town. How or when was unknown, but she had a feeling.

"I always knew the Sumlins had unfinished business here," she said.

Looks like they'll be staying awhile to finish what they started.

CB Brown thrives through adversity

December, 31, 2013
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No. 11 football recruit Tony Brown II has excelled on the field while his father and coach, Tony, has recovered from a stroke. It will all pay off on Thursday, when Brown announces his college decision at the Under Armour All-America Game.
[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has guided the Aggies to a 19-6 record in the school's first two seasons since joining the SEC.

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin not only walked away from a chance to be USC's coach, but he is also declining all requests to interview for NFL coaching jobs as he'll honor the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Aggies on Nov. 30, according to several sources.

An NFL source insists Sumlin is open to coaching a select professional team or two, but a source close to Sumlin said, "That's 100 percent not true, and it has no chance of happening. Zero."

Sumlin has passed on several inquiries and job opportunities from NFL and high-profile collegiate jobs, including USC, sources said.

Sumlin is committed to coaching Texas A&M until the school finishes its $450 million renovation of Kyle Field. The renovation, which also has been labeled a redevelopment, is being done in three phases, with the grand opening set for August 2015.

Sumlin also wants to build a championship program to consistently contend in the SEC after spending the past two seasons as an instantly relevant team that nevertheless fell short in its two chances to win the SEC West. The Aggies moved from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2012, with Sumlin compiling a 19-6 record since becoming coach.


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SEC's lunch links

December, 31, 2013
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The SEC bowl season kicked off Monday with a win by Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The league will now play five bowl games over the next two days so get caught up with the latest news and notes in the last lunch links of 2013.

A&M's Evans lets his play do the talking

December, 31, 2013
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Spend enough time around him, and it's easy to discover that Mike Evans is a man of few words.

[+] Enlarge Mike Evans
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M's Mike Evans has emerged as one of college football's best receivers.
Watch him hold court during an interview session with the press. The answers are direct and often short. Evans prefers to let his actions do the talking.

This season, those actions spoke loud and clear as the Texas A&M redshirt sophomore emerged as one of college football's best receivers. There were times when you could make a case for a Heisman Trophy candidate on the Texas A&M roster who was not named Johnny Manziel. Evans was that good for a stretch.

In two of A&M's biggest games, Evans had his biggest performances. Alabama had no answer for him and he hauled in seven passes for 279 yards -- including a 95-yard touchdown -- as a result. Auburn didn't do any better. Evans bettered his receiving totals against the eventual SEC champions, catching 11 balls for 287 yards and four touchdowns.

Even with a finish that wasn't as strong statistically as he'd probably prefer, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound force still put together a record-setting season with 65 catches, 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns. Evans' yardage total is a Texas A&M single-season record.

During spring practice in April, Evans said he hoped he could do something special in 2013. When asked what would constitute special, he answered with one word.

"Biletnikoff."

He almost made good on that goal, earning a spot at the finalists' table with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (the eventual winner) and Clemson's Sammy Watkins.

"He's got exceptional ability because of his size," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters on Monday. "I think, as I've said before, the thing that separates him from a lot of people is the fact that he will play as hard without the ball as he plays with the ball, as a blocker, doing things that creates an attitude on the perimeter that we need. He's going to continue to get better."

Whether he gets better this fall in College Station, Texas, or in one of 32 NFL cities will be determined in a matter of time. When the No. 21 Aggies (8-4) meet No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl tonight, it could be Evans' final game in maroon and white. Like Manziel, Evans is draft-eligible and has until Jan. 15 to decide whether he'll declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft.

To this point, Evans is not indicating which way he is leaning. If he chooses to leave school and go pro, he leaves behind a spectacular two-year playing career that includes one of college football's more compelling journeys to the top.

As has been well-documented, Evans didn't come out of high school as a big-time football recruit. Back at Galveston (Texas) Ball High, he was known more for his hardwood exploits than those on the gridiron. He played only one season of varsity football, and that came as a senior. He spent the majority of his high school athletic career starting for Ball High's basketball team.

His decision to go for football as a high school senior was life-changing. A handful of colleges came calling, looking past Evans' raw skill set and focusing on what he did bring to the table: size, speed and work ethic.

"Before he even put any pads on, we were in offseason and basketball season was over with and he came over to the fieldhouse and we got him suited out and it just so happened that we were [speed] testing during that time," said David Suggs, who was Ball's head football coach at the time. "He came out and ran two 4.5 [second 40-yard dashes]."

Evans eventually chose Texas A&M, and the rest is history. He redshirted his first season, and while practicing on the scout team in 2011, he built quite the rapport with the scout-team quarterback at the time, a spry, athletic young man from the Hill Country named Manziel.

That chemistry became stronger as the two entered their redshirt freshman seasons, as both won starting jobs at their respective positions. En route to becoming college football's first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel made Evans his go-to receiver (or as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital calls Evans, Manziel's "panic guy").

As a result, Evans enjoyed two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He has 147 career catches for 2,427 yards and 17 touchdowns in his two-year career. And he's done it without saying much.

"He doesn't talk a whole lot," receivers coach David Beaty said. "I'll tell you this: When he gets fired up, he gets fired up. He's a tough kid, and he demands a lot from people around him. He will not stand for people [who] are not success people. If you're a mediocre guy, he's not a fan. You have to be a high-achieving guy."

Beaty called Evans "humble" and "coachable."

"I'll tell you what, you won't find a more humble guy," Beaty said. "And he allows me to coach him, and sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes guys push [back]. But Mike's one of those guys that will come up to me, just out of the blue, randomly and say 'Coach, I need you to stay on me. I need to get better than what I am today' and that's refreshing."

Chick-fil-A Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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It's been a wild ride for both Duke and Texas A&M this season.

The Aggies, with their effervescent quarterback Johnny Manziel and their high-flying offense, were so often a thrill to watch, full of touchdowns and big plays, but ultimately not enough wins to compete for an SEC title.

Duke, meanwhile, had what could only be called a dream season when compared to the history of the program. David Cutcliffe was named Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year after leading the Blue Devils to their first 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game.

How it will end for both teams depends on who shows up ready to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Here's a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Manziel has been careful not to make any official NFL announcement yet, but all indications point to the redshirt sophomore leaving Texas A&M early to enter the draft. And he might not be alone. Receiver Mike Evans, another redshirt sophomore, is a prime candidate to bolt for the pros as well. So get your fill of them while you can because they're arguably the best at their positions in the country. Manziel's talents, by now, speak for themselves. But Evans might be the bigger concern for Duke because at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he's downright unstoppable. Just ask two of the best teams in the SEC, Alabama and Auburn, which combined to allow 566 yards and five touchdowns through the air to him this season.

What to watch: Don't forget to pay attention to those pesky Blue Devils, though, as wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker Kelby Brown are ones to watch. But Duke, without suspended leading rusher Jela Duncan, is in a pickle. Throwing the ball often will be a temptation, but as quarterback Anthony Boone said, it's a fool's errand to try to outduel Manziel because "that doesn't win football games." Instead, Josh Snead, Duke's backup tailback who ran for 547 yards this season, will be asked to do more. If the Blue Devils stay balanced on offense, they have a shot against what has been a porous Aggies defense. But if Boone, who has thrown 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, is asked to do too much, Duke could be in big trouble.

Why to watch: Soak it all in because these two programs appear to be headed toward a crossroads. Duke has never had success like this before. How will it respond if its dream season ends with two straight losses? Can the entire coaching staff stay together? Is one player suspension a sign of more to come? And more questions can be asked of Texas A&M, which might shun the idea of rebuilding next season, but with the possibility of Manziel and Evans leaving, it's definitely a matter of hitting the "reset" button. Coach Kevin Sumlin is locked up under a new contract, but with so many NFL head coaches being fired this week, do the pros start beckoning him as well? Whatever the case, Texas A&M and Duke fans should savor the final game of their seasons and hope that next season holds just as much success.

Prediction: Texas A&M wins it running away from Duke, 48-28. Had the Blue Devils showed better against this season's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, I might have been swayed to pick otherwise. But Florida State gave Texas A&M the blueprint to moving the ball offensively. Manziel will have his way against the Duke secondary and end his career as an Aggie with a flourish, accounting for a handful of touchdowns that should leave us as in awe of his penchant for making something out of nothing.

Top stats to know: Duke vs Texas A&M

December, 30, 2013
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Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel will look to end his 2013 on a winning note.
The Chick-Fil-A bowl game has significant meaning both to Duke and Texas A&M. The Blue Devils are going for their first bowl win in a long time. The Aggies may be playing their last game with Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

What are the top stats to know for this contest?

1-- Texas A&M faded late in the season against tough competition, losing back-to-back games against No. 22 LSU and No. 5 Missouri. The Aggies had not previously lost back-to-back games in the Kevin Sumlin/Manziel era and now will look to avoid a three-game losing streak. Their last such losing streak came in 2011 under head coach Mike Sherman.

The Aggies have no wins against ranked opponents this season; they’re 0-4 vs ranked opponents and 8-0 vs unranked opponents.

Last year Texas A&M went 4-2 vs ranked opponents including a bowl win against BCS No. 11 Oklahoma.

2-- Duke is playing in a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

But it’s been a long time since Duke had a bowl win. The last Duke bowl victory came in the 1960 season when the Blue Devils edged Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl.

Since then there have been three bowl trips, all losses, under three different head coaches.

3-- There are several areas where Manziel made statistical improvements from his Heisman-winning season last year including in completion percentage and touchdown passes.

He’s also throwing for more yards despite fewer pass attempts per game.

Manziel has cut back on his rushing. He averaged 108.5 yards per game and 7.0 yards per rush in 2012, but only 57.2 and 5.2 in 2013.

4-- Duke has a pair of statistical strengths of note. The team is plus-76 in scoring margin in the fourth quarter, trailing only Michigan State (plus-78) for best in the FBS.

But the Blue Devils cooled off in that category of late: Duke is even in fourth-quarter scoring in its last three games (against Wake Forest, North Carolina and Florida State).

The Blue Devils offense has excelled in goal-to-go situations this season. They’re recording touchdowns on 96 percent of their goal-to-go drives, the second-highest rate in the FBS this season behind only Georgia Tech (97 percent).

In fact, Duke had a 100 percent conversion rate until its last regular season game, when it settled for a field goal on a goal-to-go drive against North Carolina. Overall Duke has had 25 goal-to-go drives on the season and ended up with a touchdown in 24 of them. By comparison, Texas A&M is 29-for-36 (80.6 percent).

5-- Both defenses have had their issues, Texas A&M’s being the one that has struggled more.

The Aggies rank near the bottom of the SEC in most categories. The defense is allowing 6.2 yards per play which ranks them 104th in the FBS. That’s behind teams like Hawaii (1-11 record), Southern Miss (1-11) and Western Michigan (1-11). The only SEC team worse in the category is Kentucky.

Duke’s defense has given up lots of yards this season – 408.5 yards per game, ranking 12th out of 14 ACC teams – but has limited how often opponents turn them into points. Duke is allowing only 1.64 points per drive, fourth in the ACC.

Opponents are only scoring on 27 percent of their drives against Duke, also fourth in the ACC. The three ACC teams that are ahead of Duke in each category are conference powers: Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson.
video
As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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SEC lunchtime links

December, 30, 2013
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And now we get to the real meat of the bowl season, particularly in the SEC, where several teams will wrap up their seasons this week.

SEC bowl picks

December, 30, 2013
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Ready or not, the bowl season is upon us, and the first of 10 games involving SEC teams kicks off later Monday when Mississippi State takes on Rice in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

As my esteemed colleague, Edward Aschoff, has reminded you at every turn over the last few weeks, he takes a three-game lead into the bowl games. It’s reminiscent of a year ago when I dug myself a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

We’ll see if I have better luck this time.

The only game we’re not picking at this point is the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. We’ll wait until we’re a little closer to the Jan. 6 matchup between Auburn and Florida State to unveil our picks for that contest.

Edward is 97-17 (.851) for the season after correctly picking Auburn to beat Missouri in the SEC championship game. I’m 94-20 (.825) after picking the wrong set of Tigers in that game.

But we’re all about the future on the SEC blog, and let’s hope my vision into the future is at least three games better than the ATL Kid’s.

Here’s a look at our picks:

FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels didn't end the season on a very high note, as losses to Missouri and Mississippi State put a bit of a damper on an otherwise impressive season. But this team is highly motivated for this game and should have the advantage in the playmaker department. … Ole Miss 24, Georgia Tech 21

Chris Low: Ole Miss’ offense went missing the last two regular-season games. The Rebels managed just one offensive touchdown in losses to Missouri and Mississippi State. It’s never much fun going up against a triple-option offense, either, but Ole Miss and Bo Wallace will gain a little redemption heading into the offseason. … Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 21

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Aschoff: The Bulldogs pulled out back-to-back overtime wins to get into this game. It wasn't a pretty season, but Dan Mullen has now guided his team to a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history. While the Bulldogs are riding high, Rice has won nine out of 10 and has the running game to frustrate Mississippi State's defense. … Rice 24, Mississippi State 21

Low: Having a healthy Dak Prescott will be huge for Mississippi State, which also happens to be playing its best defense of the season. The Bulldogs won’t completely shut down Rice’s running game, but will slow it down enough to get the Owls out of their comfort zone. There will be a ton of maroon in the stands at the Liberty Bowl, and their short trip back home will be a happy one. … Mississippi State 28, Rice 24

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Aschoff: Johnny Manziel is no stranger to the ATL, but he finally gets a shot at getting a victory inside the Georgia Dome. The Aggies ended the season on a bit of a skid, but the layoff should give them a chance to get both healthy and focused. Duke has been a great story this year, but the Blue Devils just don't have the athletes to slow down A&M. … Texas A&M 41, Duke 27

Low: It’s Manziel’s last stand in a Texas A&M uniform, and he’s hoping to go out a lot better than he finished the regular season. The Aggies had better not sleep on a Duke team that hasn’t won a bowl game in more than 50 years. The Blue Devils are a capable and confident bunch, but a rested, healthier Manziel will be too much for the Duke defense. … Texas A&M 45, Duke 28

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL

Aschoff: The Hutson Mason era takes yet another big step forward. If only we hadn't seen this game a year ago. Still, the Bulldogs should be motivated to get some momentum going into the offseason. This one should feature a lot of scoring and some big plays from Todd Gurley, which will prove to be the difference. … Georgia 38, Nebraska 31

Low: Even without record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia is a heavy favorite. Nebraska didn’t play particularly well during the second half of the season and enters the game having lost two of its last three. Bowl rematches aren’t ideal, but the Dawgs will get a glimpse of the future with QB Mason leading them to their ninth win of the season. … Georgia 35, Nebraska 24

BBVA COMPASS BOWL

Aschoff: After another successful season under James Franklin, the Commodores are headed to a school-record third straight bowl game. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Patton Robinette, but having Jordan Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him. … Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21

Low: Think of the money you could have won in Vegas had you predicted Vanderbilt to win nine games in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores can do just that if they can take care of Houston in Birmingham. The Cougars hit the skids down the stretch and lost three of their last four games. They were held to 17 points or fewer in all three losses. The Commodores' secondary, one of the better ones in the SEC, will be the difference in this game. ... Vanderbilt 28, Houston 23

OUTBACK BOWL

Aschoff: The Tigers showed some real heart and guts after losing to Alabama in early November. But with Zach Mettenberger out with a knee injury, the Tigers turn to freshman Anthony Jennings. Iowa doesn't light the scoreboard up, but it grinds games out and isn't afraid to get really physical. There's something about the Hawkeyes and the SEC, and it doesn't bode well for the Tigers, who know all too well how dangerous Iowa is. … Iowa 24, LSU 20

Low: Like Georgia and Vanderbilt, LSU will be playing without its starting quarterback in the bowl game. Mettenberger injured his knee in the regular-season finale. Jennings will have his hands full, but he has enough offensive firepower around him in the form of Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. that the Tigers will snap their two-game bowl losing streak. … LSU 27, Iowa 23

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

Aschoff: The Badgers own one of the nation's best rushing attacks, while the Gamecocks have one of the country's best defensive lines. We've found out lately just how fast Jadeveon Clowney can be, and he'll have his hands full with Wisconsin's offensive line and running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White. Something tells me this Gamecocks' line is excited about the challenge. … South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20

Low: The Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks are shooting for their third consecutive 11-win season but will have to go through a tough Wisconsin team to do it. This has all the makings of being one of the best games of the bowl season. Mike Davis will upstage Wisconsin’s two-pronged running attack to give South Carolina its third straight bowl victory. … South Carolina 30, Wisconsin 27

AT&T COTTON BOWL

Aschoff: It's like we'll be watching an old Big 12 game inside Jerry's World! And with the way both of these offenses played during the regular season, the scoreboard will look like it, too. Both of these teams are hungry to prove themselves after losing out on BCS bowl games the last time they went out. Mizzou's defense was run over by Auburn and now has to face a very good passing offense. The good news is that the Tigers can air it out and grind it out themselves. … Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 31

Low: It has been a terrific bounce-back season for Missouri in its second year in the SEC. Getting to the SEC championship game and winning 11 games, especially with starting quarterback James Franklin missing a key stretch of the season, speaks for itself. The Tigers, though, run into an Oklahoma State team in the bowl game that can also score points and is much improved on defense. … Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 34

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

Aschoff: Alabama's dream of a BCS title three-peat ended on a miracle play on the Plains, so now the Crimson Tide have to figure out a way to be motivated on Bourbon Street. Oklahoma has a ton of momentum after its upset win over Oklahoma State to get into this game. Bama wanted more, but players sound motivated and they'll carry the responsibility of representing the "SEC propaganda" OU coach Bob Stoops is tired of. … Alabama 31, Oklahoma 14

Low: If not for one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football, maybe ever, Alabama easily could be playing for its third straight national championship. Instead, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma and are itching to take out a little frustration on the Sooners. That’s no propaganda, either. … Alabama 38, Oklahoma 17

One last hurrah for Johnny Football

December, 30, 2013
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When Johnny Manziel first stepped onto the field at Texas A&M, virtually nobody knew what to expect.

Even with a wealth of information instantly available about a player before he reaches campus, recruiting remains an inexact science. How a teenager fares in Division I football is affected by so many forces, several of which are outside a player's control.

When the 6-foot quarterback from Kerrville (Texas) Tivy High made his starting debut Sept. 8, 2012, against Florida in the Aggies' first SEC game, it was historic on many levels.

On Tuesday, when Manziel jogs out onto the Georgia Dome turf for the No. 21 Aggies (8-4) when they take on No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, it could be the final game in a brief, eventful and fascinating college career.

[+] EnlargeManziel
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel didn't reach the heights of his redshirt freshman season in 2013, but it was far from a failure.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is draft-eligible once his season is complete. He hasn't officially declared for the NFL draft, but it's hard to find anyone speculating that he'll return for a fourth year at A&M.

Publicly, Manziel has avoided tipping his hand on his future, telling reporters in Atlanta on Sunday that he is no closer to making a decision than he was when asked about it earlier this month in the buildup to the Home Depot College Football Awards and the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

"Nowhere even close, just where I was back in New York, back in Orlando," Manziel said of his thought process. "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."

He has until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft. If the consensus opinion and speculation is true, it was quite a ride.

Manziel took the college football world by storm in 2012, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman. The way he did it -- winning the A&M quarterback competition in training camp and performing highlight-worthy feats that were impossible to ignore -- captivated fans. He had the cool nickname "Johnny Football" and a compelling story. He smashed records and earned a signature victory that served as his "Heisman moment" when the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and took down No. 1 and eventual BCS champion Alabama.

He broke Cam Newton's single-season SEC total offensive yardage record, gaining 5,116 yards. He accounted for 47 touchdowns. He turned near-fumbles into touchdown passes. He made seemingly impossible plays look easy. It was unlike anything we've seen from a freshman.

The offseason became even more of an event. No matter what Manziel did -- making trips to Toronto to hang with rap star Drake, hitting Cabo San Lucas for spring break, playing golf at Pebble Beach with his family -- people were talking about him. Some positive, some negative, but they were talking.

That talk reached a fever pitch this summer. He was the focal point of college football's largest preseason media event, SEC media days, after leaving the Manning Passing Academy early. That came about a month after a Manziel tweet about wanting to leave College Station went viral. Then came an NCAA investigation into allegations he profited from autographs, with a half-game suspension as a result.

Despite the off-field distractions, Manziel's play didn't suffer. In fact, he elevated his level, even in an early-season loss to Alabama. The highlight-reel plays were back and Manziel was doing things his way: fun and unapologetically.

However, his season hasn't lived up to the expectations for either Manziel or the Aggies. Texas A&M thought it would be getting ready for a BCS bowl right now, not the Chick-fil-A. But struggles on defense all season and some late-season offensive woes, including a beaten-up Manziel, contributed to an 8-4 season.

Still, Manziel was good enough to earn a trip back to New York as a Heisman finalist. He improved as a passer and showed significant progress in several areas of his game. And he managed to keep the talk surrounding him this fall focused on his play, not on off-the-field exploits. That in itself was an accomplishment.

"So much has gone on in between last year at this point and now," Manziel said. "I feel like every week there's almost been something. It's been a little bit of a journey, but I feel like I'm a lot better at handling it now than I was last year at this point. Still no regrets or anything in that regard, and I'm really happy and content with where I am right now."

His numbers were still impressive in 2013: 3,732 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 686 rushing yards and eight more scores. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing yards per game, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, passer rating, total offensive yards per game, yards per attempt and points responsible for per game. No other player was ranked in the top 10 of all those categories.

His performance often spoke for itself. He was must-see TV and he's one of the best the sport has seen in a long time. If he leaves for the draft, he leaves without a ring -- the Aggies did not win a division title or conference title in his three years on campus -- and he has a simple desire for his legacy.

"I just want to be remembered as one of the best to have played at A&M," he said. "[I] definitely don't like coming in second or being second-best at anything. ... As far as a team, the past two, three years that I've been here have been awesome. I think three bowl wins, what we did last year at a team with the Cotton Bowl and with the Heisman -- I just want to be remembered as one of the best."

The QBs that got away

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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There’s no more important position in football than quarterback, and in many cases, fans look at quarterbacks that got away and wonder what might have been had they come to their favorite school. Some schools passed on a quarterback because he evaluated poorly or another QB appeared more attractive. Others simply didn't have enough recruiting ammunition to land the recruit in the first place. Here’s a look at six quarterbacks that got away.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsWhat might the offense at Oregon or Texas looked like with Johnny Manziel at the controls?
Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater had offers from Florida, LSU, Miami, Rutgers, USF and Tennessee when he was a senior coming out of Miami Northwestern. While there were notable programs after Bridgewater, it was hardly the amount of attention you would expect from the player who sits atop many NFL draft boards after a stellar career at Louisville. Some coaches will tell you Bridgewater’s stock was lower coming out of high school because many expected him to land at Miami. He did commit to the Canes at one point, but eventually backed off that pledge and announced he was going to Louisville because of the opportunity for early playing time. “The toughest part of it was that I had to say that I wasn't going to the University of Miami,” he said after selecting the Cards in 2011. “I told the coaches that I had to do what was best for me, and they understood that.” It was a wise decision by Bridgewater and a miss that still haunts the Canes.

Robert Griffin III
Before he was RG III, he was a Houston commitment. Coming out of Copperas Cove, Texas, Griffin originally pledged to Art Briles when he was the coach at Houston. When Briles departed for Baylor, other schools like Kansas, Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State were in hot pursuit, but that was about it. He eventually followed Briles to Waco, and the rest is history. It’s been pointed out a number of times that Texas passed on Griffin because it thought he was a defensive back, and A&M signed Tommy Dorman in that same 2008 class. Dorman played sparingly as a fullback and a tight end.

Kevin Hogan
What would Rutgers, Vanderbilt or Virginia been like had they been able to land Hogan? Hogan was a heavily recruited quarterback coming out of Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga in the 2011 class and his final five consisted of Rutgers, Vandy, UVa and the Cardinal. He decided to leave the East Coast and has settled in nicely on The Farm. Rutgers, Vandy and Virginia surely could have used Hogan this season, as they threw a combined 38 interceptions, while Hogan led the Cardinal to their second straight Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe fortunes of two SEC teams might have changed drastically had Geno Smith not gone to West Virginia.
Collin Klein
Coming out of Loveland, Colo., Klein accepted the only scholarship offer he received. And despite a stellar high school career in football and basketball and a solid showing at the Nike Training Camp, the Wildcats were the only team to believe in him enough to offer. Klein went on to lead K-State to the Big 12 championship in 2012, finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting and win more than 20 games as a starter. At the same time, Colorado struggled at the quarterback spot, won only eight games in a three-year span and would have given anything to have an in-state star like Klein as its leader.

Johnny Manziel
You have to give credit to Oregon and Texas A&M, because they identified early on that Manziel had the goods to be a special quarterback. But they were about the only ones that did. Virtually every recruiting service had him as a three-star prospect and his offer sheet read more like a regionally recruited prospect, not a Heisman Trophy winner. Texas also had a chance to recruit Manziel, but the Horns saw him more as a defensive back prospect than a quarterback. Oregon had faith early in him, and it paid off with a commitment the summer after his junior season. He later flipped to the Aggies in September of his senior season.

Bryce Petty
Coming out of Midlothian, Texas, in the Class of 2009, Petty pledged to then-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer as a junior. When Fulmer was let go, Lane Kiffin thought Petty didn’t fit what he wanted at quarterback, and Petty was left looking for a home two months before national signing day. Several teams showed interest in the talented young quarterback, including South Carolina, Nebraska and Oklahoma, but few had room. Virginia Tech and Baylor eventually offered Petty a grayshirt opportunity, and he took the Bears’ offer. Surely a number of teams around the Big 12, or even the Hokies or Cornhuskers, would have loved to have Petty as their quarterback.

Geno Smith
Imagine Smith wearing an LSU or an Alabama uniform. It certainly was a possibility at one point in the recruiting process, as the Tigers and Tide were two of Smith’s top teams coming out of Miramar (Fla.) High School. But after an official visit to West Virginia in November of his senior season, he was sold that West Virginia was the place for him. The Tide got their QB of the future in AJ McCarron in that same class and the Tigers hinged their hopes on highly recruited Russell Shepard. McCarron was the right choice for the Tide, but Shepard never developed as a quarterback and LSU had up-and-down play at the position for a number of years. Smith rewrote WVU’s record books and is now an NFL starter.

Under Armour Early Offer 

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily morning dose of recruiting.

Today’s Early Offering is coming to you from the Under Armour All-America Game. Here’s a sample of some of the top news from the event, including a look at who stood out on the first day of practices and a quarterback who hopes to make a big impression.

No. 1 preps for announcement
Seven of the nation’s top prospects will commit live during the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2 (ESPN, at 4 p.m. ET), including the No. 1 player in the country, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). Fournette has stuck with his top two of Alabama and LSU and said both school’s hats will be in front of him when he announces. A Texas hat will be there too, but it’s down to the Tigers and Tide. Fournette said he’s tired of getting asked where he’s going to end up, but that thankfully will end in a few days. “It is just something I want to get off my shoulders,” he said. “Everybody has been nagging me about a thousand times. At the end of the day, it’s where I’m going to be most successful and most comfortable at.”


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