Posted on: January 4, 2012 1:12 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:59 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
NEW ORLEANS -- Before you read this column on the Sugar Bowl, I must implore you to watch this video, for you cannot understand what this Sugar Bowl was without seeing it.
Did you see the way that puppy fell down the stairs? It made you laugh, sure, but at the same time it was something adorable that failed. The puppy just wasn't big enough for the stage it was on, and although it got to the bottom of the stairs as it intended to, it didn't do so in the prettiest of ways.
That was the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Two teams that probably weren't ready to tread down this flight of stairs did so anyway, with the rest of us waiting to see which team tumbled to the bottom first. Turns out it was Michigan, even if you were sure the Wolverines had broken 30 bones on the way down, there they stood at the end celebrating.
From the second this matchup was announced there were people complaining about the selection of both Michigan and Virginia Tech. There were teams more deserving of this chance, teams like Boise State and Kansas State. Unfortunately for those two schools, they don't carry the same national cache or brand that Michigan and Virginia Tech do. So this is what we were stuck with, and judging by all the empty seats at the Superdome on Tuesday night, that commercial appeal didn't do much to sell tickets.
There were also the stories about how each team was going to prove that it belonged in New Orleans and in a BCS bowl game. Virginia Tech would show us all, as would the Wolverines. Instead what we saw were two teams that ingested a bit too much sugar and suffered some kind of diabetic seizure on the field.
Lofting up wounded ducks that turned into 45-yard touchdowns, or running fake field goals that were botched entirely yet still somehow managed to work.
The Michigan Wolverines won this game despite being outgained by Virginia Tech nearly two to one. The Hokies had 377 yards of total offense in this game compared to Michigan's 184, yet it was the Wolverines who emerged victorious. While the Hokies routinely fell down to the bottom step and were on the precipice of winning this contest, they continually decided to take a step back every time victory was in reach. Meanwhile Michigan threw all caution to the wind and just flung itself down the stairs headfirst.
Had this game been an iPhone app, it would have been called Fiesta Bowl Lite and been available to download for free. Think about it, Virginia Tech jumped out to an early lead with two scores, but instead of touchdowns like Stanford had against Oklahoma State, the Hokies had to settle for field goals.
Then there was the second quarter comeback for the Wolverines just when you thought they had no chance.
In the end, much like Stanford before it, Virginia Tech managed to lose a game in which it seemingly dominated its opponent for most of the night, and on a missed field goal in overtime to boot. Of course, this was the lite version of the Fiesta Bowl, so Virginia Tech missed only one field goal, not two. Then, like Oklahoma State, Michigan rode a couple of touchdown catches by a wide receiver in Junior Hemingway and took advantage of Virginia Tech's overtime failure to win the game on a field goal.
The only difference was that the Fiesta Bowl was entertaining because it was an excellent story written with deep characters portrayed by great actors like Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon.
The Sugar Bowl was essentially the movie "New Year's Eve." You assemble a big name cast and then hurriedly write a mediocre script and wing it while on the set. Then you hope enough people show up to see it before the word gets out about how terrible it is.
And in the end, the only thing either team convinced me of on Tuesday night was that this movie would have been a hell of a lot more entertaining had it starred Boise State and Kansas State.
Posted on: January 3, 2012 7:08 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Andrew Luck might be just the start of a Stanford exodus to the NFL Draft, since as of Tuesday afternoon he already has some Cardinal company.
Junior Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin announced via his Twitter account Tuesday that he will be forgoing his senior season in Palo Alto to enter this April's draft:
Martin could be one of two early-entrants from the Cardinal offensive line, as All-American guard David DeCastro is also expected to declare in the near future.
"#NERDs" or not, Martin and DeCastro stand to soon become some very wealthy nerds. In a tackle-light draft, Martin shapes up as an all-but-certain first-round selection and could hear his name called in the top 10. At 6'6" and 305 pounds with loads of experience both drive-blocking and pass-protecting in Stanford's pro-style scheme, the two-time first-team All-Pac-12 honoree ranks as the third tackle off the board here at CBSSports.com and the No. 13 prospect overall. (DeCastro, incidentally, ranks ninth.)
Posted on: January 3, 2012 2:05 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
"I think I am going to go ahead and enter the NFL Draft," he said, "and see what happens after that."
We already have some idea what's going to happen "after that"--Blackmon will be selected among the very top picks in the Draft, sign a contract worth millions, and very likely go on to become an excellent professional receiver. But nothing Blackmon will do "after that" will better the excitement of what he's accomplished before that at Oklahoma State, where heading into Monday's Fiesta Bowl he had already rewritten the school's receiving record book and won a pair of Biletnikoff Awards as the nation's best receiver.
Likewise, we can already write most of the "after that" for Andrew Luck. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up is about to go No. 1 overall in the draft and has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Peyton Manning -- maybe even at the same franchise -- as the kind of superstar pocket-passing quarterback NFL dynasties are built around. But before that, there was three seasons of pure All-American brilliance in which his Cardinal set a school record for scoring all three seasons.
For both players, the Fiesta was the final night of "before that," the final game in the collegiate careers of two of college football's most blinding stars. So it was only appropriate that with the rare chance to square off against a star of equal caliber -- in a bowl that employs the sun in its logo, no less -- both Blackmon and Luck went flat-out supernova.
Blackmon's team won, but no one would have blinked if Luck had been named the game's MVP. His numbers were phenomenal, of course: 27-of-31, 347 yards (11.2 an attempt), 2 touchdowns. He went 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, expertly managing drives both fast (the 63-yard drive over the final 2:35 to set up Jordan Williamson's ill-fated 35-yard attempt) and slow (the 13-play, 69-yard TD march that ate up 7:21 of the final period).
But most impressive was the 10.0 degree-of-difficulty throws Luck uncorked with regularity. Passes like the one delivered to Griff Whalen in the second quarter -- an over-the-shoulder "bucket" throw to a receiver sprinting down the sideline, made with Luck moving to his right -- are referred to as "NFL throws," but we're not sure half the League's starters could make them the way Luck does. You could say Luck showed off "the complete package" against the Cowboys, but that doesn't do justice to how expansive that package is.
And still, Luck might have been the second-best player on the field. Blackmon finished with 8 catches for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns, but again, the stats don't do justice to either his physical dominance -- one-on-one coverage was a lost cause for the Cardinal -- or his knack for making those catches at the best possible time.
With the Cowboys reeling from a lost first quarter and a 14-0 deficit, it was Blackmon who pulled in a pair of lightning bolt scores (one 43 yards, the other 67) to get his team back in the game. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the Stanford 32 and his team down again late in the second quarter, it was Blackmon who caught a short pass and brushed aside two Cardinal tacklers to set up a first-and-goal (and eventual touchdown). Down seven again after a disastrous third quarter, it was Blackmon scoring to tie it (again) to start the fourth. And finally, 4th-and-3 on OSU's own 40 with under 3:30 to play and the Cowboys in "touchdown or bust" desperation mode, it was Blackmon who again abused his defender for 21 yards.
The 2012 Fiesta Bowl would have been remembered for a long, long time even without Luck's and Blackmon's fireworks; 41-38 overtime shootouts between two top-five teams decided by a heartbreaking field goal miss have a way of sticking around the game's collective memory. But what elevated the contest to stone-cold classic status was seeing two players of Luck's and Blackmon's historic talent both grab the same game by the teeth and refuse for 60 minutes -- and beyond -- to let go. It's maybe not fair to the excellent Brandon Weeden or Stepfan Taylor to reduce the game to a mano a mano battle between that quarterback on that side and that receiver on that side, but Luck and Blackmon didn't give us much choice.
And at the end of each of their respective times in college football, that's exactly how it should have been. "After that" will be interesting. But for a night, Luck's and Blackmon's shared "before that" was as good as it's possible to get.
Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:37 am
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:41 am
One team had the No. 1 draft pick quarterback. The other had the uncoverable wide receiver. And in the end, the wide receiver won out.
Behind an instant-classic 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-touchdown performance from Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State won the Fiesta Bowl 41-38 over fourth-ranked Stanford in overtime. Quinn Sharp hit the game-winning 22-yard field goal after Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yarder for the win at the end of regulation and a 42-yarder in overtime. Sharp's field goal was set up by a 24-yard completion to Colton Chelf to the half-yard line.
That even the Cowboys' 38 regulation points weren't enough was down -- mostly -- to the brilliance of Andrew Luck, who went an incredible 27-of-31 for 347 yards and 2 touchdowns. Luck appeared to have won the game by going 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, first putting his team up 38-31 with a 13-play, seven-minute drive and then the two-minute drill that set up Williamson for the missed game-winner.
But in the end, Blackmon and Brandon Weeden (29-of-42, 399 yards, 3 TDs) were too much, even with the Cardinal's 588-406 advantage in total yards.
It didn't look like it in the third quarter, though. The Cowboys picked up a first down on the opening possession of the second half, then went nowhere: three more plays, punt; three plays on their next possession, punt; three plays from inside the 5 following a Stanford fumble, field goal. Total yardage for the quarter? Stanford 135, Oklahoma State 15.
The teams went in at halftime tied at 21 after a combined five-touchdown barrage in the second quarter. Luck led a pair of masterful drives -- 7 plays, 87 yards for a 14-0 lead, then 8 plays, 80 yards to restore the lead to 21-14 -- but even he was the second-best player on the field thanks to Blackmon. It wasn't just that he caught four passes in the span of 10 minutes--it was that two of them went for 43 and 67 yards, and a manly tackle-breaking third turned a 4th-and-4 at the Stanford 32 to first-and-goal at the 9.
The first quarter, however, belonged to the Cardinal lock, stock and barrel. While Weeden struggled mightily -- he hit just 5-of-10 for 2.6 yards an attempt, with an ugly interception to boot -- Luck was his usual murderously effective self to start, executing a play-fake to perfection to spring Ty Montgomery for an easy 53-yard pitch-and-catch TD. The Cardinal finished the quarter with a 129-27 yardage advantage, but a missed field goal by Jordan Williamson and Luck's only poor throw of the period (one picked by Justin Gilbert) kept the Cowboys within a possession.Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: January 1, 2012 11:38 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 11:38 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
This will not come as a shock to anybody with common sense, but it sounds like Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin will declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft in the coming days. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the news on Sunday morning.
Again, this is not a surprise. Griffin is a redshirt junior at Baylor and could come back for his senior season in Waco, but really, there's no reason for him to do so. He's accomplished just about everything he can at Baylor, including the Heisman Trophy, and he has already graduated from the school. As for his draft stock, it's not going to get any higher than it already is.
While the consensus seems to be that the Indianapolis Colts would take Stanford's Andrew Luck with the first pick of the draft, if the Colts were to fall out of the top pick, they'd be interested in drafting Griffin to replace Peyton Manning.
In our CBSSports.com mock drafts Griffin is the second-highest quarterback on the board, and our mock drafts have him going in the first seven picks of the draft.
Posted on: December 31, 2011 10:07 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Stanford has a problem, and it's a big one: Chris Owusu is not coming back. The senior wideout and one-time kickoff return threat has suffered through a concussion-plagued final season in Palo Alto and won't be available against the Cowboys.
Losing a target of Owusu's caliber would be a big blow for any offense, but for one with as few weapons at the wide receiving position at the Cardinal, it's even bigger. Just three Cardinal wideouts finished in double digits in receptions, and one of those -- Ty Montgomery -- was a true freshman with 17. Owusu had 35. Meaning that the only remaining legitimate, proven threat at wideout is senior Griff Whalen, who finished with 49.
The issue is that Whalen's 49 receptions covered just 664 yards -- a less-than spectacular 13.55 per-catch average -- and accounted for just four touchdowns. Without Owusu, the Cardinal wideouts don't appear to have any way to stretch the field, and Whalen didn't seem to prosper without his fellow senior around to deflect coverage; in the two games after Owusu was sidelined for good against Oregon, Whalen totaled just four catches for 23 yards.
Though Stanford's tight ends are as good as any in the country -- All-American Coby Fleener has been the team's true deep threat all season, averaging better than 20 yards a reception and racking up 10 touchdowns -- Andrew Luck is going to need something more than that from his wideouts. Unfortunately for Whalen, it's not going to be easy to have a breakout game given the Cowboys' strength in the secondary. He's likely to spend most of the game dealing with Brodrick Brown, the Pokes' outstanding junior corner, whose team-leading five interceptions helped him to first-team all-Big 12 honors.
If Whalen can make some kind of headway against Brown, he can keep the rest of the Poke secondary from locking in on the tight ends, do his part to keep some space open for the clock-milking Stanford running game, and maybe even give Montgomery some holes to work in. But against a corner the caliber of Brown, that's going to take Whalen's biggest and best performance of the season--and without it, Luck may simply not have enough targets for the Cardinals to keep pace with the likes of the Cowboys.
Posted on: December 31, 2011 4:44 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
OKLAHOMA STATE WILL WIN IF: they can turn Stanford over. The Cowboys' defense has, without question, been an underrated part of their 2011 success; their lethal opportunism and weekly ballhawking ways have never gotten the respect they've deserved. No defense that led the entire FBS in takeaways -- the Cowboys finished with an incredible 42, the highest total not just in 2011 but in any of the past four seasons -- can be fairly called a "bad" defense.
But that also doesn't mean we'd go so far as to call them "good." 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense. And considering that the Cardinal rank 11th in total offense and seventh in yards-per-play, it's the safest of assumptions that Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and Co. are going to put up a hefty number of yards. Sorry, Poke fans, but if Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State can all top 430 total yards, an offense with the Cardinals' caliber of weaponry is probably going to as well.
But all those yards don't have to mean "all those points." As mentioned, the Cowboy defense was masterful at bending before breaking the other team with a huge play. (They finished in the national top 30 in sacks, too.) If safety Markelle Martin, corner Brodrick Brown and end Jamie Blatnick can continue to force that handful of turnovers -- if those turnovers, combined with just a punt or two, can give the Cowboy defense just the occasional stop -- the Cowboy offense should be able to do the rest. That's easier said than done, of course, against the Cardinal; only eight other teams turned the ball over fewer times than Stanford's 15, with Luck throwing just nine interceptions and some of those bad bounces off his receivers' hands. But if the Pokes manage it, the hill the Cardinal will have to climb should be entirely too tall even for the future No. 1 draft choice.
STANFORD WILL WIN IF: they can run the ball, and not just well--we mean run it spectacularly. Whether by air or on the ground -- as we said -- the Cardinal are likely going to get their yards. But given the explosiveness of the Cowboy offense, it's imperative for the Cardinal to keep Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Justin Randle on the sidelines for as long as possible. It's not just about limiting the Cowboys' opportunities, either; the more time the Cardinal defense can spend catching their breath off the field rather than battling the Cowboys' no-huddle on it, the better their chances of getting stops.
Then there's that turnover thing--with only six Cardinal fumbles lost all season, running the ball is even less likely to give the Cowvboys the turnovers they desperately crave than handing it over to Luck. The good news for the Cardinal is that all the pieces in place for such a running performance are in place; the powerful Taylor is one of the nation's more underrated running backs, Tyler Gaffney provides a tailback change-of-pace that averaged 6.4 yards an attempt, All-American guard David DeCastro leads what might be the country's best offensive line, and Luck's presence ensures that overloading the box isn't really an option for the Cowboys. It's no mystery how the Cardinal ran for 180 yards or more in half their games.
But one of those games shows how important getting that kind of production from the Cardinal ground game is so important. Against Oregon -- and a Duck offense with a similar up-tempo philosophy and dynamic athletes as Oklahoma State's -- Stanford managed just 129 rushing yards. The result was an exhausted Cardinal defense giving up 53 points, an overburdened Luck putting together his worst performance of the season, and the end of Stanford's national title hopes. 129 rushing yards against the Cowboys will, no doubt, lead to something similar.
THE X-FACTOR: Another underrated factor in Oklahoma State's historic season? Punter/placekicker Quinn Sharp. Though perhaps most fans outside of Stillwater will remember Sharp primarily for the missed kick at the end of regulation vs. Iowa State, Sharp puntedthe Cowboys to a 14th-place finish in FBS net punting and hit 20 of his 23 kicks. If the Fiesta boils down to the kicking game, Sharp should give the Cowboys an edge.
Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:30 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: The Badgers make their way to Pasadena with a solid, experienced defense - sixth in the country in scoring, allowing just 17 points per game - but they haven't seen anything like the Ducks' fast-paced attack that has been putting up points and yards quicker than you can say "quack." The team played in the Rose Bowl last year against a good team that had some speed but Oregon certainly runs a different style and will mix in plenty of zone-read with between the tackles running. While the big front seven will have to be in shape and prepared to fill their gaps, the secondary will also have to be on alert - not just for LaMichael James or De'Anthony Thomas breaking a big run but for quarterback Darron Thomas, who has been passing the ball more than last year.
On offense, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball have put up some eye-popping numbers and will need to continue their efficient play in the Rose Bowl. Oregon's defense isn't anything to write home about but is very opportunistic. Nick Aliotti is a very good coordinator and has shut down plenty of high powered offenses before as well. The size difference between the lines will be something everybody will point to but the real thing to keep an eye on is if the Wisconsin o-line can have success blocking at the second level to spring Ball for some big gains. This should be a great match up with a team set on coming home with the trophy this year.
OREGON WILL WIN IF: The Ducks come into this game looking to prove that they're an elite team by winning, for a change, a BCS game. The only way they do that is to limit turnovers and, most importantly, convert on third downs. Oregon has had issues with drops and penalties when trying to convert and pick up a first down and has to come out sharp or they'll get a repeat of other games where they've had plenty of time off but came up flat. Getting James, Kenjon Barner or Thomas in space is the priority and hopefully Chip Kelly will have a better game plan than he has had in the past two BCS games. The wide receiver corps has to come through with a good game and avoid the drops that they've had all season long too.
Defensively, this team has faced similarly built teams during the regular season such as Stanford and USC. They won against the Cardinal by forcing turnovers and came back against the Trojans in a similar manner. If they can create penetration and put some pressure on Wilson, the iffy secondary should do just fine against the Wisconsin receivers. There's no doubt the unit will take a pounding but still should be fine. Special teams is one area that the layoff could lend improvement too. The kick return unit has taken a few back but the punt returns definitely need work. Bottom line, if Oregon wants to win the Rose Bowl, it all comes down to execution and the Ducks have to do a better job at the little things than they have in the past.
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X-FACTOR: Both teams are coming off wins in their respective conferences' first ever championship game. While the defenses have done well, it's the offenses that are the reason Oregon and Wisconsin are in Pasadena and will likely determine the winner as well. With the Ducks' offense, Wisconsin will likely try to hold onto the ball but that likely won't matter given how quickly they can score. On the flip side, the Badgers can set up play action passes that could be very effective. Oregon will have to focus on sustaining drives and creating big plays while trying to be aggressive but sound on defense. Should be a fun game that might end up coming down to who can give their offense the best field position on special teams.