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Tag:Andrew Luck
Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:01 am
 

The biggest shoes to fill in college football



Posted by Tom Fornelli


With teams having already started or starting spring practice over the next few weeks. there are a lot of players across the country who will be charged with replacing someone who has come and gone before them. It's an annual rite of spring in college football, when the senior quarterback from last season is putting the finishing touches on his final semester as a college student, and the sophomore who isn't even sure what he's majoring in yet realizes he's going to be majoring in Playbook 101 for the next few weeks.

Of course, while roster turnover is a common occurence in college football, there are bigger shoes to fill than others, and in this post we take a look at the ten biggest pairs looking for a new owner this spring.

10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma

Ryan Broyles began re-writing the Oklahoma record books the moment he stepped on the field in his first game as a Sooner. He caught 7 passes for 141 yards against Cincinnati, both of which were freshman records. Four years later he finished his career having caught more passes than any other receiver in FBS history, pulling in 349 passes for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns.

In other words, he's not the type of player that Oklahoma can just replace with anybody. This spring receivers like Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds and Trey Metoyer will try to replicate Broyles' production in Norman. Whether it will be one of them doing it, or a group effort, Oklahoma will need it to happen if the Sooners want to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title.

9. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Understandably, USC fans were extremely excited by the news that Matt Barkley would be returning for his senior season, and many have pegged the Trojans as a title favorite because of it. What you don't want to do, however, is overlook the fact that the man who was in charge of protecting Barkley's blindside these last few years won't be back.

Though that's how life generally works for offensive lineman like Matt Kalil. As large as they are, they're often overlooked. Kevin Graf, Jeremy Galten, David Garness and Nathan Guertler will all be competing for the unenviable task of being the man in charge of making sure nothing happens to the most valuable piece of the USC offense.

8. Mark Barron, S, Alabama

One of the problems with having a defense as strong as the one we saw in Tuscaloosa last season is that you're bound to lose players to the next level, and the Crimson Tide have no shortage of beasts making their way to greener pastures. Still, the Tide have a knack for churning out defensive lineman and linebackers, but safeties like Mark Barron don't come along all that often.

Barron made 231 tackles for Nick Saban in his four seasons, including 13 for a loss, while picking off 12 passes. Barron was the type of player that could defend the pass and the run, and he won't be easily replaced. Can Robert Lester or freshman Vinnie Sunseri step up and be the next stud in the Alabama secondary?

7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Based purely on production, there may be no larger shoes to fill in the country than Luke Kuechly's. There may not have been more than 3 plays run by opposing offenses in which Kuechly wasn't in on the tackle. Kuechly finished 2011 with 191 tackles. The next highest total on the Boston College defense belonged to Kevin Pierre-Louis, who had 74.

As our own Chip Patterson put it, "for Boston College, replacing Kuechly is like any other team replacing 2 1/2 players." Though it's been proven that it can be done, as Kuechly himself once had to fill the shoes left behind by Mark Herzlich. Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto -- who has a name that would be hard to replace -- will be the two linebackers looking to repeat the feat.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Many casual college football fans never truly appreciated how amazing a player Morris Claiborne was for LSU in 2011 simply because opposing offenses weren't dumb enough to test him all that often. Throw in some Honey Badger exploits with a bit of Les Miles being Les Miles, and Claiborne gets a bit lost in the gumbo. Still, Claiborne truly was the definition of a shutdown corner for LSU, playing a pivotal role on one of the best defenses in the country.

While Tyrann Mathieu will be back in 2012, he's not the cover corner that Claiborne was, so it will be up to Tharold Simon to fill the role. One he seems capable of considering he led LSU with 10 passes broken up in 2011 playing mostly as a nickel back.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

I won't lie to you. Even when Mark Ingram will still in Tuscaloosa running through SEC defenses, I always felt that Trent Richardson was the best running back on the Alabama roster. Now both are gone, and Richardson will be harder to replace than Ingram was simply because Trent can't replace himself.

Can Eddie Lacy be the next Heisman finalist in the Alabama backfield? He showed some promise in 2011, and in an offense like Alabama's, the opportunities will be there. Still, even if Lacy is extremely talented, there are only so many shoes capable of doing this.

4. Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon, QB/WR, Oklahoma State

A bit of a cheat, I know, but the truth is that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon felt like extensions of one another for the past two seasons in Stillwater. Their success was as a duo. I mean, Blackmon caught 40 touchdowns over the last three seasons, which accounted for 53% of the 75 touchdown passes Weeden threw with the Cowboys.

Now we know that Oklahoma State is going to continue putting points on the board without them, but will the offense ever be as prolific when the combination is Clint Chelf or Wes Lunt to Tracy Moore? We'll get our first clues this spring.

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Maybe you think that LaMichael James isn't all that hard to replace given the weapons Oregon has in the backfield. I can see your point, but I can also point out that James nearly doubled Kenjon Barner's rushing total (1,805 yards to 939) in 2011. I mean, this is a man who rushed for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in 2011, yet we didn't think it was so amazing based simply on the fact we'd already seen him do similar things in the previous two seasons.

We just got used to it.

Yes, Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are extremely talented backs, but the fact is there's no easy way to replace a back who accounted for 5,888 all-purpose yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons as a Duck, all at the speed of light.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Will it be harder to fill RG3's shoes, or his socks? Neither will be easy. While we all know how talented Griffin was as a quarterback for Baylor in 2011 and the two seasons before it, it's his impact on the program that will leave the biggest impression. Baylor went from a perennial bottom-feeder in the Big 12 to a team that can call itself the home of a Heisman Trophy winner.

Nick Florence will be the favorite to replace Griffin this spring, but he'll never be able to have the impact on the Baylor program that Griffin did. Instead he'd be much better served to focus on replacing the production on the field. Something that won't be easy, either, but given Art Briles' history with quarterbacks and the way Florence performed in place of Griffin against Texas Tech, it may not be that far-fetched, either.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Andrew Luck didn't win the Heisman Trophy like Robert Griffin did, but that doesn't diminish the impact he had on the Stanford program. In the three seasons before Luck showed up in Palo Alto, Stanford was 10-26, including a 1-11 season in 2006. In Luck's three seasons the Cardinal went 31-8, played in two BCS bowl games and became a national program.

Stanford is essentially the school Notre Dame used to be, and it's all thanks to Luck. Of course, the question now is whether or not Stanford can maintain the success they had under Luck with a new quarterback. Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo will all enter spring practice looking to replace the most important player in the history of Stanford football, and that's a list that includes John Elway.

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Posted on: February 28, 2012 11:32 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: Stanford



Posted by Bryan Fischer


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Stanford.

Spring Practice Started: February 27

Spring Game: April 14

Returning starters: Six on offense, seven on defense, one kicker.

Three Things To Look For:

1. Who replaces Andrew Luck? The Cardinal enter the A.L.-era - After Luck - with five quarterbacks on the roster angling to replace the best quarterback in school history. It figures to be a two-horse race however, with sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes being the two head coach David Shaw will be keeping a close eye on. Nottingham was the backup all of last year but Shaw has made it clear he has to earn the top spot with his play and in the spirit of competition, likely won't name a starter until fall camp. Both guys are big, pro-style signal-callers with good arms so this will likely come down to who has the best grasp of the playbook and is most in-sync with many of the new faces on the offense.

2. Players emerging on the offensive line and at tight end, wide receiver. While Luck was the headliner in Stanford's transformation into a top 10 team, offensive linemen like Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro also had a significant role with their play along the line. The team plays physical and with a first-time starter and stable of running backs will undoubtedly try to continue to establish the ground game and use play action to open things up in the passing game. The line will be a fluid situation until fall camp, when the Cardinal's highly regarded recruiting class arrives with players who could end up making an early impression. Wide out Ty Montgomery emerged late in the year and figures to be the top target and deep threat but he needs others to emerge alongside him at receiver and tight end if the offense is going to move the ball through the air.

3. New staff gelling. Shaw starts spring practice with one spot on his coaching staff still open but hopes to find somebody to coach inside linebackers soon. Two coordinators are new in 2012, after defensive coordinator Jason Tarver jumped across the bay to the Raiders and Pete Alamar being brought on board to handle special teams following the departure of Brian Polian to Texas A&M. The biggest loss is Tarver, who did a great job last year with a unit that suffered several notable injuries. Stanford has overcome the loss of assistants before but it's always something to keep an eye on given all of the turnover on the roster. Also notable is the sudden death of long time equipment manager Ron Yamaguchi of an apparent heart attack, shocking the team and community and leaving big void in the program.

To check in on the rest of the Pac-12 and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule

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Posted on: February 17, 2012 12:52 pm
 

Oliver Luck thinks divorce is worth it

Posted by Tom Fornelli

It's hard to blame West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck for being in a good mood these days. After all, his son Andrew Luck is likely going to be the top pick in the NFL Draft in a few months, and he was just able to successfully complete the move of West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12.

A conference that's standing on more solid ground than the Big East at the moment.

Of course, at the same time, the move did prove to be rather costly for West Virginia. The school has to pay the Big East $20 million because of it. Not that Luck cares about the money, as evidenced by what he told 790 The Zone in Atlanta during a recent interview.

“Well, it’s the old adage: Why is divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it," said Luck.

Which is an old adage that I've never heard, but one that made me laugh all the same.

You know who I'm guessing won't find it all that funny, though? Luck's wife, and the mother of his four children, Kathy. I'm guessing Oliver will have some explaining to do when he gets home.

Looks like leaving the Big East will cost West Virginia $20,000,049.99 as Oliver Luck will probably be picking up a dozen roses in the near future.

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Posted on: February 2, 2012 12:31 am
Edited on: February 2, 2012 3:41 pm
 

National Signing Day Winners and Losers: Pac-12

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Breaking down who won and lost in the Pac-12 on National Signing Day.


WINNERS

Stanford's future backfield. We don't want to say anyone could succeed at quarterback or tailback behind a line featuring Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, and John Garnett. Dame Helen Mirren would fail, probably. We wouldn't like Bill Nye, the Science Guy's odds. Most 12-year-olds would struggle.

But when we're talking about an offensive line class David Shaw said "could be one of the best in college football historywithout hyperbole, it's hard to rule anyone out. And when it comes to players like potential 2012 quarterback starter Brett Nottingham or new running back signee Barry J. Sanderswe think the chances of success are so sky-high as to be nearly guaranteed. Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck might be gone, but if the results of National Signing Day are any indication, the Cardinal as a program aren't going anywhere.

Players to watch: DT Aziz Shittu, RB Barry J. Sanders, OT Andrus Peat.

The checkbooks of future Pac-12 assistants. The conversions of five-star Shaq Thompson (pictured) and receiver Jordan Payton to Washington from Cal (even if the latter was only temporary) were already evidence enough for the impact of ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi's move from Berkeley to Seattle. The Huskies capping their late surge by stealing away USC commitment Pio Vatuvei and fending off a late challenge from the Trojans for quarterback Cyler Miles was just beating a dead horse, really.

Which is why any coach with bona fide West Coast recruiting connections is likely about to find himself a much hotter commodity than they were before Signing Day began. The Huskies aggressively pursued Topoi, doubled his salary at Cal with their new conference media money, and saw immediate, dramatic dividends. Topoi might have been the first coach to have his wallet fattened overnight by Larry Scott's TV negotiations, but with results like these, he won't be the last.

Washington players to watch: DB Shaq Thompson, ATH Jaydon Mickens, CB Brandon Beaver.

Jim L. MoraTo silence the doubters for good, Mora will have to win on the field as well as the recruiting trail. But there's little doubt that Mora has at least done the latterWith another high-profile Cal exile safely in the fold in Ellis McCarthy, the Bruins spent Signing Day polishing up an already impressive haul with a pair of blue-chip receivers in Payton and Javon Williams--an area of sore need with Nelson Rosario gone.

The Bruin brass appeared to be aiming to hire the next Pete Carroll when they took a chance on Mora, and though there's still a long way to go before the comparison is valid at the collegiate as well as pro level, this class is a heck of a step in that direction.

Players to watch: DT Ellis McCarthyATH Devin FullerDB Ishmael Adams.



LOSERS

Lane Kiffin's pied piper flute. Around mid-afternoon, this was shaping up to be a typical Signing Day for college football's most notorious late-game recruiter; sure, Vatuvei had gon to the Huskies, but Kiffin had also managed to pull both high-upside end Leonard Williams and No. 1 athlete Nelson Agholor (pictured) out of Florida despite each's various Sunshine State suitors. With Miles, Peat, Murphy, and Shittu all considering the Trojans and Murphy's late announcement rumored to be potentially affected by Peat's, another matching set of Signing Day coups appeared within reach.

Instead, the Cardinal swept the big linemen while Miles stuck with the Huskies. Those decisions didn't exactly make the Trojan class a disappointment--far from it, given that it finished 9th in the country while boasting just 16 (uniformly outstanding) recruits. But it does mark the first time that Kiffin wasn't able to simply snap his fingers on Signing Day and come away with a bushel of five-stars; it will be interesting to see if, in 2013, Kiffin doesn't leave things quite so late.

Players to watch: OL Zach Banner, WR Nelson Agholor, OL Jordan Simmons.

Cal. It's not that the Bears' class wasn't solid, maybe even better than solid; Tom Lemming ranked it 15th despite only having 17 signees, and the Bears did an excellent job of filling needs at both offensive line and wide receiver. It's that it was so close to being a game-changing, program-momentum-turning, spectacular class before Lupoi's defection took the air out of the sails. 

Tedford is right that the commitments at the Army All-American game from Thompson, McCarthy, and Payton didn't mean anything on the Bears' bottom line, but it's silly to think they didn't mean the Bears had a clearcut opportunity to sign all three (and others) they couldn't take advantage of. It's debatable, too, when that kind of opportunity will come again for Tedford.

Players to watch: QB Zach Kline, WR Bryce Treggs, OL Freddie Tagoloa  

Oregon State's secondary. Want another example of the impact of position coaches on current Pac-12 recruiting? Look no further than the Beaver defensive backfield, which saw no less than four players decommit after OSU secondary coach Keith Heyward -- like Lupoi -- defected to Washington. (One of them was highly regarded corner Devian Shelton, who did get Kiffined away to USC.) The Beavers recovered to still sign four defensive backs, but when even Mike Riley was admitting there were holes at corner that went unfilled, it's safe to say things didn't go as planned.

Players to watch: OL Isaac Seumalo, TE Caleb Smith, QB Brett VanderVeen  




Maxpreps photos by Gary Jones and Margaret Bowles.
Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:29 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:22 pm
 

1-to-35: Ranking the 2011 bowl games



Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Each December, there's plenty of rankings out there as to how good each bowl should be. But if that's the "before," what about the "after"? Here's the Eye on CFB's (highly subjective) ranking of all 35 bowls from the 2011-2012 college football postseason, best game to worst.

1. Rose. Unlike certain other bowls we could name (who happen to rhyme with "Schmalamo"), the Rose's outburst of offense came despite the presence of legitimate championship-level defenses--making the punch and counter-punch between Russell Wilson and Montee Ball on one side and LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas on the other like haymakers in a heavyweight prizefight. Add in college football's greatest venue, a down-to-the-wire ending, and even the aesthetic battle between the Badgers' understated uniforms and the Ducks' glitter factory helmets, and you've got the best bowl-watching experience of the year.

2. Fiesta. Andrew Luck vs. Justin Blackmon at the top of their powers -- at the top of the powers of anyone at their positions in college football -- would be worth a top-five placement alone. Luck vs. Blackmon and 79 points and overtime drama? That's worth top-two.

3. Alamo Bowl. To call the defenses in this game abominably porous would be an insult to pores (and abominations). But the Alamo is a random weeknight bowl game--just as no one wants to watch an Oscar-baiting 17th-century literary adaptation on their Guys' Night Out, so no one tuned into the Alamo for rugged defense and awesome punting. Thankfully, what Baylor and Washington gave us was the college football equivalent of four hours of Jason Statham shooting explosions.

4. Outback. Come for Kirk Cousins leading the most unlikely comeback this side of the whooping crane, stay for Mark Richt nominating himself for the (dis)honor of "World's Fraidiest-Cat Football Coach." Oh, and triple overtime.

5. New Orleans. We'd ask if you could remember this thriller between Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State from the bowl season's opening night, but we don't think anyone who watched could forget Ragin' Cajun kicker Brett Baer deliriously celebrating his last-second game-winner if they tried.

6. Military. One word: #MACtion. And two numbers: 42-41. And, all right, eight more words to help do this game justice: last-minute do-or-die failed fake extra point holder-kicker option.

7. Sun. We're suckers for any game featuring the triple-option (see the Air Force game ranked one spot above), and Utah's 4th-and-14 touchdown conversion to send the game into OT was one of the more dramatic single plays of the entire bowl season. That 3-0 anti-classic between Pitt and Oregon State was a particularly distant memory in El Paso this year.

8. Belk. A matchup of Utterly Average ACC team vs. Utterly Average Big East team -- in a bowl sponsored by a department store that thinks Macy's is way too wild and edgy -- should have been one of the snoozers of the year. Instead, Mike Glennon caught fire, Louisville mounted a spirited comeback, and this wound up one of the better games of the postseason.

9. Little Caesars. The quality of play in this game at times was like ... well, have you ever actually eaten the pizza of the sponsor? But Western Michigan receiver Jordan White put on a spectacular show (13 catches, 249 yards), the teams combined for 69 points, and the Boilers special teams pulled off two onsides kicks and a kick return for TD. Tasty!

10. Famous Idaho Potato. OK, OK: we're giving this game (which was less-than-must-see-viewing for much of the first 55 minutes) a slight bonus for its killer logo. But we're giving it a much bigger bonus for the pulse-pounding final drive from quarterback Tyler Tettleton and the Bobcats for the first bowl win in program history.

11. Armed Forces. If you're going to be a sorta-dull game between two sorta-unmemorable teams, better come up with a memorable play and/or a big finish. Riley Nelson's game-winning fake spike touchdown to become college football's answer to Dan Marino just about did the trick.

12. Sugar. Another for the "ugly game, fascinating ending" file, but this was Michigan doing their damnedest to be Michigan again and Virginia Tech doing their damnedest to avoid the rabbit's feet and horseshoes and four-leaf clovers falling out of the Wolverines' pockets -- Danny Coale most especially -- and it was in New Orleans. You didn't quit watching, did you?

13. Poinsettia. Not a classic, but three-and-a-half back-and-forth hours with a feisty Louisiana Tech team and an underrated TCU squad most definitely qualified as "serviceable." Think of this year's Poinsettia as the quality burger-and-fries plate from the local joint down the street--not mind-blowing, but spend a few weeks in Peru, where they don't have burgers or college football, and you'll crave a Poinsettia Bowl so badly you could scream.

14. Orange. In the space of about an hour, Dana Holgorsen's evisceration of Clemson went from thrilling to discomfiting to boring to morbidly fascinating to -- once we all realized the Mountaineers weren't going to hit triple digits -- back to boring again. Not every game that hits 100 points is one for the DVD vaults, as it turns out.

15. Liberty. Give me Cincinnati defeating Vanderbilt in surprisingly convincing, mildly entertaining fashion or give me death! (Actually, we've got that first thing already, so no need to worry about providing the second, thanks.)

16. Chick-Fil-A. For 2.5 quarters, this was a delightful shootout with all the requisite trickery you'd hope for from a game involving Gus Malzahn. Then Virginia remembered that it was not only Virginia, but proud ACC member Virginia, and the fun was over.

17. Meineke Car Care. Seriously, Texas A&M, we didn't tune in to see you only flirt with blowing a huge lead against a team that hasn't won a bowl game since approximately the Grover Cleveland administration.

18. Capital One. This game featured an abundance of must-watch plays -- Alshon Jeffery catching a  bomb, Alshon Jeffery hauling in a half-ending Hail Mary, Alshon Jeffery getting ejected for fighting -- but aside from, well, Alshon Jeffery, there wasn't much to it.

19. Cotton Bowl. The 15 seconds of Joe Adams' punt return, the 10 seconds of Jarius Wright's touchdown, and the 5 minutes when it looked like Kansas State might mount yet another smashing comeback were riveting stuff. The other 54:35? Not so much.

20. BCS National Championship. A great game, if you're the sort of fan who enjoys watching nature shows where a pride of lions tear a wildebeest to pieces because the wildebeest can't complete a downfield pass to save its life.

21. TicketCity. If he'd stuggled, he'd have been called a fraud; because he ripped Penn State's D into tiny shreds, no one paid attention. Which is why we're working on a sitcom pilot right now called Case Keenum Can't Win.

22. Gator. When one team's special teams scores just one fewer touchdown than the two offenses combined (as Florida's did), it's safe to say you're not watching a classic.

23. GoDaddy.com. Thanks to a 31-0 run from Northern Illinois, what was expected to be a nailbiting shootout ended up the biggest disappointment since that "unrated web content" we checked out.

24. Champs Sports. It wasn't pretty, but at least the Seminoles and Irish were trying their best ... to make us wish they'd just aired a repeat of the 1993 meeting instead.

25. Las Vegas. College football produces a lot of emotions, but from the neutral perspective, it's rare that one of them is outright legitimate anger. Seeing Kellen Moore forced to end his career slumming it against an Arizona State team that checked out in early November sure turned the trick, though.

26. Independence. The Tar Heels came out so flat, and were finished off so quickly, that we're pretty sure the only lovely parting gift they walked away with was "Independence Bowl: the Board Game."

27. Music City. Mississippi State turned the ball over four times, and Wake Forest averaged 2.9 yards per-play. If Hank Williams or some other old-time country artist had come to Nashville to write a sad song about a sad bowl game, this is the game they'd use for inspiration.

28. Insight. Sadly, the only "insight" we got from this game was that Vegas oddsmakers -- who had the Sooners installed as the biggest favorite of the entire bowl season -- know what they're talking about. And who didn't know that already?

29. Holiday. It wasn't that long ago when Jeff Tedford's Cal and Mack Brown's Texas squaring off would have been appointment television. This game was, too, though in the sense that it was the sort of game you made an appointment somewhere else to avoid viewing.

30. Hawaii. Nevada and Southern Mississippi were collectively as sharp as your average butter knife, but let's see you spend a week chilling in Hawaii and then play a quality football game. The best players the NFL has to offer try it every single year and haven't succeeded yet.

31. Pinstripe. The only thing we remember from this game was our wish to travel back to, say, 1998, and explain to a random college football fan that in 2011, Rutgers would win a bowl game in Yankee Stadium that would give them the nation's longest postseason winning streak. (We're still not sure it's actually happening.)

32. Beef 'O' Brady's. Newton's Second Law of Bowl Aesthetics: Whensoever a Game Produces Fewer Offensive Touchdowns Than the Game Has Apostrophes in its Title, That Game Shall Be, Verily, Entirely Terrible.

33. New Mexico. We'd waited so long to be able to sit down and watch a college bowl game, and by halftime we were sort of wishing we'd gotten to wait a little bit longer.

34. BBVA Compass. For two straight years, Pitt has been forced to play in Legion Field on a January weekday afternoon in front of no one under an interim coach against a nondescript opponent. Vs. SMU the Panthers looked like they'd much rather be off somewhere doing something much more fun, like peeling potatoes with their teeth--and we don't blame them a bit.

35. Kraft Fight Hunger. Comedian Patton Oswalt once called a certain famous KFC product a "failure pile in a sadness bowl." Capitalize that B, and we can't think of a better way to describe 2011 Illinois "battling" 2011 UCLA.

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 1:12 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:59 am
 

This Sugar Bowl was a bit sour



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
 

Stanford OT Jonathan Martin declares for draft

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.)

Get caught up on the early-entry announcements HERE, and all the latest rankings, mock drafts, and breaking news check out the NFL Draft Home. 

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 2:05 am
 

Blackmon, Luck go out with a bang in Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Justin Blackmon 
hadn't even left the University of Phoenix Stadium field yet. But there wasn't any point to delaying the inevitable; when asked as part of his postgame television interview if he had just played the final game of his outstanding college career, he answered straightforwardly. 

"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.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com