Big 12: SEC

Plays that changed the game: Auburn

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
11:24
PM ET
It might not have been pretty. It might not have been what everybody expected. But all that matters to Auburn is the final score, and the Tigers left Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a 20-14 win over No. 20 Kansas State. It was the program's first road win against a ranked nonconference opponent since 1984.

A little luck

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Kansas State had a chance early in the game to take a lead and grab the momentum, but that chance bounced right off the chest of Tyler Lockett as the star wide receiver tried to make a catch at the goal line, but the ball deflected off his hands into the air. To make matters worse, Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones was there to haul it in for the interception. It turned out to be a theme for the Wildcats, who missed three field-goal attempts, lost a fumble and threw another critical interception later in the game. Meanwhile, Auburn turned the ball over only once and was a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone.

A little skill

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Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams had to be kicking himself after dropping a potential touchdown in the first half, but the junior college transfer, playing in his first road game, more than made up for it with a spectacular touchdown grab at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The score capped off a 15-play, 80-yard drive and gave Auburn a 17-7 lead. Williams, who later had a clutch 39-yard catch to seal the win, finished with eight catches for 110 yards and the lone touchdown.

Do you believe in these early stories?

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:52
AM ET
There are a number of hot on-field topics through the first two weeks of the college football season, subjects that have inspired a bit of debate among fans this week.

Let's look at these from the perspective of "buy" or "sell" and provide the statistical arguments for each.

USC as a national championship contender

The Trojans are 2-0 with a win against Stanford. They have won eight of nine games. Are you buying them as a national title contender?

Buy:
Defense wins championships. Led by All-American candidate Leonard Williams, USC leads the Pac-12 in points per drive (1.4) allowed since the start of last season.

The metrics like them. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC is the eighth-best team in the FBS and has a 23 percent chance to win the Pac-12, second to Oregon. Of the seven teams ranked ahead of USC in FPI, four are from the SEC, which means at least three of those teams will lose at least once this season.

Kessler is playing well. USC is 8-1 in its last nine games, including two wins against Stanford. During that time, Cody Kessler has a Total QBR of 80.6, 13th-best in the FBS (min. 5 starts).

Sell:
Schedule is too tough. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC has a two percent chance of winning out. The Trojans have the 18th-most difficult schedule remaining in the FBS, including all four teams that defeated them last season.

Too many turnovers. USC has had at least two turnovers in three of its last four games. In the last five seasons, FBS teams lose 60 percent of the time when they have two or more turnovers. The Trojans are 14-13 in such games.

Cannot sustain drives. USC has converted 38 percent of its third downs during the last two seasons, 83rd in the FBS.

Tennessee is back
Tennessee is 2-0 and has won both games by at least 15 points. Are you buying Tennessee as a team that can win 10 games this season?

Buy:
Vols have been playing some D. Tennessee has held its last four opponents to fewer than 20 points per game, tied for the longest active FBS streak. In those four games, the Volunteers have allowed 3.6 yards per carry and opponents have failed to gain yards on an SEC-best 31 percent of their rushes.

Sell:
We saw this last year and the two years before that. In each of the previous three seasons, Tennessee has started 2-0 and then lost to a ranked team by at least 10 points in its third game. In those three losses, the Volunteers were outgained by an average of 218 yards and allowed almost 8 yards per play (7.9).

The Vols travel to Norman to take on No. 4 Oklahoma Saturday night (8 ET/ABC).

Vols cannot throw the ball. In SEC play last season, Tennessee threw eight more interceptions (13) and was sacked seven more times (12) than it had passing touchdowns (5). The Volunteers had a Total QBR of 46.1 in SEC play, 11th in the conference.

Everett Golson as a Heisman candidate
Notre Dame is 2-0 and Everett Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns. Are you buying him as a Heisman trophy candidate?

Buy:
He is right where he needs to be. Golson ranks fifth in the FBS in Total QBR this season. Each of the past five quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy was ranked in the top five of Total QBR in the season he won the award.

Heisman voters like touchdowns. Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns this season, tied for third in the FBS. Starting with Tim Tebow in 2007, every quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy ranked in the top six of the FBS in touchdowns responsible for.

They also like exciting plays. Golson has completed 6-of-9 passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, including three touchdowns. He had four such touchdowns and 16 such completions during the 2012 season.

Sell:
The Irish are too one-dimensional. Notre Dame had its fewest rushing yards (54) and averaged its fewest yards per rush (1.7) in any game the last two seasons last week against Michigan. The Irish finished the game with 12 yards before contact on 31 rushes. If Notre Dame cannot run the ball, it could put Golson in difficult situations to manage, such as third and long.

Lot of tough defenses on the schedule. Notre Dame still has to play four teams who rank in the top 15 in defensive efficiency since the start of last season. Which means Golson could have a difficult time compiling the stats needed to impress voters.

Texas A&M’s defense will hold up

Texas A&M is 2-0 and has allowed 31 points in two games this season. Are you buying that the Aggies defense will hold up and make them a title contender?

Buy:
Holding up is relative. Since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach, Texas A&M has averaged the third-most points per game (45.6) in the FBS and the Aggies have the highest offensive efficiency in the nation.

They are getting off the field. Texas A&M is allowing opponents to convert 21 percent of their third downs this season, tied with Florida for 11th in the FBS.

They are tackling better. Texas A&M has allowed 36.5 rushing yards after contact per game this season, fewest in the SEC. Last season, the Aggies allowed an SEC-high 98.9 such yards.

Sell:
No offense can cover their blemishes. Texas A&M has allowed 30.0 points per game since the start of last season (15 games), including 35.6 in SEC play. Florida State was the only FBS team to score at least 30 points in every game last season, and no team in the last 50 years has scored more than 35 points in every game during a season.

They give up way too many big plays. Texas A&M has allowed 13 touchdowns on plays that gained 40 yards or more the last two seasons, most in the SEC and tied for 10th-most in the FBS. The Aggies allowed two such touchdowns in Week 1 against South Carolina.

UCLA’s line will cost the Bruins the Pac-12 championship

UCLA is 2-0, but it has been sacked nine times. Are you buying that UCLA’s offensive line will cost the Bruins a national title?

Buy:
Was Hundley just sacked again? UCLA has been sacked 97 times since the start of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, including nine times this season. Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass rushers, the most for any Power Five quarterback in the last three seasons.

They don’t open any holes in the running game. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State.

They give up too many pressures. UCLA’s quarterbacks have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons.

They allow too many negative plays. The Bruins have 130 plays the last two seasons that have lost yards, third-most in the FBS.

Sell:
Hundley can cover up for their mistakes. Hundley has had 546 rushing yards on scrambles the last two seasons, second-most for any Power Five quarterback behind Johnny Manziel.

The team has overcome its line before. Despite the pressures and sacks, UCLA has averaged 36.7 points per game the last two seasons. The Bruins have an FBS-high 10 touchdowns on drives in which they were sacked at least once since the start of last season.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
9:47
AM ET

AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.


ATLANTA -- We got a little bit of a shootout inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday, but No. 2 Alabama prevailed with a 33-23 win over West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Season openers can be tricky -- and sometimes ugly -- and Alabama, which is a favorite to make the College Football Playoff, had a relatively up-and-down performance in the ATL, but will head back to Tuscaloosa 1-0.

New starting quarterback Blake Sims had some rough moments against West Virginia, but regrouped well and made some big plays throughout the game with his arm and legs. Finding All-SEC receiver Amari Cooper was smart (12 catches for 130 yards), but handing the ball off to his running backs really paid off, especially when he gave the rock to Derrick Henry halfway through the third quarter.

1. Hustling Henry

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Let's face it, the third quarter of this game started off a little stale. After seeing 37 points and 500 yards of offense in the first half, we got a failed fourth-down attempt and a missed field goal. Then, things started clicking for the Crimson Tide on their second drive. With Alabama moving at will against the Mountaineers' defense, Sims handed the ball off to the super sophomore, who immediately cut to his left. As a hole opened up, Henry put on the jets and flew through both lines before pushing off one last defender and leaping into the end zone to put Alabama up 27-17 with 7:44 remaining in the third quarter. Alabama only managed two more field goals after Henry's score. It proved to be the biggest score of the game for the Crimson Tide, as they fought off a valiant comeback effort from the Mountaineers.

Henry: "It was the outside zone play and the tight end made the block and I just read it. I hit the hole and [went] right into the end zone."

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen: "It gave us more energy and more focus because once we make a big play, we want to capitalize on it and try to keep that momentum going. It really got the momentum in our favor when Derrick scored."

Right tackle Austin Shepherd: "I think we were going 'Speed Ball' or something and we were just trying to wear West Virginia down so we were just going fast. I guess the hole opened and he got out there and made it work. We were just trying to attack and we did. ... We were trying to punish them, man. Every chance you got, drive them into the ground, get in their hand and they'll start thinking about it and finally they'll wear down."

2. Slippery snap

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Henry's play didn't officially put the game away for Alabama, but a bad snap from West Virginia center Tyler Orlosky severely hurt the Mountaineers' chances of pulling of a major upset Saturday. With Alabama clinging to a 30-20 lead with 14:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers closed in on what should have been another touchdown drive. Quarterback Clint Trickett had already marched his offense down to Alabama's 5-yard line and after two tough incomplete passes that took two touchdowns off the board, Trickett lined up in the shotgun, only to have Orlosky send the snap soaring over his head and outstretched arms. The ball hit the ground and rolled a bit before Trickett landed on it 19 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The play took the Mountaineers out of touchdown range and forced them to kick a field goal. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could barely stand to look at the field after Trickett collapsed on the ball. It swallowed up all the momentum the Mountaineers had and clearly sapped some of the offense's energy. Only a couple plays later, West Virginia got the ball back by way of a Sims interception, but went three plays and punted.

Linebacker Denzel Devall: "We just use things like that to keep boosting us up. No matter how bad things may seem or go, we just keep fighting. That's the main thing. Once we saw that happen, we just knew we were doing something good [next]."

Chat wrap: CFB Opening Day Live

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
3:03
PM ET
After nearly eight long months, college football is back in our lives. To celebrate tonight's opening slate of games, 12 of our writers chatted it up with you the fans for three hours.

Here's how it went...

Kickoff Live: Week 1

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
10:19
AM ET

To watch Kickoff Live on you mobile device click here.
Mark Schlabach, Heather Dinich and Ted Miller join host Chantel Jennings to preview Week 1 of the college football season that will for the first time end in a four-team playoff.

Coaches get away with golf

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
1:30
PM ET
In more than 30 years of coaching, Steve Spurrier has never lost a round of golf to one of his players. New challengers are apt to dismiss the claim, but Spurrier is happy to provide witness accounts of each of his triumphs. It's a record he takes seriously.

Of course, opportunities to hit the tees at all are getting harder to come by for coaches. The recruiting calendar has grown more cumbersome, the demands of the job more strenuous, and the number of coaches regularly playing golf has diminished as a result. Even Spurrier, the elder statesmen of the coaching ranks on both the football field and the golf course, doesn't get out quite as much as he used to. By the end of July, his clubs are already gathering dust.

But as the demands of the job increase, the importance of finding an escape is even more crucial, Spurrier said. So he has kept golf a priority during those few months every year when NCAA rules prevent him from working with his players.

For the rest of David M. Hale's story about why golf is a favorite offseason activity for football coaches, click here. And to find out what a few college football coaches had to say about playing golf with players and other coaches, their best rounds, their favorite courses and more, click here.
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”

Position U: Offensive line

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:45
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Offensive Line U” for the 2000s?

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. Alabama (242 points): Nick Saban (whose first season at Alabama was 2007) has been the Crimson Tide’s coach for only half of the time period that we examined. But that’s when nearly all of the noteworthy accomplishments have occurred in the 2000s for the Tide’s offensive line: three national awards, seven All-America picks, 11 all-conference selections, four first-round picks and eight linemen drafted. Saban teams win by dominating the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line results reflect why Alabama has been so successful.

Award winners: Andre Smith, Outland (2008); Barrett Jones, Outland (2011), Rimington (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Antoine Caldwell (2008), Andre Smith (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), Chance Warmack (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
First-team all-conference: Paul Hogan (2000), Marico Portis (2002), Wesley Britt (2002, 2003, 2004), Andre Smith (2007, 2008), Antoine Caldwell (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), James Carpenter (2010), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), William Vlachos (2011), Chance Warmack (2012), D.J. Fluker (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Andre Smith (2009), James Carpenter (2011), Chance Warmack (2013), D.J. Fluker (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Smiley (Round 2, 2004), Evan Mathis (Round 3, 2005), Antoine Caldwell (Round 3, 2009), Mike Johnson (Round 3, 2010), Barrett Jones (Round 4, 2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Shawn Draper (Round 5, 2001), Wesley Britt (Round 5, 2005),

2. Michigan (238 points): If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman.

Award winners: David Baas, Rimington (2004); David Molk, Rimington (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2011).
First-team all-conference: Steve Hutchinson (2000), Jeff Backus (2000), Jonathan Goodwin (2001), David Baas (2002, 2003, 2004), Tony Pape (2002, 2003), Matt Lentz (2004, 2005), Adam Stenavich (2004, 2005), Adam Kraus (2006, 2007), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2010, 2011), Taylor Lewan (2012, 2013), Patrick Omameh (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Steve Hutchinson (2001), Jeff Backus (2001), Jake Long (2008), Taylor Lewan (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Maurice Williams (Round 2, 2001), David Baas (Round 2, 2005), Michael Schofield (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Goodwin (Round 5, 2002), Tony Pape (Round 7, 2004), Stephen Schilling (Round 6, 2011), David Molk (Round 7, 2012).

3. Wisconsin (192 points): Although Wisconsin placed well behind the juggernauts from Alabama and Michigan, the Badgers have a ton to brag about. Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi were both Outland Trophy winners, consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks. In fact, Wisconsin had a total of 14 offensive linemen drafted in the 2000s, four of whom went in the first round (with Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick joining Thomas and Carimi).

Award winners: Joe Thomas, Outland (2006); Gabe Carimi, Outland (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Joe Thomas (2006), Gabe Carimi (2010).
First-team all-conference: Casey Rabach (2000), Dan Buenning (2004), Joe Thomas (2005, 2006), Marcus Coleman (2007), Gabe Carimi (2009, 2010), John Moffitt (2009, 2010), Peter Konz (2011), Josh Oglesby (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2011), Travis Frederick (2012), Rick Wagner (2012), Ryan Groy (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Joe Thomas (2007), Gabe Carimi (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Travis Frederick (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Casey Rabach (Round 3, 2001), Bill Ferrario (Round 4, 2001), Al Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Dan Buenning (Round 4, 2005), Kraig Urbik (Round 3, 2009), John Moffitt (Round 3, 2011), Peter Konz (Round 2, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Johnson (Round 7, 2003), Bill Nagy (Round 7, 2011), Ricky Wagner (Round 5, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (186 points): With four first-round picks and four consensus All-America selections, Oklahoma has had a great run along the offensive line in the 2000s. And the Sooners have been consistent throughout that time period, placing at least one lineman on the all-conference team in every season except 2000 and 2002. In some years, there were as many as three on the all-conference first team.

Award winners: Jammal Brown, Outland (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammal Brown (2004), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Trent Williams (2009).
First-team all-conference: Frank Romero (2001), Jammal Brown (2003, 2004), Vince Carter (2003, 2004), Davin Joseph (2005), Chris Messner (2006), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Phil Loadholt (2008), Trent Williams (2008, 2009), Eric Mensik (2010), Gabe Ikard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammal Brown (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Trent Williams (2009), Lane Johnson (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Chester (Round 2, 2006), Phil Loadholt (Round 2, 2009), Donald Stephenson (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wes Sims (Round 6, 2005), Duke Robinson (2009).

5. USC (182 points): Considering how much success it experienced in the early and mid-2000s, it seems strange that USC didn’t have a first-round offensive lineman until Sam Baker in 2008 (the first of three, as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil have since joined him). Nonetheless, the Trojans churned out six second-round picks, 17 all-conference linemen and a trio of All-Americans, so there has been plenty of acclaim for the group in the 2000s.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jacob Rogers (2003), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2006).
First-team all-conference: Jacob Rogers (2002, 2003), Norm Katnik (2003), Ryan Kalil (2005, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2005, 2006, 2007), Chilo Rachal (2007), Kristopher O’Dowd (2008), Jeff Byer (2009), Charles Brown (2009), Tyron Smith (2010), Matt Kalil (2011), Khaled Holmes (2012), Marcus Martin (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sam Baker (2008), Tyron Smith (2011), Matt Kalil (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jacob Rogers (Round 2, 2004), Winston Justice (Round 2, 2006), Deuce Lutui (Round 2, 2006), Ryan Kalil (Round 2, 2007), Chilo Rachal (Round 2, 2008), Charles Brown (Round 2, 2010), Khaled Holmes (Round 4, 2013), Marcus Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Fred Matua (Round 7, 2006).

6. Florida State (166 points): FSU has only one first-round draft pick and one national award winner (Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last season) along the offensive line in the 2000s. But with three All-Americans and 13 all-conference selections in the 2000s, the Seminoles still rank among the nation’s better programs for linemen.

Award winners: Bryan Stork, Rimington (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2010), Bryan Stork (2013).
First-team all-conference: Justin Amman (2000), Char-ron Dorsey (2000), Brett Williams (2001, 2002), Montrae Holland (2002), Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2008, 2009, 2010), Bryan Stork (2013), Tre Jackson (2013), Cameron Erving (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Alex Barron (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Montrae Holland (Round 4, 2003), Brett Williams (Round 4, 2003), Ray Willis (Round 4, 2005), Mario Henderson (Round 3, 2007), Rodney Hudson (Round 2, 2011), Menelik Watson (Round 2, 2013), Bryan Stork (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Char-ron Dorsey (Round 7, 2001), Milford Brown (Round 6, 2002), Todd Williams (Round 7, 2003), Andrew Datko (Round 7, 2012), Zebrie Sanders (Round 5, 2012).

7. Miami (158 points): The Hurricanes were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century, thanks in large part to a supremely talented offensive line. Between 2000 and 2002, Miami had eight first-team all-conference players, two All-Americans and two national award winners. The Hurricanes have been successful along the line here and there since then, but their spot in the top 10 is largely because of those outstanding days in the early 2000s.

Award winners: Brett Romberg, Rimington (2002), Bryant McKinnie, Outland (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Bryant McKinnie (2001), Brett Romberg (2002).
First-team all-conference: Joaquin Gonzalez (2000, 2001), Bryant McKinnie (2000, 2001), Martin Bibla (2001), Brett Romberg (2001, 2002), Sherko Haji-Rasouli (2002), Eric Winston (2003, 2005), Jason Fox (2009), Brandon Washington (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bryant McKinnie (2002), Vernon Carey (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Bibla (Round 4, 2002), Rashad Butler (Round 3, 2006), Eric Winston (Round 3, 2006), Jason Fox (Round 4, 2010), Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Linder (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joaquin Gonzalex (Round 7, 2002), Carlos Joseph (Round 7, 2004), Chris Myers (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Washington (Round 6, 2012), Seantrel Henderson (Round 7, 2014).

8. Texas (150 points): Texas would have ranked higher on this list had we compiled it a few years ago. The Longhorns haven’t had a first-team all-conference pick or a draft pick since 2008, nor a consensus All-American since 2006. They were good enough in the early 2000s that the Longhorns still cracked the top 10, but Texas needs to turn it around under Charlie Strong if it intends to stay there over the next few years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Jonathan Scott (2005), Justin Blalock (2006).
First-team all-conference: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Tillman Holloway (2003), Justin Blalock (2004, 2005, 2006), Jonathan Scott (2004, 2005), Will Allen (2005), Kasey Studdard (2006), Tony Hills (2007), Adam Ulatoski (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Leonard Davis (2001), Mike Williams (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Dockery (Round 3, 2003), Justin Blalock (Round 2, 2007), Tony Hills (Round 4, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Scott (Round 5, 2006), Kasey Studdard (Round 6, 2007).

T-9. Iowa (144 points): No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery, who won the 2003 Outland Trophy and was an All-American that season and a two-time all-conference pick, is the big point winner for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have produced a considerable number of productive offensive linemen. They can claim 13 drafted offensive linemen in the 2000s, including three first-rounders (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff).

Award winners: Robert Gallery, Outland (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Eric Steinbach (2002), Robert Gallery (2003).
First-team all-conference: Eric Steinbach (2001, 2002), Robert Gallery (2002, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2002), Mike Jones (2006), Seth Olson (2008), Bryan Bulaga (2009), Dace Richardson (2009), Riley Reiff (2011), Brandon Scherff (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010), Riley Reiff (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eric Steinbach (Round 2, 2003), Bruce Nelson (Round 2, 2003), Marshal Yanda (Round 3, 2007), Seth Olsen (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Sobieski (Round 5, 2003), Pete McMahon (Round 6, 2005), Mike Elgin (Round 7, 2007), Kyle Calloway (Round 7, 2010), Julian Vandervelde (Round 5, 2011), Adam Gettis (Round 5, 2012).

T-9. Ohio State (144 points): With 13 draft picks -- but just one first-rounder, Nick Mangold -- and 14 all-conference picks, Ohio State built a solid résumé for offensive linemen in the 2000s. Center LeCharles Bentley, a Rimington Trophy winner, is the only All-American, but the Buckeyes have turned out plenty of outstanding players along the line.

Award winners: LeCharles Bentley, Rimington (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: LeCharles Bentley (2001).
First-team all-conference: LeCharles Bentley (2001), Tyson Walter (2001), Alex Stepanovich (2003), Rob Sims (2005), Doug Datish (2006), T.J. Downing (2006), Kirk Barton (2007), Alex Boone (2008), Justin Boren (2009, 2010), Mike Adams (2010), Mike Brewster (2010), Andrew Norwell (2012), Corey Linsley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Nick Mangold (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: LeCharles Bentley (Round 2, 2002), Alex Stepanovich (Round 4, 2004), Rob Sims (Round 4, 2006), Mike Adams (Round 2, 2012), Jack Mewhort (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyson Walter (Round 6, 2002), Shane Olivea (Round 7, 2004), Adrien Clarke (Round 7, 2004), Doug Datish (Round 6, 2007), Kirk Barton (Round 7, 2008), Reid Fragel (Round 7, 2013), Corey Linsley (Round 5, 2014).

REST OF "OFFENSIVE LINE U" RANKINGS
134 – Stanford; 132 – Florida; 124 – TCU; 116 – Arkansas; 112 – Auburn; 108 – Louisville; 104 – Penn State, Utah; 98 – California; 96 – Texas A&M; 94 – Boston College, LSU; 92 – Ole Miss; 90 – Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia; 88 – Colorado; 84 – Georgia Tech; 82 – Georgia, Oklahoma State; 80 – Nebraska; 76 – Arizona State, Pittsburgh; 74 – Virginia Tech; 72 – Clemson, Oregon; 70 – Tennessee; 66 – Baylor; 58 – BYU, North Carolina; 56 – Syracuse; 54 – Maryland, Wake Forest; 50 – Illinois, Rutgers; 48 – Kansas State, Oregon State; 46 – Notre Dame; 44 – Missouri; 38 – Mississippi State; 36 – Texas Tech; 34 – Washington State; 32 – Washington; 30 – Purdue; 28 – Vanderbilt; 24 – NC State, UCLA; 18 – Kansas, Michigan State; 16 – Iowa State, Kentucky; 14 – Arizona; 12 – Indiana; 10 – Northwestern; 10 – South Carolina; 8 – Duke
The SEC's long-awaited future schedule model came out Sunday, and it looks a lot like its predecessor. The league maintained an eight-game league schedule with longstanding division crossover games, rather than going to nine league games. Beginning in 2016, the conference will require each member to play one nonconference game against a team from a power conference on an annual basis. Teams will continue to be allowed to schedule FCS opponents.

Reporters Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg weigh in on the SEC's schedule structure.

Ted Miller: Well, Adam, you knew it was coming. We live in an age when if you want to do something sneaky and con the public, you claim you are doing the opposite of your true intent. And then repeat it over and over again until some believe it really is opposite day.

Even we fall for it. Our ESPN.com headline says, "Schedule strength is SEC priority," when the opposite is actually the truth.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe SEC is sticking with an eight-game league schedule.
It's irrelevant outside of the SEC whether the conference retained its "longstanding non-divisional rivalries." It's also irrelevant that the SEC insists it will continue to upgrade its nonconference schedule.

The only thing that matters is the SEC's massive con that games the system as we move toward the College Football Playoff: The SEC will maintain its eight-game conference schedule when other major conferences are -- or are planning to -- play nine conference games.

That is the only thing that matters, and this is nothing more than the SEC giving itself an annual advantage by deciding that it will eliminate seven losses from its standings.

This is not regional bias, folks. This is not SEC jealousy. This is something called "math."

With an eight-game SEC schedule, 5-7 teams become 6-6 teams. And 8-4 teams become 9-3 teams. And that 11-1 team that beat the 9-3 team that should really be 8-4 will look better than the 11-1 team in the Big 12, Pac-12 or Big Ten that beat an 8-4 team who would be 9-3 in the SEC.

Those sentences might glaze over many eyes and evoke a "Huh?" But they are the very thing that won the day among SEC leaders when it was decided to duck the mathematical realities of a nine-game conference schedule.

I'll now take a breath. Adam, what do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: It makes me less excited about the playoff, for starters. Maybe I'm na´ve, but I saw the playoff, with its purported emphasis on schedule strength, as the great equalizer in scheduling. Maybe it still will be, but I have my doubts.

You cover a league (Pac-12) that for years has employed the most challenging schedule model in the country: nine league games plus marquee nonconference contests. I cover a league (Big Ten) that has traditionally resided in cupcake city. But three factors -- the playoff, an expanded conference and an upcoming TV contract -- triggered the Big Ten to adopt a nine-game league schedule, no more FCS opponents in the near future and stronger nonleague opponents. This is good for the fans. Expansion might remain a sore subject for some, but the idea of playing each other more, not less, is a good one.

If every league had the same model -- nine league games, at least one marquee nonleague game, a championship game -- it would create a degree of equity, produce more appealing games for fans and allow the selection committee to evaluate teams with similar profiles.

This SEC chest-puffing about the requirement to schedule one nonleague game against an opponent from a power conference is the most laughable part of Sunday's announcement. SEC teams already do this, just like those from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and so on. What really changes here? Can I still see SEC teams playing FCS teams in November? OK, cool, just checking. Rejoice, SEC fans.

Now fast-forward to December 2016, and the selection committee is choosing between a two-loss Pac-12 or Big Ten champion, which has played nine league games plus a championship game, and a one-loss, second-place SEC team with eight league games and no championship game. If the SEC team is chosen, it invalidates the whole system. Here's hoping the committee makes the right call.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Ivory, Jonathan Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama crushed FCS foe Chattanooga in 2013; FCS Western Carolina is on tap in 2014.
Perhaps then, we'll see the SEC align at nine.

But maybe this has the opposite effect: leagues backing away from playing more conference games. The ACC has a similar decision ahead.

What do you think comes next?

Miller: Know what would be great? If SEC fans would realize they are being cheated, just as much as the rest of college football. Why would Alabama fans rather watch a game against a Sun Belt team more often than, say, Georgia?

It would be great if they demanded a better schedule, one that went further toward determining the best teams in the SEC. In a 14-team league, how can anyone insist playing eight conference games rather than nine is better and more equitable?

Of course, that won't happen. As you and I have seen through the years, it's mostly "my conference, wrong or right" in the SEC. The typical SEC fan response when their conference is criticized ranges from "Well, your conference stinks!" to "We owned the BCS!" Folks down South tend to defensively circle the wagons instead of aspire to some objective self-analysis, though you could reasonably argue that is a powerful syndrome operating throughout college football.

Part of that defensiveness is there is no real rebuttal. This isn't an argument. It's an empirical truth that the SEC is gaming the system by playing eight conference games.

So as to what actually might come next, my thought is the CFP selection committee needs to make a stand: An eight-game conference schedule should automatically operate as a demerit as it falsely elevates the apparent strength of a conference.

What do you think?

Rittenberg: We're all wondering about the committee's collective guts, especially when it squares off against the SEC monolith. That certainly would be a way to show the group means business. Because it's not about whether the Big Ten stinks, as hundreds of SEC fans told me Sunday night on Twitter. Yes, the Big Ten stinks, but it's not a Big Ten-SEC debate. It's about the SEC living in the playoff realm alongside the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.

While I'm not surprised by the SEC fan sensitivity to anyone who dares to critique their beloved league, how many other fan bases would actually want this? Don't fans want more appealing matchups? I know Big Ten fans want to play other league teams more, not less. They want more rivalry games. They want to see marquee nonleague contests. I'm guessing Pac-12 fans feel the same way.

The ACC's decision will be fascinating. Most of the coaches, like their colleagues in every other league, want to stay at eight. The ADs seem to be leaning toward nine. We could have four leagues playing nine league games and one playing eight.

The SEC would be on its own. Perhaps that's exactly what it wants.

Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2014

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
12:50
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The BCS era ended with No. 1 Florida State ending the SEC's streak of seven consecutive BCS national championships Monday night, winning its first national title since 1999 with a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl.

With Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a plethora of starters returning this coming season, FSU will be the team to beat again in 2014. FSU is the No. 1 team in the first edition of the 2014 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 poll.

The Seminoles will be a popular choice to win back-to-back national titles in 2014, the first season of college football's new four-team playoff.

Click here to view the full Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 poll.

Click here Insider to see how all of the schools in the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 are faring in recruiting for the Class of 2014.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri players sat and watched the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the bewildered feeling the rest of the nation was experiencing. Oklahoma was imposing its will on SEC power Alabama in the heart of SEC country, going from underdog to the talk of the nation on Thursday night.

“It was crazy, it came down to what team wanted it most,” Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said of the Sooners' 45-31 win. “You looked at Oklahoma and they wanted to win the game, they wanted to be Sugar Bowl champs, they went out and took what was theirs.”

Thus, Missouri players woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that the weight of an entire conference was on their shoulders. Missouri needed to grab immediate revenge with a victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl if it wanted to defend its conference’s reputation.

The SEC took a punch from the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers punched back Friday night with a 41-31 win over Big 12 foe Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey, Blake Webb
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMissouri might be new to the SEC, but the Tigers understood the importance of beating Oklahoma State and keeping the conference's rep.
“I did feel a tad bit of pressure, because I know we represent the SEC,” senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. “I think [OSU cornerback] Justin Gilbert made a statement earlier this week that the Big 12 was better than the SEC and I think we had to go out and prove the SEC is a force to be reckoned with.”

The Tigers used a combination of a relentless pass-rushing defensive line, strong running game and timely plays to earn their school record-tying 12th victory of the season, equaling the win total of the 2007 team.

Led by Cotton Bowl offensive MVP Henry Josey, Missouri rushed for 256 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry against a Cowboys’ defense that allowed 132.9 rushing yards and 3.46 per carry during the regular season. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf will have nightmares featuring Tigers pass-rushing duo Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Missouri got to Chelf for three sacks, but the Cowboys quarterback was constantly flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays on the move thanks to the Tigers defensive line, which cemented the win when Sam forced a Chelf fumble that was returned 73 yards for a touchdown by Shane Ray to halt OSU’s hopes of a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

“First-team All-American makes an All-American play,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said.

SEC teams rejoiced as the conference escaped back-to-back losses to Big 12 opponents.

“We believe we’re the best conference,” said Andrew Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. “And if you want to be the best conference you have to prove it, that’s why everyone is rooting for each other in these bowl games for everyone to go out and do what they can do.”

Make no mistake, the Tigers wanted the win for themselves, but they also wanted it for their conference.

“That’s something real big, representing the SEC,” Josey said. “The SEC is such a powerful conference, that’s the conference everybody looks to, that’s where the attention is. Coming into this game, that was in the back of our mind, that is always in the back of our mind that we had to hold up the rep for the SEC.”

Now, with its job done, Missouri passes the mantle to Auburn, which has the opportunity to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the SEC when it takes on Florida State in the BCS National Championship on Monday night.

“Right now it’s up to Auburn to bring it home,” Ealy said. “We want to keep it in the SEC, that’s the most important thing as far as this conference goes.”
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri sent a message for the SEC with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday Night at AT&T Stadium. Here’s how it happened.

It was over when: Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Oklahoma State was driving to try to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes when Missouri’s Michael Sam stripped OSU quarterback Clint Chelf of the ball, which Ray picked up for the scoop and score.

How the game was won: After Oklahoma State drove down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Missouri responded on its next drive to score the game-winning points. James Franklin led the Tigers down the field to jump right back on top after running back Henry Josey's 16-yard touchdown run made the score 34-31 with 3:08 remaining. Josey’s touchdown capped off a 7-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made a key 27-yard catch on the Tigers' final drive on 3rd-and-9 from the OSU 43-yard line. Green-Beckham used his size and ball skills to outfight OSU’s Tyler Patmon for the key third down conversion. Josey rumbled 16 yards for the game-deciding touchdown on the next play.

Stat of the game: 256. Mizzou ran for 256 yards on the Cowboys, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Josey was shifty and solid while backup quarterback Maty Mauk was explosive with three carries for 73 yards in spot duty. OSU simply didn’t have an answer for Missouri’s running game, particularly when it needed one in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Josey. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but his quickness and cutback ability gave OSU’s defense fits. He finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys end the season with back-to-back disappointing losses after falling to the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl and losing to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale. OSU heads into the offseason with very little momentum and looking to replace several starters while opening the 2014 season with Florida State.

What it means for Missouri: The Tigers rebounded well from their SEC championship loss to Auburn. Missouri finishes 12-2 with the Cotton Bowl victory and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence and momentum.
In case you didn't know, Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 8 Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC) and 13th-ranked Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) is a bit of a reunion.

Oklahoma State, proud members of the Big 12, will meet their old brothers who jumped ship for the SEC in 2012.

While a big deal has been made of Friday's meeting and its backstory, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam isn't moved by it. He's actually bored of it.

"I don't really care," Sam said. "We used to be in the Big 12; we're not any more. I think the media is blowing it way out of proportion. I could care less."

Sam might be on to something, but it is pretty cool when you think about the last two Cotton Bowls. This year, it's Mizzou-Oklahoma State. Last year, it was Texas A&M-Oklahoma.

Rematches of games that once had conference stakes on the line now feature bragging rights and even traitor talk in some circles. There are even whispers in Big 12 country that the Tigers ran away from their old league.

So while Sam might not care about the old Big 12 matchup, it does create an interesting storyline, and he'd be crazy to think that no one else in this game isn't intrigued by that aspect of the game.

"It is just a great opportunity to play a great Missouri team; they were in the Big 12, so it is a little rivalry there," Oklahoma State wide receiver Charlie Moore said. "You always want to play the best and always fun to play the SEC. It is going to be a good game no matter what conference they are in and it is fun to be in the Cotton Bowl."

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMichael Sam is tired of the Missouri vs. Big 12 storyline, but is eager to show the Tigers defense is better than it showed against Auburn.
And, like the Big 12 that Mizzou was used to, this one has the makings of being an old-fashioned shootout in the heart of Texas.

A year removed from an injury-plagued first season in the SEC, the Tigers bit back with one of the SEC's most potent offenses. Mizzou finished the regular season ranking in the top five in the league in passing offense, rushing offense, total offense and scoring. The Tigers went from averaging 356.4 yards a game and 25.8 points in 2012 to 492.9 yards and 39 points in 2013.

The Tigers also went from missing a bowl game to winning the SEC Eastern Division, beating Florida and Georgia and ranking as high as fifth in the BCS standings along the way. If they had beaten Auburn in the SEC championship game, these Tigers would be out in sunny California for the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

On the other side, the Cowboys are averaging 440.5 yards per game with an offense that features some "Air Raid," three-back and pistol. They'll throw in some zone-read just to make things interesting.

Sam said he's excited about facing Oklahoma State's passing game, which averages 268.5 yards per game. The Tigers ranked 13th in the SEC in pass defense (256 yards per game), but Sam made it clear that this defense hasn't had an issue defending the pass all season.

"We've never struggled stopping the pass," Sam said confidently. "We want to stop the run so they can be forced to pass. We hope they pass all night, to be honest with you."

Mizzou has 18 interceptions and has given up 16 passing touchdowns. But in games away from Faurot Field, the Tigers gave up 270.7 passing yards per game and quarterbacks enjoyed a combined efficiency rating of 129.3.

Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf has thrown for 200 or more yards in four of his past five games and has 11 touchdowns to four interceptions.

"It definitely takes you back, so I am excited to see the ball in the air a little bit more than the SEC does," cornerback E.J. Gaines said.

Regardless of how the Cowboys approach their offensive plan, this is a chance for Mizzou to show the country that its defense is still worthy of being called a solid unit. Before surrounding 677 yards to Auburn (545 rushing), Missouri held opponents to fewer than 400 yards in five of the previous six games. After being gashed by Auburn, the perception is that the Tigers aren't as steady on defense as they once appeared.

"We've been a great defense all season," Sam said. "We had one bad game and I don't think that should define our season."

What will help define this season is the outcome of tonight's game. A victory would serve as more validation that the new kids deserve their seat at the SEC's big-kid table.

"The win would just prove that we belong in the SEC and we should be respected by everyone in that conference," Sam said. "... I think we earned a lot of respect from our conference, [and a victory would] show we belong where we are and we are one of the best in the country.”

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
10:00
AM ET
Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.

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