1. VIZIO BCS National championship: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn (8:30 p.m., Jan. 6, ESPN). This game is at the top of the list for obvious reasons. The ACC finally has a team back in the national championship game, and the opponent is from the SEC. Completely fitting, considering the ACC is measured up against the SEC on a yearly basis. Two big keys to watch -- will Jameis Winston carve up a so-so Auburn defense? And how will the Noles handle the Tigers' ground attack?
3. Russell Athletic Bowl, Miami vs. No. 18 Louisville (6:45 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN). This ranks as one of the top matchups among all non-BCS games. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was nearly a Hurricane, but decommitted from the program after Randy Shannon was fired following the 2009 season. Bridgewater has since become one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and could be playing his last game for the Cardinals. Chances are he will have opportunities to make big plays on a mediocre Miami defense.
4. Hyundai Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech vs. No. 17 UCLA (2 p.m., Dec. 31, CBS). This is a huge opportunity for Virginia Tech to shut down one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in Brett Hundley. This also is a big opportunity for Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to end his career on a high note and perhaps get NFL scouts to take notice. But the Hokies are going to have to contend with UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who has 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles this season.
5. Advocare V100, Arizona vs. Boston College (12:30 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN). What's not to love about the matchup between Doak Walker finalists Ka'Deem Carey and Andre Williams? Williams, a Heisman finalist, leads the nation with 2,102 yards this season; Carey has 1,716 yards -- and at least 100 yards in every single game he has played in this year.
6. Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 24 Duke vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (8 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN). We thought about moving this game a tad higher, but we kept it here because we believe Texas A&M is going to win by double-digits. That's not to take anything away from the way Duke has played this season. It's more a commentary on how good Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans are for the Aggies' offense. Texas A&M does not have a great defense so Duke has to capitalize on each opportunity it gets to put points on the board.
7. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech (3:15 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN). This is a chance for the Jackets to try and redeem themselves after losing the regular-season finale to SEC rival Georgia. Ole Miss lost its last two games of the season and couldn’t muster more than 10 points in each game. Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly have a hard time scoring, but it has only won one bowl game in the past eight. Expect the Rebels’ defense to be prepared.
8. Belk Bowl: North Carolina vs. Cincinnati (3:20 p.m. Dec. 28, ESPN). The Tar Heels have lost three straight Belk Bowl games to (former) Big East members Boston College, West Virginia and Pitt. Cincinnati has a strong defense, and won last year’s Belk Bowl against Duke, but the Tar Heels are excited to be playing in Charlotte and back in a bowl after serving a one-year postseason ban.
9. Texas Bowl: Syracuse vs. Minnesota (6 p.m. Dec. 27, ESPN). The Orange haven’t had much luck against the Big Ten this year, starting out 0-2 with losses to Penn State and Northwestern. The bigger problem for Cuse will be Minnesota’s defense, which is No. 27 in the country and holding opponents to 22.3 points per game. Syracuse is barely averaging that (22.8) on its own.
10. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: Maryland vs. Marshall (2:30 p.m. Dec. 27, ESPN). The Terps get a home game in nearby Annapolis, but they’ll face a Marshall team that lost to Virginia Tech in three overtimes. Offensively, Marshall is averaging a Conference USA-best 43.0 points per game, the seventh-highest total nationally, and is averaging a league-high 502.3 yards per game of total offense.
11. Little Caesars Bowl: Pitt vs. Bowling Green (6 p.m. Dec. 26, ESPN). Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson is on his way to Wake Forest after leading the program to its first MAC championship in 21 years. The Panthers, who have struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage all season, will face a defense that ranks No. 5 in the nation at 14.8 points per game. Pitt will counter with the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald.
- Andre Williams is blown away by being a Heisman finalist, Jack McCluskey writes on ESPNBoston.com.
- Tickets for the bowl games featuring Clemson and Duke are among the highest bowl prices out there.
- AthlonSports' Steven Lassan looks at five reasons why Florida State will win it all.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura offers seven facts about Georgia Tech's appearance in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against Ole Miss.
- Maryland defensive line coach and assistant head coach Greg Gattuso has left the Terrapins to become Albany's new head coach, Alex Prewitt writes in the Washington Post.
- Miami athletic directors Blake James and coach Al Golden are excited about the Russell Athletic Bowl against Louisville, and about all of the connections this game brings, Matt Porter writes in the Palm Beach Post.
- The Daily Tar Heel's Brooke Pryor previews the Belk Bowl between North Carolina and Cincinnati.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Sam Werner has reaction from Charlotte, N.C., where Aaron Donald was named the Bronko Nagurski Award winner on Monday night.
- The week-long process of finding Syracuse a bowl game was an "exhilarating" process for AD Daryl Gross, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- Virginia Tech linebacker Tariq Edwards will play in the College All Star Bowl, per the Washington Post's Mark Giannotto.
The ESPN recruiter power rankings examine which assistant coaches are doing the best on the recruiting trail in the 2014 class. Beyond looking at how many four- or five-star recruits a coach lands, the rankings take into account the needs those recruits will fill at the next level.
These rankings will be updated regularly as national signing day approaches. They are also a measure of where we believe the recruiters are now, not where they will be on signing day. Many coaches and schools have yet to make a recruiting run and could quickly climb the list as more progress is made.
Previous rankings: October 2013
1. Billy Napier
ESPN 300 recruits: 7
Top recruit: ESPN 300 No. 3 Cameron Robinson
Previous ranking: 4
Napier, Alabama's receivers coach, established himself as one of the better recruiters in the ACC while at Clemson, but recruiting for the Crimson Tide has allowed him to climb to the top of the national charts. Recruiting in Louisiana and parts of Texas, and also spot-recruiting other key national targets, Napier boasts commitments from five ESPN 300 prospects who are in the top 10 at their positions, including No. 1 OT Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), No. 2 pocket passer David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) and No. 2 safety Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville). Napier's efforts have also helped the Tide climb to No. 1 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and reload at positions of need like offensive tackle, quarterback and especially receiver.
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DE Harold Landry (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest)
6-foot-3, 230 pounds
Boston College is close to done for 2014, and coach Steve Addazio is looking toward taking the next big recruiting jump with the 2015 class. However, the Eagles' 2014 class would be dealt a devastating blow if he cannot hold on to Landry, No. 30 among defensive ends nationally and the second-highest-rated commit in BC's class. Reports in mid-October had Landry decommitting from the Eagles, but it was only for a short while. He made amends with the staff quickly and rejoined BC. But now coaches are coming through schools and homes, so BC will have its work cut out once again.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aaron Donald called it the perfect birthday present for his father.
The Pittsburgh senior defensive tackle won the Bronko Nagurski award given to the nation's top college defensive player.
The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald was presented the award at a ceremony Monday night in Charlotte.
The ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Donald averaged 2.2 tackles for loss per game while ranking 10th in forced fumbles and 13th in sacks per game.
He had 28½ sacks for his career with one game left to play.
"I'm just so excited," Donald said. "I think it is a great way for my father to celebrate his birthday. And I think it's huge for the University of Pittsburgh. There were so many people wishing me well."
His father, Archie, turned 48 on Monday.
He was in the audience Monday night to see his son accept the award.
Donald beat out four other finalists for the award: Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Florida State linebacker Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly earlier this year called Donald a "one-man wrecking crew."
"You have a powerful guy, but he's also extremely quick at the point of attack," Kelly said.
Donald's best game came against Georgia Tech when he had six tackles for a loss -- the most by an FBS player this season -- and 11 tackles overall. He also had two sacks against Virginia.
Four quarterbacks and two running backs were named Heisman Trophy finalists on Monday.
Quarterbacks Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jameis Winston of Florida State were all invited to the Heisman ceremony on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The six finalists invited to the ceremony in New York are the most since 1994.
Winston is the overwhelming favorite to win the award Saturday night in New York now that a sexual assault complaint against him in Tallahassee, Fla., has been closed without charges being filed.
He could become the second straight freshman to win the award as the top player in college football after Manziel won it last season.
Winston set freshman records by passing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading No. 1 Florida State into the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The Alabama native is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating (190.1).
Manziel passed for 3,732 yards, 255 more than in his Heisman-winning regular season last year. He also threw for nine more touchdowns, but his rushing stats were way down.
Manziel ran for 686 yards, down from 1,181 a year ago, and just eight touchdowns, down from 19.
Back in September, Winston’s career began with a win over Pitt in which he threw for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. On Saturday, Winston wrapped up an ACC championship and secured a trip to Pasadena for the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game by throwing for 330 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over Duke.
It’s a statement to Winston’s consistent excellence this season that Saturday’s performance, for which he earned the game’s MVP trophy, might have been one of his worst starts of the season. His 69.9 Total QBR was his lowest of any of his 13 games, and it was just the second time this year he threw two interceptions in one game.
Still, if Winston struggled, it was briefly.
The Heisman Trophy frontrunner opened the game completing just 1 of 6 throws, but he wasn’t off by much. Four of the five incomplete passes hit his receivers’ hands, but they couldn’t hang on for the catch. After a scoreless first quarter, however, Winston finished 16-of-24 passing for 288 yards and three touchdowns, and racked up 58 yards on nine rushes, including another TD. Florida State ran off 45 consecutive points, and the game was effectively decided midway through the third quarter.
With one game remaining, Winston has 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 passing yards — both ACC and FBS records for a freshman. He’s thrown for more touchdowns than any quarterback in Florida State history. Winston ranks second in the nation in touchdown throws, first in yards per attempt and first in QB rating.
Winston’s big game against Duke was his sixth this season with at least four touchdowns and his seventh throwing for at least 300 yards.
The conference also did it in 2008, sending 10 teams to the postseason. Problem was, the league finished 4-6 in its bowl games that season.
Having a plethora of bowl teams doesn’t amount to much respect if the ACC can’t win more than it loses.
In 2013, The ACC has already improved upon that with two teams in BCS bowls for the second time in three years, including No. 1 Florida State’s appearance in the VIZIO BCS National Championship game against No. 2 Auburn, and No. 12 Clemson’s date with No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. In order for the ACC to prove it’s more than just Florida State, though, the rest of the conference has to carry its weight, too.
And, of course, Clemson has to avoid giving up 70 points again.
Highlighted by Florida State’s shot at Auburn and a chance to snap the SEC’s seven-game national title streak, the ACC has three chances against the SEC (vs. Auburn, No. 21 Texas A&M and Ole Miss), two against the Big Ten (Ohio State and Minnesota), two against the Pac-12 (Arizona and No. 17 UCLA), two against the American Athletic (No. 18 Louisville and Cincinnati), one against Conference USA (Marshall), and one against the MAC (Bowling Green).
(Before you start checking off your W column, just remember Virginia Tech needed three overtimes to beat Marshall in September.)
Despite Florida State’s resurgence on the national stage, the ACC enters bowl season still considered the fifth-best conference in the nation behind the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten. Much of that has to do with the drop-off after FSU -- and the on-field results. The ACC finished 4-9 this season against its nonconference opponents form the other four power conferences, including a 3-5 record against the SEC, and a combined 0-4 record against the Big Ten and Pac-12. The fourth win came from Maryland against West Virginia of the Big 12.
With five ranked opponents, including two in the top 10 of the final BCS standings, there are plenty of opportunities for the ACC to prove itself. While Florida State might be the league’s only great team, the conference is balanced by its good teams. That’s not necessarily the national perception right now, especially after Clemson turned it over six times in a fifth straight loss to South Carolina, Georgia Tech squandered a 20-point lead against rival Georgia, and Virginia Tech’s offense couldn’t get out of its own way in losses to Boston College, Maryland and Duke. Against the Blue Devils, the best team the Coastal Division had to offer this season, Florida State cruised to a 45-7 win.
And that’s not a knock on Duke; it’s a testament to the gap that exists between Florida State and the rest of the ACC.
Since becoming a 12-team league in 2005, the ACC has sent 64 teams to bowl games. Only the SEC has had more (70). But the SEC has won 213 of those games, while the ACC has won 162. With the additions of Pitt and Syracuse, ACC fans should expect the league’s number of bowl-eligible teams to be higher.
They should expect the winning percentage to be, too.
- Boston College is excited for its shot at Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Jack McCluskey writes on ESPNBoston.com.
- Clemson and Ohio State are looking for redemption in the Orange Bowl, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post & Courier.
- Texas A&M's defense might be a welcome sight for Duke after facing Florida State, Laura Keeley writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
- The Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne says a Florida State-Auburn title game shows that the system works.
- Hugh Freeze is emphasizing the "totality of the journey" as Ole Miss readies for Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl, Hugh Kellenberger writes in the (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger.
- Maryland's meeting with Marshall in the Military Bowl features an intriguing subplot between Randy Edsall and Doc Holliday, Alex Prewitt writes in the Washington Post.
- Miami's meeting with Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl features plenty of connections between the schools, and means they will face each other in consecutive seasons, Christy Cabrera Chirinos writes in the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel.
- Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson gets his wish in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl as he will face Pitt, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse's season continues against Minnesota in the Texas Bowl after a week of waiting, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- Virginia Tech returns to the spot where its bowl history began, Mark Giannotto writes in the Washington Post.
- North Carolina's play down the stretch, plus its proximity to Charlotte, N.C., made it an ideal pick for the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, Joe Giglio writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.