Dallas Colleges: Bowl-overview-2013

National University Holiday Bowl

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
5:05
PM CT

Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)


ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS BREAKDOWN
Arizona State hit the 10-win mark in Todd Graham's second season as head coach and won the Pac-12's South Division. Despite a decisive loss in the conference title game to Stanford, the program appears to be on a decided uptick.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Will Sutton is a disruptive force for the Sun Devils.
The season did start with controversy. On Sept. 14 at Arizona State, Wisconsin appeared to have put itself in position to kick a winning field goal, but Badgers QB Joel Stave opted to unconventionally place the ball on the ground instead of just falling down himself, and the Pac-12 officiating crew melted down in a panic of indecision, allowing the clock to expire. It was embarrassing for the conference but nonetheless a win in the ledger for the Sun Devils.

After an impressive domination of USC, a 62-41 defeat that got Trojans coach Lane Kiffin fired, the Sun Devils played a flat game against Notre Dame in Cowboy Stadium. That, however, would be their last regular-season defeat. They rolled up seven impressive wins in a row and won the South and earned home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game.

Most notable was a road victory at No. 14 UCLA -- the Sun Devils had been notoriously inconsistent on the road -- and a 58-21 beatdown of archival Arizona.

While Stanford pushed Arizona State around in both meetings this fall, knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl, it clearly was a satisfying season in Tempe. The Sun Devils are led by DT Will Sutton, two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and QB Taylor Kelly, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. The only bad news over the final part of the season was an injury to RB Marion Grice, who missed the last two games and is questionable at best for the Holiday Bowl.
-- Ted Miller

vs.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS BREAKDOWN
Momentum is a strange thing. Texas Tech had an awful lot of it to start 2013, winning seven in a row to kick off Kliff Kingsbury’s debut season. The team climbed as high as No. 10 in the polls.

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBaker Mayfield will hope to step forward in the Texas Tech QB derby during the postseason.
Then came five losses in a row, by an average margin of 20 points, to the Big 12’s five other bowl-eligible teams. They had the third-worst turnover margin in FBS and second-worst run defense in the Big 12. A promising season fell apart quickly.

This bowl game gives Kingsbury a chance to regain some of that momentum entering the offseason, both for next year’s team and the next few months of recruiting. A victory would be Texas Tech’s first since Oct. 19, a win at West Virginia.

It’s also more time to shore up the weaknesses that the Big 12’s best teams were able to expose. The Red Raiders’ run defense gave up 294 rushing yards per game in its losses and should be seriously tested again.

Perhaps the biggest questions the bowl can answer for Texas Tech is this: Who’s the quarterback? Baker Mayfield started seven games in 2013, Davis Webb started five and Michael Brewer could still be in the mix. Getting another game and 15 extra practices could help bring clarity. -- Max Olson

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:15
PM CT

UCF Knights (11-1) vs. Baylor Bears (11-1)

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)


UCF KNIGHTS BREAKDOWN
UCF entered its first year in the American Athletic Conference with high hopes. But nobody outside the program anticipated the Knights would win the conference championship. Not with preseason No. 9 Louisville standing in the way.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/John RaouxBlake Bortles has led UCF to the first BCS bowl in program history.
But the Knights served notice early on they were a team that should be taken seriously. They went on the road and beat Penn State in Week 3. Then they gave South Carolina everything they had in a 28-25 loss that came down to the very end. It became obvious their game at Louisville in October would have an impact on the conference title race.

UCF went on the road and never flinched, not after falling behind 28-7. Blake Bortles calmly led a 38-35 comeback win, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with 23 seconds remaining. The win paved the way for UCF to earn the American title outright and its first BCS bid as new league members. It also served as the biggest win in school history given where the Knights stand today.

Bortles keyed the season. The junior from Orlando threw for 3,280 yards this season, with 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He has risen up through NFL draft boards with his performance and now faces a decision about whether to return to UCF. But he wasn’t alone. The Knights have one of the deepest receiving groups in the league, as three players have at least 600 yards. Storm Johnson ran for 1,000 yards, and the Knights ranked in the top 20 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense.

But the season was not without its share of drama. Five times UCF needed to come from behind in the second half to win conference games. That includes victories over Memphis, Temple and USF -- three of the worst teams in the league.

The Temple victory was perhaps the closest UCF came to seeing its BCS dreams end. The Knights trailed 36-29 with 2 minutes to go, but J.J. Worton made an acrobatic, one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game, and Bortles got the Knights into field goal range with 2 seconds left to lead the win.

History has been made. As the American moves forward into a new era, UCF gives the league plenty to build on. -- Andrea Adelson

vs.

BAYLOR BEARS BREAKDOWN
Dreams came true in Waco, Texas, this season, as Baylor rose from the conference cellar to Big 12 champions under the direction of Art Briles. The Bears could win 12 games for first time in program history with a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win over UCF.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's Bears soared to new heights this season ... and they're not done.
Yet, there was a time when it looked like the Bears might not even make a BCS bowl after getting drilled by Oklahoma State 49-17 in late November. But BU responded to win its final two games over TCU and Texas to finish 11-1 while securing the Fiesta Bowl berth and outright Big 12 title.

Quarterback Bryce Petty was easily the best signal-caller in the conference and played a major role in the Bears’ FBS-leading 53.3 points per game and 624.5 yards per game this season. He will lead a passing attack that could be a handful for a UCF defense that allowed 229.83 passing yards per game, tied for 61st in the FBS.

Even though Briles’ squad featured the nation’s most productive offense, the real foundation of Baylor’s first Big 12 championship was its defense. The Bears defense ranked among the top three in the Big 12 in most categories and led the conference in yards per play allowed (4.53) and yards per rush allowed (3.26).

Safety Ahmad Dixon brought a physical tone and unyielding confidence to the defense, while its front seven, led by defensive end Chris McAllister, was underrated throughout the fall.

After its strong finish to the 2012 season, Baylor was viewed as an Big 12 sleeper heading into the 2013 season. Turns out the Bears were the Big 12’s sleeper team. And much more. -- Brandon Chatmon

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
2:30
PM CT

Duke Blue Devils (10-3) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)

Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, Atlanta (ESPN)


DUKE BLUE DEVILS BREAKDOWN
As expected, Duke was overmatched in the ACC championship game and lost convincingly to Florida State, but the loss didn’t define the season, which includes a school-record 10 wins.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Connette
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe versatile Brandon Connette accounted for 26 total scores for Duke this season.
The Blue Devils still earned the title of Coastal Division champs and now have a chance to end the season on a winning note. Duke had won eight straight games heading into the ACC title game -- the program’s longest winning streak since 1941. The program was ranked in the BCS standings for the first time, and it defeated two ranked teams in then-No. 16 Virginia Tech and then-No. 24 Miami.

Although Duke lost to Florida State for the 19th time and remains winless against the Noles, what happened in that game wasn’t reminiscent of the “old Duke.” Instead, Duke just got a taste of what FSU had been doing to its opponents all season. Duke still has a much-improved defense, which was evident in the first quarter, when it held the Noles scoreless for the first time since they played Florida in 2012. Duke also forced Florida State into three turnovers, including one fumble in the red zone and two interceptions. Duke has now had four takeaways in the red zone this season. Duke’s biggest problem was that it couldn’t capitalize on Florida State’s mistakes or sustain a drive.

That wasn’t the case for most of the season, as Duke was able to score more than 20 touchdowns on the ground and in the passing game for the first time in school history. Despite the loss to FSU, it was an unprecedented season for Duke and coach David Cutcliffe, who was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. -- Heather Dinich

vs.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES BREAKDOWN
This is not quite where Aggies fans thought their team might end up when they were previewing the season.

[+] Enlarge Mike Evans
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMike Evans and the Aggies hope to finish their season on a high note with a bowl victory.
With 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews all returning, many in College Station thought the Aggies could achieve a BCS bowl and perhaps even flirt with an SEC title and a BCS title game berth.

But an extremely young defense that was hit hard by graduation (at least in terms of key players) struggled throughout the season, and a beaten-up Manziel lost steam in the final two regular-season games, which led the offense to do the same.

All that being said, 8-4 isn't bad, and the fact that it's a "disappointment" in Aggieland speaks to how much progress the program has made in a short time. This team still has a high-powered offense, ranking sixth in the nation in points per game (43.6) and fourth in yards per game (538.2).

The defense has had its ups and downs but ended the regular season on a solid note on the road against a talented Missouri team, keeping the game within reach for its offense.

And this could be the last hurrah for Manziel, who seems destined to declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. It could also be the final salvo for Evans, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, who is also draft-eligible. -- Sam Khan Jr.

AT&T Cotton Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:10
PM CT

Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) vs. Missouri Tigers (11-2)

Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, Arlington, Texas (FOX)


OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS BREAKDOWN
Oklahoma State was one game away from its second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. Problem for the Cowboys, that one game was the one they seemingly never can win.

The Cowboys will head to the AT&T Cotton Bowl with a sour taste after losing to Oklahoma for the 10th time in 11 years, spoiling what otherwise was a strong regular season.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOklahoma State's offensive effectiveness tends to depend on how quarterback Clint Chelf is playing.
Oklahoma State, which has already totaled double-digit wins for the third time in four seasons, hammered Big 12 champ Baylor by 32 points, a week after rolling Texas by 25 on the road.

The Cowboys boast the best defense they've had under coach Mike Gundy. They lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, turnovers forced, red zone efficiency and several “Next Level” stats such as points allowed per drive. The defense is also deep and experienced, with seven senior starters and a standout at every level: Calvin Barnett at tackle, Caleb Lavey at linebacker and Justin Gilbert at cornerback.

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys aren't quite as explosive offensively as they've been in the past, but they can still put up points. Desmond Roland is a tough, one-cut running back, and the receiving corps is deep and talented, headlined by versatile playmaker Josh Stewart.

The offense, however, is usually only as good as quarterback Clint Chelf is. Chelf had the highest QBR of any signal-caller in the month of November, and as a result, Oklahoma State smoked Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor.

But in the cold of Bedlam, he struggled with his accuracy for most of the game, and in turn, the offense bogged down, which allowed the underdog Sooners to hang around. -- Jake Trotter

vs.

MISSOURI TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Give Gary Pinkel his due. Missouri’s veteran coach never pushed the panic button after the Tigers’ SEC debut a year ago produced a disappointing 5-7 season. His message all offseason was the same. Pinkel was confident Missouri would be better in Year No. 2, and he wasn't blindsided by anything the Tigers faced in their first season in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsDorial Green-Beckham leads a sizable group of Missouri receivers who are major threats in the red zone.
He obviously knew what he was talking about because Missouri bounced back in a big way by winning 11 games and earning a trip to the SEC championship game. The Tigers enter the postseason on a bit of a downer after losing 59-42 on Saturday to Auburn in the SEC championship game. Missouri had no answers for Auburn’s running game and was shredded for 545 yards on the ground, but that was the exception this season.

The Tigers entered that game ranked second in the SEC against the run and hadn't given up more than 21 points in regulation in their last six games.

Whereas Missouri was decimated by injuries a year ago, the Tigers stayed relatively healthy this season. The notable exception was at quarterback. Senior James Franklin separated his shoulder against Georgia in the sixth game and missed most of the next four games. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk stepped in and helped keep the Tigers in the SEC East race, and then Franklin returned against Ole Miss in the next-to-last regular-season game to finish the deal.

Franklin should be as healthy as he’s been since injuring his shoulder in the bowl game. Despite missing parts of five games, Franklin still passed for 2,255 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 474 yards and four touchdowns. The Tigers scored more than 30 points in 10 of their 13 games and were one of the most balanced offensive teams in the SEC.

Senior running back Henry Josey rushed for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Three different receivers had more than 45 catches, with Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington each surpassing 800 receiving yards. Green-Beckham, the No. 1 high school prospect in the country two years ago, caught 12 touchdown passes and Washington caught 10.

The Missouri receivers all pose difficult matchups for opposing defenses because of their size and athleticism. Green-Beckham is 6-foot-6 and Washington 6-4, and they both are excellent at going up and wrestling defensive backs for jump balls. -- Chris Low

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:00
PM CT
 

Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)

OKLAHOMA SOONERS BREAKDOWN
Outside of his 2000 national championship, this season might constitute Bob Stoops’ best coaching finish.

[+] EnlargeSaunders
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsReceiver and punt returner Jalen Saunders is an integral part of the Sooners' success. He had a return touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the win over Oklahoma State.
After the Sooners were blown out at Baylor a month ago, most pegged Oklahoma for an 8-4 finish. Instead, despite juggling three different quarterbacks, the Sooners rallied for road wins over red-hot Kansas State and Oklahoma State to secure their fourth consecutive double-digit win season and first BCS bowl since 2010.

The way the Sooners won Bedlam underscores just how improbable a finish it was. Oklahoma didn’t even score an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds of the game, yet somehow toppled the heavily favored, then sixth-ranked Cowboys, 33-24.

Unlike the Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, the Sooners are not equipped to win in shootouts. But led by a veteran offensive line, a reliable running back in Brennan Clay and its mobile quarterbacks, Oklahoma does have a strong running game, ranking 18th in the country.

Even without a surefire all-conference player, the Sooners also have their best defense since 2009. They are undersized up front, but the pass defense is prolific. Aaron Colvin is a proven lockdown corner, and Eric Striker is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football.

The true strength of this team, however, is special teams. Jalen Saunders, who had a touchdown return in Bedlam, is one of the most electric returners in the country. Roy Finch leads the Big 12 in kickoff returns. And Michael Hunnicutt is a reliable field-goal kicker.

It will be interesting, as it has been all season, to see what the Sooners do at quarterback in the bowl. Freshman Trevor Knight won the job late in the season and was terrific at Kansas State. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder just before halftime at Oklahoma State. Knight should be fine for the bowl. But Blake Bell, who struggled in the losses to Texas and Baylor, led Oklahoma on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that beat Oklahoma State. -- Jake Trotter

vs.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BREAKDOWN
The sting of losing the Iron Bowl remains. The Crimson Tide didn't expect to fall to the Tigers in the final week of the regular season, miss out on the SEC championship game and, as a result, a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at a third-straight BCS championship. All of which begs the question: How will Alabama respond now that it has been relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl? And does Oklahoma stand a chance?

[+] EnlargeCyrus Jones
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCB Cyrus Jones and the Alabama secondary will have its hands full with OU's receivers.
Judging by previous experience, expect Alabama to arrive in New Orleans with something to prove. The last time the Tide missed out on a shot in the title game, it went to Orlando and beat Michigan State in the most lopsided Capital One Bowl in the game's history.

But Alabama isn't the same team it was then.

On offense, Alabama is actually much better as Doug Nussmeier has guided UA to 38.8 points per game -- the most in the Nick Saban era. AJ McCarron might not win the Heisman Trophy, but he has a shot at making it to New York having thrown for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The offensive line that was rebuilt after being the best in college football a year ago has actually allowed 12 fewer sacks this season than the last. And the running back tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake hasn't disappointed either, combining for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense, though, has endured its ups and downs. Against Texas A&M, it gave up the most yards in school history, and against Auburn, it allowed the most rushing yards since 2011 (296) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback (99) in the Saban era. Discipline was an issue in those games and the back end of the defense was a troublesome spot throughout as strong safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost to injury midway through the season and the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue was a revolving door with John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith all taking unsuccessful turns.

The Tide’s defense will be tested by Oklahoma. With a few QBs that can run, if Alabama doesn't come out ready to play, it could turn into a shootout as the Sooners possesses the kind of spread offense that has given the Tide trouble (http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/75890/alabama-at-loss-defending-spread-offenses). LSU had the best tandem of receivers Alabama faced this season, but Oklahoma might have the best receiver corps with three wideouts with 20 or more catches. Jalen Saunders has 615 yards and five touchdowns of his own and Sterling Shepard, who has 428 yards and six touchdowns, is the kind of shifty receiver that can hurt you. -- Alex Scarborough

Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:35
PM CT

UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)

Jan. 1, noon ET, Dallas (ESPNU)


[+] EnlargeCaleb Herring
AP Photo/David BeckerSenior QB Caleb Herring is coming off a career game -- 336 total yards and six touchdowns in a rout of bowl-bound San Diego State.
UNLV REBELS BREAKDOWN
Getting bowl eligible earned Bobby Hauck a three-year contract extension through the 2016 season.

A 7-5 finish now has UNLV playing in the postseason for the first time in 13 years. The Runnin' Rebels will ring in the new year against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl. There they will try to extend the program's postseason unbeaten streak to four.

They can do that thanks to a five-win improvement from last year's 2-11 squad, which has done a good job of containing some of the Mountain West Conference's potent aerial attacks. UNLV ranks first in the MWC in pass defense and fifth in scoring defense, as they finished tied for third in the West Division with a 5-3 record in conference play. -- Matt Fortuna

vs.

NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN BREAKDOWN
[+] EnlargeDan McCarney
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDan McCarney's Mean Green defense is ninth in the nation in points allowed (18.1 ppg).
Coach Dan McCarney has led the Mean Green to their best season since taking over the program three years ago. North Texas’ eight-win season is a four-game improvement over 2012.

The Mean Green are one of the better defensive teams in the country, allowing only 18.1 points per game, which ranks No. 9 nationally.

They're also No. 6 nationally in preventing touchdowns once teams enter the red zone, allowing them on just 45.5 percent of opponent's red zone trips.

Special teams is also an area of strength for North Texas.

The Mean Green have blocked eight kicks in 2013, and they have one of the country's best return men in Brelan Chancellor. The senior has a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown and ranks 11th in yards per kick return (28.14) and fifth in yards per punt return (16.82).
-- Sam Khan Jr.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:00
PM CT

Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)

Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)


OREGON DUCKS BREAKDOWN
During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota should be at full strength and ready to run in the postseason.
That 8-0 start was a thing of beauty, as the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the nation, dominating on both sides of the ball. They hung 59 points on both Virginia and Tennessee. They turned a precarious seven-point fourth-quarter lead into a 45-24 stomping of hated rival Washington, a 10th consecutive victory in the series by at least 17 points. They showed some grit in the second half against UCLA, swamping the Bruins 42-14.

Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.

Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.

The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.

The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller

vs.

TEXAS LONGHORNS BREAKDOWN
The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas will lean on its run game but will need Case McCoy to make a few plays to close out the season with a win.
If that ends up being the case, we’ll know before Texas takes the field for its bowl game later this month. These Longhorns could have plenty to play for in their finale, even if at 8-4 they’ve ended up in the same Valero Alamo Bowl they played in last year.

Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.

Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson

Texas Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
9:30
PM CT

Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) vs. Syracuse Orange (6-6)

Dec. 27, 6 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)


MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS BREAKDOWN
The Gophers were the surprise team in the Big Ten this year, as they overcame low expectations and fought through uncertainty surrounding coach Jerry Kill to clinch their first eight-win season in a decade.

[+] EnlargeRa'Shede Hageman
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsBehind dominating defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, the Gophers won eight games and are heading to a bowl.
Kill suffered his fifth game-day seizure on Oct. 5, took medical leave and began resuming some coaching duties a little more than three weeks later. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has taken over as needed, but the Gophers haven't missed a beat.

It's not as though this team is loaded with stars. Only one player -- DT Ra'Shede Hageman -- was a unanimous selection on the All-Big Ten team. But, week after week, the Gophers relied on a bend-but-don't-break defense (No. 17 in the nation in the red zone) and a run-heavy offense (200.9 ypg) to find a way to win.

Their bread and butter has been the run game, but the Gophers have played their best football when they have struck a balance. During their key four-game winning streak during the conference season -- against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State -- the Gophers averaged 182.5 passing yards per game compared to 121.5 yards outside of that streak.

Minnesota is still not one of the best teams in the Big Ten, as it lost to both Wisconsin and Michigan State. But, behind quarterback Philip Nelson and tailback David Cobb, the Gophers have taken a step forward -- and are now hoping for their first bowl win since 2004. -- Josh Moyer

vs.

SYRACUSE ORANGE BREAKDOWN
The Orange not only had key personnel losses to fill when the season started, they also had a new head coach and a new conference to call home. Doubters wondered how Syracuse would get back to a bowl game given all the questions.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt delivered Syracuse past Boston College to make the Orange bowl eligible.
Well, it took nearly every second of the season, but Syracuse got the job done. The Orange became bowl eligible on the final weekend of the regular season with a 34-31 win over Boston College, securing the victory on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Terrel Hunt to Josh Parris with 6 seconds remaining. This is the first time since 1998-1999 Syracuse is going to consecutive bowl games.

It was not pretty at times. Drew Allen started the season at quarterback but threw too many interceptions and was benched after three starts. Hunt was better, but he was nowhere near elite. He didn’t throw his first touchdown pass in league play until the second-to-last game of the season. There were ugly losses to Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech, too.

But first-year coach Scott Shafer was able to keep his team together. What got his team four ACC wins was its physical play. Jerome Smith had 840 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, and the rushing defense played inspired. In three of those wins, Syracuse held its opponents to a combined 13 points.

In addition, Jay Bromley posted nine sacks and forced three fumbles to lead the defense. The Orange ended up in a tie for third in the Atlantic Division. Certainly not a bad way to open Year 1 in the ACC.
-- Andrea Adelson

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