NEW ORLEANS -- Ezekiel Elliott swears he's not trying to make any fashion statement with the way he wears his jersey.

The Ohio State running back shows off his stomach during games -- even those, like at Minnesota, that are played in sub-freezing temperatures -- by turning his jersey into a half shirt. The throwback look has brought comparisons to another famous Buckeye back in Eddie George. Or maybe Britney Spears.

But Elliott, who started rocking the midriff last season as a freshman, says there's not much to it.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jason Mowry/Icon SportswireBuckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott, whose jersey is folded up under his pads, has rushed for three consecutive 100-yard games to end the 2014 regular season.
"I just don't like how long the jersey is," he said. "I don't like to tuck it in, so I like to tuck it up under."

Elliott's game really isn't about style and flashiness, anyway. He likes to block a defensive back almost as much as he enjoys carrying the ball. Yet down the stretch of the season, he started putting up some elite rushing numbers.

In Ohio State's last five games, he averaged 138.6 yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry while scoring seven touchdowns. He put an exclamation point on his sophomore campaign with a huge performance in the 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, running for a career-high 220 yards on 20 carries.

Elliott has posted numbers that are similar to Heisman Trophy winner George's in each of their first seasons as a full-time starter. George had 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 13 games; Elliott has 1,402 yards and 12 scores.

But the St. Louis native has done it all somewhat quietly, as the quarterbacks get most of the attention in the Buckeyes' offense. Even during Sunday's media session for the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the placard for Elliott misspelled his last name, leaving off the second 'T.'

"That happens a lot," he said. "It's something you've got to learn to deal with."

Clearly, though, Elliott has Alabama's attention. The Buckeyes like to run the ball first and foremost, and with J.T. Barrett sidelined, Elliott is their primary option on the ground.

"He's tough and he runs behind his shoulder pads," Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins said. "He's got great vision, and he hits his hole as hard as he can."

It's more than just Elliott's running that makes him special, however. Coach Urban Meyer has called him one of the best skill players he's ever had without the ball in his hands. Elliott relishes blocking downfield and is a big reason why Ohio State has sprung so many big plays.

"They run those sweeps and plays to the perimeter, and he just mows 'em down," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.

Elliott says he likes contact and tries to "take a very unselfish approach to the game." That has, not surprisingly, made him a popular teammate.

"There will be somebody 50 yards downfield, and Zeke is going to go find him, cut him and take him out of the play," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "He's like our Energizer bunny; he never seems to get tired. I watch film of him and am like, 'Geez, dude, how do you keep doing that?"

Ohio State will need every bit of Elliott's blocking, energy and speed on Thursday against Alabama, which leads the FBS in rushing defense by allowing just 88.7 yards per game and and 2.8 yards per carry. The Tide have given up just three rushing touchdowns all season, due mostly to their standout defensive line, which Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman said was the deepest and stoutest he's ever seen.

"They're really, really big," Herman said. "I mean, really big."

"You watch them on film," Elliott said, "and offensive lines don't really move them."

Ohio State is confident that its offensive line, which improved so much this season, can handle Alabama's size up front. But at some point, it will be up to Elliott to help counter the Tide's strength, both with his running and his blocking. If so, America may finally learn how to spell his name, while doing some rather unavoidable navel-gazing.
NEW ORLEANS -- There's an almost limitless supply of information available to Cardale Jones, more than a season of Alabama game films, anything and everything a Nick Saban defense has thrown at opponents over the last calendar year.

With just one measly game and a couple of mop-up appearances to watch as the Crimson Tide study up on Jones and Ohio State, Saban's supply is limited, to say the least.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAlabama has very little game film on Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.
It's almost a certainty that Alabama's defensive guru will cook up something a redshirt sophomore quarterback making just the second start of his career isn't prepared for, no matter how much footage Jones might have at his disposal. But while there is no substitute for experience and Ohio State's offensive philosophy doesn't change regardless of who is running the attack, there's at least a chance it might actually be Jones who has something of an edge leading up to Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl as a mystery man reading an open book, complex as it might be.

"There's been countless [hours], dating back to last year's Sugar Bowl, just trying to be prepared for any and everything," Jones said. "It's not so much exotic, but I would say they're a schematic defense. They prepare for the team they play that week, and they change their looks to defeat that team's offense.

"But we're not trying to fool anybody here. I mean, Nick Saban and Alabama's coaching staff have seen it all."

What the Crimson Tide haven't seen much of is Jones in action during many competitive situations, which might make it a challenge to put together a detailed scouting report of his tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.

What the former third-string quarterback did put on film in the 59-0 throttling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game certainly caught Alabama's attention, though, and it proved without much doubt that he has the physical tools to pose a threat in the College Football Playoff both as a rusher and a passer. But outside of that breakout performance, there are only 18 other pass attempts on his resume, leaving little for Alabama to evaluate as it tries to formulate a plan to shut him down.

"Well, not knowing how he reacts to different things would be the toughest thing," Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "You don't know how he's going to react in certain situations. You haven't seen enough tape to know.

"That's probably the hardest thing for us to get prepared for is we're watching one quarterback (J.T. Barrett) in a lot of games, yet we're going to face a different quarterback. So knowing what they want to do with that guy makes it harder, tougher to get ready for."

Even with all those extra hours of tape, Jones doesn't exactly have it all that much easier gearing up for the Crimson Tide, who are athletic, talented and intelligent enough to throw just about anything at the Buckeyes.

And in terms of reacting to different blitzes or coverages, the obvious downside to the lack of previous game film on Jones is that it means he doesn't have much experience putting his prep work into action on the field.

"I'm sure they will have a ton that he hasn't seen," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "He hasn't seen a lot, by the way. He only played 62 plays against Wisconsin. But I don't think defenses game plan against quarterbacks. Defenses game plan against systems and plays and formations and tendencies and downs and distances.

"Will they say, this is this kid's strength or these are his weaknesses? Yes, but at the end of the day you've got to stop the entire machine."

Alabama only needed one tape to see that Jones could keep it humming along. But he hasn't left it with much else to work with to try to slow him down behind the wheel.
Three things to watch when Texas and Arkansas face off in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Monday night (9 ET, ESPN):

Do you like defense? If so, this might be the bowl game for you. As expected, Texas enjoyed a defensive revival in 2014 under first-year coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorns finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense, pass defense and sacks and rank No. 8 nationally in yards per play allowed. Arkansas isn't playing in this game or any bowl without its defense, which shut out both Ole Miss and LSU to reach six wins. The Hogs also held Alabama and Mississippi State to 14 and 17 points, respectively. The odds of this matchup ending in a low-scoring brawl look pretty decent.

Do you like running backs? Arkansas and Texas do. Bret Bielema built his Arkansas team around the only duo of 1,000-yard rushers (Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins) in the FBS. Their most impressive game together? The 437-yard showing at Texas Tech. Texas thought it would have a pair of 1,000-yarders in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray but never had the O-line to sustain such success. Getting that inexperienced line a month of bowl practices and recovery time ought to help. Expect stacked boxes all night long in Houston.

Winning season vs. losing season: The one-game stakes for Arkansas and Texas are pretty simple. One team finishes 7-6; one team ends up 6-7. The Razorbacks just survived arguably the toughest schedule in the country, with seven SEC foes that won eight-plus games (combined record of their SEC opponents: 73-25). A win Monday would be a just reward for a team that had to fight for everything. Same for Texas, a squad that has played better than its 6-6 record indicates and came close to stunning UCLA and Oklahoma at neutral sites. (Plus the Horns have this bonus motivation.) Both teams will get up for this one, but who has enough left in the tank?
LOS ANGELES – Jameis Winston has been carefully shielded over the past year, with limited media appearances going hand in hand with restrictions placed on what reporters could ask him.

As a result, the routine became rote, with Winston repeating similar comments about his love for the game, his love for his teammates, and his belief that everything would work out in the end.

The Winston we saw Sunday during an extended Rose Bowl media session was a little different. The Florida State Seminoles quarterback spoke for 40 minutes -- his longest session since the ACC media kickoff in July -- and willingly answered questions ranging from how he is perceived to how the microscope on him has made him change, keeping him home at nights instead of out with teammates.

He even showed some of his trademark confidence, telling the world he would throw on any cornerback -- even Seahawks All-Pro Richard Sherman.

While Winston's guard remains firmly up, he knows how to win a news conference the way he knows how to win games.

He makes eye contact. He provides some insight to go with his rehearsed lines. He is keenly aware of not only what to say but also how to say it, reminding us that the personality that drew raves when he first took the field for Florida State is still there.

Yet he knows that personality may never be enough to win over skeptics who have long since made up their minds about Winston after his various off-the-field incidents -- most especially sexual assault allegations that never led to criminal charges.

“Well, perception is reality today, so my only thing today is to prove that I’m a good guy,” Winston said. “I’ve got to show more of my actions. I can’t worry about the past. I can’t worry about the future. I’ve got to be where my feet are and keep working every day to become a better person and a better football player and a better teammate.”

How does he go about proving that when so many do not believe him?

“In our locker room, I’m a fun-loving guy, and people always can bring up old things but now I’m doing what I do,” he said. “I’m playing the game I love. I’m a loving person. I’m dependable, I’m accountable. I can’t show out to the world that I’m that guy because you’re not in the locker room, and a lot of people don’t know me for who I am. Perception is reality, but perceptions can also be false.”

Leading up to Florida State's College Football Playoff semifinal against Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Thursday, what has become a common theme is that the world will see a newly invigorated Winston after he was cleared in his student code of conduct hearing earlier this month.

After the resolution was announced, coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters that Winston felt a sense of relief. But Winston refused to answer whether he was relieved when asked Saturday during a Rose bowl appearance at Disneyland and again Sunday, telling reporters the off-field problems were never a distraction.

“I’ve always been focusing on football only,” he said. “I was never worried about that. Football and academics have always been my main focus. I was never distracted by that.”

Co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders did not quite know how to respond when asked whether he has seen a different Winston now that Winston has been cleared.

“I think other than having to sit in there through the process, that was probably the only real concern,” Sanders said. “He knows what happened, so I don’t think there was a whole lot of concern about how the results would turn out. I don’t think the thought of anything coming up where he couldn’t play was ever really a thought.”

Maybe not. But Winston knows his life has changed. He disclosed that he spent a lot of time with fellow senior receiver Rashad Greene in November 2013 after the sexual assault allegations against Winston were revealed. Winston would stay over at Greene’s apartment and get words of encouragement. Winston said Greene, who is also one of the team's leaders, told him, “Just relax. Keep your head up. You know you did nothing wrong. It’s more about your team. It’s about these guys.”

Winston also said he no longer goes out in Tallahassee.

“Obviously, I know I’m under a microscope,” he said. “People will tweet about you walking down the street backward, so you just gotta chill.”

Has that been difficult?

“Yeah, it has in the season, just staying in my house -- that’s not me,” Winston said. “I love being around my teammates. Only time I can be around them is in the locker room. I can’t celebrate with them. I can’t do nothing with them, but it comes with the territory.”

Winston is not the first, nor will he be the last high-profile athlete to be under a microscope made largely of his own doing. But Winston seems to know how to deal with the doubters and their questions. He may not like either, but he did answer with a
Clemson is on the brink of a fourth straight 10-win season, but it will go to battle with a backup quarterback and big questions on offense. Oklahoma fell far short of expectations this year, but with its stars on offense getting healthier, the Sooners are still extremely dangerous.

Will Clemson send out its dominant senior class of defenders on a high note, or will Oklahoma turn in another breakthrough performance in a bowl game? Here are the storylines to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl:

Stoudt back at the helm: Cole Stoudt steps in once again as the Tigers quarterback after Deshaun Watson elected to have surgery on his injured knee. Given that Stoudt’s last two games against Power 5 competition included four picks and zero touchdowns, that opens some significant questions about whether Clemson can put up points. Adding more intrigue is the coaching situation for the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris departed for the head-coaching job at SMU, which means Tony Elliott will get his first crack at calling plays.

Healthy Oklahoma: When the Sooners fell to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, they were without starting QB Trevor Knight and lost star tailback Samaje Perine in the third quarter to a sprained ankle. Both players have had time to heal and should be on the field against Clemson, which certainly makes Oklahoma’s offense far more dangerous.

Perine vs. Clemson rush D: Despite sitting out the final quarter of the Oklahoma State game, Perine racked up 791 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his final three games of the season, making Oklahoma’s ground game one of the most explosive in the nation. On the flip side, Clemson’s D surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry this season -- the best in the nation -- and allowed just 10 touchdowns all year. While it does seem like a strength-on-strength matchup, it’s worth mentioning that when the Tigers played Georgia’s prolific running game in the opener, they allowed 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Getting to Knight: Clemson’s pass rush has been among the best in the nation the past two years. The Tigers had 44 sacks this season, which ranked fifth nationally, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. tormented opposing quarterbacks all season. To have that same success against Oklahoma won’t be easy, though. The Sooners surrendered just eight sacks all year, the second fewest in the country.

Gallman on the ground: He didn’t exactly finish the year with as much of a bang as Perine did at Oklahoma, but Wayne Gallman helped transform the Clemson offense down the stretch by finally giving the Tigers a consistent threat on the ground. Gallman had 516 yards rushing in Clemson’s last five games, and the Tigers’ ground game, which had averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in the first seven games of the season, upped that average to 4.8 over the final five. A strong game by Gallman and the rushing attack could take a lot of pressure off Stoudt.
As we get closer to New Year’s Day the bowl games become more compelling, and that’s certainly the case with Monday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Texas A&M and West Virginia. It’s a matchup of two head coaches familiar with each other and two similar offenses, and it gives us a dose of Big 12 vs. SEC, which always is good for debate. Let’s break it down:

What’s at stake: In the 119-season history of Texas A&M football, the Aggies have never won four consecutive bowl games. They have the opportunity to do so here, seeking a fourth straight bowl win dating back to 2011. West Virginia is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons under Dana Holgorsen and seeks its second bowl win in that span.

Players to watch: West Virginia receiver Kevin White is worth the price of admission. The senior is one of college football’s best receivers, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions (102) and seventh in receiving yards (1,318), with nine touchdowns. He shows a knack for making big-time, highlight-worthy plays. For Texas A&M, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival in Aggies land. He finished the regular season tied for second in the SEC in sacks (11), which broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record, Garrett had 12.5 tackles for loss, and he has been a headache for opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Familiar faces: These head coaches know each other well. Kevin Sumlin’s first offensive coordinator hire as a head coach in Houston was Holgorsen in 2008. The two won 18 games together in two seasons before Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State. He took then-graduate assistant Jake Spavital with him from Houston to Stillwater and eventually to West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed Spavital to replace Kliff Kingsbury’s spot on the Texas A&M staff when Kingsbury left his offensive coordinator post for the head-coaching job at Texas Tech.

Similar attacks: Both teams operate in a one-back spread attack rooted in Air Raid principles. Each team scores a lot (West Virginia averages 33.2 points, Texas A&M 34.4) and throws quite a bit, too; the Mountaineers average 314.6 passing yards per game, while the Aggies average 306.4.

Trickett out: West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett will miss the game, announcing last week that he is hanging up his cleats because of concussions he's suffered. Sophomore Skyler Howard will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. In three games, including a start versus Iowa State, Howard has thrown for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

Record breaker: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds has emerged as one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite receivers, and even when Kenny Hill was starting, Reynolds was making things happen. The unheralded junior college recruit tied the single-season school record (held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller) with 12 receiving touchdowns. One more would put Reynolds at the top of the list, lofty status for someone who received little buzz when he enrolled at Texas A&M in January.

Coaching attrition: Texas A&M will be without three coaches that it ended the regular season with: defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and receivers coach David Beaty. Snyder was fired the day after the Aggies’ season-ending loss to LSU; linebackers coach Mark Hagen will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl. Beaty accepted the head-coaching position at Kansas, and earlier this month Sumlin announced that Anderson won’t return next season or coach in the bowl game. The Aggies will operate with two full-time offensive assistants (Jake Spavital and Clarence McKinney), while graduate assistant Chris Smith assists with the offensive line duties for the game. West Virginia will say goodbye to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson after the Liberty Bowl, as he will become Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, but Dawson will be with the Mountaineers’ staff working Monday’s game.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Shaquelle Evans, No. 40 in 2009 class

Evans picked Notre Dame in November of 2008 coming out of Inglewood (Calif.) taking only one official visit, to South Bend, despite offers from USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and a number of others. He was a member of a Fighting Irish 2008 class that included tight end Tyler Eifert, tackle Zack Martin, running back Theo Riddick, linebacker Manti Te'o and guard Chris Watt.

Evans saw action in six games for the Fighting Irish catching seven passes for 61 yards. He elected to transfer home after the 2009 season, and enrolled at UCLA.

Evans sat out the 2010 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but made his mark quickly in 2011. He played in 13 of 14 games for the Bruins including five starts. He finished the season with 19 catches and two touchdowns.

The 2012 season was when Evans began to show that he had a future in the NFL. In 14 starts, Evans caught a team leading 60 passes for 877 yards earning All-Pac 12 honorable mention by the league coaches.

Evans again led the Bruins in receptions as a senior catching 47 passes for 709 yards and nine touchdowns earning All-Pac 12 honors for a second straight season.

He capped his career catching a pass in his last 28 games, and made 32 career starts. In total he had 126 receptions for 1,895 yards for UCLA.

Evans was selected in the fourth round, No. 115 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Jets.

Honorable mention: Byron Maxwell, No. 40 in 2006 and Travis Rudolph, No. 40 in 2014. Maxwell currently plays for the Seattle Seahawks after a standout career at Clemson. Rudolph has emerged as a key receiver for Florida State headed into the College Football playoff. He played like a player with an NFL future during the last half of the 2014 season.
While the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will bring an exciting and much-anticipated coaching matchup between Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer, it also brings us an intriguing player vs. coaches matchup.

That would be Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones facing a pair of defensive gurus in Saban and his coordinating partner in crime, Kirby Smart. On paper, you have a redshirt sophomore, third-string-quarterback-turned-starter taking on two guys who eat, sleep and breathe defense and preparedness. What you have is Jones making his second start, following a fantastic showing in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, battling two brilliant football minds who got nearly a month to prepare for their relatively inexperienced opponent.

But you also have those two X's and O's brainiacs taking on a lumbering yet deceptively agile gunslinger who went from being defined by an infamous tweet to piling up 257 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 59-0 pounding of Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago.

While Ohio State trying to perfect the ideal game plan for a new quarterback -- for the second time this season -- against a tag team that feasts off inexperience and relishes the notion of extra time to think and scheme sounds daunting, Alabama has to be ready for a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback who coaches and players really don't know a ton about. The factor of the relative unknown complicates things a little for Alabama as well.

"This guy is very, very capable," Saban said of Jones. "He's a very good passer. Big strong, athletic guy who can do all the things the other guy (J.T. Barrett) could do in terms of the quarterback runs. It's just a little different style, that's all. We did see him play almost a game and a half. And he pretty must did what the other guy did. The one thing he did really well was pass the ball. He made some really good throws in the Wisconsin game, big plays down the field. Which the other guy did, too, so we have a tremendous amount of respect what this guy can do."

Saban and Smart have kind of been down this path before. They adjusted on the fly in-game to Garrett Gilbert in the BCS title win over Texas in 2009 and prepared for a completely different quarterback -- and scheme -- against Jordan Jefferson and LSU in their 2011 national championship win.

So for the moment, this battle is a little bit of a chess match. While Saban and Smart, who watched their defense rank third in the SEC (312.4 yards allowed per game) and have combined to win four of their last five bowl games together, pose the threat of unleashing some new and threatening exotic looks to confuse Ohio State's green QB, Jones and his coaches have limited film and a plethora of offensive knowledge working in their favor as well.

See, while Jones is one obstacle Alabama's defensive brain trust must overcome, there's also the issue of preparing for any potential wrinkles from Meyer and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who won this year's Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant. The Buckeyes have been down this path before. After star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, Herman helped develop Barrett into one of the nation's elite players.

In his first season of work, Barrett threw for 2,834 yards (more than Miller has in a single season) and a school-record 34 touchdowns while rushing for another 938 yards and 11 more scores. This was all before a season-ending ankle injury in the season finale against Michigan gave way to Jones.

Whether it was Barrett for so long or Jones for so little, Ohio State hasn't had to change much to help its quarterbacks.

"Most of their quarterbacks are kind of similar," Alabama safety Landon Collins said. "They run the same scheme offense. We’re just gonna have to watch film on what they do because, I mean, they’re not gonna change the whole offense for one player."

Ohio State isn't, and it doesn't have to. The Buckeyes arrived in New Orleans leading the Big Ten in total offense (507.6 yards per game) and scoring (45.2) and ranking third in passing (246.8 yards per game). That's all without Miller and mostly thanks to some masterful play calling by Herman to put Barrett in the right situations. Now, it's time for Herman to use a little bit of that magic on Jones to thwart Alabama's suffocating defense.

"We feel philosophically, they are going to run their offense," Saban said. "It's just what part of it they might feature a little different. That's the part we are not sure about."
David Cobb may be known around Minnesota's campus -- a student recently stopped him for a photo before his sports management final -- but he’s mostly a forgotten man outside of Minneapolis.

When it comes to standout games, he knows most Big Ten fans think of Melvin Gordon's 408-yard performance. When it comes to memorable plays, they might even envision Ameer Abdullah's game-winning 58-yard reception. And in the realm of dizzying stats, they’ll more likely think of Tevin Coleman's 2,036 rushing yards.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota running back David Cobb didn't get the attention of other Big Ten ball carriers but produced a record-breaking season all the same.
They usually won’t think of Cobb; he knows that. But he doesn’t mind. Actually, the Minnesota running back swears he prefers it this way.

“I’ve never been that type of person who needs that highlight or needs that spotlight on me,” Cobb said. “Having Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah in that same conference, I wouldn’t want it any different because it motivates me week in and week out. I wouldn’t change it for anything because this is what I’m used to.”

This isn’t feigned humility by a senior who privately stews about his lack of "SportsCenter" clips. This is someone who was raised by an Army lieutenant and has grown accustomed to being the “forgotten man” on the gridiron.

One month ago, he battled through a hamstring injury and set the Minnesota single-season record for rushing yards (1,545) against Wisconsin -- on the same afternoon Gordon broke the Big Ten rushing record. Two weeks prior, even the player whose school record Cobb broke -- Laurence Maroney -- told he hadn’t yet had a chance to watch Cobb. (“The way I hear people talk about him, he’s definitely a bigger back,” Maroney offered.) During Cobb’s first two seasons at Minnesota, he was buried on the depth chart and carried the pigskin just 11 times. And in high school, he received just five scholarship offers while playing for a team that won eight games in two seasons.

From high school to college, Cobb has been underestimated. But he’s also never failed to overachieve.

“I would tell you that, in my opinion, he’s better than even I thought he would be,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.

Added Cobb: “Coming in here, I had dreams, but I never thought I would be this successful. This was in the back of my head -- but it was far, far back. I’m just blessed.”

Cobb’s surprising future was laid in 2009 on the scorched grass of Ellison (Texas) High School, where the average summer high hovers around 96 degrees. He split carries with his older brother, Daniel, as a high school underclassman and became a workhorse of sorts as an upperclassman. In his senior season opener, he rushed 27 times in regulation before his coach called his number on six straight plays to win in overtime. The final stats for Cobb that day: 33 carries, 282 yards.

That was the norm for the Killeen, Texas, native. He could wear a defense down with a smile, but colleges still didn’t pay him much mind. Not when he clocked a laser-timed 40-yard dash of 4.75 seconds at a Nike camp.

“They were wanting something better than that,” then-Ellison coach Buddy McBryde said. “But I predicted all this success when David was a sophomore -- and my prediction’s based not as much on athletic ability but his heart. Nobody is going to work harder, and nobody was faster on the field in the fourth quarter.”

To Cobb, that lack of attention in high school just created a chip on his shoulder that never left. “It made me hungry," Cobb said. “Wherever I went, I wanted to prove I was better than that five-star (prospect).”

So when he traded in the scenery of Texas cypresses for Minnesota spruces, the Gophers running back didn’t mind proving himself. Sure, he faced times of frustration. His family dutifully hopped on a plane most weekends, flew to Minneapolis and watched him ride the bench his first two seasons. Cobb wanted to give them something to watch, something to be proud of.

So he eventually found himself faced with a decision: Give up and sit back or go harder than ever before.

He didn’t need to glance at his left shoulder to know that chip was still there. He needed to prove more; he needed to outgrow everyone else’s expectations. He stayed after every practice, maybe just 15-20 minutes, to work on his cuts, and he’d visit with coaches whenever he’d find free time. He’d force himself to spend extra time in the film room, staring at the defense and reading his linemen. And he’d grunt while lifting in the weight room, replacing fat with muscle and improving his speed and stamina.

“Not playing tests how much you want it,” Cobb said. “And I wanted it.”

The first time Kill leaned on him for more than backup work -- Sept. 14, 2013 against Western Illinois -- Cobb finished with 13 carries for 82 yards and two scores. The next game, he wound up with 25 carries, 125 yards and two touchdowns. He never looked back. From that point on, he'd surpass the 100-yard rushing mark in 13 of his next 22 games. He’d break Maroney’s nine-year-old single-season rushing record. He’d become team MVP as a senior. And he’d finish the 2014 regular season within the top 10 nationally in rushing.

He did it all quietly. Unlike the trio of Abdullah, Coleman and Gordon, Cobb never made the list of Doak Walker finalists. Heck, he was even snubbed as a semifinalist. He never made first-team All-Big Ten; he was pinned as a second-teamer.

Cobb never complained. He just smiled, put his head down and continued to power his team to its most successful season in more than a decade, earning a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl to face Missouri on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET on ABC. And, spotlight or not, Cobb said he wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“I probably haven’t been the most highly recruited player out of high school or the most talked about in college, but my coaches and teammates appreciate me,” Cobb said. “And that’s all that matters.”

Under Armour Live: Registration day

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
Get a behind-the-scenes look and all the news at registration day for the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game from RecruitingNation's reporters beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

SAN DIEGO -- During the postgame news conference at Qualcomm Stadium following USC’s 45-42 win over Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl, Nebraska interim head coach Barney Cotton was asked to comment on the play of USC true freshman Adoree' Jackson.

“What’s the number?” Cotton asked. “I’m not a name guy.”

After Saturday night, here’s guessing Cotton will remember the name.

Whether he was returning kicks, catching touchdowns or making plays in the secondary, Jackson was one of the most exciting and dynamic players on the field Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJackson
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesFreshman Adoree' Jackson was Mr. Excitement for USC, burning Nebraska for a 98-yard kickoff return TD and a 71-yard receiving TD in the Trojans' Holiday Bowl win.
Minutes after Cotton, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took the podium -- along with Jackson, quarterback Cody Kessler and defensive end Leonard Williams -- and he offered this on Jackson:

“I keep battling [defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox because I want him on offense,” Sarkisian said. “He would have had four touchdowns if he was playing on offense.”

That drew a “yep” from Kessler and a playful head shake from Williams.

USC will likely lose two of its marquee offensive players to the 2015 NFL draft. No one will be shocked when running back Buck Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor make their believed intentions official. If the Holiday Bowl was in fact their respective swan songs, then they exited nicely. Allen rushed for a game-high 152 yards and two touchdowns, while Agholor hauled in seven balls for 90 yards and a score.

But USC’s up-and-comers showed the offense is going to be just fine if -- or when -- those guys leave. Jackson opened the USC scoring with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter. He added three catches for 73 yards, including a jaw-dropping 71-yard touchdown from Kessler. Actually, it was a 1-yard pass from Kessler. Jackson did the other 70 on his own.

But it wasn’t just Jackson making plays. JuJu Smith had three catches for 66 yards. Bryce Dixon caught four balls for 44 yards and a touchdown. The Trojans used 11 true freshmen in significant roles this season, including eight who have combined for 58 starts. Consider that number, with the fact that USC suited up just 50 scholarship players for its bowl game, and it’s not unreasonable to think USC should contend for the Pac-12 South Division next season.

“Our future -- and I’ll say it again -- is ridiculously bright,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to continue to get better and continue to recruit. We’re going to recruit great players. We’re going to develop the players that we have in our program. We’re going to compete for championships. That’s why you come to USC. Get ready for 2015.”

As for the game itself, it was typical Holiday Bowl: High-scoring and high on drama. Even when the Trojans went up 45-27 near the end of the third quarter, there weren’t many who felt the issue was resolved.

Sure enough, Nebraska scored at the end of the third and midway through the fourth to cut the game to 45-42. It wasn’t until Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s Hail Mary with one second left on the clock was harmlessly batted away by Agholor that the Trojans could celebrate. Some might recall Arizona State's topping USC earlier this season on a last-second Hail Mary.

“We’ve been through it,” Sarkisian said, which drew a laugh from the room. “We got JuJu and Nelson on the field. Nelson made a heck of a play to go attack the football. At the end of the day, I mean, you can only get burned so many times, I guess. You know? So let’s just get the ball on the ground. That’s kind of what I was hoping for.”

The game was accented by one big play after another, as the teams combined for 1,040 yards of offense -- including a bowl-record 38 points in the third quarter. Armstrong threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in a contest that felt more like a Pac-12 conference game than a Pac-12/Big Ten bowl.

“I was proud of them and the way they responded offensively because we didn’t totally chuck our game plan [when trailing],” Cotton said. “I’m glad we stuck with doing what we had done to get there, and we just came up a little short at the end.”
By now everyone has seen the tweeted picture of Arkansas coach Bret Bielema flashing what appears to be the infamous "Horns down" sign with his left hand while shaking Texas coach Charlie Strong's hand with the other during a press conference for the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.

Well, after that photo went viral, people started calling it awesome, and then fake. Posts about it being photoshopped littered the Internet, and then Arkansas radio host Bo Mattingly tweeted that he talked to Bielema after practice about the "Horns down" move. Bielema denied doing it.

OK, case closed ... right?


Here we have more evidence about the hand gesture through this Vine:

Right at the end you can clearly see Bielema move his fingers into the shape of the "Horns down" sign. Now, whether this was intentional or not, we don't know. Maybe, he had no clue what he was doing. Maybe, it was a brilliant troll move by a coach who isn't new to having fun or throwing a little shade toward his opponents.

Regardless, it's fun water-cooler talk before the Razorbacks take on the Longhorns in the Texas Bowl on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

Instant Analysis: USC 45, Nebraska 42

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
videoSAN DIEGO, Calif. -- As new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley watched from the stands Saturday night, the team he's taking over couldn't cap a comeback against a team from his former conference. The USC Trojans held on for a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in a wild shootout in the National University Holiday Bowl. Here's how it all went down at Qualcomm Stadium:

How the game was won: On big plays -- because it was the Holiday Bowl. Defenses need not apply. The Trojans were the faster, more athletic team (though not by much), and it showed in the form of explosive plays. Adoree' Jackson scored on a kickoff return and a long touchdown reception. Buck Allen turned 4-yard runs into long touchdowns. Four of USC's touchdowns were 20 yards or longer. That's not to say Nebraska didn't have some explosive moments of its own, as the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards offense.

Turning point: Trailing 45-42 with 2:31 remaining, Nebraska went for it on fourth-and 3 at the USC 31 but was turned away. The Trojans took over and were able to milk down enough clock to preserve the three-point win. A last-second Hail Mary effort from Nebraska fell short as time expired.

Game ball goes to: Jackson, a true freshman, was the most dynamic player on the field. His 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Trojans a 7-3 lead after Nebraska jumped ahead on a field goal. Then he took a Cody Kessler pass 71 yards that stretched USC's lead to 31-17 in the third quarter. Oh yeah, he also added six tackles on defense.

Key stat: The teams combined for 38 points in the third quarter, a Holiday Bowl record. Considering the Holiday Bowl's penchant for crazy, that's pretty impressive.

Play of the game: The Jackson kickoff return takes top honors in a game with a lot of big plays.

video What's next: Nebraska begins life anew with Riley running the show. Some Trojans -- namely, Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Allen -- have some decisions to make about the NFL draft.

Penn State once again overcomes the odds

December, 27, 2014
Dec 27
There was a time when even the loyalist Penn State fan discounted Sam Ficken. There was a time when even the wisest sports pundit believed the Nittany Lions wouldn’t survive past 2014.

Not anymore.

In the midst of unprecedented sanctions, the Nittany Lions (7-6) clinched their third straight winning season with a 31-30 overtime victory against Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. After a poor kicking start in 2012 -- so bad it led to death threats -- Ficken became all-conference and ended his career with a game-winning kick. The moral of the story? Don’t underestimate Penn State or its players.

[+] EnlargePenn State
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsSam Ficken was almost run off the Penn State campus two years ago. He ran off the Yankee Stadium field as a winner by kicking the game-winning extra point of the Pinstripe Bowl.
“I think we’ve been fractured,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We’ve been fractured for the past three years. But experiences and games like this have restored the hope.”

This game was a microcosm of the past three seasons all rolled into one. Penn State wasn’t supposed to win; it trailed 21-7 late in the third quarter. It wasn’t supposed to rally; PSU didn’t score 20 points in regulation all season against a Power 5 team.

But just as fans might have wanted to turn away, just as the hope of something good clung to its last thread, this team bounced back. Christian Hackenberg -- the struggling player whom some PSU fans labeled a bust -- rallied the Lions offense with one of the best games of his career. He threw for 371 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. He marched PSU downfield with two minutes in regulation to tie the game. Then he led PSU to a touchdown in overtime.

This game seemed lost, but Penn State won. The program seemed on the verge of death two years ago, but Penn State survived.

“There’s a lot of similarities in this game, compared to our whole careers,” senior linebacker Mike Hull said. “It’s only fitting we get a win in Yankee Stadium in overtime after the roller-coaster career we had. It’s pretty crazy how that works. It just goes to show we’re never going to give up. That’s what this program is all about.”

On Sept. 8, 2012, Ficken missed 4-of-5 field goals and a PAT against Virginia in a 17-16 loss. On Saturday night, he knotted the game at 24 in the closing seconds with a 45-yard field goal -- then he nailed the game-winning extra point after the Boston College kicker missed his.

“It’s a storybook ending, really,” Ficken said. “I couldn’t have written a better way to go. This team has worked so hard and fought so hard. And to say we went to a bowl, first of all, and then won that bowl. It’s just really incredible.”

The Nittany Lions didn’t expect to have great moments during the past three seasons, not when the sanctions were initially handed down. Some of those players, such as Hull and Ficken, still remember the eerie silence in the players’ lounge while awaiting the sanctions announcement of NCAA President Mark Emmert. Hull nearly transferred to Pittsburgh -- he informed Bill O’Brien he was moving on before reconsidering -- and most believed Ficken never deserved a scholarship in the first place.

They endured five different head coaches -- two interim, three full-time -- during their careers. They never thought they’d see the postseason, as Penn State was set to miss four years worth of bowls before the ban was rescinded three months ago.

This team lingered on the field after the game, and it seemed as if most fans clad in blue and white didn’t budge from their seats. Franklin took the microphone, thanked the seniors and boomed that this was Penn State culture. Fans’ screams drowned out the Frank Sinatra tune played through the PA system.

This wasn’t just a bowl win for Penn State. It rang in the end of the worst of the sanctions. PSU was the second-youngest team in the FBS this season and had just 64 recruited scholarship players on the roster. It had seven seniors compared to 31 freshmen.

Safety Malik Golden tweeted from the locker room, “Right back like we never left #NewEra.” Running back Akeel Lynch told reporters, “The sanction era is definitely over.”

Penn State was never supposed to make it to this point. It was never supposed to win this game, and it was never supposed to boast three winning seasons and a bowl victory this early. But Penn State has made it a habit these past three years of proving the prognosticators wrong. Saturday night was just them getting the last word.

“You can’t take us away,” Lynch said. “They tried to. They tried to talk about culture. But this is Penn State, man. This is what we do."
NEW YORK -- Christian Hackenberg wasn't losing this game.

The sophomore quarterback rallied Penn State from a two-touchdown, second-half deficit Saturday to narrowly defeat Boston College 31-30 in overtime in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Hackenberg drove his team downfield with a little over two minutes left in regulation to set up a 45-yard field goal that tied the score. He then found Kyle Carter for a 10-yard touchdown in the end zone in the first overtime, which won the game.

Boston College shanked a PAT on its first overtime possession, so Penn State's Sam Ficken simply needed to make his to end the game.

Penn State ends the season at 7-6, while Boston College falls to 7-6.

Game ball goes to: Hackenberg. Just when it looked as if this team were once again set up to lose -- trailing 21-7 late in the third -- Hackenberg turned it up and played his best when the most was on the line. He finished 34-of-50 for 371 yards and four TDs, and he came away with a critical 16-yard scoring pass on second-and-goal to tie the score at 21. Then he drove PSU downfield to tie the score at 24 in the closing seconds of regulation. Then he had the game-winning TD. PSU wouldn't have won without him.

It was over when: Ficken nailed the extra point in overtime to hand PSU the 31-30 victory. Boston College's kicker shanked the PAT on the Eagles' previous overtime possession. BC led 30-24 after the first possession, but Hackenberg's TD to Carter -- and Ficken's PAT -- ended the game.

Stat of the game: 239. That was Boston College's rushing yardage at the end of the third quarter against the nation's top-ranked rush defense. It was the most PSU allowed to a team all season. Ohio State previously recorded a season-high 219 rushing yards against PSU -- but that took four quarters and two overtimes. Boston College was averaging 7.7 yards per rush.

Best play: The most impressive touchdown might have been the Nittany Lions' first. On third-and-12, following a false start, Hackenberg dropped back and threw a long pass to true freshman Chris Godwin -- who caught the ball in stride, shook off a tackle and sprinted another 35 yards or so to complete the 72-yard touchdown.

It was the second-longest TD pass of Hackenberg's career and the longest career reception of Godwin's.