NCF Nation: Andre Williams

Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Auburn’s running backs and Florida State’s linebackers.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Nick Marshall
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Marshall isn't a running back, but with over 1,000 yards rushing, Auburn's quarterback provides a lethal ground threat.
Auburn’s running backs: Gus Malzahn has always been one to tailor his offense around his team’s skill set. In this case, it’s safe to say that Auburn’s strength is running the football. The Tigers have run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage of any non-triple-option offense in the FBS. They lead the nation in rushing yards per game and are one of five schools this season to have two players with at least 1,000 rushing yards.

The star is running back Tre Mason. He leads the SEC in rushing (1,621 yards) and rushing touchdowns (22), rushing for a career-high 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries in the SEC championship game. That performance, along with his 164-yard outing against No. 1 Alabama, earned him a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

But as impressive as Mason has been all year, it’s quarterback Nick Marshall who makes this offense go. Technically, Marshall isn’t a running back, but how can you not include him in this category when he has over 1,000 yards rushing? The junior college transfer seems to get better every game as he gets more and more comfortable with the zone-read. Florida State has the athletes to defend Auburn’s offense, but Marshall’s ability to run turns a great offense into a nearly unstoppable offense.

The wild card of the group is Corey Grant, a former Alabama transfer. If Mason is the thunder, Grant is the lightning. The junior has been used sparingly, but he’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He has 650 yards and six touchdowns on the season and is among the nation’s best in yards per carry (10.0).

Statistically speaking, Florida State has been strong against the run, but the Seminoles haven’t faced a rushing attack quite like Auburn’s “four-headed monster.” When they faced Boston College’s Andre Williams, they gave up 149 yards to the Heisman finalist. Mason is every bit the player that Williams is, and that’s just one of the multiple weapons Auburn has in its arsenal.

Florida State’s linebackers: It’s hard to know quite what to make of this matchup. On the one hand, FSU has been exceptional against the run for most of the season. The Seminoles are eighth nationally, allowing just 3.1 yards per carry (and just 2.9 in the first halves of games), and the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Throw out the second half against NC State (when the backups played the entirety), and FSU is allowing just 2.6 yards per rush since the start of October, when Christian Jones moved up to the defensive line and Terrance Smith stepped in as the starting middle linebacker.

The problem, of course, is that Maryland and Wake Forest and Duke didn’t provide anything close to the challenge Auburn will on Jan. 6. The best rushing offense Florida State faced this year was Boston College, and not coincidentally, no team had more success on the ground (200 yards) or overall (34 points) against FSU this season.

Still, the Seminoles defense has evolved immensely since that BC game. Terrance and Telvin Smith have both developed into reliable defenders against the run. Jones provides an athletic defender on the edge. Jalen Ramsey (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) moved to safety and can play sideline to sideline against the run. Both Jones and Ramsey will be vital against an Auburn team that runs outside the tackles routinely with great success (averaging 6.3 yards before contact outside the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Info, best among AQ schools). FSU is allowing just 3.1 yards per rush between the tackles this year, but 5.1 outside.

The Seminoles have the athleticism on defense to make life tough for an Auburn running game that hasn’t struggled often, but what the Tigers do well is also the one place where some questions remain for Florida State.

Ostendorf: Edge Auburn

Hale: Slight edge for Auburn

AdvoCare V100 Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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Two of the nation’s best running backs will face off when Arizona and Boston College meet Tuesday in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Shreveport, La. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Boston College’s Heisman finalist running back Andre Williams. The Doak Walker Award winner gets a chance to add on to his 2,102 rushing yards and showcase his talents to not only a national audience but plenty of NFL scouts who want to know if he’s the real deal. If this is your first time seeing the nation’s leading rusher work his bruising magic, you should be in for a treat.

What to watch: Is this it for Ka’Deem Carey? Arizona’s star back could go pro after this game, but not before he tries for his 16th consecutive 100-yard game. Since the start of the 2012 season, no running back has more rushing yards than Carey’s 3,645. Whether or not this is his last game in blue and red, expect big numbers.

Why to watch: Both teams have shown flashes of how good they can be. Arizona blew out a No. 5 Oregon team 42-16 last month. Boston College knocked off Virginia Tech and led entering the fourth quarter in a close loss to Clemson. Which one these seven-win squads can put it all together and ride their run game to a strong finish?

Prediction: Arizona 31, Boston College 24: The Eagles are the hotter team, having won four of their last five to get to Shreveport, but quarterback B.J. Denker should step up big just as he did against Oregon and guide Arizona to a close win in his finale.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
The ACC has a record 11 teams playing in bowl games this season, and that means plenty of showcase opportunities for the league’s stars. But dig into the matchups and five players have the most on the line as the ACC looks to build its résumé during bowl season.

Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27 vs. Minnesota)

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/John BazemoreVirginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown 16 touchdown passes and been intercepted 13 times this season. Can he finish his career with a bowl win?
With a new quarterback and a new coach, it was clear this would be a year of transition for Syracuse, but the Orange weathered the storm of an 0-2 start to reach a bowl game for the third time in four years. The turning point came in Week 3 when Hunt took over for a struggling Drew Allen at quarterback. Hunt accounted for eight TDs against Wagner and Tulane, but the rigors of the ACC proved more difficult. In conference games, Hunt completed just 57 percent of his throws, with just three touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. But his last two games (a one-point loss to Pitt and a 34-31 win over BC) were his best (66 percent completion, 3 TDs, 1 INT), and the Orange hope that growth will continue into the bowl game against Minnesota. Hunt is a dangerous runner, but as Syracuse looks to finish strong and build momentum toward 2014, his progress as a passer offers ample reason for optimism.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. Arizona)

Williams will get another chance to leave a final impression. The senior left the Eagles' regular-season finale at Syracuse, a game they ended up losing, with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to be fine by the time his team takes the field in Shreveport, La. The early exit -- nine carries for 29 yards -- likely cost him whatever extra votes he could have picked up in the Heisman Trophy race, but now he'll have a chance to further improve his draft stock. Williams has been all over the place in the past few weeks -- from a media tour in Bristol, Conn., to awards shows in Orlando, Fla., and New York. And he might meet his match when facing the Wildcats. Their star running back, Ka'Deem Carey, is the only player in the nation who averages more carries per game (29.27 to 27.42).

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. No. 17 UCLA)

The Hokies need to score more than usual if they are to upset the Bruins, who rank 23rd nationally in points per game (36.5). The defense has been the backbone of Virginia Tech, ranking fourth in total defense and eighth in scoring D, but it will need help. Enter Thomas, the talented senior who has failed to meet many outside expectations the past two seasons. The victim of shoddy receiver play earlier this fall, Thomas delivered his best performance in what was arguably his team's most important ACC game, completing 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns last month at Miami. He will need better protection up front in his collegiate finale -- sacked 11 times in the last two games -- and will probably shoulder a bigger burden with his legs, as leading rusher Trey Edmunds suffered a broken right tibia in the regular-season finale.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Discover Orange Bowl (Jan. 3 vs. No. 7 Ohio State)

This is it for the Tigers' signal-caller, who has rewritten a large portion of the ACC record book but, as the narrative goes, has failed to deliver in the big games. Boyd's two worst showings this season came in Clemson's two losses: versus Florida State and at South Carolina. He is just 1-5 against those schools as a starter, despite owning a remarkable 127 total career touchdowns to his name. And he returns to the Orange Bowl, where he fared OK two years ago (282 total yards, 2 TDs, 3 TOs) but was completely upstaged by West Virginia's offensive explosion. Now he gets one more shot to deliver a strong performance against a big-time opponent in the Buckeyes, whom he passed on in favor of Clemson while coming out of high school.

Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
VIZIO BCS National Championship (Jan. 6 vs. No. 2 Auburn)

If Jameis Winston has been the face of Florida State’s team all season, Smith has been its heart. The senior linebacker is the Seminoles' emotional leader, the biggest talker on the practice field and on game day. While teammates laud his off-the-field exploits, Smith's role on the field against Auburn will be far more significant. The Tigers will want to run the ball early and often, and Smith will be at the forefront of FSU’s effort to slow them down. For two years, Smith platooned at middle linebacker because he was far more effective against the pass than the run, but he has blossomed this season, leading Florida State with 75 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss. With Timmy Jernigan creating havoc up front, Smith has snuffed out runners routinely, and Florida State’s first-team defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Of course, Auburn has more rushing touchdowns than any team in the country, so the challenge for Smith and the Seminoles defense will be far bigger in Pasadena than anything they’ve seen so far.
For the first time in years, Florida State exceeded expectations.

The No. 1-ranked Seminoles, destined for the VIZIO BCS National Championship after finishing the season as the only undefeated team in the country, were predicted to play in the shadow of Clemson this season. FSU was picked by the media to finish second in the ACC's Atlantic Division, in large part because the program had to replace its starting quarterback, its entire defensive line, 11 NFL draft picks and six staff assistants.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJimbo Fisher took a Noles team that sent 11 players to the NFL after last season and made it better.
Didn't matter. Jimbo Fisher has Florida State back.

While Florida State was unstoppable, Duke was simply unbelievable. A school-record 10-win season. Upsets of Miami and Virginia Tech. Back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. The program's first Coastal Division title, and a spot in the prestigious Chick-fil-A Bowl. Duke finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, punctuated by a victory over rival North Carolina for the second straight season.

Duke's 45-7 loss to FSU in the ACC title game wasn't an indictment of the Blue Devils. Rather, it was further evidence that the ACC this year was indeed Florida State "and everybody else."

Nobody else in the conference -- save for Boston College's heroic effort -- even came close to the Noles this fall. They steamrolled Clemson in Death Valley -- early proof that quarterback Jameis Winston was unflappable. They bulldozed in-state rivals Miami and Florida, leaving no doubt which program has ascended to the top in the Sunshine State. And in spite of legal allegations that could have derailed the season, they produced a redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy front-runner.

And then there was the rest of the Atlantic Division.

Wake Forest suffered its fifth consecutive losing season, ending in the unexpected resignation of longtime coach Jim Grobe. NC State, in its first season under coach Dave Doeren, was winless in league play and ravaged by injuries. Maryland's mediocre season ended on a positive note, with the Terps getting to a bowl game for the first time under coach Randy Edsall, but they will leave the ACC still ensnarled in a lawsuit with the conference. Boston College's quick ascension and the jaw-dropping numbers of running back Andre Williams were the surprise of the division in the Eagles' first season under coach Steve Addazio.

For all of the clarity within the Atlantic Division race, there was as much confusion in the Coastal, which once again came down to the final week of the regular season.

Duke, though, left no doubt that it was the best team in the division and earned its title outright. While Clemson's fifth straight loss to South Carolina and Georgia Tech's loss to Georgia in the regular-season finales were disappointments, the ACC this year had two special teams exceed expectations -- and they're not done yet.

Offensive MVP: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Winston was the best player in the country all season, setting FBS and ACC freshman marks with 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 yards. Winston also ranks first in the nation in QBR and passer rating, won the Davey O'Brien Award as the top quarterback in the country, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and both ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAaron Donald was a relative unknown in August. Then he wreaked havoc on the ACC.
Defensive MVP: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald went from an unknown before the season to the best defensive player in the nation, taking home four major awards -- the Outland Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. Donald also was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the nation in tackles for loss and ranks 13th in sacks. Of his 54 total tackles, nearly half have been behind the line (26.5).

Newcomer of the year: Winston. What makes the season he had more impressive is that he is a redshirt freshman and has played in only 13 career games. But Winston has looked like a veteran behind center and is a major reason why the Seminoles are playing in the BCS national championship game.

Biggest surprise: Duke. The Blue Devils were picked to finish last in the Coastal Division but ended up becoming one of the most surprising teams in the nation. Duke won a school-record 10 games, made a first-ever appearance in the ACC title game and is now going to consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.

Biggest disappointment: NC State. Even though the Wolfpack went through a coaching change and returned a young team, nobody anticipated they would be one of the worst outfits in the ACC. Thanks in part to injuries and inconsistent play at quarterback, NC State went winless in league play for the first time since 1959 and posted its worst record since 2006.

Best nonconference game: Clemson 38, Georgia 35. The marquee opening-weekend matchup did not disappoint as the two top-10 teams battled back and forth throughout the game. The turning point came after Georgia flubbed a chip-shot field goal attempt late in the third quarter that would have tied the game. Instead, the Tigers stretched their lead to 10 before thwarting a late-game rally. Tajh Boyd had one of his best games of the season, scoring five total touchdowns and racking up 312 total yards.

Best ACC game: Duke 27, North Carolina 25. Duke needed to beat hated rival North Carolina on the final day of the regular season to secure a spot in the ACC title game. As expected, this game went down to the wire. The lead changed six times, and Duke rallied in the fourth quarter for the victory. After North Carolina went up 25-24 with 7 minutes, 3 seconds to play, Duke went 66 yards in 11 plays to set up what became the game-winning 27-yard field goal from Ross Martin with 2:22 remaining.

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 16, 2013
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Florida State’s undefeated season is reflected in the Seminoles’ 10 all-conference selections by ESPN.com. Quarterback Jameis Winston was the highlight of the group, along with Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was also a Heisman candidate this year. This list differs just slightly from the choices of the coaches and writers, with the toughest decisions coming on defense.

Offense
Defense
Special Teams

2013 AT&T ESPN All-America Team

December, 14, 2013
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Offense
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB: Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, Andre Williams, Boston College
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M, Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor; David Yankey, Stanford
C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

Defense
DE: Michael Sam, Missouri; Leonard Williams, USC
DT: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, Trent Murphy, Stanford
CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
FS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
SS: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
K: Nate Freese, Boston College
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013
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Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Trophy finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case for why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC championship game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rushing yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only other multiple Heisman winner saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TDs this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against SEC competition. In conference games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.

Heisman finalist: Andre Williams

December, 13, 2013
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Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

Key Stats: 329 carries, 2,102 yards, 17 TDs

Why he made it to NYC: Williams leads the nation in carries and rushing yards, putting up totals that are unmatched by every running back who has made it to the Heisman ceremony in the past 10 years. He is also first in rushing yards per game (175.2), 200-yard rushing games (five) and 250-yard rushing games (four). His 339 rushing yards in a win over NC State to get the Eagles bowl-eligible set the new ACC single-game record. Williams is tied for seventh nationally in rushing touchdowns. He has been the definition of a workhorse, the backbone of a team that improved its win total from two to seven this year thanks in large part to his emergence during his senior season. The Eagles ran the ball on 66 percent of their offensive plays, and Williams shouldered the load on nearly 69 percent of those carries. The result has been a single-season rushing total (2,102) that ranks ninth in the history of college football.

Heisman moment: The thing about non-quarterbacks is that the opportunities for signature Heisman Moments are so few and far between. If anything, the fact that a running back from a 7-5 team made it to New York says all that needs to be said about just how dominant Williams has been. His three-game stretch from Nov. 9-23 illustrates that as he carried the ball 104 times for a ridiculous 897 yards, nearly every one of which was necessary for Boston College to win each of those three games. Highlights from that stretch include a trucking of NC State safety Josh Stanley and a nasty stiff-arm that sent Maryland defensive back Will Likely flying. Let's see any of the other finalists top those.

Williams carrying flag for RBs

December, 12, 2013
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Andre Williams is a philosopher, an eccentric. His off-the-field exploits this season, which include writing a memoir, have been well documented. He takes in questions and, unlike most in his position, spends his time digesting them before delivering appropriate answers rather than spewing out tired cliches.

But the 6-foot, 227-pound Boston College running back is anything but sophisticated when discussing his on-the-field exploits for the resurgent Eagles this season.

"You can draw it up any way you want, you can run any type of offense," Williams said. "But it's really just about the 11 guys on the field and how strong you guys are as a unit and as a team. Any kind of offense can work, not one is better than the other. It's really about the 11 guys that you have on the field and the chemistry and the things that you can't draw on paper that really count in the game of football."

Reducing his day job to the simplest of elements has powered Williams to a remarkable senior season. Boston College's first Heisman Trophy finalist since Doug Flutie took home the prize 29 years ago, Williams has posted the ninth-best single-season rushing mark (2,102 yards) in college football history. He is a throwback of the highest order, more than happy to carry the mantle for a position group that has seemingly seen its significance decrease in the national eye in recent years.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsAndre Williams' 2,102 rushing yards this season gave him the ninth-best single-season total in college football history.
Consider that no running backs were taken in the NFL draft's first round this past spring, the first time that had happened in 50 years. Or that the recruiting pitch of the college game's most iconic active coach, Nick Saban, revolves around his backfield getting the most mileage out of the lightest workload possible.

Williams and Auburn's Tre Mason are two of the six finalists for an award Saturday that will likely go to a quarterback for the fourth straight season. And Williams understands why, though he is thankful to have a leader like Steve Addazio in his corner. The first-year Boston College coach has emphasized a smashmouth style that has seen the Eagles carry the rock on better than 66 percent of their plays -- with Williams rushing it on nearly 69 percent of those runs.

"I love being a running back, I love representing running backs," Williams said. "I don't necessarily think it's unfair that it's been quarterbacks really high up in the Heisman contention lately, because that position is hard to play. It's hard to be good at it. And with the trend toward teams playing spread offenses and throwing ball more, I think really that's one of the factors behind it -- you have to have a good quarterback to be able to do that with your offense.

"But football is a funny game, because you can draw up all the X's and O's you want, but it's really an emotional and physical and mental game, and you can line up with any type of scheme and it can work if you have the right group of guys."

Williams could possibly meet his match in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl when he faces Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who actually touts a higher per-game workload (29.27) than Williams (27.41) after being suspended for the season opener.

The workhorses are scheduled to cross paths in Orlando, Fla., this week as finalists for the Doak Walker Award, with each expressing his admiration of the other's role in being flag-bearers for running backs this season. Both have relished the relative downtime before the bowl, especially Williams, whose shoulder injury forced him to exit the regular-season finale.

At 5-10, 207 pounds, the smaller Carey, a Tucson, Ariz., native, said he prepared for his workload this season by doing what he always does: hiking the various mountains surrounding the region, joking that there's not much else to do in his hometown.

His mindset is similar to Williams' in that each refuses to see the open field as a 1-on-11 game of tag.

"Every time I touch the ball I run hungry," Carey said. "I know the whole 11 is after me, and I feel like I should be after them, so I go after them instead of them just chasing me."

Nine running backs have accounted for 11 trips to New York in the previous 10 years. (Darren McFadden and Reggie Bush each went twice). By the time of the Heisman ceremony, none had tallied more rushes than Williams (329) or Carey (322) has this fall. And none had touched the 2,000-yard barrier that Williams crossed in the regular-season's penultimate game, at Maryland.

If there is a caveat with Williams, it comes in the passing game, where he has been a non-factor. He has zero catches this season and just 10 for his career, and he knows it is an area he will need to prove himself in for pro scouts come pre-draft evaluations. In comparison, Carey has 26 catches for 173 yards.

What Williams' hands lack in catching, they make up for in other areas, namely his signature stiff-arm, a move that Carey lauded him for, and one that several ACC defenders have fallen victim to while standing in the thoroughbred's way.

Jim Morgans, Williams' coach at Parkland (Pa.) High, recalls his protege elevating the entire team with a well-delivered blow that would enliven the sideline.

"It's the timing of it," Morgans said. "He knows when to deliver it. He puts a little dip in his legs and he really delivers a heckuva [hit].

"There's other things that he did, too: He would turn on defenders if he had the sideline and he's breaking down the sideline, and you know that he could probably take the angle away from defensive backs because he always had another gear. But sometimes he would relish just turning right into the defensive backs and running into them and running them over."

ACC Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 11, 2013
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For the first time all season, the power rankings remained unchanged. That’s because the only game last week was the ACC championship game, which went as many had expected it would. Not only is FSU still the No. 1 team in the ACC, it’s still tops in the BCS standings. Here’s how the ACC’s pecking order looks heading into bowl season:

1. Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Seminoles started slow in the first quarter, but eventually cruised to a 45-7 win over Coastal Division champ Duke. Quarterback Jameis Winston won the game’s MVP award and was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. The next challenge for FSU will be stopping Auburn’s run game in the Vizio BCS National Championship.

2. Clemson (10-2, 7-1; LW: No. 2): The Tigers will play Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, not a bad consolation prize for the No. 2 team in the ACC this year. Clemson could use a win to help its fans forget its last appearance in the Orange Bowl as well as a dreadful performance in a fifth straight loss to SEC rival South Carolina.

3. Duke (10-3, 6-2; LW: No. 3): The Blue Devils have nothing to be ashamed of after the loss to Florida State, as they held the Noles scoreless for a quarter and were simply overmatched like every other team on FSU’s schedule. Duke still earned a spot in the prestigious Chick-fil-A Bowl and will have a chance at another marquee win in a matchup against Texas A&M.

4. Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 4): The Hokies had a respectable season, but it was still far below their expectations and those of their fans. With losses to Boston College, Duke and Maryland, Virginia Tech’s hopes of returning to the ACC title game were out of its control. The program will get another shot to finish the season on an impressive note, as it will face a tough UCLA team in the Sun Bowl.

5. Miami (9-3, 5-3; LW: No. 5): The Hurricanes were a tough team to judge this year, but they remain a work in progress and drew one of the league’s most interesting bowl matchups, facing Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Quarterbacks Stephen Morris and Teddy Bridgewater will be the main storyline as the Canes aim for a 10-win season.

6. Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 6): The Yellow Jackets squandered a 20-point lead in a loss to rival Georgia, but will get another chance at the SEC when they face Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. The Rebels’ offense has struggled in the past two games, while Georgia Tech is looking to build on its bowl success after last year’s win over USC snapped a seven-game bowl losing streak.

7. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7): The Tar Heels are thrilled at their opportunity to return to a bowl game after serving a one-year postseason ban last year because of NCAA sanctions. They’ll face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, a great chance for coach Larry Fedora to showcase the program to in-state recruits. This will be UNC’s fourth appearance in the Belk Bowl, but the program is looking for its first win there.

8. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 8): The Orange beat Boston College 34-31 in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible in the first year under coach Scott Shafer, but Syracuse has already struck out twice against the Big Ten and Minnesota is playing well. Generating offense isn’t going to get any easier against the Golden Gophers’ stingy defense.

9. Boston College (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 9): Despite his injury in the Syracuse game, running back Andre Williams was named a finalist for the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Williams is the second player in school history to travel to New York for the Heisman Trophy announcement, joining former Eagles quarterback Doug Flutie. Williams and the Eagles will get an interesting matchup against Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.

10. Maryland (7-5, 3-5; LW: No. 10): The Terps get a virtual home game against Marshall, as they will travel to nearby Annapolis for the Military Bowl -- their final game as members of the ACC before moving to the Big Ten. It’s going to be a good test for Maryland, as Marshall won the C-USA East title and seven of its last eight regular-season games.

11. Pitt (6-6, 3-5; LW: No. 11): Pitt lost four of its final six games and barely snuck past Syracuse to become bowl eligible with just one game remaining. The Panthers will face a successful 10-win Bowling Green team that just won its first MAC championship in 21 years and has the nation’s No. 5 scoring defense at 14.8 points per game. Bowling Green is in transition, however, as coach Dave Clawson is leaving to take the Wake Forest job. Speaking of the Deacs …

12. Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 12): After five straight losing seasons, coach Jim Grobe has resigned. The Deacs ended the season with five straight losses, and ahead of only NC State in the Atlantic Division standings. On Monday afternoon, the university officially announced Clawson as its next head coach.

13. NC State (3-9, 0-8; LW: No. 13): First-year coach Dave Doeren knew it would be a bumpy ride, but not even he could foresee the amount of injuries to key players that would contribute to a winless record in the ACC. Doeren said there are plenty of positives to look forward to, and the team is ready to move forward with transfer Jacoby Brissett as its new starting quarterback.

14. Virginia (2-10, 0-8; LW: No. 14): Coach Mike London is hitting the recruiting trail hard, as he should after a winless season in ACC play. The quarterback position continues to be an issue, and the staff overhaul that was made last offseason didn’t translate in the win column.

Ranking the ACC bowls

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The ACC has a record 11 teams in bowl games. Some matchups are more attractive than others. So how do they all stack up against each other? What is the most intriguing game to watch? The least? Heather and I are here to help. Here is our attempt to rank the 11 ACC bowl games from best matchup to worst.

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?

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AP Photo/Richard ShiroTajh Boyd and Clemson would like to erase some bad memories of their last trip to the Orange Bowl.
2. Discover Orange Bowl, No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State (8:30 p.m., Jan. 3, ESPN). We love the quarterback matchup in this game between Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller. Boyd actually chose the Tigers over the Buckeyes, so that adds another layer. The Ohio State defense has faltered down the stretch, so this could be an opportunity for Boyd and Sammy Watkins to come up big on a big stage and erase memories of the last time they played in Miami.

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.

Pac-12 should roll through bowl games

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The Pac-12 is favored in eight of its nine bowl games, as Oregon State is the only underdog in its matchup with Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

That's good news and bad news.

The good news is the conference has an excellent chance to post an impressive bowl record. The bad news is it has a chance to embarrass itself, too. Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment.

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Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and the Ducks struggled to the finish line, but they hope to have a strong showing against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Of course, the Pac-12 blog has always taken a dim view of judging a conference by its bowl record, despite its annual inevitability. The college football postseason is filled with teams with varied motivation, not to mention coaching turnover -- see Washington and USC, as well as Boise State. Still, a program is responsible for itself.

The biggest reason the Pac-12 should thrive this bowl season is also the biggest negative for the conference: just one BCS bowl team, unlike the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12, and unlike the previous three seasons. Yep, the deepest Pac-12 perhaps in history ended up being a negative when it came to handing out bowl invitations.

The most aggrieved party is No. 10 Oregon, the only eligible at-large team to be passed over. The Ducks were hoping to be pitted against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the bowl went with Oklahoma, honoring a relationship with the Big 12 and perhaps thinking the Sooners will travel better than the Ducks.

Not to incur the wide-eyed wrath of Oregon fans, but the Sooners' case probably was stronger on merit, too. The Ducks lost two of their final four games, and they barely slipped by 6-6 Oregon State in the Civil War to conclude the season. Oklahoma is riding a three-game winning streak that was capped by impressive victory over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Paired with the Sooners other quality win -- at Notre Dame -- that's more impressive than the Ducks best wins (UCLA and Washington). And the Sooners losses, to Baylor and Texas, are at least comparable to the Ducks' (Stanford and Arizona). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oregon's and Oklahoma's schedules were pretty equivalent, the Ducks ranking 50th and the Sooners 55th.

Sure, Oregon would be favored against Oklahoma, but the Sugar Bowl folks took the temperature of the respective fan bases and found more smiles in Norman than Eugene.

Finally, to be honest, the way Oregon looked over the final month of the season suggests they'd be better off allowing the Sooners to deal with Alabama and Nick Saban.

As for the conference champions, kudos to Stanford for negotiating the nation's fourth-most difficult schedule with an 11-2 record. In fact, the Cardinal is ranked No. 1 in ESPN Stats & Information "Championship Drive Rating," which measures a team's overall merit -- the "difficulty of achieving their W-L or better and how well they control games using in-game win probability; both adjusted for quality of opponent."

Of course, Stanford, which opened as a 3-point favorite against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, is where the Pac-12's overall offseason perception will start. It figures to get a tough fight from the defensive-minded Spartans. A Cardinal loss would diminish the Pac-12's national perception as a whole -- as in trickle down from the Big Ten champion being superior to the Pac-12 champ.

Oregon's matchup with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl is interesting. If both teams show up with their best game, Oregon wins by two or three touchdowns. But the Ducks over the final four weeks of the season would lose to Texas. The Ducks need to be motivated. They need to know, for one, that the Longhorns figure to be fired up, as they are perhaps playing their last game with Mack Brown as their coach.

The biggest mismatch of the conference's bowl season might be Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. The Sun Devils have won seven of eight -- the loss coming Saturday in the Pac-12 title game -- and are among the nation's hottest teams. The Red Raiders? They've lost five in a row, the last four being blowouts.

UCLA is in a similar situation in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bruins have won four of five, while the Hokies have lost three of five. Virginia Tech's defense will challenge Bruins QB Brett Hundley, but the Hokies are horrid on offense.

USC and Washington will be the conference's biggest question marks due to coaching changes. The Trojans face a very good Fresno State team led by QB Derek Carr in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, while the Huskies face a BYU team that ran all over Texas earlier this season in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Under normal circumstances, both matchups would favor the Pac-12. But these aren't normal circumstances.

Oregon State will face a Boise State squad with the same deal in the Hawaii Bowl. While this is a down year for the Broncos, it's hard to bet against Boise State with Chris Petersen in a bowl game. But he's now in Seattle. The Beavers, by the way, really need to win this game, otherwise it's going to be a sour offseason in Corvallis.

Meanwhile, Arizona makes the longest trip to meet Boston College in Shreveport, Louisiana for the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. This is interesting just because you have the top two running backs in the country in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College's Andre Williams.

Finally, Washington State will be playing in its first bowl game since 2003 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. The Cougars have wins over USC, Utah and Arizona. The Rams' best win is over 5-7 Wyoming. Mike Leach and the Cougs should roll.

Again, when you added it all up, 9-0 is not unreasonable and 7-2 is almost pessimistic. But bowl games are funny things, and this has been a funny season.

As we move into a four-team College Football Playoff with a selection committee weighing who's in and who's out, perception might become even more important than it was with the quintessentially subjective BCS.

The Pac-12 seemed like -- at the very least -- the nation's second best conference, no matter the BCS bowl situation. It needs to make good on that during the bowl games.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 15

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That wraps it up. The regular season is over, and the bowl lineup is set. Let's see how we ended up here as we take one last look back at the week that was in our weekend rewind.

The good: What's not to love about this past weekend if you're from the ACC? The conference set an NCAA record by placing 11 teams in bowl games. That's topped, of course, by No. 1 Florida State, which is bound for the VIZIO BCS National Championship, where it will face No. 2 Auburn. The ACC broke its NCAA record of 10 teams in bowls, which was set in 2008. (The league also placed seven of its nine teams in bowls in 2002, which was then the NCAA's highest bowl participation percentage ever, at .778.)

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AP Photo/Bob LeveroneKelvin Benjamin and No. 1 Florida State head an impressive group of 11 ACC bowl teams.
The bad: It is tough to be really harsh on Duke considering just how many firsts the program accomplished this season. That said, the Blue Devils did themselves few favors to make it a game Saturday in a 45-7 loss to Florida State. Ross Martin missed a 48-yard field goal on Duke's third possession that would have broken a scoreless tie. Anthony Boone threw two interceptions. Kelby Brown dropped a potential interception. Duke did come up with two on the night, but could not manage any points from them. Redshirt senior right tackle Perry Simmons left the game with a torn ACL and a torn MCL in his left knee. The two-time All-ACC selection had started 50 consecutive games.

The records: Jameis Winston broke FBS records for both passing yards and passing touchdowns by a freshman, as the Heisman Trophy front-runner was 19-of-32 for 330 yards with three touchdowns (and two interceptions) to finish with 3,820 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns in the regular season. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder set a program single-season record in receiving yards Saturday and finished with 1,197. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo's 45-yard second-quarter field goal helped him set an ACC record with 142 points.

The added bonus: The ACC title game had just kicked off when our Joe Schad reported that Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher had agreed to a five-year, $21 million contract extension with the program. Athletic director Stan Wilcox confirmed after the game that a deal had been reached, with details still being finalized. Just another bit of great news for the Seminoles on a night with no shortage of it.

Bowl subplots to watch: Boston College's Andre Williams (329) and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (322) lead the nation in carries and will square off in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. … Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson will get a shot at his in-state program, Pitt, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. … Miami can see its hometown product, Teddy Bridgewater, up close and personal in what could be the Louisville quarterback's final game, the Russell Athletic Bowl. (The teams face each other next year, too, when the Cardinals join the ACC.) … Let's not overlook the obvious historical note when Ohio State and Clemson meet in the Discover Orange Bowl, either, as the programs will meet for the first time since the 1978 Gator Bowl, which ended up being Woody Hayes' final game after the coach punched Tigers linebacker Charlie Bauman.

3-point stance: Blame it on geography

December, 9, 2013
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1. Oregon finished 10th in the final BCS standings, the fifth consecutive year in which the Ducks finished the regular season in the top 10. But Oregon’s streak of BCS bowl invitations stopped at four. The reason? Bad geographical luck. This year, the Tostitos Fiesta had the last pick among the BCS bowls. The Discover Orange took No. 12 Clemson from the ACC, the Orange’s host conference. The Allstate Sugar took No. 11 Oklahoma, a lot closer to New Orleans than Eugene is. If the Fiesta had an earlier pick, No. 15 UCF would be playing closer to home instead of Arizona.

2. College football is played by young men who are faster and bigger than any who have come before them. It is coached by men who have more information at their fingertips than has ever been available. And yet, if nothing else, the 2013 season proved that college football has never been more unpredictable. Auburn, Missouri and Duke were all picked to finished fifth or lower in their divisions. Baylor was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. I can’t explain it, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

3. My three favorite bowls other than the BCS Championship Game: a) the Rose Bowl -- No. 4 Michigan State and No. 5 Stanford play similar throwback styles. Fedoras welcome; b) the AT&T Cotton -- No. 8 Missouri (highest-ranked non-BCS bowl team) and No. 13 Oklahoma State features two explosive offenses and two physical defenses; c) AdvoCare V100 Bowl -- the tailbacks at Arizona and Boston College, Ka’Deem Carey and Andre Williams, respectively, combined to rush for 3,818 yards and 34 touchdowns.

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