NCF Nation: Jadeveon Clowney

LSU-Wisconsin primer

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
12:00
PM ET
For more than a decade, no FBS programs have experienced more success in out-of-conference games during the regular season than LSU and Wisconsin -- programs that open the season against one another on Saturday in Houston.

LSU has not lost a nonconference game in the regular season since falling to Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, 2002. Since then it has won 45 straight, while Wisconsin’s record in that same time period is 43-3, the nation’s second-best winning percentage (.935).

Obviously one of them is going to lose on Saturday, though, so let’s take a look at some of the key factors in the LSU-Wisconsin game and what a win might mean for their respective conferences.

Key to victory for Wisconsin: Dominate the line of scrimmage. That’s always the motto for the Badgers, who showed they could fare just fine against an SEC defense when they ran for 293 yards against South Carolina (and Jadeveon Clowney) in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl. Controlling the game on the ground with Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement and a talented offensive line becomes an even higher priority given Wisconsin’s inexperience at receiver and quarterback, where Tanner McEvoy makes his first FBS start. And the Badgers’ 3-4 defense has to win battles up front and make LSU beat it through the air.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLSU may need Anthony Jennings (10) and Brandon Harris (6) to have success against Wisconsin.
Key to victory for LSU: With a talented backfield and experienced offensive line, the Tigers figure to run the ball effectively against a retooled Wisconsin defensive front. But it will be up to LSU quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris to do just enough with the pass to prevent the Badgers from crowding the box to defend the run. Regardless of which quarterback is on the field, he will have either little or no college experience. If the Tigers throw the ball as ineffectively as Jennings did in his lone start -- LSU’s 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa, where he was 7-for-19 for 82 yards, no touchdowns and one interception -- it might become difficult to move the ball even against an inexperienced Wisconsin defense.

Keep an eye on: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore could give the Badgers the pass-rushing and playmaking presence they desperately need from their completely revamped defensive front seven. Biegel will be critical in both helping against the run and creating havoc in the LSU backfield from his outside linebacker spot. Like many players at his position for Wisconsin, he has been nicked up in fall practice. But after a breakout spring, Biegel could be a guy who announces himself as an up-and-coming star on this national stage.

Keep an eye on: LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander. One of the Tigers’ top playmakers at linebacker last season, Alexander has shifted from strongside linebacker to Lamin Barrow's old spot on the weak side, which should allow him to be even more active on defense. His sideline-to-sideline speed and tackling ability should make him a great fit for the new role. Alexander and the LSU defense will have their hands full with a powerful Wisconsin running game that features Heisman Trophy contender Gordon. But if Alexander lives up to the reputation he’s already started building at his new position, he’s in line for a huge season, starting Saturday.

What win will mean for Big Ten: Marquee nonconference wins have been in short supply for the Big Ten in recent years, and there would be no better way to build instant credibility than by gaining a win over an established SEC power. Wisconsin would become an immediate playoff contender, as the rest of its schedule is extremely favorable. Other league teams would also get a boost in terms of conference perception. The doom-and-gloom outlook for the Big Ten since Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury would fade away quickly with a Badgers victory in Houston.

What win will mean for SEC: LSU has been the SEC’s standard bearer in the past decade when it comes to these marquee nonconference openers. LSU's aforementioned 45 straight nonconference wins in the regular season is the nation’s longest streak. That includes wins in 11 straight openers, against such opponents as TCU, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona State. LSU beating Wisconsin would be another feather in the SEC’s cap, solidifying its status as the nation’s best conference.
 

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the South Carolina Gamecocks:

2013 record: 11-2, beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl

Final grade for the 2013 season: South Carolina carved out a third straight top-10 finish and was the only team nationally to beat three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. A bad loss to Tennessee kept the Gamecocks out of the SEC championship game, making this an A- instead of an A.

Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesRunning back Mike Davis could be in line for another big season for South Carolina.
Key returnees: QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, OG A.J. Cann, OT Corey Robinson, DT J.T. Surratt, LB Skai Moore, CB Brison Williams

Instant impact newcomers: RB David Williams, DT Abu Lamin, LB Bryson Allen-Williams, CB Al Harris Jr., CB Chris Lammons

Breakout player: Thompson said last week that junior tight end Jerell Adams has had as good a preseason camp as anybody on the team. The 6-6, 242-pound Adams caught 13 passes last season and has three career touchdown catches. Look for him to blow those numbers out of the water this season. He has the size and speed to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses and is playing with a renewed sense of focus and confidence. Adams will be an integral part of the offense in 2014 and could make a run for All-SEC honors.

Most important game: The Georgia game has typically set the tone in the East race, and this year it could very well be an elimination game. The good news for the Gamecocks is that the Sept. 13 game is in Columbia, South Carolina, where they've won 18 in a row.

Biggest question mark: There's some experience returning at safety, but as many as three true freshmen could end up playing at cornerback this season. In fact, the Gamecocks are moving their most experienced safety, Brison Williams, to cornerback to fill that void. All three of the first-year cornerbacks are talented and have shown promise in camp. But it's never ideal to be in a position where you have to play so many newcomers in the secondary right away.

Upset special: The Gamecocks came dangerously close to losing to Florida at home last season. But with the game shifting to the Swamp this season, that Nov. 15 road trip has danger written all over it as Steve Spurrier returns to his alma mater, where he has won only once (2010) as South Carolina's coach.

Key stat: South Carolina is one of only two teams in the SEC, along with Alabama, to hold teams below an average of 21 points per game each of the past three seasons.

They said it: "We don't have any superstars, but we have a lot of guys who know how to win." -- Spurrier

Preseason predictions

ESPN Stats & Info: 8.9 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5

Our take: It's SEC championship or bust for the Gamecocks. OK, maybe not, but they've done just about everything but win an SEC title each of the past three seasons. To win an SEC title, they first have to get to the game. Their one and only trip to Atlanta came in 2010. The Head Ball Coach has a veteran offensive line, marquee running back and depth in the defensive line and at linebacker. While we're not ready to pick the Gamecocks to win the SEC championship game, we are picking them to get there and win 10 or more games for the fourth straight season.

Jadeveon Clowney didn't have the monster season everyone expected in 2013. His final season at South Carolina raised questions about his drive and conditioning after he seemed too gassed during games and recorded a career-low three sacks.

It was clear there were times when Clowney didn't give it his all or took plays off, and the former SEC star admitted as much after last season. To his credit, Clowney did have to have foot surgery to help with bone spurs, meaning he played through pain pretty much the entire season.

But it sounds like there was even more pain for Clowney to do deal with during his final season with the Gamecocks. According to a report, Clowney, who was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in this year's NFL draft, played with a sports hernia injury through the 2013 season. Clowney had sports hernia surgery two weeks ago, which forced him to miss the Texans' minicamp.

Clowney
Now, the rub on Clowney last season was that he didn't give it 100 percent, leaving some to wonder if he would have the mental edge to compete at the next level. We all knew Clowney was the most physically gifted player the SEC had to offer when he stepped on the field, but his 2013 resume left so much to be desired. I'm not here to make excuses for Clowney, but playing with a sports hernia isn't exactly the most comfortable of things.

Especially for a player who has to constantly thrust his body into another behemoth of a man at a high rate of speed. And when you are Clowney, you probably had to deal with constant double-teams.

After further review, yes, Clowney had to deal with double-teams... over and over.

To ours and Clowney's standards, he didn't have a great final season in Columbia. He just wasn't the consistent force we had seen before. He didn't come close to living up to the hype, but maybe the injuries contributed to that. Honestly, it had to, and there is no denying he played through nagging pain all season, whether it was a sports hernia or his foot.

How much better would Clowney have been if he was healthy? Would Clowney have been more inclined to dial it back a notch at times if he knew he wasn't at risk for making his injuries more serious? We don't know, but we do know Clowney dealt with more complications than we originally thought.
For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC led all conferences with the most NFL draft picks. When all was said and done on Saturday, the SEC had 49 former athletes selected. In 2013, the SEC had a league-record 63 players drafted, and after last year's draft, the league averaged 48.9 players drafted since 2006.

So I guess that whole run of seven straight BCS national championships had some real weight to it, huh?

The last time the SEC didn't lead the nation in draft picks was 2006, when the league had 37 players taken and the Big Ten had 41. This year, the SEC's only real competition in the draft was the ACC, which had 42 players taken.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney is the fourth SEC player to be taken first in the draft since 2006.
On Thursday, the SEC led the rest of the conferences with 11 first-round draft picks, including having Jadeveon Clowney selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney became the fourth player from the SEC to be taken first in the draft since 2006. The SEC also had four players taken within the first 10 picks of the draft.

LSU led the SEC and the rest of the country with nine draft selections. Alabama was second with eight draft picks.

Every SEC team was represented in the draft, and here's a breakdown of how each school fared:

  • Alabama -- 8
  • Arkansas -- 4
  • Auburn -- 4
  • Florida -- 4
  • Georgia -- 2
  • Kentucky -- 1
  • LSU -- 9
  • Mississippi State -- 1
  • Missouri -- 4
  • Ole Miss -- 1
  • South Carolina -- 2
  • Tennessee -- 3
  • Texas A&M -- 3
  • Vanderbilt -- 3

After all the Johnny Manziel drama from the first night of the draft, the SEC had no shortage of intrigue during the next two days of the draft. Everyone waited for AJ McCarron to get drafted in the second round, but he didn't hear his name until the fifth round (No. 164 by the Cincinnati Bengals), and after Aaron Murray was taken a spot ahead by the Kansas City Chiefs. Zach Mettenberger, the quarterback many thought would go first from the SEC, was selected in the sixth round (No. 178) by the Tennessee Titans.

And perhaps the biggest news from the last two days was Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected in the draft. The former Missouri defensive end -- and SEC defensive player of the year -- was selected in the seventh round (N0. 249) by the St. Louis Rams, and shared a powerful, historic and emotional scene on live television when he received the news.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC had yet another successful showing at the NFL draft. The league is absolutely stuffed with SEC talent. According to the SEC's official website, the SEC had 340 former players on active 53-man rosters on opening day of the 2013 season. Also, since 2006 the SEC has averaged nearly 280 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters.

There were some surprising names not called during the three-day draft. Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who were viewed as top cornerback prospects before the 2013 season, went undrafted, as did former top offensive line prospect Antonio Richardson from Tennessee. Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson also were left out.

Here's a look at the SEC players taken after Round 1:

ROUND 2

42. Jordan Matthews, WR ,Vanderbilt -- Philadelphia Eagles
44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Buffalo Bills
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU -- Chicago Bears
55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri -- Carolina Panthers
63. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU -- Miami Dolphins
64. Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 3

75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams
76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas -- Detroit Lions
81. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State -- Oakland Raiders
90. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss -- Indianapolis Colts
92. Trai Turner, OG, LSU -- Carolina Panthers

ROUND 4

101. Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida -- Philadelphia Eagles
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina -- San Francisco 49ers
123. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 5

151. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky -- Tennessee Titans
155. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia -- Miami Dolphins
156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU -- Denver Broncos
159. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas -- Jacksonville Jaguars
160. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama -- Arizona Cardinals
163. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Kansas City Chiefs
164. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- Cincinnati Bengals
167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama -- New Orleans Saints
169. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida -- New Orleans Saints
173. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 6

177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama -- Houston Texans
178. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU -- Tennessee Titans
179. Jon Halapio, OG, Florida -- New England Patriots
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU -- Houston Texans
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
193. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee -- Kansas City Chiefs
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn -- Houston Texans
215. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 7

216. Andre Hal, S, Vanderbilt -- Houston Texans
227. Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas -- Seattle Seahawks
228. Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas -- Washington Redskins
239. James Wright, WR, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
It was another successful first round of the NFL draft for the SEC, even if one star had to wait a lot longer than he expected.

By the time the night was over, Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick, Johnny Manziel was in Cleveland, and the SEC led all conferences with 11 picks in the first round.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesAs expected, Jadeveon Clowney was the top pick among the SEC's NFL draft prospects.
The first 10 picks were littered with SEC talent, as Clowney went first to the Houston Texans, Greg Robinson went second to the St. Louis Rams, Jake Matthews went sixth to the Atlanta Falcons, and Mike Evans went seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The real drama of the night came with Manziel Watch. The former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner was at one point expected to go No. 1 overall. Then, there was no way he was getting out of the first five picks. Then, the Dallas Cowboys were thought to be the favorites to land him in the middle of the first round.

But Manziel tumbled all the way down to No. 22 when the Cleveland Browns traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to get college football's most exciting player. Many thought Cleveland would end up being the destination for Manziel, but dropping that far was a surprise. Something tells me Manziel will be pretty fired up to prove a lot of people wrong about passing on him.

There were a couple of other first-round surprises concerning the SEC, too. For starters, former Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James went 19th to the Miami Dolphins after being projected as a second-rounder. Former Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who missed most of the 2013 season after suffering an ACL injury, was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 29th pick. And former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 after being projected as a second-rounder.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC fared in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Houston Texans

2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- Atlanta Falcons

7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- New York Giants

17. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- Baltimore Ravens

19. Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee -- Miami Dolphins

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Green Bay Packers

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Cleveland Browns

23. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn -- Kansas City Chiefs

29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida -- New England Patriots
ROCK HILL, S.C. -- For much of the football world, NFL draft day is nothing short of a national holiday.

But in this former textile and mill town of about 66,000 people, some 25 miles south of Charlotte, N.C., it's become just another day.

In these parts, they do a few things religiously.

They go to church on Sunday mornings and still say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am." The high school kids cruise up and down Cherry Road, and they produce world-class football players.

The latest is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who's projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, which begins Thursday night with the first round.

Clowney will become the third straight player from one of the three Rock Hill high schools to hear his name called in the first round, a distinction no other city or town in America can claim.

Not Miami. Not Los Angeles. Not Dallas. At least not during the past three years.

"When you're from Rock Hill, it's really sort of the expectation now," Clowney said. "I know a lot of kids who play football grow up dreaming about being drafted. But in our town, it's more than just a dream.

"A lot of great players have come before me, and a lot more are coming."

Clowney, who's in New York City for the first round, will become the 11th player to have played his high school football in Rock Hill to be drafted in the last 13 years.

Go here to read the rest of the story.

Clowney turns in freakish 40 time

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
11:05
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South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney said he was going to put on a show at the NFL combine, and he delivered Monday morning with an unofficial time of 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIJadeveon Clowney wanted to make a statement at the NFL combine. He delivered on Monday morning.
That's a blistering time for a any defensive end. Clowney weighed in at 266 pounds, and his 40 time would rank among the fastest by a defensive lineman at the combine in the last 10 years. It was also faster than 56 running backs and receivers at the combine on Sunday.

There have been a ton of questions concerning Clowney, including his work ethic, focus and what motivates him. But he's easily the most explosive defender in this draft, and his 40 time will likely ensure his going in the top five.

Clowney did 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press on Sunday, which wasn't a big number. But with his long arms, that's not a huge concern.

Here's a look at how some of the other SEC players have fared so far at the combine:

Auburn DE Dee Ford: Ford made big news with something he said. He took a swipe at Clowney, saying the Gamecocks' defensive end "played like a blind dog in a meat market." Ford, who had 10.5 sacks last season, didn't work out Monday because of unspecified medical reasons. ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reported that Ford was dealing with a lower back issue.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel: Electing not to throw at the combine, Manziel measured in at 5-11 3/4, but has huge hands for a guy his size (9 7/8 inches). Manziel's official 40 time was 4.68.

Auburn OT Greg Robinson: His official 40 time was a 4.92, which is staggering for a 6-5, 332-pound offensive tackle. He also did 32 reps on the bench press. Robinson obviously made the right call in coming out early because he's going to be the first or second tackle taken.

Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews: Measuring 6-3 and weighing 212 pounds, Matthews put to rest any questions about his speed and turned in a 4.46 in the 40.

Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief: Moncrief helped himself with a 4.4 40-yard dash time, as did South Carolina's Bruce Ellington with a 4.45.

Below are some other 40 times of SEC players (official times):

SEC's Heisman hopefuls in 2014

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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The SEC did pretty well for itself in the Heisman Trophy balloting last year. Even though Florida State's Jameis Winston ultimately wound up hoisting the prize, three SEC players found themselves among the top six receiving votes.

All three of those players are gone. AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Tre Mason are off to try their hand in the National Football League.

With that, we're left to wonder who will emerge as the SEC's Heisman favorites in 2014. With so many big names gone -- Aaron Murray, Jadeveon Clowney, Odell Beckham Jr., Zach Mettenberger -- the field of favorites is as wide open as ever.

Here is our list of the top five candidates to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy from the SEC:

Georgia RB Todd Gurley: Had Gurley stayed healthy, he may have had a seat in New York last year. Had he not missed all of October, he might have had the stats to support such a trip. Even so, the talented tailback averaged 98.9 yards per game and had one of the most impressive touchdown-to-rush ratios in the country at 6.1 percent, a full percentage point more than Boston College's Andre Williams, who finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. At the Gator Bowl, Gurley showed that even on a sore ankle he is one of the best backs in the country, racking up 183 total yards of offense against the Blackshirts of Nebraska. With a full offseason to heal and a new quarterback under center, Gurley could be asked to do even more in 2014.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Nick Marshall has been a Division I QB for just one season and is already one of the SEC's biggest playmakers. His potential is scary.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall: Gus Malzahn brought this point up an awful lot last season, but it bears repeating: Marshall became a Division I quarterback only some seven months ago. He didn't have the benefit of spring practice and still won the starting quarterback job at Auburn. After a few bumpy starts, he became one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league. For the first six games of the season, he ranked 40th in the country in Adjusted QBR. From then on he would rank third in Adjusted QBR with 20 total touchdowns, two interceptions and an average of 231.8 total yards per game. Now imagine all he could do with that kind of momentum and a full offseason to prepare.

South Carolina RB Mike Davis: We entered last season touting the SEC's stellar class of young running backs with Gurley, Marshall and Mason. For a while we left out Davis, a relative unknown after staying in the shadow of Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. But Davis let us know who he was right away, running for 115 yards in the season opener against North Carolina and 149 more in a prime-time matchup with Georgia. He wound up rushing for 100 or more yards in all but two of the Gamecocks' first nine games. He fell off the map some in his final three games, due in no small part to a nagging ankle injury. If he can get that corrected, he could be one of the league's most productive backs in 2014.

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon: He's not thought of as an explosive back, but why not? Yeldon finished last season with an impressive 34 rushes for 10 or more yards, more than every running back in the SEC not named Tre Mason or Jeremy Hill. All told, Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns -- both improvements from his freshman year. With the help of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Yeldon won't have to shoulder the load next season, but he'll still be the man with the most carries and the best shot at making it to New York.

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott: He's a dark horse, no doubt, but don't count out Prescott. He didn't finish the season 10th in Adjusted QBR for no reason. The talented sophomore quietly put up some big numbers and ended the year strong, coming off the bench to lead a fourth-quarter comeback against Ole Miss and following that up with a five-touchdown performance in the Bulldogs' bowl win over Rice. With so many veteran quarterbacks of the SEC gone, he could quickly pick up the mantle as the league's best.

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
10:30
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It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.

DEFENSE

DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.

Jadeveon Clowney to NFL? 'Yes, sir'

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
5:08
PM ET


It didn't take long for Jadeveon Clowney to make a decision regarding his future as the South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end said Wednesday that he would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Within minutes of the Gamecocks' 34-24 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bowl, Clowney was asked if this was his last season.

His response: "Yes, sir."

To continue reading, click here.

Capital One Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
9:00
AM ET
Wisconsin is hoping to change the Big Ten's fortunes with a win in the Capital One Bowl, while South Carolina is on the verge of clinching a program-best third straight season with a bowl win.

The two teams will face each other at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday (ABC). Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Wisconsin LB Chris Borland. This will be the last college game for both players, and you can bet they'll want to end their respective careers on a high note. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will almost certainly call Clowney's name within the first five picks of the draft, and Borland was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Clowney has dealt with injuries and more double-teams this season, so his stats are down -- but, when he's on, he's one of the most exciting players in college to watch. Borland led his team with 102 tackles -- 40 more stops than the No. 2 tackler -- and has been the heartbeat of Wisconsin's defense. Both of these defensive players have the uncanny ability to take control of a game.

What to watch: Wisconsin's run game. It's no secret that if the Badgers are going to win, then they're going to have to run the ball. That's been the staple of their offense. Wisconsin is the only team in the FBS with two running backs, James White and Melvin Gordon, who both average more than 100 rushing yards a game. And the Badgers are second in the FBS by averaging 6.61 yards per carry. On the flip side, South Carolina's defensive line will be a huge test for this rushing attack. DT Kelcy Quarles has been compared to Warren Sapp and currently has 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with 9.5 sacks. Then, of course, there's Clowney. Wisconsin's success rushing the ball could march hand in hand with its overall success in this game.

Why to watch: This game features some of the best defensive players either conference has to offer, three all-conference tailbacks will be showcased, and then there's South Carolina QB Connor Shaw (21 TDs, 1 INT) and Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis (73 catches, 1,051 yards). What's not to love? Outside of that, this is the first-ever matchup of these two teams, and the Badgers are trying to rebound from an upset to Penn State. Both teams weren't that far off from BCS bowls, so this is a strong matchup for the Capital One Bowl.

Prediction: South Carolina 28, Wisconsin 24.
Gary Andersen has helped compile extensive scouting reports for both defenses appearing in Wednesday's Capital One Bowl.

In the summer of 2012, Andersen, then Utah State's coach, examined a Wisconsin team that his Aggies would face in Week 3. South Carolina's defense has been on the top of his mind the past three weeks, as Andersen prepares Wisconsin to face the Gamecocks.

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIFour-year Wisconsin starter Chris Borland is set to close out his college career on Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, the South Carolina report is filled with mentions of Jadeveon Clowney, just like the Wisconsin report was with Chris Borland a year and a half ago.

"If you're playing Wisconsin, you're going to want to know where Chris is, and the same thing with Clowney as you're getting ready to play South Carolina," Andersen told ESPN.com. "They deserve that; they're that good. They're very similar players in those areas."

Similar might not be the first term used to link Clowney, South Carolina's junior defensive end, and Borland, Wisconsin's senior middle linebacker. Clowney is 6-foot-6 and 274 pounds, a rare physical specimen who came into college as the nation's No. 1 recruit and could exit as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Clowney recorded a team-record 13.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, earned unanimous All-America honors and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, leading many to wonder if he should even play this season before jumping to the NFL. He suited up for South Carolina and, despite some speed bumps, still earned first-team All-SEC honors.

Borland is short at 5-foot-11. His recruiting profile next to Clowney's is laughable. He played soccer and other sports growing up, didn't participate in organized football until high school and appeared headed for a Division III school until wowing Wisconsin at a summer camp before his senior season. Of the 17 players in Wisconsin's 2009 recruiting class graded by ESPN recruiting, Borland received the second lowest.

He'll finish his career Wednesday as one of the best defensive players in team history, a four-year starter with multiple All-America honors who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors this season. His NFL draft forecast isn't as promising as Clowney's -- most mocks have him in the second or third round -- but few defensive players have more accomplished college careers.

"He's as good as advertised," Andersen said, "just like I'm sure the Clowney kid is."

Clowney was the first player Andersen and Wisconsin's offensive coaches discussed when crafting Wednesday's game plan. But the strength of South Carolina's overall front seven, which includes first-team All-SEC tackle Kelcy Quarles and second-team All-SEC linebacker Sharrod Golightly, prevents the Badgers from constantly doubling, chipping or avoiding No. 7.

"Is he consciously in our game plan? Yes. But is every play designed to run away from him? Absolutely not," Andersen said. "We've got to get in there and do what we do. Our goal is to block him and put him a spot where he can't make plays."

South Carolina will take a similar approach against Borland, just like Andersen did with Utah State in 2012. It won't be easy, largely because of the position Borland plays.

Utah State tried to take Borland out of the box with formations to make him play more in space.

"A defensive end is on the left side or the right side," Andersen said. "Chris starts every play usually right in the middle of the defense, so it's harder to scheme if you want to run the ball between the tackles."

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIThe Badgers will need to know where South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is at all times.
Andersen has never seen a college player quite like Clowney. Wisconsin guard Ryan Groy called the South Carolina star "a breed of his own" and admits there's no one that truly prepare you for his size-strength-speed combination.

Clowney also is an effective gambler, taking chances with inside moves both against the run and the pass. Defensive ends risk losing contain by doing this, but Clowney still usually covers the edge.

"You would never allow a young man who can't recover if he's making those inside moves, but it's also part of their scheme," Andersen said. "They have a backer that overhangs him and pre-snap, it's very difficult to sit there and understand that's what you’re going to get. He does a nice job of not giving it away when he's going to make those moves, and maybe it's just him reacting. Maybe he's that gifted that he feels like you're reaching a little bit and he can come underneath that block, or if you get a little bit on your heels in a pass set, he's either going to right through you or he’s going to come on an inside move.

"They probably don't even look at it as taking chances. They probably look at it as, 'This is our defensive scheme.'"

Clowney has one year of eligibility remaining, but Wednesday marks his final game with South Carolina. He participated in senior day ceremonies Nov. 30.

"He'll be an instant pro when the game is over," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday.

It will be a shock if Clowney isn't one of the first five names called at April's NFL draft. Borland still can boost his stock at the Senior Bowl and other pre-draft events.

His height will come up, but Andersen has received positive feedback from NFL scouts, who liken Borland to two other shorter linebackers, Sam Mills and Zach Thomas, who had 12 Pro Bowl appearances and 11 All-Pro selections in their careers.

"Somebody better take him early because if somebody takes him late, Chris is going to make a whole lot of people look bad," Andersen said. "He’s going to be a great player in that league for many, many years, not just because he's so talented, but because he's such a great preparer and his care factor is as good or anybody that I've ever been around."

SEC bowl picks

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:20
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Ready or not, the bowl season is upon us, and the first of 10 games involving SEC teams kicks off later Monday when Mississippi State takes on Rice in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

As my esteemed colleague, Edward Aschoff, has reminded you at every turn over the last few weeks, he takes a three-game lead into the bowl games. It’s reminiscent of a year ago when I dug myself a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

We’ll see if I have better luck this time.

The only game we’re not picking at this point is the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. We’ll wait until we’re a little closer to the Jan. 6 matchup between Auburn and Florida State to unveil our picks for that contest.

Edward is 97-17 (.851) for the season after correctly picking Auburn to beat Missouri in the SEC championship game. I’m 94-20 (.825) after picking the wrong set of Tigers in that game.

But we’re all about the future on the SEC blog, and let’s hope my vision into the future is at least three games better than the ATL Kid’s.

Here’s a look at our picks:

FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels didn't end the season on a very high note, as losses to Missouri and Mississippi State put a bit of a damper on an otherwise impressive season. But this team is highly motivated for this game and should have the advantage in the playmaker department. … Ole Miss 24, Georgia Tech 21

Chris Low: Ole Miss’ offense went missing the last two regular-season games. The Rebels managed just one offensive touchdown in losses to Missouri and Mississippi State. It’s never much fun going up against a triple-option offense, either, but Ole Miss and Bo Wallace will gain a little redemption heading into the offseason. … Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 21

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Aschoff: The Bulldogs pulled out back-to-back overtime wins to get into this game. It wasn't a pretty season, but Dan Mullen has now guided his team to a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history. While the Bulldogs are riding high, Rice has won nine out of 10 and has the running game to frustrate Mississippi State's defense. … Rice 24, Mississippi State 21

Low: Having a healthy Dak Prescott will be huge for Mississippi State, which also happens to be playing its best defense of the season. The Bulldogs won’t completely shut down Rice’s running game, but will slow it down enough to get the Owls out of their comfort zone. There will be a ton of maroon in the stands at the Liberty Bowl, and their short trip back home will be a happy one. … Mississippi State 28, Rice 24

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Aschoff: Johnny Manziel is no stranger to the ATL, but he finally gets a shot at getting a victory inside the Georgia Dome. The Aggies ended the season on a bit of a skid, but the layoff should give them a chance to get both healthy and focused. Duke has been a great story this year, but the Blue Devils just don't have the athletes to slow down A&M. … Texas A&M 41, Duke 27

Low: It’s Manziel’s last stand in a Texas A&M uniform, and he’s hoping to go out a lot better than he finished the regular season. The Aggies had better not sleep on a Duke team that hasn’t won a bowl game in more than 50 years. The Blue Devils are a capable and confident bunch, but a rested, healthier Manziel will be too much for the Duke defense. … Texas A&M 45, Duke 28

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL

Aschoff: The Hutson Mason era takes yet another big step forward. If only we hadn't seen this game a year ago. Still, the Bulldogs should be motivated to get some momentum going into the offseason. This one should feature a lot of scoring and some big plays from Todd Gurley, which will prove to be the difference. … Georgia 38, Nebraska 31

Low: Even without record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia is a heavy favorite. Nebraska didn’t play particularly well during the second half of the season and enters the game having lost two of its last three. Bowl rematches aren’t ideal, but the Dawgs will get a glimpse of the future with QB Mason leading them to their ninth win of the season. … Georgia 35, Nebraska 24

BBVA COMPASS BOWL

Aschoff: After another successful season under James Franklin, the Commodores are headed to a school-record third straight bowl game. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Patton Robinette, but having Jordan Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him. … Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21

Low: Think of the money you could have won in Vegas had you predicted Vanderbilt to win nine games in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores can do just that if they can take care of Houston in Birmingham. The Cougars hit the skids down the stretch and lost three of their last four games. They were held to 17 points or fewer in all three losses. The Commodores' secondary, one of the better ones in the SEC, will be the difference in this game. ... Vanderbilt 28, Houston 23

OUTBACK BOWL

Aschoff: The Tigers showed some real heart and guts after losing to Alabama in early November. But with Zach Mettenberger out with a knee injury, the Tigers turn to freshman Anthony Jennings. Iowa doesn't light the scoreboard up, but it grinds games out and isn't afraid to get really physical. There's something about the Hawkeyes and the SEC, and it doesn't bode well for the Tigers, who know all too well how dangerous Iowa is. … Iowa 24, LSU 20

Low: Like Georgia and Vanderbilt, LSU will be playing without its starting quarterback in the bowl game. Mettenberger injured his knee in the regular-season finale. Jennings will have his hands full, but he has enough offensive firepower around him in the form of Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. that the Tigers will snap their two-game bowl losing streak. … LSU 27, Iowa 23

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

Aschoff: The Badgers own one of the nation's best rushing attacks, while the Gamecocks have one of the country's best defensive lines. We've found out lately just how fast Jadeveon Clowney can be, and he'll have his hands full with Wisconsin's offensive line and running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White. Something tells me this Gamecocks' line is excited about the challenge. … South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20

Low: The Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks are shooting for their third consecutive 11-win season but will have to go through a tough Wisconsin team to do it. This has all the makings of being one of the best games of the bowl season. Mike Davis will upstage Wisconsin’s two-pronged running attack to give South Carolina its third straight bowl victory. … South Carolina 30, Wisconsin 27

AT&T COTTON BOWL

Aschoff: It's like we'll be watching an old Big 12 game inside Jerry's World! And with the way both of these offenses played during the regular season, the scoreboard will look like it, too. Both of these teams are hungry to prove themselves after losing out on BCS bowl games the last time they went out. Mizzou's defense was run over by Auburn and now has to face a very good passing offense. The good news is that the Tigers can air it out and grind it out themselves. … Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 31

Low: It has been a terrific bounce-back season for Missouri in its second year in the SEC. Getting to the SEC championship game and winning 11 games, especially with starting quarterback James Franklin missing a key stretch of the season, speaks for itself. The Tigers, though, run into an Oklahoma State team in the bowl game that can also score points and is much improved on defense. … Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 34

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

Aschoff: Alabama's dream of a BCS title three-peat ended on a miracle play on the Plains, so now the Crimson Tide have to figure out a way to be motivated on Bourbon Street. Oklahoma has a ton of momentum after its upset win over Oklahoma State to get into this game. Bama wanted more, but players sound motivated and they'll carry the responsibility of representing the "SEC propaganda" OU coach Bob Stoops is tired of. … Alabama 31, Oklahoma 14

Low: If not for one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football, maybe ever, Alabama easily could be playing for its third straight national championship. Instead, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma and are itching to take out a little frustration on the Sooners. That’s no propaganda, either. … Alabama 38, Oklahoma 17

2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
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We still have the bowls to play, but we've gone ahead and selected our 2013 All-SEC team at ESPN.com.

Some of the selections were no-brainers. Others were agonizingly difficult to make. We placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games, consistency and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. Durability and being in the lineup the entire season was also a factor. In other words, if a player missed three or four games, we took that into account. And when it was close everywhere else, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
KR: Solomon Patton, Florida
PR: Chris Davis, Auburn

The Big Ten's bowl lineup is now official. Both participants from the league championship game are headed to BCS bowls, while five others will play postseason games in Florida, Arizona and Texas. The overall lineup doesn't seem quite as daunting as last season's, when the Big Ten had zero top-10 teams and played three top-10 opponents in the postseason.

We'll be breaking down these games for the next few weeks, but we wanted to share our first impressions of the lineup:

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa vs. LSU
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28: Michigan vs. Kansas State
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27: Minnesota vs. Syracuse

Let's begin ...

Adam Rittenberg's first impressions

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMark Dantonio's Spartans enter the Rose Bowl on a nine-game win streak.
Best game: Rose. The most tradition-rich bowl will celebrate its 100th edition with a matchup of teams with traditional offenses based around the power-run and aggressive, hard-hitting defenses. Michigan State recorded the signature win of the Mark Dantonio-era against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and enters the Rose Bowl on a nine-game win streak, winning each contest by at least 10 points. Both teams have standout defenders (MSU's Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Shilique Calhoun and Denicos Allen; Stanford's Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Jordan Richards), underrated quarterbacks in Connor Cook and Kevin Hogan and impressive running backs in Jeremy Langford and Tyler Gaffney. Good times.

Worst game: Gator. I'm probably not as upset about this one as Brian (or most Nebraska fans), but a rematch of last season's Capital One Bowl featuring two teams playing without their starting quarterbacks doesn't move the needle. At least running backs Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are fun to watch.

Sneaky good game: Capital One Bowl. Not sure how sneaky this one is, but both teams are talented on both sides of the ball and easily could have better records. The game features the nation's most talented defender in South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney against one of the nation's most accomplished defenders in Wisconsin's Chris Borland. The Badgers' seniors want to go out on a good note after a stunning home loss to Penn State, not to mention three consecutive losses in the Rose Bowl.

The bowl season will be a success if: The Big Ten records a winning record with at least one BCS bowl win. This season's lineup is slightly more favorable, and four wins certainly isn't out of the question. Ohio State and Minnesota both should win their games, and Michigan State, while less experienced than Stanford in BCS games, is playing its best football. Wisconsin needs to rebound, Iowa has a tough draw and both Michigan and Nebraska have been enigmatic, but the Big Ten should expect a little more in its final season of its self-created meat-grinder bowl lineup.

Brian Bennett's first impressions

Best game: The Rose Bowl is tremendous and looks to be the second-best game outside of the BCS title game. But let me also put in a plug for a possible underrated Orange matchup between Ohio State and Clemson. I saw Clemson earlier this season, and while the Tigers stumbled badly against Florida State and South Carolina, they are loaded with athletes. Put Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde all on the same field, and you're guaranteed some fireworks. Both teams score more than 40 points per game so we could have an entertaining shootout with some intriguing back stories (the Woody Hayes punch, Urban Meyer's return to the state of Florida).

Worst game: Minnesota had a great season and has a legitimately good defense and solid running game led by David Cobb. So I was hoping to see the Gophers get a chance to prove themselves against a decent opponent. Unfortunately, they drew a 6-6 Syracuse squad that beat absolutely no one and has an even lower-scoring offense than Minnesota. A bowl win is probably all that matters to Jerry Kill and his players, but I think they deserved a better showcase opportunity.

Sneaky good game: Outback. Iowa will have to make up for a talent gap with LSU -- as most teams do when they play the Tigers. But the Hawkeyes really hit their stride in the season finale at Nebraska, and they have only lost to teams ranked in the top 20. LSU, meanwhile, will be without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL in the season finale, and this was not a vintage Tigers' defense. Both teams like to run the ball a lot, and Iowa linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey must continue to lead the way for Phil Parker's defense. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll get an ending half as good as the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

The bowl season will be a success if: At least one BCS win is a necessity, especially with opponents who are similar in style in both games. Winning at least one of the games against the SEC on New Year's Day is also important; that holiday has been unkind to the Big Ten of late, and Georgia and LSU look more vulnerable than usual. An overall winning record is possible and could start to change the conference's image. Another sign of success will be if Wisconsin can avoid adding to Clowney's postseason highlight reel.

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