VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES BREAKDOWN
Virginia Tech played the way most people expected this season: Its defense was outstanding; its offense was not. There is little doubt the Hokies fielded a championship-caliber defense throughout the course of 2013, but offensive shortcomings ended up derailing any hope for a return to the ACC title game.
The same issues that plagued Virginia Tech last season ended up dooming the offense again. The Hokies could never develop a consistent running game, and nobody emerged as a go-to target among the receivers. The offensive line struggled for the majority of the season, as well. All of this put pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas to make plays.
When he made them, Virginia Tech won more often than not. The Hokies got off to a 6-1 start and climbed to No. 14 in the rankings after Thomas was particularly effective in their first three ACC games -- scoring six total touchdowns while throwing zero interceptions. But Virginia Tech proceeded to drop three of its next four games, including back-to-back downers against Duke and Boston College.
In those two losses, Thomas had eight turnovers. It is unfair to blame Thomas completely for both losses. There is plenty of blame to go around. The defense did not play particularly well against the Eagles, either, as Andre Williams ran for 166 yards and two scores.
Despite another overtime loss to Maryland at home, Virginia Tech held out hope of winning the Coastal going into the final Saturday of the regular season. But Duke would have none of that. So once again, the Hokies will not play for a championship, the first time they have failed to make it back to the ACC title game after missing the previous season.
The defense ended up ranking in the top 10 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks. True freshman Kendall Fuller won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after ranking fifth nationally in interceptions (six) and leading the conference with 16 passes defended.
Fellow defensive back Brandon Facyson is a candidate to join Fuller on the freshman All-America team. Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller and Luther Maddy were solid all year.
This puts into perspective how lopsided the performance was between the offense and defense: Of the 11 Virginia Tech players recognized on the All-ACC media teams, only two came from the offense. Both were honorable mention on offensive line. -- Andrea Adelson
UCLA BRUINS BREAKDOWN
With a 2-0 mark against USC and their head coach locked up for six more years, the UCLA Bruins enter the bowl season brimming with confidence.
Quarterback Brett Hundley led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (67.8) and has eight touchdowns to just one interception over his past five games. Offensive line issues -- particularly the fact that UCLA starts three true freshmen -- have taken their toll at times and forced Hundley into scramble mode perhaps sooner than offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone would like. But the Bruins, and Hundley, have still been able to adapt.
Stricken early in the season with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, coach Jim Mora rallied his team to five straight wins to open the year, including an emotional win at Nebraska. UCLA lost back-to-back games at Stanford and Oregon but closed out the year by winning four of its last five.
Defensively, linebacker Anthony Barr continues to be one of the most dominant players in the country. He led the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for a loss and was tied for second with 10 sacks. Complementary players such as Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack give UCLA one of the top front sevens in college football.
As depth issues impacted the running game, the Bruins got more creative in finding ways to score. Jack took over as a dual-threat option and added seven rushing touchdowns to his résumé. Marsh has a touchdown reception, and even defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has rushed for a score. The Bruins head into the postseason playing a very creative yet still physical style of football. -- Kevin Gemmell