SEC: American Athletic Conference

It was a wild one in Birmingham, Ala., but behind 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt defeated Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Commodores opened the game with a 24-0 lead at halftime before allowing the Cougars to score 24 straight points of their own in the third quarter.

However, a 21-yard touchdown run and late interceptions by safety Jahmel McIntosh and cornerback Andre Hal helped seal Vandy's win after a valiant Houston comeback.

It was over when: Hal intercepted Houston quarterback John O'Korn and returned it 30 yards to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up Vandy's final touchdown.

Game ball goes to: In his final game in a Vanderbilt uniform, senior receiver Jordan Matthews led the Commodores with five catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Surprisingly, this was Matthews' first multi-touchdown game of the season. All of Matthews' stats came in the first half. He caught five of quarterback Patton Robinette's six pass completions. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards enjoyed a nice final game at the college level.

Stat of the game: It truly was a tale of two halves in Birmingham. The Commodores outgained Houston 232-22 in the first half and held the Cougars to just one first down. In the second half, Houston dominated the stat chart with 362 offensive yards to Vandy's 133. Houston outgained Vandy 309-44 in the third quarter alone.

Stat of the game II: Both teams combined to go 3-of-34 on third downs and punted 20 total times.

Unsung hero: Vandy kicker Carey Spear connected on two big field goals and five extra points. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 62-yard kickoff return by Demarcus Ayers. The Cougars failed to score on the drive.

What it means for Vanderbilt: Vandy is now 16-4 in its past 20 games and has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Commodores also have back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time ever. Expect coach James Franklin to hear his named mentioned even more when it comes to head-coaching vacancies at both the college and pro level. It wasn't the prettiest victory after a bit of a second-half lull for the Commodores, but this win should still give the Commodores a ton of momentum going into the offseason. It certainly won't hurt in recruiting either.

What it means for Houston: The Cougars shouldn't hang their heads for too long after this loss. There is still a lot of good, young talent on this team, starting with O'Korn, receiver Deontay Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson. The offense stalled against Vandy's stout defense early, but showed just how explosive it can be when things started to click in the third quarter. A solid second year under Tony Levine should help create higher expectations for a Houston program that should come back stronger in 2014.

To watch the trophy presentation of the BBVA Compass Bowl, click here.

BBVA Compass Bowl preview

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
Vanderbilt is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time, while Houston wants to show that its high-powered offense can send another SEC defense reeling in the postseason.

The Commodores (8-4) and Cougars (8-4) meet in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and yards steps back into his home state to take on a pass defense that is allowing 276 passing yards per game (ranked 116th in the nation). Matthews was one of the SEC's best receivers this season, catching a league-high 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. He's averaging almost nine catches and 111.2 yards per game.

Matthews had eight 100-yard receiving games this season and has caught double-digit receptions in three consecutive games. But it will be interesting to see if he sniffs the end zone -- Houston has given up just 12 touchdown passes and has 23 interceptions.

What to watch: Both secondaries. Houston has given up a lot of yards through the air, but one thing that could work in the Cougars' favor is the fact that Vanderbilt starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is out (knee surgery). That means backup Patton Robinette will have to lead this offense. Robinette has passed for 488 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions this season. If the Cougars can harass him and keep Matthews in check, Vandy will have a long day.

On the other side, Vandy's secondary has been solid all season, allowing just 204 passing yards a game. Leaders Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler had solid seasons, defending 21 passes and snagging seven interceptions. Houston freshman quarterback John O'Korn has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, while receiver Deontay Greenberry has 76 receptions for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Commodores have been a feel-good story since James Franklin took over as coach three years ago, and this is the last time we'll see Matthews play in a Vandy uniform. He's had a truly special career with the Commodores, and it was only elevated with the arrival of Franklin. Plus, the Commodores have a chip on their shoulders after getting passed by Mississippi State in the bowl pecking order.

With Houston, it's a chance to see a team possibly on the rise behind a pretty fun offense that could give the Commodores fits. Behind a young quarterback and young playmakers such as Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson, the future could be very bright for the Cougars.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Robinette, but having Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him.

BBVA Compass Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4) vs. Houston Cougars (8-4)

Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET, Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)

Coach James Franklin has turned his revival of the Vanderbilt program into a new golden age. These are heady times for the Commodores. Vandy recently completed yet another unbeaten November, giving it a nine-game winning streak in that critical month that dates to 2011.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Matthews
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesJordan Matthews, the SEC's all-time leading receiver, has eight 100-yard games this season.
Vanderbilt defeated Georgia and Florida for the first time in the same season, picking up the school's first road win against the Gators since 1945. VU's only SEC East losses were to the top two teams -- South Carolina and Missouri.

Despite a nail-biting loss in the season opener against Ole Miss and a big road loss to Texas A&M, the Dores won eight games and went .500 in the SEC. VU has eight wins in back-to-back regular seasons for the first time since 1927-28 and is making its third straight bowl appearance. Here's some perspective: Before Franklin arrived, Vanderbilt had been to four bowl games in 120 years.

The Commodores have a balanced offense that features the passing combination of quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels to wide receiver Jordan Matthews. But this year has seen more emphasis on running the ball, as Vandy employs a committee that includes leading rusher Jerron Seymour, Brian Kimbrow, Wesley Tate and lately more designed runs for Carta-Samuels and backup QB Patton Robinette. The biggest star and most dangerous player, however, is the silky-smooth Matthews, who has an SEC-record 18 career 100-yard games and broke his own school record this season with 1,334 yards receiving (fifth most in SEC history).

Perhaps the biggest strides the program has made this season have been on the other side of the ball, where Vanderbilt has allowed 333.9 yards a game to rank No. 19 in the nation in total defense. This is an opportunistic bunch with 26 takeaways. On the whole, Franklin runs a tight ship. His offense doesn't give up the ball very often (20 turnovers on the year) and averages just more than five penalties a game.

In other words, Vanderbilt rarely beats itself. -- Jeff Barlis


The Cougars have quietly had a nice turnaround season, sitting at 8-4 in coach Tony Levine's second season after a 5-7 campaign in 2012.

[+] EnlargeTony Levine
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTony Levine's Cougars have enjoyed a nice bounce-back season thanks to an opportunistic defense.
Houston has improved in a number of areas, especially on defense. It leads the country in turnover margin (+25) and takeaways (40) under defensive coordinator David Gibbs.

Each of the Cougars’ four losses have come by seven points or fewer -- not bad for a team with a true freshman quarterback (John O'Korn).

While he’s had some growing pains, O'Korn has been solid (26 touchdowns, eight interceptions) and he has many weapons at his disposal, namely sophomore receiver Deontay Greenberry (76 receptions, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns).

One note: Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham has accepted the same job at TCU so co-OC Travis Bush will call the plays in the bowl game. -- Sam Khan Jr.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There were no revved up halftime speeches, no dire statements, no panic.

No. 12 South Carolina trailed UCF 10-0, but the Gamecocks felt confident they had the perfect game plan for the second half. Line up in the I-formation and tell Mike Davis, ‘Go.’

Davis did, rushing for three touchdowns in the second half and 167 total yards to help the Gamecocks survive a scare, 28-25 on Saturday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxConnor Shaw's injury forced Mike Davis to shoulder the load for South Carolina.
But sandwiched between some of the bigger plays Davis made were valid concerns for this team moving forward. South Carolina looked flat and emotionless to start. Then when it grabbed a 28-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks lost their focus again.

For the second straight game, South Carolina nearly whittled away a lead late. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney saw some of the younger players on his team celebrating and waving to family in the stands in the fourth quarter, and he had to tell them, ‘This ain’t high school anymore. You gotta play until the clock ends around here.’”

Davis -- for his terrific second half-performance -- nearly cost the Gamecocks when he fumbled late on the UCF 3 with South Carolina leading 28-18. UCF turned the miscue into a touchdown and cut the South Carolina lead to 28-25 with 1:54 to go. Despite the added late drama, South Carolina recovered the onside kick to seal the win.

Coach Steve Spurrier, in his typically blunt demeanor, blasted his team for turning into the “careless Gamecocks, the stupid Gamecocks” after taking such a big lead and nearly blowing it. “We don’t know what the heck we’re doing when we get a big lead,” he said.

UCF also took advantage of a less-than-stellar South Carolina defense, which allowed a plethora of big plays and wide-open receivers. UCF got back into the game after Blake Bortles threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Rannell Hall to cut the lead to 28-18. The final UCF touchdown was set up on a 79-yard pass to Breshad Perriman.

Spurrier said bluntly, “We’ll have some new defenses. We’ll have some guys standing back there for 30 yards instead of what we’re doing now. Because it’s not working.”

Compounding matters, South Carolina also has to deal with the loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw, out two weeks with a sprained right shoulder. Though backup Dylan Thompson has gotten his share of playing experience, the South Carolina offense dominated only after Spurrier switched gears and decided to play “the way we used to play 20 years ago,” riding a dominant run game.

Spurrier has not shied away from using the run game before, and he did not with Davis -- who ended up with 26 carries while doubling his touchdowns on the season. South Carolina, clearly superior on both lines, won the game because it ultimately wore down the UCF defense in the second half.

“Whenever coach calls for me, I’m here,” said Davis, who was fighting through a cold. “I guess I showed up the second half.”

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/John RaouxIf the Houston Texans had used the No. 1 overall pick on Blake Bortles, it would have had a ripple effect throughout the draft.
And yet, UCF was still in the game at the end thanks in large part to Bortles, who showed why he has drawn interest from NFL scouts. Bortles is the biggest reason why UCF jumped out to an early lead, and nearly completed an improbable comeback. He showed poised in the pocket and a knack for finding the open receiver, going 25-of-36 for 358 yards and two touchdowns.

It was Bortles who keyed a big win over Penn State a few weeks ago with a solid performance. But when you are the underdog, you cannot afford to make the mistakes UCF made. UCF had four turnovers -- including two interceptions and a fumble by Bortles -- that South Carolina ultimately turned into 14 points.

The Knights also failed to take advantage of several key opportunities, scoring one touchdown off four South Carolina turnovers, and settling for a field goal in the second quarter after getting to the South Carolina 8.

“We have a lot of young kids and we can’t sustain on turnovers and short fields,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “Again, when you have a chance to make plays, you have to make them and we didn’t make enough plays in the second half. It was a tough game.”

Even still, UCF showed that it could perhaps be the biggest threat on the Louisville schedule in the American Athletic Conference and a potential 10-win team again. The effort was there. In fact, O’Leary does not fault the effort his team showed. “There’s no quit in us. I knew they would never quit.”

South Carolina did not quit after trailing early, either. Davis made sure of that.

Video: South Carolina 28, UCF 25

September, 28, 2013

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, but Mike Davis scored three TDs to help South Carolina beat UCF 28-25.
The debate over top individual classes is a fierce and long standing one in the world of recruiting, but a look at how conferences stack up against each other on the recruiting trail can offer great insight as well. The SEC has been dominant on the field and on the recruiting trail -- it's nabbed the top class four out of the last five years. For 2014, the SEC is making a push to claim the top class again with multiple teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings. The SEC is not the only conference enjoying recruiting success though, as several others are showing similar depth.

Spreecast: Conference perceptions

August, 13, 2013
AM ET bloggers Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, Edward Aschoff and Ted Miller discuss the perceptions of the major conferences.



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