SEC: Big East

Breaking down the conference races

November, 10, 2014
11/10/14
10:04
AM ET
After a weekend that featured six matchups between ranked teams, we have emerged with newfound clarity in the conference races.

Ohio State, Baylor, Oregon and Alabama each beat a top-20 opponent on Saturday and now controls its own destiny in conference races.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting the with most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Florida State (75 percent), Duke (19 percent)

Florida State has the best chance of any Power 5 school to win its conference. FPI projects that the Seminoles have a 99 percent chance to win their division and a 77 percent chance to beat the winner of the ACC Coastal division in the ACC Championship Game, should they get there.

Duke is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal division, one game ahead in the loss column over Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker versus the Yellow Jackets, and although they lost to Miami (FL), the Hurricanes still have Florida State left on their schedule.

Big 12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Baylor (72 percent), TCU (24 percent), Kansas State (4 percent)

After its win against Oklahoma, Baylor’s chance of winning the Big 12 rose from 27 percent to 72 percent. By most measures, TCU has a more impressive résumé than Baylor, but the Bears hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11 in an unlikely 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.

TCU (68 percent) and Baylor (67 percent) have the best chances among Power 5 one-loss teams to win out. If both teams run the table, Baylor will be the Big 12 champion.

FPI projects that Kansas State, which also has one conference loss, has a four percent chance to win the Big 12 because of its schedule. The Wildcats have to play West Virginia and Baylor on the road, but if they beat Baylor in the final week of the season, things could get interesting. FPI projects that there is a 29 percent chance that Baylor, TCU and Kansas State win their other remaining games, resulting in a three-way tie.

Pac-12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Oregon (71 percent), Arizona State (13 percent), UCLA (10 percent)

Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North, so its only barrier to a conference championship will come in that Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State, which is one of nine remaining one-loss teams, has a 51 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South, according to FPI, followed by UCLA (30 percent).

The Sun Devils have three remaining conference games, including a tough road test against rival Arizona on Nov. 28, while the Bruins have two. If these teams were to finish with the same record, UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and would face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game – a game that FPI projects the Ducks have more than a 70 percent chance to win.

Big Ten
FPI’s Projected Winner: Ohio State (65 percent), Wisconsin (22 percent), Nebraska (11 percent)

Ohio State’s win against Michigan State on Saturday may have been the biggest win of the weekend in terms of conference championships. Not only did Ohio State put itself in a great position to win its division (FPI projects the Buckeyes have a 98 percent chance to win the Big Ten East), but it knocked its greatest competition out of the race.

One of the biggest games of this upcoming weekend in terms of divisional races features the top two teams in the Big Ten West – Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Because the game is in Madison, FPI projects that Wisconsin has a 64 percent chance to win. Whichever team wins will put itself in a prime position to win the division and likely face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

SEC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Alabama (36 percent), Georgia (27 percent), Mississippi State (19 percent)

The SEC is the most wide open conference. FPI projects that there are three teams – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State – with more than a 15 percent chance to win the conference. No other Power 5 conference has more than two such teams.

In the SEC West, FPI projects that Alabama has a 50 percent chance to win the division, largely because it hosts its two biggest competitors – Mississippi State and Auburn – in the next few weeks.

On Saturday, Mississippi State heads to Tuscaloosa in a game with conference and playoff implications. The winner of this game will control its own destiny in the vaunted SEC West and have a great chance to play the SEC East champion in the conference championship game.

Like the SEC West, the East is also quite unsettled.

Although Georgia is currently behind Missouri in the SEC East standings, FPI projects that the Bulldogs have a 60 percent chance to win the division because Missouri has three difficult remaining conference games, while Georgia has one.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
9/03/14
9:47
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.

The 2013 NFL draft is in the rearview mirror, so now it's time to look into our crystal ball one year into the future at all the tantalizing possibilities for the 2014 NFL draft.

The most tantalizing thought of all: South Carolina behemoth defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater both declare as underclassmen and therefore produce one of the biggest debates in recent memory. Do you take a game-changing defensive end with the No. 1 overall pick or a franchise quarterback?

They are already rated as the top two players available for 2014 in several mock drafts. So Edward Aschoff in SEC land and Andrea Adelson in Big East/AAC land decided to let the debate begin!

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Teddy Bridgewater
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsTeddy Bridgewater has the size, speed and intagibles to be the top pick in the NFL draft.
AA: The first thing I want to say is I love Clowney. I love watching him play. I love his demeanor. I love his personality. I had a front-row seat for the Outback Bowl and chronicled his demolition of Michigan running back Vincent Smith, the best play I have ever seen in person. Now, having said that, is there really a debate here? Honestly? To build an NFL team, you build at quarterback. That is why the overwhelming majority of No. 1 overall picks have been quarterbacks. Let's just go back to 2000 to make things easy. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were quarterbacks in that time span? Ten. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were defensive ends in that same span? Two. Teddy Bridgewater has every single measurable tool every single NFL team wants. He has a great arm, great physical size and can make plays with his legs. And he has every single intangible every NFL team wants. He is a gritty leader, plays through pain, is a student of the game, obsesses about every detail and has absolutely no character issues. Bridgewater is the clear choice.

EA: I love Bridgewater. He can sling it with the best of them and has the toughness that any coach at either the college or pro level would want. I'd start a franchise around him, if Jadeveon Clowney wasn't sitting there. Yes, the NFL has turned into more of an offensive league, but let's just look at the most recent Super Bowl. Defense wins championships, and Clowney will make an immediate impact with whichever team wins his sweepstakes. Were scouts and talking heads clamoring for Bridgewater to skip the 2013 season so that he could guarantee his spot as the first player taken in next year's draft? In the words of Kevin McCallister: I don't think so. Clowney is more than just a man-child. I'm not sure he's even human. He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash at 6-6, 272 pounds. He's a physical specimen and could play in the NFL right now. He would have been the unquestioned first pick in this year's draft if he could have left early. "The Hit" was only the beginning. Also, he's going up against the best offensive lines in the country and still has 21 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles during his two-year career. How is Bridgewater's stock going to go any higher playing in the Big East?

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney showed his ability to turn a game around in the Outback Bowl against Michigan.
AA: His stock is not going to go up any higher because he already is listed either No. 1 or No. 2 on just about every early 2014 mock NFL draft. Where do you want him to go, infinity and beyond? The competition will be bland this year, but forget that. Bridgewater will always have Florida. Clowney? Not so much. Scoreboard says Louisville > Florida > South Carolina in 2012. And yes, if the Gamecocks had Bridgewater under center, they would have been playing for another SEC title last year. One more point on the schedule. Whom did Eric Fisher play against in the MAC that warranted his selection as the No. 1 overall pick? Fisher was selected over a player at his position from the SEC. So throw conference affiliation out. Now, let's look at what value a quarterback brings to a team versus what value a defensive end brings to a team. For my millions upon millions, I want a player who touches the ball every single play he is no the field. There is no doubt that Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime player. But it is much more difficult for a once-in-a-lifetime defensive player to change the fortunes of a pro team without a strong quarterback behind center. Defense may win championships, but the last time I checked, No. 1 overall picks John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning all won Super Bowls. Mario Williams, Courtney Brown and Bruce Smith? Nada.

EA: Wow! So you're putting Teddy Heisman in the same boat as Elway and the Mannings? My goodness. I mean he's good, but his shinning moment was beating a Florida squad that barely made it off the bus in New Orleans. Here's the thing about Clowney: He still has a lot of room to grow. He's admitted to taking plays off last year, and he was still arguably the best defensive player in the country. Imagine if he had played to his full potential last year. And everyone in Columbia seems to think that he's ready to become a complete player. Think about that for a second. He's even more motivated going into his final year. He wants to prove something and he might just prove that he's the best player in the country, regardless of position. You don't find athletes like Clowney every day. There are plenty of quarterbacks out there who could be franchise players. There's no one in next year's draft who comes close to measuring up to the kind of defender Clowney is -- and will be. Sure, he won't throw any touchdowns and he won't have the ball in his hands every play, but he'll change games for his future team. He'll figure out a way to get the ball back to his offense and he'll figure out a way to get points on the scoreboard. He might even do it himself sometimes. The bottom line is that Clowney is a rare breed, and passing on him with the first pick would be foolish.

Video: College Football Conference Call

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
4:30
PM ET

Prim Siripipat and the college football bloggers look through all the spring standouts to find who will be the next breakout star this fall.

Thanks to 24-point first half and commanding performance by its defense throughout the afternoon, Ole Miss captured its first bowl victory since 2009 with a 38-17 win over Pittsburgh in front of a sea of red that was a part of a record crowd of 59,135 for the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The SEC improved to 5-3 in bowl games, while the Big East ends bowl play with a 3-2 record.

It was over when: Ole Miss back up quarterback Barry Brunetti pushed forward on a quarterback keeper for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 31-10 Rebels with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Game ball goes to: First-year coach Hugh Freeze. He didn't throw any passes or make any tackles, but he had his players very ready for Saturday's bowl game. This game meant a lot to players and fans, and the Rebels came out fast on offense and hunkered down on defense. After missing out on a bowl game the last two seasons, and winning just six total games during that span, Ole Miss finished the year 7-6 after a major culture overhaul thanks to Freeze's guidance.

Stat of the game: Ole Miss held the rushing advantage over Pittsburgh 222-81.

Stat of the game II: Pittsburgh defenders Jason Hendricks and Shayne Hale combined for 30 tackles and 21 of those tackles were solo.

Best call: All year, Freeze rotated his quarterbacks throughout games. Bo Wallace was always the starter but Brunetti would come in for obvious running plays. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was a little too obvious, but it certainly worked on Saturday. Wallace finished the game with 151 passing yards and three touchdowns to two interceptions on 22 of 32 passing. He also ran for 27 yards, while Brunetti totaled 34 yards, but helped really open up a running game that finished with 222 yards and 4.6 yards per carry.

Unsung heroes of the game: Running back Jeff Scott left the game early with a hamstring injury, leaving freshman Jaylen Walton to help carry the load. He kept the chains moving for the Rebels, carrying the ball 10 times for 56 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the process. Linebacker Mike Marry has been one of the most underrated players in the SEC this year and he had a very productive day. He was all over Pitt's backfield, registering four tackles for loss. He finished the day with seven total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

What Ole Miss learned: This team brought a lot of fight to Birmingham, Ala. When Scott went down with his hamstring injury, there had to be some concern on that Ole Miss sideline that the Rebels' offense might lose some of its rhythm. It didn't. The Rebels continued to work the ground game with other options and just wore down the Panthers up front. That running game helped open up the passing game and helped the Rebels enter the offseason with a ton of momentum after this win.

What Pitt learned: It had no offense without star senior running back Ray Graham. He had a heck of a career with the Panthers, but a hamstring injury kept him out of the BBVA Compass Bowl, and the Panthers just couldn't replace his production on the field. Pitt ran the ball 36 times for 81 yards, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. Rushel Shell replaced Graham, rushing for 79 yards on 25 carries. That lack of a running game severely limited the Panthers through the air as well, as quarterback Tino Sunseri passed for just 185 yards.
Here are three keys for Ole Miss in its matchup with Pittsburgh in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Patience is a virtue: Pittsburgh has a pretty sturdy defense. Even with those six losses on the season, the Panthers' defense ranks 17th nationally. The Panthers have allowed just 14 passing plays of 25 yards or more, tied for sixth nationally. That means Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace will have to be patient with his throws. Pittsburgh intercepted 13 passes on the season and allowed just 12 touchdowns through the air, so Wallace can't take a lot of chances with this defense -- and he has taken a lot of chances this season. Wallace has thrown 15 interceptions on the season, so his careless play could really cost the Rebels on Saturday. Pittsburgh is stingy enough that Wallace doesn't need to help it out.

2. Bring the pressure: Ole Miss' defensive line has been a pleasant surprise for the Rebels this season. It was supposed to be a weak point, but it came on in a big way. The Rebels enter the game second in the SEC in sacks (34) and tackles for loss (92). The Panthers have struggled this season in pass protection, so if this Ole Miss line can play like it has for most of the year, Pittsburgh could be in trouble. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has been pretty efficient this season, throwing for 3,103 yards with 19 touchdowns to two interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pick since Sept. 15, so the Rebels have to put him in awkward situations in order to force him to finally make some mistakes. The defense has been better compared to last season, but it showed it isn't built for a shootout. Pitt hasn't really been involved in any, but if the Rebels can't get good pressure on Sunseri, one might break out anyway.

3. Run, run and run some more: The Panthers have held their own for the most part on defense, but if the Rebels are going to be successful for 60 minutes, they have to get a solid run game going. Ole Miss averages 169.7 rushing yards per game, while Pitt is surrendering just 129.1. That's good enough for 25th nationally, so the Rebels have to establish a running game to open things up for Wallace and the passing game. Running back Jeff Scott has to be a big factor. He's the Rebels' best rushing weapon, and while he isn't the biggest thing out there, he can turn regular runs into big plays with his speed and elusiveness. He'll have help with Wallace and with athlete Randall Mackey, who will line up in the backfield as well, but Ole Miss has to be patient. Running the ball effectively will be key to wearing down the Panthers' defense.

Pregame: BBVA Compass Bowl

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
9:00
AM ET
Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Who to watch: It's pretty obvious that the most popular person wearing a football jersey in the state of Mississippi is Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound sophomore gobbled up the defensive backfields of LSU and Mississippi State during the last two weeks of the season, catching 13 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns. Now, he takes on a Pittsburgh defense that is giving up less than 200 passing yards a game through the air. The Panthers have also given up 12 passing touchdowns while collecting 13 interceptions. Expect Pitt free safety Jason Hendricks to try and take Moncrief out of deep-ball situations. He was one of the Panthers' most productive defenders this fall, and is Pitt's last line of defense against Moncrief. In order to get the most out of Ole Miss' offense, the Rebels must feed Moncrief.

What to watch: Pitt has quite the dynamic duo in quarterback Tino Sunseri and running back Ray Graham. Because of their solid play this fall, the Panthers have their first 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Panthers will try to establish the run to open up the pass, but it will do so against quite the line. Ole Miss' defensive line really came along this fall. What was supposed to be down year for the Rebels up front turned out to be pretty eventful. The Rebels rank third in the SEC with 34 sacks (2.8 per game) and totaled 92 tackles for loss during the regular season. The Panthers struggled with protection during the season, giving up a Big East-leading 34 sacks, which means Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson, who leads Ole Miss with 6.5 sacks, could be in for a productive day.

Why to watch: Sure, these are two 6-6 teams going at it, but both come into the game with very interesting storylines. Remember, Pitt began the season 0-2, which included an embarrassing loss to Youngstown State to start the season. But the Panthers bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last six games. They ended the season with wins against Rutgers and South Florida by a combined score of 54-9. They also took Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing by a field goal. Thanks to the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels are in their first bowl game since 2009, and won six games after totaling just six wins in the previous two seasons. If not for a couple of second-half meltdowns, the Rebels might have won eight games this season.

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Pittsburgh 21. The Rebels weren't supposed to be here, but Freeze's transformation of the program made Ole Miss a legitimate team in the SEC West this season. The momentum from that Egg Bowl win will carry over into a big win in Birmingham. Pittsburgh's defense has been pretty good all year, but the Rebels' spread and their heavy amount of speed will be too much for the Panthers late in the game.

Video: Louisville safety Hakeem Smith

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
1:43
AM ET

Louisville safety Hakeem Smith talks about the Cardinals' 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl

Video: Florida's lack of preparation

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
1:03
AM ET

The "College GameDay" crew breaks down Louisville's 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.


Reaction to Louisville's 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl:

It was over when: Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it 22 yards early in the fourth quarter. Florida was close to scoring a touchdown and cutting Louisville’s lead to 30-17, but Jeff Driskel threw a bit behind receiver Quinton Dunbar and the ball bounced off Dunbar’s hands. The Cardinals converted that turnover into a 33-yard field goal and a 33-10 lead. That lead turned out to be insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater shredded Florida’s defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. The sophomore from Miami, Fla., completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater was rarely pressured and pretty much had his pick of open receivers all night.

Stat of the game: Louisville was fantastic on third down and Florida wasn’t. The Cardinals went 9-for-14. Florida went 3-for-10 and the Gators didn’t get their first third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. Florida had entered the game fourth nationally in third-down defense (28 percent).

Unsung hero: Kick returner Andre Debose gave the Gators a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter when he took a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut Louisville’s lead to 33-17.

Best call: It turned out to be meaningless in the final outcome, but the Gators scored their lone touchdown on a fake field goal late in the first half. Florida split several linemen out wide left but had fullback Trey Burton, running back Matt Jones and kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up behind the center. Burton took the snap and gave the ball to Jones on an option play and he scored from 1 yard out.

Second guessing: Florida coach Will Muschamp called for an onside kick to begin the second half trailing 24-10. It turned out to be disastrous. Not only did Louisville recover the ball, there was a skirmish after the play. Special teams standout Chris Johnson was ejected for throwing a punch, Loucheiz Purifoy was also penalized for a personal foul, and the Cardinals took possession at the UF 19-yard line. They scored a touchdown on the following play for a 30-10 lead.

What Louisville learned: The Cardinals program is in good hands with coach Charlie Strong and appears ready for its move to the ACC in 2014. Louisville is loaded with young talent -- 26 of the players on the two-deep depth charts on offense and defense are freshmen or sophomores -- and most importantly has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Bridgewater. The Cardinals gained a huge measure of momentum for next season with Wednesday night’s rout and will almost certainly be a preseason top 10 selection.

What Florida learned: The Gators didn’t learn anything new about their offense. The offensive line needs work, Driskel needs to improve, and there is a dearth of playmakers at receiver. However, it appears the Gators may not be as set on defense as they may have thought. Especially in the secondary, which was supposed to have been the team’s strength. The Gators were unable to slow down Louisville’s passing attack and the loss of Purifoy to an injury in the first half showed that the Gators don’t have much depth at corner.

GameDay Live: Sugar Bowl

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
5:30
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com college football experts for the Allstate Sugar Bowl between the Louisville Cardinals and the Florida Gators.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Three keys for Florida in tonight’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Louisville:

1. Get the running game going: Senior RB Mike Gillislee is the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The offense feeds off of his success, and he’s coming off perhaps his best performance of the season: 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Louisville’s rush defense is allowing 151.1 yards per game and has really struggled in the second half of the season. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 54 yards rushing, but four of their previous five opponents rushed for at least 197 yards. Louisville gave up 255 yards to Temple and 278 yards to Syracuse in back-to-back games.

2. A wide receiver needs to step up: Florida’s passing offense has been anemic this season, partly because of protection problems and a young quarterback, but mainly because the wide receivers have been ineffective for the third season in a row. TE Jordan Reed is the No. 1 option (team-high 44 catches) and no wide receiver has caught more than 31 passes. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said freshmen WRs Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who have combined for just four catches, have improved during the bowl practices in Gainesville. The coaching staff is hoping they can do something similar to what CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last December. He was impressive during the bowl practices, played well in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, and became a starter and key part of this year’s defense. There is no other position on the team that needs someone to emerge more than receiver.

3. Be disciplined in the pass rush: Louisville quarterback QB Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have big rushing numbers (43 yards, one touchdown) but he’s a mobile threat who is pretty good at avoiding pressure and scrambling out of trouble. However, the Gators have had good success against mobile quarterbacks this season. They’ve limited South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, and they also shut down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the second half. They key will be a disciplined pass rush to keep Bridgewater in the pocket. That’s still rolling the dice a bit, though, because he’s fifth eighth nationally in passer efficiency rating (161.62)

Florida-Louisville game preview

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
11:00
AM ET
No. 3 Florida (11-1) vs. No. 21 Louisville (10-2)
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Mercedes-Benz Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
ESPN

Gators to watch

QB Jeff Driskel: The 6-foot-4, 237-pound sophomore played his best game of the season in the regular-season finale against Florida State. Even though he was still bothered by an ankle injury, Driskel remained composed -- despite being sacked four times and harassed by a pair of NFL defensive ends -- and hurt the Seminoles on rollout passes. It’ll be interesting to see how much he has benefitted from the 15 bowl practices in which he didn’t have to evenly split reps with Jacoby Brissett. A lot of players make significant jumps during the bowl practices, as CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last season. Is Driskel next?

DT Sharrif Floyd: This might be Floyd’s final game with the Gators because the 6-3, 303-pound junior is considering leaving early for the NFL. Floyd has been a disruptive force all season, with 11 tackles for loss, a sack, and six quarterback hurries (one shy of the team lead). He’ll be matched up against a pair of sophomore guards, John Miller and Jake Smith. The Cardinals average just 127.1 yards per game rushing and are without RB Senorise Perry, who tore his right ACL. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and still leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns. Floyd will be a big part of the Gators’ plan to make the Cardinals one-dimensional.

S Matt Elam: Elam is another player who could be appearing in his last game for Florida. The 5-10, 202-pound junior also is considering leaving early for the NFL after putting together an All-American season (65 tackles, four interceptions). He’s a rarity in that he can play safety but also has the one-on-one coverage skills to line up at nickel back. He made perhaps the biggest play of the season when he stripped LSU WR Odell Beckham after a 56-yard gain. The Gators went on to score a game-clinching touchdown and beat the Tigers.

Cardinals to watch

QB Teddy Bridgewater: The 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore ended the regular season ranked eighth nationally in pass efficiency. He was named the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was fantastic in the regular-season finale against Rutgers, when he came off the bench and rallied the Cardinals to a 20-17 victory to win the Big East title in one of the gutsiest performances of the season. Bridgewater had a broken left wrist and a severely sprained left ankle but he still managed to complete 20 of 28 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

CB Adrian Bushell: Bushell transferred from Florida after the 2009 season, spent a year at a junior college, and enrolled at Louisville just before the Cardinals started practices in 2011. It turned out to be a good move for the 5-11, 184-pounder from DeSoto, Texas, and the Cardinals. Bushell is a two-time first-team All-Big East selection and had a team-high 11 pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, and an interception to go along with 59 tackles.

WR DeVante Parker: Parker has 38 catches for 712 yards and nine touchdowns this season. That’s a team-high 18.7 yards per catch. The 6-3, 204-pound sophomore is a touchdown machine. He has 15 touchdown catches on only 56 career receptions, which means he’s averaging a touchdown every 3.7 receptions. He’s also a big-play machine, because his 15 touchdown catches are averaging 29.5 yards.

Key matchup

Florida RB Mike Gillislee vs. Louisville LB Preston Brown

Expect a heavy dose of Gillislee today, especially with the state of the Cardinals’ rush defense. Louisville is giving up an average of 151.1 yards per game rushing and opponents have rushed for at least 196 yards in five of the past eight games. The 6-0, 257-pound Brown, who anchors the middle and leads the team with 96 tackles, is averaging 11.3 tackles in his last six games. Gillislee, a first-team All-SEC selection, has rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns to become the first UF back to surpass 1,000 yards since 2004. Gillislee is coming off his best performance: 140 yards and two TDs against Florida State, which had the nation’s No. 1 rush defense.

By the numbers

2 -- Number of victories Louisville has posted over top-five teams. The Cardinals beat No. 3 West Virginia in 2006 and No. 4 Florida State in 2002.

3 -- Number of victories for Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators are 3-5, with victories over West Virginia (1994), Florida State (1997) and Cincinnati (2010).

12.9 -- Number of points per game Florida is allowing. It’s the fewest allowed in a season since 1964 (9.8).

BBVA Compass Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:54
PM ET
Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (6-6)

Jan. 5, 1 p.m. ET, Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)

Pittsburgh take from Big East blogger Matt Fortuna: The Paul Chryst era began with a 14-point home loss to FCS team Youngstown State. Five days later, it continued with a 24-point loss at rival Cincinnati.

But Pitt won its next two games, setting the stage for a season that consisted only of two-game losing and winning streaks, culminating with a home rout of Rutgers and a 27-3 win at South Florida that lifted the team to a 6-6 record and extended its season into bowl play.

A big reason for the turnaround has been fifth-year quarterback Tino Sunseri, who was a scapegoat last season under Todd Graham but has been much more efficient in Chryst's pro-style attack. None of Sunseri's final 270 pass attempts were intercepted, giving him the nation's longest active streak without getting picked off. He has 19 touchdown tosses and just two picks on the season, to go with a 66.5 completion percentage and 3,103 yards. Sunseri has been aided by the resiliency of senior Ray Graham, who overcame a right ACL tear midway through last season to notch his first career 1,000-yard rushing season.

Defensively, the Panthers boast the nation's No. 16 overall unit, surrendering just 325.83 yards per game. They held South Florida to a program-low 115 total yards of offense in their regular-season finale.

This is a team that has consistently played up or down to its competition, routing Virginia Tech for its first win of the season and coming within a missed field goal of knocking off No. 1 Notre Dame after blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in South Bend, Ind.




Ole Miss take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: What a start for first-year coach Hugh Freeze. After taking over a program that had a wealth of attitude and personnel issues, Freeze guided the Rebels to a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and watched his team win three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak.

Ole Miss’ six wins matched the total number of wins the Rebels had in the final two years of Houston Nutt’s tenure.

The Rebels matched last year’s win total after their 2-0 start. What made the Rebels such a tough opponent for most of the year was how explosive the offense was. Behind playmakers Bo Wallace, Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss rushed for close to 170 yards a game and threw for 257 a contest.

Feeding Moncrief became the norm, as he was fifth in the SEC with 948 receiving yards and had 10 touchdowns.

The defense showed improvement from last year, but did have its issues. Texas piled on 66 points in Oxford and the Rebels surrendered 30 or more points in four SEC games (all losses).

Ole Miss also had its share of second-half failures in SEC games, but rebounded at the best time with a 41-24 win over archrival Mississippi State to capture the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008. After being outscored 68-21 in the second halves of three straight losses leading up to the Mississippi State game, Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 24-7 in the final two quarters in order to become bowl eligible.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:02
PM ET
Louisville Cardinals (10-2) vs. Florida Gators (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)

Louisville take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: The Cardinals were the overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big East because they returned just about everybody off a team that won a share of the league title last season. The star among the bunch lived up to his top billing, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater knocked just about everybody’s socks off with his performance in 2012. He is the biggest reason why Louisville is headed to the BCS and not a second-tier bowl game.

But this team had major adversity to overcome. Louisville survived one close call after another en route to a school-record 9-0 start. Then came loss No. 1 on the season, a stunning 45-26 blowout on the road to Syracuse in which the Orange outplayed the Cardinals in every single phase of the game. Then came loss No. 2, an inexplicable triple-overtime home defeat to UConn -- a team with one of the worst offenses in the nation. In that game, Bridgewater broke his wrist and sprained his ankle, yet nearly led a comeback win.

Louisville went into its regular-season finale at Rutgers without many people giving the Cards much of a shot to win. Rutgers jumped out to a 14-3 lead. But Bridgewater refused to be denied. Playing through his injuries, he led Louisville to a 20-17 comeback win to clinch the BCS spot. Bridgewater ended up throwing for 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season and was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the entire nation. He may have been an unknown outside the Big East before the season began; that is no longer the case.

Bridgewater allowed his team to survive the loss of leading rusher Senorise Perry, who tore his ACL against Syracuse and is out for the season. He allowed his team to win games it struggled in for a large chunk of time. And he allowed his team to survive some pretty shaky play on defense. It’s safe to say that many expected Louisville to be better than it was defensively this season, particularly up front. But for a majority of the season, the Cardinals had a hard time consistently stopping the run or consistently getting a pass rush going.

And yet, Louisville found a way to win 10 games and get back to a BCS game. In Teddy, Louisville trusts.




Florida take from GatorNation's Michael DiRocco: The Gators were one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season.

They followed up a 7-6 mark in coach Will Muschamp’s debut season with an 11-1 record in 2012, highlighted by victories over Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU and Florida State. And if USC had upset Notre Dame, Florida could possibly be playing for the national title.

Florida’s turnaround was led by a smothering defense, which isn’t surprising considering Muschamp’s background. The Gators rank in the top six nationally in total defense, rush defense and scoring defense and have allowed opponents to throw just five touchdown passes. Safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jon Bostic have had career years.

But the biggest change is how good the Gators have been at forcing turnovers this season. UF forced just 14 in 2011, which was the lowest single-season total in school history since the school began compiling fumble stats in 1950. This year, UF has forced 29, which includes 19 interceptions (four by Elam), and the Gators have a plus-17 turnover margin.

UF’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but coordinator Brent Pease did a good job of compensating for a lack of playmakers at receiver and injuries along the offensive line. Running back Mike Gillislee finally got his chance to be the feature back, and he responded with 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns to become the first UF player to surpass 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

After finally settling on Jeff Driskel as the starter, Pease put together game plans that took advantage of Driskel’s mobility and didn’t ask the sophomore to do too much. Manage the game and stay away from mistakes were the goals, and Driskel did that this season with one exception (Georgia). He ended up throwing for 1,471 yards and 11 TDs -- many of those yards to tight end Jordan Reed (44 catches for 552 yards) -- with only three interceptions while running for 409 yards and four touchdowns.

The Gators could play conservatively on offense because of their outstanding defense, but also because of punter Kyle Christy and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist, was a field-position weapon with a 46.1-yard average (fifth nationally) and 25 punts of 50 or more yards. Sturgis, a Lou Groza Award finalist, made 23 of 27 field goal attempts and is the school’s all-time leader in field goals (69) and field goals of 50 or more yards (eight).

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