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Tag:Justin Blackmon
Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:01 am
 

The biggest shoes to fill in college football



Posted by Tom Fornelli


With teams having already started or starting spring practice over the next few weeks. there are a lot of players across the country who will be charged with replacing someone who has come and gone before them. It's an annual rite of spring in college football, when the senior quarterback from last season is putting the finishing touches on his final semester as a college student, and the sophomore who isn't even sure what he's majoring in yet realizes he's going to be majoring in Playbook 101 for the next few weeks.

Of course, while roster turnover is a common occurence in college football, there are bigger shoes to fill than others, and in this post we take a look at the ten biggest pairs looking for a new owner this spring.

10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma

Ryan Broyles began re-writing the Oklahoma record books the moment he stepped on the field in his first game as a Sooner. He caught 7 passes for 141 yards against Cincinnati, both of which were freshman records. Four years later he finished his career having caught more passes than any other receiver in FBS history, pulling in 349 passes for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns.

In other words, he's not the type of player that Oklahoma can just replace with anybody. This spring receivers like Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds and Trey Metoyer will try to replicate Broyles' production in Norman. Whether it will be one of them doing it, or a group effort, Oklahoma will need it to happen if the Sooners want to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title.

9. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Understandably, USC fans were extremely excited by the news that Matt Barkley would be returning for his senior season, and many have pegged the Trojans as a title favorite because of it. What you don't want to do, however, is overlook the fact that the man who was in charge of protecting Barkley's blindside these last few years won't be back.

Though that's how life generally works for offensive lineman like Matt Kalil. As large as they are, they're often overlooked. Kevin Graf, Jeremy Galten, David Garness and Nathan Guertler will all be competing for the unenviable task of being the man in charge of making sure nothing happens to the most valuable piece of the USC offense.

8. Mark Barron, S, Alabama

One of the problems with having a defense as strong as the one we saw in Tuscaloosa last season is that you're bound to lose players to the next level, and the Crimson Tide have no shortage of beasts making their way to greener pastures. Still, the Tide have a knack for churning out defensive lineman and linebackers, but safeties like Mark Barron don't come along all that often.

Barron made 231 tackles for Nick Saban in his four seasons, including 13 for a loss, while picking off 12 passes. Barron was the type of player that could defend the pass and the run, and he won't be easily replaced. Can Robert Lester or freshman Vinnie Sunseri step up and be the next stud in the Alabama secondary?

7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Based purely on production, there may be no larger shoes to fill in the country than Luke Kuechly's. There may not have been more than 3 plays run by opposing offenses in which Kuechly wasn't in on the tackle. Kuechly finished 2011 with 191 tackles. The next highest total on the Boston College defense belonged to Kevin Pierre-Louis, who had 74.

As our own Chip Patterson put it, "for Boston College, replacing Kuechly is like any other team replacing 2 1/2 players." Though it's been proven that it can be done, as Kuechly himself once had to fill the shoes left behind by Mark Herzlich. Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto -- who has a name that would be hard to replace -- will be the two linebackers looking to repeat the feat.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Many casual college football fans never truly appreciated how amazing a player Morris Claiborne was for LSU in 2011 simply because opposing offenses weren't dumb enough to test him all that often. Throw in some Honey Badger exploits with a bit of Les Miles being Les Miles, and Claiborne gets a bit lost in the gumbo. Still, Claiborne truly was the definition of a shutdown corner for LSU, playing a pivotal role on one of the best defenses in the country.

While Tyrann Mathieu will be back in 2012, he's not the cover corner that Claiborne was, so it will be up to Tharold Simon to fill the role. One he seems capable of considering he led LSU with 10 passes broken up in 2011 playing mostly as a nickel back.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

I won't lie to you. Even when Mark Ingram will still in Tuscaloosa running through SEC defenses, I always felt that Trent Richardson was the best running back on the Alabama roster. Now both are gone, and Richardson will be harder to replace than Ingram was simply because Trent can't replace himself.

Can Eddie Lacy be the next Heisman finalist in the Alabama backfield? He showed some promise in 2011, and in an offense like Alabama's, the opportunities will be there. Still, even if Lacy is extremely talented, there are only so many shoes capable of doing this.

4. Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon, QB/WR, Oklahoma State

A bit of a cheat, I know, but the truth is that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon felt like extensions of one another for the past two seasons in Stillwater. Their success was as a duo. I mean, Blackmon caught 40 touchdowns over the last three seasons, which accounted for 53% of the 75 touchdown passes Weeden threw with the Cowboys.

Now we know that Oklahoma State is going to continue putting points on the board without them, but will the offense ever be as prolific when the combination is Clint Chelf or Wes Lunt to Tracy Moore? We'll get our first clues this spring.

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Maybe you think that LaMichael James isn't all that hard to replace given the weapons Oregon has in the backfield. I can see your point, but I can also point out that James nearly doubled Kenjon Barner's rushing total (1,805 yards to 939) in 2011. I mean, this is a man who rushed for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in 2011, yet we didn't think it was so amazing based simply on the fact we'd already seen him do similar things in the previous two seasons.

We just got used to it.

Yes, Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are extremely talented backs, but the fact is there's no easy way to replace a back who accounted for 5,888 all-purpose yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons as a Duck, all at the speed of light.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Will it be harder to fill RG3's shoes, or his socks? Neither will be easy. While we all know how talented Griffin was as a quarterback for Baylor in 2011 and the two seasons before it, it's his impact on the program that will leave the biggest impression. Baylor went from a perennial bottom-feeder in the Big 12 to a team that can call itself the home of a Heisman Trophy winner.

Nick Florence will be the favorite to replace Griffin this spring, but he'll never be able to have the impact on the Baylor program that Griffin did. Instead he'd be much better served to focus on replacing the production on the field. Something that won't be easy, either, but given Art Briles' history with quarterbacks and the way Florence performed in place of Griffin against Texas Tech, it may not be that far-fetched, either.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Andrew Luck didn't win the Heisman Trophy like Robert Griffin did, but that doesn't diminish the impact he had on the Stanford program. In the three seasons before Luck showed up in Palo Alto, Stanford was 10-26, including a 1-11 season in 2006. In Luck's three seasons the Cardinal went 31-8, played in two BCS bowl games and became a national program.

Stanford is essentially the school Notre Dame used to be, and it's all thanks to Luck. Of course, the question now is whether or not Stanford can maintain the success they had under Luck with a new quarterback. Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo will all enter spring practice looking to replace the most important player in the history of Stanford football, and that's a list that includes John Elway.

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Posted on: February 1, 2012 7:35 pm
 

National Signing Day Winners and Losers: Big 12



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Breaking down who won and who lost in the Big 12 on National Signing Day

WINNER: Mack Brown

Nothing new for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns on signing day this year, as the Longhorns put together a class of 28 players. Players that were good enough to earn the Longhorns the second spot in our CBS Sports National Signing Day Top 25. The Longhorns already had a strong class coming into the Wednesday, but flipping players like Torshiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell, and Daje Johnson in the last few days helped put it over the top.

LOSER: Mack Brown

How can you win and lose at the same time? Well, it's not that hard if you're Mack Brown. After all, Brown has long been considered one of the best coaches on the recruiting trail since taking over at Texas. However, the great classes that he's signed haven't done much to help the Longhorns when it comes to picking up victories the last few years. Now with another top class, the expectations that Texas compete for the Big 12 title will only grow that much larger, and considering that Connor Brewer is the only "top" quarterback in his latest class, Brown will really need the rest of his newest class to start contributing right away. If they don't we can't be sure how many more signing days Brown will have, contract extension or not.

WINNER: Boomer Sooner

While Oklahoma's class may not be as highly regarded as Texas, it's still good enough to finish at #8 in the CBS Sports National Signing Day Top 25. It has its share of studs in wide receivers Trey Metoyer and Durron Neal, along with lineman Will Latu and quarterback Trevor Knight, but more than anything Bob Stoops and his staff focused on the areas of need in Norman. Of the 25 players in Oklahoma's class, 12 are either receivers, tight ends or defensive lineman. If the Sooners had been able to add another running back or two -- and this isn't a knock on Alex Ross, David Smith, or Damien Williams -- this class would have been ranked even higher.

LOSER: Oklahoma State

It doesn't seem like the Cowboys and Mike Gundy were truly able to capitalize on their first Big 12 title and win in the Fiesta Bowl. While their 2012 class certainly isn't terrible -- I consider it pretty solid to be honest -- it's not exactly the type of class that will wow anybody either. Still, Gundy and company focused on need, and while a class full of three-star recruits isn't going to knock anybody off their feet, it's those same types of recruiting classes that Oklahoma State rode to the Fiesta Bowl last season. So while I have the Cowboys marked a as "loser" here, it's in the context of the National Signing Day. Besides, if four-star quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver C.J. Curry go on to become the next Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, well, then this class will be magnificent won't it?

WINNER: Tommy Tuberville

Texas Tech went out and, quietly, pulled in one of the better classes in the Big 12. In fact, depending on which recruiting service you fancy, the Red Raiders trailed only Texas and Oklahoma in overall quality this season. While four-star receivers Reginald Davis and Dominique Wheeler are the flashier commits, I feel the best sign for Tech's future is the fact that at least 15 of its 26 commits will play on the defensive side of the ball. We already know Texas Tech can light up a scoreboard, but until it starts playing better on defense, it won't be able to win consistently. Recruiting classes like this one will go a long way to making that happen.

LOSER: Iowa State

Again, like I said in the Oklahoma State entry, don't take this "loser" personally. The fact is that Iowa State just isn't the type of program that is going to pull in a lot of 5- and 4-star recruits. Instead Paul Rhoads pulled in a class of 21 players comprised mostly of 3-star players. So while this class may not have a lot of "sex appeal" it could help Iowa State continue to make bowl appearances under Rhoads, and that's all you can ask of Iowa State right now.

WINNER: Fax machine distributors of the United States

Hope you made enough money this year to tide you over until next signing day.

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:29 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:22 pm
 

1-to-35: Ranking the 2011 bowl games



Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Each December, there's plenty of rankings out there as to how good each bowl should be. But if that's the "before," what about the "after"? Here's the Eye on CFB's (highly subjective) ranking of all 35 bowls from the 2011-2012 college football postseason, best game to worst.

1. Rose. Unlike certain other bowls we could name (who happen to rhyme with "Schmalamo"), the Rose's outburst of offense came despite the presence of legitimate championship-level defenses--making the punch and counter-punch between Russell Wilson and Montee Ball on one side and LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas on the other like haymakers in a heavyweight prizefight. Add in college football's greatest venue, a down-to-the-wire ending, and even the aesthetic battle between the Badgers' understated uniforms and the Ducks' glitter factory helmets, and you've got the best bowl-watching experience of the year.

2. Fiesta. Andrew Luck vs. Justin Blackmon at the top of their powers -- at the top of the powers of anyone at their positions in college football -- would be worth a top-five placement alone. Luck vs. Blackmon and 79 points and overtime drama? That's worth top-two.

3. Alamo Bowl. To call the defenses in this game abominably porous would be an insult to pores (and abominations). But the Alamo is a random weeknight bowl game--just as no one wants to watch an Oscar-baiting 17th-century literary adaptation on their Guys' Night Out, so no one tuned into the Alamo for rugged defense and awesome punting. Thankfully, what Baylor and Washington gave us was the college football equivalent of four hours of Jason Statham shooting explosions.

4. Outback. Come for Kirk Cousins leading the most unlikely comeback this side of the whooping crane, stay for Mark Richt nominating himself for the (dis)honor of "World's Fraidiest-Cat Football Coach." Oh, and triple overtime.

5. New Orleans. We'd ask if you could remember this thriller between Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State from the bowl season's opening night, but we don't think anyone who watched could forget Ragin' Cajun kicker Brett Baer deliriously celebrating his last-second game-winner if they tried.

6. Military. One word: #MACtion. And two numbers: 42-41. And, all right, eight more words to help do this game justice: last-minute do-or-die failed fake extra point holder-kicker option.

7. Sun. We're suckers for any game featuring the triple-option (see the Air Force game ranked one spot above), and Utah's 4th-and-14 touchdown conversion to send the game into OT was one of the more dramatic single plays of the entire bowl season. That 3-0 anti-classic between Pitt and Oregon State was a particularly distant memory in El Paso this year.

8. Belk. A matchup of Utterly Average ACC team vs. Utterly Average Big East team -- in a bowl sponsored by a department store that thinks Macy's is way too wild and edgy -- should have been one of the snoozers of the year. Instead, Mike Glennon caught fire, Louisville mounted a spirited comeback, and this wound up one of the better games of the postseason.

9. Little Caesars. The quality of play in this game at times was like ... well, have you ever actually eaten the pizza of the sponsor? But Western Michigan receiver Jordan White put on a spectacular show (13 catches, 249 yards), the teams combined for 69 points, and the Boilers special teams pulled off two onsides kicks and a kick return for TD. Tasty!

10. Famous Idaho Potato. OK, OK: we're giving this game (which was less-than-must-see-viewing for much of the first 55 minutes) a slight bonus for its killer logo. But we're giving it a much bigger bonus for the pulse-pounding final drive from quarterback Tyler Tettleton and the Bobcats for the first bowl win in program history.

11. Armed Forces. If you're going to be a sorta-dull game between two sorta-unmemorable teams, better come up with a memorable play and/or a big finish. Riley Nelson's game-winning fake spike touchdown to become college football's answer to Dan Marino just about did the trick.

12. Sugar. Another for the "ugly game, fascinating ending" file, but this was Michigan doing their damnedest to be Michigan again and Virginia Tech doing their damnedest to avoid the rabbit's feet and horseshoes and four-leaf clovers falling out of the Wolverines' pockets -- Danny Coale most especially -- and it was in New Orleans. You didn't quit watching, did you?

13. Poinsettia. Not a classic, but three-and-a-half back-and-forth hours with a feisty Louisiana Tech team and an underrated TCU squad most definitely qualified as "serviceable." Think of this year's Poinsettia as the quality burger-and-fries plate from the local joint down the street--not mind-blowing, but spend a few weeks in Peru, where they don't have burgers or college football, and you'll crave a Poinsettia Bowl so badly you could scream.

14. Orange. In the space of about an hour, Dana Holgorsen's evisceration of Clemson went from thrilling to discomfiting to boring to morbidly fascinating to -- once we all realized the Mountaineers weren't going to hit triple digits -- back to boring again. Not every game that hits 100 points is one for the DVD vaults, as it turns out.

15. Liberty. Give me Cincinnati defeating Vanderbilt in surprisingly convincing, mildly entertaining fashion or give me death! (Actually, we've got that first thing already, so no need to worry about providing the second, thanks.)

16. Chick-Fil-A. For 2.5 quarters, this was a delightful shootout with all the requisite trickery you'd hope for from a game involving Gus Malzahn. Then Virginia remembered that it was not only Virginia, but proud ACC member Virginia, and the fun was over.

17. Meineke Car Care. Seriously, Texas A&M, we didn't tune in to see you only flirt with blowing a huge lead against a team that hasn't won a bowl game since approximately the Grover Cleveland administration.

18. Capital One. This game featured an abundance of must-watch plays -- Alshon Jeffery catching a  bomb, Alshon Jeffery hauling in a half-ending Hail Mary, Alshon Jeffery getting ejected for fighting -- but aside from, well, Alshon Jeffery, there wasn't much to it.

19. Cotton Bowl. The 15 seconds of Joe Adams' punt return, the 10 seconds of Jarius Wright's touchdown, and the 5 minutes when it looked like Kansas State might mount yet another smashing comeback were riveting stuff. The other 54:35? Not so much.

20. BCS National Championship. A great game, if you're the sort of fan who enjoys watching nature shows where a pride of lions tear a wildebeest to pieces because the wildebeest can't complete a downfield pass to save its life.

21. TicketCity. If he'd stuggled, he'd have been called a fraud; because he ripped Penn State's D into tiny shreds, no one paid attention. Which is why we're working on a sitcom pilot right now called Case Keenum Can't Win.

22. Gator. When one team's special teams scores just one fewer touchdown than the two offenses combined (as Florida's did), it's safe to say you're not watching a classic.

23. GoDaddy.com. Thanks to a 31-0 run from Northern Illinois, what was expected to be a nailbiting shootout ended up the biggest disappointment since that "unrated web content" we checked out.

24. Champs Sports. It wasn't pretty, but at least the Seminoles and Irish were trying their best ... to make us wish they'd just aired a repeat of the 1993 meeting instead.

25. Las Vegas. College football produces a lot of emotions, but from the neutral perspective, it's rare that one of them is outright legitimate anger. Seeing Kellen Moore forced to end his career slumming it against an Arizona State team that checked out in early November sure turned the trick, though.

26. Independence. The Tar Heels came out so flat, and were finished off so quickly, that we're pretty sure the only lovely parting gift they walked away with was "Independence Bowl: the Board Game."

27. Music City. Mississippi State turned the ball over four times, and Wake Forest averaged 2.9 yards per-play. If Hank Williams or some other old-time country artist had come to Nashville to write a sad song about a sad bowl game, this is the game they'd use for inspiration.

28. Insight. Sadly, the only "insight" we got from this game was that Vegas oddsmakers -- who had the Sooners installed as the biggest favorite of the entire bowl season -- know what they're talking about. And who didn't know that already?

29. Holiday. It wasn't that long ago when Jeff Tedford's Cal and Mack Brown's Texas squaring off would have been appointment television. This game was, too, though in the sense that it was the sort of game you made an appointment somewhere else to avoid viewing.

30. Hawaii. Nevada and Southern Mississippi were collectively as sharp as your average butter knife, but let's see you spend a week chilling in Hawaii and then play a quality football game. The best players the NFL has to offer try it every single year and haven't succeeded yet.

31. Pinstripe. The only thing we remember from this game was our wish to travel back to, say, 1998, and explain to a random college football fan that in 2011, Rutgers would win a bowl game in Yankee Stadium that would give them the nation's longest postseason winning streak. (We're still not sure it's actually happening.)

32. Beef 'O' Brady's. Newton's Second Law of Bowl Aesthetics: Whensoever a Game Produces Fewer Offensive Touchdowns Than the Game Has Apostrophes in its Title, That Game Shall Be, Verily, Entirely Terrible.

33. New Mexico. We'd waited so long to be able to sit down and watch a college bowl game, and by halftime we were sort of wishing we'd gotten to wait a little bit longer.

34. BBVA Compass. For two straight years, Pitt has been forced to play in Legion Field on a January weekday afternoon in front of no one under an interim coach against a nondescript opponent. Vs. SMU the Panthers looked like they'd much rather be off somewhere doing something much more fun, like peeling potatoes with their teeth--and we don't blame them a bit.

35. Kraft Fight Hunger. Comedian Patton Oswalt once called a certain famous KFC product a "failure pile in a sadness bowl." Capitalize that B, and we can't think of a better way to describe 2011 Illinois "battling" 2011 UCLA.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 3:47 pm
 

When getting it right goes wrong



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Given the debacle that was Monday night's BCS Championship Game, and the ratings that accompanied it, there are no doubt a lot of people outside the southeastern United States who woke up on Tuesday morning wishing they had been given the chance to watch any game but the one they were given in the Superdome. Personally, as a fan of great defensive football, I was looking forward to the game even after already seeing the first meeting.

"The offenses can't play as poorly again the second time around," I thought to myself.

Well, at least one couldn't. Then there was LSU and Jordan Jefferson. Around what was roughly Jordan Jefferson's 89th attempt at running the speed option to the right, only to be swallowed whole by Alabama linebackers, I began to feel as though I were the victim of Chinese Water Torture. One more attempt and I would start spilling my darkest secrets to whoever wanted to hear them just so that LSU would try something different. Anything different. Like maybe gaining four yards.

Instead what we saw was years of work and research by Ivan Pavlov and his classical conditioning theory thrown out the window. Turns out his dogs were smarter than anybody running the LSU offense.

It was also around this point that I began thinking to myself that I'd rather have seen someone like Oklahoma State getting a chance. And while I've done my fair share of trying to prove Oklahoma State's credentials during the regular season on this blog, even then I was always under the impression that Alabama and LSU were the two best teams in the country.

I would just like to have seen what an offense like Oklahoma State's could do against a defense like LSU's, a defense that wasn't exactly stellar on Monday night if you weren't paying attention.

Which is a view point that Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy also shared following last night's game.

"I will say this," Gundy told the USA Today. "I bet you there'll be a lot of people wish they'd given us a shot to see a different kind of game.

"We'd have thrown it 50 times. You like to think Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon could have put together some touchdowns. Get the ball thrown down the field and open some things up. Try to make it exciting, and see what happens."

Surely the Cowboys, with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, could have put just as many points on the board against LSU as Alabama did. Combine that with Oklahoma State's defense, which was never terrible as the numbers lead one to believe, and maybe even the Tigers could have dented the scoreboard as well.

Of course, this is where you start to hear the "we've already seen what an offense like Oklahoma State can do against LSU, just ask Oregon and West Virginia" response. A response that completely ignores the fact that, while high-scoring, Oregon's offense is entirely different from Oklahoma State's, and that West Virginia's is in its infancy.

It's also an argument that conveniently omits that we'd already seen what happens between LSU and Alabama going into last night's death march as well.

Instead what we get is an Alabama team that, despite how talented and dominating it was during the season, couldn't even win its own division being crowned national champion. An idea that even when it's correct -- and it is correct -- makes absolutely no sense in a sport where every game is supposed to count.

Sometimes getting it right can go wrong.

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 1:12 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:59 am
 

This Sugar Bowl was a bit sour



Posted by Tom Fornelli

NEW ORLEANS -- Before you read this column on the Sugar Bowl, I must implore you to watch this video, for you cannot understand what this Sugar Bowl was without seeing it.

Did you see the way that puppy fell down the stairs? It made you laugh, sure, but at the same time it was something adorable that failed. The puppy just wasn't big enough for the stage it was on, and although it got to the bottom of the stairs as it intended to, it didn't do so in the prettiest of ways.

That was the 2012 Sugar Bowl.

Two teams that probably weren't ready to tread down this flight of stairs did so anyway, with the rest of us waiting to see which team tumbled to the bottom first. Turns out it was Michigan, even if you were sure the Wolverines had broken 30 bones on the way down, there they stood at the end celebrating.

From the second this matchup was announced there were people complaining about the selection of both Michigan and Virginia Tech. There were teams more deserving of this chance, teams like Boise State and Kansas State. Unfortunately for those two schools, they don't carry the same national cache or brand that Michigan and Virginia Tech do. So this is what we were stuck with, and judging by all the empty seats at the Superdome on Tuesday night, that commercial appeal didn't do much to sell tickets.

There were also the stories about how each team was going to prove that it belonged in New Orleans and in a BCS bowl game. Virginia Tech would show us all, as would the Wolverines. Instead what we saw were two teams that ingested a bit too much sugar and suffered some kind of diabetic seizure on the field.

Lofting up wounded ducks that turned into 45-yard touchdowns, or running fake field goals that were botched entirely yet still somehow managed to work.

The Michigan Wolverines won this game despite being outgained by Virginia Tech nearly two to one. The Hokies had 377 yards of total offense in this game compared to Michigan's 184, yet it was the Wolverines who emerged victorious. While the Hokies routinely fell down to the bottom step and were on the precipice of winning this contest, they continually decided to take a step back every time victory was in reach. Meanwhile Michigan threw all caution to the wind and just flung itself down the stairs headfirst.

Had this game been an iPhone app, it would have been called Fiesta Bowl Lite and been available to download for free. Think about it, Virginia Tech jumped out to an early lead with two scores, but instead of touchdowns like Stanford had against Oklahoma State, the Hokies had to settle for field goals.

Then there was the second quarter comeback for the Wolverines just when you thought they had no chance.

In the end, much like Stanford before it, Virginia Tech managed to lose a game in which it seemingly dominated its opponent for most of the night, and on a missed field goal in overtime to boot. Of course, this was the lite version of the Fiesta Bowl, so Virginia Tech missed only one field goal, not two. Then, like Oklahoma State, Michigan rode a couple of touchdown catches by a wide receiver in Junior Hemingway and took advantage of Virginia Tech's overtime failure to win the game on a field goal.

The only difference was that the Fiesta Bowl was entertaining because it was an excellent story written with deep characters portrayed by great actors like Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon.

The Sugar Bowl was essentially the movie "New Year's Eve." You assemble a big name cast and then hurriedly write a mediocre script and wing it while on the set. Then you hope enough people show up to see it before the word gets out about how terrible it is.

And in the end, the only thing either team convinced me of on Tuesday night was that this movie would have been a hell of a lot more entertaining had it starred Boise State and Kansas State.
Posted on: January 3, 2012 2:05 am
 

Blackmon, Luck go out with a bang in Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Justin Blackmon 
hadn't even left the University of Phoenix Stadium field yet. But there wasn't any point to delaying the inevitable; when asked as part of his postgame television interview if he had just played the final game of his outstanding college career, he answered straightforwardly. 

"I think I am going to go ahead and enter the NFL Draft," he said, "and see what happens after that."

We already have some idea what's going to happen "after that"--Blackmon will be selected among the very top picks in the Draft, sign a contract worth millions, and very likely go on to become an excellent professional receiver. But nothing Blackmon will do "after that" will better the excitement of what he's accomplished before that at Oklahoma State, where heading into Monday's Fiesta Bowl he had already rewritten the school's receiving record book and won a pair of Biletnikoff Awards as the nation's best receiver.

Likewise, we can already write most of the "after that" for Andrew Luck. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up is about to go No. 1 overall in the draft and has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Peyton Manning -- maybe even at the same franchise -- as the kind of superstar pocket-passing quarterback NFL dynasties are built around. But before that, there was three seasons of pure All-American brilliance in which his Cardinal set a school record for scoring all three seasons.

For both players, the Fiesta was the final night of "before that," the final game in the collegiate careers of two of college football's most blinding stars. So it was only appropriate that with the rare chance to square off against a star of equal caliber -- in a bowl that employs the sun in its logo, no less -- both Blackmon and Luck went flat-out supernova.

Blackmon's team won, but no one would have blinked if Luck had been named the game's MVP. His numbers were phenomenal, of course:  27-of-31, 347 yards (11.2 an attempt), 2 touchdowns. He went 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, expertly managing drives both fast (the 63-yard drive over the final 2:35 to set up Jordan Williamson's ill-fated 35-yard attempt) and slow (the 13-play, 69-yard TD march that ate up 7:21 of the final period). 

But most impressive was the 10.0 degree-of-difficulty throws Luck uncorked with regularity. Passes like the one delivered to Griff Whalen in the second quarter -- an over-the-shoulder "bucket" throw to a receiver sprinting down the sideline, made with Luck moving to his right -- are referred to as "NFL throws," but we're not sure half the League's starters could make them the way Luck does. You could say Luck showed off "the complete package" against the Cowboys, but that doesn't do justice to how expansive that package is.

And still, Luck might have been the second-best player on the field. Blackmon finished with 8 catches for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns, but again, the stats don't do justice to either his physical dominance -- one-on-one coverage was a lost cause for the Cardinal -- or his knack for making those catches at the best possible time. 

With the Cowboys reeling from a lost first quarter and a 14-0 deficit, it was Blackmon who pulled in a pair of lightning bolt scores (one 43 yards, the other 67) to get his team back in the game. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the Stanford 32 and his team down again late in the second quarter, it was Blackmon who caught a short pass and brushed aside two Cardinal tacklers to set up a first-and-goal (and eventual touchdown). Down seven again after a disastrous third quarter, it was Blackmon scoring to tie it (again) to start the fourth. And finally, 4th-and-3 on OSU's own 40 with under 3:30 to play and the Cowboys in "touchdown or bust" desperation mode, it was Blackmon who again abused his defender for 21 yards.

The 2012 Fiesta Bowl would have been remembered for a long, long time even without Luck's and Blackmon's fireworks; 41-38 overtime shootouts between two top-five teams decided by a heartbreaking field goal miss have a way of sticking around the game's collective memory. But what elevated the contest to stone-cold classic status was seeing two players of Luck's and Blackmon's historic talent both grab the same game by the teeth and refuse for 60 minutes -- and beyond -- to let go. It's maybe not fair to the excellent Brandon Weeden or Stepfan Taylor to reduce the game to a mano a mano battle between that quarterback on that side and that receiver on that side, but Luck and Blackmon didn't give us much choice.

And at the end of each of their respective times in college football, that's exactly how it should have been. "After that" will be interesting. But for a night, Luck's and Blackmon's shared "before that" was as good as it's possible to get.

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:37 am
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:41 am
 

Oklahoma State wins Fiesta shootout over Stanford



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

One team had the No. 1 draft pick quarterback. The other had the uncoverable wide receiver. And in the end, the wide receiver won out.

Behind an instant-classic 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-touchdown performance from Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State won the Fiesta Bowl 41-38 over fourth-ranked Stanford in overtime. Quinn Sharp hit the game-winning 22-yard field goal after Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yarder for the win at the end of regulation and a 42-yarder in overtime. Sharp's field goal was set up by a 24-yard completion to Colton Chelf to the half-yard line.

That even the Cowboys' 38 regulation points weren't enough was down -- mostly -- to the brilliance of Andrew Luck, who went an incredible 27-of-31 for 347 yards and 2 touchdowns. Luck appeared to have won the game by going 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, first putting his team up 38-31 with a 13-play, seven-minute drive and then the two-minute drill that set up Williamson for the missed game-winner.  

But in the end, Blackmon and Brandon Weeden (29-of-42, 399 yards, 3 TDs) were too much, even with the Cardinal's 588-406 advantage in total yards.

It didn't look like it in the third quarter, though. The Cowboys picked up a first down on the opening possession of the second half, then went nowhere: three more plays, punt; three plays on their next possession, punt; three plays from inside the 5 following a Stanford fumble, field goal. Total yardage for the quarter? Stanford 135, Oklahoma State 15.  

The teams went in at halftime tied at 21 after a combined five-touchdown barrage in the second quarter. Luck led a pair of masterful drives -- 7 plays, 87 yards for a 14-0 lead, then 8 plays, 80 yards to restore the lead to 21-14 -- but even he was the second-best player on the field thanks to Blackmon. It wasn't just that he caught four passes in the span of 10 minutes--it was that two of them went for 43 and 67 yards, and a manly tackle-breaking third turned a 4th-and-4 at the Stanford 32 to first-and-goal at the 9.  

The first quarter, however, belonged to the Cardinal lock, stock and barrel. While Weeden struggled mightily -- he hit just 5-of-10 for 2.6 yards an attempt, with an ugly interception to boot -- Luck was his usual murderously effective self to start, executing a play-fake to perfection to spring Ty Montgomery for an easy 53-yard pitch-and-catch TD. The Cardinal finished the quarter with a 129-27 yardage advantage, but a missed field goal by Jordan Williamson and Luck's only poor throw of the period (one picked by Justin Gilbert) kept the Cowboys within a possession.

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Posted on: December 31, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

OKLAHOMA STATE WILL WIN IF: they can turn Stanford over. The Cowboys' defense has, without question, been an underrated part of their 2011 success; their lethal opportunism and weekly ballhawking ways have never gotten the respect they've deserved. No defense that led the entire FBS in takeaways -- the Cowboys finished with an incredible 42, the highest total not just in 2011 but in any of the past four seasons -- can be fairly called a "bad" defense.

But that also doesn't mean we'd go so far as to call them "good." 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense. And considering that the Cardinal rank 11th in total offense and seventh in yards-per-play, it's the safest of assumptions that Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and Co. are going to put up a hefty number of yards. Sorry, Poke fans, but if Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State can all top 430 total yards, an offense with the Cardinals' caliber of weaponry is probably going to as well.

But all those yards don't have to mean "all those points." As mentioned, the Cowboy defense was masterful at bending before breaking the other team with a huge play. (They finished in the national top 30 in sacks, too.) If safety Markelle Martin, corner Brodrick Brown and end Jamie Blatnick can continue to force that handful of turnovers -- if those turnovers, combined with just a punt or two, can give the Cowboy defense just the occasional stop -- the Cowboy offense should be able to do the rest. That's easier said than done, of course, against the Cardinal; only eight other teams turned the ball over fewer times than Stanford's 15, with Luck throwing just nine interceptions and some of those bad bounces off his receivers' hands. But if the Pokes manage it, the hill the Cardinal will have to climb should be entirely too tall even for the future No. 1 draft choice.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: they can run the ball, and not just well--we mean run it spectacularly. Whether by air or on the ground -- as we said -- the Cardinal are likely going to get their yards. But given the explosiveness of the Cowboy offense, it's imperative for the Cardinal to keep Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Justin Randle on the sidelines for as long as possible. It's not just about limiting the Cowboys' opportunities, either; the more time the Cardinal defense can spend catching their breath off the field rather than battling the Cowboys' no-huddle on it, the better their chances of getting stops. 

Then there's that turnover thing--with only six Cardinal fumbles lost all season, running the ball is even less likely to give the Cowvboys the turnovers they desperately crave than handing it over to LuckThe good news for the Cardinal is that all the pieces in place for such a running performance are in place; the powerful Taylor is one of the nation's more underrated running backs, Tyler Gaffney provides a tailback change-of-pace that averaged 6.4 yards an attempt, All-American guard David DeCastro leads what might be the country's best offensive line, and Luck's presence ensures that overloading the box isn't really an option for the Cowboys. It's no mystery how the Cardinal ran for 180 yards or more in half their games.

But one of those games shows how important getting that kind of production from the Cardinal ground game is so important. Against Oregon -- and a Duck offense with a similar up-tempo philosophy and dynamic athletes as Oklahoma State's -- Stanford managed just 129 rushing yards. The result was an exhausted Cardinal defense giving up 53 points, an overburdened Luck putting together his worst performance of the season, and the end of Stanford's national title hopes. 129 rushing yards against the Cowboys will, no doubt, lead to something similar.

THE X-FACTOR: Another underrated factor in Oklahoma State's historic season? Punter/placekicker Quinn Sharp. Though perhaps most fans outside of Stillwater will remember Sharp primarily for the missed kick at the end of regulation vs. Iowa State, Sharp puntedthe Cowboys to a 14th-place finish in FBS net punting and hit 20 of his 23 kicks. If the Fiesta boils down to the kicking game, Sharp should give the Cowboys an edge.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com