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Bortles leads UCF to Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win

Jarrett Swaby, Blake Bortles AP

Bortlesball… the Beef’ O’ Bortles Bowl… no matter which play on words you prefer, there was really no arguing that Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles was the MVP of the Beef “O” Brady’s Bowl against Ball State.

Bortles collected most of his 350 total yards and four touchdowns against the Cardinals in the first half when the Knights took a 28-7 lead into halftime and UCF was basically able to cruise in the second half to a 38-17 win.

Central Florida played practically a perfect first half. Even a botched extra point was made up with a two-point conversion to give UCF a 21-7 lead in the second quarter. Bortles was almost unstoppable throwing and running the ball. When Ball State was able to get pressure on Bortles on a second down from the Cardinals 7-yard-line, he was able to spin out of a would-be sack and throw a touchdown pass to running back Latavius Murray.

The Knights finish the season 10-4 after missing out on a Conference USA championship and should head into the Big East next season as one of the favorites to compete for a league title right away.

Ball State finishes with nine wins under second-year coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals have won 15 games in those two seasons, but are still looking for their first bowl win as a program. But as long as Lembo is the coach in Muncie, BSU is going to be just fine.

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Pac-12 moves to 3-0 as Trojans (barely) bounce ‘Huskers

National University Holiday Bowl - Nebraska v USC

To say that the Pac-12 has seen a successful start to the 2014-15 postseason would be significant understatement.

Utah kicked off the conference’s bowl season with a win over Colorado State Dec. 20.  Arizona State followed that up with a win over Duke earlier Saturday.  Next up was USC, and the Trojans didn’t disappoint.  Barely.

After taking a seven-point lead into halftime, USC (9-4) stretched its lead to 18 points at one point before hanging on for dear life and heading home with a 45-42 win over Nebraska (9-4) in the Foster Farms Bowl.  With 4:03 left in the third quarter, the Trojans’ lead was a seemingly comfortable 45-27; the Cornhuskers, led by interim head coach Barney Cotton, did not go quietly into the San Diego night, however.

A 65-yard Tommie Armstrong touchdown pass late in the third quarter and an Armstrong 15-yard touchdown run — and two-point conversion — with 6:52 remaining cut the Trojans’ lead to 45-42.  Unfortunately, at least as far as the ‘Huskers are concerned, a failed fourth-down attempt ended their second-to-last drive at the Trojans 30-yard line with 2:31 remaining.  Cotton, likely rightly so, eschewed what would’ve been a 47-/48-yard field goal attempt that would’ve tied the game if successful; kicker Drew Brown‘s long make this season was 44 yards, and he was 2-of-6 from 40-49 yards overall.

The Trojans were forced to punt on their subsequent possession and the Cornhuskers got the ball at their own 32-yard line with :17 seconds remaining.  A Hail Mary on a play that began at the Nebraska 44-yard line was knocked away.

Explosive plays on both offense and special teams played a pivotal role in the Trojans’ second consecutive bowl win and sixth in their last seven — or at least stretching out the lead far enough that they could ultimately hang on.

Adoree’ Jackson opened up the scoring for the Trojans by returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, then followed that up with a third-quarter receiving touchdown that covered 71 yards.  Four minutes after the latter score, Buck Allen went 44 yards for a score that pushed USC to a 38-24 lead.

Jackson, a true freshman, was named the Player of the Game after accounting for 204 all-purpose yards while also putting in time at cornerback.

Cody Kessler, who announced after the win that he’ll be returning for his senior season,passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the win.  It was his seventh 300-yard game of the season.  Armstrong, meanwhile, passed for a career-high 381 yards and three touchdowns.  The performance marked the first time Armstrong has eclipsed 300 yards in a single game.

Hit total offense output of 422 yards set a Nebraska bowl record, as did his passing yardage.

The two teams combined for 1,040 yards of offense, 525 for the Cornhuskers and 515 for the Trojans.  USC also tied a Holiday Bowl record with 12 penalties.

With the Trojans’ win, the Pac-12 is the only conference that’s played more than one bowl game that’s undefeated.  The SEC is 1-0 after playing its first postseason game Saturday, while the Big 12 won’t play its first bowl game until Monday afternoon (West Virginia vs. Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl).

The Big Ten, meanwhile, saw its mark dip to 2-2, although, given the fact that many thought the league could toss-up a doughnut as all 10 conference members were/are underdogs, that’s quite the positive start.

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T.J. Yeldon continues to progress, appears on track to play vs. OSU

Auburn v Alabama Getty Images

For now, it appears Alabama’s two-headed rushing attack will have both pieces for is College Football Playoff semifinal.

While not definitively ruling him in, Nick Saban did seem, for him at least, decidedly optimistic that T.J. Yeldon will be healthy enough to play in the New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl tilt with Ohio State.  The running back has been hampered by ankle and hamstring issues this season, although he did practice the last two times the Tide took the field prior to leaving Tuscaloosa for New Orleans.

Prior to that, Saban had been resting the veteran back to help facilitate recovery.  Thus far, that tack seems to be working.

Hopefully he’ll continue to progress,” Saban said as Alabama arrived in New Orleans on Saturday afternoon. “He had a significant amount of time off but he seems to be making progress now and I’m hopeful that he’ll be able to make a contribution in the game.”

Yeldon, a junior, leads the Tide in rushing with 932 yards, just ahead of sophomore Derrick Henry‘s 895. Both Yeldon and Henry are tied for the team lead with 10 rushing touchdowns apiece.

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Harbaugh to Michigan? ‘It’s done’ report states

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers

Another day, another report, and another sign that Jim Harbaugh to Michigan is all but a done deal.

Late Saturday night, well-respected New York Times‘ best-selling author John Bacon tweeted that, according to sources, “Harbaugh is coming to Michigan” as the next Wolverines’ head coach.  Bacon’s tweet carries weight as he’s a Michigan-based writer with significant ties to the university.

This report comes the same day that veteran NFL writer Jason Cole reported that the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh’s current employer, expect the former UM quarterback to take the job at his alma mater.

Not only does it appear highly likely that Harbaugh will be returning to Ann Arbor, but we now have a timeframe: Monday.

The 49ers play their final game of the 2014 season Sunday. At some point after that game ends, and perhaps even that very night, it’s expected that the NFL club will announce that they have parted ways with the coach.  Or, Harbaugh will simply announce that he’s leaving to take the UM job.

Regardless of how specifically it plays out, it appears the likelihood that Harbaugh will be back at his old campus stomping grounds is extremely high.  And that, my CFT friends, is a very good deal for the Big Ten specifically and college football in general.

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Post-bowl NFL decision coming for Terps’ Stefon Diggs

Maryland v Indiana

A week ago, Maryland head coach Randy Edsall confirmed that star wide receiver Stefon Diggs was testing the NFL waters.  With the Terps’ final game of the 2014 season looming on the horizon, that testing will continue.

Saturday, Edsall told reporters that he had met Thursday with the receiver and his mother for an hour earlier this week and shared with them all of the pertinent information he had received from NFL types.  The coach said Diggs will make a decision at some point after their game against Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl next Tuesday.

“I gave them all the information that I had,” Edsall said. “I asked them if they had any questions, and they did. And they asked me for my opinion, and I gave them my opinion of what I think he should do. And I asked him if he’s leaning any way at all, and he said that he wasn’t, that he wants to play the game, and he’ll worry about it after the game is over. So we’ll see.”

Diggs missed the last three games of the regular season after sustaining a kidney injury in the Nov. 1 win over Penn State — he also received a one-game suspension stemming from his pregame antics the same day.  He was cleared to return to practice in early December, and Edsall again confirmed Diggs will play in the bowl game.

Despite missing one-fourth of the season, Diggs still leads all Terps players in receptions (52), receiving yards (564) and receiving touchdowns (five).

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Amidst shows of Bo support, ‘Huskers trail Trojans at the half

National University Holiday Bowl - Nebraska v USC Getty Images

With Nebraska’s former coach playing a a supporting role in the game’s television storyline, it was USC that grabbing hold of the first-half advantage, ofttimes in spite of itself.

Despite shooting itself in the foot on multiple occasions, the Trojans were able to overcome those mistakes and take a 24-17 lead after two quarters of play in the National University Holiday Bowl.  Neither team led by more than seven points at any point in the first half, with the lead changing hands on three different occasions and tied two other.

Were it not for multiple miscues, though, the Trojans could’ve easily seen a double-digit halftime lead.

USC was flagged a whopping nine times for 72 yards, including three 15-yarders.  Two of those were called on All-American defensive end Leonard Williams on back-to-back plays.  The Holiday Bowl record, incidentally, is 12.

Additionally, USC defensive backs dropped at least three potential interceptions.

The Trojans defense did play well overall, though, as they held the Cornhuskers to 187 yards of total offense.  The ‘Huskers, one of the top rushing teams in the country, averaged just 1.5 yards per carry; they came into the game averaging 5.5 ypc.  They also held onto and picked off a pass late in the half that kept NU from putting at least three points on the scoreboard.

Tommie Armstrong did toss a pair of touchdown passes for the ‘Huskers, while Adoree’ Jackson returned a kick 98 yards for USC’s first points of the day.

One of the more interesting aspects of the first half — and leading up to the game — was the obvious and very public support the Nebraska football players and coaching staff still maintain for Bo Pelini.  On the ride over to the stadium, a seat was left empty in honor of the dismissed head coach.  In a pregame speech, interim head coach Barney Cotton told the players to play for “God, teammates and Bo Pelini.”

During the game, several players gave visual shoutouts to their former sideline boss.

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Status of Stanford’s Ty Montgomery for bowl game still up in the air

Ty Montgomery AP

In late November, Stanford head coach David Shaw said there was a “distinct possibilityTy Montgomery would be available to play in a bowl game.  With that game now three days away, how distinct of a possibility it still is remains to be seen.

Shaw stated Saturday, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News writes, “Montgomery’s availability for the Foster Farms Bowl remains in question.” Stanford will square off with Maryland in this coming Tuesday’s game.

Montgomery sustained a shoulder injury in the Nov. 22 win over Cal, and didn’t play in the regular-season finale against UCLA a week later.  It’s the same shoulder that nearly kept him out of the 2014 opener after undergoing surgery earlier in the offseason.

Montgomery leads the Cardinal in receptions (61) and receiving yards (604), and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three).  Montgomery’s absence would also hurt the Cardinal on special teams as he’s their leading kickoff (25.2 yards per return) and punt returner (19.8 ypr).  He’s returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

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NCSU’s leading receiver tweets he’s transferring

Georgia Tech v North Carolina State Getty Images

Well this is certainly an unexpected — and unwelcome — development for the North Carolina State football program.

Saturday on his personal Twitter page, Bo Hines announced that he has decided to take his leave of the Wolfpack and transfer to an undetermined location.  In a lengthy statement, the wide receiver said that he came to the decision “after many long hours of thought and prayer” and that he “must do what I believe is best for my future not only as a student-athlete, but also as a human being.”

Here’s Hines’ statement, in its entirety:

As a true freshman in 2014, Hines led the Wolfpack with 45 receptions for 616 yards.

A three-star member of NCSU’s 2014 recruiting class, Hines was rated as the No. 24 player at any position in the state of North Carolina. Coming out of high school in Charlotte, Hines held offers from, among others, Duke, East Carolina, Marshall, North Carolina, Nebraska and Ohio State.

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Hackenberg leads Penn State to overtime win over Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Boston College v Penn State Getty Images

It’s only fitting that a bowl game in Yankee Stadium ended with a walk-off in extra innings. Christian Hackenberg engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, his third this season and the fifth of his career, to lead Penn State past Boston College 31-30 in overtime in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

In a game that saw each team’s quarterbacks trade punches down the stretch, the deciding play came down to a missed extra point. Boston College accepted the ball to open overtime and scored in three plays after Tyler Murphy found David Dudek for a 21-yard touchdown pass – his first catch of the game – but kicker Mike Knoll pushed the extra point wide right. Knowing a touchdown and an extra point wins the game and a field goal does them no good, Hackenberg threw on five of Penn State’s six overtime plays, including a key 17-yard completion to Jesse James on 3rd and 15. He hit Kyle Carter for a 10-yard score to tie the game, and Sam Ficken‘s extra point won it.

Penn State opened the scoring with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Hackenberg to Chris Godwin, but Boston College seized control over the next two quarters and change with a string of three touchdowns. The first came two plays after Penn State’s score on a 49-yard run by Jon Hillman to knot the score at 7-7. The Eagles opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ate nearly half the frame and was punctuated by a pretty 19-yard pass from Murphy to Shakim Phillips. Murphy then ripped off a 40-yard touchdown dash on Boston College’s ensuing possession to push the Eagles’ lead to 21-7 with 2:12 to go in the third quarter.

Then Penn State responded. The Nittany Lions immediately raced 63 yards in six plays, and Hackenberg found Geno Lewis for a seven-yard score on the final play of the frame. Hackenberg tied the game again with his third touchdown pass of the day, a 16-yarder to DaeSean Hamilton (which came on second-and-goal after a personal foul flag).

Boston College moved 69 yards to set Knoll up for a 20-yard field goal, giving Boston College the lead again at 24-21 with 2:10 remaining. Hackenberg held serve again, rushing or passing on seven of the Nittany Lions’ eight plays in a 49-yard drive to set Ficken up with a game-tying 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left on the clock.

Hackenberg earned MVP honors by completing 34-of-50 throws for 371 yards with four touchdowns and no picks, while Akeel Lynch carved out 75 yards on 14 carries. For the nation’s 120th-ranked rushing offense, 75 yards is an outstanding day. The three other Nittany Lions to tote the ball were credited with seven yards on 12 carries.

Murphy led the way for Boston College, hitting 11-of-19 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 11 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hillman added 25 carries for 148 yards and a score.

Penn State lost two fumbles while gaining no takeaways of their own, committed two more penalties and got out-rushed 285-82, but managed to string more drives together (24-16 first downs edge) by being better on third down, converting 9-of-17 tries compared to BC’s 5-of-16.

The result squares both teams at 7-6 records to finish the season – though each team will spend the next nine months with opposite feelings of how they got there. With Hackenberg set to return next season and a scholarship reinforcements on the way – James Franklin said the Nittany Lions entered Saturday’s game with 41 scholarship players – Penn State can use its Bronx comeback as a springboard into 2015.

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UNC WR Quinshad Davis undergoes surgery for fractured tibia

North Carolina v Duke Getty Images

As it turns out, North Carolina lost more than a bowl game Friday night.

During the 40-21 Quick Lane Bowl loss to Rutgers, Quinshad Davis sustained a fractured right tibia, the school announced via a press release.  According to the release, the wide receiver underwent successful surgery Saturday morning to repair the damage in his leg.

While Davis will miss spring practice because of the rehab process, he is expected to be healthy enough to fully participate in summer camp next year.

Davis, a junior, finished the 2014 season third on the Tar Heels with 41 receptions for 470 yards and second on the team with six receiving touchdowns. Davis is fifth in school history with 157 receptions, and is tied for the UNC career record with 21 touchdown receptions.

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South Carolina holds off Miami in Independence Bowl

Dylan Thompson

Outside of the second half of the second quarter, Miami played pretty good defense against South Carolina and its powerful offense in Saturday’s Duck Commander Independence Bowl. Problem is, it was that 6-minute, 11-second span that did them in.

Trailing 6-0 midway through the second quarter, Dylan Thompson hit Pharoh Cooper for a 78-yard catch-and-run score to put the Gamecocks on top. On the ensuing possession, South Carolina marched 53 yards in six plays, capped by a 15-yard Mike Davis touchdown pass, to push the lead to eight, and then Elliott Fry added a 32-yard field goal to give the Gamecocks a 17-6 halftime lead.

After a Gus Edwards three-yard scoring plunge pulled Miami to within 17-14 in the third quarter, the key sequence in the game came with five and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On a second-and-8 at its own 29, Miami handed to Duke Johnson, who proceeded to hurt his ankle and fumble the ball in the process.

Johnson appeared okay, at least okay enough to walk around, but the Hurricanes never recovered. South Carolina moved 29 yards in three plays, punctuated by a two-yard Thompson run, to push the lead to 24-14.

Miami responded with a swift 72-yard touchdown drive in 1:57, capped by a Brad Kaaya pass to Phillip Dorsett, but the Hurricanes were not able to force South Carolina to relinquish the ball over the remaining 2:16.

Final score: South Carolina 24, Miami 21.

In likely his last game as a Hurricane, Miami’s all-time leading rusher Duke Johnson showed well, rushing 24 times for 132 yards while catching five passes for 51 yards. Kaaya completed 19-of-33 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Miami actually out-gained South Carolina (422-362) and held a 21-17 edge in first downs, but a 2-0 turnover deficit did them in.

For South Carolina, Thompson completed 22-of-34 passes for 284 yards with three total touchdowns, and Davis carried 13 times for 55 yards. Cooper led all receivers with nine grabs for 170 yards and a touchdown.

The win pushes South Carolina to 7-6, not quite the 11-2 finish the ‘Cocks enjoyed the past three seasons but still their seventh straight winning campaign.

Miami, meanwhile, closes the year at 6-7 and on a four-game losing streak. Overall, Miami is 8-11 since starting the 2013 season at 7-0.

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Dantonio pegs two current MSU assistants as Narduzzi’s replacement

Michigan State v Oregon

Michigan State knew it had big shoes to fill when Pat Narduzzi left to become the head coach at Pittsburgh.  Now we know just how big as it’s taken two people to fill them.

In a press release Saturday evening, head coach Mark Dantonio announced that Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel (pictured, red hat), nephew of the former Ohio State coach, have been elevated to the position of co-defensive coordinators. Barnett, who also added the title of assistant head coach, spent the 2014 season as the Spartans’ secondary coach, while Tressel served as the linebackers coach/special teams coordinator.

It’s unclear from the release if the two coaches will also maintain their current duties, although Dantonio did state that he was going to add at least one more defensive assistant.

“Harlon and Mike have been on my staff together for 11 years, including the past eight years at Michigan State,” the long-time MSU coach said in a statement. “They both have had a ton of input and shared a lot of ideas with Pat Narduzzi over the years. The co-appointment ensures continuity in terms of player relationships, defensive concepts and terminology.

“Both Harlon and Mike have done a tremendous job in the individual day-to-day development of our players. Their relationships with our players are strong and true. I have a strong personal relationship with those two, and they will do an outstanding job in their new roles while continuing the legacy Michigan State has built on defense.

“I’m excited about maintaining our tradition of playing outstanding defense while continuing our quest for another Big Ten Championship.”

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Penn State and Boston College deadlocked at midpoint of Pinstripe Bowl

Christian Hackenberg

How do you know the spirit of the Yankees lives in Yankee Stadium year-round? The New Era Pinstripe Bowl is playing out exactly like a July afternoon, as a team from Boston has conspired to create a 7-7 score midway through a slow-moving game. Instead of Red Sox and Bronx Bombers, this time it’s Penn State and Boston College deadlocked at seven apiece after a first half that took more than an hour and 40 minutes to complete.

Christian Hackenberg opened the scoring with a 72-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin at the 5:22 mark of the first quarter, and Jon Hillman responded for B.C. with a 49-yard scoring dash just two snaps later.

Since then, Penn State has punted three times (with one combined first down on those three drives) and fumbled once, and Boston College has punted three times (with two three-and-outs) and allowed the clock to expire at the end of the half rather than punt a fourth consecutive time.

Hackenberg has completed 13-of-20 passes for 168 yards with a score, while the Nittany Lions’ putrid running game has produced just 26 yards on 16 carries.

Boston College has rushed 19 times for 145 yards and Hillman’s score while Tyler Murphy has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 19 yards. Boston College has produced as many first downs as penalties (five) while Penn State has 10 first downs against six flags.

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Report: 49ers expect Jim Harbaugh to take Michigan job

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

As we inch closer and closer to what’s taken on the appearance of Decision Day for both Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football program, a growing number of signs continue to point to what just a couple of months ago was thought of as an unlikely reunion.

Friday it was reported that a group of UM officials had traveled to the Bay Area as part of its ongoing pursuit of Harbaugh.  Less than 24 hours later, at least one report has a marriage as being imminent.

According to Jason Cole, who was an award-winning NFL writer for Yahoo Sports for more than two decades before moving on to Bleacher Report, “[t]wo members of the San Francisco 49ers staff… said Saturday they expect 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to accept a six-year, $48 million contract to become the head coach of the University of Michigan.” A third NFL source confirmed the same to Cole.

Cole further added that earlier this year Harbaugh was leaning strongly against a return to the college game. However, he writes, “sources said he has been swayed over the past two weeks as he measured those issues against the opportunities that might be available around the pros.”

Late last week, a report surfaced that Harbaugh’s family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan job, which his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, subsequently denied.  That report came two days after one surfaced that Michigan was prepared to offer Harbaugh a contract in the neighborhood of $8 million annually over six years. Harbaugh subsequently declined to answer when asked directly if his alma mater had offered him a contract, as did his current boss.

The 49ers play their last game of the 2014 season Sunday.  At some point after that game ends, perhaps as early as that evening, the two sides are expected to part ways.  Whether that would in turn trigger a return to Ann Arbor is still uncertain, although, again, the signs are certainly pointing in that general direction.

Harbaugh’s 49ers contract, which has one year remaining on it, would not prevent him from going back to the collegiate level for the first time since ending a four-year run at Stanford in January of 2011.  Barring a trade or dismissal, however, it would preclude him from moving on to another NFL team like Oakland, which has been rumored to be UM’s stiffest competition.  As far as the trade front goes, ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio taps the brakes on that particular line of speculation.

No one quite knows exactly what will happen. While many in the media have reported/predicted that Harbaugh will be traded, we’ve mentioned once or twice (or more often) that the logistics require a level of patience and planning in which the two sides may not be willing to engage. The details make a trade highly unlikely, which in turn makes that pair of third-round picks that the 49ers would have gotten from Cleveland in February as a practical matter unavailable.

Should Harbaugh return to the place where he was a college quarterback, and should the reports of on the contract be accurate, he would surpass Alabama’s Nick Saban ($7 million-ish) as the highest-paid head coach in the history of college football.

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No. 15 Arizona State overcomes furious Duke rally for Sun Bowl victory

Taylor Kelly, Deondre Singleton

It was not pretty, but No. 15 Arizona State (10-3) found a way out of El Paso with a victory in the Hyundai Sun Bowl Saturday afternoon. To do so, the Sun Devils needed to respond to a nearly storybook ending by Duke (9-4), with the Blue Devils taking its first lead late in the fourth quarter, only to see Arizona State steal it right back and intercept a last-ditch effort in the end zone to seal the 36-31 victory for Arizona State.

Arizona State started to let the game slip out of their hands late in the first half, but the Sun Devils came out strong in the second half. Taylor Kelly completed a touchdown pass to Demario Richard inside the red zone early in the third quarter to regain a double-digit lead and Zane Gonzalez later padded that lead with a 47-yard field goal, his third field goal of the afternoon. Going to the fourth quarter, Arizona State led 30-17, but just as they did at the end of the first half, the Sun Devils were unable to close.

Duke scored twice in the fourth quarter to gain its first lead of the game with just over five minutes to play. Anthony Boone completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes early in the fourth quarter. Duke pulled a trick put of the bag later in the fourth quarter when receiver Jamison Crowder tossed a touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 31-30 following the point-after. The thrill of owning the lead was short-lived, because getting the first bowl victory since the 1960 season certainly not could come so easy for Duke.

Kalen Ballage returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to the Duke four-yard line, and it took Arizona State just one play to move across the goal line. Kelly flipped a pass to Richard for the four-yard score, and the lead. Arizona State was stuffed on a two-point conversion, which gave Duke a chance to take one more lead.

Boone hit a deep pass down the middle fo the field to Crowder, who earlier in the game returned a punt for a touchdown, as the Blue Devils pushed inside the red zone with time dwindling. With 45 seconds to play, Boone threw a fade pass to Crowder on the right side of the field, but it was picked off by Kweishi Brown of Arizona State.

For Duke, it was another tough pill to swallow in a season that has seen a handful of them. But this should not take away from the tremendous amount of growth the program has seen in the past few seasons under head coach David Cutcliffe. It has to sting coming so close to a bowl victory not once, but twice in the final five minutes.

Arizona State missed out on a chance to play for a Pac-12 championship this season, but the season ends on a high note for Todd Graham‘s program. Arizona State should be expected to be another strong contender in the Pac-12 in 2014 as well after back-to-back 10-win seasons.

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Manziel’s Bama advice for OSU? ‘Respect them, don’t fear them’

Johnny Manziel

Because he now plays his football in the same state, Johnny Manziel has become the go-to guy for an NFL perspective on the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In late August, the former Texas A&M and current Cleveland Browns quarterback was asked about OSU’s situation at his position after Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. The Buckeyes bounced back from that injury, as well as an injury to the replacement, to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff against top-ranked Alabama.

Manziel, of course, played in the SEC West and faced the Tide twice as a starter in 2012 and 2013.  In going 1-1 in those games, Johnny Football was outstanding, completing more than 74 percent of his passes for 717 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.  For good measure, he added 190 yards rushing.

So, yes, he knows a little bit of what it takes to be successful against the Tide’s normally stout defense.  Earlier this week, Manziel was asked by the Cleveland Plain Dealer for any advice he’d impart on dealing with his old college nemesis.

“You absolutely give respect where it’s due,” Manziel told the Plain Dealer, “and they’re a program that has won numerous national championships and been at the top of the SEC.

You respect them, but you don’t fear them.”

Cardale Jones will be making just his second career start — his first was mildly successful — in one of two semifinal matchups. Even as it’s not even remotely how he approached the games, Manziel had further sage advice that both the player and, perhaps most importantly, Urban Meyer‘s OSU coaching staff should take to heart.

“[W]hat’s important is to be extremely efficient and take care of the little things,” the 2012 Heisman winner said. “Don’t make things any worse than it already is being out there against a defense that’s extremely good and fast. Take what’s given to you and live to fight another day.  Don’t force things. Sometimes it’s OK to punt the ball and get a stop on defense. …

“My advice to (Jones) is not to try and do too much. Put the pressure on Coach Meyer and [offensive coordinator Tom] Herman to put you in good position to succeed and go from there.

There you have it, Buckeyes. JFF has given you a ‘Bama cheat sheet; do with it what you will.

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