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Wazzu’s leading returning receiver cited

Oregon v Washington State Getty Images

For the third time this month, a member of the Washington State football program has found his name in the names following an off-field incident.

The latest is wide receiver Gabe Marks, who the Spokane Spokesman-Review reports cited in an alcohol-related incident early Sunday morning.  Officially, Marks was cited for “MIP-Exhibiting,” which is police speak for a minor exhibiting the effects of alcohol consumption.

The school is aware of the latest incident involving one of its football players, and will handle the matter internally.

Marks finished the 2012 season with 49 receptions and 560 yards as a freshman.  Thanks to Marquess Wilson‘s chaotic and messy exit from the program, Marks is the Cougars’ leading returning receiver.

In early February, it was reported that running back Leon Brooks was charged with drunk driving.  A day later, walk-on wide receiver Drew Loftus was charged with third-degree theft, minor in possession of alcohol and public intoxication.  Loftus was subsequently dismissed from the football program.

(Tip O’ the Cap: shotofginn.com)

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FSU defense getting healthy: Goldman and Lawrence-Stample expected to play vs. Oregon

Eddie Goldman, Austin Hardin

Florida State will face the best offense it has seen all season long when the defending BCS national champions return to Pasadena to challenge Pac-12 champion Oregon and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks have quite the supporting cast on offense too. Florida State’s shaky defense, at least when compared to the 2013 ‘Noles defense, will need to be on top of its game to advance to the national championship game, and it appears as though the defense will welcome back a pair of significant contributors.

Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample each are likely to play for Florida State in the Rose Bowl, according to a recent report by Warchant.

Goldman was named to the ACC’s First Team All-ACC Defense this season. He went down with an ankle injury during the ACC Championship Game victory over Georgia Tech and returned to the practice field for the Seminoles last week. Lawrence-Stample’s return was previously reported to be likely, according to head coach Jimbo Fisher, and it appears everything remains on track for that to be a reality. Lawrence-Stample has missed 10 consecutive games due to a torn pectoral muscle.

“Excellent. I feel very comfortable with Nile,” Fisher said in recent days. “Nile’s practicing well. He’s been doing good-on-good for the last three days. He’s really developing his strength. I like his progress.”

Florida State teammates certainly respect the return of these two players as well.

“To be able to have Nile and Eddie back on the D-line would be a tremendous help as a linebacker,” junior linebacker Terrance Smith said last week. “To be able to have two threats up there, plus Mario [Edwards Jr.] and Demarcus [Walker] on the edge, to be able to have people that require double-team blocks and can’t get single-blocked … that’s a big factor.”

We shall see just how big of a factor it really is when Florida State faces Oregon in the Rose Bowl on January 1, the first of the two national semifinal game sin the College Football Playoff.

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Buckeye receivers have Kirby Smart’s respect at Alabama

Devin Smith, Peniel Jean

Alabama will take on an Ohio State team that is far from the kind of teams the Buckeyes fielded when playing for BCS titles against SEC schools Florida and LSU. Urban Meyer has changed the way Ohio State plays with faster players at positions where speed tends to have the most impact, and the difference is noticeable At the vey least, it has caught the eye of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

“They’ve got more wideout depth,” Smart said Sunday morning in New Orleans prior to a practice, per Cleveland.com. “The top ones at Auburn are really good and the top ones at Ohio State are really good, and I think they’re deeper at Ohio State.”

Senior receiver Devin Smith is the leading receiver for the Big Ten champions and sophomore Michael Thomas is a solid second option. In the Big Ten championship game blowout of Wisconsin, Ohio State took advantage of their speed and showed some potential to give a team like Alabama a good test one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games, in the Sugar Bowl. Smart believes his defensive players will not sleep on Ohio State’s receivers, especially after seeing what good, speedy receivers can do against them.

“Auburn did a great job passing the ball and throwing it deep on us and attacking us,” Smart said, again per Cleveland.com. “I don’t think our kids respected their wideouts enough, and they got good wideouts just like this team does. We didn’t make some plays that should have been made and I put them in some tough [situations]. So I think that was a wakeup factor of hey, you’ve got to play good, and you can’t get the ball thrown over your head.”

Ohio State faces Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2015. The winner will play for the College Football Playoff national championship in Dallas against either Oregon or Florida State.

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Minnesota WR Donovahn Jones no longer a Gopher

Donovahn Jones

With Minnesota’s bowl game just days away, the Gophers are down a wide receiver. Donovahn Jones, the third-leading receiver on the team, is no longer a part of the team according to a report Sunday morning from Star Tribune.

According to the details of the report, Jones traveled with the team to Orlando to prepare for the Citrus Bowl match-up with Missouri on Thursday, but he was no longer a part of the team by Friday morning. The details for the reasoning are unknown at this time, and head coach Jerry Kill is not scheduled to be made available to the media until Monday.

Jones started nine games for Minnesota this season and recorded the third most receiving yards, 253 yards, and the second most touchdown receptions with two. The sophomore did not play against Ohio State due to illness but did reportedly get in Kill’s doghouse as a result of some minor issues in the final weeks of Minnesota’s regular season. Jones did not start either of Minnesota’s final two games. He did appear in each of the final two games but did not record any stats.

Jones was listed on the official depth chart for Minnesota’s Citrus Bowl appearance, but with him no longer on the team it could be Isaac Fruechte who gets more playing time at Minnesota’s X-receiver position. Fruechte, despite being listed second on the depth chart, is second on the team in receiving with 278 yards and a touchdown.

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Tampa Bay Bucs GM heading to Rose Bowl to scout Mariota and Winston

Jason Licht

The Tampa Bay Bucs look to be in position for the number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft next spring, so it would make sense to take every opportunity to scout out the best potential targets to use that coveted number one pick on. The Rose Bowl just so happens to have a couple of potential franchise quarterback options dueling for the right to play for the national championship, and Bucs GM Jason Licht is apparently not going to miss the chance to watch the two go head-to-head.

This would seem to be a pretty strong indication of which way the Bucs plan on heading in 2015. With plenty of rebuilding to do and the possibility of drafting a franchise quarterback sitting right there for the taking, it is wise to see what these two quarterbacks can do on the field in the same game. Florida State has sent plenty of talent to the NFL over the years, so Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will be put to the test against a high level of athleticism. Jameis Winston may not be facing a tremendous amount of NFL talent on the other side of the field, but seeing how he handles the big stage one more time and seeing if he can protect the football better when the stakes are high should be of interest to the Bucs (and any other NFL team in need of a quarterback).

Winston has not declared for the NFL Draft just yet, although many presume he will wind up entering the draft. Mariota has yet to declare for the draft either, although many suspect he will enter the draft as well with his stock about as high as it can get at this point. Both are considered the top quarterback prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft, and would be considered top prospects for the 2016 draft in the event they each surprise the football world and return for one more year in college.

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Jameis Winston says he would pass on anyone, including Richard Sherman

Jameis Winston

If there is one thing we should clearly know about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston by now, it is that he is never one to lack confidence in his own abilities once he steps onto the field. Few players have the ability to block out off-the-field issues and battle back in moments of adversity on the field the way Winston has proven over the course of the past two seasons. So it should come to no surprise Winston feels confident in being able to throw the football in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Perhaps Winston is already looking ahead to the NFL as well, because he did not stop there.

Winston even suggested he would feel good about throwing the football against anybody, including one of the NFL’s top defensive backs, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

Winston may or may not enter the 2015 NFL Draft, but it is just a guess that whenever Winston and Sherman do happen to cross paths, Sherman will have a few things to say to the Florida State quarterback.

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Miami RB Duke Johnson officially declares for the 2015 NFL Draft

Duck Commander Independence Bowl - Miami v South Carolina

Miami running back Duke Johnson has played his last college football game. The Hurricanes running back has officially declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, although his mother spilled the beans a day ago.

Johnson leaving Miami early for a shot at the NFL is absolutely no surprise. The running back has accomplished a tremendous amount at Miami and has little left to prove at the college level. Given the falling stock for running backs in the NFL and the relatively short lifespan of a running back’s career, it makes plenty of sense for Johnson to enter the league now while he is still a valuable asset to any NFL franchise looking for a running back. Johnson told reporters Sunday morning he made his decision before the team left for the Independence Bowl

The decision to leave early is often a complicated one, and it is still something that has not quite hit Johnson fewer than 24 hours after his final game for The U.

Johnson leaves behind him a very respectable list of accomplishments at Miami. Johnson set the Miami school records for most rushing yards for a career (3,519 yards, passing Ottis Anderson), yards per carry (6.69, previously held by Edgerrin James), all-purpose yards (5,526 yards, previously held by Santana Moss), and multiple kick return records. He also tied school records for most career 100-yard games (14, tied with Clinton Portis), consecutive 100-yard games (6, tied with Willis McGahee and Edgerrin James), longest run from scrimmage (90 yards, tied with Jake Losch) and most career kick return touchdowns (2, tied with Tim Morgan, Ottis Anderson and Devin Hester).

Johnson played through two seasons that saw a dark cloud hover over the program prohibiting Miami from playing in a postseason bowl game. If there was ever a bright spot in the program during a tough few seasons, it was Johnson.

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Once clock hits zero in San Fran, clock on Harbaugh to Michigan will begin

Jim Harbaugh

Today could very well be the big day for Jim Harbaugh’s pending return to Michigan to truly begin developing. Multiple reports have now suggested Harbaugh will almost certainly be Michigan’s next head coach, but for now the entire football world appears to be on pause. Harbaugh, of course, still has a game to coach this afternoon for the San Francisco 49ers (against the Arizona Cardinals). Until that game is complete, nothing can actually happen on the Harbaugh coaching front.

Here is where we stand right now.

Respected author John Bacon, with plenty of Michigan connections at his disposal, has suggested Harbaugh to Michigan is all but a done deal. This followed word the 49ers expect Harbaugh to be the next head coach at Michigan. This is particularly interesting as San Francisco currently employs Harbaugh, despite numerous stories about a strained relationship with the NFC West franchise and the possibility of trading Harbaugh to another NFL franchise (the NFL is weird like that). Michigan officials are reportedly in San Francisco ready to hammer out the final details of a contract, but the NFL’s Oakland Raiders could also still be in the hunt.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk makes note this morning, there is no official status change for Harbaugh at this time, and Adam Schefter of ESPN reports there is no deal just yet between Michigan and Harbaugh. However, this could all be a formality of the process. Michigan and Harbaugh could very well have an agreement in principle, but until Harbaugh’s ties with the 49ers are cut, there is no way for that relationship to move forward.

The 49ers play in the late afternoon time slot today. Once the clock hits zero on the NFC West Division battle, the clock on Harbaugh’s return to Michigan can officially begin.

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With Cody Kessler back in 2015, USC thinking about College Football Playoff

Cody Kessler

Following a nailbiter of a win in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, USC quarterback Cody Kessler intends to return for his final season with the Trojans. Kessler announced his decision to return for the 2015 season when meeting with the media following the victory in San Diego.

Kessler passed for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions during his junior season for USC. Those are typically numbers that throw a quarterback into the Heisman Trophy conversation, but Kessler could have used a couple of more wins on the year to make that a reality. However, if he is going to coming back in 2015 then he odds are very good he will be considered one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates next season with those kinds of numbers at USC.

Kessler also mentioned the chance to compete for a national championship, which USC could be in a position to compete for under Steve Sarkisian, his second season on the job. USC has plenty of first-team talent, and the roster will continue to get deeper now that the sanction phase is behind the program. That appeared to be the case for the Trojans this season; plenty of talent, but not enough depth.

Kessler will have an offensive line protecting him that was young this season. Another year to grow together as a unit could be beneficial. Kessler will also look to have the bulk of his supporting cast back next season as well, including wide receiver JuJu Smith. Veteran wide receiver Nelson Agholor is receiving information regarding his NFL Draft stock before making his decision. Running back Javorius Allen is also awaiting NFL feedback before making his decision. If Agholor and Allen decide to come back to USC in 2015, the Trojans could be very dangerous on offense.

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Penn State kicker Sam Ficken and the Derek Jeter connection

Sam Ficken

Penn State kicker Sam Ficken has been through plenty of ups and downs during his time in State College. A kicker who got off to a poor start as Penn State’s kicker turned things around in a big way as he became one of the most reliable kickers in the nation. His career at Penn State could not have ended in a more perfect way.

On Saturday, Ficken played his final game as a Nittany Lion. He did so by ending his career with a walk-off extra point in Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl, giving Penn State a wild 31-30 victory over Boston College in overtime. As Ficken’s last point-after attempt went through the uprights, it was soon learned Ficken was using the locker of former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Comparing football players to baseball players is often a silly thing to do, unless they happen to be Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, but the narrative was too good to avoid for many.

Like Jeter, Ficken was a team captain. Like Ficken, Jeter recorded a game-winning walk-off play in his final at-bat in Yankee Stadium. The narrative can sometimes write itself and go overboard, but perhaps there was a small bit of foreshadowing written in Jeter’s final at-bat in a home Yankees uniform. Who could forget the iconic photo of Jeter leaping into the air in celebration following the game-winning hit against the Baltimore Orioles on September 25, 2014?

Take another look at that photo, and you will see some perfectly executed product placement for the Big Ten tat was put up in Yankee Stadium during the baseball season due to the conference’s expansion and additions of Rutgers and Maryland.

Jim Delany could not have planned that any better, but sometimes the narrative just finds a way to write itself.

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ACC off to rough start in bowl season, 0-4 vs Power 5

Steve Addazio

With the power conferences now getting in the full swing of the bowl season, the Pac-12 has managed to wiggle its ways to a 3-0 start with Arizona State and USC barely hanging on for victories against the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, on Saturday. The Big Ten was an underdog in each of its 10 bowl games but saw two of its members win in the past 48 hours with Rutgers blowing away North Carolina and Penn State clipping Boston College in overtime. Things have not been going so well for the ACC, which is now 2-4 in bowl games and without a win against another power conference opponent.

As someone who has at times defended the ACC and suggested it is a stronger conference than it tends to receive credit for, the ACC is doing nothing to help support that case so far. ACC commissioner John Swofford said a few years ago it was important for the conference to step up and win games against other power conference opponents. The ACC needs more than Florida State to prove its strength, but so far it is off to a slow start.

The ACC has won just two bowl games, and each has come against the American Athletic Conference. Virginia Tech pulled away from Cincinnati and North Carolina State got by UCF. Cincinnati and UCF each claimed a share of the American championship, which may add at least a little bit of dazzle to the ACC’s victories, but a power conference will only improve its image by winning games against other power conference opponents.

The ACC is 0-2 against the Big Ten.

The ACC is 0-1 against the Pac-12.

The ACC is 0-1 against the SEC (South Carolina defeated Miami).

The ACC did not lose a game to the Big 12, but the Big 12 has yet to play a single bowl game. Clemson will face Oklahoma in the lone ACC vs. Big 12 match-up in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Monday evening.

The ACC will have a chance to finish the bowl season on a stronger note. Louisville will face Georgia, Georgia Tech will play Mississippi State, and Florida State will represent the ACC in the College Football Playoff against Oregon in one national semifinal.

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

National University Holiday Bowl - Nebraska v USC Getty Images

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 Getty Images

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.

UPDATED Dec. 28 at 1:48 a.m. ET: An additional confirmation has come in very early Sunday morning as CSN Bay Area‘s Dave Feldman is reporting that “Harbaugh will be introduced as the head football coach of the University of Michigan on Tuesday.” Feldman also confirmed, as previously reported, that “[m]ultiple members of the 49ers staff ‘expected’ Harbaugh to fill the Wolverines’ head coaching vacancy.”

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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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