Sneak Peek: 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

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WHO: 8-5 Utah State (MWC) vs. 12-1 Northern Illinois (MAC)

WHAT: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (9th year)

WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.

WHEN: Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET

WHY: Just like Fresno State, Northern Illinois is likely pleased to be a part of the postseason but extremely disappointed over its ultimate destination after what could’ve been.

Thanks to the Bulldogs late-season loss that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Huskies were sitting in the driver’s seat for a spot at the BCS table.  All it would’ve taken was a win in the MAC championship game for NIU to bust the BCS for the second consecutive season.  Alas, a 47-27 loss at the hands of Bowling Green ended both the Huskies’ unbeaten season and BCS dreams.

The Poinsettia Bowl will, though, feature the first of the six 2013 Heisman finalists in the postseason in the form of Jordan Lynch.  The NIU quarterback is currently second in the country in rushing with 1,881 yards and tied for third in rushing touchdowns with 22.  Lynch has one 300-yard passing game this season; he’s done that twice rushing, including a 321-yard effort Nov. 26 that is the all-time record for a quarterback at the FBS level.  Lynch will have a tough defensive row to hoe putting up those kind of numbers against Utah State, however.

In the first season under Matt Wells, who took over after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin, the Aggies are 10th in the country in rushing defense at 107.3 yards per game; Lynch himself ran for at least that many yards in eight of 13 games this year.  Overall, USU is seventh in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and 12th in total defense (332.1 yards per game).  Conversely, Northern Illinois is fifth in total offense (535.5 ypg) and eighth in scoring offense (41.6 ppg).

USU overcame a 3-4 start to the season — and the loss of All-Everything quarterback Chuckie Keeton — to win the final five games of the regular season and qualify for the Mountain West Championship game as the Mountain Division winner.  Oddly enough, it was Fresno State that put an end to Utah State’s winning streak in that title game and set up the Poinsettia matchup.

PREDICTION: Utah State 27, Northern Illinois 24

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.