The season began with the matchup of the teams I thought might finish first and second in the total number of touchdowns scored by players with dreads (Georgia-Clemson) and it ended with a game between the two teams that actually were first and second. I haven't added up the exact team totals yet; but when I do, it likely will confirm that Florida State and Auburn were the only teams with more than 30 TD by players with dreads this season. Both the Seminoles and Tigers added two more TD to their totals in a barn burner of a BCS title game won by FSU 34-31 on Jan. 6 at Pasadena, CA.
After junior RB Tre Mason scored his 2nd TD of the evening to give Auburn the lead with 1:19 remaining, the Seminoles drove 80 yards in 62 seconds, getting the winning TD on sophomore WR Kelvin Benjamin's leaping 2-yard reception in the middle of the end zone (photo below) with :13 on the clock.
The Seminoles kicked the extra point following their TD instead of trying to tie the game with a 2-point conversion because the conversion attempt came from the 18-yard line after they were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring the TD. Namely Freeman, who instead of going over to celebrate with his teammates, decided it was a good time to turn the other way and taunt the Auburn sideline. He made some sort of gesture with his hands, and the sideline official, staring directly at him, couldn't get the flag out of his pocket fast enough. Real smart, Devonta.
Realizing that 21 points wasn't going to be enough to win the game, Auburn's offense suddenly got going again. A 13-play drive took more than 6 minutes off the clock; but after reaching the FSU 6-yard line, the Tigers settled for a FG to make it 24-20. Just 11 seconds later, it was no longer 24-20. That's how long it took FSU WR Kermit Whitfield to return the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a TD and give the Seminoles the lead 27-24. But with still 4:31 to play, that was more than enough time for Auburn to go on a game-winning drive.
With sophomore WR Sammie Coates contributing receptions of 15 and 17 yards, the Tigers reached the FSU 37-yard line. And then on 2nd and 15, Mason took the handoff, broke through the line, bounced off a tackle attempt by S Jalen Ramsey (#13, right upper photo) at the 20-yard line, and when CB P.J. Williams, also in pursuit, fell forward and accidentally made a beautiful (for Auburn, that is) block on his own teammate (S Terrence Brooks, right lower photo) at the 15, was in the clear and took it all the way to the house to put the Tigers back in front by 4. Of course, the only problem with Tre's TD was that it came too soon - there was still 1:19 remaining.
And sure enough, on the second play of the Seminoles' final drive, they came up with their biggest play of the game. To that point their longest gain had been 29 yards; but on 2nd and 2 WR Rashad Greene caught a short pass, split two defenders and broke free for 49 yards all the way to the Auburn 23. With :56 on the clock, it was inevitable FSU would score; and 6 plays later, as he had done so many times all season, the 6-foot-5 Benjamin leaped and made the catch above the man covering him - CB Chris Davis in this case (left photo below) - and maintained possession after falling to the ground (right photo below) for the 2-yard TD with only :13 on the clock. Auburn, which was playing in the title game only after pulling out miraculous victories over Georgia and Alabama late in the season, had one last trick up their sleeve. But on their final play, which appeared to be well rehearsed and well set-up but not well-enough blocked, Mason was tackled at the Auburn 37 after only a 20-yard gain. The victory for Florida State was their second in a BCS title game, with the other being a 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech to conclude the 1999 season.
Mason, who was credited with 30 yards receiving on the final play (he was 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage when he first got the ball on a backwards pass after the play had begun with a forward pass), finished the game with 237 total yards and was the only player to make the dread stars list. Freeman came close to making it with 73 yards rushing (upping his total for the season over the 1,000-yard mark) on 11 carries along with 3 catches for 21 yards. Benjamin finished with 4 catches for 54 yards in his final game in an FSU uniform. As you probably know by know, Benjamin, Freeman, and Mason all decided to forfeit their remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft; and we hope to see them all scoring touchdowns on Sundays (especially Freeman) next season (but probably it won't be as often as this season).
For the Seminoles, half of sophomore DE Mario Edwards' 6 tackles (5-1) were TFL, including a play in the 1st quarter on which he was credited with a sack when he forced Marshall to intentionally ground a pass. Sophomore LB Terrance Smith (#24 in photo below) had 4 tackles (2-2). Hopefully by next season both Smith and Edwards' dreads will have grown long enough to be visible outside their helmets. Sophomore CB Ronald Darby, whose dreads you don't have any problem seeing, finished with 2 tackles (2-0) and 1 PBU.
I did not watch as many bowl games as I wanted to, but I did see a lot of the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Ohio State. Returning to the scene of the crime (the crime being their 70-33 loss to West Virginia in in Orange Bowl at the end of the 2011 season), Clemson redeemed themselves with a 40-35 victory over the Buckeyes in a game just as entertaining as was the BCS title game.
Clemson finished the game with 576 total yards; and although it may have seemed like it, Watkins did not gain half of them. But he gained enough to set several records in what was, as expected, his farewell performance. The enduring image for me actually came after the game, with Watkins, QB Tajh Boyd, and Coach Swinney up on the podium for the trophy presentations. Both the team and MVP trophies for the Orange Bowl are simply glass bowls with a bunch of real oranges piled into them. And while Swinney was rambling on during his interview, Sammy had enough time to entirely empty all of the oranges out of his MVP bowl, tossing them one at a time to his teammates below (photos below). I got a kick out of that.
Bryant, who like Watkins decided after the game to enter the NFL draft, had only 3 catches, but all three were important - the 2 TD catches plus a 22-yarder to convert a 3rd and 6. Senior LB Quandon Christian had 2 tackles (2-0) and senior S Jerodd Williams had 1 tackle (1-0) in their final game in a Clemson uniform. Christian also broke up the pass intended for WR Devin Smith (left photo below) on the 2-point conversion in the 4th quarter after the TD that put Ohio State in the lead 35-34.
Conspicuous by his absence from the Ohio State secondary was junior CB Bradley Roby. After injuring his knee in the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 championship game, Roby (photo on right) was not in uniform against Clemson; and apparently that didn't sit too well with a few Buckeye fans. I'm not going to say it, but it's understandable that some fans thought Roby didn't play only because he was afraid that playing at less than full strength might cause him to play poorly in his matchup against Watkins, and that looking bad might cause him to fall in the NFL draft. Roby denied such nonsense, of course. The bottom line was that the Buckeyes badly needed a healthy Roby for this game, and they didn't have one. On a brighter note for Buckeyes fans, sophomore DE Jamal Marcus (photo below) - getting the most playing time of his career (replacing a player who was suspended) - had a good game, finishing with 6 tackles (3-3) and 1 PBU.
Two things came to mind while I was watching Alabama freshman RB Derrick Henry explode during the 2nd half of the Sugar Bowl - one: why has be been on the bench all year? and two: with Henry being a freshman, if any of the other running backs on the Alabama roster plan on carrying the ball in the future, they should seriously consider doing it somewhere else. Specifically I'm talking to you, Dee Hart and Altee Tenpenny. Time to get up and go, guys. Go somewhere where they're going to let you play on offense (instead of only on special teams), and as an added bonus, you won't be forced to reduce your dreads anymore. Hart and Tenpenny, who could start for a lot of Division 1 teams, had 22 carries apiece this season and had to be wondering if they'll get even that many in the seasons ahead after watching the show Henry put on.
Senior DE Ed Stinson had 4 tackles (3-1) in his final game for Alabama before moving on to the NFL. Senior WR Kenny Bell (photo below) had 2 catches for 13 yards in his final game. Junior DT Brandon Ivory finished with 2 tackles (0-2). And Hart's only stat was 1 tackle (1-0), which came on a kickoff return. I guess Tenpenny is going to stick it out with the Tide (at least for another year, anyway); but Hart definitely will be transferring. He has already used up his redshirt season, but he also has graduated already, so he'll be eligible to play immediately (he'll be a junior next season) at whichever school he chooses.
In other transfer news, a couple of Pac 12 WRs with dreads are now former Pac 12 WRs with dreads after deciding to finish their careers at other schools. Damore'ea Stringfellow, who made one appearance on the dread stars list (Week 12) during his freshman season at Washington, recently announced he's transferring to Nebraska. Stringfellow had 4 catches for 36 yards in his final game for the Huskies, a 31-16 win over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Also moving on - and you can understand why - is Eric Dungy, who didn't play very much at all in his three seasons at Oregon. In search of more playing time, Dungy reportedly has transferred to South Florida (although his name isn't on the roster on the Bulls' website yet). While Stringfellow (#9 in left photo below, celebrating one of RB Bishop Sankey's touchdowns against BYU) will have to sit out next season, Dungy will be eligible to play in 2014 because he has already graduated. Actually if he really wanted to play more, he should have picked an FCS or Division 2 school, because I doubt he'll see much action for South Florida either. Dungy (right photo below, at practice on Dec. 26) didn't see any action in his final game for Oregon as the Ducks routed Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl.
Also looking for a new home - although it wasn't by his choice - will be CB Leroy Scott after he was dismissed from the team by the new Texas coaching staff in mid-March. Scott had 4 tackles (1-3) in his final game for the Longhorns. Junior S Josh Turner had 3 tackles (1-2); and sophomore DT Malcom Brown (not to be confused with the Longhorns' star RB Malcolm Brown, who spells his name differently) finished with 5 tackles (2-3), including 1 TFL. Junior RB Ayele Forde carried the ball for Oregon on their final three plays of the game and gained 10 yards.
Nothing could be finer ..... than playin' for a team named Carolina. No matter if the team you were on was North, South, or East Carolina, you were celebrating at the end of your bowl game.
Playing his final game for East Carolina in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl two days before Christmas, senior RB Vintavious Cooper took home the game MVP award as well as the early lead for postseason head dread honors with a sensational performance in a 37-20 victory over Ohio U. With the win, the Pirates (10-3) finished with 10 wins for the first time in 22 years. Cooper topped the 200-yard mark in total yards, with the bulk of the yardage coming on runs of 34 and 39 yards in the 1st quarter and TD runs of 31 and 22 yards in the 4th quarter. The 31-yarder (photo below) put ECU ahead (to stay) 24-20 with 9:45 remaining. Junior RB Breon Allen, who presumably will replace Cooper in the starting lineup next season, finished with 43 yards rushing on 6 carries and had a 25-yard reception as he and Cooper combined for almost exactly half of the Pirates' 568 total yards.
Coach Spurrier might be of a different opinion than me, but the only thing that really mattered when his South Carolina Gamecocks took the field to face Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl was that NFL-bound junior DE Jadeveon Clowney would make it through the game without injury. Consider it mission accomplished for Clowney, who was still in one piece and well enough to parade around with the trophy (photo below) after finishing his college career with a 34-24 victory. Finding the SEC championship a bit too elusive, Spurrier had to settle for defeating opponents from the Big 10 on New Year's Day during all three of Clowney's seasons on the team. Jadeveon was credited with 5 tackles (4-1), including 1 TFL, and 2 PBU, on one of which he used his head - literally - to deflect a pass which ended up being intercepted by sophomore LB Kaiwan Lewis for a key turnover with 4:52 remaining in the game.
The 75-yard drive feature a duel between future NFL draft choices, with WR Bruce Ellington beating senior S Dezmen Southward both times on a couple of key plays, making a great catch by tipping the ball to himself (photos above) for a 22-yard gain to convert a 4th and 7 and then making another 22-yard reception two plays later for the TD that put the Gamecocks ahead to stay. After reaching the SC 26-yard line on their ensuing drive, the Badgers came away empty as star sophomore RB Melvin Gordon was stopped for no gain on both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1, with junior LB Sharrod Golightly getting into the backfield unblocked on a blitz to ruin the 4th down play (photo below). After the Gamecocks' 74-yard drive, junior WR Kenzel Doe took the ensuing kickoff return 91 yards to the house to pull Wisconsin within 27-24; but then the Gamecocks scored again, and the Badgers had turnovers on their final two possessions.
For Cincinnati sophomore WR Chris Moore had 2 catches for 46 yards. Senior CB Devin Drane had 6 tackles (5-1); junior S Adrian Witty had 4 tackles (3-1) and 1 PBU; and senior DT Marques Aiken and sophomore DE Silverberry Mouhon both finished with 4 tackles (2-2). Also, senior G Andre Cureton got beat for a sack by DE Kareem Martin in the end zone for a safety (photo below) to make the score 9-0 in the 1st quarter. You're going to have to do much better than that, Andre, if you want to play for the Dallas Cowboys next season.
I've got so much stuff to write about from all of the bowl games that it's too much to put all in one post. Next up, in part 2, among other things we'll look at a couple of players who made the dread stars list for the final time (even though they'll be returning to their teams next season) as well as crown the (same) champion in the FCS.