Chick-fil-A Bowl preview: LSU vs. Clemson

The 2012-13 college football postseason continues Monday night as LSU and Clemson collide in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Let's take a look at some of the most important aspects of this matchup between the Bayou Bengals and the ACC's Tigers.

LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2) at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta, Georgia

• Defending the dual-threat QB: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd presents a very tough challenge for LSU's strong front seven. The junior dual-threat signal-caller threw for 3,550 yards and led the ACC with 34 touchdown passes this fall, but he was contained by South Carolina's aggressive front in the regular-season finale, specifically by star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Boyd completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions against the Gamecocks. Of course, LSU presents an equally dominant defensive front, so Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has to be concerned about Boyd going up against ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo as well as tackle Bennie Logan. LSU has a deep line and will rotate to keep its players fresh, which could mean Boyd will be on the run. However, if he has time to throw, Boyd is an accomplished deep-ball passer, so John Chavis and his defense will need to be ready for talented Clemson receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins so they don't get behind the defense. In addition, running back Andre Ellington will be a force on the ground.

• Zach Attack: LSU fans are finally getting to see the Zach Mettenberger that they expected to see at the beginning of the season. The junior-college transfer struggled up until the Alabama game and finally came out of his shell against the Crimson Tide. We know that the Bayou Bengals will always be able to run the ball successfully, as they average almost 180 yards per game. But Mettenberger averaged over 265 yards per game through the air over the last four contests, and he'll be facing a Brent Venables defense that has been leaky throughout 2012, as the ACC's Tigers have allowed 22 passing touchdowns this year. LSU will remain a run-first operation offensively with Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, but Mettenberger will have plenty of opportunities to air it out as well because the offensive staff trusts him. He only throws an interception once per every 55 attempts.

• The X-Factor: Remember Sammy Watkins? The Clemson receiver was on a lot of preseason Heisman Trophy Watch lists coming into this season after his outstanding freshman campaign last year, where he averaged over 175 all-purpose yards per game. His 2012 campaign began on a rough note, though, as he was suspended for the first two games and missed another contest because of a virus. He never could quite get going, but Clemson was able to rely on Hopkins to pick up the slack. But because of the time off between the regular-season finale and the bowl game, perhaps Watkins is re-focused and ready for a standout effort against a team that has BCS credentials.

The party starts on Saturday

It seems only fitting that Black Monday in the NFL comes on the final day of the calendar year. 2012 draws to a close at the same time the tenures of several head coaches and front office personnel conclude, making way for new blood to try and right the ships in several NFL cities around the country.

Jason GarrettICONWho gets the blame? Garrett? Romo? Or both?

But before we take a look at the first wave of playoff games scheduled to dominate living rooms around the globe this coming weekend, I want to ask the Dallas faithful what they think about the status of head coach Jason Garrett. All 32 teams in league share the exact same goal: To win the Super Bowl. But for the second consecutive season, Garrett has come up on the wrong end of a win-and-in regular season finale against a divisional opponent.

If Garrett can’t win these games, what makes Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confident he can win the three or four battles it takes to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

I fully understand why head coaches like Andy Reid and Norv Turner were sent packing, but why is Garrett still running the show in Big D? Do all you Cowboys fans out there think this guy is capable of closing the deal?

That’s my rant for the day. Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and let me know in the comments section which of the following bets you plan on making.

UPDATED SUPER BOWL ODDS (courtesy of Jeff Sherman and the excellent staff at the LVH in Las Vegas)

Denver Broncos: 5/2
New England Patriots: 5/2
San Francisco 49ers: 9/2
Atlanta Falcons: 6/1
Green Bay Packers: 9/1
Seattle Seahawks: 9/1
Houston Texans: 20/1
Baltimore Ravens: 25/1
Washington Redskins: 25/1
Cincinnati Bengals: 50/1
Minnesota Vikings: 80/1
Indianapolis Colts: 100/1

Thoughts: Betting the Super Bowl futures market at this point in the season is all about finding A) Value and B) A team capable of providing hedge opportunities. The value is long gone on Denver, New England and San Francisco and we’ll pass on the Vikings, Bengals, Redskins and Ravens. We fired on Seattle a few weeks back, so the Seahawks are a pass in this spot as well, especially at 9/1 with a road wild card game. So which teams are we left with? I’d take a look at Green Bay (9/1) and Houston (20/1) and am more than willing to fire a little on the Colts at 100/1. I think Indy has a legitimate shot of escaping Baltimore with a win, giving us a hedge opportunity with New England the following weekend.


Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 6-2 road) at Houston Texans (12-4, 6-2 home)

When: Saturday, 4:30pm ET
Open: Houston -5
Current: Houston -4.5

Matt SchaubCan Schaub and the Texans rebound now that the playoffs have arrived?

Analysis: Talk about two teams heading in different directions. The Bengals are 7-1 both straight-up and against the spread over their last eight games while the suddenly slumping Texans have dropped three of four and have failed to cover the number in five of their last seven outings. Momentum and confidence issues aside, the big problem in Houston at the moment is that their once stout defense is leaking like a sieve, having surrendered an average of 26.8 points per game over their last seven outings. You have to question the Texans’ mindset in this spot after watching home field advantage and a first-round bye fly out the window with a lackluster effort at Indianapolis on Sunday. With the early money coming in on the red-hot Bengals as another factor worth noting, it’s going to be tough to lay the points with this sluggish Houston squad.

Take note: Cincinnati is 4-0 ATS over their last four road games while Houston is 11-5-2 ATS over their last 18 home games.

Early wagering thoughts: Cincinnati in a 6-point teaser.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6, 3-5 road) at Green Bay Packers (11-5, 7-1 home)

When: Saturday, 8:00pm ET
Open: Green Bay -7.5
Current: Green Bay -8

Analysis: I absolutely love Green Bay in this spot. The Vikings had to spill their guts on Sunday to qualify for the postseason and now have to turn around and face this same divisional foe on the road six days later. Minnesota is 0-4 both straight-up and ATS in outdoor games this season and is just 1-5 ATS over their last six trips to Green Bay. On the other sideline stands a Packers team that is 8-1 ATS over their last nine games following a loss and 22-8 ATS over their last 30 games on grass. Lastly, take note of the following Minnesota stats from the 2012 regular season:

Vikings at home: 7-1, 26.2 points per game, 20.6 points per game allowed
Vikings on road: 3-5, 21.1 points per game, 22.8 points per game allowed

Take note: Minnesota is 4-0 ATS in their last four games overall while Green Bay is 12-4 ATS in their last 16 games against teams with a winning record.

Early wagering thoughts: Green Bay -8 and Green Bay in a 6-point teaser.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 4-4 road) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 6-2 home)

When: Sunday, 1:00pm ET
Open: Baltimore -6.5
Current: Baltimore -6.5

Andrew LuckAndrew Luck and the Colts are looking to shock the world.

Analysis: Another matchup featuring two teams on opposite paths. The Ravens enter the postseason having dropped four of their last five both straight-up and against the spread while the streaking Colts have come out victorious in nine of their last 11 with an impressive 11-5 ATS mark for the season to boot. You can’t discount the emotional factor in this one, as Chuck Pagano is back on the sidelines for Indy and star linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to return for Baltimore. The Colts are 6-2 ATS over their last eight games following a straight-up win while the Ravens are 3-8 ATS over their last 11 home games. We can see this game going either way.

Take note: Indianapolis is 8-2 ATS over their last ten games against AFC opponents while Baltimore is 5-1 ATS over their last six wild card games.

Early wagering thoughts: Indianapolis in a 6-point teaser, Indianapolis on the money line.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5, 3-5 road) at Washington Redskins (10-6, 5-3 home)

When: Sunday, 4:30pm ET
Open: Seattle -1.5
Current: Seattle -3

Take note: The biggest line move for the first round of the playoffs at the current moment, the early money is pouring in on the road team as Seattle has already moved from -1.5 to -3 in less than 24 hours. Both teams have been on an absolute tear, with the Seahawks winning seven of their last eight and going 6-2 ATS in the process and the ‘Skins winning and covering in each of their last seven outings. Keep in mind that the Redskins are just 2-8-4 ATS over their last 14 games after accumulating less than 150 passing yards in the previous game and come into thi
s showdown having spent everything in the tank to get by Dallas this past Sunday. In addition, stud quarterback Robert Griffin III looks to be playing at less than 100% due to a knee injury sustained a few weeks back. The Seahawks have a history of struggling away from the confines of CenturyLink Field, but you have to note the fact that Seattle has won and covered in each of their last two road contests.

Take note: Seattle is 6-0 ATS over their last six outings against teams with a winning record while Washington is 4-0 ATS over their last four home games.

Early wagering thoughts: We bought a futures ticket on Seattle to win the Super Bowl a few weeks back, so there is a small hedge opportunity here. We’ll keep you posted.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

Liberty Bowl preview: Iowa State vs. Tulsa

The 2012-13 college football postseason continues Monday as Iowa State and Tulsa collide in the Liberty Bowl.

Let's take a glance at this matchup between the Cyclones and the Golden Hurricane.

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3) at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Memphis, Tennessee

Iowa State began the season with wins in four of its first five games, but the Cyclones stumbled to the finish line, losing five of their final seven contests. Still, head coach Paul Rhoads has to be happy with the play of freshman quarterback Sam Richardson, who assumed the starting job after he helped ISU to a 53-21 victory over Kansas after replacing Steele Jantz. Richardson threw seven touchdowns with no interceptions in the last two games of the season.

Cody GreenUS PRESSWIRECody Green and the Golden Hurricane offense average over 240 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation.

Tulsa, meanwhile, is coming off of its Conference USA title game win over Central Florida. The offense is led by Nebraska transfer quarterback Cody Green, who has tossed nine touchdowns in his last four games. He is the leader of a unit that has produced one of the strongest rushing attacks in the country. Alex Singleton has a school-record 41 career touchdowns, and he paces a Golden Hurricane offense that averages over 240 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation. Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas each recorded more than 750 rushing yards on the season, so there is serious depth in the backfield.

Tulsa will have revenge on its mind after falling to Iowa State in the season opener on September 1. The Cyclones scored 24 unanswered points in that one to record a 38-23 win in Ames. But Tulsa, which can tie a school record with its 11th win of the season, is a much better team now. The Golden Hurricane turned the ball over numerous times in the first meeting, and they will not have to go against all-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Iowa State held the Golden Hurricane to just 160 rushing yards in this season's first meeting, but Tulsa should find more running lanes in this one. And in the first meeting, Green attempted 49 passes and threw two interceptions. He won't come close to airing it out that much in this game.

Ron Wolf joins Chargers as consultant

Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf has been hired by the San Diego Chargers as a consultant as the team looks for a new coach to replace Norv Turner and a general manager to take over for A.J. Smith.

Team president Dean Spanos told Albert Breer of NFL Network that he first contacted Wolf about eight or nine days ago and that he will start on Tuesday helping Spanos look for a new coach and GM.

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Terry McCormick covers the Titans for

Sun Bowl preview: USC vs. Georgia Tech

The 2012-13 college football postseason continues Monday as USC and Georgia Tech collide in the Sun Bowl.

Earlier today at the NFP I wrote about the importance of this matchup for Lane Kiffin's squad, particularly redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek. But let's take a look at some of the other important aspects of this matchup between the Trojans and the Yellow Jackets.

USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7) at 2 p.m. ET on CBS
El Paso, Texas

Tevin WashingtonUS PRESSWIRETevin Washington has 19 rushing scores this season.

• Defending the triple-option: The struggles of USC's defense have been well-documented under coordinator Monte Kiffin, who won't return to the team in 2013. Because of their underachieving ways, one of the most fascinating aspects of this game is how the Trojans will defend Georgia Tech's flexbone triple-option offense. 'SC has struggled against various option offenses this fall, but Tech's is a different animal. The unit was No. 4 in the nation at over 310 rushing yards per game, led by senior quarterback Tevin Washington, who has 19 touchdowns on the ground. A lot of pressure will fall on Trojans senior safety T.J. McDonald in run support. The other factor is motivation. Will Lane Kiffin have his team eager to finish the disappointing 2012 campaign on a high note?

• The dynamic Lee: Trojans receiver Marqise Lee caught a nation-leading 112 passes and was among the national leaders in all-purpose yardage this fall. He is dangerous every time he touches the football, racking up 1,680 yards and 14 TDs as a receiver as well as 802 yards and a score on kick returns. So any time you have a chance to catch him in action, it's a treat. His 20-touch, 408-yards-from-scrimmage effort against Oregon and his 20-touch, 469-yards-from-scrimmage game against Arizona this year are still being talked about in college football circles. The Biletnikoff Award winner and Pac-12 offensive player of the year is nursing an undisclosed leg injury but is expected to play in the game.

• The intangibles: Earlier I mentioned Washington as being a threat on the ground for the Jackets, but A-back Orwin Smith is another dynamic player to watch. He will return after missing the last two games with an ankle injury, and he is averaging over nine yards per carry this season. So there's no question that the Jackets will have a chance to move the ball on 'SC. The problem is that the Trojans should do the same and then some against a porous Yellow Jackets defense. With Lee and Robert Woods at receiver, along with Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal in the backfield, Wittek is surrounded by top playmakers. And his big arm gives 'SC an explosive vertical threat.

What NFP is hearing – Draft Rumblings.

Below is a look at four players that a number of NFL personnel have told me about over the last few weeks.

1. Terron Armstead, OT / OG, Arkansas-PineBluff, Senior (6044, 303 and 4.83): All fall NFL scouts were flocking to Pine Bluff to evaluate Armstead and nearly all of them have been impressed. At 6-4 with 34+ arms, Armstead has the length to stay at tackle or make the move inside to guard depending on the team that drafts him. A great athlete with rare explosiveness for an offensive lineman, Armstead makes it look easy getting outside to block in space. Blessed with the natural strength to control man once he locks on, he is able to do so despite not blocking with a nasty or aggressive attitude. In addition to being a dominant football player at Pine Bluff, Armstead has been one of the best track athletes in the SWAC and if he can continue developing that athleticism onto the football field he could become a star in the NFL. Do not be surprised if Armstead ends up being a third or fourth round pick in the 2013 Draft.

ALAN BONNERUS PRESSWIREReceiver Alan Bonner makes play running after the catch.

2. Michael “Alan” Bonner, WR, Jacksonville State (Alabama), Senior (5102, 181 and 4.61): As Lance Moore has quietly developed into one of the Saints’ clutch, big play receivers, NFL teams are beating the bushes trying to find similar receivers and Bonner is one scouts have been telling me about all season. His ability to run sharp, precise routes has enabled Bonner to get open with surprising ease. With soft hands, he catches the ball cleanly, tucks it away fast and gets started up the field quickly after the catch. Not a blazer who is going to out-run angles after the catch or get separation deep against NFL cornerbacks, Bonner is a quicker than fast receiver who consistently bursts out of cuts to get separation. Able to change directions fast, he can make tacklers miss to make plays running with the ball, both after the catch and as a returner. If Bonner runs under a 4.6 this spring he will likely be a late round pick, but if he runs slower than ideal he will turn out to be a great value when signed after the draft.

3. Kevin Milton, TE, Louisiana-Monroe, Senior (6040, 280 and 4.90 E): Despite the fact that receiving tight ends have become vital to the success of NFL passing attacks, there is still room for a tight end who is an excellent blocker. With excellent size and strength, Milton has consistently shown the ability to get movement on in-line run blocks to open up holes. While Milton is never going to run away from defenders and get separation deep, he is a smooth athlete with good hands. He catches the ball well with a defender on his back and is a strong and competitive runner after the catch. Because blocking tight ends have less value in today’s NFL, Milton is not likely to be a high draft pick, if he is drafted at all, but has what it takes to stick as a backup tight end who contributes as a blocker and short area receiver.

4. Chip Reeves, WR, Troy University, Senior (5100 E, 176 E and 4.40 E): If fans are looking for a lesser known receiver who could make a name for himself this spring by running and working out extremely well this spring, then they need to remember the name Chip Reeves. While numerous scouts have told me that Reeves hands are not natural and will need work to make it in the NFL, there is little doubt that receivers with elite speed get drafted higher than their skill level often indicates they should. Lacking great size, Reeves showed the dynamic, explosive play-making ability to make big plays running after the catch at Troy. Quick getting started up the field Reeves has the speed to out-run angles and the elusiveness to make tacklers miss. He lacks the size and strength to consistently break tackles and will need to add some bulk to be a durable NFL player.

Email Russ at and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE

Munchak will stay with Titans

Coach Mike Munchak will be back as the Tennessee Titans head coach in 2013, according to

Munchak had come under fire after the Titans slipped to 6-10 after going 9-7 in his first season, but the long-time Oilers/Titans employee (He was a first-round pick in 1982 by the Houston Oilers), will be back on the sideline next year, albeit with some changes on his coaching staff most likely to come soon.

In other moves, the Titans fired COO and former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, who moved into that position two years ago.

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Bills let go of Gailey

The Buffalo Bills have fired head coach Chan Gailey after three years and a 16-32 record, according to the Buffalo News.

The report also indicates that general manager Buddy Nix's fate could be decided relatively soon.

The Bills have struggled, having not made the playoffs since 1999 and ending this season at 6-10.

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For USC, the future is now with Wittek

With senior Matt Barkley not being medically cleared to play after spraining his shoulder against UCLA, thus officially ending his collegiate career, Max Wittek will get his second consecutive start at quarterback for USC when it plays Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve day.

For the Trojans, who are coming off of a disappointing regular season, it's time for head coach Lane Kiffin and Co. to look toward the future. And that future centers on Wittek, who made his first career start in the regular-season finale at home against Notre Dame.

The 6-4, 235-pound signal-caller from Newport Beach, CA, stepped into a difficult situation against the nation's No. 1 team in the regular-season finale, and he performed well in front of a national audience. The redshirt freshman went 14-of-23 passing for 186 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the dominant Fighting Irish defense, at times flashing some of the physical gifts that made him one of the top quarterbacks in the Class of 2011. While he did make some of the typical mistakes of a player making his first career start under center, Wittek displayed the arm strength that some have said is even more impressive than what Carson Palmer displayed when he played college ball in Los Angeles.

Check out this 53-yard connection by Wittek to receiver Marquis Lee in the showdown with the Irish.

With the Trojans looking to end the 2012 season on a high note and look toward a brighter 2013, the one benefit of having Barkley sidelined has been more reps for Wittek in practice and an additional full game of playing experience. With star receiver Lee returning in 2013, Wittek will have a chance to continue to develop rapport with one of the nation's best playmakers and a potential 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate who had five catches for 75 yards in Wittek's first start. Lee recorded 1,608 receiving yards on the season.

Max WittekUS PRESSWIREMax Wittek will start the Sun Bowl in place of Matt Barkley.

But the game against the Yellow Jackets also gives Wittek a chance to continue the rapport he has had with Robert Woods as well. Woods will soon announce his intentions of staying for another year at 'SC or leaving for the NFL Draft. Perhaps his relationship with Wittek could play a role in his decision. At least that's what Trojan fans are hoping.

Woods, who has 813 receiving yards this year, had seven receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame and was a frequent target of the redshirt freshman QB. So there's no question that Kiffin would love to see Wittek continue to look for Woods not only against the Yellow Jackets, but throughout the 2013 campaign as well.

Woods will certainly make the decision that is best for him and his family, but this is a big opportunity for Wittek to continue to develop as a passer and become more in sync with his dynamic receivers.

Of course, the Trojans won't return to the Pac-12 or national elite until they improve dramatically on defense, and that process has already begun with coordinator Monte Kiffin announcing that he won't return in 2013. For whatever reason, 'SC never quite grasped Kiffin's Cover 2 concepts. It was a soft unit that underachieved despite having NFL talent.

The Trojans could also benefit from Lane Kiffin giving up his play-calling duties and bringing in a coordinator to focus on the offense. Too many instances throughout his tenure in Los Angeles, Kiffin has made head-scratching coaching decisions, specifically when his team had possession of the football. Perhaps being more hands-on with his entire team and not just with his offensive personnel would help the overall product on the field.

But one thing is certain: the future of USC football begins in El Paso against Georgia Tech. And much of the team's future success rests on the right arm of its young signal-caller.

Chiefs officially fire Crennel

The Kansas City Chiefs have confirmed an earlier report that head coach Romeo Crennel has been fired.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt also has left general manager Scott Pioli twisting in the wind as he announced that no decision would be made on his fate just yet. Hunt released the following statement:

“I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Romeo, both personally and professionally,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “He is an accomplished coach, a man of great character and he helped guide our football team through some extremely challenging circumstances this season.

“However, I am embarrassed by the poor product we gave our fans this season, and I believe we have no choice but to move the franchise in a different direction. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Chiefs. The entire football operation will remain under review, and there may be additional changes to come. No final determination has been made at this point on the future of General Manager Scott Pioli.

“Finally, I want to personally apologize to our fans for our performance this season. We are blessed to play for some of the best and most passionate fans in the National Football League and they deserve better than what we gave them this season. I want our fans to know that I will do everything I can to provide them with a dramatically better team – both next season and in the seasons to come – and our entire organization appreciates their support.”

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