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What we learned from New Year's Day bowl games

  • By Mike Huguenin, Chase Goodbread and Dan Greenspan
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David Manning / USA Today Sports
Jadeveon Clowney didn't wait long after the Capital One Bowl to announce his intentions for the 2014 draft.

There were six bowl games on the New Year's Day schedule, including two BCS bowls, and plenty of big developments for the 2014 NFL Draft.

Here are 11 things we learned on a busy day in college football.

Underclassmen for 2014 draft
Take a look at the list of players who have announced their intentions to apply for early entry into the 2014 NFL Draft, including Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro. More ...

Clowney coming out

The world's worst-kept secret is out. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney brought an end to questions about his future plans with just two words after his team beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, saying "Yes, sir" when asked if he plans to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

The upside with Clowney: Physical measurables that will set the NFL Scouting Combine abuzz next month. The downside: Does he have the head to match that million-dollar body? One former NFL general manager doesn't think questions of Clowney's character matter as much. Time will tell.

Clowney passing on surgery

Clowney told reporters his right foot, which ailed him all season with bone spurs, is no longer giving him pain and he's decided not to undergo postseason surgery. That paves the way, possibly, for Clowney's full participation in the NFL Scouting Combine next month.

McCarron passing on Senior Bowl

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will not participate in the Reese's Senior Bowl, according to NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt. What does that mean for McCarron's draft stock? It's hard to imagine it would be damaged given the miles of film available on the three-year starter. It also opens the door for another quarterback to take McCarron's spot at the annual all-star game.

Cook leaves Stanford shook

There were times in the Rose Bowl when Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was the team's worst enemy, throwing a dreadful interception that was easily returned for a touchdown and two other balls that should have intercepted. Cook was also the team's best player for long stretches, evading the Stanford pass rush and making some tremendous throws. The latter version of Cook won out, impressing Spartans alum Kirk Cousins and NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks. If Cook can harness the good parts of his game and play that way consistently, he and Michigan State have bright futures ahead.

Dennard lives up to lockdown billing

Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard racked up every honor and award imaginable in his senior season, but there were still doubts whether he could contain junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Dennard's press-man coverage limited Montgomery to three receptions for 21 yards, taking away the main cog in the limited Stanford passing offense. With his fearlessness and instincts, Dennard will be highly coveted by NFL scouts.

Stanford linebackers strong in defeat

The Cardinal came up short, despite the best efforts of senior linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble in the red zone to snuff out a Michigan State drive, showing the range and burst that weren't always evident last season as he recovered from a knee injury. Murphy had four tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack, lining up inside with his hand on the ground on certain downs and proving to be as disruptive against guards as he is against tackles when he plays outside linebacker in the Stanford 3-4. Skov and Murphy should be among the first seniors to come off the board at their respective positions in May.

Baylor's big plays held in check

The big plays that had been Baylor's calling card all season long were nowhere to be found in the Fiesta Bowl. Bryce Petty put up big numbers through the air (356 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), but the Bears' explosive passing attack just could not get deep against a shaky UCF secondary. Antwan Goodley, who entered the game averaging close to 20 yards per reception, managed just four catches for 20 yards, including a long of just eight yards. Tevin Reese entered the game averaging an even 25 yards per catch but was held to five catches for 43 yards, although he did have a 22-yard reception on Baylor's second drive. It was not the performance you would've expected from this offense, especially against this defense.

UCF running game overwhelms Baylor

While Blake Bortles showed both his good and bad sides as a quarterback, UCF picked a good time to have its most productive rushing output of the season. The Knights ran for 255 yards in their stunning Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor; that's two yards more than their biggest regular-season output (against two-win Temple) and more than 100 yards more than their per-game average (152.0) during the regular season. Starting tailback Storm Johnson and quarterback Blake Bortles combined for 217 yards and four rushing TDs. Senior guards Jordan and Justin McCray (twins who each measure 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds) dominated up front and created huge holes for Johnson. The McCray twins are considered fringe third-day draft prospects. Baylor came in allowing 135.9 rushing yards per game, and just one team (Kansas State) had run for more than 173 on the Bears before Wednesday night.

NFL Exposure

Best of the bowls

Check out the best images from the college football bowl season.

Trio of Tigers shine

Three of LSU's best NFL prospects -- running back Jeremy Hill, receiver Odell Beckham, and safety Craig Loston -- showed what they can do in Wednesday's win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, however, wasn't so lucky.

Borland goes out with strong game

The 34-24 Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina was the final game in a Wisconsin uniform for senior linebacker Chris Borland, who finished his great career with nine tackles and a quarterback hurry. He had 420 tackles in his four seasons. Borland and his defensive mates did a nice job of shutting down South Carolina's rushing attack, but the Badgers' secondary was picked apart by Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw (22 of 25 for 312 yards and three TDs). The Badgers had allowed a Big Ten-low 12 TD passes during the regular season.

Georgia's Mason plays solid game

While Georgia lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, Bulldogs junior quarterback Huston Mason acquitted himself well in just his second career start. He threw for 320 yards and a TD, and also tossed an interception. But at least three would-be completions were dropped, and he lent credence to observers who said quarterback would be a big issue for Georgia next season. No, Mason is not Aaron Murray, but he will have a talented group of skill-position players with whom to work and will operate behind an experienced line (though that line underachieved relative to its talent level this season). That means a Bulldogs defense that was gashed often this season will be the key as to whether Georgia can win the SEC East. And that means that Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who never quite seems to put together a unit befitting its talent level, will be under the gun next fall.

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