Daniels' grasp of Notre Dame offense starting to pay off

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Daniels' grasp of Notre Dame offense starting to pay off

BOSTON -- DaVaris Daniels grew up around football, but wasn't trying to model his game off his dad. While Phillip Daniels was racking up 62 sacks over 15 NFL seasons with Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DaVaris grew up watching Isaac Bruce and later, Reggie Wayne.

"I really like his game and the way he plays," Daniels said of the Colts wideout. "I think that's somebody that I would definitely like to be compared to, a guy that I've learned from."

Daniels never considered following in his dad's footsteps as a defensive end -- "I've been a receiver since day one" -- and developed into a star pass-catcher for Vernon Hills High School. A Rivals four-star recruit, Daniels chose Notre Dame over offers from the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.

Like any highly-touted incoming freshman coming into Notre Dame, Daniels came to South Bend last year expecting to see the field on Saturdays. But by November, it became clear that wasn't going to happen.

"It was very difficult," Daniels said. "Every kid has the dream of coming in and playing right away. I didn't, but in the end it really helped me to get to where I am right now."

Daniels wound up redshirting the 2011 season, and it took him until the final three games of the season to see a benefit in not getting game action.

"Around that time when I realized that (Michael) Floyd's not going to be here next year, the quarterback is going to be up for grabs, everything's going to be a whole lot different, plus you have another four years to prove yourself and do what you do," Daniels explained.

While Daniels didn't play in 2011, he did begin to develop a good relationship with fellow redshirter Everett Golson. The pair teamed up on Notre Dame's scout team last fall, and that rapport was played up as Golson rose to the top of the Irish quarterback pecking order in the spring and summer.

"It's grown definitely over time," Daniels said. "The more time we get to spend with each other in practice, we definitely know where each other's going to be when he releases the ball, he knows when I'm going to be out of my break."

But that relationship didn't translate into big games for Daniels until last week against Pittsburgh. Daniels didn't catch more than four passes in any game before Saturday, when he nabbed seven balls for 86 yards, including a crucial 45-yard catch that set up Notre Dame's game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

If Daniels' production against Pittsburgh was any indication, he's starting to peak with the season winding down.

"He's learning how to play the game," coach Brian Kelly said. "And he's still learning. I'll give you an example -- when he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, you know -- it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there."

Kelly wasn't calling Daniels out for taking plays off, but instead noting the learning curve from high school to college. While at Vernon Hills, Daniels could use his athleticism to get open -- "a lot of high school football is like backyard football," he said -- but had to learn how to get open against far more disciplined defenses.

"It was definitely difficult to grasp, because you feel like you're doing right, but you realize in the end you're not open or it's not working the way they want it to work," Daniels said. "It definitely takes a minute to get used to."

Daniels sees route-running as an area in which he still needs improvement, but overall he said the game is slowing down for him. As Notre Dame deals with the pitfalls of being undefeated into mid-November, having a productive pass-catcher in Daniels could make a major difference in keeping Notre Dame's title hopes alive.

"It makes a lot more sense to me," Daniels said. "And it's just -- I don't want to say easier, but it's starting to fill in and come more natural."

Hawkeyes going to Outback Bowl for fifth time, taking on Florida

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Hawkeyes going to Outback Bowl for fifth time, taking on Florida

Iowa is going back to the Outback Bowl.

Yes, for the fifth time in the last 13 seasons, the Hawkeyes will wrap their campaign with a trip to Tampa and an appearance in the Outback Bowl. And for the third time, their opponent there will be the Florida Gators. That game kicks at noon on Jan. 2.

Iowa and Florida met in the Outback Bowl to conclude the 2003 and 2005 seasons, splitting those two matchups.

This time around, the Hawkeyes are coming off an 8-4 regular season, a disappointing follow up to their 12-2 campaign a season ago that started off a perfect 12-0 before postseason losses in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl.

Kirk Ferentz has led his team to a bowl appearance in 14 of his 18 seasons, though Iowa has lost the last four of those games, without a bowl win since taking down Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.

Iowa is 2-2 in its four previous Outback Bowl appearances, beating Florida, losing to Florida, beating South Carolina and losing to LSU.

As for the Gators, they own an 8-4 record, as well, after falling to Alabama in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game. Florida is known for its sluggish offense, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the country.

Start spreadin' the news: Northwestern to face Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

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Start spreadin' the news: Northwestern to face Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

Start spreadin' the news.

Northwestern is heading to New York for its bowl game this season, specifically the Bronx, where it will battle Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Though it isn't your typically warm bowl destination, the baseball-stadium setting should be pretty fantastic. The game will be played at 1 p.m. on Dec. 28.

The Wildcats reached bowl eligibility with their sixth win in the regular-season finale against Illinois. Northwestern is heading to back-to-back bowl games after missing out on the postseason in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014.

This is just the 13th-ever bowl trip for the Cats, though it's their seventh in 11 seasons under Pat Fitzgerald. Northwestern has a 1-5 record under Fitzgerald in the previous six bowl games, though that win is one of just two all-time bowl victories by the program.

This season started slowly for the Cats, who lost upsetting home games to Illinois State and Western Michigan and started 1-3. But Northwestern turned things around with back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State and finished 6-6. The Cats' offense has been particularly effective this season compared to seasons past. Wide receiver Austin Carr took home Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors and is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the conference in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Running back Justin Jackson was the league's leading rusher until getting surpassed by just a couple yards by both Wisconsin's Corey Clement and Penn State's Saquon Barkley, who both competed in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game, adding to their respective rushing totals.

Pitt has had a pretty noteworthy season. Despite having four losses, it beat two teams that finished ranked in the top five of the College Football Playoff rankings: No. 2 Clemson and No. 5 Penn State. The Panthers are coached by former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.