A viewer’s guide to New Year’s Day bowls and beyond

3 Comments

Unbelievably — or excruciatingly given some of the lopsided results thus far — we’ve arrived at a couple of games past the midway point of the 2010-2011 bowl season.

Hopefully, as the calendar flips from ’10 to ’11, the best has been saved for last.  Honestly, though, can it get much worse than what’s been wrought thus far?

(Kansas State-Syracuse, North Carolina-Tennessee, consider yourselves excused from the criticism.)

With that as a backdrop, here’s a handy viewer’s guide to the remainder of the bowl season, both for the games themselves and for the intriguing storylines that are intertwined with some of the matchups.

Must-See TV
For all of the obscenity-laced ridicule the BcS has received — and rightfully so, might we add — the cartel has blind squirreled its way into one helluva title nut.  Simply put, the two best teams in college football this season have been Auburn and Oregon, and they will square off in Glendale in a championship game that has all the makings of an instant classic. A once-a-decade, worth-the-money talent in Cam Newton on one side of the offensive equation, a fast-break Oregon offense that would make Paul Westhead say “dayum” on the other.  Toss in neon green socks as a fashion accessory, and how can you lose?

Must-Flee TV
Somehow, it’s morbidly appropriate that GoDaddy.com is the title sponsor of the bowl game featuring Miami of Ohio versus Middle Tennessee State.  The RedHawks lost their head coach to Pittsburgh, and lost their starting quarterback to a spleen (thanks random broadcasting guy who thinks it’s cool to refer to someone being “out with a knee”).  Provided he can replicate last year’s New Orleans Bowl magic, MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher might be this game’s saving grace.  Then again, based on how his season has played out, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ticket City Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech has two quarterbacks – Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield – that they can use at any point in the game. Both Potts and Sheffield were vying for the starting gig in the preseason before Potts ultimately won the job. Northwestern, on the other hand is using their backup quarterback, Evan Watkins, after Dan Persa went down on the final play of a victory over Iowa with a foot injury. While there’s no official word, we’re hearing rumors that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has asked Tommy Tuberville if he could borrow Sheffield for a game. Our guess? Not gonna happen.

Progressive Gator Bowl: No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan
As if there were any other story lines. All the rumors swirling out of the greater Ann Arbor area point to Rich Rodriguez’s head on the guillotine. It’s just a matter of whether AD David Brandon pulls the rope or not. Rodriguez’s buyout falls from $4 million to $2.5 million on the Jan. 1, and given the unceremonious firings in Maryland and West Virginia, it wouldn’t be a terrible surprise if RichRod was simply asked “not to return home with the team”. There is one guy, however, who can save Rodriguez’s job. That would be Denard Robinson, who probably prevented his coach from being fired already.  Speaking of which…

RichRod, standing on the precipice of…
Another season at Michigan?  The unemployment line?  It’s hard to believe that how the Wolverines perform in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State will be the be-all, end-all for Brandon’s decision on Rodriguez and the football program’s future.  An embarrassing loss, however, could serve as the final nail in a coffin that’s already four feet under.  It will take a minor miracle, regardless of how the game with the Bulldogs turn out, to keep it from dropping the remaining two feet.  And waiting above ground, with shovel in hand…

Out of Luck on head coach, quarterback front?
You’ll have to pardon Cardinal fans if they seem to be a bit on edge these days.  Yes, they are in a BcS bowl (see below) for just the second time in the school’s history, and the first since the 2000 Rose Bowl.  That’s the positive.  The negative is the attrition looming on the horizon.  Will head coach Jim Harbaugh head back home to Ann Arbor to take over a stumbling and bumbling Michigan program in dire need of change?  Will Andrew Luck take his considerable quarterback talents off The Farm and into the NFL draft?  Not much riding on the answers to those questions; just the immediate future of the football program is all.

Discover Orange Bowl: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech
For as much criticism as Boise State has received for their lack of a “signature win”, these two teams haven’t been much better. Stanford’s best win came in the waning moments against a bowl-less, 8-5 USC. Virginia Tech has wins over Florida State and North Carolina State, both of whom showed flashes of greatness this season, but also pillow-fought and prissy-slapped their way through the ACC Atlantic.  To be honest, this game seems pretty evenly matched. Both have amazing coaches in Jim Harbaugh and Frank Beamer (who should get more recognition than he does), and both have really great quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, who could be jumping to the NFL afterward, and Tyrod Taylor. This could be a game decided on who gets the ball last.

Will the Big 12 wake up any time soon?
There’s the bottom dropping out of something, then there’s what has happened to the Big 12 thus far this bowl season.   Coming into the postseason with high hopes, it appears instead those hopefuls were high as the conference has stumbled their way to a 1-4 mark out of the gate.  Just to get back to the .500 mark, the Big 12(-2) will need to win all three of their remaining games.  So, yeah it’s not so good for commissioner Dan Beebe and his league.  Combine the rocky bowl start with losing two schools to other conferences via expansion and Texas’ inexplicable implosion, and it’s been a really, really bad last six months or so for the ten-member Big 12.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UConn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
After losing to underdogs Boise State and West Virginia in successive Fiesta Bowls, you’d have to think third time’s the charm, right? Certainly, Oklahoma can’t lose 3 Fiesta Bowls in a row, can they? “Big Game Bob” Stoops hasn’t won a BCS game since the 2002 Rose Bowl and playing 8-4 UConn certainly gives him a chance. But, I’ve counted out UConn more than a couple of times this season, and each time, I’ve been wrong. If the Huskies can win this game, or even make it frighteningly close, the Big East might be able to stop some of the massive PR blood loss from this season.

Ya get it?  He’s that freaking old!
What’s the over/under on how many times we hear some derivative of the “JoePa’s 84 years old, and he’s not the one retiring” joke during the Outback Bowl matchup between Penn State and Florida?  I’ll just go ahead and set the line at “ad nauseam” and be done with it.  But, yes, this game marks the Gator swan song for Urban Meyer, although it’s pretty well established that this likely won’t be the last time Meyers prowls a football sideline.  Unbelievable, though, that Meyer is stepping down, while Coach Paterno will still… dammit, got sucked into the vortex as well.

Didja know that Coach Woodcock used to coach the Spartans?  Didja?
Speaking of running things into the ground,  Alabama head coach Nick Saban used to hold the same title at Michigan State.  The two schools will square off in the Capital One Bowl, so you can see which direction talking heads will take this one.  What we’re more interested in, though, is Mark Ingram.  Specifically, will this be his final season in Tuscaloosa?  The running back has already won a Heisman and a national title; he’s also dealt with injuries this season that gives a glimpse into the relatively short shelf life a tailback possesses.  Add all of that to the presence of Trent Richardson on the depth chart, and what better way for Ingram to ride off into the collegiate sunset than with a win over the school he grew up rooting for?

AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M
During the latter half of the season, there may not have been a hotter team in the country than Texas A&M, who after a 3-3 start, reeled off 6 straight wins – including 2 over Oklahoma and Nebraska – to end at 9-3. The question mark here is how a layoff that spanned over a month will affect the Aggies. LSU has the speed on defense to match up with Ryan Tannehill and the A&M offense, so the Aggies better be sharp.  A&M can’t afford to fall asleep on defense, either, with Les Miles prowling — and chewing on — the sidelines.

Can tOSU remove “Property of the SEC” from their backsides?
Forget the Buckeye Five and their five-game suspensions to begin the 2011 season; the main storyline is whether or not Ohio State can get the SEC bowl monkey gorilla off their backs.  The Buckeyes have played Those Schools Down South nine times in the postseason, and lost every single one of ’em, including, you may have heard, a pair of embarrassing national title game blowouts.  The Sugar Bowl against Arkansas will allow the Buckeyes a shot at regaining a little bit of their lost and battered manhood.  Or further neuter them in the eyes of the national media.  One of the two.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs, Pittsburgh
In a lot of ways, this game is eerily similar to the Champ Sports Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State. Earlier this month, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt  was fired – excuse me – “resigned” and it will be interesting to see just how the Panthers respond against a decent, but not great, Kentucky team.  Pittsburgh began as the preseason favorites to win the Big East. Now, they’re 7-5. Will the disappointment be too much? After all, we all saw how West Virginia reacted to distractions in their bowl game.  The “X Factor” in this game has to be Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, who has thrown, caught, and rushed his way to an All-American season. Pitt has the talent on defense, but they will have their hands full trying to contain Cobb.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College
While it might not blow up the Nielsen Ratings, this has to be the most feel-good bowl of the season.  Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick has been an absolute stud throughout his entire career and has never received the praise he deserves. During his time at Nevada, he has accounted for over 10,000 yards of total offense.  On the other side of the ball will be BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who as many of you probably know by now, successfully recovered from a battle with cancer. Herzlich has been an amazing inspiration and I know all (two) of us here at CFT wish Mark nothing but the greatest success at the next level and throughout the rest of his long life.

(Many, many thanks to the mighty Ben Kercheval for his help in compiling this viewer’s guide.  And direct any complaints to him as he wrote all of the really crappy/mean ones.  Thanks in advance for your cooperation.)

Nick Saban (still) no fan of early signing period… at all

Associated Press
1 Comment

On Dec. 20, the first early signing period will commence in earnest.  Suffice to say, Nick Saban won’t be sending it a Christmas card.

It’s not exactly a state secret that the Alabama head coach has long been opposed to an early signing period being dropped right in the middle of preparations for bowls or, in his case, a playoff game.  Last month, Saban blamed the early signing period on coaches being fired during the season as schools looked to get a new staff in place in time to add a new class, or at least a sizable chunk of it. “I don’t think some of these things have been really thought out well,” Saban said in May according to 247Sports.com.

Friday, Saban levied his strongest comments yet on the new recruiting ecosystem, criticizing it to the point where the coach stated that “[m]aybe I shouldn’t be speaking like this.” From al.com:

I don’t think it’s in the players’ best interest,” Saban said. “I don’t see how it benefits anybody. I think it’s really stressful for everyone. We’re all trying to get ready for bowl games and playoff games and we have a signing day right in the middle of when we’re going to be practicing for a playoff game.

“It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to get out and see as many guys as they could in December and accelerate everything. You don’t have very much time to do that. If you’re playing in a championship game, you have even less time to do it.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be speaking like this,” Saban said. “I have not talked to a coach that’s happy with it. Now, maybe they wouldn’t say what I just said. Maybe they wouldn’t say that, and they’d probably disagree with it just because I said it.

If what Saban says is accurate, that no coach he has spoken to is happy with it, it will be very interesting to see what, if any fallout comes from the first early signing period and if any tweaks are made as a result.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 16 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 16 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2017 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include the first Power Five squad to make its 2017 postseason debut, the first Group of Five member ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25 and one of the two Sun Belt Conference co-champions.

WHO: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
WHAT: The 17th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The first of three Conference USA-Sun Belt Conference tilts on the day kicks off opening weekend, and also marks the 10th-ever meeting between the two teams — the Trojans lead 8-2 — and the first in the postseason.  With a win, the Mean Green would reach double digits for the first time in the 65-year history of the program; the Trojans, meanwhile, have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and would set its own school record by defeating the former SBC program.  One of those 10 wins for Troy came against LSU in Death Valley while one of the losses came on the road to Mountain West champion Boise State in the opener.  The other loss?  An inexplicable one to 4-8 South Alabama… at home, no less.  Three of UNT’s losses came to Florida Atlantic (twice, the second of which came in the conference championship game) and Iowa in Iowa City.  One data point of note: the Mean Green is 20th nationally in scoring offense at 35.9 points per game, the Trojans are 11th in the country in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game.  If defenses can win championships, they can also win bowl games.
THE LINE: North Texas, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Troy 34, North Texas 23

__________

WHO: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
WHAT: The 3rd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: This is one of my favorite stats of the postseason: Georgia State is 5-1 on the road this season… and 1-4 at home.  As Orlando is nearly 450 miles from GSU’s Atlanta campus, the Panthers should feel right at home six hours away from home.  One thing that might make them feel a little queasy and a bit uneasy?  Mike White.  The senior quarterback from Western Kentucky has thrown for over 3,800 yards this season after putting up nearly 4,400 last year.  To make matters worse, GSU is 91st in the country in allowing 242.4 yards per game through the air.  In its fifth year of existence, the Panthers have never finished a season with a record above .500 — the closest they came was 6-7 in 2015 — something they could do with a win.  A loss, on the other, hand, would give the Hilltoppers their worst season since going 2-10 in 2010.  WKU had put up back-to-back 10-win seasons under Jeff Brohm, now at Purdue, before slipping in Mike Sanford‘s first year.  Neither team comes in on much of a winning roll, with WKU losing four of its last five while GSU lost its last two by a combined 38 points.  Both of those losses, of course, came at home.
THE LINE: Georgia State, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 38, Georgia State 35

__________

WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Boise State, +7½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

__________

WHO: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
WHAT: The 12th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Pay attention, America, and introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, to one of the best wide receivers in the country that not enough people talk about.  Colorado State’s Michael Gallup is currently tied for third in the FBS with 94 receptions and fifth in receiving yards with 1,345.  Gallup is part of an offense that averages just north of 500 yards per game; Marshall, though, is stingy defensively, finishing the regular season second in Conference USA and 17th nationally by giving up 19.3 points per game.  If you’re a fan of streaks, here’s one: the Thundering Herd has won five straight bowl games, while the Rams have dropped three straight in the postseason.  CSU’s last win, though?  The 2013 New Mexico Bowl.  The two teams, which will be facing each other in football for the first time ever, come stumbling into this matchup as Marshall has lost four of five while Colorado State has dropped three of four.
THE LINE: Marshall, +5½
THE PREDICTION: Colorado State 44, Marshall 27

__________

WHO: Middle Tennessee State (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
WHAT: The 4th Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The final Conference USA-Sun Belt matchup of the day, history suggests that the day’s nightcap could be the closest of the five played opening weekend.  Three Camellia Bowls have been played, with that trio of games being decided by a combined 10 points.  MTSU and ASU have met 12 times previously as members of the SBC, the last coming in 2012.  The Blue Raiders, who have lost four straight bowl games and haven’t won one since 2009, come into their matchup with their former conference rivals on a mini-roll with three wins in their last four to squeeze into a bowl slot.  The Red Wolves are playing in their seventh consecutive bowl game after playing in just one in the program’s history prior to the streak kicking off in 2011 under head coach Hugh Freeze.  After losses to Nebraska and SMU sandwiched between a win over an FCS team, ASU went 6-2 the rest of the way in nearly claiming at least a share of its third straight SBC championship and sixth in seven seasons.  Quarterback Brent Stockstill is expected to be back close to 100-percent health after battling injuries throughout the season, and MTSU’s late-season roll not so coincidentally coincided with his return.  In that vein, and while acknowledging ASU’s own threat at QB in Justice Hansen, Stockstill’s healthy presence should be enough to tip the scales in favor of the Blue Raiders’ hopes of snapping their bowl-win drought.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee State 41, Arkansas State 38

Div. III power Mount Union rides shutout to 13th national title

Associated Press
1 Comment

After a brief sabbatical, the juggernaut is back.

On the strength of a stifling and smothering defense, Mount Union whitewashed Mary Hardin-Baylor 12-0 Friday night in Salem, Virginia, to claim the Division III national championship.  The Purple Raiders finished the 2017 season a perfect 15-0, while the Crusaders came into the contest unbeaten at 14-0 and riding a 29-game winning streak.  In fact, the Crusaders hadn’t trailed at any point in any game all season until last night.

The shutout was Mount Union’s third of the season — and the first in the Stagg Bowl since 1982 — and the eighth time that their defense gave up seven or fewer points.  They only gave up more than 16 points in three games.

Neither offense could do much in the game, with both teams combining for 373 yards — 229 for Mount Union, 144 for Mary Hardin-Baylor.  There was just one touchdown in the contest, a 42-yard touchdown pass from D’Angelo Fulford to Justin Hill early in the fourth quarter that extended Mount’s lead to 10-0.

The win marked the Purple Raiders’ first championship since 2015 and the 13th in the program’s illustrious history, the most ever for any program at this level of football. Mount has now won titles in 1993, 1996-98, 2000-02, 2005-06, 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2017.  In 2016, the program had its streak of 11 straight Stagg Bowl appearances snapped.

Aside from Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Baylor first-ever championship last season, either Mount Union or Wisconsin-Whitewater have claimed 12 of the last 13 Div. III championships.

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. won’t be returning to Nebraska

Getty Images
Leave a comment

So much for that plan.

In late June of this year, Nebraska wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson, was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Not long after, the wide receiver decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and would not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

At the time, the plan was for the junior Johnson to return to Lincoln and play his college football for Mike Riley.  With his father’s college offensive coordinator now out, so is the younger Keyshawn, which he confirmed via Twitter Friday evening.

Johnson Jr. was a four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, but never played a down for the Cornhuskers.  Before signing with Nebraska, he held offers from, among others, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State and USC.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to a potential landing spot: the coach he signed with at NU, Mike Riley, returned to Oregon State late last week as an assistant coach.