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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Tennessee v Alabama Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Alabama vs. Oregon: Tale of the Tape
Seeing as Alabama and Oregon play in different conferences on essentially opposite sides of the country, there’s very little concrete data available to compare the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.  With Tennessee on both of their schedules this season?  Yeah, the comparisons were going to be inevitable.  Back on Sept. 14 in Eugene, the Ducks led the Vols 38-7 at halftime; Oct. 26 in Tuscaloosa, the Tide led the Vols 35-0 after two quarters of play.  The final scores were 59-14 for the former, 45-10 for the latter.  The Ducks totaled 687 yards of offense while holding the Vols to 316; the Tide gave up 322 while gaining 479.

If special teams is your thing, Oregon was forced to punt three times while Alabama punted just twice.

The conclusion?  There is none, of course, other than UT was whipped six weeks apart by two very, very, very good football teams who could possibly square off in early January if they continue their winning ways.  That said, feel free to use the numbers to further whatever agenda you may be wanting to push.  Enjoy!

Brutus the Bully
With the three teams ahead of them in the BCS standings winning by a combined score of 136-41, Ohio State needed a statement game, something they’ve lacked throughout 2013.  Unfortunately for Penn State, that’s exactly what OSU went out and did.  The Buckeyes bullied the Nittany Lions in the first half, jumping out to a 42-7 before cruising to a 63-14 win.  Winning in this fashion won’t necessarily help Ohio State, though; they’re not leapfrogging Alabama, Oregon or Florida State anytime soon as long as those three teams keep winning.  Rather, such an impressive performance will likely keep the likes of Baylor from passing them in the polls and, thus, the BCS standings later on tonight.  That said, it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that Ohio State could conceivably carry a 25-game winning streak into early January… and be on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS title game.  Again.

Bobby Bowden, spear planter
After what was nearly a three-year sabbatical following his unceremonious dismissal in 2010, the legendary Bobby Bowden returned to the stadium that in part bears his name.  It was a glorious return for the Tallahassee icon, replete with a pregame ceremony featuring one of the most storied traditions in the sport: the planting of the spear at midfield of Doak Campbell Stadium.  Instead of Osceola and Renegade, though, it was Bowden doing the planting.  And, dadgummit, it was awesome:

Bowden Spear

(Tip O’ the Cap: SBNation.com)

The return of Bowden to his rightful place in college football was awesome. The spear-planting merely drove that point home, so to speak.

Connor Shaw
No pithy headlines.  Just this: Connor Shaw is a straight-up baller.  The senior did not start for South Carolina in the game against Missouri due to a combination of injury and illness.  With the Gamecocks trailing 17-0 in the fourth and in dire need of an offensive spark, Shaw slapped on his Superman cape and strapped the ‘Cocks on his back and grow up already people.  In the fourth quarter and first overtime, Shaw passed for three touchdowns; the middle one tied the game with :42 left in regulation, with the third coming on fourth-and-goal from the 15 to send the game into a second overtime.  It was a gutsy performance by an underrated player, one that helped keep what was merely a flicker of SEC East hope very much alive and well for USC.

Better late than never
A weather system filled with lightning delayed Texas’ game with TCU for three hours, six minutes.  As it turned out, the wait was more than worth it.  The Longhorns entered the extended break with a 17-7 lead, then extended that lead to 30-7 by game’s end as UT won its fourth straight contest.  Unbelievably, given the back-to-back embarrassing losses to BYU and Ole Miss last month, the ‘Horns are now 4-0 in Big 12 play, tied with Baylor for the top spot in the conference.  All the talk of Mack Brown being able to survive the season has suddenly morphed into conversations involving how UT can claim its first conference crown since 2009.  Amazing, amazing in-season turnaround going on in Austin.

Duke Virginia Tech FootballBowling Blue Devils… again
We could very easily put Virginia Tech tripping over its own junk in the “Losers” category, but instead we’ll give some love to the football nerds.  In Blacksburg Saturday afternoon, Duke upended a Hokies team that had won six straight games and had climbed inside the Top 20 of the rankings.  It was the Blue Devils’ sixth win of the season, meaning the football program at a university known more for academics and basketball is bowl-eligible for the second straight season; that’s the first time in school history that’s ever happened.  The win over the Hokies was historic as well as it marked the first time Duke has beaten a ranked team since 1994… and the first time it’s beaten a ranked team on the road since 1971.  Hats off to David Cutcliffe, his coaching staff and his players for what they’re doing with that program.  The entire university and its alumni should be proud of what’s going on.

Spartans: they are Legends
Missouri’s not the only surprise division leader just past the halfway point of the 2013 season.  Take Michigan State, for example.  Heading into the new season, most figured Michigan and Nebraska and Northwestern would be battling for the right to represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game, with the Spartans leading the middle-of-the-pack teams in that division.  The Wildcats have played itself out of contention with four straight losses to start conference play.  The Wolverines and Cornhuskers have each lost one league game; the Spartans, on the other hand, sport a perfect 4-0 mark at the halfway point of their conference slate, the latest coming courtesy of a 42-3 shellacking of Illinois.  The best part for the Spartans?  They face the Wolverines and Cornhuskers the next two weeks.  Win both, and MSU would all but have the division locked up with two games remaining in the season.  And, speaking of surprising division leaders…

Tulane road, with a side of Rice
Sorry, that’s the best I can do at about one in the morning.  Anyway, the past two seasons have seen Rice and Tulane combine for a woeful 14-35 record, with the Green Wave accounting for just four of those wins.  2013, however, is a different story.  At the end of Week 9, Rice and Tulane are tied atop the Conference USA West standings at a perfect 4-0.  The Owls and Green Wave, with six wins overall, are now bowl-eligible before the calendar flips to November; it’s the first time the latter has hit that mark since 2002.

Your move, JFFJordan Lynch, Willie Creear, Mycal Swaim
Last week, Jordan Lynch set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback.  This week, the Northern Illinois senior added another notch to his statistical legend.  In NIU’s cruise over Eastern Michigan, Lynch passed for three touchdowns, ran for one and caught another, and did all of that scoring damage in the first half.  Lynch became the first player at the FBS level since 2010 (Ohio’s Boo Jackson) to hit the two passing/one rushing/one receiving TD trifecta in the same game.  For the game, Lynch finished with six touchdowns — four passing, one each rushing and receiving — in less than three full quarters of play as the Huskies are off to a program-best 8-0 start, one season removed from its BCS bowl appearance.

Continuing the upHill climb
The first three games of the season, and aside from a 259-yard rushing performance against Texas, Taysom Hill struggled mightily.  The BYU sophomore was completing just over 35 percent of his passes and had tossed three interceptions to just one touchdown.  Since then, it’s as if someone has flipped the switch.  The last five games, Hill has completed more than 65 percent of his passes in four of them and has tossed 11 touchdowns and added another four on the ground.  Yes, he’s thrown five interceptions in that span, but the number is skewed somewhat by a three-pick anomaly against Houston a week ago.  Not so coincidentally, Hill’s blooming has coincided with a Cougars resurgence; after starting the season 1-2, BYU has ripped off five straight wins to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight season.

LOSERS

South Carolina v MissouriSoul-crushing
There are losses that feel like punches to the guts, then there are those that feel like kicks to what my seven-year-old (thankfully) mispronounces as “tentacles.”  And, boy, did Missouri take a steel-toed boot to the old giblets.  By now, you know the story: Mizzou took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see South Carolina tie it late to send it into overtime.  Then, giving up a touchdown on what was essentially fourth-and-15 to send it into the second overtime.  Then, in the second overtime, well, college kickers.  And holders.  With one clank off the left upright, the Tigers saw their unbeaten season go up in smoke.  What it didn’t see happen, and what’s been somewhat lost in the heartbreak of a devastating home loss, is the fact that Mizzou’s path to SEC title game has only become slightly cluttered.  The Tigers still hold a one-game lead over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the loss column, and can probably — OK, maybe — punch its ticket to the Georgia Dome as the East’s representative by winning three of their last four games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.  All is not lost for Mizzou, even though it may very well feel like it in the here and now.

This displeases Touchdown Tommie
Last month, Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier blasted his alma mater, calling for essentially the entire defensive coaching staff to be fired following an embarrassing home loss to UCLA.  Saturday, the Cornhuskers gave Frazier additional ammunition.  A week after reentering the rankings, the Cornhuskers looked listless in their 34-23 loss to Minnesota.  The Huskers could do little offensively in the return of Taylor Martinez (no relation) while the Blackshirts were gashed for 430 yards, 271 of which came on the ground. “Do I need to say anymore? … This is simply inexcusable,” Frazier tweeted shortly after the loss, adding, “where do we go from here Husker Nation?”  That’s a very good question, but one that won’t have an answer for at least another month.

Guns down, foot shotTexas Tech v Oklahoma
With the chance to keep pace with Baylor and Texas, Texas Tech blinked.  And flinched.  And gagged on the moment.  Not only did the Red Raiders cough up its unbeaten season against Oklahoma Saturday, it suffered its first defeat in Big 12 play, one that puts Tech a game behind the Bears and Longhorns in the loss column.  The division chase is far from over as the Red Raiders close out the regular season with back-to-back games against the teams ahead of them.  They did, though, miss out an opportunity to drop an average Sooners team in Norman and put themselves in position to continue to control their own destiny in pursuit of the conference’s BCS bid.

Still Mullen
Including Thursday night’s six-point win over Kentucky, Mississippi State is 14-21 in SEC play since Dan Mullen took over as head coach in 2009.  Since 2011, the Bulldogs have won seven conference games against five different teams — Ole Miss, 2011; Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, 2012; and Kentucky each of the past three years.  The combined league record of those schools at the end of the season/currently?  A miserable 5-47.  Mullen has yet to beat the two heavyweights in the SEC West, Alabama and LSU, since coming to Starkville, and lost to conference newcomer Texas A&M last season.  Again, if the MSU administration is comfortable with the mediocrity of Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl appearances, then so be it.  They shouldn’t, though, and should instead, if they haven’t already, do some soul-searching when it comes to the state of the football program and Mullen’s future in it.

Double-digit danger
In each of Chris Petersen‘s first seven seasons as Boise State’s head coach, the Broncos had won at least 10 games, winning at least 11 in six of those years and at least 12 in five of them.  That stunning string of success, however, is in serious jeopardy.  With just four games left in the regular season, Boise’s record stands at 5-3 after the beatdown at the hands of BYU Friday night.  In order to reach the double-digit plateau for an eighth straight season and match Petersen’s worst season at Boise — 10-3 in his second year in 2007 — the Broncos will need to sweep the final four games (Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico) as well as win their bowl game.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 6 Stanford 20, Oregon State 12: This is a bit misleading as the Beavers are ranked in the coaches’ poll, but, since we use the Associated Press rankings, it falls within the parameters.  While the Cardinal trailed just once (3-0 in the first quarter), they couldn’t put OSU away until a fourth-and-goal pass from the seven-yard line fell incomplete with one second left on the clock.  Stanford has now won two straight after what’s still an inexplicable loss to Utah and with, following a bye, what’s still a huge showdown with Oregon looming on the first-Thursday-in-November horizon.

Wake Forest v Miami– No. 7 Miami 24, Wake Forest 21: For the third time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes fell behind by 10-plus points.  As was the case in each of those games, the ‘Canes came back to keep their record perfect on the season.  That said, if The U plays the way they have during this stretch, Florida State will woodshed them next Saturday.

– No. 9 Clemson 40, Maryland 27: Perhaps suffering through the malaise of last Saturday’s crushing loss to Florida State, the Tigers led the injury-ravaged Terps just 19-13 at the end of the third quarter.  Three touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the final quarter, however, was enough to get Clemson back on the winning side of the ledger.

– No. 15 Fresno State 35, San Diego State 28: The two teams scored just 14 points total in the first 39 minutes… and then all MAC-like hell broke loose.    A total of 42 points in the final 21 minutes — and a blocked field goal at the end of regulation by Fresno — culminated in overtime, with the Bulldogs scoring a touchdown on its lone possession while keeping the Aztecs out of the end zone.  With the win, the Bulldogs keep its record unblemished and allows it to maintain its BCS-buster status for another week.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — Updating this little statistical chestnut, the Tide has outscored its opponents 246-26 in the six games since beating Texas A&M 49-42 in Week 3.  Bama has allowed just two touchdown in that stretch, with none coming in the first half when the game was in any kind of doubt.  (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: Bye (LSU Nov. 9)

2. Florida State — After a couple of weeks of contemplation, I’m finally pulling the trigger.  And this nothing to do with the team that’s held this spot throughout the season; rather, it has everything to do with the fact that, over the past month, I don’t know that’s there’s been a better team in the country than the Seminoles.  In fact, I wouldn’t argue too much if someone wanted to push FSU past the Tide in the rankings. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 7 Miami

3. Oregon — Again, nothing against the Ducks for the move down.  And, yes, you normally don’t see a team drop after beating the No. 12 team in the country by 28 points.  It’s just, damn, that team in Tallahassee.  Really, it’s FSU, not you Eugene. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: Bye (Stanford Nov. 7)

Urban Meyer4. Ohio State — A 49-point win and 20 straight victories overall would normally mean something in the polls.  It won’t thanks to the three teams above, but the Buckeyes should be satisfied knowing they easily put together their most impressive all-around performance of the season. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at Purdue

5. Baylor — Well hello Bears.  Good to see you in this rarefied air.  Of course, it came at the expense of Missouri, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.  How long they stay here remains to be seen; over the next three weeks, the Bears will face three ranked foes in the form of Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home, then travel to Stillwater to square off against Oklahoma State.  They will then finish off the season against TCU and Texas. In other words, if they stay here, they’ll have earned it. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: No. 15 Oklahoma

(Dropped out: No. 5 Missouri)

HE SAID IT
“We stunk it up the whole ballgame.  I don’t know how it happened.” — Steve Spurrier after South Carolina’s improbable overtime win over previously-unbeaten Missouri.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“We kind of felt disrespected because they called us the red team all week long and said we didn’t deserve to be called Alabama.” quarterback AJ McCarron after the red team beat up on the orange team in a 35-point win.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“Jimbo [F]isher will be hit with a bullying lawsuit tomorrow.” — Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix in a tweet posted to his Twitter account (@1IrishChocolate) in the midst of Florida State’s evisceration of North Carolina State.  And, yes, a big part of the reason I chose this “quote” was so I could type “Irish Chocolate.”

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“I was disappointed in the way we blocked, but we rushed for 394 yards.” — Paul Johnson after Georgia Tech pushed its record to 5-3 with a 10-point win over Virginia.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK
If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are — you’ve been fascinated by the fact that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty phenomenon,  played college football at Louisiana Tech in the sixties and was the school’s starting quarterback.  And not only did he start, he kept future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw on the bench for two seasons before quitting the game altogether.  I’ve always wondered what the Sage Bearded One looked like slinging a football instead of selling duck calls.  My prayers were answered earlier this week courtesy of al.com, which posted this clip of Robertson taking on Alabama in a 1966 game:

Not a bad set of skills from the younger, lankier Robertson, even as it came in a 34-0 loss to the Kenny Stabler-led Crimson Tide.

SAY WHAT?
Undefeated team, ranked No. 7 in the country.  News this week that the football program would be getting the proverbial “slap on the wrist” from the NCAA.  So, how do the Miami fans celebrate?  By not showing up at Sun Life Stadium, that’s how.  From the Twitter account of the USA Today‘s Paul Myerberg:

Miami Fans

Embarrassing.  That’s all you can say about that “turnout,” other than Nick Saban‘s head would explode if he ever witnessed that kind of support.

TRUE STORY
With losses by Missouri and Texas Tech, the ranks of the unbeaten have dwindled to just eight after Week 9.  The ACC is the only conference with two undefeated teams remaining (Florida State, Miami), while six other conferences are represented: Big Ten (Ohio State), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Northern Illinois), MWC (Fresno State), Pac-12 (Oregon) and SEC (Alabama).  Meanwhile, two teams, Western Michigan and New Mexico State, won its first games of the season.  That leaves five programs (Georgia State, Hawaii, Miami of Ohio, Southern Miss and UConn) without a win to show for its effort this season.  Southern Miss, incidentally, has now lost 19 consecutive games.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

Garrett Gilbert‘s 635 yards of offense (a school-record 538 passing, 97 rushing) in SMU’s win over Temple is the seventh-most in FBS history.  The record for single-game total offense is Houston quarterback David Klingler‘s 732, who passed for 716 and rushed for 16 against Arizona State in December of 1990.

Octavius McKoy of Division III Western Connecticut rushed for 455 yards on 43 carries, breaking the single-game all-division NCAA record.  Marietta’s Dante Brown had set the old mark of 441 yards back in 1996.  Ladanian Tomlinson, for those curious, holds the FBS record with 406 yards.

– Stanford held Sean Mannion to just 271 yards passing and one touchdown in its win over Oregon State.  The junior came into the game leading the nation in passing yards per game at 427.4 and had thrown an FBS-best 29 touchdowns, throwing at least three in each of the first seven games of the season.

Penn State v Ohio State– In Ohio State’s blowout of Penn State, Braxton Miller accounted for a career-high 261 yards passing and 68 yards rushing.  He also had five touchdowns: three passing, two rushing.  Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde carried the ball 16 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio State won its 20th straight game.

Bryce Petty passed for 430 yards, 348 of which came in the first half, as Baylor scraped past Kansas 59-14.

Bishop Sankey, one week after rushing for a season-low 22 yards against Arizona State, rushed for a season-high 241 yards in Washington’s throttling of Cal.

– In two quarters of play plus the first possession of the third quarter, Jameis Winston passed for 292 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State’s romp over North Carolina State.

Duke Johnson rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with just under a minute left, to help Miami eke its way past Wake Forest.

– Clemson’s Sammy Watkins had a school-record 14 catches in the win over Maryland.

Connor Cook‘s 93.8 completion percentage (15-of-16) set a single-game Michigan State record.

Desmond Roland ran for a career-high 219 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma State’s 58-27 rout of Iowa State.

– Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah rushed for 165 yards on just 19 carries, pushing his total for the 2013 season to 981 yards.  He needs 19 yards to become just the eight player in the storied history of the football program to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.

– With a 17-yard reception late in the first half of Vanderbilt’s loss to Texas A&M. Jordan Matthews set the SEC mark for most career receiving yards.  The record of 3,093 had previously been held by Georgia’s Terrence Edwards.

Deontay Greenberry, Anthony Cioffi– Houston’s Deontay Greenberry caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Houston’s blowout win.  The wide receiver finished with eight receptions for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

– In Louisville’s easy win over inept USF, Teddy Bridgewater passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

– Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller intercepted three passes in the loss to Duke, giving him five on the season.  Oregon State’s Steve Nelson and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward entered Week 9 leading the country with five apiece.

– Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has thrown 25 interceptions the last 14 games, including three in the loss to Houston Saturday.  In fact, seven of those interceptions have come the past two weeks.  He also tossed six picks in a late-October loss to Kent State last year.

– BYU’s Cody Hoffman now has 31 career touchdown catches, breaking the old mark of 30 set by Austin Collie.

– Taysom Hill accounted for 408 yards of offense (339 passing, 69 rushing) and added three touchdowns passing and one rushing in BYU’s win over Boise State.

– The past three games, Florida State has outscored its opponents, all ACC foes, 163-31.

– This is a sobering stat for my adopted home state: in 34 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spans a 10-year period, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  Hide the couches.  And the lighters.

– Despite jumping out to a 14-3 lead, Wake Forest was unable to hang on its upset bid of Miami.  It was the Demon Deacons’ 51st straight loss to a team ranked in the Top 10, with the last coming exactly 67 years ago yesterday against No. 4 Tennessee (Oct. 26, 1946).  That was also the football program’s only win over a Top-Ten team ever.

Nebraska v Minnesota– Minnesota’s 11-point win over Nebraska was the Gophers first over the Cornhuskers since September of 1960, snapping a 16-game losing streak.

– Penn State has allowed 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1899.  The 686 yards they gave up to Ohio State was the most in the program’s storied history, which dates back to 1889.

– Kansas’ Big 12 losing streak has now stretched to a mind-boggling 25 straight games, with the last conference win coming on Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado.  You have to go back to Oct. 10, 2009 (Iowa State) for the Jayhawks’ last win over a current member of the conference.  Since playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2007 season, KU has gone 6-40 in Big 12 play, with four of those wins coming in 2008.

– Forget the SI cover jinx: with the overtime loss to Iowa, Northwestern has now lost four straight games since ESPN‘s College GameDay show set up camp in Evanston.

– Auburn ran for 422 yards on 59 carries as the Tigers moved to 7-1 with the 45-10 win over FAU.  A total of 10 different Tiger players were credited with carries in the game.

– UCF scored 45 points in the first half of its 62-17 waxing of UConn; the Knights had not scored more than 38 points in a single game at all this season entering the weekend.

IN CLOSING…
For three years, Rice’s Jayson Carter has toiled through practice and summer conditioning and the like as a walk-on while never seeing the playing field on game day.  Carter’s story is not unlike countless other non-scholarship players who truly play for the love of the game.  Not many, if any, of them, however, were born with a genetic disorder that leaves them standing 4-9 and weighing 130 pounds.  After three years, though, Carter finally got his Rudy moment.  Late in the fourth quarter of the Owls’ blowout win over UTEP, head coach David Bailiff inserted the running back into the game.  And, not only did he get in the game, he got the carry that he’s earned after toiling for years on the scout team.

“I did what I was supposed to … I didn’t get negative yards,” Carter said of his one-yard run.

Bravo on the perseverance and the perspective, young man.  Bravo.

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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 20 Viewer’s Guide

Mark Hudspeth AP

Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 20 bowl menu, which on “opening weekend” features five bowl games as the 2014 postseason kicks off.

WHO: Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
WHAT: The 14th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Unless you were on Bourbon Street the night before, what better way to cap off your Saturday morning, and start the 2014 bowl season, than with a little Mountain West vs. Sun Belt action?  After never making a bowl in the first 38 years of the football program’s existence, Louisiana-Lafayette has now qualified for four straight under Mark Hudspeth.  Not only that, but they’ve won their first three appearances — all of which came in this very bowl.  Nevada, meanwhile, has lost its last two bowl games and six of its last eight.  The Ragin’ Cajuns are also playing very well as they head into the postseason, closing out the regular season with a 7-1 burst.  That burst came after a 1-3 start to the season that featured losses to nationally-ranked Ole Miss and Boise State as well as Conference USA runner-up Louisiana Tech. UL-L will prove to be a significant challenge to Nevada, one that Cody Fajardo and the Wolf Pack may not be able to overcome.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette, +1
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nevada 27

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WHO: Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5)
WHAT: The 9th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
WHEN: 2:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you’re a fan of old school football that features copious amounts of defense and pounding yards out on the ground, this game is for you.  Utah State is very stingy defensively, giving up just 20.8 points per game (21st nationally).  USU is also very good against the run (26th, giving up 129.2 ypg); that also happens to be UTEP’s strength offensively (35th, 213.8 ypg).  The Aggies, though, are coming off their worst performance of the season, giving up 50 points and nearly 500 yards in the regular-season finale against Boise State.  Something tells me that it’ll be the Miners who will end up paying the price for that debacle.
THE LINE: UTEP, +10½
THE PREDICTION: Utah State 48, UTEP 17

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WHO: Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2)
WHAT: The 23rd Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
WHEN: 3:30 ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: The first day of bowl action has landed what could be one of the best and most intriguing matchups of the postseason.  Colorado State is coming off its best regular season in over a decade, but will also be without its head coach as Jim McElwain took the Florida job and won’t coach in the bowl game.  Utah, the only Power Five team in action today, began the 2014 season 6-1, but stumbled to a 2-3 finish that eliminated it from contention for a significantly more important bowl berth.  The teams do have one 2014 opponent in common in Colorado, with CSU winning at home 31-17 in Week 1 and the U of U winning 38-34 in Week 14 on the road.  A significant focus for Utah’s defense, one of the best in the country, will be shutting down All-American wide receiver Rashard Higgins.  If the Utes can accomplish that feat — it won’t be easy as Higgins has at least 143 yards receiving in each of the last seven games — it would go a long way in securing their first bowl win since after the 2011 season.
THE LINE: Colorado State, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Utah 27, Colorado State 20

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WHO: Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Air Force (9-3)
WHAT: The 18th Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Id.
WHEN: 5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This game very easily could’ve been called the Turnaround Bowl.  The fact that either team, let alone both, are playing in the postseason somewhat constitutes a minor miracle as Air Force won a mere two games in 2013 while Western Michigan trumped even that with just a single win last season.  This game is also your classic immovable object vs. irresistible force matchup: WMU is 37th in the country in rushing yards given up per game (142.7) while AF, as service academies ofttimes are, is seventh in rushing offense at 272.2 yards per game.  Throw in how the Falcons gain those yards on the ground, and it could be a long day for the Broncos.
THE LINE: Western Michigan, +1
THE PREDICTION: Air Force 37, Western Michigan 24

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WHO: South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6)
WHAT: The Inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
WHEN: 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s appropriate that South Alabama is appearing in the first-ever Camellia Bowl as the Jaguars, who moved to the FBS level three years ago, are making their first-ever bowl appearance.  Their opponents, meanwhile, are playing in their seventh bowl game the past 12 years.  The Jaguars have struggled to score points all year long, with their 20.2 points per game ranking 113th out of 128 FBS teams.  The Falcons, meanwhile, have struggled to stop the opposition from scoring all season, as its 33.9 ppg (109th nationally) attests.  Whichever trend continues will play a significant role in determining the outcome.
THE LINE: Bowling Green, +3
THE PREDICTION: Bowling Green 38, South Alabama 24

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Danny Hope officially added to Willie Taggart’s USF staff

Danny Hope

After a two-season absence, Hope — and one of the best mustaches — has returned to college football.

Following up on a couple of days worth of speculation, USF announced Friday afternoon that Danny Hope has been added to Willie Taggart‘s coaching staff at USF.  The long-time college assistant will serve as the Bulls’ co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

The co-coordinator title is mildly surprising as all of the rumors had centered around Hope being the line coach. Instead, Hope will share coordinating duties with David Reaves, who was, the release stated, “promoted to co-offensive coordinator with oversight of the Bulls’ passing attack.”

Hope has spent the past two seasons on the coaching sidelines after his dismissal as Purdue’s head coach in November of 2012. Interestingly, this is the first time in a collegiate career that spans nearly three decades that Hope’s had the coordinator title in his job description. Previously, he had either been the assistant head coach (Louisville) or the offensive line coach (Oklahoma, Louisville, Wyoming) or both (Purdue).

“Danny is one of the best offensive line coaches in college football and a Florida native with strong ties to the Bay Area,” Taggart said in a statement. “He is a leader and a great recruiter who has helped to build and orchestrate some very successful offenses at several stops in major college football. I’m excited to welcome Danny and his family back to Florida and get to work.”

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Leukemia fighter, frosh DB to serve as captain in Chips’ bowl game

Derrick Nash

If you recall, last May we made mention of a heartwarming story coming out of Central Michigan.  Shortly after signing with CMU in February of 2013, Derrick Nash was diagnosed with leukemia and was told that he’d be forced to sit out that season.  Nash vowed to return to the playing field, while the university vowed to honor his scholarship.

The running back did return, playing in the spring game earlier this year.  Unfortunately, the leukemia returned as well, forcing the player to miss a second straight season as he underwent additional chemotherapy.  As the Chips prepare to play Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahama Bowl Christmas Eve, though, Nash will be a part of the team in the postseason.

According to the school, Nash will serve as the honorary captain for the Chips in their postseason game.  Head coach Dan Enos said in a statement that the NCAA, as well as his doctors, signed of recently on allowing Nash to perform the ceremonial duties.

And, it should be noted, get that free trip to the Bahamas he’s earned.

“We had to file a waiver with the NCAA to clear him just to invite him on the trip,” Enos said. “When we got the waiver that we could bring him that was a real blessing. Then we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go and to have his doctors clear him to go was another blessing.

“Our team loves him, he’s part of our family. He’s been through a lot obviously and I think our team loves to have one of our own as a captain, but a guy like Derrick who we draw so much strength from just watching how courageous he is every day and what an inspiration he is to our entire program.”

Both the player and the football program are hopeful he can return to the playing field in 2015 in something other than an honorary role.

(Photo credit: Central Michigan athletics)

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Report: Harbaugh’s family, friends encouraging him to take UM job

Jim Harbaugh AP

The will-he-or-won’t-he spinning of the Wheel of Harbaugh has taken yet another turn, perhaps the most interesting and dramatic one in this whole extended soap opera.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, and citing sources close to the situation, the family and friends of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh “have been encouraging him to take the Michigan [head coaching] job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL.” Perhaps most importantly, and especially if the coach’s household hierarchy is anything like mine, “Harbaugh’s wife also is said to be open and on board to him going back to Ann Arbor if that’s what he wants.”

It’s previously been reported/speculated that Harbaugh’s wife would be against a move from California to Ann Arbor; if Schefter’s report is accurate, that would remove one potential obstacle.

Schefter’s report comes two days after a report surfaced that Michigan was prepared to over Harbaugh a contract in the neighborhood of $8 million annually over six years. Thursday, Harbaugh declined to answer when asked directly if his alma mater had offered him a contract.

Harbaugh’s father could also be a family member who’s nudging his son in the direction of the Wolverines.

There is an undisputed emotional connection for Harbaugh, who played at Michigan, is an iconic figure there, and has been hearing from family and friends about returning as the prodigal son. Harbaugh’s father, Jack, is influential with his son and he has made it known that he likes and admires Michigan’s interim athletic director, Jim Hackett, whom he got to know in the mid 1970s, when he was coaching the defensive backs at Michigan while Hackett was playing center at the school.

Harbaugh would like to make his decision after the NFL season ends, after what Schefter describes as “the players’ getaway day on Monday, Dec. 29.” Certainly if UM knew, with absolute certainty, Harbaugh will take the job, they would be more than willing to wait. Should there be any doubt — and apparently there is in the mind of the man who’s reportedly their top candidate — can the university really afford to put its search on hold awaiting an answer?

That’s the $8 million question… or $8 million-plus if you’re of the mindset that Harbaugh and/or his agent are merely using UM to drive up his NFL price.

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Report: starting DE among four Fresno St. players suspended for bowl

Ikaika Woolsey, Maurice Poyadue

Fresno State will head into the postseason with depleted strength at a couple of positions thanks to off-field issues.  Reportedly.

Citing sources within the program, the Sacramento Bee is reporting that defensive end Maurice Poyadue, wide receiver Myles Carr and linebackers Xavier Ulutu and Michael Lazarus have been suspended for the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl against Rice. The suspensions stemmed from the catch-all “violation of athletic department policy.”

The most notable of the suspensions is that of Poyadue as he has started the past seven games of the 2014 season.  He’s played in all 13 games this season as well after playing in 12 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2013.

Likewise, Ulutu has played in every game this season, although those appearances came as the No. 2 inside linebacker.  Lazarus, listed behind Ulutu on the depth chart, has played in seven games.

Carr, a redshirt sophomore, has not caught a pass this season after playing in five games in 2013.

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Kentucky makes hiring of WVU OC Shannon Dawson official

Photo credit: West Virginia Athletics

Two days after it was initially reported, and a day after Dana Holgorsen confirmed it, Kentucky has made it official.

In a press release, UK announced that Mark Stoops has hired Shannon Dawson as his new offensive coordinator.  In addition to coordinator, Dawson will serve as the Wildcats’ quarterbacks coach.

Dawson will replace Neal Brown, who was named as Troy’s head coach late last month.

“I’m very excited to bring Shannon Dawson to the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said. “He has done a great job in helping build programs to success on every level. I’ve been impressed with the balance of West Virginia’s offense and how difficult they are to defend. I love the continuity he will bring to what we’ve been doing as we build on the progress we’ve made so far.

“In learning more about Shannon, I’ve found out what a strong leader he is and heard nothing but good things about him throughout our profession.”

As he will with the Wildcats, Dawson served as the Mountaineers’ coordinator and quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He was named WVU’s coordinator in 2012, his second season in Morgantown. Unlike at WVU, however, Dawson will have play-calling responsibilities at UK.

WVU, incidentally, was Dawson’s first full-time job at the FBS level.

(Photo credit: West Virginia athletics)

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Ex-Wake QB Travis Smith transfers to EMU

Travis Smith

With John Wolford, a true freshman, seemingly entrenched as Wake Forest’s starting quarterback, Travis Smith took his leave of the football program in mid-September.  Three months later, the quarterback officially has a new home.

Friday afternoon, Eastern Michigan announced that Smith is one of eight players, mostly from the JUCO ranks, who have been added to the football program.  Smith is already enrolled in classes at EMU for the winter semester.

The rising sophomore will participate in spring practice and, because of when he left Wake, will be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Smith, who didn’t see the field during his very brief stint with the Demon Deacons, was a three-star member of Wake’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 24 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Following his senior season in high school, he was named the Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year.

(Photo credit: Wake Forest athletics)

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QB Tanner McEvoy to go both ways for Badgers in bowl game

Tanner McEvoy, John Lowdermilk, Desmond King AP

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Prior to transferring to Wisconsin from South Carolina via the JUCO ranks, Tanner McEvoy was a quarterback. In 2013, McEvoy was moved to safety, a position he played all season last year for the Badgers. In 2014, he moved back to quarterback and started five games under center to start the year and played in the last eight at that position to end the year.

With the postseason on the horizon, and the Badgers still licking their wounds from the defensive beatdown they received in the Big Ten championship game, McEvoy is headed back to the defensive side of the ball. As well as remaining on the offensive side.

I’ll be going both ways,” McEvoy said. “I just love playing. Wherever I can get on the field, that’s what I’m here to do and help this team win. So I’m excited to be able to get more reps out there and just help these guys get a bowl victory and send the seniors off the right way.

“As long as I get on the field and help the team win, that’s my goal.”

McEvoy began practicing again with the defense Tuesday. Thursday, he worked with the first-team defense at both safety and linebacker.

Despite the defensive work, there wil still be opportunities for McEvoy offensively.  Even after Joel Stave reclaimed the starting job, McEvoy saw extensive action as the running threat at the quarterback position, finishing the 2014 regular season with 574 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.  His 8.8 yards per carry was tops on the team.

UW will face Auburn in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.

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Jimbo, on Jameis’ football future: ‘it would not shock me either way’

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston signs autographs

For two very basic and simple reasons, most people have assumed throughout the year that Jameis Winston‘s second season as Florida State’s starting quarterback will be his last.

One, he was viewed by many (most?) as a likely Top 10, if not Top Five, selection in the 2015 NFL draft… provided teams could get past the off-field noise.  Which, of course, brings us to the second reason, that being the deafening and voluminous amount of noise that has come with being Winston at the collegiate level.  Winston is under more of a focused microscope on a college campus — autographs, student code of conduct hearing — than he would be in an NFL city, the theory goes, so he’d better off taking his leave of the amateur ranks and heading to the pros, where he’d at least get paid for the media headaches.

On the flip side, Winston said as recently as July off this year that playing two more years at the collegiate level, 2014 and 2015, wasn’t out of the question.  And that came a month after Winston’s dad was quoted as saying his son would remain with the football Seminoles for two more seasons.

Fast-forward to today, and the NFL question when it comes to Winston still lingers.  As he’s preparing FSU for its semifinal showdown with Oregon New Year’s Day, Jimbo Fisher, he of a new contract (almost), was asked about Winston’s future.  As has been the case every other time the subject’s been broached, Fisher says no decision has been made.

“I understand if he wants to go, when a guy’s that high and you’re doing what you do,” the head coach said. “But remember, he’s a very, very good student. He’s very smart. He loves baseball. He loves his time in college. He loves all the interaction of this, believe it or not. So it would not shock me either way.”

While most view, or viewed, Winston’s jump to the NFL as a fait accompli, it may not be the lock that it once was.

Winston is coming off a regular season that, at least statistically, paled into comparison to a 2013 season that ended with him holding the Heisman Trophy.  His performance on the field has led some to question whether his stock is falling.  And then there’s the very off-field noise that most had as being the impetus for him leaving early.

In September, ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio opined that Winston is “running out of chances to convince the NFL he can come in and be that player who is the leader of your team both in the locker room and in the public eye.”  A month later, FOXSports.com‘s Jay Glazer reported that “general managers are moving Winston down their potential draft boards — or off them completely.”

Winston certainly has a big decision to make over the next month, although it may not be as clear either way as some thought a few months ago.

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Gator QB Treon Harris charged for not having driver’s license

Florida v Florida State Getty Images

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain has his first off-field “incident” with which to deal, and it just so happens to involve his starting quarterback.  According to the Gainesville Sun, Treon Harris was charged with operating a motor vehicle without a valid license.

Not only that, the Sun reports, the true freshman has never had a driver’s license. Harris’ attorney, Huntley Johnson, tells the paper that his client is in the process of getting his license and he expects the charge to be dropped once that occurs.

“That’s the way it’s usually handled in a case like this for a citizen, and he’s a citizen,” Johnson said.

There’s also this:

It’s believed this charge will have zero impact on Harris’ postseason availability, and he’s still expected to start in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina.  That, though, is far from official as the university will look into the incident.

Harris started the last five games of the 2014 season after taking over for Jeff Driskel following a late-October loss to Missouri.

In early October, Harris was suspended indefinitely after he was accused of sexual assault.  Less than a week later, he was reinstated after the accuser dropped the complaint.

UPDATED 2:12 p.m. ET: As it stands right now, UF confirmed this afternoon, there has been no change to Harris’ status for the Gators’ upcoming bowl game.

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Georgia lands UAB’s leading tackler

UAB v Ohio State Getty Images

For once, it’s not South Alabama that’s the beneficiary of a UAB transfer.

While Georgia has yet to confirm the addition, Jake Ganus took to Twitter Friday to announce that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career with the Bulldogs.  The linebacker has one year of eligibility remaining, plus he has yet to use his redshirt season.

He will be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Ganus started every game for the Blazers in 2014, leading the team in tackles with 70.  He was also tops in tackles for loss with 16.5 and second in sacks with six.

Over three seasons, Ganus started 33 of 36 games.

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Strong, ‘Horns have Texas-sized recruiting day

Charlie Strong AP

We don’t normally do much on the recruiting front here at CFT, but this is something that caused us to perk our heads up and take notice.

One of the reasons Charlie Strong was hired by Texas was for his recruiting chops as well as his coaching ability.  Friday morning, those chops were on full display.

Within minutes of each other, Mesquite (Tex.) Poteet High school teammates Malik Jefferson and DeAndre McNeal announced in a ceremony at their school that they have verbally committed to play their college football for Strong at Texas. And, at least as far as UT is concerned, it’s a very big deal, especially as it pertains to Jefferson.

A five-star recruit in the Class of 2015, Jefferson is rated as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 22 player overall in the country. Perhaps even bigger for Strong and UT is the fact that they beat out, among other finalists, Texas A&M.

Amidst the #WRTS hashtags and “swagcopters” from their in-state recruiting rivals, this was a significant development for Strong.

That, though, is not to downplay the addition of McNeal.  A three-star recruit according to Rivals.com but a four-star by others, McNeal is rated as the No. 24 athlete in the country.  McNeal also held an offer from A&M, and visited College Station in late October.

While not allowed to address specific recruits, Strong took to Twitter acknowledge a moment that may — or may not — signal a turnaround in Austin.

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Les Miles talks ‘distraction’ of Michigan speculation

Arkansas v LSU Getty Images

On Monday, Les Miles went on the record with LSU beat reporters denying that he has any interest in the Michigan job… without permitting the denial to be captured on video or audio recording devices.

Three days later, Miles publicly addressed UM’s rumored interest… without actually denying any interest on his part.

During a Thursday appearance on SiriusXM’s College Football Playbook show — seriously, so to speak, get satellite radio for that channel alone — the LSU head coach was, of course, asked about the situation earlier in the week and the manner in which he handled it. Miles said he addressed it, such as it were, because he didn’t want the speculation to become a distraction for a Tiger team prepping for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl.

“What happened there was, it became such a constant question, there was not a … I couldn’t put it behind us,” Miles said according to mlive.com. “Our football team’s preparing to play a significant game against Notre Dame, and I certainly didn’t want a distraction in any way.”

Shortly thereafter, though, Miles seemed to intimate that UM’s search for a new head coach would go on without him, much as it did in January of 2011.  And in December of 2007.

“The only thing I can tell you is that I’m so for Michigan,” he said. “They have a process, they’re going to go through it. They’re going to get a great coach.

“I wish them the very best.”

UM’s search for a new head coach is in the middle of its third week.  At least for now, a significant focus of that search appears to be on reeling in Jim Harbaugh and bringing him back to Ann Arbor. Should that effort fail — and most indications are that it will — there’s a very good chance the university could circle back to the coach in Baton Rouge and make another run at bringing Miles back to his college home.  Whether that effort would be as fruitless as the university’s first two attempts remains to be seen, although history suggests it very much would.

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The 10 hottest – and 10 cheapest – tickets of the 2014-15 bowl season

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Rutgers v Notre Dame Getty Images

Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger did a wonderful thing. As the paper’s Ole Miss beat writer, he wondered how much the average price of a ticket to the Rebels’ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against TCU was going for on the secondary market. He found his answer – $84.15 – and then wondered how that ranked against the other 37 bowl games.

So he looked it up.

He found that three bowls stand above the rest: the Rose and Sugar bowls, and the Pinstripe Bowl – pitting nearby and postseason-starved Penn State against nearby and excited-to-play-Penn-State Boston College. Kellenberger also found that three bowls were drawing so little interest that they didn’t show up at all on the secondary market: the New Mexico, Famous Idaho Potato  and Bahamas bowls.

Every other bowl game has tickets for sale on line, and the demand varies wildly.

Ten Hottest Tickets
1. Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Alabama – $239.25
2. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State – $149
3. Pinstripe Bowl: Penn State vs. Boston College – $132.12
4. Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC – $98.84
5. GoDaddy Bowl: Toledo vs. Arkansas State – $97.68
6. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin – $92.01
7. Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss – $84.15
8. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State – $75.45
9. Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois – $72.45
10. Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State – $70.89

Ten Cheapest Tickets
1. Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech – $5.25
2. Cactus Bowl: Washington vs. Oklahoma State – $9.25
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson – $13.95
3. Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State vs. Rice – $13.95
5. Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA – $15.12
6. Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota – $16.29
7. Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – $18.82
8. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Pittsburgh – $20
9. Camilia Bowl: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green – $22.14
10. Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke – $22.80

Seeing a so-called New Year’s Six Bowl like the Orange Bowl No. 1 on the list is shocking at first, but it does make some sense. Georgia Tech doesn’t travel well, sure. And, yeah, Mississippi State isn’t a short drive to Miami, and the Bulldogs must view the Orange Bowl as a consolation prize after heading into their last game in line for a semifinal berth.

But, still, worse than the Hawaii Bowl?

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P.J. Fleck signs six-year extension at Western Michigan, is now the MAC’s highest-paid coach

P.J. Fleck

Just a year after posting a 1-11 debut, P.J. Fleck is set to become the highest-paid coach in the Mid-American Conference.

The Broncos announced a six-year contract extension, keeping Fleck signed through the 2020 season, worth $800,000 annually, plus incentives. The new contract will make Fleck the MAC’s highest-paid coach, nearly 45 percent higher than second place Frank Solich ($554,500), according to the USA Today coaching salary database.

Fleck was mentioned as a possible candidate for openings imagined (Illinois) and real (Pittsburgh).

“This is a wonderful time to finalize this contract extension and thank Coach Fleck for his commitment to the Bronco program,” said WMU President John M. Dunn said in a statement. “Success on the playing field, achievement in the classroom and engagement with the community have been the team’s hallmarks over the past year. The pride and excitement generated by our scholar- athletes, their coach, assistant coaches and staff are reflective of the very best in collegiate athletics. Using any measure, this is a successful program and one we want to continue and build upon for years to come.”

Western Michigan posted a seven-win improvement in 2014, leaping from 1-11 to 8-4 and a berth in Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Air Force. The Broncos finished one game shy of sharing their third MAC West Division championship. Combined with a number of facilities updates, Western Michigan is making a significant investment to a program that still looking for its first bowl victory and has won just one MAC title in the last 44 years.

Fleck signed what has been called the highest-rated recruiting class in MAC history in 2014 and could be even better in 2015.

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