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Notre Dame confirms 2015 game at Fenway Park

Fenway Park Getty Images

For the first time in nearly six decades, major college football will be returning to one of the most iconic stadiums in all of sports.

In announcing its schedules for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons, Notre Dame confirmed it will be playing its Nov. 21, 2015, game against Boston College at Fenway Park.  The night game at the home of the Boston Red Sox will be the first college football game played at the baseball stadium since 1956, and the first football game of any kind since 1968 (New England Patriots).

The Eagles used to play home games at Fenway regularly throughout the first half of last century, but last played at the stick-and-ball park in 1956.

That 2015 game will be part of the “Shamrock Series,” an annual arrangement that began in 2009 which sees the Irish hosting a neutral-site “home” game.  The ongoing series will also include a 2014 game in Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium) against Purdue and in 2016 in San Antonio (Alamodome) against Army. All three of those games will be televised in prime time by NBC, incidentally.

The 2014 season is also the first in Notre Dame’s football partnership with the ACC that will include an affiliation with the conference’s postseason bowl alignment.  The Irish will face four ACC foes in 2014, six in 2015 and five in 2016 and beyond.

“Our schedules the next three seasons, combined with our 2012 and 2013 schedules, truly exhibit Notre Dame’s intention to celebrate our independence,” said athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement.

“We will be playing in virtually every corner of the country and will have a strength of schedule that will serve us well in the new College Football Playoff format.”

Below are the complete schedules for Notre Dame the next three seasons:

2014
Aug. 30 RICE
Sept. 6 MICHIGAN (night)
Sept. 13 *Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind. (night)
Sept. 27 at Syracuse (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.)
Oct. 4 STANFORD
Oct. 11 NORTH CAROLINA
Oct. 18 at Florida State
Nov. 1 vs. Navy (FedEx Field, Landover, Md.)
Nov. 8 at Arizona State
Nov. 15 NORTHWESTERN
Nov. 22 LOUISVILLE
Nov. 29 at USC
* Shamrock Series game

2015
Sept. 5 TEXAS
Sept. 12 at Virginia
Sept. 19 GEORGIA TECH
Sept. 26 MASSACHUSETTS
Oct. 3 at Clemson
Oct. 10 NAVY
Oct. 17 USC
Oct. 31 at Temple (Lincoln Financial Services Field)
Nov. 7 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 14 WAKE FOREST
Nov. 21 *Boston College at Fenway Park, Boston, Mass. (night)
Nov. 28 at Stanford
* Shamrock Series game

2016
Sept. 3 at Texas
Sept. 10 NEVADA
Sept. 17 MICHIGAN STATE
Sept. 24 DUKE
Oct. 1 at Syracuse (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.)
Oct. 8 at North Carolina State
Oct. 15 STANFORD
Oct. 29 MIAMI
Nov. 5 vs. Navy (site TBD)
Nov. 12 *Army at Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas (night)
Nov. 19 VIRGINIA TECH
Nov. 26 at USC
* Shamrock Series game

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Hokies pull away for Military Bowl victory and Beamer’s 10th bowl win

Bucky Hodges, Zach Edwards

Virginia Tech may have given up more offensive yards, but a familiar formula built on the strength of big defensive plays helped the Hokies pull away from Cincinnati for a 33-17 victory in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman in Annapolis, Maryland on Saturday afternoon. The victory marked the 10th postseason bowl victory for Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who coached the game from the coaches box.

Beamer is the 10th coach in college football history to win 10 bowl games. The only other active coach with 10+ bowl wins is Steve Spurrier of South Carolina. Beamer is now two wins out of fifth place for most all-time bowl victories, an honor shared by Lou Holtz and Tom Osborne (12 wins each).

Virginia Tech forced three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions and one fumble that was returned for a pivotal touchdown. The defense was chewed up at times, but the Hokies buckled down when needed with big plays to keep control of the game. On offense, J.C. Coleman carried the bulk of the offense with 157 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Cincinnati may have lost a chance to win against Virginia Tech when quarterback Gunner Kiel was knocked out of the game. As Kiel was taken down by Virginia Tech’s Deon Clarke. Kiel hit his head on the play, which left him on the sideline for the remainder of the game. Without Munchie Legaux in uniform, Cincinnati turned to Michael Colosimo, who took a little time to settle in as the quarterback. Cincinnati scored just one touchdown since Colosimo’s entrance to the game in the third quarter. With Virginia Tech continuing to add points, that ruled out much shot of a comeback for a bowl victory.

The 2014 season was not a terrific one for the Hokies. Virginia Tech was a .500 team with a number of offensive issues from start to finish, although the Hokies scored a huge win on the road against Ohio State early in the year. The season looked promising after that win in Columbus, but things turned south quickly with a home loss to East Carolina and an up-and-down run through ACC play. The future of Virginia Tech should be interesting, with Beamer coming off throat surgery and Bud Foster locked into a coaching extension. The Hokies are still in need of offense in 2015, because the defense will continue to be as reliable as any.

For Cincinnati, the Bearcats are still likely to be in a favorable position to remain among the top programs in the Group of Five conversation. Co-champions of the American Athletic Conference this season, Tommy Tuberville has some good things happening with the program. This is certainly not the way Tuberville wanted this season to end, but it helps to demonstrate just how far the program has to go. Cincinnati lost three straight games to Ohio State, Memphis and the Miami Hurricanes early in the season, but went on to win seven straight games heading into the Military Bowl match-up with Virginia Tech. Cincinnati did some good things against Virginia Tech but was unable to finish the job too often with empty possessions.

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Momentum swings in Duke’s favor with late first half surge in Sun Bowl

Arizona State v Arizona Getty Images

No. 15 Arizona State was unable to deliver an early knockout blow, and Duke’s Jamison Crowder gave the Blue Devils a late spark to capture the momentum before halftime. Arizona State leads Duke 20-17 at the half, but a punt return for a touchdown by Crowder may have swung the momentum in Duke’s direction. Arizona State led 20-3 before Duke made things a little more interesting late in the half.

The 68-yard punt return by Jamison Crowder pulled Duke within three points in a first half that has seen the Blue Devils defense play in a bend-but-don’t-break mode. It seems to have worked enough to give Duke’s offense a chance to feel capable of winning this game in the second half. Duke’s offense has been sluggish at times though, piling up just 144 yards of offense and converted four of eight third-down attempts. Anthony Boone completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Powell minutes before Crowder’s punt return.

Demario Richard has rushed for a pair of Arizona State touchdowns, one in each quarter. The Sun Devils also added a pair of field goals off the leg of Zane Ballage to get to 20 points in the half. Eight different Arizona State players have caught a pass as Taylor Kelly continues to look to spread out the offense. Kelly has been pretty accurate with his passes, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 150 yards, but he also took a costly sack and fumbled the football as the Sun Devils were moving downfield for a potential touchdown.

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‘Horns WR Jaxon Shipley to play in Texas Bowl

Terrell Burt, Jaxon Shipley

Texas got a shot in the arm – specifically, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes‘ right arm – Saturday. At a Texas Bowl press event, head coach Charlie Strong revealed that senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley has been cleared to play.

Shipley missed the Longhorns’ regular-season finale against TCU with a hamstring injury. A four-year starter, Shipley has battled hamstring issue throughout his career in Austin.

Shipley is Texas’ second-leading receiver this season with 58 grabs for 578 yards and a touchdown. His 58 receptions are the 12th most in Texas single-season history, and he will move into the top 10 with two grabs against Arkansas. The 122 combined receptions between Shipley and John Harris are the fifth-most by a pass-catching tandem in UT’s single-season history.

Most importantly, Swoopes struggled – mightily – in his only start without Shipley. The sophomore turned in by far the worst performance of his career to date, completing 20-of-34 passes for 200 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and a fumble returned for a touchdown in a 48-10 drubbing at the hands of the Horned Frogs.

Shipley’s presence means Texas has a leg up in the war of attrition with Arkansas. Razorbacks cornerback Carroll Washington and safety Rohan Gaines have been ruled out due to violations of team rules.

Texas and Arkansas will meet in the AdvoCare Texas Bowl at the Houston Texans’ NRG Stadium Monday night at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN).

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Report: Florida QB Jeff Driskel could be on the move

Jeff Driskel

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel could be looking for a new home.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported Saturday that Driskel, a redshirt junior in 2014, is looking into using his senior status to spend 2015 in a new destination thanks to the NCAA’s graduate transfer exemption, and that Duke is on his potential list of destinations. :He has sent a release to the Blue Devils, allowing them to contact him,” the paper reports.

While we don’t know what other schools Driskel could be considering, it’d be hard for him to find a better option than Duke. Few coaches are more accomplished in coaching quarterbacks than the Devils’ David Cutcliffe, and Driskel spent the past year playing under longtime Cutcliffe pupil Kurt Roper. Furthermore, Duke will have a job opening as current signal caller Anthony Boone is playing his collegiate finale today in the Sun Bowl.

Additionally, it’s easy to see why Driskel could see the appeal in a new destination. Simply put, the kid has been through the ringer. The former blue-chip recruit led the Gators to an 11-2 mark in 2012, but struggled with injuries and inconsistent play as Florida slogged to a 10-13 mark over the 2013-14 seasons. For his career, Driskel has connected on 320-of-535 passes (59.8%) for 3,363 yards (6.29 per attempt) with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions while rushing 217 times for 637 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Devils don’t bring back much experience behind Boone. Sophomore Thomas Sirk and freshman Parker Boehme have attempted just 16 combined passes.

Of course, Driskel could just forget about football altogether and give the Boston Red Sox a call.

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With Beamer coaching Military Bowl from above, Hokies lead Cincy at half

Military Bowl- Cincinnati v Virginia Tech Getty Images

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer is coaching the Hokies from the coaches box above the sidelines in the Military Bowl. After one half of play, he has seen some things he should like, and others he should not. Virginia Tech took a 13-10 lead into halftime following a 49-yard field goal by Joey Slye as the clock in the first half expired.

Cincinnati has more than double the offensive yards (308 to Virginia Tech’s 148), but a pair of interceptions by the Hokies defense kept things even on the scoreboard. Cincinnati and Virginia Tech were tied at 7-7 after the first quarter. Penalties hurt Cincinnati at times as well.

Gunner Kiel tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Chris Moore in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a 7-0 lead, capping a seven-play, 89-yard drive. The lead short-lived though, because the Hokies responded with a quick six-play, 64-yard touchdown drive. J.C. Colemann pushed the ball across the goal line to tie things up just about two minutes later.

Kiel has thrown for 234 yards and a touchdown, but he has been picked off twice. Chuck Clark and Kendall Fuller each have one interception for the Hokies. His Virginia Tech counterpart, Michael Brewer, has thrown for 75 yards and has been intercepted once. Brewer also caught a pass from Hokies receiver Isaiah Ford for a gain of 30 yards. For a while, Brewer was the team’s leading receiver and Ford was the leading passer for Virginia Tech.

Cincinnati battled to tie the game at 10-10 in the final minute of the half, but the ensuing kickoff was returned by Der’Woun Greene to around midfield, which allowed Virginian Tech a few plays to set up a last-second field goal. It was the second field goal from beyond 40 yards for Slye in the first half. He hit a 45-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

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Arizona’s Scooby Wright could have been a Boise State Bronco

Scooby Wright III

Arizona’s Scooby Wright is without a doubt one of the best defensive players in the country. He and his Wildcats are preparing to take on Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. It turns out Wright may have been preparing for this game even if he never did attend Arizona. Wright had attended a pair of Boise State football camps but never received an offer from Chris Petersen‘s program.

“(The Broncos) said they were going to keep evaluating me,” Wright said, according toThe Idaho Statesman. “We always kept in contact, but nothing too serious.”

Boise State’s loss turned out to be Arizona’s gain. Arizona stepped in with an offer with much more certainty on Wright as a fixture in their defense than Boise State seemed to have, and that ultimately won Wright over.

“If someone tells me I’m not good enough or I can’t do something, it motivates me that much more,” Wright added.

That seems to have worked out very well for Arizona’s defensive star. Wright was awarded the Bronko Nagurski Award, Chuck Bednarik Award and  Lombardi Award.

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Report says Testaverde transfers out of Texas Tech

It has been a while (well, at least a few weeks) since the Texas Tech quarterback depth took a hit, so this may have been just a little overdue.

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury may be one of the best quarterbacks in Texas Tech program history, but he sure seems to have a rough time keeping quarterbacks in the stable in Lubbock. Freshman quarterback Vincent Testaverde, son of former Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, will reportedly transfer out of the Red Raiders program.

A report from Wreck Em 247 says the younger Testaverde transferred with the intention of moving closer to home in Tampa, Florida. No school has been reported as the next college football home for Testaverde, who played in one game this season.

Testaverde will have to sit out the 2015 season if he transfers to another FBS program due to NCAA transfer rules. He would be eligible to play in 2015 if he transfers to a lower division school, however.

UPDATE: Because Testaverde was never on scholarship, he is technically eligible to play at any FBS program in 2015. However, as Texas Tech has demonstrated in the past, the Red Raiders have the ability and power to block Testaverde from playing for any number of other schools, including those within the Big 12. Because he is a walk-on player, Testaverde needs to ask for permission to hear from other schools. Without that permission, Testaverde may not be contacted by potential landing spots.

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No starting QB decision for Notre Dame from Brian Kelly

Everett Golson

Notre Dame is preparing for LSU in the Music City Bowl, but head coach Brian Kelly has yet to decide, or at least make public, his decision on the starting quarterback for the game against the Tigers.

Will Kelly go with the veteran Everett Golson or the younger option, Malik Zaire? For now, both are getting time to lead the offense in practices. Kelly has said previously both quarterbacks should be expected to play during the game.

“I haven’t made the decision on who the starter is yet,” Kelly said following a practice on Friday, according to Inside the Irish. “Both are getting quality reps. I probably have to make it here in the next 24 hours. They’re both going to play, and I’m just going to have to just get a feel for it and the flow of the game.”

If Kelly is going to allow both quarterbacks to play in the bowl game, which one gets the starting nod may be inconsequential. Kelly has welcomed Golson back this season after sitting out the 2013 season due to an academic issue, but his struggles down the second half of the season left for some uneasiness when he was on the field. Still, it might be a mild surprise if Golson does not get the start, for whatever that is actually worth in this bowl match-up.

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Baylor keeps OC job in the Briles family with promotion of Kendal Briles

Photo: Baylor Athletics

When Baylor lost offensive coordinator Phil Montgomery to a head coaching opportunity at Tulsa, the search for a new offensive coordinator of the Baylor offense was on. That search has come to an end, with Kendal Briles getting the promotion to be the new offensive coordinator for the Bears.

Briles, the son of Baylor head coach Art Briles, had been the passing game coordinator and offensive recruiting coordinator. This is his seventh season on Baylor’s coaching staff, and third as the passing game coordinator. This is his first opportunity to handle the responsibilities as an offensive coordinator. He has earned respect from his peers in the recruiting game, as he was voted the Big 12 recruiter of the year in 2013 and 2014.

The younger Briles will begin taking on the new role as offensive coordinator right away. His first test as offensive coordinator will not be an easy one. Baylor faces Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. The Spartans defense may not have been up to par with the defense of some recent seasons, but Michigan State still figures to be a good defensive unit to plan for given the time off to prepare for the game.

Photo credit: Baylor Athletics

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Conference USA made a statement this bowl season

CUSA Football Championship - Louisiana Tech v Marshall Getty Images

The college football world may not have given Conference USA a tremendous amount of respect this season, but the conference handled itself very well in postseason bowl play this year.

On Friday, Conference USA put the finishing touches on a 4-1 bowl season, its third 4-1 postseason record over the last four football seasons. This year’s bowl record included a win against the Big Ten, two against the MAC and a two-game split with the Mountain West Conference. Louisiana Tech pulled away from Illinois, but the big wins of the bowl season for Conference USA were conference champion Marshall topping MAC champion Northern Illinois and Western Kentucky hanging on against Central Michigan.

In the new era of college football and the increased emphasis on conference strength, Conference USA performing well against the other Group of Five conferences will help change the way the conference strength is evaluated. Marshall was passed over by Boise State, champions of the Mountain West Conference, for the New Years Six bowl spot. The Herd were overlooked largely due to the overall body of work this season, which is why Conference USA stepping up to the plate in postseason play can be significant.

The American Athletic Conference (1-1 this bowl season) still has three bowl games to play. The MAC (1-3) still has one more bowl games, but the conference is locked into a losing bowl record for a third consecutive season (3-13 bowl record since 2011 season). The Mountain West Conference (2-4) is also locked to a losing bowl record but will have a chance to score the biggest win of any Group of Five conference with Boise State facing Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. The Sun Belt Conference split its two bowl games this season and has one more to play.

The only loss handed to Conference USA this year came at the expense of UTEP. The Miners had no offense in the New Mexico Bowl against Utah State, representing the Mountain West Conference.

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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 27 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

Boston College Vs. University Of Maine Football At Alumni Stadium

Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 27 bowl menu, which among its five games features nine Power Five conference teams, the lone exception being Cincinnati.

WHO: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
WHAT: The 7th Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Were it not for a four-point win over in-state rival Virginia in the regular season finale, Virginia Tech would’ve been home for the postseason holidays for the first time since 1992.  And this was a team that began the season 2-0, with the second win coming on the road by 14 points over College Football Playoff participant Ohio State.  The low point of a 4-6 skid to close the regular season was a 6-3 double overtime loss to Wake Forest in Week 13 that left Tech needing a win the following weekend to become bowl-eligible.  Cincinnati, meanwhile capped its second consecutive nine-win season with a co-AAC championship.  The Bearcats also come into this game on a veritable roll, following up a three-game losing streak in late September and early October with a seven-game winning streak.  The two teams had a trio of common opponents: Ohio State, Miami and East Carolina.  The Hokies were 1-2 against those teams (35-21 win over OSU, losses of 28-21 and 30-6 to ECU and The U, respectively) while the Bearcats went 1-2 as well (54-46 win over ECU, 50-28 and 55-34 losses to OSU and The U, respectively).
THE LINE: Virginia Tech, +3
THE PREDICTION: Cincinnati 31, Virginia Tech 20

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WHO: No. 15 Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
WHAT: The 80th Hyundai Sun Bowl
WHERE: The Sun Bowl, El Paso, Tex.
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on CBS
THE SKINNY: To say that Arizona State is disappointed with its bowl destination would be a massive understatement.  After nine games, ASU was looking at a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and, possibly, a berth in the College Football Playoff.  Two losses in their last three games — an inexplicable 35-27 loss to 5-7 Oregon State and a seven-point loss to in-state rival Arizona in the finale — shattered both of the dreams and sent them to this mid-major bowl.  How the Sun Devils respond to being sent to a lower profile bowl than what had been expected a month ago will go a long ways in determining the outcome.  Duke, though, is in a similar situation.  With three games remaining, all Duke needed was a pair of wins to clinch its second consecutive ACC Coastal title.  Instead, they lost two of three — 17-16 to Virginia Tech, 45-20 to North Carolina — to hand the division and a marquee bowl berth to Georgia Tech.  The Blue Devils, though, are playing in their third consecutive bowl game, the first time in the football program’s history that’s happened.  In fact, prior to the start of that streak in 2012, the program had a total of three bowl appearances in a span of 54 years. ASU will mark the first ranked opponent Duke has faced since Georgia Tech Oct. 11.
THE LINE: Duke, +7½
THE PREDICTION: Arizona State 34, Duke 24

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WHO: Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
WHAT: The 39th Duck Commander Independence Bowl
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Boston College (7-5) vs. Penn State (6-6)
WHAT: The 5th New Era Pinstripe Bowl
WHERE: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you’re suffering with a bit of insomnia, boy do we have a cure for you.  Although, if you love tremendous defense, you’re in luck.  Boston College is 19th in the country in points allowed (20.5 ppg) while Penn State is even stingier, coming in at seventh (17.7 ppg).  The latter gave up more than 30 points just twice (Michigan State 34, Ohio State 31) and 20 or fewer eight times.  As good as they are defensively, both teams are woeful offensively.  BC is 123rd in passing yards (132 ypg) and 84th in scoring (25.9 ppg), with PSU a paltry 115th in scoring offense (19.8 ppg).  The lone redeeming offensive quality in this game will very likely be BC quarterback Tyler Murphy.  While he was just 111th among quarterbacks in passing yards (1,526), he was third to only Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (1,182) and Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison (1,096) in rushing yards at the position (1,079).  The best hope for the Nittany Lions?  That quarterback Christian Hackenberg reverts to the promising form he showed as a true freshman.  In 2013, Hackenberg tossed 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.  This season, it was eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in just 42 more attempts.  If Hackenberg can somehow recapture that 2013 magic, the Nittany Lions, playing in its first bowl game since being slapped with a postseason ban by the NCAA in 2012, could very well see their first bowl win since 2009.
THE LINE: Penn State, +3
THE PREDICTION: Boston College 13, Penn State 10

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WHO: Nebraska (9-3) vs. No. 24 USC (8-4)
WHAT: The 37th National University Holiday Bowl
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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CFT Previews: The National University Holiday Bowl

Ameer Abdullah

WHO: No. 24 USC (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)

WHAT: The 37th National University Holiday Bowl

WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET Dec. 27 on ESPN

THE SKINNY: Nebraska goes into this postseason match-up with an interim coaching situation following the removal of Bo Pelini as head coach. The Huskers have since hired Mike Riley from Oregon State, although he will not coach this game. He should, however, be familiar with Nebraska’s opponent. The Huskers take on USC, with Nebraska looking for its first victory against the Trojans in the small history of the series.

Steve Sarkisian‘s offense will look to find success through the air. USC quarterback Cody Kessler passed for 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns with just four interceptions this season. Nebraska’s pass defense ranks 27th in the nation with just 12 touchdown passes allowed and 12 interceptions. But they have not faced a passing offense like USC’s. Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith are a solid 1-2 punch as targets, and running back Javorious Allen is a 1,300-yard rusher with the ability to catch and run as well.

Of course, Nebraska has a pretty good running back too. When healthy, Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running backs in the country. Injuries have slowed him down a bit this season, but Abdullah has had time to get ready for the game and should be expected to carry the bulk of the load on offense for Nebraska. The Huskers also bring Randy Gregory as a defensive force to be reckoned with.

THE PREDICTION: USC 31, Nebraska 23

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CFT Previews: Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Steve Spurrier

WHO: Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
WHAT: The 39th Independence Bowl
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET Dec. 27 on ABC
THE SKINNY: In a battle to see which team emerges with less of a disappointing season than the other, the underachieving South Carolina Gamecocks face the Miami Hurricanes in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

Both teams entered this season with aspirations of winning their divisions. Instead, both are 6-6 with one team leaving Shreveport, Louisiana with a record over .500.

Steve Spurrier‘s Gamecocks limped their way through a worse overall season. The program was expected to compete for the SEC East with the Georgia Bulldogs to eventually play in the SEC Championship Game. After finishing 11-2 the previous three seasons and opening the 2014 campaign ranked ninth overall, expectations remained sky high. Instead, the Gamecocks feel flat by losing five of their last eight games.

When South Carolina was successful, though, the Gamecocks offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds combined for 1,494 rushing yards. Davis already stated he will leave Columbia after this year to join the NFL ranks. The junior will likely be showcased in his final game with the program.

Likewise, Miami’s best weapon is running back Duke Johnson. Johnson, who is also expected to leave Miami after this season for the NFL, is the barometer for the Hurricanes’ success. During a six-game stretch through the middle of the season, the running back ran for over 100 yards in each contest. Miami finished 4-2 during that stretch. The program is 2-4 in the games when Johnson ran for less than the century mark.

As the program’s all-time leading rusher, Johnson’s success is vital for Miami to emerge victorious.

But the Gamecocks can take over a game with its talented offensive line. Those big eaters up front should give South Carolina a slight advantage in a game that pits two of the nation’s most inconsistent teams against one another.

Spurrier succinctly summed up exactly what’s on the line, “They’re 6-6 just like us, so somebody is going to be a winner and someone is going to leave a loser. So, a lot on the line for this game.”

THE PREDICTION: South Carolina 24, Miami 21

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Bowl win confirms NC State going in right direction under Dave Doeren

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

A year ago, North Carolina State’s decision to hire Dave Doeren didn’t reflect favorably on the university. A year later and Doeren helped orchestrate the second biggest turnaround in major college football this season.

With the 34-27 victory over the UCF Knights in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, the Wolfpack finished 8-5 overall, which is a five-game improvement in the win column for Doeren.

The improvement came naturally for a young and improving roster. Only six seniors started on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the young players stepped up, particularly during the bowl game.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer, strung together an outstanding performance against the Knights. The junior was 15-of-26 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown. The quarterback carried the team to a 17-10 halftime lead before the running game took over in the second half.

Both junior Shadrach Thornton and sophomore Matt Dayes finished the opening half with less rushing yards (29) than Brissett. Yet the duo exploded in the second half courtesy of a strong run-blocking effort by North Carolina State’s offensive line.

Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Canada repeatedly called inside zone runs to gash UCF’s stout defense. The Knights entered the bowl game with the fifth-ranked rush defense. Thornton and Dayes, however, shredded George O’Leary‘s defense with 174 total yards including a pair of touchdowns from the sophomore.

Despite the loss, UCF continues to prove its one of the best programs among the Group of Five conferences. The Knights finished 9-5 overall. It’s the fourth time in five years that O’Leary led the program to at least nine wins.

But the spotlight will shine on Doeren Friday due to the tremendous job he orchestrated this season with a program that wasn’t expected to compete at a high level.

The coach will now be expected to take the program to yet another level next season, and it’ll be possible to do so with a seasoned Brissett behind center and a talented stable of running backs.

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Report: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams will turn pro after bowl game

Maxx Williams, Desmond King

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will have to replace the program’s most talented player for the second straight season.

Once Ra’Shede Hageman graduated a year ago, tight end Maxx Williams became the focal point of opponents’ game plans. Williams didn’t disappoint either.

Even with two years of eligibility remaining, the redshirt sophomore will reportedly enter the 2015 NFL draft, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN in Twin Cities.

“Sources also indicate that they realize the 2015 Draft is not strong for tight ends,” Wolfson wrote. “The expectation is that Williams can go as high as the late first or second round. He did submit his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and the belief is the feedback they will continue to provide will cement his decision.”

The tight end finished first on the team with 29 receptions for 471 yards and seven touchdowns. When the Golden Gophers required a big play in the passing game, the pass was almost always intended for Williams.

As a result, Williams was a finalist for the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end.

With Williams and senior running back David Cobb both headed to the NFL, Jerry Kill’s staff will be forced to replace over 47 percent of the team’s offense next season.

But there still is one more game to go this year. Williams will be on display Jan. 1 during the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl against the No. 16 Missouri Tigers.

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