CFT Previews: Capital One Orange Bowl

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WHO: No. 7 Mississippi State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-3)
WHAT: The 80th Capital One Orange Bowl
WHERE: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET Dec. 31 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Assignment football will be the name of the game when the No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs meet the No. 12 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

The last time Mississippi State traveled to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl was 1941.  Head coach Allyn McKeen led his team onto the field against the Georgetown Hoyas 11 months before the United States experienced the attack at Pearl Harbor. The Mississippi State Maroons — as they were called at the time — won the contest 14-7.

Fast forward 73 years, and the Bulldogs will face another throwback offense in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia Tech’s triple option attack is the most difficult run game to stop among the Power Five conferences. The Yellow Jackets averaged 333.6 yards per game. That is nearly 30 more yards per game than the Wisconsin Badgers with Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon on the roster.

Playing an option offense is all about discipline. Each defender along the front seven has an assignment they must complete on each and every down. If one of those defenders fail, the Yellow Jackets will be able to exploit the crease that is inevitably created.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen isn’t just worried about the triple option. Justin Thomas isn’t a typical run-first quarterback in Paul Johnson‘s system.

“…he’s got guys in there that run the system very, very well,” Mullen said during his final meeting with the media Tuesday, via MississippiState.scout.com. “They have a play-making quarterback to me that’s dangerous, not just running the option, obviously, which is what he needs to be able to do, but also extending plays and making those outside-the-box plays when it all breaks down being able to make something else happen outside of the framework of the play, makes them a pretty difficult team to stop.”

The undersized signal-caller is a dynamic running threat, but he can also beat teams with his arm. Despite being an option quarterback, Thomas already threw for 17 touchdowns this season.

However, the Bulldogs have consistently won the battle in the trenches this season. Mississippi State owns one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in college football. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney — all 6-5 and 245 pounds of him — will be roaming behind that front wall. Mississippi State has the size and athleticism up front to present plenty of problems even for Georgia Tech’s prolific rushing attack.

Meanwhile, quarterback Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs offense will face the nation’s 64th-ranked defense. Despite its ball control offense, Georgia Tech still surrenders nearly 400 yards per game. Prescott and running back Josh Robinson — both of which already ran for more than 900 yards this season — should be able pound the ball as well.

This is Georgia Tech’s seventh appearance in the Orange Bowl, but the Yellow Jackets last victory came in 1952. It’s unlikely that trend will change this year.

THE PREDICTION: Mississippi State 31, Georgia Tech 28

Michigan RB declares Wolverines actually beat Ohio State last year

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No. 9 Ohio State heads to No. 24 Michigan on Saturday (noon ET, FOX) looking to protect its 5-game winning streak against That Team Up North. According to Michigan running back Karan Higdon, though, it’s Michigan that’s looking to protect its claim over the scoreboard.

Higdon surely remembers last year’s game well. He was there, after all, carrying three times for five yards. However, it was actually Ohio State who won the game, 30-27 in double overtime. The game was incredibly close, as the score indicates. Michigan would have won if not for a pair of Wilton Speight disasters at the goal line, the first an interception that Malik Hooker returned for a touchdown to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead and the second a goal line fumble that ruined Michigan’s chance to take a 17-7 lead.

As we know, Ohio State fought back to win by this much. How much? Jim Harbaugh shows us below.

Higdon figures to have a much greater impact on this year’s game. He’s the Wolverines leading rusher 874 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in Michigan’s most recent home game, a 33-10 win over Minnesota.

Here’s hoping, for his sake, that he can have an impact on an actual Michigan victory this time around.

Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.

Joey Jones steps down as South Alabama head coach

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There’s never a good time to lose a football game 52-0, but even by that scale it’s an especially bad thing to lose 52-0 in a game you had to win to keep your bowl hopes alive to a team so disgusted by its own season that it fired its head coach a month ago.

That’s what South Alabama did on Saturday in dropping a 52-0 decision to Georgia Southern, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.

And on Monday, South Alabama announced head coach Joey Jones will resign following the Jaguars’ Dec. 2 finale at New Mexico State.

“There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change.  For this program that I love so much, that time is now,” Jones said in a statement.  “One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama.  Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones is the only head coach South Alabama has ever known, hired Feb. 15, 2008. He led the Jags for three seasons as an FCS Independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2012, taking the club to bowl games in 2014 and 2016.

The loss Saturday dropped the program to 4-7 this season, ending hopes of returning to a bowl game for the first time in the program’s short history.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program.  He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said AD Dr. Joel Erdmann.  “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate.  His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”