South Florida-Western Kentucky should be an early bowl treat

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Two weeks from today, a game that should be among the best bowls of the season will take place. It’s one to mark down on your office calendar to throw on WatchESPN, or if you’re lucky enough to get the week off, make a point to have on TV.

Western Kentucky and South Florida kick off in the W̶i̶l̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶T̶a̶g̶g̶a̶r̶t̶  Miami Beach Bowl at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 21. This is a plea to anyone who likes fun football to find a way to watch this game.

Western Kentucky beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game last weekend, capping off an 11-2 regular season in which Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers averaged 44.2 points per game (4th among FBS teams). Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 71.8 percent of his passes (1st among FBS QBs) for 4,594 yards (2nd) and 45 touchdowns (1st). Junior running back Anthony Wales averaged 6.99 yards per carry (6th among FBS players with 100+ carries) in this pass-happy offense, which consistently fed junior receiver Taywan Taylor, who racked up 79 receptions (21st), 1,363 yards (4th) and 17 touchdowns (2nd).

And this isn’t necessarily a team that only looks good thanks to a weak C-USA schedule — SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ numbers rate WKU as the 11th-best team in FBS. The Hilltoppers’ offense ranks 1st in efficiency, seventh in finishing drives and 11th in explosiveness. This is a top-five passing offense and a top-30 rushing offense, one which scored fewer than 35 points only twice this year (against Vanderbilt and LSU).

On the other sideline is a South Florida team coached by Taggart — who quickly built a solid foundation at WKU from 2010-2012 — who steered his team to a massive turnaround this fall. The Bulls lost three games in a row in the first quarter of the season, and while the opponents were Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, becoming bowl-eligible looked like a difficult task.

After that losing streak, though, the Bulls ripped off wins in seven of their final eight games, with the only loss in there to a very good Navy team. A 44-23 win over Temple nearly upended Matt Rhule’s bid for an conference title game appearance, and a 65-27 stomping of Cincinnati asserted South Florida as one of the better teams in the AAC.

South Florida is very much geared toward running the ball with sophomore running back Marlon Mack (193 carries, 1,273 yards, eight TDs) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (157 carries, 969 yards, 10 TDs). But Flowers has a penchant for throwing for big plays, too, throwing a dozen passes for 40 or more yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Both WKU and USF have decent-to-mediocre defenses — WKU’s ranks 53rd in S&P+, while USF’s is 39th — that may not provide a whole lot of resistance against the powerful offenses in this game. It’ll be played at Marlins Park during the afternoon on a Monday — insert your baseball joke here, mine is that the poor Marlins, with Giancarlo Stanton only playing half a season, hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors this summer — but from afar looks like one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.

 

BYU wearing special patch in honor of LaVell Edwards

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BYU got the summer media day fun started on Friday with their football media day. BYU tends to pull out all the stops on its media day with coach and player interviews, alumni returning, and a handful of announcements about the future of the program. In addition to news about their relationship with ESPN, BYU also announced the football team will be sporting a patch this season in honor of the late LaVell Edwards.

In addition to players wearing the patch on their jerseys, BYU coaches will also wear the patch on their sleeves.

Edwards passed away in December at the age of 86. The BYU coaching legend spent 29 seasons on the sidelines in Provo and accumulated 257 wins along the way. Among those was a national championship season in 1984, which remains the most recent national championship to be claimed by a program not currently in a power conference. Edwards took 22 BYU teams to a bowl game.

Now if we can just keep getting BYU to stick to that lighter shade of blue as their main home uniform, we’ll be in great shape.

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.