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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 19 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 19 bowl menu, which on “opening weekend” features five bowl games as the 2015 postseason officially kicks off.  Included in that quintet of contests is one bowl making its debut, another in just its second year as well as the holiest of Beehive State wars.

WHO: Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5)
WHAT: The 10th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The uncertainty over the availability of Arizona starting quarterback Anu Solomon (concussion) has some sportsbooks, including the one we use for lines, Bovada.lv, taking the game off the board.  If Solomon is healthy, the Wildcats would likely be double-digit favorites; without him, one could make a very good case for the Lobos.  In fact, the Wildcats went 0-3 in games that Solomon either didn’t start or didn’t finish because of injury.  Even with Solomon on the field for most of the last five games, though, UA still lost four of those.  UNM, meanwhile, comes into its first bowl berth since 2007 on a high, finishing out the season with wins over bowl-bound Utah State (6-6), Boise State (8-4) and Mountain Division champion Air Force (8-5).  The combination of how both teams finished the season, the uncertainty over Solomon and ‘Zona likely feeling underwhelmed with its postseason lot has a very motivated Lobos squad primed for an upset.
THE LINE: Off the board
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 33, Arizona 27

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WHO: BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
WHAT: The 24th Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: This promises to be one of the best “non-marquee” bowl games of the 2015-16 cycle because not only are both teams coming into it with nine wins but because of the whole “Holy War” aspect, and in Sin City no less.  The two football programs have been on a sabbatical the last two seasons in a rivalry that’s seen 89 previous matchups, but will resume in the regular season beginning next season and running through 2020.  The Utes have won four straight in the series and nine of the last 12 meetings dating back to 2002.  The Cougars’ situation is somewhat muddled as their long-time head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, has accepted the same job at Virginia but will coach his “former” team in the bowl game.  After beginning the season 6-0 and with playoff talk dancing in their heads, the Utes muddled through the remainder of the schedule at 3-3.  Here’s to guessing the Cougars, winners of seven of their last eight, add to their rival’s late-season misery and send their old coach with off with his first bowl win since 2012 — especially if words can be used as motivation.
THE LINE: BYU, +3
THE PREDICTION: BYU 27, Utah 23

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WHO: Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)
WHAT: The 2nd Raycom Media Camelia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There were 21 teams that won 10 or more games during the 2015 regular/championship season; I’d bet you could make some pretty decent coin regarding Appalachian State’s inclusion in that select group.  And ASU’s two losses this year came against top-ranked Clemson in Death Valley and 2015 Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State.  Ohio University, not to be confused with Brady Hoke‘s derisive “Ohio” directed at Ohio State, had a near-perfect start to the season at 5-1, with the only loss coming by three at Minnesota… before they lost three in a row (two by a combined 66 points)… before they regrouped to win their last three by a combined 49 points.  The Bobcats are looking for their first bowl win since 2012, while the Mountaineers are playing in their first bowl game as an FBS program.  ASU is a touchdown favorite… and even that might be a little on the short side.
THE LINE: Ohio, +7½
THE PREDICTION: Appalachian State 45, Ohio 24

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WHO: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)
WHAT: The 1st Cure Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: If you like underdog stories, tune into this one.  Georgia State went 3-29 from the beginning of the 2013 (first FBS season) through the eighth game of the 2015 season.  The Panthers then ripped off four straight wins — by double digits in each, no less — to close out the year and reach a level 6-6 to become bowl-eligible.  GSU’s Nick Arbuckle, one of the most prolific quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of, is currently sixth in the country in passing yards with 4,160.  Its head coach, Trent Miles (pictured), will very likely be one of the hot names on the 2016 spinning of the coaching carousel.  As for San Jose State?  I have zero desire to discuss a sub-.500 team that doesn’t deserve a bowl bid.  And this isn’t to pick on the Spartans; rather, this will be a running theme throughout these types of posts when it comes to 5-7 teams getting an unwarranted and undeserved invitation to the postseason. [/steps off soapbox]
THE LINE: Georgia State, +3
THE PREDICTION: Georgia State 31, San Jose State 21

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WHO: Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
WHAT: The 15th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State lost its first two games of the 2015 season (USC, Missouri) then won nine of its last 10 to become the first team in Sun Belt history to go unblemished in conference play.  Louisiana Tech features the potent one-two punch of former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (14th nationally in passing yards with 3,575, 26th in pass efficiency) and touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon (83 career scores, tied for second all-time among FBS players).  One thing to keep in mind if you’re the wagering type when it comes to Driskel’s success through the air this season: the Red Wolves are currently 95th nationally against the pass, giving up an average of 251.9 yards per game; Driskel was held under that number just twice in 2015.  ASU did intercept 26 passes this season (No. 1 in the country), and Driskel tossed three in a season-ending loss to Southern Miss, so there is that if you’re on the Red Wolves side.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +2
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 48, Arkansas State 45

No. 7 Washington wins Pac-12 title game rematch with Colorado thanks to stifling second half defense

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For a half, Colorado had No. 7 Washington just where they wanted in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch from a year ago. Just like in that matchup in Santa Clara 10 months ago, the Buffs trailed by just a score going into halftime and looked surprisingly sharp against their highly ranked opponents from Seattle.

Just like it did last December though, the third quarter rolled around and Huskies reminded everybody why they reign supreme in the Pac-12 until further notice, capping off a dominant second half to capture a key road win in Boulder 37-10 over the Buffs.

While Jake Browning still didn’t seem to figure out Mike MacIntyre‘s defense the second time around (11/21, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), it’s not like the UW signal-caller needed to with the effort his run game and defense were able to provide on a rainy night under the Flatirons. Tailback Myles Gaskin had no problem shouldering more of the load with his backup out, rushing for 202 yards and two scores while breaking off big run after big run to slowly crush the home crowd’s spirits. If there was anything that did really go wrong for the offense in the second half, it was the fact that wide receiver Chico McClatcher was carted off after a gruesome ankle injury that figures to sideline him for some time to come.

Still, the impressive performance on the scoreboard was really the result of the Huskies’ stifling defense coming to play after some adjustments in the locker room. Linebacker Azeem Victor hit the double-digit mark for tackles and corner Myles Bryant pulled down a pick-six — one of three interceptions on the night. As a result, what was a close game for about two and a half quarters, ended up turning into a runaway win for the defending Pac-12 North champs.

While it was a tough night on the scoreboard with nothing going in the second half, there were some positives for the Buffs early on. Quarterback Steven Montez did look sharp working the middle of the field until the pressure was turned up and running back Phillip Lindsay managed 68 yards and a touchdown against one of the stiffer run defenses in the country. Given some of USC’s early struggles, it’s pretty clear that Colorado will remain a factor in the Pac-12 South battle if nothing else.

In the end though, it was the same ol’ same ol’ out West as Washington remained unbeaten and looking again like a College Football Playoff contender once again.

Jim Harbaugh advises President Trump to ‘check the Constitution’

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The latest controversy surrounding President Donald Trump has reached college football.  And, of course, it’s Jim Harbaugh doing the reacting.

At a campaign rally in Alabama earlier this past week, the POTUS let loose on those NFL players who have decided to use the National Anthem as a vehicle for protesting social injustice.  In essence, Trump called for those who participate in the demonstrations to be summarily dismissed.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump was quoted as saying. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.'”

Suffice to say, that hasn’t even remotely happened as condemnation of the fiery rhetoric has been far and wide from the NFL community and beyond.  It was also condemned by a former member of the NFL community as Harbaugh, whose former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, played a significant role in a story that’s enveloped professional football over the past year, had some choice words on this latest kerfuffle.

“No, I don’t agree with the president,” Harbaugh said following Michigan’s win over Purdue. “Listen, that’s ridiculous. Check the Constitution.”

Harbaugh, who was already at odds with Trump over the slashing of one particular program, also stated initially that he didn’t respect Kaepernick sitting out the anthem before apologizing for misspeaking shortly thereafter.  In the spring, Harbaugh referred to the still-unsigned quarterback as a hero.

Notre Dame has no trouble with mistake-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame probably would’ve beaten Michigan State on Saturday night if the Spartans pitched a perfect game. But instead the Spartans hit three batters, tossed a handful of wild pitches, aiding the Irish in a 38-18 blowout in Spartan Stadium.

The 20-point margin represents Notre Dame’s largest victory over Michigan State since a 36-14 whipping on Sept. 18, 1993 and the largest win by either team since a 45-23 Spartans win on Sept. 12, 1998. The Irish have now won four of the last five in a series that dates back to 1897.

The Irish (3-1) opened the game with a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 16-yard Brandon Wimbush run, then immediately capitalized on a Michigan State (2-1) mistake as Julian Love returned a Brian Lewerke interception 59 yards for a touchdown.

Michigan State rebounded with its best drive of the night, knifing 75 yards in seven snaps for a touchdown. But another Lewerke turnover, this time a fumble in his own territory, set up Notre Dame with a short field, which Wimbush turned into an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams. The Spartans threatened to pull within 21-14 until their third and costliest turnover of the first half, an L.J. Scott fumble at the goal line that took six points off the board and handed Notre Dame the ball at the 20-yard line. Notre Dame needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-7, where it would remain until halftime.

In addition to the three turnovers, Michigan State also committed nine penalties, dropped a handful of passes and lost a possession to a turnover on downs.

Michigan State opened the second half with a Matt Coghlin field goal, but Notre Dame answered that field goal and then some with a 9-yard Deon McIntosh touchdown run. Justin Yoon pushed the lead to 28 with a 46-yard field goal with 4:51 to play.

Michigan State completed the scoring with a cosmetic touchdown — a 25-yard toss from Lewerke to Gerald Holmes — and 2-point conversion with 3:09 remaining.

Wimbush was the star for Notre Dame, hitting 14-of-20 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown with eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. Lewerke carried the load for Michigan State, connecting on 31-of-51 passes for 340 yards — many of them junk — with a touchdown and an interception with nine carries for 56 yards and a fumble.

Michigan State will remain in East Lansing next week to host hard luck loser Iowa, while Notre Dame returns home to face Miami (Ohio).

Disaster averted as walk-off TD pushes No. 4 Penn State past Iowa

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Entering Week 4, the last three teams ranked in the Top Five entering Kinnick Stadium had exited with a loss.  In dramatic fashion, No. 4 Penn State flipped that script.

Trailing 15-13, Iowa scored on a 35-yard touchdown run by Akrum Wadley that put Iowa up, after a failed two-point conversion, 19-15 with 1:42 left in the game.  Penn State then proceeded to go 65 yards in 12 plays and 1:42 of game time, with Trace McSorley connecting with Juwan Johnson on a seven-yard touchdown pass with zero ticks left on the clock to secure a wild 21-19 win.

That fourth quarter also featured Penn State blocking a field goal… only to see Iowa return the favor 10 minutes later to set up what would’ve been the game-winning touchdown by Wadley.

If you simply looked at the box score, however, you would’ve thought this was a blowout that swung heavily toward the visitor.

The Nittany Lions outgained the Hawkeyes 579-273.  In fact, Penn State had more yards rushing (295) than Iowa had total offense. First downs?  PSU 29, Iowa 11.  The Nittany Lions held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game for good measure.

In the end, however, it was Penn State that came out on top on both the scoreboard as well as the stat sheet as the Nittany Lions kept their perfect season afloat as, after games against Indiana and Northwestern the next two weeks, they get set for season-defining games against No. 8 Michigan (Oct. 21) and No. 10 Ohio State (Oct. 28).  And Saquon Barkley, who set a single-game school record for all-purpose yards — 211 rushing, 94 receiving, 53 returns — will get to continue to state his case as the best football player in the country and one of a handful of Heisman Trophy front-runners.