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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 24 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 24 bowl menu, which features a pair of games on islands and teams from four different conferences: AAC, Conference USA, MAC and Mountain West.

WHO: Middle Tennessee State (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
WHAT: The 2nd Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
WHERE: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: A 3-5 start to the 2015 season put Middle Tennessee State’s bowl eligibility in jeopardy, but Rick Stockstill‘s crew righted the ship and finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak.  Western Michigan was in control of its MAC West fate at 5-0 before back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and eventual division champion Northern Illinois essentially ended their conference title game hopes, although they did knock off Toledo in the finale to rip the West from the Rockets and hand it to the Huskies.  History is not on WMU’s side, however, as the Broncos have played in six bowl games previously… and lost all six.  What WMU does have on its side is a pair of receivers, Daniel Braverman (103-1,266-12) and Corey Davis (82-1,253-11), who combined for 185 receptions for 2,519 yards and 23 touchdowns. MTSU can move the ball through the air as well as Brent Stockstill has passed for 3,678 yards.  Offense should rule the day overall as both are prolific on that side of the ball — WMU’s 22nd nationally in total offense, MTSU 30th — while the Blue Raiders are in the middle of the pack defensively (51st in scoring defense).  The Broncos, meanwhile, are 78th in scoring.  With a win, WMU would win eight or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history; an MTSU win, meanwhile, would give that program exactly eight wins in three of the last four seasons.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +4½
THE PREDICTION: Western Michigan 37, Middle Tennessee State 34

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WHO: San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)
WHAT: The 14th Hawaii Bowl
WHERE: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Very quietly, Mountain West champion San Diego State is one of the hottest teams in the country, with their nine-game winning streak tied with Alabama for the second-longest streak nationally behind Clemson’s 16 in a row.  In fact, one more win for the Aztecs would tie the single-season school record of 11 set back in 1969 under Don Coryell.  The 10 wins are already SDSU’s first double-digit win season since 1977 and just the fifth since becoming an FBS program.  Cincinnati, on the other hand, won back-to-back games just once this season, although they didn’t lose back-to-back games at all in 2015.  The Bearcats are also dealing with some internal strife as starting quarterback Gunner Kiel will not play because of what are being described as “personal reasons.”  The Bearcats, though, are prolific offensively, ranking 24th in the country with 36.1 points per game.  The problem is that San Diego State is among the stingiest in giving up points, with their 17 points per game positioning the Aztecs 10th nationally in that category.  SDSU has given up 20 or more points four times this season, and just once, in a 27-24 win over Air Force, during their winning streak.  That said, the key to the game could be Cincinnati’s run defense: UC is 106th in allowing teams to average 5.0 yards per carry, while SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey‘s 1,554 yards are 10th nationally as he averages 5.5 ypc.
THE LINE: Cincinnati, +1½
THE PREDICTION: San Diego State 42, Cincinnati 28

Tom Herman names Shane Buechele starting QB… for now

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It’s certainly expected that Shane Buechele will start at quarterback for Texas this fall. After all, he did so last season and performed capably well — about as well as you could expect for a true freshman on a 5-7 team. Buechele’s competition for the job is true freshman Sam Ehlinger, and you definitely wouldn’t bank on a true freshman beating out an incumbent starter.

Tom Herman confirmed as much Monday. Herman said Buechele would start if the Maryland opener was tomorrow, and that will be the case until it isn’t.

“As of today, Shane’s starting,” he said. “Now, does that guarantee he’ll start against Maryland? No. But, he’ll take the bulk of the ones. If he doesn’t take advantage of them, Sam plays better than him, that’ll change. As of now, Shane’s getting the bulk of the one reps, but Sam will continue to do that…. It’s a good battle, but you can tell Shane’s played 12 games of college football.”

The question, of course, is not who will take the first snap against Maryland, but how much Ehlinger will play and how long Buechele can hold him off.

It’s no secret Herman asks his quarterbacks to take hits, and Ehlinger seems better equipped to do that. Texas lists Ehlinger carrying 230 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, compared to Buechele’s 6-foot-1, 205-pound build. Ehlinger compiled 2,395 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns while playing through injury for the bulk of his senior year. Buechele rushed for 151 yards on 97 carries, while also setting Texas freshman records with 2,958 passing yards.

LSU officially welcomes new Mike the Tiger to his new habitat

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LSU is keeping the tradition of a live tiger mascot alive with the announced addition of Mike VII. The new Mike the Tiger has moved into his new spacious digs and is already having football fans and animal lovers fall in love with him.

The newest addition had to be checked to make sure he was qualified to be released into LSU’s special habitat that has been the home for previous tigers. Mike VII will not be making appearances at Tiger Stadium on game days as has previously been a tradition. Instead, Mike VII will be able to roam a recently updated and renovated tiger habitat in style and root on the Tigers from the comfort of his new home.

Mike VI died of cancer last October.

Utah’s surprise QB announcement tabs Tyler Huntley as starter

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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made one of the more surprising decisions on Monday. Instead of naming the senior captain as his starting quarterback, Whittingham chose sophomore Tyler Huntley to be the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1 against North Dakota.

The decision to go with Huntley means Troy Williams will be reduced to backup duty. Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman will also be sitting down on the depth chart, which is another mild surprise from Salt Lake City.

Williams was Utah’s quarterback last season when the Utes made a push for the Pac-12 South Division before falling just short of the Pac-12 championship game. Williams passed for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams also rushed for 235 yards and five touchdowns for the Utes.

As a freshman, Huntley appeared in six games and attempted just seven passes for 60 total yards. It would seem Huntley has done a lot to impress the coaches to earn the starting nod over an experienced starter and the transfer option. His improvement in the offseason and athleticism are said to be fueling his rise as a quarterback, so we’ll see how that pays off on the field once the games begin.

Jim McElwain says Florida is heading to Texas to “beat the heck out of Michigan”

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It goes without saying that coaches will say what coaches say. Suggesting their team is on a mission to score a big win in front of fans clad in the school colors should not be taken for anything more than simply aiming to get a rise out of the fans. Mission accomplished for Florida head coach Jim McElwain, but possible bulletin board material for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Speaking before Florida students over the weekend, McElwain laid it out there by saying his Gators were looking to do one thing against Michigan; win with authority.

“We’re heading to Dallas here in a couple weeks to go beat the heck out of Michigan, and then come back to you guys,” McElwain said, according to SEC Country.

The Gators are opening the college football season next week in Arlington, Texas against the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten. Florida will be a bit undermanned with the recent suspension of seven players, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Michigan also won the most recent meeting between the two schools, with Harbaugh’s Wolverines dominating McElwain’s Gators in the Citrus Bowl two seasons ago (41-7).

Michigan will be looking to reestablish its identity with a good amount of roster turnover this season, but the depth hit from the recent suspensions in Gainesville may help give Michigan an edge. Either way, we can only look forward to seeing how Harbaugh potentially responds once this claim from McElwain makes its way to Ann Arbor.