CFT Previews: Your Jan. 2 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Jan. 2 bowl menu, which features a pair of Big 12-Pac-12 tilts as well as a teacher-student affair.

WHO: Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)
WHAT: The 71st TaxSlayer Bowl
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
WHEN: noon ET, ESPN
THE LINE: Penn State, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
WHAT: The 57th AutoZone Liberty Bowl
WHERE: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
THE SKINNY: From the You-May-Not-Have-Known Department: Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema served as the defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder at Kansas State from 2002-03.  Snyder might wish he had Bert back in charge of that side of the ball as his Wildcats have given up 30 points in seven of 12 games this season.  Just two of K-State’s six wins came against teams that will play in bowl games this year (Louisiana Tech, West Virginia).  And then there’s this oddity: K-State won their first three games of the 2015 season… then lost their next six… then won their last three.  Arkansas, meanwhile, has been a roll heading into the postseason, winning five of their last six — and two of those wins came on the road against teams that were ranked ninth (LSU) and 18th (Ole Miss) at the time of the meetings.  That was a departure from earlier in the season when the Razorbacks lost back-to-back-to-back home games to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.  The biggest concern for Snyder & Company will likely be the not-so-friendly skies as his Wildcats are 119th nationally (out of 127 FBS teams) in pass defense while the Razorbacks are 33rd in the country and third in the SEC in passing yards per game at 264.3.  A win for Arkansas would give the Hogs three consecutive bowl victories for the first time in the program’s history — and the eight wins would be the most since Bobby Petrino went 11-2 in 2011 — while a loss for K-State would mean the first losing season for the program since 2008.  A win for the latter would also serve as just the second bowl triumph in eight tries dating back to the 2003 season.
THE LINE: Kansas State, +13
THE PREDICTION: Arkansas 38, Kansas State 17

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WHO: Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)
WHAT: The 23rd Valero Alamo Bowl
WHERE: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
THE LINE: Off the board because of the Trevone Boykin situation
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
WHAT: The 27th Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
WHERE: Chase Field, Glendale, Arizona
WHEN: 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
THE SKINNY: However you choose to parse it, Arizona State is among the 3-5 most disappointing teams of the 2015 season.  Entering the campaign as not only one of the favorites in the Pac-12 but also a darkhorse playoff contender, ASU proceeded to immediately crash back to earth in the opener with a 21-point loss to an average Texas A&M squad.  A 28-point loss to USC at home three weeks signaled an end to any and all CFP talk, while a three-game losing streak from mid-October through early November officially ended any type of conference title chatter.  After a 3-4 start to the season — four straight losses to teams currently ranked in the CFP Top 20 included — had the whispers growing louder that Dana Holgorsen‘s time in Morgantown was fast coming to an end, West Virginia righted the ship with a four-game winning streak before an inexplicable loss to Kansas State in the regular season finale took some of the oomph out of that late-season momentum.  One of the best matchups in this contest will be WVU running back Wendell Smallwood (1,447 yards this season) vs. an ASU defense that is 21st in the country in stopping the run at 124.4 yards per game.  The Mountaineers, with a win, would secure its winningest season since a 10-3 mark in Holgorsen’s first year in 2011, while the Sun Devils are looking to avoid their first non-winning season since that same season, the last prior to Todd Graham‘s arrival.
THE LINE: Arizona State, +1
THE PREDICTION: Arizona State 30, West Virginia 24

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.

Roll Tide! Alabama tops preseason AP Top 25; OSU, FSU, USC receive first-place votes

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For the fourth time under head coach Nick Saban, the Alabama Crimson Tide will begin a college football season as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25.

The defending SEC champions received 52 first-place votes from the AP voters, easily pulling away from No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Florida State. Both the Buckeyes and Seminoles received first-place votes, as did No. 4 USC. But none of those schools received more than four first-place votes from the voters. Alabama and Florida State meet in Week 1 next week in Atlanta.

Defending national champion Clemson was left without a first-place vote, but still starts the year highly-ranked at No. 5. They are followed by Penn State, fresh off a Big Ten championship from last season. Defending Pac-12 champion and College Football Playoff participant Washington starts the year at No. 8, one spot behind the defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners with a first-year head coach in Lincoln Riley. Oklahoma travels to Columbus, Ohio to play Ohio State in Week 2. Wisconsin and Oklahoma State round out the top 10 in the preseason AP poll.

The lone Group of Five team in the preseason top 25 is USF, with new head coach Charlie Strong taking over the Bulls. Strong’s new team is ranked No. 19, a few spot s ahead of his old program, the No. 23 Texas Longhorns (now coached by Tom Herman).

The SEC leads the country with six teams appearing in the preseason AP Top 25, followed by the ACC and Big 12 with five ranked teams each. The Big Ten and Pac-12 each have four schools represented. No independent teams appear in the preseason top 25.

And here is the full AP Top 25 preseason poll, with first-place votes noted);

  1. Alabama (52 first-place votes)
  2. Ohio State (3)
  3. Florida State (4)
  4. USC (2)
  5. Clemson
  6. Penn State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Washington
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Oklahoma State
  11. Michigan
  12. Auburn
  13. LSU
  14. Stanford
  15. Georgia
  16. Louisville
  17. Florida
  18. Miami FL
  19. USF
  20. Kansas State
  21. Virginia Tech
  22. West Virginia
  23. Texas
  24. Washington State
  25. Tennessee

Tennessee WR Josh Smith to miss start of season with broken collarbone

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Tennessee will be without wide receiver Josh Smith at the start of the season, including the season opener in Atlanta against Georgia Tech next week. Smith will be out of action for the next four to eight weeks with a broken collarbone.

This is the latest injury setback for MSith, who has had ankle surgery in the past as well as a groin injury in January. After catching 13 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown last season, MSith was expected to be a larger contributor to the offense this season as a slot receiver. That may eventually to prove true, but just how soon he can get back on the practice field, let alone a game field, remains to be seen.

At the minimum four weeks, Smith would likely not be returning to the field until a Week 3 matchup with UMass in Knoxville or the Week 4 SEC East battle with Georgia, also in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee has a bye week after the Georgia game to allow for an extra week of rest and recovery if needed. If Smith is out for a full eight weeks, his first game back for the Vols could potentially be the October 21 game at Alabama.

Smith also returned six punts last season for a total of 35 yards.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: Playoff Predictions

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Fair warning: CFT’s 2017 College Football Playoff predictions are boring

But, sometimes, reality is boring.

Alabama and Ohio State have pulled ahead of the pack in recruiting, return a number of players — or, at least, a large enough number to outflank the competition — and are still coached by Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. As such, our staff is picking (with one outlier) those two to square off for the 2017 national championship, with different views on how the title game goes down.

Kevin
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Penn State
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Bryan
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over USC
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Zach
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Florida State
CFP National Championship: Alabama over Ohio State

John
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over USC
Sugar Bowl: Florida State over Alabama
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Florida State