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

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.