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AAC gets off to bumpy 0-2 start to the bowl season

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The American Athletic Conference may be, arguably, the strongest and deepest of the Group of Five conferences in college football, but the bowl season has not gotten off to a good start for the conference that sells itself is the sixth power conference. Houston and UCF both took losses in the two bowl games involving teams from the AAC on Saturday, getting the conference off to a disappointing 0-2 start to the season.

Houston suffered a blowout loss in the Las Vegas Bowl against Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State, with Donnel Pumphrey setting the new all-time NCAA rushing record in the process. The Cougars were a five-point favorite heading into the matchup with the Aztecs and returned home with a 24-point loss in the head coaching debut of Major Applewhite. For a team that knocked off top five opponents Oklahoma and Louisville in the regular season, ending the year with a 9-4 record and a Las Vegas Bowl loss (and a head coach to Texas) was a bitter ending to a promising season. UCF’s loss to Arkansas State was not quite as shocking of an upset, with the Knights coming into the Cure Bowl as a slight favorite against the Sun Belt co-champions.

The image problem for the AAC is it just suffered two losses to champions from two other Group of Five conferences right out of the gate. And it is not as though the AAC had a stellar postseason last year either. The AAC went just 2-6 in postseason bowl games a year ago, the worst overall record of any conference. The bowl record a year ago was overshadowed by Houston’s victory over Florida State in the Peach Bowl, but the AAC went winless against Conference USA (0-2), the MAC (0-1), and the Mountain West Conference (0-1) last bowl season. The American went 2-3 in bowl games in 2014 and 2013 too.

If the AAC is going to come together and support its case to be the top Group of Five conference, it will have its work cut out for them the rest of the bowl season, although there may be some favorable matchups to come.

Tulsa will take on Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl, and the Golden Hurricane should be a decent favorite in the game. But one should never count out the Chippewas this time of year. Memphis gets a tough draw against Conference USA champion Western Kentucky, although the Hilltoppers are going through a coaching change that could impact the team in the Boca Raton Bowl. Navy’s matchup with Louisiana Tech could be a challenge given recent depth concerns for the Midshipmen from their last two games played against Temple and Army.

Two AAC teams, Temple and USF, will take on power conference opponents, Wake Forest and South Carolina, respectively. Both the Owls and Bulls should stand a good chance to boost the AAC’s record and to do so against the ACC and SEC would be a good finish for the conference. But if the AAC comes up with another losing record and tacks on more losses against Group of Five conference opponents, the talk about the AAC’s pedigree among non-power conferences will be tarnished for an entire offseason.

Miami Beach Bowl officially moves to Frisco, Texas

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The Miami Beach Bowl was an unnecessary bowl game played in a metro area already populated by bowl games — but at least it was in Miami. Bowl games may have lost their luster over the past decade-plus, but it’s hard to complain about being sent to South Beach in December for a football game.

The Miami Beach Bowl is no more, and it’s now been reincarnated as another unnecessary bowl game to be played in a metro area even more populated by bowl games — and it won’t be anywhere near as interesting as Miami.

Meet the Frisco Bowl, the newest ESPN-created postseason college football game to be played in the scenic locale of Frisco, Texas.

The north Dallas suburb will host the game at Toyota Stadium, a 20,500-seat outdoor venue that’s home to MLS club FC Dallas as well as the FCS National Championship every January. The Frisco Bowl will also compete for sponsorship dollars and public attention with the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas and the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.

“We are pleased to be able to host this game in one of the most vibrant football markets in the country,” said ESPN vice president of events Clint Overby. “The infrastructure and facilities that exist in Frisco are outstanding and will be an excellent venue for the teams, players, administrators and fans traveling into the marketplace. We look forward to working with civic organizations and businesses in the area to create an annual event that embraces the spirit of the community.”

The first annual Frisco Bowl will pit an American Athletic Conference team against a to-be-determined conference at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 20.

2017 Texas signee sees felony drug charge reduced to misdemeanor

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It appears the door to one member of Texas’ 2017 recruiting class arriving in Austin this summer has opened a little wider.

In late February, Reese Leitao was arrested at his Oklahoma high school on a charge of possession/delivery of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to sell within a thousand feet of a school, a felony.  Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman is reporting, Leitao pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession charge.

As part of the plea agreement, Leitao received a four-year deferred sentence; provided he stays clean during that time, the charge will be wiped off his record.  The American-Statesman writes that, “[a]ccording to Leitao’s attorney, Leitao has ‘some probationary work,’including speaking engagements at schools, and will be under the supervision of the district attorney.”  A $1,000 fine was part of his punishment as well.

The ball is now in the hands of first-year UT head coach Tom Herman as to whether Leitao will have a football future with the Longhorns.

“I’m happy,” the attorney, Allen Smallwood, told the newspaper. “Hopefully the University of Texas will be happy.”

At the time of Leitao’s arrest, a statement attributed to Herman said that “[w]e’re collecting information, will talk to Reese and his family, let the legal system run its course and then address it further at the appropriate time.” As of this posting, the university has yet to publicly address the development.

Leitao was a three-star 2017 signee, rated as the No. 19 tight end in the country and the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Oklahoma.

Miami All-American, NFL Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy dead at 48

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One of the most physically-gifted and talented players in the history of Miami Hurricanes football is gone way, way too soon.

The Orlando Police Department confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Cortez Kennedy passed away earlier today.  He was just 48 years old.

No cause of death has been determined, with the OPD stating that “at this time there is nothing suspicious to report but we are conducting an investigation regarding his unattended passing.”

After starting his collegiate playing career at the junior college level, Kennedy moved on to the University of Miami, earning All-American honors in 1989.  In 2004, he was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame.

The third overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft, Kennedy spent his entire 11-year pro career with the Seattle Seahawks.  In 2012, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, Kennedy’s sudden passing has brought an outpouring of emotion from those connected to the football program.

LSU RB Lanard Fournette arrested for illegal gambling at Baton Rouge casino

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The younger brother of Leonard Fournette has finally made a name for himself, albeit for all of the wrong reasons.

Monday afternoon, WAFB-TV reported, LSU running back Lanard Fournette was arrested on a charge of using a fake ID to gamble at a Baton Rouge casino this past weekend.  The 20-year-old Fournette was subsequently released on a $1,000 bond.

The Baton Rouge Advocate has obtained some of the details  led up to the arrest of the redshirt sophomore.

Fournette… was arrested Monday after surveillance video showed and casino personnel confirmed he gained access to the gaming floor Saturday with a different ID than his own driver’s license, according to his arrest report.

Security video showed Fournette playing at a “craps table” for 16 minutes around 1:30 p.m., before walking to the player’s services counter. Fournette then allegedly presented his real ID to the cashier for a cash withdrawal, who determined his accurate age and contacted security, the report says.

Fournette, of Slidell, was detained at the casino, but left before the officer’s arrival, the report says. When casino security asked Fournette about the incident, Fournette said he used another person’s ID to enter the casino, the report says.

Head coach Ed Orgeron is aware of the incident and any discipline will be handled internally.

A three-star 2015 signee, Fournette took a redshirt his true freshman season.  In three games last year, he ran for 13 yards on five carries.

Fournette’s older brother was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft following an Al-American career at LSU.