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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.

Phil Bennett leaves Arizona State staff

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The plan for success at Arizona State under AD Ray Anderson was to remove head coach Todd Graham and while keeping everything else the same — just with a head coach that was… better. And as we know, that head coach turned out to be Herm Edwards.

But not a week into his tenure, Edwards has already hit his first crossroads.

The Sun Devils announced Tuesday that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has left the staff over family matters.

The statement from Edwards:

“While I would have liked for Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett to remain on the coaching staff, I do appreciate the fact that he has chosen not to stay based upon family reasons,” said Edwards. “Family always comes first and right now he needs to turn his attention to that.  My top priorities right now going forward are to solidify our recruiting class and to assemble a defensive coaching staff.  Both objectives are moving along quite well.”

The question now will be who Edwards turns to as Bennett’s replacement. As we know, the new Devils coach has not coached in a decade and not coached in college in nearly three.

So this hire will be anyone’s guess.

Report: Bill Snyder to return to Kansas State in 2018

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Retirement rumors will persist about Bill Snyder until he inevitably retires, especially at this time of year. But a report from K-StateOnline on Tuesday will push those rumors back another year.

According to the site, the Wizard will return to the Kansas State sideline in 2018:

Four separate sources have now confirmed to K-StateOnline.com that Bill Snyder plans to return to coach Kansas State in 2018.

Multiple sources also said that the mood within the Vanier Football Complex and K-State program is “good” heading into bowl season – despite speculation to the contrary.

Snyder took a leave of absence in the offseason to battle throat cancer, but he returned in time for fall camp and has not missed any games this season. A report also emerged last month that former AD John Currie attempted to bring Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt aboard as a head coach-in-waiting, but the school rebutted that by stating Snyder will be the Wildcats’ head coach until he decides he’s not.

Snyder has made no secret he’d like his son, Sean Snyder, to one day succeed him, but a number of logical candidates exist in Leavitt, Brent Venables and new UTEP head coach Dana Dimel.

Now in the ninth year of his second stint as K-State head coach, Snyder owns a record of 209-110-1 with the Wildcats. He has guided the program to two Big 12 championships and six top-10 finishes, though none since 2002.

Kansas State entered this season ranked No. 18 in the AP poll but finished the regular portion at 7-5. The Wildcats will meet UCLA in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

 

Finalists named for inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year

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Jason Witten was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012, and now his foundation is attempting to start a similar honor for college football. While the William V. Campbell Trophy goes to the nation’s best scholar-athlete and the Wuerffel Trophy honors the nation’s best community servant, no other college award attempts to recognize what the Witten Man of the Year recognizes.

And what is that, you ask?

Reads the boiler plate from the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation:

Presented annually to the Division I college football player who has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field. The award honors the type of exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates demonstrated by Jason Witten, the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year and one of the most prominent role models in the game.

Nominees are gathered from the Sports Information Directors of each NCAA Division I football-playing institution. Three finalists are selected by the award’s board of directors, and the winner is selected by a panel of prominent former players and coaches, as well as members of the college football media.

The finalists were announced Tuesday, and they are:

  • Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin
  • Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph

“I am very excited to announce these three exceptional young men as the finalists for the inaugural Collegiate Man of the Year,” the former Tennessee tight end said in a statement. “Minkah Fitzpatrick, Shaquem Griffin and Mason Rudolph are outstanding leaders on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and they embody what the sport of college football is all about. It was a nearly impossible task to choose just three from all of the great student-athletes nominated. There are so many outstanding leaders who are great representatives for college football, and I commend all of the nominees for the tremendous example they set on and off the field.”

These types of awards seem to be just as much about honoring the namesake as they do the winner, but I doubt either of the three finalists would turn down the award if chosen.

The winner will beget a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s scholarship fund, and will be chosen on Feb. 22.

Jeremy Smith’s dad says RB son transferring from Louisville

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A lost 2017 season for Jeremy Smith has morphed into a departure for the player.

The father of the running back confirmed to the Louisville Courier Journal Monday night that his son has been granted a release from his Louisville scholarship. A school official subsequently confirmed Smith’s departure as well.

The senior will be leaving the football program as a graduate of the university, giving him the ability to use his final season of eligibility immediately in 2018.

Smith came to the Cardinals from the junior college ranks as a member of their 2015 recruiting class.  After rushing for 270 yards his first year, he ran for 382 (on 57 carries) in 2016.  That latter season, his eight rushing touchdowns were second on the team to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson‘s 21.

Entering the 2017 season as the Cardinals’ top returning back, Smith suffered a foot injury during practice between the first two games of the year that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  That injury limited him to just eight yards on five carries.