WHO: North Carolina State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
WHAT: The 41st Camping World Independence Bowl
WHEN: December 26, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA
THE SKINNY: A pair of late season upsets over in-state rivals helped both of these teams reach the postseason and each will head to the Independence Bowl hungry to keep things rolling at the end of the year.
While this game was one of the more entertaining and high-scoring bowls last year, that probably isn’t going to be the case in 2016 given the units involved. Vanderbilt’s defense is the heart and soul of the team and features linebacker Zach Cunningham, who was a unanimous All-American this season after leading the SEC in tackles with 119. The Commodores’ offense has had its up’s and downs but tailback Ralph Webb is one of the most reliable runners in the country and quarterback Kyle Shurmur capped off a nice stretch by setting a career high with 416 passing yards in a win over Tennessee.
The Wolfpack are led by running back Matthew Dayes, who finished third in the ACC this season with 1,119 rushing yards. His teammate in the backfield is quarterback Ryan Finley, who transferred over from Boise State in the offseason and got off to a great start this year before cooling off in early November. N.C. State’s defense is not well known by those outside the North Carolina Triangle but defensive end Bradley Chubb is second in the nation with 21 tackles for loss and is 23rd with 9.5 sacks.
Vanderbilt is making its eighth bowl appearance ever this year and fourth in the past six years while this is the third straight bowl under Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren. This figures to be a fairly even matchup and between the two teams but the Commodores have the better defense and should continue to keep things up on offense to the point where they can secure a close win over their ACC foe.
THE LINE: Vanderbilt, +4
THE PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 28, N.C. State 21
As Willie Taggart constructs his first coaching staff at Florida State, he’s added yet another familiar face.
Taggart, FSU announced earlier Thursday, has hired Telly Lockette as the Seminoles’ tight ends coach. Lockette had spent the past three seasons as the running backs coach at Oregon State.
Prior to that, Lockette was a member of Taggart’s coaching staff at USF as running backs coach for two seasons and maintains deep ties to the fertile recruiting soil of South Florida.
“I’ve known Coach Lockette for a long time and am excited he is joining our staff at Florida State,” Taggart said. “He was an important part of my first staff at South Florida and has gained Power 5 experience with his last three seasons in the Pac-12. Coach Lockette is a tremendous recruiter and coach who does a phenomenal job developing student-athletes on and off the field. While we were at South Florida he was the primary recruiter for the Miami area and helped us sign a number of impact players, including Quinton Flowers, Khalid McGee and Deatrick Nichols. His expertise will benefit our current and future Seminoles.”
The job with Taggart at USF was Lockette’s first at any level of college football. The first 10 years of his coaching career were spent at the high school level, including a five-year stint at Miami Central from 2008-12.
Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.
The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days. Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs. The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.
According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000. That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.
“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”
Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs. This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008. They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.
With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.
“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”
Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.
Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season. Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.
“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”
Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons. He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.
After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season. Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.
New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes has been busy assembling his staff as he prepares to jump right in the saddle to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but he will have one holdover from the previous staff to help call the shots on offense. Graduate assistant GJ Kinne will call the offensive plays for the bowl game, according to Adam Grosbard of The Dallas Morning News.
This would seem to be the most logical choice for Dykes to make in this scenario. Kinne has been working in the SMU system all season long under former head coach Chad Morris, who has moved to Arkansas with a handful of assistants. Having the most experience with the current roster and a better comfort level makes sense to have Kinne take on this responsibility so close to the bowl game. This will be a major promotion for Kinne, the former Tulsa quarterback, even if just for one game.
“I certainly trust G.J. It’s going to be fun to give him an opportunity to be highly involved and it’ll be one of those things he remembers for the rest of his life,” Dykes said of the decision to have Kinne calling the offense from above. “When you’re a GA and you get to call a bowl game, it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”
Just how smoothly this all goes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, if things go awry, Kinne and Dykes can always just resort to going back to a chuck-it-deep mentality and see what happens.
SMU faces Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20.