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
No stranger to transfer, E.J. Price is embarking on a search for a new college home — again. Whether football is involved, however, seemingly remains to be seen.
On his personal Twitter account Thursday morning, Price announced that he is “stepping away” from the Kentucky football program. In the tweet, the offensive lineman stressed, in all-caps, that “I WAS NOT KICKED OFF I AM LEAVING.”
In a subsequent tweet. he stated it was “time for me to overcome football.”
Earlier this month, head coach Mark Stoops mentioned “some inconsistencies with [Price] that he needs to iron out.” In another tweet, the lineman stated the following:
Price was a four-star member of USC’s 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 8 offensive tackle in the country. He transferred from USC to Kentucky in July of last year.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Price was forced to sit out the 2017 season.
South Alabama recently received some positive news on the personnel front.
A USA spokesperson (for the university, not the country) confirmed to al.com that Andrew Reinkemeyer has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. The tight end will use that additional season of eligibility, his last, to play for the Jaguars in 2018.
The decision to grant Reinkemeyer an extra season of eligibility was seemingly a no-brainer.
As a true sophomore at a Kansas junior college, Reinkemeyer suffered an injury in the 2015 season opener and didn’t play again that year. After transferring to USA, Reinkemeyer missed the entire 2016 season because of the torn Achilles tendon that cost him most of the previous season at the JUCO.
Finally healthy last season, Reinkemeyer caught 10 passes for 75 yards for the Sun Belt Conference program. He was the leading receiver amongst Jaguars tight ends in 2017.
The latest addition to Larry Fedora‘s North Carolina coaching staff has been confirmed.
Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this month. UNC announced Wednesday that Fedora has hired Robert Gillespie. While not confirmed by the football program in the release, it’s expected Gillespie will serve as the Tar Heels running backs coach, a position he’s held for most of his coaching career.
“We are excited to welcome Robert and his family to Chapel Hill,” Fedora said in a statement. “He has a well-earned reputation as a great offensive coach and recruiter, and he has a wealth of experience working with running backs at a very high level. We are happy to have him join our staff as we get into the bulk of spring practice.”
Gillespie fills the hole created by the departure of Gunter Brewer, who left as the Tar Heels’ wide receivers coach for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. It’s expected that Luke Paschall, currently the running backs coach, will assume Brewer’s role with receivers.
Gillespie, a former Florida running back, spent the past five seasons as the running backs coach at Tennessee. He was originally retained by new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt before parting ways with the football program shortly after National Signing Day.
In addition to UT, Gillespie has spent time on coaching staffs at South Carolina (2006-08), Oklahoma State (2009-10) and West Virginia (2011-12). He was the running backs coach at each of those stops.
It appears Alabama can breathe a sigh of relief on the injury front.
Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his LEFT (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.
While there’s been nothing official yet from the football program or head coach, al.com, citing unnamed sources, writes that the injury “is believed to just be a sprain and he should be able to return to practice in at least a limited capacity at some point soon.”
Until then, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.
The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are engaged in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.