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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 29 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 29 bowl menu, which today features a trio of teams that finished in the final regular season College Football Playoff Top 25, with two of them squaring off in the first ranked vs. ranked matchup of the 2016-17 bowl season.

WHO: South Florida (10-2) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
WHAT: The 11th Birmingham Bowl
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
THE SKINNY
: At least when viewed in the light of its start to the season — they were 2-4 after six games — South Carolina, winners of four straight bowl games, was very respectable in the latter half of 2016 as they went 4-2 down the stretch, including a win over a Tennessee team that was ranked 18th in the country at the time.  Their opponents, though, have been on a roll for most of the season, with South Florida, looking for its first bowl win since 2010, coming into this game armed with a pair of three-game winning streaks and a four-gamer that closed out the regular season.  The 10 wins are the first time in program history they’ve hit double digits, and led to head coach Willie Taggart taking the same job at Oregon (offensive coordinator T.J. Weist will serve as interim coach as Charlie Strong goes about assembling his new USF staff).  This game will serve as a matchup of two teams with vastly different strengths, with the Bulls seventh in the country in scoring offense (43.6 ppg) and the Gamecocks 45th in scoring defense (24.8 ppg).  Conversely, USF is tied for 85th in scoring defense (31 ppg) and the SEC USC is tied for 121st in scoring offense (19.3 ppg).  It should be noted that USC’s offense has seen significant improvement since Jake Bentley took over under center, with the ‘Cocks averaging 24.5 a game after the true freshman staked his claim as the starting quarterback.  USF, though, is led by one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country most of you likely pay next to no attention to, with junior Quinton Flowers accounting for 37 touchdowns in 2016 — 22 passing, 15 rushing.  His 1,425 yards rushing are second only to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson‘s 1,538 amongst quarterbacks.  Fun fact: USC head coach Will Muschamp is a part of this particular Alabama-based bowl game for the third consecutive year, with the first coming as the head coach at Florida in 2014 and the second as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2015.  Fun fact, the sequel: a team from the SEC has claimed each of the last four Birmingham Bowls.  Last year’s winner, Auburn, came into the game 6-6.  The team they were facing?  A 9-3 Memphis team that hailed from the American Athletic Conference.  This year’s game has a very similar ring record-wise and conference-wise, but I’m inclined to lean toward a decidedly different result.
THE LINE: South Carolina, +10
THE PREDICTION: South Florida 31, South Carolina 27

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WHO: Arkansas (7-5) vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech (9-4)
WHAT: The 15th Belk Bowl
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
THE LINE: Arkansas, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. No. 10 Colorado (10-3)
WHAT
: The 24th Valero Alamo Bowl
WHEN
: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
THE LINE
: Oklahoma State, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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.