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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.

Virginia Tech defends decision to put Michael Vick in Hokies Hall of Fame

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Athletically, there is no question Michael Vick belongs in Virginia Tech’s athletics hall of fame. Heck, the Hokies might as well name the thing after him.

In his two seasons on campus, Vick (pictured, left) threw for 3,299 yards and 21 touchdowns — averaging 9.6 yards per attempt on 56 percent completions, in an era where anything over 50 was considered above-average — while adding an electrifying 1,299 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Vick led the Hokies to a 22-2 record, a Big East championship and appearance in the BCS national title game as a redshirt freshman in 1999, a campaign that saw him finish third in Heisman Trophy voting.

He was essentially a combination of Vince YoungJohnny Manziel and Allen Iverson, in a time when the I-formation and pocket passers still ruled college football.

But there is, of course, the non-football side of Vick’s life.

In the prime of his career — he came 26 passing yards short of a 2,500/1,000 season in 2007 — Vick’s NFL career essentially ended when he was convicted of running a dogfighting ring and served 21 months in federal prison. And all throughout that time, Virginia Tech was tangentially related to the biggest villain in sports.

Still, Virginia Tech announced earlier this month that Vick was a member of its 5-person 2017 Sports Hall of Fame class, to be inducted on Friday, Sept. 22. Vick’s inclusion generation a petition that has drawn more than 2,500 signatures protesting the decision.

“You know one of my friends volunteered to go down to his residence where all of this took place at the aftermath to help with the cleanup, if you want to put it that way,” Virginia Tech graduate and petition creator Jennifer Breeden told Collegiate Times. “It’s just kind of an embarrassment that (Virginia Tech) would want to honor someone like that.”

Arguing that Vick has paid his debt to society and shown remorse for his actions, Virginia Tech on Friday released the following statement saying that Vick will remain in the 2017 class.

Mr. Vick’s induction into the university’s sports hall of fame acknowledges his tremendous achievements as a student athlete—who some will say was the greatest in the history of the university.

We understand that there are those who do not and will never agree with this decision.

In considering Mr. Vick’s nomination to our sports hall of fame, the criminal activities in which he engaged, his subsequent conviction, and time he served for his crime were also considered.

And it was informed by the remorse he has shown since that conviction, the work he is currently engaged in to advance animal welfare issues, as well as his efforts to help our current student athletes, based on lessons he’s learned in his own life, make positive choices as they begin their adult lives.

This in no way condones the actions for which he was convicted.

The university remains dedicated to the protection of animal health and welfare and embodies great care and compassion for all living animals.

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction Vick gets at the Hokies’ Sept. 23 home game against Old Dominion.

Michigan pulls recruiting director away from former Michigan coach’s staff

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Michigan is set to add Arizona recruiting czar Matt Dudek as its new director of recruiting, according to a report from FootballScoop on Saturday.

CBS Sports’s Dennis Dodd confirmed the report, adding that Michigan is expected to formally announce the move at Big Ten media days on Monday.

The irony, of course, is that Dudek will leave the staff of former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.

Dudek had been with Rodriguez shortly after his late 2011 hiring, first as on-campus recruiting coordinator and player personnel director before being named college football’s first general manager after the 2015 season. He helped the Wildcats win the 2014 Pac-12 South championship and was named a finalist for FootballScoop‘s Player Personnel Director of the Year award multiple times. (Disclaimer: I also write for FootballScoop.)

Prior to Arizona, Dudek worked as director of football branding and events at Rutgers and as assistant director of football operations and recruiting coordinator at Pittsburgh.

At Michigan, Dudek will join a staff that already recruits quite capably under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have finished eighth and fifth nationally in 247Sports‘s composite team rankings in Harbaugh’s two full cycles as Michigan’s head coach.

Dudek’s departure will be viewed by some as an anti-show of faith in Rodriguez’s tenure at Arizona. Since that 10-4, top-20 season in 2014, the Wildcats have slipped to 7-6 in 2015 and 3-9 last fall.

WATCH: Mark Richt takes annual backflip off the high dive

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It’s been quite the summer for Mark Richt. His 2018 recruiting class is one of the best in the nation, he taught the nation the most efficient way to eat a sandwich, and on Friday he executed his annual high-dive backflip at a Hurricanes pool party.

(In case you haven’t seen the sandwich bit, watch it below. It’ll change your life.)

As SB Nation catalogues, Richt has made these backflips an annual thing since he was at Georgia in 2015. It was a skill he learned, he says, to impress the ladies after watching Greg Louganis (yes, that Greg Louganis) do it while they were students at Miami.

Richt and Louganis both enrolled at the University of Miami in 1978, and the future Hurricanes’ coach and his teammates would hang out at the university’s pool, where Louganis and the diving team would practice.

“We would watch him,” Richt said. “You’d go to the pool, because that’s where the girls were, right? So we’d watch the divers work out and say, that guy’s pretty good. Turns out he was the best in the world, like, ever. I had a lot of respect for him.”

Here’s this year’s effort.

Not bad for a guy pushing 60.

Nick Saban thinks skipping bowl games could lead to recruits doing same thing in high school

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Grand Poobah of college football and Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had some interesting ideas about the sport over the years that conflict with the general consensus of his peers. The latest subject to fit that mold? How players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping their bowl games could filter down to the high school level with recruits.

“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.'”

The Crimson Tide coach is referencing not only the two tailbacks skipping bowl games but also the possibility that upcoming December signing date could be moved up on the calendar. Big 12 commissioner (and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee) Bob Bowlsby said at his conference media days that the date for signing could be changed or even extended to a longer signing period as part of ongoing discussions about the recruiting process.

Talk of players signing with a college prior to their senior season in high school has not been broadly talked about by coaches or administrators but it does seem like everything is on the table when it comes to NCAA reforms in this area. It remains to be seen if any recruit will actually go as far as sitting out a full year in order to protect himself from injury in order to play in college… just as it remains questionable as to whether Fournette and McCaffrey’s decisions will develop into a broader trend at the college level.

Coaches are no fans of dramatically altering the status quo and it seems Saban is among the group who want to stem the postseason defection of players before things turn into a regular occurrence at any level of football.