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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 30 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 30 bowl menu, which features four Power Five vs. Power Five matchups, including one that is, on paper, inarguably the best bowl game outside of the two College Football Playoff semifinals.  Plus, there’s a fifth game pitting MWC and SBC programs that’s only available online, so there’s that, which is nice.

WHO: Georgia (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)
WHAT: The 58th AutoZone Liberty Bowl
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
WHERE: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
THE SKINNY
: This game could be very well be subtitled as the “Disappointment Bowl” as TCU was ranked 13th in the country and Georgia 18th in the Associated Press preseason poll.  Over the next baker’s dozen weeks, neither was much of a factor in their respective conference races and have been relegated to a mid-level bowl game.  Both teams had won at least 10 games in each of the previous two seasons, adding yet another level to the collective disappointment.  The consternation is particularly palpable in Athens, with UGA “parting ways” with long-time head coach Mark Richt and handing the keys to the program to Kirby Smart.  The former Alabama defensive coordinator and first-time head coach then proceeded to produce seven wins; a loss in this game would leave the Bulldogs with their lowest win total since the 2010 season and mark just the second time since 1996 they failed to reach at least eight wins in a season.  After a midseason stumble — they lost four of five from late September to late October — the Bulldogs righted the listing ship by winning three of its last four, including one over an Auburn team that was ranked No. 9 in the country at a time.  The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, lost four of their last six, with three of those losses coming by 24 or more points.  A loss in this game would give TCU just its third losing season in the 16 years under Gary Patterson.  Schools from the SEC (Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State) have won the last three Liberty Bowls; here’s to thinking that UGA, albeit not easily, extends the conference’s winning streak in this game to four in a row.  One thing to remember, though: TCU always gets up for the bowl games under their current head coach as they are 9-3 since losing their first postseason matchup with Patterson at the helm in 2001.  More recently, they’ve won four of their last five bowl games.  Then again, UGA is 14-5 in bowls since 1997, so…
THE LINE: TCU, +1
THE PREDICTION: Georgia 27, TCU 26

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WHO: No. 18 Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
WHAT: The 83rd Hyundai Sun Bowl
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on CBS
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
THE LINE: North Carolina, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: No. 21 Tennessee (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)
WHAT
: The 19th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHEN
: 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE LINE
: Nebraska, +4
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: South Alabama (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
WHAT: The 2nd Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET online at CampusInsiders.com
WHERE: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
THE SKINNY
: The inaugural edition of this bowl game was certainly unique beyond its online broadcast as, because of a lack of bowl-eligible teams from both Conference USA and the Sun Belt, two teams from the Mountain West squared off, marking the first time since 1979 that teams from the same league faced each other in a non-championship bowl game.  Air Force will come into this game riding a five-game winning streak… which was preceded by a three-game losing streak… which was preceded by a four-game winning streak to start the 2016 season.  South Alabama is an odd team, with wins on the road at Mississippi State and at home over Mountain West champion San Diego State on its résumé… along with a narrow overtime win over FCS Nicholls State as well as a pair of losses to SBC teams that won a combined nine games this season.  If you’re looking for a close game, this one, despite the point spread courtesy of Bovada.lv you’ll see below, might just do it for you: eight of Air Force’s 12 games this season were decided by a combined 48 points, while eight of South Alabama’s games were decided by seven points or less, with another decided by 10.  If the Jaguars are going to stay in this game, though, their 98th-ranked run defense (212.1 yards per game) must find some way to contain a Falcons offense that enters the game ranked third nationally rushing yards per game at 322.8.
THE LINE: South Alabama, +14
THE PREDICTION: Air Force 41, South Alabama 31

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WHO: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State
WHAT
: The 82nd Capital One Orange Bowl
WHEN
: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
THE LINE
: Florida State, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

Telly Lockette takes job at Florida State as TEs coach

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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.

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

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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.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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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.

SMU graduate assistant GJ Kinne to call plays in Frisco Bowl

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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.