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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 31 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 31 bowl menu, which today features two ACC vs. SEC matchups as well as a pair of games that may garner a little bit of attention beginning mid-afternoon and onto the night.

WHO: No. 20 LSU (7-4) vs. No. 13 Louisville (9-3)
WHAT: The 70th Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
THE SKINNY
: Of all the non-playoff games, and aside from the Orange Bowl, this might be the most anticipated bowl game of the 2016-17 postseason cycle, at least from my perch on this part of the world.  The most obvious — and deliciously delectable — storyline for the first-ever meeting between the two football programs is Louisville’s high-powered offense, triggered by Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, that’s second nationally in points per game (45.3) squaring off with an LSU defense that’s sixth in the country in keeping the opposition off the scoreboard (16.4 ppg).  The Tigers allowed more than 21 points in a game just once this season, a 54-39 win over Texas A&M in the regular-season finale; the Cardinals scored 24 or more points in every game but one in 2016, a 36-10 loss to Houston in their penultimate regular-season game.  One of the more underrated, under-the-radar matchups in this game?   A U of L run defense that’s a very stingy ninth (110 ypg) versus an LSU rushing attack that, despite Leonard Fournette sitting this one out, is 19th at 238.1 yards per game.  That said, this game is all about how a pair of defensive masterminds, Ed Orgeron, the permanent replacement for Les Miles as head coach, and coordinator Dave Aranda, plan to handle the dynamic, all-purpose talent that is Jackson.  Houston provided LSU a road map of sorts, limiting Jackson to 211 yards through the air (on 20-of-43 passing) and a season-low 33 yards rushing in a Nov. 17 win that officially eliminated the U of L from playoff contention.  Orgeron and Aranda have had nearly four weeks to devise a game plan to mirror and match the Cougars’ success, albeit with athletes vastly superior overall to what UH has at its disposal.  Watching the chess match between the Jackson-led Bobby Petrino offense and the Tigers defense will be absolutely fascinating to see unfold.  One potential X factor: Danny Etling.  Since taking over as the starting quarterback the first month of the season, Etling has steadily righted a listing passing ship, culminating a mini resurgence in that phase of the offense with a 324-yard performance in the last game of the regular season.   Given how prolific Louisville’s offense has been, and the stoutness of their run defense, Etling may be forced to match or exceed that statistical breakout just to keep pace.  Fun fact: the last six Citrus Bowls were all decided by at least 10 points, with five of those decided by 14 or more and two by 34 or more.  The last single-digit game?  The one following the 2009 season, which saw Penn State come away with a 19-17 win over… LSU, of course.
THE LINE: Louisville, +3
THE PREDICTION: LSU 31, Louisville 30

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WHO: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The 71st TaxSlayer Bowl
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
THE SKINNY
: A 2-3 start to the season that included a nine-point loss to Southern Miss had the pitchfork, torch-carrying Lexington mob howling at Mark Stoops‘ door, with the Kentucky head coach’s seat that was already warm entering 2016 heating up significantly.  A 5-2 close to the year, including a win over in-state rival Louisville, however, completely changed the tenor of the conversation, with the Wildcats qualifying for a bowl for the first time in the four-year Stoops era and first time for the football program overall since 2010.  A win in this game would give UK eight this season, the most since hitting the same mark in 2007.  Kentucky’s opponent comes into this game on an uptick as well, with Georgia Tech winning five of their last six games, a stretch that included road wins over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech and in-state rival Georgia.  If you’re a fan of rushing offense, this game is for you as Tech is 10th nationally at 257.4 ypg while UK is not far behind at 16th at 241.3.  The Wildcats, though, are tied for 107th in stopping the run at 225 per game (the Yellow Jackets are a middling 65th, more than 50 yards fewer than their SEC opponent).  Speaking of the SEC, that conference has claimed the last two TaxSlayer Bowls and four of the last six.  The ACC hasn’t won one since after the 2009 season, a Florida State triumph in what was Bobby Bowden‘s final game of a Hall of Fame career.
THE LINE: Kentucky, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 24, Kentucky 20

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WHO: No. 4 Washington (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)
WHAT: The College Football Playoff at the 49th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
WHEN: 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
THE LINE: Washington, +14½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 2 Clemson (12-1)
WHAT
: The College Football Playoff at the 46th PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
WHEN
: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
THE LINE
: Clemson, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

Syracuse makes hiring of D-II Coach of the Year official

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Dino Babers‘ second coaching staff is whole once again.

Following up on reports that first surfaced late last week, Syracuse confirmed in a press release that Justin Lustig (pictured, left) has left his job as the head coach at Div. II Edinboro (Pa.) College to take over as Babers’ running backs coach.  Additionally, Lustig will serve as special teams coordinator for the Orange.

Lustig replaces Mike Hart, who left earlier this month to take the running backs coach job at Indiana.

“The job Justin did as a first-time head coach was fantastic,” Babers said in a statement. “He’s also been a highly-successful assistant coach. The running backs he has coached have performed extremely well, and his special teams units have consistently ranked among the nation’s best. We’re very excited to welcome Justin and his family to Syracuse.”

Hired in January of last year, Lustig took over an Edinboro team that finished 0-11 in 2015 and turned them into a 9-2 squad one year later.  For that turnaround, he was named the Div. II Coach of the Year.

Lustig’s last job at the FBS level came at Ball State, where he served as running backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2011-15.  He also earned the title of assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.

This will mark Lustig’s first job of any kind at a Power Five program.

“My family and I are excited, honored and grateful for the opportunity to come to Syracuse and join Coach Babers’ staff,” Lustig said. “He is building a championship program there. The future of Syracuse football is very bright and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

UNLV ‘very excited’ to share Las Vegas stadium with Raiders

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The biggest news of the day in the NFL has a decidedly college football connection.

By a 31-1 vote, NFL owners approved the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas later this decade.  The new stadium that will eventually serve as the home for the NFL club is expected to be ready for play for the 2020 season.

As expected, it will also serve as the new home for Sin City’s FBS team, a fact that UNLV’s hierarchy was quick to point out and highlight in the hours after the vote was officially confirmed.  Below are the statements from the three main characters involved with the football program.

Len Jessup, UNLV President
UNLV and the entire Rebel family welcome the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Raiders and the Stadium Authority Board to give UNLV football access to a world-class stadium and accompanying game day experience that will rival the best in college football. We also recognize and thank the numerous stakeholders – including the Adelson family – who invested their time and energy toward this vision. This is an historic day for Nevada and another example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletics Director
We are very excited to welcome the Raiders to our great city of Las Vegas. Our community is on the rise and that has clearly been recognized by the NFL owners with today’s vote. We can’t wait for the day our UNLV football program has a new home, sharing the new world-class stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders. What a great day for the NFL, our city and our university.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV Football Head Coach
Today is a huge development for UNLV Football and the city of Las Vegas. Sharing a state-of-the-art stadium with the Raiders is another thing that will allow us to recruit at a high level. The combination of an NFL stadium and our upcoming Fertitta Football Complex brings so much energy to this program and campus. As someone who has lived here for eight years, I’m also excited for this community. This is a great place to live and the pride of being an NFL city will make it an even better place.

In addition to being tenants in a new state-of-the-art stadium, the university will soon begin construction on an on-campus football practice facility.

There are five FBS teams that will share stadiums with NFL teams on at least a part-time basis in 2017 — UMass (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium), Miami (Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium), Temple (Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field) and USF (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium).  Georgia State had shared the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons but are moving to the new Turner Field this season, while San Diego State will still call Qualcomm Stadium home even as the Chargers have bolted the facility for Los Angeles.

There has been chatter that both Temple (HERE) and USF (HERE) could find themselves in a position to build an on-campus stadium at some point down the road — although the latter could extend its agreement with its current home as it continues to evaluate its long-term plans.

The Los Angles Rams are also temporarily crashing at the home of the USC Trojans, Memorial Coliseum, until their new stadium is completed.

Kaylee Hartung leaves ESPN sidelines for CNN

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ESPN’s roster of college football talent has taken a bath lately. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman broke up their critically acclaimed team for NFL work at different networks. Brad Nessler left for CBS. Brent Musuberger left for Vegas. Samantha Ponder has joined McDonough on the Worldwide Leader’s NFL team and, now, Kaylee Hartung is leaving the network as well.

Hartung confirmed her departure from ESPN on Monday. Though she did not name her next employer, it’s been an open secret within the industry for nearly a month Hartung will leave for CNN.

“Last night I worked my final event with ESPN,” Hartung announced on her Twitter page. “The decision to leave a job I love and take on a new challenge has been incredibly emotional but the overwhelming feeling I have today is gratitude. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had within the ESPN family for 5 years. I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with who have supported me, made me a better reporter, made me a better person and became my friends. I’m grateful for the coaches, athletes, staffers, and university officials who’ve shared their stories with me and let me be a part of their magical moments. I’m grateful for the fans who have embraced me and shared their passion with me. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my life during this incredibly fun and exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter has in store… Now I get to be a fan of you all!”

Hartung started with Longhorn Network and since moved to SEC Network and the mothership. Her final event for the network was Sunday night’s Women’s Elite Eight match between Mississippi State and Baylor. Hartung worked in the political media prior to landing with the Longhorn Network as an associate producer for the CBS program Face the Nation.

Final Four forces South Carolina to postpone indoor facility groundbreaking

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File this one under the most first world of all problems: the South Carolina football program is having to adjust its plans because the Gamecocks’ basketball team has been more successful than anticipated.

With Frank Martin‘s hoops headed to Phoenix for this weekend’s Final Four and taking all the Palmetto State’s attention with them, Will Muschamp‘s football program has been forced to alter what had been a big day planned.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to break ground on their announced indoor practice facility; those plans have now been postponed.

With only six days between South Carolina’s clinching of a Final Four berth and the football team’s planned Garnet-White game, the spring game will have to remain slated for Saturday. But it has been bumped forward to a noon kickoff.

Muschamp did not make the trip to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Elite Eight win (Florida’s Jim McElwain was in attendance) and Saturday’s spring game will also preclude his attendance, meaning the head football coach must wait until a possible national championship berth to support the basketball team in person.