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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.

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.