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CFT Previews: Cotton Bowl Classic

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WHO: No. 15 Western Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3)
WHAT: The 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: MAC champion Western Michigan ran the table this season, ended the year as one of two FBS undefeated programs with Alabama being the other. That was still far from good enough to get a crack at the College Football Playoff, but P.J. Fleck has his upstart program rowing their boats to the Cotton Bowl to take on Wisconsin.

The Badgers hope quarterback Alex Hornibrook is healthy enough to stay in the game after getting roughed up against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the real focus of the Wisconsin offense should fall on the running game with Corey Clement working behind a steady offensive line that should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage.

It should go without saying that Wisconsin will be, by far, the best defensive team Western Michigan has faced all season long, led by T.J. Watt. The Broncos may feel confident having two wins already this season against Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois), but the Badgers beat those two teams as well by a combined 59 points, as opposed to Western Michigan’s combined 25-point margin of victory over the Wildcats and Illini. Wisconsin’s defense did get exposed in the Big Ten championship game by Penn State’s big play offense though, and it should be expected Western Michigan will attempt to find those some cracks with Zach Terrell looking to find future NFL receiver Corey Davis for some big gains.

Western Michigan may be overmatched in the trenches, but the running game should be a key for the Broncos regardless. Jarvion Franklin rushed for 1,300 yards this season, but finding room to run against the Badgers defensive front will be his toughest challenge yet, especially if Wisconsin comes out looking to rebound from a poor showing in the Big Ten championship game.

Which brings us to the all-important yet completely unpredictable motivation factor. It would not be fair to take anything away from Western Michigan’s effort should things go well, but what exactly is the motivation level for Wisconsin? The Badgers were the favorite in the Big Ten championship game and lost steam to go from playing in the Rose Bowl (or potentially the College Football Playoff?) and now are paired up with this year’s Group of Five representative in the bowl lineup. Wisconsin does not seem like the kind of program that will go through the motions, and Paul Chryst may not strike you as a rah-rah go-get-em type of coach, but he will have the Badgers ready to go on the big stage in Arlington.

There is a bit of an experience factor at play as well, as a majority of this Wisconsin team has already played in AT&T Stadium. Wisconsin opened the 2015 season in this stadium against Alabama, so the initial wow-factor of playing in this venue may not be a concern. Western Michigan, however, is playing on this kind of stage for the first time in program history. Will that be an intangible?

THE PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 20

Second Nevada football player added to Wolf Pack hoops

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Recently, Nevada’s men’s basketball roster has taken on a decidedly gridiron hue.

Thanks to injuries and off-field issues, Eric Musselman‘s hoops team was down to just seven scholarship players.  Because of those numbers, 6-5 Wolf Pack wide receiver Elijah Cooks was added to the basketball roster earlier this month.  Monday night, 6-2 wide receiver-turned-safety Justin Brent confirmed on Twitter that, with the blessing of head football coach Jay Norvell, he too will be joining the Wolf Pack basketball team.

According to the Reno Gazette Journal, Brent was recruited as a basketball player by, among others, Georgetown, Marquette, Purdue, Virginia Tech and Xavier.  He ultimately signed with Notre Dame with the intention of playing both sports at the school, but ultimately transferred from the Fighting Irish to the Wolf Pack.

Brent will begin practicing with the team, which will be the main job of both of the football players.  While Cooks has traveled with the team to two games since joining, he has yet to take the floor with his new squad, although Mussleman admitted that he nearly put the receiver in late in their recent game against Utah State.

Last season as a true freshman, Cooks caught two passes for 23 yards.  Brent, a redshirt junior, totaled 21 yards on his one reception before being moved from offense to defense.

Four-star 2018 C Tyrone Sampson headed to Fresno State

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All four-star 2018 recruits are officially accounted for.

After the first-ever Early Signing Period in December and the annual National Signing Day earlier this month, just one of 347 four-star recruits remained unsigned by FBS programs. That one, Tyrone Sampson Jr. of Detroit, had reportedly zeroed in on Arizona State, Mississippi State and Nebraska as likely destinations but, instead of signing on the first Wednesday of February, opted instead to continue studying his options as schools such as Illinois, Missouri and West Virginia had entered the picture.

In the end, however, it appears that the one-time Syracuse commit will at least begin his collegiate playing career not at a Power Five program but rather at a Mountain West Conference school according to the offensive lineman as well as his new football coach.

That commitment came shortly after Sampson visited the Bulldogs’ campus.

Sampson was rated as the No. 7 center in the country and the No. 346 recruit overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. He had been committed to Syracuse for more than eight months before decommitting in December.

Easily the highest-rated member of Jeff Tedford‘s second recruiting class, Sampson is the first four-star recruit signed by the football program since 2015 (wide receiver L.J. Reed) and just the fourth such prospect in the school’s history, joining quarterback Derek Carr (2009) and offensive tackle James Paulk (2005).

Randy Edsall adds FCS special teams coordinator to UConn staff

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Earlier this month, Randy Edsall lost one of his assistant coaches to the NFL. This week, he’s turned to one from the FCS ranks as a replacement.

UConn announced Monday the hiring of Eddie Allen as the Huskies’ new special teams coordinator. Allen comes to Storrs after spending the past three seasons in the same role at Delaware.

The hire fills a hole a created by the departure of Chris White, who has been named as the tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions.

“Eddie’s aggressive approach to special teams was exactly what I was looking for in our special teams coordinator,” a statement from the head coach began. “His teams have shown the ability to block kicks and be very fundamentally sound in the core four units involving special teams. He has delivered very good results as a special teams coordinator in all the places he has worked.”

Prior to Delaware, Allen spent six seasons as the special teams coordinator at Rhode Island. He was a football staffer for Greg Schiano at Rutgers (2005-07) before that.

This will mark Allen’s first on-field job at the FBS level.

“I am extremely excited to join Coach Edsall’s staff,” the New Jersey native said in his statement. “Being from the Northeast, I have followed the program closely through the years and I am looking forward to getting around our players and doing my part in the future of success of the program.”

Report: departing Miami DL coach could be headed to Alabama

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And now we know a little bit more of the rest of the story.

Just a short time ago, Miami announced that defensive line Craig Kuligowski was leaving the football program after two years to pursue unspecified opportunities elsewhere.  Subsequent to that announcement, Bruce Feldman of SI.com tweeted that Nick Saban and Tuscaloosa could be the assistant’s ultimate destination.

Kuligowski and Saban have a previous connection as the former played defensive line under the latter at Toledo in 1990.  Saban is searching for a replacement to Karl Dunbar, the Crimson Tide’s defensive line coach who left for a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this month.

Other names floated as possibilities have included former FAU head coach Charlie Partridge and former UA assistant and current South Carolina line coach Lance Thompson.