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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 16 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 16 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2017 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include the first Power Five squad to make its 2017 postseason debut, the first Group of Five member ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25 and one of the two Sun Belt Conference co-champions.

WHO: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
WHAT: The 17th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The first of three Conference USA-Sun Belt Conference tilts on the day kicks off opening weekend, and also marks the 10th-ever meeting between the two teams — the Trojans lead 8-2 — and the first in the postseason.  With a win, the Mean Green would reach double digits for the first time in the 65-year history of the program; the Trojans, meanwhile, have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and would set its own school record by defeating the former SBC program.  One of those 10 wins for Troy came against LSU in Death Valley while one of the losses came on the road to Mountain West champion Boise State in the opener.  The other loss?  An inexplicable one to 4-8 South Alabama… at home, no less.  Three of UNT’s losses came to Florida Atlantic (twice, the second of which came in the conference championship game) and Iowa in Iowa City.  One data point of note: the Mean Green is 20th nationally in scoring offense at 35.9 points per game, the Trojans are 11th in the country in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game.  If defenses can win championships, they can also win bowl games.
THE LINE: North Texas, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Troy 34, North Texas 23

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WHO: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
WHAT: The 3rd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: This is one of my favorite stats of the postseason: Georgia State is 5-1 on the road this season… and 1-4 at home.  As Orlando is nearly 450 miles from GSU’s Atlanta campus, the Panthers should feel right at home six hours away from home.  One thing that might make them feel a little queasy and a bit uneasy?  Mike White.  The senior quarterback from Western Kentucky has thrown for over 3,800 yards this season after putting up nearly 4,400 last year.  To make matters worse, GSU is 91st in the country in allowing 242.4 yards per game through the air.  In its fifth year of existence, the Panthers have never finished a season with a record above .500 — the closest they came was 6-7 in 2015 — something they could do with a win.  A loss, on the other, hand, would give the Hilltoppers their worst season since going 2-10 in 2010.  WKU had put up back-to-back 10-win seasons under Jeff Brohm, now at Purdue, before slipping in Mike Sanford‘s first year.  Neither team comes in on much of a winning roll, with WKU losing four of its last five while GSU lost its last two by a combined 38 points.  Both of those losses, of course, came at home.
THE LINE: Georgia State, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 38, Georgia State 35

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Boise State, +7½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
WHAT: The 12th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Pay attention, America, and introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, to one of the best wide receivers in the country that not enough people talk about.  Colorado State’s Michael Gallup is currently tied for third in the FBS with 94 receptions and fifth in receiving yards with 1,345.  Gallup is part of an offense that averages just north of 500 yards per game; Marshall, though, is stingy defensively, finishing the regular season second in Conference USA and 17th nationally by giving up 19.3 points per game.  If you’re a fan of streaks, here’s one: the Thundering Herd has won five straight bowl games, while the Rams have dropped three straight in the postseason.  CSU’s last win, though?  The 2013 New Mexico Bowl.  The two teams, which will be facing each other in football for the first time ever, come stumbling into this matchup as Marshall has lost four of five while Colorado State has dropped three of four.
THE LINE: Marshall, +5½
THE PREDICTION: Colorado State 44, Marshall 27

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WHO: Middle Tennessee State (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
WHAT: The 4th Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The final Conference USA-Sun Belt matchup of the day, history suggests that the day’s nightcap could be the closest of the five played opening weekend.  Three Camellia Bowls have been played, with that trio of games being decided by a combined 10 points.  MTSU and ASU have met 12 times previously as members of the SBC, the last coming in 2012.  The Blue Raiders, who have lost four straight bowl games and haven’t won one since 2009, come into their matchup with their former conference rivals on a mini-roll with three wins in their last four to squeeze into a bowl slot.  The Red Wolves are playing in their seventh consecutive bowl game after playing in just one in the program’s history prior to the streak kicking off in 2011 under head coach Hugh Freeze.  After losses to Nebraska and SMU sandwiched between a win over an FCS team, ASU went 6-2 the rest of the way in nearly claiming at least a share of its third straight SBC championship and sixth in seven seasons.  Quarterback Brent Stockstill is expected to be back close to 100-percent health after battling injuries throughout the season, and MTSU’s late-season roll not so coincidentally coincided with his return.  In that vein, and while acknowledging ASU’s own threat at QB in Justice Hansen, Stockstill’s healthy presence should be enough to tip the scales in favor of the Blue Raiders’ hopes of snapping their bowl-win drought.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee State 41, Arkansas State 38

Colorado makes hiring of Boise State’s Ashley Ambrose official

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A familiar face has returned to the Colorado coaching staff.

Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this week, CU confirmed that Mike MacIntyre has hired Ashley Ambrose as the Buffaloes’ new cornerbacks coach.  Ambrose spent the 2008-10 seasons with the Buffaloes, first as a defensive assistant and then, after a very brief stint as wide receivers coach, he took over CU’s defensive backs.

“We’re really excited about Ashley Ambrose coming to the University of Colorado, he brings great expertise for our corners that he’ll be coaching,” MacIntyre said in a statement. “He was here before, loved it then and I am glad to have him back now. Not only does he bring great coaching experience over the last few years, but he also brings phenomenal playing experience from being in the NFL, so he’ll add a lot to our secondary.”

Then past two seasons, Ambrose was the defensive backs coach at Boise State.  He’s also had collegiate stops at Cal (2011-12), Idaho (2014), Texas State (2015).

Ambrose, a second-round pick in the 1992 NFL draft, spent 13 seasons at that level of football.

Report: Oklahoma State adding Bob Stitt as offensive analyst

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Bob Stitt, who has become a bit of a cult hero in the college football coaching world over the last few years, is moving on up. Oklahoma State will reportedly add Stitt as an offensive analyst, according to a report from Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter.

Stitt was fired by Montana after this past season after missing the FCS playoffs for a second consecutive season and a second-round exit in his first season with the program in 2015. Stitt had become a rising star in the lower levels of college football after reshaping the offensive strategies with Colorado Mines in Division 2. The Nebraska native has coached a Harlon Hill Trophy winner (Division 2’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) and has coached Colorado Mines to three conference championships. Stitt gained notoriety after being given credit for his offensive strategies by West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.

Stitt being let go by Montana came as a bit of a surprise after just three seasons with the program. Offensively speaking, Oklahoma State rarely needs any assistance in moving the football and scoring, but Mike Gundy is wise to bring in a mind like Stitt to add to the expanding of the offensive schemes in Stillwater.

As an offensive analyst, Stitt will be prevented from doing any on-field coaching and instead will focus on prepping the game plan and breaking down film. However, having Stitt on the staff in some capacity leaves a door open for a future position on the 10-man coaching staff should a position open at some point.

Jeff Banks looks to make Alabama’s special teams a strength

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If there is any crack in Alabama’s championship foundation, it may be on special teams. Looking to patch things up with the special teams, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has brought on new special teams coordinator Jeff Banks. The former Texas A&M special teams coordinator was officially announced as Alabama’s new special teams coach on Thursday.

“We are pleased to be able to add a coach the caliber of Jeff Banks to our staff as special teams coordinator,” Saban said in a released statement. “Jeff is well-respected across the country for his knowledge of the game and his ability to recruit. He is a great teacher and someone who will help our football team be successful.”

Banks comes to Alabama after five years at Texas A&M under former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, who was recently hired by Arizona. Special teams was one of the more consistently reliable aspects of the Aggies program under his watch, so Alabama hopes that can carry over to Tuscaloosa.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join Coach Saban’s staff at The University of Alabama and work with such a talented group of student-athletes,” Banks said. “Coach Saban has built an unbelievable program that has a long tradition of success. I’m really excited to get out on the road recruiting, and I look forward to doing my part to help continue the success this program has enjoyed.”

Alabama ranked 90th in the nation last season in field goal percentage and 50th in the nation in punting average. Obviously, this has not hurt Alabama’s chances of competing for and winning national titles over the course of Saban’s time at Alabama, but it is somewhat remarkable just how many times special teams seems to make things just a little more difficult for the Crimson Tide. I suppose something has to at some point, right? In the recent College Football Playoff national championship, Alabama had to beat Georgia in overtime after a last-second field goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter was missed.

The rich just keep getting richer at Alabama.

Temple prepares for next step in quest for new on-campus football stadium

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With time running out on the current lease at Lincoln Financial Field appearing on the horizon, Temple University continues to move forward with exploring their plans for a potential multipurpose facility that could be used to host Temple football on Temple’s campus. The school is now preparing to take the next step forward with the idea by presenting the plans to the City Planning Commission with the hope of being given the approval to continue pushing toward breaking ground on a new facility on Temple’s campus.

“We have said from the start that our first priority has been to engage with our neighbors and local leaders to determine the potential for, and impact of, this facility,” Temple president Richard Englert said in a released statement. “After more than two years of these discussions, and in light of the project’s tremendous value for Temple and North Philadelphia, I have concluded that the time is right to take this step.”

One of the biggest concerns about any on-campus football stadium is the reaction from the neighboring community that has been reluctant to embrace a football stadium being dropped right in the neighborhood.

Englert said in a released statement the university “will continue our conversations with neighbors to address concerns over the impact of the project.”

The football stadium would, in theory, be able to serve multiple purposes in addition to football and will be designed with surrounding economic opportunities in mind. Space for retail locations will be a part of the master plans to help inject some revenue into the surrounding area, and educational facilities will be included in the plans as well.

In all, the plan is currently estimated to cost roughly $130 million. Temple recently negotiated a short-term extension on their lease to use Lincoln Financial Field through 2019. If Temple is given the approval to move forward with their stadium plan, they could theoretically be able to play a true home game on their campus beginning in 2020.