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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 26 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 26 bowl menu, which today features the first two Power Five vs. Power Five matchups of the postseason.

WHO: Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
WHAT: The 7th Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
THE LINE: West Virginia, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4)
WHAT: The 4th Quick Lane Bowl
WHEN: 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
THE SKINNY: This game marks the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.  Duke is also making its first-ever appearance in the Motor City. … In the first three years of this bowl game, after it replaced the Little Caesars/Motor City Bowl, a team from a Power Five conference has been the winner.  Of course, NIU is only the second team from the Group of Five, with Central Michigan being the first, to play in it. … The last two Quick Lane Bowls have been decided by a combined 13 points after the first was a 19-point semi-blowout. … The Huskies have lost four straight bowl games, with their last win coming in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl when they were coached by Dave Doeren, now the head coach at North Carolina State. Those four losses, incidentally, have come by a combined 105 points. … The Blue Devils aren’t exactly stellar in the postseason either as they have lost five of their last six bowl games since winning the 1960 (!!!) Cotton Bowl. … You can very neatly divide Duke’s season into three separate acts, with the Blue Devils winning their first four games, losing their next six and then winning their last two. … Jordan Huff leads the Huskies with 740 yards rushing.  Unfortunately, an ankle injury will sideline the senior running back for the bowl game.  At least when it comes to tailbacks, the running-game load will likely fall on the shoulders of Marcus Jones (347 yards). … Standout player you’ve probably never heard of? NIU defensive end and consensus All-American Sutton Smith, a converted running back who leads the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss.  The next closest?  The 26 from unanimous All-American Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State.  Smith also leads the country in sacks with 14.  The sophomore, by the way, is listed at 6-0 even, 225 pounds.
THE LINE: Northern Illinois, +5½
THE PREDICTION: Duke 24, Northern Illinois 21

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WHO: Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
WHAT: The 29th Cactus Bowl
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
THE LINE: UCLA, +2½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

Iowa LB Aaron Mends to miss extended time with injury

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Talk about a hard-luck story.

After never starting a game at Iowa, Aaron Mends (pictured, blocking punt) had earned a starting job at outside linebacker during practice this spring.  With football being the cruel mistress that it can be at times, the Hawkeyes announced Friday night that Mends “will miss an extended period of time due to injury.” The program offered no details as to the specific nature of the injury, although it’s believed to involve the knee.

According to the school’s release, the fifth-year senior suffered the injury during the final week of Iowa’s spring drills.

Mends was a three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class.  He was the highest-rated linebacker in Iowa’s class that year.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Mends has played in 38 games the past three seasons.  A baker’s dozen of those appearances came during the 2017 season.

Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, James Franklin and Clay Helton among 15 CFB coaches attending NFL Draft

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We’re less than a week away from former college players officially finding out their new homes with the start of the 2018 NFL Draft and the excitement is palpable no matter if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan or somebody who dons the cardinal and gold of USC.

Naturally this is a big deal for the players’ former programs as well and their recent head coaches will be taking full advantage of the marketing opportunity to future recruits by stopping by the draft itself at AT&T Stadium for the festivities. The NFL released a list of 14 college football coaches and one recent one on Friday as being confirmed to attend the event and there are a few notable names beyond the big ones we’re used to seeing every year:

In addition, Stanford head coach David Shaw will serve as a draft analyst on NFL Network for a seventh year in a row and even ESPN’s College GameDay is getting involved with a pregame show outside the stadium they are quite familiar with from big games over the years.

Georgia DB Mark Webb tears meniscus in practice but expected back before fall camp

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Georgia’s injury luck this spring isn’t getting much better as the defending SEC champions move toward their annual G-Day spring game over the weekend.

Head coach Kirby Smart confirmed with reporters after Thursday’s practice that sophomore defensive back Mark Webb suffered a knee injury earlier in the week and tore his meniscus. He already had the knee scoped and is expected back before fall camp after the rather minor procedure.

Webb originally landed in Athens as a wideout but made the move to the secondary just as the season was getting going. He appeared in 13 games in 2017, mostly on special teams, but was expected to challenge for one of the starting spots at cornerback heading into the upcoming campaign.

The absence of Webb in the lineup for the final week of spring adds to a growing list of injuries for the team during practice as they do a little bit of roster building toward the future. Receiver Michael Chigbu’s career may be over due to lingering injuries and defensive back Divaad Wilson tore his ACL not long after enrolling this semester.

Safe to say that G-Day on Saturday might not be as physical as Smart and the coaching staff would otherwise like as a result of trying to keep the team healthy as they prepare to head into a big offseason.

Old Dominion announces remodel, expansion plans for S.B. Ballard Stadium

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Old Dominion is making sure the first word in the school’s name is not the first thing you think of when you are playing against the Monarchs, joining a long list of their FBS peers with some significant upgrades for their home venue over the coming years. In plans approved this week by the university, ODU released renderings and an updated timeline on a $65 million remodel of S.B. Ballard Stadium that is set to begin as soon as this summer.

“We are excited to begin Phase 1 reconstruction,” said Greg DuBois, the school’s vice president for administration and finance. “Fan comfort and high-quality amenities are the primary focus of this phase. The project will help us create the type of game-day experience fans want and will set us up for future expansions.”

The stadium, some 81-years-old, will undergo a nearly complete teardown over the next two years in order to transform the place most know as Foreman Field. Both the east and west stands will be demolished and rebuilt, complete with new seating and a new press box. There will naturally be more restrooms and concession stands as part of the plan that includes plenty more bells and whistles for the Conference USA program. Seating is expected to grow beyond 21,000 or so capacity the current venue seats.

While construction will get started in the coming months, the bulk of activity will take place after the 2018 campaign is wrapped up at home and before kickoff of the opener in 2019. The Virginian-Pilot reports that funding will not utilize state funds but that the school is requesting that the legislature approve an added $10 million to the cost structure as a result of rising prices beyond the original $55 million forecasted.

2018 will be just the 10th season for the Monarchs (and fifth in FBS) since the football program was reinstated and it goes without saying that the new digs will be some of the nicest in CUSA when all is said and done. Few programs have been able to successfully navigate the transition as well as ODU has and it seems an updated stadium in the near future is the reward for head coach Bobby Wilder and others in Norfolk.