Jeff Driskel

Michigan State QB Connor Cook declines Senior Bowl invite

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Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook will not participate in the Senior Bowl, the top college football all-star event on the calendar for NFL Draft hopefuls. Cook has reportedly declined to accept his invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama and Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen will fill his spot on the Senior Bowl roster.

Cook is widely expected to be a first-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and because he is coming back from a shoulder injury it was not a shock to see Cook choose not to participate in the Senior Bowl. He will have a chance to make up for his Senior Bowl absence in a pro day event later as well as the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis later this winter.

Allen will now have a chance to take advantage of the Senior Bowl opportunity. The Senior Bowl is the highest-regarded all-star event that will be attended to by members of every NFL Franchise, including many head coaches in addition to scouts. What happens in Senior Bowl practices can help some prospects show off some positives that may be overlooked otherwise.

Other quarterbacks scheduled to appear at the Senior Bowl are Jacoby Brissett of NC State, Jake Coker of Alabama, Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech, Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Cody Kessler of USC, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. Remember that only seniors are eligible to attend the Senior Bowl, so many of the quarterbacks in the NFL Draft pool like Cal’s Jared Goff, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg are not allowed to be extended an invitation.

Driskel’s 457 yards, Dixon’s four TDs power LaTech to dominating New Orleans Bowl win

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If you’re a Florida fan, and you’ve watched Louisiana Tech at all this season, you’ve probably wondered “where the hell was that?” when it came to Jeff Driskel‘s play. If you watched the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, you were probably in that very same choir singing from a strikingly similar hymnal.

Thanks to a heaping helping of Driskel — and a healthy dose of the record-setting Kenneth Dixon for good measure — Tech was able to pull away from Arkansas State in a dominant second half and secure a 47-28 win in the 15th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Bulldogs also won the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year, giving Tech back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in the program’s history.

It also served as an exorcising of demons of sorts for Driskel, whose last trip to the Superdome was a two-pick performance in a 10-point loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl following the 2012 season. This time around, Driskel, as he has been for most of this season, was superb, completing 26-of-37 passes for a career-high 457 yards and three touchdowns. Most impressively, especially considering the Red Wolves’ defense came into the game leading the country in interceptions, Driskel was turnover-free.

Driskel, a graduate transfer in his first year with the Bulldogs, salvaged not only his collegiate career in Ruston but also set himself up for a shot at being a mid-round NFL draft pick next April with his performance this season. In 13 games in 2015, Driskel threw for 300-plus yards eight times; in 29 career games with the Gators, he never hit that mark.

Not to be outdone, Driskel’s teammate left a record-setting mark in what has been a phenomenal and prolific under-the-radar career.

Dixon, a senior running back, accounted for four touchdowns on the day, two each rushing and receiving. That gives the Arkansas native 87 career touchdowns rushing and receiving, giving him — for the moment — the all-time FBS record. Whether that remains the all-time FBS record, though, is to be determined as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will enter the Midshipmen’s bowl game with 85 total touchdowns (all on the ground).

All told, Dixon accounted for 203 all-purpose yards — 112 receiving, 91 rushing.  That effort was a part of a Tech offensive explosion that gave the Bulldogs a whopping 673-323 advantage in total yards.

Both Tech and ASU finish their respective seasons at 9-4.  The Bulldogs have now won nine games in back-to-back seasons under Skip Holtz, while the Red Wolves have won 16 games in two seasons with Blake Anderson at the helm.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 19 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 19 bowl menu, which on “opening weekend” features five bowl games as the 2015 postseason officially kicks off.  Included in that quintet of contests is one bowl making its debut, another in just its second year as well as the holiest of Beehive State wars.

WHO: Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5)
WHAT: The 10th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The uncertainty over the availability of Arizona starting quarterback Anu Solomon (concussion) has some sportsbooks, including the one we use for lines, Bovada.lv, taking the game off the board.  If Solomon is healthy, the Wildcats would likely be double-digit favorites; without him, one could make a very good case for the Lobos.  In fact, the Wildcats went 0-3 in games that Solomon either didn’t start or didn’t finish because of injury.  Even with Solomon on the field for most of the last five games, though, UA still lost four of those.  UNM, meanwhile, comes into its first bowl berth since 2007 on a high, finishing out the season with wins over bowl-bound Utah State (6-6), Boise State (8-4) and Mountain Division champion Air Force (8-5).  The combination of how both teams finished the season, the uncertainty over Solomon and ‘Zona likely feeling underwhelmed with its postseason lot has a very motivated Lobos squad primed for an upset.
THE LINE: Off the board
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 33, Arizona 27

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WHO: BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
WHAT: The 24th Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: This promises to be one of the best “non-marquee” bowl games of the 2015-16 cycle because not only are both teams coming into it with nine wins but because of the whole “Holy War” aspect, and in Sin City no less.  The two football programs have been on a sabbatical the last two seasons in a rivalry that’s seen 89 previous matchups, but will resume in the regular season beginning next season and running through 2020.  The Utes have won four straight in the series and nine of the last 12 meetings dating back to 2002.  The Cougars’ situation is somewhat muddled as their long-time head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, has accepted the same job at Virginia but will coach his “former” team in the bowl game.  After beginning the season 6-0 and with playoff talk dancing in their heads, the Utes muddled through the remainder of the schedule at 3-3.  Here’s to guessing the Cougars, winners of seven of their last eight, add to their rival’s late-season misery and send their old coach with off with his first bowl win since 2012 — especially if words can be used as motivation.
THE LINE: BYU, +3
THE PREDICTION: BYU 27, Utah 23

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WHO: Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)
WHAT: The 2nd Raycom Media Camelia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There were 21 teams that won 10 or more games during the 2015 regular/championship season; I’d bet you could make some pretty decent coin regarding Appalachian State’s inclusion in that select group.  And ASU’s two losses this year came against top-ranked Clemson in Death Valley and 2015 Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State.  Ohio University, not to be confused with Brady Hoke‘s derisive “Ohio” directed at Ohio State, had a near-perfect start to the season at 5-1, with the only loss coming by three at Minnesota… before they lost three in a row (two by a combined 66 points)… before they regrouped to win their last three by a combined 49 points.  The Bobcats are looking for their first bowl win since 2012, while the Mountaineers are playing in their first bowl game as an FBS program.  ASU is a touchdown favorite… and even that might be a little on the short side.
THE LINE: Ohio, +7½
THE PREDICTION: Appalachian State 45, Ohio 24

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WHO: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)
WHAT: The 1st Cure Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: If you like underdog stories, tune into this one.  Georgia State went 3-29 from the beginning of the 2013 (first FBS season) through the eighth game of the 2015 season.  The Panthers then ripped off four straight wins — by double digits in each, no less — to close out the year and reach a level 6-6 to become bowl-eligible.  GSU’s Nick Arbuckle, one of the most prolific quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of, is currently sixth in the country in passing yards with 4,160.  Its head coach, Trent Miles (pictured), will very likely be one of the hot names on the 2016 spinning of the coaching carousel.  As for San Jose State?  I have zero desire to discuss a sub-.500 team that doesn’t deserve a bowl bid.  And this isn’t to pick on the Spartans; rather, this will be a running theme throughout these types of posts when it comes to 5-7 teams getting an unwarranted and undeserved invitation to the postseason. [/steps off soapbox]
THE LINE: Georgia State, +3
THE PREDICTION: Georgia State 31, San Jose State 21

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WHO: Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
WHAT: The 15th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State lost its first two games of the 2015 season (USC, Missouri) then won nine of its last 10 to become the first team in Sun Belt history to go unblemished in conference play.  Louisiana Tech features the potent one-two punch of former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (14th nationally in passing yards with 3,575, 26th in pass efficiency) and touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon (83 career scores, tied for second all-time among FBS players).  One thing to keep in mind if you’re the wagering type when it comes to Driskel’s success through the air this season: the Red Wolves are currently 95th nationally against the pass, giving up an average of 251.9 yards per game; Driskel was held under that number just twice in 2015.  ASU did intercept 26 passes this season (No. 1 in the country), and Driskel tossed three in a season-ending loss to Southern Miss, so there is that if you’re on the Red Wolves side.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +2
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 48, Arkansas State 45

Leon Allen’s horrific-looking injury mars WKU’s win over LaTech

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For Western Kentucky, this could very well be one of those games the Hilltoppers lose despite winning on the scoreboard.

On said scoreboard, WKU managed to avenge a 59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech last season in Ruston with a narrow 41-38 win over the Bulldogs in Bowling Green Thursday night.  Brandon Doughty passed for 441 yards in helping the Hilltoppers roll up 585 yards of total offense.

Hands down the story of the game, though, was Leon Allen. Or, more specifically, what happened to Allen.

Early in the third quarter, the star WKU running back sustained what can only described as a gruesomely horrific injury. Or a horrifically gruesome injury. However it’s described, avoid the tweet below if you have a weak stomach or are faint of heart.

Allen needed the aid of WKU personnel to get off the field, and put no pressure on his left leg. He was subsequently shown on the television broadcast being carted off the field with a brace on his left knee.

There’s been no official update on the exact nature and severity of Allen’s injury — WKU coach Jeff Brohm was “not very optimistic” when asked about it postgame — even as the speculation centers on a torn ACL. “It’s unfortunate,” Brohm said. “You can ask anyone, and within our program, he’s our most valuable player.”

Prior to the injury, Allen had run for 81 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. He also had a 53-yard reception.

Allen was far and away the Hilltoppers’ leading rusher in 2014, totaling 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Anthony Wales was next with 518 yards and five touchdowns.

Those totals for Allen were good for third in Conference USA and 18th nationally.

He also, to put it mildly, had an interesting offseason off the field in 2015.

In non-Allen news, Jeff Driskel, he of the scapegoated Driskels, threw for a career-high 357 yards in the loss.  His 21-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, to Paul Turner brought Tech back to within three with :27 left.  The subsequent onside bounced out of bounds, ending any hopes of coming back from a 14-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.

Skip Holtz: ‘toxic’ Gator program turned Jeff Driskel into a ‘scapegoat’

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Unlike Charlie Weisantics from Wednesday, this throwing under the bus could very well be warranted.

In his first season as Florida’s starting quarterback, and in Will Muschamp‘s second season at UF, Jeff Driskel helped lead the Gators to an 11-2 and a Sugar Bowl appearance.  It was all downhill after that as his 2013 season ended after three games because of injury, however, and he lost his starting job last season after the Week 8 loss to Missouri.  Those last two seasons saw the Gators go 11-13 and Muschamp lose his job.

In January of this year, new Gators head coach Jim McElwain confirmed that Driskel had been granted a release from his UF scholarship. Shortly thereafter, Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech, where he’s eligible as a graduate transfer and actually won the starting job.

It would be an understatement of mammoth proportions to say he has made a positive impression on his head coach, who used an opportunity to praise his new starting quarterback to also take a couple of thinly-veiled shots at Driskel’s former program.

“I think down at Florida, it got very toxic for him. He became the scapegoat,” Holtz said according to the Monroe News Star. “He became the guy that was tied to losing at Florida as a fan base that does not take very well to losing. It really became a negative situation, which is unfortunate because he’s such a great Christian young man with such great values who is a leader.

“If you ever have a chance to sit down and talk with him, he’s almost too good to be true. He’s exactly the way you’d want to raise your son. I’m really proud of him and really happy for him that he was able to go out, play that way. Our fan base was able to embrace him the way that they did.”

At least one noteworthy Gator fan seems to agree with that assessment.

In Tech’s season-opening win over Southern, Driskel completed 12-of 15 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns.  His pass efficiency rating of 321.4 is the highest for a single game at the FBS level since at least the 2013 season.

Could this, though, be a win-win for all involved?  In UF’s opener, Treon Harris and Will Grier combined to complete 29-of-36 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns in the opener.  Granted, it came against New Mexico State, but then again Driskel opened against an FCS team so there’s that.

(Photo credit: Louisiana Tech athletics)