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AAC releases 2016 conference schedule

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The American Athletic Conference released its 2016 conference schedule highlighted by, oddly enough, non-conference games that pit league gem Houston against Oklahoma (on opening day at Houston’s NRG Stadium) and Louisville (in Houston on Nov. 19).

Those two games, more than any others, will sink or swim the conference’s chances of not only grabbing the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six, but a spot in the College Football Playoff itself.

The 2016 conference slate kicks off with Navy meeting Connecticut on Sept. 10 and concludes with the second annual AAC title game on Dec. 3 at a to-be-determined campus site.

The AAC led the way in scheduling Power 5 opponents — highlighted by a Week 3 schedule that will see the entire East Division punching up a weight class — and includes the likes of Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia, Syracuse, Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma (for all intents and purposes) visiting AAC campuses.

View the full AAC slate here:

 

USC prez Max Nikias named playoff board chairman

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20:  USC President C.L. Max Nikias speaks onstage at the 18th Annual LA Times Festival Of Books at USC on April 20, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for LA Times)
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With the second College Football Playoff title game getting set to kick off shortly on the field, the organization is taking care of some business off of it.

The CFP’s executive director, Bill Hancock, confirmed Monday that USC president Max Nikias has been named as the chairman of the CFP Board of Managers.  Nikias replaces Harvey Perlman, the Nebraska chancellor who is retiring from his post at the university this summer.

Nikias will officially begin his term as chairman February 1.

“Dr. Nikias has been instrumental in the development and growth of the College Football Playoff,” said Hancock. “We appreciate his leadership and continued support. He is highly respected by his fellow presidents and chancellors and he will be an excellent chair.

“I also want to take this opportunity to thank Harvey Perlman for the time and energy he has devoted to the playoff. We have been fortunate to have been led by such talented people.

For those curious as to what the Board of Managers is responsible, the CFP wrote in the release that it “governs the College Football Playoff business, property and affairs. The board develops, reviews and approves annual budgets, policies and operating guidelines. It has authority over all aspects of the company’s operations.”

Below is the current makeup of the board, which has one representative from each of the 10 FBS conferences as well as Notre Dame:

Rodney Bennett – President, University of Southern Mississippi (C-USA)
Anthony Frank – President, Colorado State University (Mountain West)
Burns Hargis – President, Oklahoma State University (Big 12)
Jack Hawkins – Chancellor, Troy University (Sun Belt)
Rev. John Jenkins – President, University of Notre Dame (Independent)
Mark Keenum – President, Mississippi State University (SEC)
Roderick McDavis – President, Ohio University (MAC)
C. L. Max Nikias (chair) – President, University of Southern California (Pac-12)
Harvey Perlman – Chancellor, University of Nebraska (Big Ten)
John Thrasher – President, Florida State University (ACC)
Steadman Upham – President, University of Tulsa (American Athletic)

Early bowl results suggest AAC may have been overhyped, but still time for redemption

Temple's Avery Williams leaves the field in the rain after Toledo's 32-17 win in the Boca Raton Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Boca Raton, Fla. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
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Heading into the bowl season this year it seemed pretty clear there was no Group of Five conference that could go toe-to-toe with the American Athletic Conference. Four bowl games into the postseason though and the story appears to be a little different. The good news is there is still time to redeem the image of the conference in this current postseason and make up for early woes.

The American Athletic Conference has lost each of its four bowl games played to date. South Florida lost to Western Kentucky, 45-35, in the Miami Beach Bowl. Temple took a 32-17 loss in the Boca Raton Bowl against Toledo. Cincinnati was clobbered by San Diego State, 42-7, in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.On Saturday, Connecticut lost to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl (16-10) and Tulsa was edged by Virginia Tech in a wild shootout in the Independence Bowl, 55-52. That is a record of 0-4 with losses to Conference USA, the MAC and Mountain West Conference included in the mix. When comparing Group of Five conferences against each other, those are not good results for the AAC. It is also strange, because the AAC was fairly good against other Group of Five conferences this season. The conference has already clinched a losing record in postseason play with three games left to play.

The question for the AAC now is whether or not three wins in the final three games can outweigh the weight of the four losses. There is no question the three games left to play are to be considered the most notable matchups for the conference, although Temple vs. Toledo was respectable as well. Navy will play Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl in Annapolis on Monday afternoon. Memphis will take on 6-6 Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl on Wednesday afternoon and Houston faces Florida State in the Peach Bowl on New Years Eve. If the AAC managed to go 3-0 in those games, the conference would regain some credibility among Group of Five conferences, but that will not come easily..

It is far from impossible to believe though. Navy is practically playing at home. Despite coaching changes ongoing, Memphis still has an offense that should give Auburn plenty of trouble (remember, Memphis beat Ole Miss, and Ole Miss beat Auburn). Houston may not be as deep as Florida State is, but its first team offense has potential to give Florida State some trouble. Can the AAC win all three? Sure, it’s possible. Is it expected? Probably not, but for a conference that was pumped up as much as it has been this season from multiple voices (myself included), the AAC needs to go 3-0 in their final games to regain its footing. The AAC is clearly not a power conference, but being the top of the Group of Five is not a bad place to sit either.

Hokies send Frank Beamer into retirement a winner

SHREVEPORT, LA - DECEMBER 26:  Head coach Frank Beamer of the Virginia Tech Hokies takes the field with his team prior to the Camping World Independence Bowl against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on December 26, 2015 in Shreveport, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Frank Beamer began his postseason Virginia Tech tenure with a win in Shreveport, La.  More than two decades later, as a Hall of Fame career comes to a close, the beloved Hokie head coach has literally come full circle.

In a wild affair that will serve as one of the most entertaining in what right now is a week-old bowl season, Tech used a record-setting first half to pave the way for a record-setting 55-52 win over Tulsa in the 40th Independence Bowl.  This was the 23rd straight season, all under Beamer, that Tech has played in a bowl, the second-longest streak in the country behind Florida State’s 34.  The first of those 23 bowl appearances?  Against Indiana… in the 18th Independence Bowl.

Beamer, who announced his retirement earlier this year in his 29th season as his alma mater’s head coach, finishes his stellar career with 280 wins, fourth all-time behind a trio of FBS coaching legends — Penn State’s Joe Paterno (409), Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (377) and Alabama’s Bear Bryant (323).  With the twin retirements of Beamer and Steve Spurrier (228), there is no active head coach with 200 or more wins; Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, with 193, is the closest to hitting that plateau.

In those 23 straight bowl games mentioned earlier, Beamer’s Hokies went 11-12.  This year marked the second consecutive bowl win for Tech, just the second time Beamer’s gone back-to-back with victories in the postseason (2008 Orange Bowl, 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl).  And, unlike most of his other wins in both the regular and postseasons, this one wasn’t predicated on defense and special teams — even as the famed Beamerball made a brief first-half appearance in two quarters of play that were the absolute antithesis of the vast majority of Beamer’s time in Blacksburg.

In those first two quarters, the Hokies and Golden Hurricane combined for more than 700 yards of offense and 76 points as Tech took a 45-31 lead into the halftime locker room.  Those 45 points for Tech tied the Independence Bowl record for a half… first set by Tech in Beamer’s 1993 appearance in the game.  It was also a historic one-half performance regardless of the bowl venue:

In the second half, things calmed down, relatively speaking and ever so briefly, as the Hokies held a 52-31 lead with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.  However, three Dane Evans touchdowns — two passing, one rushing — offset by just a single VT field goal pulled the Golden Hurricane to within three with 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Golden Hurricane, following a Hokies punt with two minutes remaining, had one more opportunity for at least a game-tying field goal, and got to the their own 46-yard line with 1:27 remaining before Beamer’s lunch-pail defense…

… produced sacks on second and fourth down to officially seal that 280th and final win for their head coach.

The two teams ended up combining for 1,161 yards of offense — 598 for Tech, 563 for Tulsa.  Evans passed for a game-high 374 yards, while Tech’s Michael Brewer passed for 344; that marked Brewer’s second career 300-yard game, with the first (345 yards) coming last November against Boston College.

227 of Brewer’s yards were caught by Isaiah Ford, setting an Independence Bowl record for receiving yards in a game.  A pair of Golden Hurricane receivers went for 100-plus — Joshua Atkinson (139) and Keyarris Garrett (137).

Tech finishes the 2015 season at 7-6, the second straight year the Hokies have finished with that record.  The 14 wins are the fewest in back-to-back seasons since Tech won 11 games in 1992 (2-8-1) and 1993 (9-3) in Beamer’s second and third seasons with the football program.

Tulsa, meanwhile, ended 2015 at 6-7, marking their third straight year with a sub-.500 record.  This is the first time since a stretch from 1992-2002 that the Golden Hurricane had finished below .500 in three or more consecutive seasons.

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

BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 21: Head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies Frank Beamer is carried off the field following the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on November 21, 2015 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 26 bowl menu, which, for the first time this postseason cycle, features multiple teams from Power Five conferences.  The ACC makes its 2015 bowl debut with three teams in action, while the Big Ten sees a pair of teams kicking off the postseason for the conference.  The Pac-12, which was already the first P5 league to see the field for a bowl this year — Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl exactly a week ago — will also field a trio of teams.

WHO: UConn (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3)
WHAT: The 8th St. Petersburg Bowl
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you’re a fan of solid defensive battles, consider this your post-Christmas present from Santa Football.  Marshall is 13th nationally and second among Power Five schools in scoring defense (18.4 points per game), while UConn is four spots behind nationally at 19.8 ppg.  The Huskies have made one of the bigger one-season turnarounds in the country this season, going from two wins in 2014 to six in 2015, winning four of their last five to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2010 season.  One of those six wins this year included, some would say inexplicably, handing AAC champion Houston its one and only loss in 2015.  Marshall is one win away from back-to-back-to-back 10-win seasons, which would make them the first Power Five program to ever accomplish that feat.  The Herd has a talented quarterback in Chase Litton, but the fact that he’s a redshirt freshman could play right into the hands of Bob Diaco‘s aggressive, stingy defense.
THE LINE: UConn, +5
THE PREDICTION: UConn 17, Marshall 14

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WHO: Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)
WHAT: The 82nd Sun Bowl
WHERE: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on CBS
THE LINE: Miami, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (9-4)
WHAT: The 5th Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
WHEN: 2:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: After winning just four games combined the past three seasons, Southern Miss more than doubled that total with a nine-win season; one more win would give the Eagles double-digit wins for the first time since 2011, Larry Fedora‘s last season, and just the third time in the football program’s FBS history.  Washington, meanwhile, won two in a row to close out the year to become bowl-eligible.  They possess some significant albeit young talent on the offensive side of the ball, and, at least statistically, they had the best defense in the Pac-12 and one that was 12th nationally in scoring (17.7 points per game).  The Huskies played 10 games against teams that played in bowl games, while the Eagles played against five such teams.  That tougher slate should prove to be a significant bonus for UW as they’ve seemingly been hardened by the competition afforded them in the Pac-12 compared to the softer Conference USA for their opponents.
THE LINE: Southern Miss, +9
THE PREDICTION: Washington 38, Southern Miss 13

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WHO: Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5)
WHAT: The 6th New Era Pinstripe Bowl
WHERE: Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York City, New York
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: You could call this a postseason football game in a baseball stadium between schools more well-known for their basketball prowess, although Duke has been one of the best teams in the ACC the past few seasons.  Just how far have the Blue Devils come as a football program?  From 1995-2011, Duke didn’t win more than five games in a single season; this season, their seven wins, coming off a combined 19 the previous two seasons, is a cause for concern.  Entering the 2015 season on one of the hottest seats in college football, Kevin Wilson pushed Indiana to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007 in his fifth season with the Hoosiers.  IU had an odd season, sandwiching a four-game winning streak to start the year and a two-gamer to end it around a six-game losing streak.  After beginning the year 6-1, the Blue Devils blew a transmission and threw a couple of rods in losing four in a row before righting itself with a regular season-ending win over woebegone Wake Forest.  Despite all of their recent success, including four straight bowl appearances for the first time in program history, the Blue Devils will be looking for their first bowl win since winning the Cotton Bowl following the 1960 season.  Indiana’s last bowl win wasn’t exactly in the recent past as they last tasted postseason success in 1991.  Duke will be playing without All-American safety Jeremy Cash, which could prove problematic as the Blue Devils, with the 72nd-ranked pass defense, will be looking to contain Nate Sudfeld, the Big Ten’s most efficient passer.  The Hoosiers have their own injury issue, though, as Jordan Howard, 30th in the country with 1,213 rushing yards, is questionable because of a knee injury.
THE LINE: Off the board because of Howard’s uncertainty
THE PREDICTION: Duke 31, Indiana 28

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WHO: Tulsa (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
WHAT: The 30th Camping World Independence Bowl
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
WHEN: 5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: As it should be, this game is all about Frank Beamer.  The long-time Virginia Tech head coach announced during the season that he was retiring at the end of the year, making this his last game in the sport to which he’s given so much.  The bonus game very nearly didn’t happen as Tech needed a win in the finale against rival Virginia to secure bowl eligibility.  This is the 23rd straight season, all under Beamer, that Tech has played in a bowl, the second-longest streak in the country behind Florida State’s 34.  The first of those 23 bowl appearances?  Against Indiana… in the 1993 Independence Bowl.  Beamer is 10-12 in bowl games thus far, and a win against Tulsa would give him back-to-back bowl wins for just the second time in his career (2008 Orange Bowl, 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl).  Tulsa, meanwhile, is playing in its first bowl game since 2012, but has seen tremendous postseason success this century — the Golden Hurricane has won five of their last seven bowl games.  With an offense that is 25th in scoring (35.9 points per game) and 14th in yards (502.8 yards per game) — they put up 38 points and 603 yards on College Football Playoff semifinalist Oklahoma —  Tulsa will prove to be one of the stiffest tests this season for a Tech defense that’s 47th in giving up 24.3 ppg.  Still, the whole send-Coach-Beamer-out-with-a-win angle is what most non-Tulsa fans are hoping for as the retiring legend is one of the classiest in the sport.
THE LINE: Tulsa, +13½
THE PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 31, Tulsa 27

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WHO: UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)
WHAT: The 14th Foster Farms Bowl
WHERE: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
WHEN: 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE LINE: Nebraska, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.