Arkansas State Red Wolves

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is seen during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Blocked by Kansas, Boise State DB transfers to Arkansas State

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After thinking he would be continuing his collegiate playing career at Kansas, Darreon Jackson has instead lopped off the first two letters and added a “State” to his new home.

Wednesday morning, amidst the high school additions on National Signing Day, Arkansas State confirmed that it has added Jackson as a junior college transfer.  The signing comes exactly a week after it was reported that the defensive back, who previously announced his commitment to KU, was no longer being recruited by the Jayhawks.

Kansas backed off its pursuit of Jackson because of off-field incidents at the player’s previous school

Back in May of last year, reports surfaced that two Boise State redshirt freshmen — linebacker Marquis Hendrix and cornerback Donzale Roddie — had been expelled from the university in the wake of a Title IX sexual misconduct investigation.  An unidentified female BSU student had accused Hendrix and Roddie, along with Jackson, of coercing her into performing oral sex on at least three separate occasions.

Jackson was not expelled along with his two former teammates; rather, he was suspended for one year as he was found to have simply coerced the woman into oral sex with an unnamed recruit and had no physical contact with her.  That suspension was ultimately reduced for a suspension, although Jackson decided to leave Boise.

Jackson was never charged with a crime.

Arkansas State uses special teams and defense to earn Cure Bowl victory over UCF

Arkansas State celebrates a first quarter touchdown against Central Florida during the Cure Bowl NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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The second annual Cure Bowl wasn’t as dramatic as the first but it did deliver plenty more big plays. At least for one side.

Arkansas State jumped all over UCF early and did much of the same in the second half to run away with a 31-13 victory.

The Red Wolves did most of their damage as a result of several short fields setup by special teams and defense. They kicked off a 17-0 barrage in the first quarter with a blocked punt for a touchdown and found the end zone again thanks to three play drive that came about as a result of a short punt that landed at midfield.

Kendall Sanders hauled in a 75 yard scoring pass from Justice Hansen to open scoring in the second half and Arkansas State added another touchdown after recovering a fumble off a punt. Despite all that scoring though, the team managed just 235 yards of total offense in a relatively sloppy effort aside from those big plays.

The defense wasn’t too shabby either with six sacks and three takeaways.

UCF did claw their way back into the game during the second quarter after an extremely slow start, cutting the lead to just seven going into the locker room. Things would get no closer than that however, prompting head coach Scott Frost to even change quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. Starter McKenzie Milton didn’t have a terrible night (22-of-39, 175 yards, one touchdown) in front of the fans in Orlando but received no help from the team’s lackluster ground game.

It was not the way the team wanted to close out 2016 after completing one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college football this season. The Knights were 0-12 at this point a year ago and rallied to get to .500 and make a bowl but came out flat and never could get back into this one.

Part of the reason was because of the stellar play by the Red Wolves as they captured their third bowl victory ever that doubled as their eighth win of the season. Not bad after starting the year 0-4 and a heck of a way to close out an impressive run the past three months.

Big plays power Arkansas State to halftime lead over UCF in Cure Bowl

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Troy, in Troy, Ala. Arkansas State and UCF certainly have a lot in common heading into Saturday’s AutoNation Cure Bowl matchup.
Both are led by their defenses, have developing high-octane offenses and have made the postseason after impressive turn-around seasons. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
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A year ago at this time, UCF was sitting at 0-12 and fresh off a head coaching search so the Knights even making a bowl game this season is pretty impressive.

Some of those old tendencies from 2015 came back to the team early on at the Cure Bowl however, with an offense stuck in neutral and a defense that gave up some big plays helping Arkansas State jump out to a 17-10 halftime lead in Orlando.

The Red Wolves kicked off their scoring run in the first quarter by blocking a punt and recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. A 67 yard reception by Blake Mack setup a short field goal to extend their lead and then an interception put the Arkansas State offense in position to punch in another with a three play scoring drive taking advantage of the short field.

UCF clawed their way back into things though, taking over at midfield in the second quarter to setup a four play drive that was finished off by a McKenzie Milton touchdown pass to Taylor Oldham. The offense took advantage of a  fumble recovery with just over two minutes to go in the half and Matthew Wright nailed a 45 yard field goal to keep the momentum going.

Penalties were a big reason why the Knights looked out of sync most of the game so far as they nearly hit double-digits when it game to getting flagged.

It should make for a fun second half as the both sides seemed to find their legs after a slow start and the game evened out on both sides just before the whistle.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 17 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey holds the Mountain West Conference trophy after San Diego State defeated Wyoming 27-24 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Laramie, Wyo. (AP Photo/Michael Smith)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 17 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2016 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include four that won nine games in the 12-game regular season, one undisputed conference champion, a conference co-champ and one that thought it would still be in the midst of prepping for a New Year’s Six game — or even a playoff semifinal.

WHO: New Mexico (8-4) vs. UT-San Antonio (6-6)
WHAT: The 11th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Based on the circumstances surrounding the very first FBS bowl game of the 2016-17 postseason cycle, I’m really surprised the line is merely a touchdown.  New Mexico far and away leads the nation in rushing at 360.9 yards per game — Army is No. 2 at 327. 8 — and feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers who each average more than eight yards per carry, although UTSA is a respectable 52nd at stopping the run (157.8 ypg).  The Lobos are playing on their home turf as well, and will be looking for just their second bowl win since 1961; the Roadrunners, meanwhile, will be looking for their first-ever bowl win as they’re in the FBS postseason for the first time.  New Mexico closed out the season winning six of its last seven, including an impressive win over Mountain division champion Wyoming, and, given all they have going for them, there’s little reason to think UTSA will make its first bowl appearance its first win as well.
THE LINE:UT-San Antonio, +7
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 39, UT-San Antonio 24

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WHO: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)
WHAT: The 25th Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: San Diego State, +4
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)
WHAT: The 3rd Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s not often you get one matchup of 9-3 regular-season teams on opening day of the college football postseason let alone two (San Diego State was 9-3 prior to their MWC title game win), yet here we are.  Both teams can run the ball, as each averages over 200 yards per game on the ground.  What sets the Rockets apart in this matchup is they are eighth nationally in passing yards; the Mountaineers, meanwhile, are 104th.  App State, one of the Sun Belt’s co-champs, is relatively stingy in that area defensively, ranking 29th in passing yards allowed (200.2 per game).  As mentioned, ASU was a co-champ of the SBC, along with Arkansas State.  The Rockets opened the season with a 31-10 win over… the Red Wolves.  There have been two Camellia Bowls previously, and they were decided by a combined seven points.  Last year’s winner?  App State, which beat a team from the MAC on a last-second field goal for its first FBS bowl win.  UT, meanwhile, will be looking to push its bowl winning streak to three straight, which would be the football program’s longest since it won four in a row between 1969-81.
THE LINE: Appalachian State, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Toledo 34, Appalachian State 31

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WHO: UCF (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
WHAT: The 2nd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State began the season with four-game losing streak that put its five-year bowl appearance streak in jeopardy before righting the ship by winning seven of the last eight.  UCF, on the other hand, lost its last two games, by at least 15 points each no less.  The Knights are coming off a winless 2015 campaign, so the job Scott Frost has done just getting the AAC team into the postseason is borderline miraculous and should earn him votes in the myriad Coach of the Year awards.  Part of the miracle can be attributed to the defense, specifically UCF’s third-down defense — the Knights were seventh nationally in allowing less than 30 percent of the opposition’s third downs to be converted into first downs.  The noteworthy teams ahead of them?  Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Clemson.  The fact that this will essentially serve as a home game for UCF also tilts the odds in their favor, with the university’s campus less than a half-hour from the stadium where they’ll call home Saturday.  In trying to steal a “road” win, ASU will looking to keep its bowl losing streak from reaching three in a row.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +6
THE PREDICTION: UCF 26, Arkansas State 17

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WHO: Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)
WHAT: The 16th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Between 2011 and 2014, Louisiana-Lafayette played in and won four consecutive New Orleans Bowls.  After missing the 2015 installment of the game, UL-L is back in its own backyard.  Then again, Hattiesburg is about 25 miles closer to New Orleans than Lafayette, so the Golden Eagles will be in their backyard as well.  After a strong 4-1 start to the year that included a season-opening win over bowl-bound Kentucky in Lexington, USM stumbled its way to a 2-5 finish in barely clinging to bowl eligibility.  Their opponents haven’t exactly been lights out coming down the stretch, although the 3-2 close of the regular season did get the Ragin’ Cajuns into the postseason after a one-year sabbatical.  Are you getting the feeling I’m reaching for things to write about here?  You’re right, which usually means this’ll end up being one of the best and most exciting bowl games of the year.  That’s normally how these things work.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette, +4½
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Southern Miss 23