Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17: Xavier Thigpen #32 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and Ja'Boree Poole #85 pressure Anthony Jennings #11 of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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NCAA denies appeal for extra year for Louisiana-Lafayette QB Anthony Jennings

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The football-playing career for Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Anthony Jennings has officially come to a close. An appeal for an extra year of eligibility was denied by the NCAA, according to coach Mark Hudspeth.

I’m very disappointed for Anthony,” Hudspeth told The Daily Advertiser. “I would’ve loved to have seen what he could’ve done with a year under his belt in our system.”

Getting an extra year for Jennings was believed to be a long shot, but there is no harm in trying. According to The Daily Advertiser, the case for Jennings was focused on Jennings being used sparingly during the 2015 season as a junior at LSU. Jennings appeared in two games for the Tigers in 2015 and recorded no stats. He transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette at the end of the 2015 season and was given a chance to play a significant role with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Louisiana-Lafayette now has a bit of a concern at quarterback for the upcoming season. The program returns reserve options Jordan Davis, Dion Ray and Jake Arceneaux, who redshirted last season. All three will be expected to be given a chance to compete starting this spring for the starting job this fall.

New Mexico State putting together FBS independent schedule for 2018

STATESBORO, GA - OCTOBER 17:  Quarterback Andrew Allen #8 of the New Mexico State Aggies attempts a pass against the Georgia Southern Eagles during the second quarter on October 17, 2015 at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.  (Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)
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The Sun Belt is giving Idaho and New Mexico State the old heave ho after next season, and college football’s newest orphans are going about their futures in separate ways. Idaho has announced it will join the Big Sky Conference beginning in 2018, while New Mexico State is going to go it alone as an FBS independent.

Which means, obviously, New Mexico State will have to build its own schedule, each and every year.

The Aggies have begun doing so for 2018. On Monday they announced a home-and-home with Wyoming that will see the Cowboys visit Las Cruces on Aug. 25, 2018 — New Mexico State’s first game as an independent — while the Aggies will make a return visit to Laramie on Sept. 21, 2024.

It will be the two programs’ first meetings since 1953 — the only time New Mexico State and Wyoming have met on the field.

“Deputy AD Braun Cartwright and I have put in an enormous amount of time on football scheduling with the focus on securing games with regional Group of 5 opponents,” New Mexico State AD Mario Moccia said earlier this week. “Unlike in 2013 when we played four Power 5 conference programs, which had ripple effects on future year’s schedules, we have really focused on the home-and-home model.”

On Thursday, New Mexico State another home-and-home with current Sun Belt bunkmate Louisiana-Lafayette. New Mexico State will visit Lafayette on either Sept. 8 or Oct. 6, 2018, while the Ragin’ Cajuns will return the favor on Nov. 16, 2019.

New Mexico State also has a previously scheduled game at Minnesota on Aug. 30, leaving nine games still to be filled. The Aggies could seemingly find dance partners in fellow FBS independents BYU, Army and Massachusetts (Notre Dame is a different story), but even then New Mexico State still has to fill seven more games with the 2018 season only 20 months away.

Southern Miss aerial attack too much for UL-Lafayette in New Orleans Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17: Ito Smith #25 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles celebrates a touchdown with Korey Robertson #18 during the first half of a game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Allenzae Staggers already set the school record for receiving yards in a game this year.

He did his best to try and break it again on Saturday night as Southern Miss’ aerial attack was too much for UL-Lafayatte in 28-21 victory in the New Orleans Bowl.

Staggers did most of his damage in the first half but finished with a remarkable 230 yards on 11 catches with one touchdown. His stellar play in slicing up the Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary played a big role in the Golden Eagles’ offensive success and allowed senior quarterback Nick Mullens to close out his career with 346 yards, two scores and an interception that came off a deflection.

Tailback Ito Smith also had an impressive night to end the season, rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns while adding another score through the air.

That was all too much for Louisiana to overcome. Quarterback Anthony Jennings did take advantage of a turnover to cut the lead to one score late in the fourth quarter but was otherwise mediocre with just 95 yards passing on eight completions (he did rush for two scores). Elijah McGuire chipped in with 96 yards on the ground as well.

The victory caps off an up-and-down 2016 for Southern Miss in which the team rallied to beat Kentucky in the opener but struggled down the stretch when Mullens missed time with injuries.

Those issues were forgotten about on Saturday however, as the night belonged to the ever productive Staggers and the impressive aerial attack of the Golden Eagles in a fun one from the Superdome.

Southern Miss WR Allenzae Staggers goes off but it’s all tied up at halftime in the New Orleans Bowl

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 15:  Nick Mullens #9 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles drops back to pass against the LSU Tigers during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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If you didn’t catch much of Conference USA this season, you probably don’t know the name Allenzae Staggers. If you watched the first half of the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night though, you certainly won’t forget the name.

The Southern Miss wide receiver caught seven passes for a whopping 202 yards in just two quarters worth of work as the Golden Eagles went into halftime tied with UL-Lafayatte at 14-all.

Staggers connection with quarterback Nick Mullens (13-of-22, 247 yards, one touchdown) was apparent from the get-go in the game as they sliced through the opposing secondary. Tailback Ito Smith also got into the action by catching a touchdown and scoring another on the ground but the offense wasn’t quite as effective after their first few series.

The Ragin Cajuns refused to back down however, answering one score with a touchdown of their own to cap a 66 yard drive. The team scored again after recovering a fumble and used backup quarterback Dion Ray on the keeper to find the end zone and tie the game up midway through the second quarter.

Starter Anthony Jennings was mostly ineffective for the team as he went just 4-of-10 passing for 38 yards and an interception.

While the game wasn’t super high scoring and marred by a few bad plays on either side, there was enough in the first half to suggest that we could be in for a wild one from the Superdome. Given how past New Orleans Bowls have gone, that would certainly be appropriate.

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