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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

Air Force runs off 42 unanswered to beat South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl

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Everything went South Alabama’s way early in the Arizona Bowl, as the team looked well on its way to yet another surprising upset on Friday night in Tucson.

Then everything, well, didn’t.

Air Force rolled off a remarkable 42 unanswered since falling into a first half deficit and ran away with a 45-21 postseason victory in the process.

The Jaguars didn’t waste any time scoring points in the first quarter as quarterback Dallas Davis found Josh Magee for a 75 yard touchdown pass on the very first offensive snap of the game. A pair of rushing scores eventually pushed the lead up to 21-3 early in the second quarter as that combo posted several impressive numbers but the team sputtered from then on out as the Falcons made several adjustments and recorded three turnovers.

One of those turnovers was career interception No. 18 for stud safety (and All-Name team captain) Weston Steelhammer, which moved him to the top of  Air Force’s career list.

The Falcons offense also had plenty of big plays of their own on the night, answering South Alabama’s opening touchdown on the very first snap of the first half with their own 75 yard scoring bomb on the first snap of the third quarter. Quarterback Arion Worthman finished the game by stuffing the stat sheet, throwing for 207 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 71 yards to pace the triple option attack.

Running back Jacobi Owens added another 74 yards and two scores for the team as they put up points on eight of 12 drives and dominated starting in the middle of the second quarter.

That is one impressive way to cap off a 10 win season for Air Force and should provide the Falcons plenty of momentum as they head into the always difficult offseason up at the Academy.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 30 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 30 bowl menu, which features four Power Five vs. Power Five matchups, including one that is, on paper, inarguably the best bowl game outside of the two College Football Playoff semifinals.  Plus, there’s a fifth game pitting MWC and SBC programs that’s only available online, so there’s that, which is nice.

WHO: Georgia (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)
WHAT: The 58th AutoZone Liberty Bowl
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
WHERE: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
THE SKINNY
: This game could be very well be subtitled as the “Disappointment Bowl” as TCU was ranked 13th in the country and Georgia 18th in the Associated Press preseason poll.  Over the next baker’s dozen weeks, neither was much of a factor in their respective conference races and have been relegated to a mid-level bowl game.  Both teams had won at least 10 games in each of the previous two seasons, adding yet another level to the collective disappointment.  The consternation is particularly palpable in Athens, with UGA “parting ways” with long-time head coach Mark Richt and handing the keys to the program to Kirby Smart.  The former Alabama defensive coordinator and first-time head coach then proceeded to produce seven wins; a loss in this game would leave the Bulldogs with their lowest win total since the 2010 season and mark just the second time since 1996 they failed to reach at least eight wins in a season.  After a midseason stumble — they lost four of five from late September to late October — the Bulldogs righted the listing ship by winning three of its last four, including one over an Auburn team that was ranked No. 9 in the country at a time.  The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, lost four of their last six, with three of those losses coming by 24 or more points.  A loss in this game would give TCU just its third losing season in the 16 years under Gary Patterson.  Schools from the SEC (Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State) have won the last three Liberty Bowls; here’s to thinking that UGA, albeit not easily, extends the conference’s winning streak in this game to four in a row.  One thing to remember, though: TCU always gets up for the bowl games under their current head coach as they are 9-3 since losing their first postseason matchup with Patterson at the helm in 2001.  More recently, they’ve won four of their last five bowl games.  Then again, UGA is 14-5 in bowls since 1997, so…
THE LINE: TCU, +1
THE PREDICTION: Georgia 27, TCU 26

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WHO: No. 18 Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
WHAT: The 83rd Hyundai Sun Bowl
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on CBS
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
THE LINE: North Carolina, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: No. 21 Tennessee (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)
WHAT
: The 19th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHEN
: 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE LINE
: Nebraska, +4
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: South Alabama (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
WHAT: The 2nd Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET online at CampusInsiders.com
WHERE: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
THE SKINNY
: The inaugural edition of this bowl game was certainly unique beyond its online broadcast as, because of a lack of bowl-eligible teams from both Conference USA and the Sun Belt, two teams from the Mountain West squared off, marking the first time since 1979 that teams from the same league faced each other in a non-championship bowl game.  Air Force will come into this game riding a five-game winning streak… which was preceded by a three-game losing streak… which was preceded by a four-game winning streak to start the 2016 season.  South Alabama is an odd team, with wins on the road at Mississippi State and at home over Mountain West champion San Diego State on its résumé… along with a narrow overtime win over FCS Nicholls State as well as a pair of losses to SBC teams that won a combined nine games this season.  If you’re looking for a close game, this one, despite the point spread courtesy of Bovada.lv you’ll see below, might just do it for you: eight of Air Force’s 12 games this season were decided by a combined 48 points, while eight of South Alabama’s games were decided by seven points or less, with another decided by 10.  If the Jaguars are going to stay in this game, though, their 98th-ranked run defense (212.1 yards per game) must find some way to contain a Falcons offense that enters the game ranked third nationally rushing yards per game at 322.8.
THE LINE: South Alabama, +14
THE PREDICTION: Air Force 41, South Alabama 31

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WHO: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State
WHAT
: The 82nd Capital One Orange Bowl
WHEN
: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
THE LINE
: Florida State, +7
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

Behold: The full 2016-17 college football bowl schedule is here

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The College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six lineups are set, but there’s much more to bowl season than the top line games. Running 40 games deep and stretching from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9, the 2016-17 bowl schedule came together Sunday afternoon, which we’ve compiled here for your viewing enjoyment.

Let’s dive right in.

Saturday, Dec. 17
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): UTSA vs. New Mexico
Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Houston vs. San Diego State
Raycom Media Camelia Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Appalachian State vs. Toledo
AutoNation Cure Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Central Florida vs. Arkansas State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Lousiana-Lafayette vs. Southern Miss

Monday, Dec. 19
Miami Beach Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Central Michigan vs. Tulsa

Tuesday, Dec. 20
Boca Raton Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Memphis vs. Western Kentucky

Wednesday, Dec. 21
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): BYU vs. Wyoming

Thursday, Dec. 22
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Idaho vs. Colorado State

Friday, Dec. 23
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy
Dollar General Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Ohio vs. Troy

Saturday, Dec. 24
Hawai’i Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee

Monday, Dec. 26
St. Petersburg Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Mississippi State vs. Miami (Ohio)
Quick Lane Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boston College vs. Maryland
Camping World Independence Bowl (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2): NC State vs. Vanderbilt

Tuesday, Dec. 27
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): Army vs. North Texas
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest
National Funding Holiday Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Washington State vs. Minnesota
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boise State vs. Baylor

Wednesday, Dec. 28
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
Foster Farms Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Texas A&M vs. Kansas State

Thursday, Dec. 29
Birmingham Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): South Florida vs. South Carolina
Belk Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State

Friday, Dec. 30
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): TCU vs. Georgia
Hyundai Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET, CBS): No. 18 Stanford vs. North Carolina
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 21 Tennessee vs. Nebraska
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, Campus Insiders): South Alabama vs. Air Force
Capital One Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State

Saturday, Dec. 31
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ABC): No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
TaxSlayer Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky
CFP Semifinal at Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (3 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama
CFP Semifinal at PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

Monday, Jan. 2
Outback Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ABC): No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (5 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State
Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma

Monday, Jan. 9
College Football Playoff National Championship (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): ALA/WASH vs. CLEM/OSU

Provisional plans in place in case Navy, ahem, wreaks bowl havoc

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As un-American as it is, there are numerous individuals associated with the bowl process, including bowl officials and affected schools, who will be rooting for Navy to lose later on today.

Why? Because if the service academy beats Temple in the AAC championship game, it was initially thought, a portion of the bowl process could be paralyzed as Navy would be in line for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid but still has its annual rivalry game with Army to play next weekend. A handful of bids would likely be delayed for another seven days, potentially putting some teams in a predicament where they would have as little as a 72-hour turnaround from learning where they will play in the postseason to actually playing in the game.

However, Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com reports, a provisional plan has been hatched that would allow 37 of the 40 bowl bids to be announced Sunday as planned regardless of what happens in the AAC title game this afternoon. The plan is based on four teams in particular winning this weekend, with one of the four, Washington, taking care of business Friday night by beating Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.

The other teams that need to win? No. 3 Clemson (in ACC title game vs. Virginia Tech), 5-6 Louisiana-Lafayette (at 4-7 Louisiana-Monroe) and 5-6 South Alabama (vs. 3-8 New Mexico State). If those three teams win, McMurphy reports, this is what would transpire when it comes to the remaining three bowl games that wouldn’t be able to offer bids this weekend:

Navy is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Navy goes to the Cotton Bowl, Western Michigan plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Army plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Western Michigan goes to the Cotton Bowl, Army plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Navy plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That said, it’s still possible this tentative plan could be blown to smithereens and the postseason hurled into temporary chaos.

However, bowl officials stressed that those scenarios get blown up if more than three 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowls or there are major upsets in the Power 5 championship games.

“If so,” a source said, “then we’ll have to reshuffle the cards again.

The Group of Six bid, the Cotton Bowl, will come down to either No. 19 Navy or No. 17 Western Michigan, which remained unbeaten with a win in the MAC championship game Friday night.