Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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Western Kentucky’s Joel Iyiegbuniwe declares early for draft

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There’s a new leader in the clubhouse for “Early Entrant With the Most Vowels in his Surname.”

On his personal Twitter account over the weekend, Joel Iyiegbuniwe announced that he is leaving Western Kentucky early and making himself available for the April NFL draft. The linebacker, a native of Bowling Green, Kent., stated that he came to his decision “[a]fter much thought, prayer and discussion with my family, coaches and advisors.”

This past season, Iyiegbuniwe led the Hilltoppers in tackles with 117, tackles for loss with 11.5 and forced fumbles with three. He was named first-team All-Conference USA following the regular season.

Including last season, Iyiegbuniwe had started 27 straight games at outside linebacker for the Hilltoppers.

Today is the deadline for draft-eligible players to inform the NFL of their intentions.

Bob Stoops’ WR son will be preferred walk-on at Oklahoma

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Despite having a Power Five scholarship offer in his hip pocket, Drake Stoops and his very familiar surname have decided to stay home.

Drake Stoops, the son of former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and a 2018 prospect, announced on Twitter that he has committed to play his college football for the Sooners. The younger Stoops is coming to his dad’s old stomping grounds as a preferred walk-on.

Coming out of Norman North High School, Stoops is listed as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com. The same recruiting website has the 5-11, 175-pound receiver rated as the No. 20 player at any position in the state of Oklahoma.

Iowa, to which he took an official visit in early December, had offered Stoops a scholarship, and it was thought he could possibly be headed to the Hawkeyes before he made the decision to be a walk-on at OU. Air Force, Arkansas State, Memphis, Ohio and Western Kentucky were the group of Five programs that offered him as well.

According to the Oklahoman, “Stoops’ twin brother, Isaac, is a two-star recruit and has an offer from Army, as well as preferred walk-on offers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada, Northwestern and Kentucky. He has yet to announce his college decision.”

WKU AD denies report that Mike Sanford is ‘major candidate’ for Arizona opening

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Wishful thinking or cross another name off of one Pac-12’s coaching search to-do list?

As Arizona continues searching for Rich Rodriguez‘s replacement, several names have been connected to the opening, most notably former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.  Overnight, yet another name emerged: Western Kentucky’s Mike Sanford.

Sanford just completed his first season at WKU, guiding the Hilltoppers to a 6-7 record that included a Cure Bowl loss to Arkansas State.  The 35-year-old former Notre Dame offensive coordinator has ties to the Wildcats’ conference, spending 2011-13 on the coaching staff at Stanford.

Not long after the initial report emerged connecting Sanford to the job, however, the head coach’s boss has come out and publicly proclaimed that “there is no truth” to the speculation.

Former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and current Troy head coach Neal Brown have also been mentioned as possibilities.  According to the Arizona Daily Star, those two are likely out as candidates or, in the case of Neuheisel, never really were candidates.  Another, former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, is expected to take a job with the NFL”s Chicago Bears.

Sumlin remains the favorite to ultimately land the job, provided the two sides can come to an agreement financially.

Georgia State wins first bowl game in school history

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Georgia State (7-5) won the first bowl game in school history on Saturday with a 27-17 victory over Western Kentucky (6-7) in the Autonation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Conner Manning passed for 276 yards and a score and the Panthers racked up 419 yards of offense to overcome a big day through the air for Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White (251 yards, 2 TD). The Panthers pulled into the bag of tricks for an exclamation point touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers also had three turnovers in the game, making it difficult to scratch together a win.

The seven wins in the 2017 season set a new school record for most wins in a single season, eclipsing the six games won in the 2015 season. That season ended with a loss in the Cure Bowl. For Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott, it has been quite a ride in his brief head coaching career. Two years ago, Elliott was mired in a 1-5 run as the head coach at South Carolina after replacing Steve Spurrier. Now, in his first season as the head coach at Georgia State, he has delivered a bowl victory for the first time in program history.

This marks the first postseason bowl loss for Western Kentucky since joining Conference USA in 2014. The Hilltoppers had been riding a three-game winning streak in bowl games entering this season.

Western Kentucky’s 2018 season will kickoff on August 31 at Wisconsin. The Hilltoppers will also play a road game against Louisville on September 15. Georgia State will begin their season on August 30 at home against FCS opponent Kennesaw State.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 16 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 16 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2017 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include the first Power Five squad to make its 2017 postseason debut, the first Group of Five member ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25 and one of the two Sun Belt Conference co-champions.

WHO: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
WHAT: The 17th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The first of three Conference USA-Sun Belt Conference tilts on the day kicks off opening weekend, and also marks the 10th-ever meeting between the two teams — the Trojans lead 8-2 — and the first in the postseason.  With a win, the Mean Green would reach double digits for the first time in the 65-year history of the program; the Trojans, meanwhile, have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and would set its own school record by defeating the former SBC program.  One of those 10 wins for Troy came against LSU in Death Valley while one of the losses came on the road to Mountain West champion Boise State in the opener.  The other loss?  An inexplicable one to 4-8 South Alabama… at home, no less.  Three of UNT’s losses came to Florida Atlantic (twice, the second of which came in the conference championship game) and Iowa in Iowa City.  One data point of note: the Mean Green is 20th nationally in scoring offense at 35.9 points per game, the Trojans are 11th in the country in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game.  If defenses can win championships, they can also win bowl games.
THE LINE: North Texas, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Troy 34, North Texas 23

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WHO: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
WHAT: The 3rd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: This is one of my favorite stats of the postseason: Georgia State is 5-1 on the road this season… and 1-4 at home.  As Orlando is nearly 450 miles from GSU’s Atlanta campus, the Panthers should feel right at home six hours away from home.  One thing that might make them feel a little queasy and a bit uneasy?  Mike White.  The senior quarterback from Western Kentucky has thrown for over 3,800 yards this season after putting up nearly 4,400 last year.  To make matters worse, GSU is 91st in the country in allowing 242.4 yards per game through the air.  In its fifth year of existence, the Panthers have never finished a season with a record above .500 — the closest they came was 6-7 in 2015 — something they could do with a win.  A loss, on the other, hand, would give the Hilltoppers their worst season since going 2-10 in 2010.  WKU had put up back-to-back 10-win seasons under Jeff Brohm, now at Purdue, before slipping in Mike Sanford‘s first year.  Neither team comes in on much of a winning roll, with WKU losing four of its last five while GSU lost its last two by a combined 38 points.  Both of those losses, of course, came at home.
THE LINE: Georgia State, +6½
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 38, Georgia State 35

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Boise State, +7½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
WHAT: The 12th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Pay attention, America, and introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, to one of the best wide receivers in the country that not enough people talk about.  Colorado State’s Michael Gallup is currently tied for third in the FBS with 94 receptions and fifth in receiving yards with 1,345.  Gallup is part of an offense that averages just north of 500 yards per game; Marshall, though, is stingy defensively, finishing the regular season second in Conference USA and 17th nationally by giving up 19.3 points per game.  If you’re a fan of streaks, here’s one: the Thundering Herd has won five straight bowl games, while the Rams have dropped three straight in the postseason.  CSU’s last win, though?  The 2013 New Mexico Bowl.  The two teams, which will be facing each other in football for the first time ever, come stumbling into this matchup as Marshall has lost four of five while Colorado State has dropped three of four.
THE LINE: Marshall, +5½
THE PREDICTION: Colorado State 44, Marshall 27

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WHO: Middle Tennessee State (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
WHAT: The 4th Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The final Conference USA-Sun Belt matchup of the day, history suggests that the day’s nightcap could be the closest of the five played opening weekend.  Three Camellia Bowls have been played, with that trio of games being decided by a combined 10 points.  MTSU and ASU have met 12 times previously as members of the SBC, the last coming in 2012.  The Blue Raiders, who have lost four straight bowl games and haven’t won one since 2009, come into their matchup with their former conference rivals on a mini-roll with three wins in their last four to squeeze into a bowl slot.  The Red Wolves are playing in their seventh consecutive bowl game after playing in just one in the program’s history prior to the streak kicking off in 2011 under head coach Hugh Freeze.  After losses to Nebraska and SMU sandwiched between a win over an FCS team, ASU went 6-2 the rest of the way in nearly claiming at least a share of its third straight SBC championship and sixth in seven seasons.  Quarterback Brent Stockstill is expected to be back close to 100-percent health after battling injuries throughout the season, and MTSU’s late-season roll not so coincidentally coincided with his return.  In that vein, and while acknowledging ASU’s own threat at QB in Justice Hansen, Stockstill’s healthy presence should be enough to tip the scales in favor of the Blue Raiders’ hopes of snapping their bowl-win drought.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee State 41, Arkansas State 38