CFT Previews: Your Dec. 24 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 24 bowl menu, which features two teams from Conference USA and one each from the MAC and Mountain West.

WHO: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The inaugural Popeyes Bahama Bowl
WHERE: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This game serves as a rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars, won by Central Michigan 24-21.  That’s of little import to this game, however, as the head coaches are different, the quarterbacks are different, etc.  What is of import is that Western Kentucky comes into this game with a ton of confidence, riding a four-game winning streak that includes a win over Conference USA champ Marshall in the regular-season finale that knocked the Herd from the ranks of the unbeaten and out of a potential New Year’s Eve/Day bowl appearance.  Even better for WKU?  Central Michigan is a middling 45th in passing yards allowed and T-69th in touchdown passes given up, while Brandon Doughty leads the nation in yards passing (4,544) and touchdown passes (44).  The Chips gave up more than 17 points in their seven wins just once (27, Miami of Ohio) and only gave up more than 27 points in four games total; conversely, the Hilltoppers scored fewer than 34 points in a game this season one time (59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech).  When it comes to WKU’s scoring offense and CMU’s scoring defense, something has to give.
THE LINE: Central Michigan, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 51, Central Michigan 34

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WHO: Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5)
WHAT: The 13th Hawaii Bowl
WHERE: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Much to the dismay of some, I’m sure, this bowl game has the distinction of being the only one of the 38 postseason games on the 2014-15 slate to feature a team with a losing record (Fresno State, courtesy of a 14-point loss to Boise State in the Mountain West championship game earlier this month).  Rice actually had a very real shot at earning a 13th game in Week 14, but a humiliating 76-31 loss to Louisiana Tech kept the Owls out of the Conference USA championship game.  Not only are the Bulldogs looking to avoid the ignominy of an eighth loss in a bowl season (last accomplished: UCLA, 2011), but they are looking to snap a five-game bowl losing streak that stretches back to a loss in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl.  In their last nine games, the Owls’ only losses were to the two teams that played for the league title (Marshall, LaTech).  Two of their other losses came on the road to Notre Dame and Texas A&M the first two weeks of the season.  Then again, three of the Bulldogs’ losses came against Power Five schools USC, Utah and Nebraska, with two others coming at the hands of MWC champion Boise State.  A bad omen for Fresno?  They are 113th in stopping the run (206.9 ypg) while Rice has rushed for 150-plus yards in seven of the last eight games.  If the game is close, keep it out of the hands — or feet — of the kickers as both the Owls (63.1%) and Bulldogs (63.6%) struggled on field goal attempts this season.
THE LINE: Fresno State, +2
THE PREDICTION: Rice 34, Fresno State 31

UConn AD gives Randy Edsall a vote of confidence

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UConn is 6-30 in the 2.0 tenure of Randy Edsall, having gone 3-9 in 2017, 1-11 last year and 2-10 this. The program reportedly also has more than a dozen players in the transfer portal.

Needless to say, it’s not a good time in the annals of Husky football, but it’s also not a good time to make a coaching change. The program is short on cash and in the midst of transitioning from the American to life as an FBS independent, and AD David Benedict has no plans to add another major change on top of that. As he told the AP on Sunday:

“I’m not saying that everyone has to share the same opinion or have the same level of confidence in Coach Edsall that I do, but he has to be given the time to build the program and you can’t do it in three years,” he said. “Ultimately over the next three years, we’ll hopefully see our program become more and more competitive.”

As far as votes of confidence go, this is about the least confident you’ll ever see an AD be when he backs his coach.

But at the same time, it’s also one of the most concrete. Whereas most ADs will commit to backing their coach through the end of that season and the one following at the absolute most, Benedict seems to indicate Edsall will not only be back in 2020, but 2021 and ’22 as well.

LSU opens as double-digit favorites on Oklahoma; Ohio State slight underdog to Clemson

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While definitely subject to change, the initial wagering odds for the degenerates in the reading audience are out.

Earlier Sunday, and in a surprise to absolutely no one, the four semifinalists for the 2019 College Football Playoff were released.  LSU was given the No. 1 seed by the selection committee and will face No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.  No. 2 Ohio State, which came into Championship Saturday ranked first in the country, will square off with No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

According to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, LSU is a 7/5 favorite to win the 2019 national championship.  Clemson is next at 2/1, while Ohio State sits at 3/1.  Oklahoma, which won its way into the playoffs at the expense of Georgia, is a decided underdog at 16/1.

Speaking of underdogs, the SEC Tigers are currently listed as a 12½-point favorite in their matchup with the Sooners.  Despite being the higher seed, the Buckeyes have opened as a two-point underdog to the ACC Tigers.

The over/under for Ohio State-Clemson opened at 63; for LSU-Oklahoma, it’s at 75.

LSU and Oklahoma have squared off just twice previously, with the most recent matchup coming in 2004.  Clemson and Ohio State have met three times in their collective histories, the most recent meeting coming in the 2016 College Football Playoff — a 31-0 win for the Tigers.

Arkansas confirms hiring of Georgia OL coach Sam Pittman as head coach

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When it came to replacing the fired Chad Morris, Arkansas, as it turned out, didn’t have to look outside of the SEC.

Sunday, with one of its top targets, Lane Kiffin, already having been locked up by SEC West rival Ole Miss, Arkansas reportedly pivoted its attention to Georgia’s Sam Pittman.  A few hours later, the Razorbacks confirmed that Pittman has been hired as the school’s next head football coach.

“Sam Pittman has been an integral part of successful teams that have competed at the highest levels, including for SEC and NCAA Championships,” UA athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “As one of the nation’s premier offensive line coaches, he has built a remarkable body of work thanks to his tremendous passion for his student-athletes, including teaching the fundamentals and developing his players on and off the field. Sam instills in his players the motivation, grit and determination required to compete and win. Throughout this process, I heard from many of his former players about the tremendous influence he had on them as a player and as a man.

“Sam knows the Southeastern Conference inside and out and is one of the nation’s best recruiters. His connections throughout football will enable him to build a quality coaching staff. In his previous tenure, Sam and his wife Jamie fell in love with the state of Arkansas and with Razorback fans. They know what a special place this is and are excited for the opportunity to come back to the Home of the Razorbacks.”

The hiring marks a return to Fayetteville for Pittman as he was a member of Bret Bielema‘s first coaching staff in 2013. In 2016, he left for Georgia, where he spent the past four seasons as the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach.  He also served as Kirby Smart‘s associate head coach.

The 58-year-old Pittman will be officially introduced as the Razorbacks’ 34th head coach Monday afternoon.

Mizzou zeroing in on Eli Drinkwitz as next head coach

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Once again, it appears a Power Five program will pilfer a Group of Five school for its next head football coach.

Sunday afternoon, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported that Applachian State’s Eli Drinkwitz “has emerged as a strong candidate” for the vacancy at Missouri.  Subsequent to that, ESPN.com reported that “Drinkwitz has reached an agreement to become Missouri’s next head football coach and a deal is being finalized.”

An official announcement of Drinkwitz becoming the permanent replacement for Barry Odom, who was fired late last month after four seasons at his alma mater, is expected no later than Monday.

The 36-year-old Drinkwitz is in his first season as the head coach of the Mountaineers, his first head-coaching job at any level of football.  App State stands at 12-1 on the season after claiming its second-straight Sun Belt Conference championship Saturday with a win over Louisiana.

Dec. 21, App State will face UAB in the New Orleans Bowl.