CFT Previews: Your Dec. 26 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 26 bowl menu, which features two teams each from the ACC and Big Ten, the first time those two conferences have taken part in the 2014-15 postseason

WHO: Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
WHAT: The 4th Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHERE: The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Tex.
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Illinois saved its season — and likely head coach Tim Beckman‘s job — by winning its last two games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, the year prior to Beckman’s arrival.  Louisiana Tech is also playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2011, and the first time under second-year head coach Skip Holtz.  The first month of the season, though, it didn’t look like Tech would reach the postseason as the Bulldogs stumbled out of the gate at 2-3; they righted the listing ship over the last two months, however, as they closed out a 6-2 run to end the season with a Conference USA West division title and a spot in the league title game.  Those two losses to close out the season, incidentally, were by a total of six points — on the road in overtime against Old Dominion (30-27) and against Marshall (26-23) in the conference championship game.  One thing to note about the Illini: they went 4-3 with quarterback Wes Lunt starting and 2-3 when he didn’t start.  On the bowl depth chart, however, the quarterback position is listed as Reilly O’Toole or Lunt, in that order.  Another thing about the Illini, which doesn’t bode well for the Big Ten school: they were 109th in points allowed per game (33.9), while the Bulldogs were 13th in scoring offense (37.5 ppg).
THE LINE: Illinois, +6
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 41, Illinois 27

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WHO: Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
WHAT: The inaugural Quick Lane Bowl
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: In games that Gary Nova has thrown fewer than two interceptions, Rutgers is 26-7 since 2011.  In games that Nova has thrown two or more interceptions, RU has gone 2-10, with the last of those wins coming in November of 2012.  North Carolina, meanwhile, was 49th in the country and fourth in the ACC with 12 picks during the regular season.  After jumping out to a 5-1 mark in their first season in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights stumbled to the regular-season finish line with a 2-4 record, with all four of those losses coming by at least 18 points and three of them coming by 20-plus.  The bad news for RU?  They’re 92nd in the country in points allowed per game (30.9), while UNC is 36th in scoring offense (33.8 ppg).  The good news for RU?  UNC’s defense is even worse, finishing the regular season 119th in points allowed (38.9 ppg).  Even worse for the Tar Heels, they’re 105th in passing yards (263.5 ypg) and have given up 34 or more points in eight of their 12 games this season.  In other words, this has all the makings of a good old-fashioned postseason shootout, one that would bring back memories of the old BYU Holiday Bowl appearances from years gone by.
THE LINE: Rutgers, +3
THE PREDICTION: Rutgers 48, North Carolina 45

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WHO: North Carolina State (7-5) vs. UCF (9-3)
WHAT: The 7th Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you find defensive football soothing to your palate, this bowl game has the potential to be extremely soothing, especially when it comes to the AAC representative.  UCF is ninth in the country in points per game allowed at 17.9, while North Carolina State is a middling T-68th (27 ppg).  In three of their last four games — all wins, incidentally –the Knights allowed a total of 14 points.  Neither offense figures to offer much resistance as NCSU finished the regular season 61st in scoring (29.8 ppg) and UCF finished 71st (28.2 ppg).  Since losing its first two games of the season to Penn State and Missouri, UCF reeled off wins in nine of their last 10 games.  NCSU, after winning its first four games, went 3-5 in the last two-thirds of the season, although they close out by winning three of four to become bowl-eligible for the first time under second-year head coach Dave Doeren.  UCF is currently riding a three-game bowl winning streak after losing the first three postseason games in the football program’s history, with each of those wins coming by double-digit margins.  The player to watch offensively is NCSU’s Jacoby Brissett, a dual-threat quarterback who posted nearly 3,000 yards of offense (2,344 passing, 498 rushing) and 25 touchdowns.  Arguably the most impressive part about the Florida transfer’s season is that he threw just five interceptions in 344 attempts, the third-fewest picks in the country, behind USC’s Cody Kessler (4, 413) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2, 372), among the 62 quarterbacks who attempted at least 340 passes.  UCF, though, was tied for ninth in the country with 18 interceptions.
THE LINE: North Carolina State, +2
THE PREDICTION: UCF 20, North Carolina State 13

USC’s Jake Olson named 2018 Walter Camp Award of Perseverance winner

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One of the most inspirational stories in college football the past few years has earned Jake Olson some much-deserved hardware.

Tuesday, the Walter Camp Foundation announced that Olson has been named as the recipient of the 2018 Walter Camp Award of Perseverance.  Olson, without sight in either eye since the age of 12, made history last year as a member of USC’s special teams by becoming the second legally-blind player to appear in an NCAA football game.

“Jake’s story is an inspiration to all, and our Foundation is honored to recognize him with the award of perseverance,” said Michael Madera, Walter Camp Foundation president, in a statement. “Jake has demonstrated courage and a strong will to succeed despite the challenges he has had to overcome.”

The award is merely a continuation of what’s been nearly a decade’s worth of touching moments for a remarkable young man.

In 2009, the Pete Carroll-led USC Trojans football team essentially adopted Olson, a teenage fan of the program at the time suffering from cancer of the retina in his right eye (he lost his left eye when he was less than one year old).  It was subsequently determined that Olson would need the right eye removed; on his final day of sight prior to the surgery that would leave him blind for the rest of his life, he chose to attend a Trojans football practice.

Fast-forward a few years, and Olson walked on to the USC football team as a long-snapper in 2015.  He took his first live-drill reps with the Trojans in September of that year, then snapped for the team in the 2016 spring game.  While he didn’t see any real-game action either year, in last season’s opener, at the end of USC’s closer-than-expected win over Western Michigan, Olson finally got to take his place on the field in an actual game with the rest of his special teams teammates as the long-snapper on an extra point — thanks in large part to a very classy assist from WMU head coach Tim Lester.

Olson remains a playing member of the Trojans football team, and is currently in his redshirt junior season.  He’s listed as the Trojans’ third-team long-snapper on the team’s most recent depth chart, although he hasn’t taken the field in a game this season.

As speculation swirls around Clay Helton, USC fans push for change

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To change or not to change, that is the question facing the USC administration when it comes to its head football coach. If they were to ask a growing segment of the fanbase, though, the answer would be resounding “yes!” to change.

In the days leading into this past Saturday’s rivalry game with UCLA, Clay Helton outwardly expressed confidence that he would return as head coach next season.  After coughing up a fourth-quarter lead in the loss to a Bruins team that came in at 2-8, Helton stated “that’s a great question for [athletic director Lynn] Swann” when asked if he thought he’d be returning in 2019.

The fanbase, on the other hand, is making its feelings loud and clear.

A petition appeared on Change.org earlier this week calling for the firing of Helton, although that one hasn’t gotten much traction.  Another, this one a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com, has started to take off as fans are looking to fly a banner over the USC campus before the Notre Dame game this weekend calling for the firing of Helton.  Additionally, the same group is seeking to take out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times calling for the same thing.

The $2,000 needed for the airplane and banner has easily been raised already; the newspaper ad will cost the group $20,000 and, as of this posting, they have raised just over $8,000 toward that goal.

“This is not designed to publicly humiliate Clay Helton,” the fundraising page stated. “The vast majority of USC fans like him as a person and wish it had worked out for him here and we will be rooting for him enthusiastically at his next destination. However, this job is beyond his capabilities at this point in his career and we are not doing anyone any favors by retaining him, including Clay himself. This is about bringing the USC administration’s attention to that fact.”

With the loss that dropped them to 5-6, USC now needs to beat third-ranked Notre Dame next week to become bowl-eligible.  The last time the Trojans failed to qualify for a bowl, outside of the NCAA-administered two-year bowl ban in 2010-11, was in 2000.  Following that 5-7 season, Paul Hackett was fired and Pete Carroll ultimately hired to replace him.

Prior to this year, Helton had won 10 and 11 games in his first two full seasons with the Trojans.

It remains unclear in which direction Swann and other USC administrators — and big-money boosters — will head, but one report has them keeping the status quo.

Should USC ultimately move on from Helton, James Franklin has already been mentioned as a possible replacement.  Tuesday, the current Penn State coach was asked about the potential opening.

“It’s that time of year where all this stuff happens,” Franklin said. “It’s that time of year. It’s the crazy, mad time of the year when these types of things happen. …

“As you guys know, like always, we’re focused on Maryland completely, 100 percent. I don’t think it’s even fair or right to be even talking about that job from everything I understand about it, but we’re completely focused on Maryland.”

Alabama RB Damien Harris (mild concussion) back at practice, status for Iron Bowl up in the air

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Alabama’s leading rusher is making progress, but whether it will lead to an Iron Bowl appearance remains to be seen.

Damien Harris sustained a hard hit early in the fourth quarter of UA’s win over Citadel and didn’t return.  Following the game, Nick Saban confirmed that the running back had sustained what he described as a “mild concussion.”

Harris didn’t practice Monday but was able to return Tuesday, albeit while wearing a non-contact jersey and limited to some individual drills.  With rival Auburn on tap this weekend, Harris’ status will likely be determined later in the week.

“As everyone knows, we have a concussion protocol,” the head coach said. “Because we have a baseline test on every player and when a player gets back to his baseline… this was called a mild concussion, and hopefully he’ll be back to his baseline soon and he can resume activity when that occurs.”

Through 11 games, Harris is the defending national champion’s leading rusher with 678 yards on the ground.  He had 83 yards on just seven carries against the Bulldogs, including a 73-yard run that ended with the head injury.

Najee Harris‘ 639 yards are second on the team.

Oregon, Oklahoma State line up home-and-home

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Oregon and Oklahoma State will conduct a home-and-home series in 2025-26, the schools jointly announced on Tuesday.

Oregon will host the Cowboys on Sept. 6, 2025, while Oklahoma State will return the favor on Sept. 12, 2026.

The schools have met once prior, a 42-31 upset Oregon win in the 2008 Holiday Bowl.

The Ducks also have a home-and-home with Boise State lined up for 2025-26, with hosting duties swapped from its Oklahoma State series. The Oklahoma State series also comes amid a phase of Big 12 non-conference games for the Ducks; they’ll play Texas Tech in 2023-24 and Baylor in 2027-28. Oregon also has future home-and-homes with Ohio State (2020-21) and Michigan State (2029-30), plus neutral site games with Auburn in Dallas to open 2019 and against Georgia in Atlanta to begin the 2022 campaign.

For Oklahoma State, the Oregon series are the only games on the books for 2025-26 at this point and also comes amid a run of home-and-homes against teams from out west. The Pokes, who hosted Boise State in September, begin a home-and-home with Oregon State next season, will pay a return visit to Boise State in 2021, and will play a home-and-home with Arizona State in 2022-23. The Oregon series is sandwiched between a home-and-home with Arkansas in 2024 and ’27.