CFT Previews: The Russell Athletic Bowl

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WHO: No. 17 Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)
WHAT: The 25th Russell Athletic Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET Dec. 29 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The story lines here are obvious – the quarterbacks and the defensive coordinators. Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Clemson is without Deshaun Watson after the freshman underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL. He played in the Tigers’ 35-17 win over South Carolina, and the program’s original plan was to play him in the bowl game and schedule surgery for January, but head coach Dabo Swinney decided the Russell Athletic Bowl wasn’t worth risking a potential All-American’s career over, so the surgery date was moved up. This leaves Clemson with senior Cole Stoudt, an on-again/off-again signal caller who actually finished the regular season as the club’s leading passer. Stoudt began the season as the starter but somehow got worse as the season progressed, and by November he could barely complete a pass against ACC defenses. That’s not an exaggeration. Stoudt went a combined 4-of-13 for 16 yards with four interceptions against Georgia Tech and South Carolina.

On the other sideline, Oklahoma is going through the opposite situation. Trevor Knight is set to return after leaving the Sooners’ 48-14 loss to Baylor with transient quadriplegia. Freshman Cody Thomas replaced Knight and completed 23-of-50 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns and three picks in two games and change running the Sooners’ offense. And, really, Thomas’ running of the Sooners offense was simply throwing the ball to give Samaje Perine a rest from running over defenders who happened to be in front of him. The FBS single-game rushing record holder carried 85 times for 791 yards and 10 touchdowns since that Baylor loss, but left the Oklahoma State game early with a sprained ankle. In a related story, Oklahoma’s offense sputtered toward the end what turned out to be a horrific loss to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.

Finally, the defensive coordinators. Brent Venables was an original member of Bob Stoops’ staff at Oklahoma, coming aboard as co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach working with co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Mike Stoops. When Mike Stoops landed the Arizona job in 2004, Venables took sole control of the Sooners’ defense and ran it aplomb. But when Stoops was canned at Arizona, he returned to Oklahoma and all of a sudden Venables was off to Clemson. In the three seasons since, Clemson has fielded a better defense than Oklahoma. Oklahoma has ranked 78th, 52nd and 33rd in yards per play allowed under Stoops, while Clemson has placed 69th, 23rd and first under Venables.

All in all, the Russell Athletic Bowl sets up to be an evenly matched game. Do you like Oklahoma with a healthy Perine and a returned Knight against one of the nation’s best defenses, or a shaky Stoudt playing without Chad Morris against a mediocre Oklahoma defense?

THE PREDICTION: Oklahoma 24, Clemson 21

NCAA committee chair hints at changes coming to four-game redshirt rule

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This college football season has been a bit different from most thanks to a combination of two factors that have very little to do with the play on the field: a new rule allowing players to redshirt despite playing in four games and the NCAA transfer portal.

Amid a flurry of player movement as a result of those two, on top of unique situations like Houston’s D’Eriq King deciding to take a redshirt in what amounts to a lost year for the Cougars, it seems the powers at be are already eyeing tweaking the current status quo. West Virgnia AD Shane Lyons chairs the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and remarked on a local radio show that adjustments to the current set of rules are likely to be discussed during meetings at the NCAA convention in January.

“I don’t think it’s a good optic for college sports,” Lyons said, according to the West Virginia MetroNews. “The way it looks, a student-athlete is potentially quitting on his team.

“It’s something the committee will look at in their January meeting to make any adjustments as necessary.”

Despite the redshirt rule originating from coaches themselves, in practice it has proven to be problematic for many because players have either removed themselves from action in order to save up a season and play elsewhere or simply entered the transfer portal. Such roster management concerns have led to plenty of criticism about the unintended consequences of the changes and now it appears the adults in the room are getting together to come up with a few changes to defeat the reasoning behind both rules.

We’ll see what happens between now and the January meetings but the days of going four-and-out for some might be coming to an end with the 2019 season.

Nearly half of Saturday’s conference championship games feature double-digit odds

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At least based on the sportsbooks, you shouldn’t expect much drama on championship weekend — which means we should all brace for absolute and utter hell breaking loose, of course.

Friday night and on into Saturday, the 10 FBS conferences will hold their respective league championship games, the results of which will not only shape the College Football Playoff but the New Year’s Six Bowls and all the way down to the lower-tier bowls. As of this posting, and by way of the BetMGM Sportsbook, nearly half of those 10 title games feature double-digit odds:

  • ACC — No. 23 Virginia vs. No. 3 Clemson (-28½)
  • Big Ten — No. 1 Ohio State (-15½) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
  • Mountain West — Hawaii vs. No. 19 Boise State (-13½)
  • AAC — No. 20 Cincinnati vs. No. 17 Memphis (-10½)

A fifth, the Big 12 championship game, is nearly double-digits as No. 6 Oklahoma is a 9½-point favorite over No. 7 Baylor.

The other five matchups have hovered around seven points or so, including the SEC title game featuring 6½-point favorite and second-ranked LSU clashing with No. 4 Georgia, since the matchups were decided last weekend:

  • Pac-12 (Friday night) — No. 5 Utah (-6½) vs. No. 13 Oregon
  • Sun Belt — Louisiana vs. No. 21 Appalachian State (-6½)
  • MAC — Miami (OH) vs. Central Michigan (-6½)
  • Conference USA — UAB vs. Florida Atlantic (-7½)

Ohio State first school to score Top-10 wins in football, hoops in four days since… Michigan three decades ago

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Some history was made overnight that involves both sides of The Game.

Wednesday night, sixth-ranked Ohio State took seventh-ranked North Carolina to the woodshed in a 74-49 win, handing the Tar Heels the basketball program’s worst-ever home loss at the Dean Dome under Roy Williams.  Four days earlier, second-ranked Ohio State took 10th-ranked Michigan to the woodshed in a 56-27 win, handing the Wolverines their eighth straight loss — and 15th in 16 meetings — in the rivalry.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, this marks the first time in nearly three decades and just the second time ever that one school had scored wins in Associated Press Top-10 matchups in football and basketball in a span of four days or fewer.  The only other school to pull off that feat?  Michigan, in 1992-93.

I have no clue what it actually all means, but it sounds pretty impressive.  And fairly hilarious that it involves both sides of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

Oklahoma DL Jalen Redmond’s status unclear for Big 12 title game

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Ahead of Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, the status of a key rotational piece of one of the participant’s defensive line is decidedly up in the air.

Jalen Redmond didn’t travel with the rest of his No. 6 Oklahoma teammates to last Saturday’s Bedlam win over No. 25 Oklahoma State because of an unspecified issue.  With a date against Baylor on tap for Saturday, it remains unclear whether the redshirt freshman defensive lineman will be available for the conference title game.

“He has progressed this week,” Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said when asked about Redmond’s availability. “We don’t have a complete decision right now, but he’s certainly better at this point than he was last week.”

In July of last year, Riley confirmed that, because of blood clots, Redmond would not play at all in 2018. However, the then-true freshman defied the initial medical odds and ultimately returned in October to play in three games before a recurrence of the clots in mid-November sidelined Redmond for the remainder of the year.

This season, Redmond had played in the first 11 games, starting two of those contests, before missing the Week 14 win.  Redmond is currently third on the Sooners in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with four.