CFT Previews: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

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WHO: Notre Dame (7-5) vs. No. 23 LSU (8-4)
WHAT: The 16th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHERE: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
WHEN: 3:00 p.m. ET Dec. 30 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the No. 23 LSU Tigers limp their way into the 2014 edition of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Fighting Irish lost its last four contests and five of its last six. LSU, meanwhile, lost two of its last three games.

The obvious starting point for both teams is which quarterbacks will take the field.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly revealed Friday that redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will get his first career start for the Fighting Irish, while senior Everett Golson will rotate into the lineup throughout the flow of the game.

”I want to put Malik in a position and really challenge him and put him in this kind of environment,” Kelly told the Associated Press.

In limited action, Zaire didn’t fare as well as Notre Dame hoped. The young signal-caller was 9-of-20 passing for 170 yards in six previous appearances. He’ll now face one of the nation’s most tenacious defenses.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis — in what may be his final game with the program — is a master of dialing up pressure on opposing quarterbacks. LSU’s athletic front will certainly be breathing down Zaire’s neck the entire afternoon.

LSU head coach Les Miles, on the other hand, will again trot sophomore Anthony Jennings out as his starting quarterback. Despite completing less than 50 percent (48.8) of his passes and freshman Brandon Harris playing in eight games this season, Jennings received the majority of first-team repetitions during bowl practices.

“I don’t think I’m in a competition at all,” Jennings told NOLA.com. “I get all the one reps. I come in every day and continue to get better. I run with ones, and those guys know that. That’s not really what everybody thinks it is.”

With Jennings behind center, LSU will attempt to set the tone by running the football, which the Tigers have done successfully throughout the season.

“You won’t see much new in this game at all,” Miles told ESPN.com. “What we’re doing is we’ve got young players and we’re trying to grow them up and have them do the things they’ve done in the past here and see if they can do them better, execute well on game day.”

The three-headed backfield of Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hillard combined for 1,867 rushing yards. Against Notre Dame’s 61st-ranked run defense, there shouldn’t be a reason for Jennings to throw the ball all that often.

LSU will likely prove to be a little too big and a little too physical in the trenches for Notre Dame to overcome.

THE PREDICTION: LSU 17, Notre Dame 14

State legislators looking to wipe New Mexico, NMSU debt in hopes of decreasing ‘money games’

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Politics and football are colliding in the state of New Mexico. Luckily for the two FBS programs in the region, that could wind up working out quite well.

As detailed by the Albuquerque Journal, lawmakers recently made a few changes to their annual state budget. One item that made it into the lengthy bill this year? A measure that could result in millions of debt being wiped from New Mexico and New Mexico State’s ledgers.

Per the Journal:

The language in the budget prohibits the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University from using any state money – which includes money appropriated from the Legislature as well as any other state money that ends up in the athletics departments’ coffers – to pay back the accumulated deficits.

At UNM, that totals a nearly $4.4 million debt the Athletics Department has run up with the main campus through years of overspending.

At NMSU, the debt is $3 million.

The heart of the matter? Not just making sure the universities take proper accounting steps with their athletic departments but the play of both the Lobos and Aggies on the field.

Namely, their reliance on so-called ‘money games.’ Also termed ‘buy games’ or ‘guarantee games,’ these are when Group of Five programs get paid millions to essentially be fodder for larger Power Five programs during the non-conference slate.

While there have been cases of the ones getting the checks still emerging with a surprise victory or two, typically these are pretty lopsided affairs. They happen a lot and have turned into a way of life at programs like in the state.

Now there’s hope that by cancelling some debt, the two teams won’t have to take on such games as often.

“I’m sick and tired of both universities having to take money games. We’re not competitive, and we’re getting crushed, but they’ve got to play those games to get enough money for their athletics departments,” State Sen. John Arthur Smith told the paper.

Both teams lost games by over 50 points on the road in such games last season. Their future schedules also contain plenty more. UNM will travel to USC and Mississippi State in 2020 for example. FBS independent NMSU starts the season off at UCLA and concludes it by going to Florida in late November.

There’s still plenty of work left to be done before things change on the field and with the state budget but perhaps this is the start of some interesting financial relief for two programs that have some of the toughest roads to wins in all of major college football.

Clemson linebacker tears ACL for a third time

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Clemson coaches will hope that the third time really is the charm for unlucky linebacker Bryton Constantin. 

The redshirt freshman was just recently set to return to the football field this spring. Instead, he will apparently head back under the knife after injuring his knee for a third time. He confirmed the diagnosis on Twitter late last week.

Constantin was one of the nation’s top recruits at his position coming out of Baton Rouge, La. and picked the Tigers as part of the class of 2019. However, he never made it onto the field. He originally tore his ACL playing basketball in high school last February. Then he re-injured it in September after getting on campus.

The former four-star was expected to be eased into spring practice next month at Clemson but obviously those plans are out the door. Given the timetable for such injuries plus his history, the 2020 season could be too. 

This is a Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables defense however so there’s at least enough depth at the position to lean on for a team likely ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. James Skalski is a returning starter in the middle while Mike Jones Jr., Jake Venables and Baylon Spector all have experience on the outside. The team does need to replace likely top five pick Isaiah Simmons but do add several talented freshmen to the group that is coming back from a disappointing loss in the national title game. 

Still, just about everybody on the roster would have loved if Constantin could have worked his way in the mix given his earlier knee injuries. That won’t be the case though as the youngster hopefully undergoes ACL surgery for a third and final time in the coming weeks.

Texas reportedly suspends WR Kennedy Lewis for spring practice

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Texas head coach Tom Herman has been busy this offseason remaking his coaching staff. That doesn’t mean he’s kept an eye on what his players have been doing however.

According to Orangebloods.com’s Anwar Richardson, the program has suspended wideout Kennedy Lewis. The redshirt freshman will miss spring practice with the team but appears to be in line to return in time for summer workouts. 

Provided, of course, he does what he needs to in order to get back in the graces of Herman and company. There was no word on what Lewis did to get the (temporary) boot. 

Either way, it’s a missed chance for Lewis to make an impression for Texas’ rich new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The Longhorns are also looking for several new targets for QB Sam Ehlingher this spring given that seniors Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay both are off to the NFL. The youngster was expected to be one of those in the mix behind the likes of Jake Smith and Brennan Eagle to see some serious playing time.

Now that’s not longer the case.

Lewis arrived on the 40 Acres as a three-star recruit prior to last season. He made it into two games and took a redshirt, recording just a single catch against Rice for 37 yards.

Now, others like Josh Moore and Marcus Washington figure to get extra reps when the ‘Horns opens their 15 practice slate next month.

New three year deal at Auburn for Chad Morris winds up saving Arkansas money

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Arkansas has had to tap the well for buyout money quite a bit in recent years. The good news for the school however is that those checks will be a little smaller than first thought going forward.

That’s the result of ex-head coach Chad Morris’ new deal at Auburn. Terms were released to the media last week of the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and per AL.com, that will result in a three-year contract worth roughly $735,000 annually. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot for an SEC coordinator, you’d be right. It’s especially true given how much rival Alabama is prepared to pay their OC, Steve Sarkisian, given recent reports.

However, Morris isn’t just being paid by Auburn. Arkansas still owes him millions in buyout money. 

The figure was originally on the order of $10 million after he was fired midseason by the Hogs last year. That total was spread out over the next four years. However, Morris had an offset in his deal so the amount the Tigers are paying him will mitigate down that total from Fayetteville some. 

Morris will still wind up taking home nearly $2.5 million each of the next four years. Thanks to the AU deal however, the amount coming from UA will drop to nearly $1.7 million from now until 2022.

The new coordinator deal is also fully guaranteed between Morris and the Tigers. If he’s fired, the school owes him every penny. If he leaves for another job that isn’t a head coaching gig, he would owe everything left as a buyout.

Either way, Morris is both reunited with his old friend Gus Malzahn on the Plains and a very rich man. At least for folks at Arkansas, that arrangement will at least save them some money even if their ex-coach is at a division rival.

The Hogs also recently stopped paying former head coach’s Bret Bielema’s buyout last year as part of some legal wrangling. As a result, the nearly $22 million the program was set to be on the hook for in just the past three seasons is actually quite a bit less than first thought. 

That all might not help take the sting out of the lack of victories in Fayetteville but it certainly will help the ol’ check book if nothing else.