CFT Previews: Your Jan. 2 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Jan. 2 bowl menu, the final multi-game day of the 2014-2015 postseason.

WHO: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
WHAT: The 12th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
WHERE: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Tex.
WHEN: noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: You could very easily dub this one the Interim Coaches Armed Forces Bowl as both squads will be led by someone other than the one who did the leading during the regular season. Houston’s Tony Levine was replaced by Tom Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator who stayed with the Buckeyes for their playoff run, while Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst returned home to Wisconsin.  Regardless of what you dub it, it marks the third meeting between the football programs and the first since 1997.  Pitt is a team of streaks, having won its first three games of the season and its last two, while a stretch in the middle portion of the schedule featured a pair of three-game losing streaks wrapped around a win over Virginia Tech.  Both teams are middling scoring offenses, but UH is 12th in the country in points per game at 19.5.  The Panthers, meanwhile, eclipsed that total in 11 of 12 games.  Pitt will also look to prop up its conference’s subpar postseason record this go around, with the ACC currently struggling along at 4-6.  That’s fourth among the Power Five conferences, ahead of only the Big 12’s 1-4 mark.  Perhaps the most interesting matchup will be Houston’s run defense vs. James Conner as the latter is fifth in the country in rushing yards per game at 139.6 while the former is 29th at 136.3 ypg.  UH has only given up 14 rushing touchdowns, while Conner’s 24 are tied for third nationally.
THE LINE: Houston, +3
THE PREDICTION: Houston 26, Pittsburgh 17

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WHO: Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
WHAT: The 70th TaxSlayer Bowl
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
WHEN: 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY:  The last of four Big Ten-SEC bowl matchups (the Big Ten currently leads 2-1) is the third matchup between the two football programs.  The only other postseason game between the two was the 1982 Peach Bowl, a 28-22 Hawkeye win.  After struggling through the first two-thirds of the season at 3-5, Butch Jones righted the listing ship to push the Vols to their first bowl game since after the 2010 season.  The bad news for the Vols is that they struggle sometimes to score as they average 23.4 points per game — that number drops to 16.6 ppg if you take out the 95 combined points in wins over South Carolina and Kentucky — while the Hawkeyes give up 24 points per game, 35th in the country.  The player I’ll be watching the closest?  UT quarterback Josh Dobbs, who is a star in the making.  The sophomore had a game for the ages against the Gamecocks, and the Vols went 3-1 in games he started.  While the Vols struggled to score for most of the 2014 season, they didn’t when Dobbs was under center.  That could very well be the difference in the contest.
THE LINE: Iowa, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Tennessee 31, Iowa 28

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WHO: Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
WHAT: The 22nd Valero Alamo Bowl
WHERE: Alamodome, San Antonio, Tex.
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: As mentioned earlier, the Big 12 is struggling mightily this postseason, and it could really use a quality win to salvage something from what’s been a lost bowl season.  And, fortunately for that conference, K-State is just the team that can do that; whether they do it is another matter entirely.  The Wildcats have one of the best offenses and defenses in not only the league but in the country, entering the third-ever meeting between the teams (last: 2010) 24th nationally in scoring offense (35.8 ppg) and 25th in scoring defense (21.8 ppg).  The fact that K-State can put points up on the board doesn’t bode well for a UCLA defense that is currently 75th nationally and ninth in the Pac-12 by giving up 27.5 ppg.  Eight times this season, the Bruins gave up 30 or more points; in all three of their losses, they gave up 30-plus points.  K-State has struggled in the postseason of late, though, going just 1-5 in its last six bowl games.  They did, however, claim the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, so they have that going for them.  Which is nice.
THE LINE: Kansas State, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Kansas State 44, UCLA 31

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WHO: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
WHAT: The 26th TicketCity Cactus Bowl
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
WHEN: 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: In a weird oddity, this is the fourth of the four games today that marks the third-ever meeting between the two teams.  If you had to pick a squad with momentum heading into this game, it would have to be Washington as Oklahoma State lost five of its last six games to close out a disappointing campaign.  All five of those losses, incidentally, came by at least 21 points.  The Huskies haven’t exactly been world-beaters of late, though, as, prior to winning its last two games, dropped five of seven.  There likely isn’t a more uneven mismatch, at least on paper, in this 2014-15 postseason than Oklahoma State’s offensive line vs. Washington’s front seven.  OSU has given up 37 sacks this season, tied for 17th-worst in the country; UW’s defense is second in the country in sacks with 49.  If the Cowboys can’t protect their quarterback, it could very well be a long day as they likely won’t even have a running game on which to fall back — OSU is an abysmal 102nd (135.3 yards per game) out of the 128 teams at the FBS level.  Even worse?  The Huskies are 21st in run defense at 121.9 ypg.  Yes, there’s a reason why OSU is nearly a touchdown underdog as this is just not a good matchup for the Big 12 squad.
THE LINE: Oklahoma State, +6
THE PREDICTION: Washington 27, Oklahoma State 13

Second App State assistant added to Eli Drinkwitz’s Mizzou staff

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For the second time Thursday, Eli Drinkwitz has added an assistant to his new Missouri coaching staff. And, for the second time, it’s a member of his old Appalachian State.

First, Charlie Harbison was announced as a defensive assistant whose specific duties will be spelled out later. Next, it’s Erik Link being the second confirmed addition as part of Drinkwitz’s 10-man on-field staff.

Unlike Harbison, though, Link’s role has already been defined — special teams coordinator. That’s the same job Link held with the Mountaineers in 2019, his first and only season with the Sun Belt Conference school.

“Erik is a man of high character with a background in teaching and coaching,” said Drinkwitz in a statement. “His special teams units are detailed and very sound, and his guys play hard. They focus on effort, execution and high energy.”

Link was the special teams coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2018, his first season as an on-field assistant at the FBS level. In 2011-12, he was the special teams coordinator at FCS Montana State.

In two separate stints at Auburn, he served as a quality control assistant (2010) and special teams/offensive analyst (2013-15).

Lane Kiffin adds two to first Ole Miss staff, including OC Jeff Lebby

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The Lane Train is wasting little time rolling out members of his first coaching staff in Oxford.

Officially confirmed as Ole Miss’ head coach Saturday, Lane Kiffin on Thursday unveiled the first two members of his on-field staff — offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and offensive assistant Kevin Smith.

While Smith wasn’t given an official title, he spent the past three seasons as Kiffin’s running backs coach at FAU. That was the 43-year-old Smith’s first on-field role at any level of football as he had spent the previous three seasons at his alma mater UCF as both a coaching intern and quality control coach.

Smith, a consensus All-American as a running back at UCF, played five years for the NFL’s Detroit Lions and one season in the Canadian Football League.

Lebby, coincidentally enough, spent the past two seasons at UCF, the first as quarterbacks coach before being promoted to coordinator following the 2018 season. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Baylor for five years, primarily as running backs coach.

Lebby’s father-in-law is disgraced former Baylor head coach Art Briles. His brother-in-law is Kendal Briles, who was Kiffin’s offensive coordinator at FAU for one season before leaving for the same job at Houston and then, ultimately, Florida State.

In addition to those on-field hires, Wilson Love was announced as the Rebels’ head strength & conditioning coach. Like Smith, Love was a part of Kiffin’s Owls program the past three years.

LSU, Ohio State headline 130th Walter Camp All-American team

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Both No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Ohio State showed out well during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show Thursday night. Not surprisingly, both football programs did the same on one of the most prestigious teams in the sport as well.

Earlier tonight, the Walter Camp Football Foundation released its 2019 All-American teams, the 130th such squad recognized by the organization. LSU and Wisconsin led all schools with three first-team selections, while Ohio State led the way overall with five first- and second-team honorees (two on the first team, three on the second). LSU ended up with four overall, while Clemson had three (two first team, one second).

LSU and OSU were also one-two at the quarterback position, with Joe Burrow, also named the Camp Player of the Year, earning first-team honors and Justin Fields being the second-team selection.

Conference-wise, the Big Ten’s 15 selections on both teams led the way, followed by the SEC’s 13 and Pac-12’s seven. All told, eight of the 10 FBS conferences are represented — the Sun Belt’s Arkansas State (wide receiver Omar Bayless) claimed its first-ever Camp All-American — while 32 different schools claimed spots on one of the two teams. Two of those schools, Florida Atlantic (tight end Harrison Bryant) and Boise State (defensive end Curtis Weaver), had their first-ever first-team Camp All-Americans.

The AAC and MAC were the only FBS conferences without a player selected.

Individually, two players repeated as first-team All-Americans — Wisconsin running back and Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor, LSU safety and Jim Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit. Taylor is actually a three-time Camp All-American as he was named to the second team as a true freshman in 2017.

Delpit’s teammate, defensive back Derek Stingley Jr., is the only freshman among the 51 All-Americans.

Mike Norvell brings Memphis DC Adam Fuller to Florida State

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Wednesday, Mike Norvell confirmed the identity of his offensive coordinator at Florida State. A day later, it was the coordinator on the other side of the ball who was identified.

In what amounts to a reunion after a very brief time apart, Norvell announced Thursday that, as had been speculated, Adam Fuller has been hired as Florida State’s defensive coordinator. Fuller spent the 2019 season in the same position for Norvell at Memphis.

“We are so very excited about the addition of Adam Fuller to the Florida State football family,” Norvell said. “Adam is one of the top defensive minds in college football and has been a part of developing some of the most productive defensive units in the nation throughout his career. Coach Fuller will bring an aggressive and detailed approach to our Seminole defense. It will put our great student-athletes in a position to showcase all their skills and talents while being developed at the highest level.

“Adam has recruited the state of Florida, specifically the Tampa area, throughout his career, which will assist in fostering relationships throughout the state. I am excited to see him elevate our Florida State defense back to one of the nation’s elite.”

Memphis was Fuller’s second coordinating job at the FBS level. The first came at Marshall the year before.

“My family and I are very excited to join the Seminole program,” Fuller said. “The history and tradition of Florida State’s defense brings a major responsibility. I look forward to embracing the pride that comes along with that.”

Fuller and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham are the second and third FSU staff additions for Norvell. The first was Odell Haggins, who served as the Seminoles’ interim head coach after Willie Taggart was fired and was quickly retained by the new head coach.