South Florida-Western Kentucky should be an early bowl treat

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Two weeks from today, a game that should be among the best bowls of the season will take place. It’s one to mark down on your office calendar to throw on WatchESPN, or if you’re lucky enough to get the week off, make a point to have on TV.

Western Kentucky and South Florida kick off in the W̶i̶l̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶T̶a̶g̶g̶a̶r̶t̶  Miami Beach Bowl at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 21. This is a plea to anyone who likes fun football to find a way to watch this game.

Western Kentucky beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game last weekend, capping off an 11-2 regular season in which Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers averaged 44.2 points per game (4th among FBS teams). Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 71.8 percent of his passes (1st among FBS QBs) for 4,594 yards (2nd) and 45 touchdowns (1st). Junior running back Anthony Wales averaged 6.99 yards per carry (6th among FBS players with 100+ carries) in this pass-happy offense, which consistently fed junior receiver Taywan Taylor, who racked up 79 receptions (21st), 1,363 yards (4th) and 17 touchdowns (2nd).

And this isn’t necessarily a team that only looks good thanks to a weak C-USA schedule — SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ numbers rate WKU as the 11th-best team in FBS. The Hilltoppers’ offense ranks 1st in efficiency, seventh in finishing drives and 11th in explosiveness. This is a top-five passing offense and a top-30 rushing offense, one which scored fewer than 35 points only twice this year (against Vanderbilt and LSU).

On the other sideline is a South Florida team coached by Taggart — who quickly built a solid foundation at WKU from 2010-2012 — who steered his team to a massive turnaround this fall. The Bulls lost three games in a row in the first quarter of the season, and while the opponents were Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, becoming bowl-eligible looked like a difficult task.

After that losing streak, though, the Bulls ripped off wins in seven of their final eight games, with the only loss in there to a very good Navy team. A 44-23 win over Temple nearly upended Matt Rhule’s bid for an conference title game appearance, and a 65-27 stomping of Cincinnati asserted South Florida as one of the better teams in the AAC.

South Florida is very much geared toward running the ball with sophomore running back Marlon Mack (193 carries, 1,273 yards, eight TDs) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (157 carries, 969 yards, 10 TDs). But Flowers has a penchant for throwing for big plays, too, throwing a dozen passes for 40 or more yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Both WKU and USF have decent-to-mediocre defenses — WKU’s ranks 53rd in S&P+, while USF’s is 39th — that may not provide a whole lot of resistance against the powerful offenses in this game. It’ll be played at Marlins Park during the afternoon on a Monday — insert your baseball joke here, mine is that the poor Marlins, with Giancarlo Stanton only playing half a season, hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors this summer — but from afar looks like one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.

 

Jarrett Stidham tried recruiting Texas A&M after leaving Baylor, but Aggies weren’t as interested

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Well, this might sting a little for Texas A&M. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham shared his experience in the recruiting process at SEC Media Days in Atlanta, claiming to be the one trying to sell himself more to Texas A&M than Texas A&M tried recruiting him when Stidham opted to leave Baylor.

“Honestly, [former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin], he didn’t recruit me too hard,” Stidham said. “I probably tried to recruit myself to A&M a little harder. Just because it was in-state, it was right down the road from where I was there in Waco.”

Originally a four-star recruit of Baylor in the Class of 2015, Stidham transferred from Baylor in the wake of the sexual assault scandal with the program in the summer of 2016. Five months later, Stidham announced his decision to transfer to Auburn for the 2017 season. This will be Stidham’s second season starting for the Tigers after passing for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Why would Texas A&M not go after such a talented quarterback that was showing great interest in playing for them? It may because the urgency in adding a quarterback may not have felt like a pressing need for Texas A&M heading into the 2017 season. The Aggies had freshman Kellen Mond coming in as a five-star recruit in the Class of 2017. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but Mond appeared in 10 games for Texas A&M and completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns for the Aggies.

Texas A&M went 7-6 last season, while Auburn knocked off both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season to advance to the SEC Championship Game. How many fans in College Station are wondering if the fate of the 2017 season would have been changed drastically if Sumlin decided Stidham would be his guy instead of Mond? Would it have made much of a difference for the Aggies (and for that matter, Auburn)?

As Stidham said to the media, it all worked out for him. Sumlin ended up losing his job and is now the head coach at Arizona, while former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is getting prepared for his season as the new (handsomely paid) head coach of Texas A&M.

If you were wondering, Stidham also completed 20-of-27 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 42-27 victory over Texas A&M in Kyle Field last November.

Battle with admissions results in UCLA granting release to 2018 signee

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After a bit of a drawn-out battle with the UCLA admissions department, safety and wide receiver prospect Bryan Addison is once again looking for a place to play some college football.

According to a report from Bruin Report Online, Addison has been given a full release from his scholarship by Chip Kelly and UCLA. The release comes after Addison decided he needed to start looking at other potential options with the fear his situation at UCLA would not get resolved in time to get enrolled at UCLA (or potentially at another college).

I had some issues with the college board and UCLA admissions,” Addison said in the report published by Bruin Report Online. “I have been fighting this for 5-6 weeks and things were a little slow to get going and time was running out for me. All the other freshmen were already enrolling and it was getting stressful for me.”

Where Addison is heading next remains to be seen, but he has apparently already been reviewing some possible offers from other Pac-12 schools including USC and Oregon as well as Big Ten member Nebraska. A decision could come soon as well, as Addison feels a need to get this taken care of so he can turn the page and get enrolled at his new school.

Fortunately for Addison, he will not be required to sit out a season this fall because he is not actually transferring. Because he was not enrolled at UCLA, his move to a new program does not qualify as an actual transfer. That means he will be eligible to play right away this fall at whatever school manages to bring him in before the 2018 season.

Dabo Swinney undecided on Clemson starting QB

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Not that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has much need to name a starter for the opening game of the 2018 season, but the head coach of the defending three-time ACC champions says he has not made up his mind on who will be sitting on top of the depth chart at the position.

Speaking at ACC media day in Charlotte, North Carolina, Swinney said he has no timeline for when a decision will be made, which is typical coachspeak this time of year. In Swinney’s’ case, opening at home against an FCS opponent gives him a little more time to have to make a decision, and playing both quarterbacks in the season opener before making a final decision going into a Week 2 road trip to Texas A&M (against former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher) may be an option.

The two most likely options are Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. Bryant was Clemson’s starting quarterback last season and passed for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions and 665 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Despite having the starting experience from last season after replacing Deshaun Watson, Lawrence arrives on campus as one of the top recruits in the nation in the Class of 2018 and is expected to push for consideration right away.

For Swinney, as with most coaches, it is mostly about keeping things tight knit for now and not showing your cards until much closer to the season. Given the potential for Lawrence, it may be worth seeing what he does in training camp to see if there is a comfort level to give him such a significant role in the offense for a playoff contender.

Bryant will likely get the majority of the first-team reps at first, however, due to being the experienced option that was a part of an ACC championship team just last fall (and the only game Clemson lost in the regular season occurred when Bryant was injured and could not return).

Lane Kiffin shares thoughts on Larry Fedora’s comments and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

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At Conference USA media day, the FAU Owls were voted as the preseason favorite to repeat as the conference champion. You would think Lane Kiffin would have his plate full talking about his team’s quest for a second straight conference title, but the most popular coach in the conference found himself sounding off on a handful of topics outside Conference USA.

A day after UNC head coach Larry Fedora made headlines with his comments about the possibility that the state of football could be in danger of bringing down the country and showed himself to be skeptical of the link between football and CTE. Kiffin took a different stance on Fedora’s idea of a war on football threatening the stability of the United States.

“What’s the most important thing,” Kiffin questioned. “Long-term health, or how the game looks?”

Fedora took exception to the abundant changes to the game with rules being designed to protect the health of players. He has not been alone in his complaints about how the game is changing, but Kiffin expressed a different take on the importance of changing the game than his ACC counterpart.

Looking ahead to the season, though, Kiffin fielded some questions about FAU’s first opponent, defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. Already keeping an eye on the opposition, Kiffin joked he thinks likely starting quarterback for the Sooners, Kyler Murray, should go ahead and skip football to begin his professional baseball career after being drafted ninth overall in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. But, sticking to the previous comments in regard to Fedora’s comments, Kiffin used Murray to expand on the long-term health concerns Murray could potentially face by not going right into baseball.

“He should change his mind and go to baseball,” Kiffin said. “It’s crazy that he doesn’t go play (baseball) this year. Think of all the concussion issues that are out there with college football and the NFL. He should go play baseball.”

FAU received 22 first-place votes in a Conference USA preseason media poll to easily be named the favorite in the East Division. The Owls open the 2018 season at Oklahoma on September 1.