CFT Previews: Russell Athletic Bowl

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WHO: No. 10 North Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 17 Baylor (9-3)
WHAT: The 26th Russell Athletic Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s the nation’s top scoring and total offense against a team that was a correctly called onside kick away from potentially taking No. 1 Clemson to overtime in the ACC title game – a group that, by the way, doesn’t struggle to move the ball in its own right. What’s not to love?

A lot, actually.

Already down starting quarterback Seth Russell for the season, Baylor announced earlier this month back-up quarterback Jarrett Stidham, starting running back Shock Linwood and Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman will all miss the Russell Athletic Bowl with a varying set of ailments. So now Baylor will attempt to keep up with the Heels with third string quarterback Chris Johnson (he’s completed less than 40 percent of his passes for less than six yards per attempt in limited action) without its 1,300-yard rusher or its 20-touchdown receiver. Still, the Bears still have All-American tackle Spencer Drango, All-American defensive tackle Andrew Billings, future first-round pick Shawn Oakman and a pretty deep collection of skill players taking the field tonight in Orlando. Against most teams that would probably be enough — but not North Carolina.

Regardless of who does or does not take the field tonight, this is an important game for both programs. Neither team has accomplished anything of substance in non-conference play in a long time; UNC’s non-ACC wins this season consist of North Carolina A&T, Delaware and Illinois, while Baylor hasn’t beaten a Power 5 team outside the Big 12 since a Holiday Bowl whipping of UCLA way back in 2012.

Neither team saw itself in Orlando as recently as Championship Saturday, but whoever wins will celebrate like they just won a New Year’s Six game.

THE PREDICTION: North Carolina 41, Baylor 30

Texas A&M making Alabama work, but Tide still in control at the half

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It started like any typical Alabama game. A Tide interception and a quick Tide touchdown, a one-play strike from Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith from 30 yards out. But on Texas A&M’s third drive of the game, Alabama learned this wasn’t going to be like any opponent.

After taking over after a punt at its own 1-yard line, Texas A&M registered the first 99-yard drive by an Alabama opponent since Houston did so way back in 1997. The key play came on a 2nd-and-5 from their own own 31, when Kellen Mond took off on a draw and raced for a 54-yard gain. Two plays later, Mond hit tight end Jace Sternberger for a 15-yard touchdown. Tie game.

This is still Alabama, though. The Tide moved 75 yards in nine plays, and a 1-yard Tua keeper gave Alabama the lead again, and at the half the Crimson Tide leads, 31-13.

Tagovailoa has dazzled again, nailing 17-of-20 passes for 239 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But Mond has held his own on the other end, rushing 12 times for a game-high 112 yards while throwing for 55 more. But two interceptions halted the Aggies’ momentum.

Trayveon Williams has rushed seven times for 30 yards, more than any Tide player. Alabama has collectively rushed just 12 times for 41 yards.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.

After rusty start, No. 12 West Virginia gets going to take halftime lead against Kansas State

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No. 12 West Virginia didn’t play last week after Hurricane Florence cancelled their game against N.C. State so it’s understandable that the team was a little rusty to start their game against Kansas State. Head coach Dana Holgorsen probably didn’t like that they were extra rusty to kick things off but he’ll take the 21-0 halftime lead into the break either way to open Big 12 conference play in Morgantown.

Wildcats defensive back A.J. Parker came up with an interception six plays into the game and Bill Snyder’s squad added a fumble recovery on the ensuing drive to start the game off with a bang but the team was lackluster at best on the other side of the ball in failing to capitalize on the two initial turnovers. K-State finished the first half with only 77 yards and, while quarterback Skylar Thompson was efficient in throwing for 57 yards, his team couldn’t move the ball a lick on the ground — averaging under two yards per carry and looking anemic every time they handed the ball off.

Though the scoreboard didn’t quite indicate it, West Virginia moved the ball with much more ease and bounced back quickly from those two early turnovers. They racked up 320 yards through two quarters and were 5-of-7 on third down overall. Heisman candidate Will Grier looked particularly impressive in going 19-of-25 for 258 yards and a trio of scores after that interception. The first time he found the end zone was mostly the result of Marcus Simms weaving his way 82 yards on a catch and run, while David Sillshauled in the next two touchdowns in a bit of pitch-and-catch at the goal line between friends.

Needless to say, this has been a complete mismatch so far. The Wildcats are lucky to not be losing by a lot more the way they’re playing on both sides of the ball. The Mountaineers seem to have shaken off the early rust and could be in store for an even bigger second half if they can avoid those turnovers.

After getting woodshedded by Michigan, Scott Frost has now lost more games as Nebraska’s coach than he did as NU’s starting QB

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Earlier this week, Scott Frost warned that things could get worse before they got better at Nebraska. Little did we know how prescient that statement was.

Michigan jumped out to a 39-0 first-half lead and never looked back, taking Nebraska to the Big House woodshed in a 56-10 blowout win Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten opener for both schools. To put a point on just how vast the gulf was between these two squads, the Wolverines totaled more points in the first quarter (20) than the Cornhuskers totaled yards in the first half (17).

The most glaring difference was in the trenches as U-M rushed for 285 yards — they had 190 in the first half alone — while NU mustered just 39 on the ground — that number includes minus-six in the first half.

All told, the Wolverines’ offense outgained the Cornhuskers 493-132.  Karan Higdon led all ball carriers with 136 yards on just 12 carries, while teammate Ben Mason scored three rushing touchdowns.

The loss drops the Cornhuskers to 0-3 for the first time since 1945 and means Frost, who was 24-2 as NU’s quarterback in the nineties, now has more losses as a Cornhuskers head coach than he had as a Cornhuskers starter.

To add insult to injury, the Cornhuskers were trolled by a fast food chain during the course of the blowout loss.

For Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines, it’s the third straight dominating performance after a disappointing start to Season 4 under the former U-M quarterback.

In the season opener against Notre Dame, U-M dropped a 24-17 decision that didn’t seem nearly as close as the final score would indicate.  In the next three games, however, U-M outscored Western Michigan, SMU and NU (150-33), giving the team some confidence heading into a six-week stretch in which they’ll face 1-2 Northwestern in Evanston, 3-1 Maryland, No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 24 Michigan State in East Lansing and No. 10 Penn State.

Winless Purdue upends undefeated Boston College

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Well, that was fun while it lasted.

Last Sunday, Boston College, at a perfect 3-0, came in at No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25, the first time the Eagles had been ranked since 2008.  Less than a week later, BC is about to fall back into the “others receiving votes” category as previously-winless Purdue dropped the Eagles 30-13 in West Lafayette.

In fairness to all involved, Purdue may have been 0-3 coming into today’s game but those three losses, to Northwestern, Eastern Michigan and Missouri, were by a combined eight points.

In winning its first game of the season, Purdue rode a surprisingly stifling defense.  BC’s AJ Dillon came into the afternoon contest with 432 yards rushing, including 185 in the Week 3 win over Wake Forest and 149 on just six carries against FCS Holy Cross the week before; today, the running back was held to 59 yards on 19 carries.  That’s Dillon’s lowest output since he had 35 yards on 10 carries in an early-October loss to Virginia Tech last season.

Offensively for the Boilermakers, David Blough was deadly efficient as he completed 75 percent of his 28 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns.  It was Blough’s second straight three-touchdown performance after not throwing one in the season’s first two games.

Boston College had been looking to start a season 4-0 for the first time since Matt Ryan was the starting quarterback in 2007.