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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 17 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 17 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2016 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include four that won nine games in the 12-game regular season, one undisputed conference champion, a conference co-champ and one that thought it would still be in the midst of prepping for a New Year’s Six game — or even a playoff semifinal.

WHO: New Mexico (8-4) vs. UT-San Antonio (6-6)
WHAT: The 11th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Based on the circumstances surrounding the very first FBS bowl game of the 2016-17 postseason cycle, I’m really surprised the line is merely a touchdown.  New Mexico far and away leads the nation in rushing at 360.9 yards per game — Army is No. 2 at 327. 8 — and feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers who each average more than eight yards per carry, although UTSA is a respectable 52nd at stopping the run (157.8 ypg).  The Lobos are playing on their home turf as well, and will be looking for just their second bowl win since 1961; the Roadrunners, meanwhile, will be looking for their first-ever bowl win as they’re in the FBS postseason for the first time.  New Mexico closed out the season winning six of its last seven, including an impressive win over Mountain division champion Wyoming, and, given all they have going for them, there’s little reason to think UTSA will make its first bowl appearance its first win as well.
THE LINE:UT-San Antonio, +7
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 39, UT-San Antonio 24

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WHO: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)
WHAT: The 25th Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: San Diego State, +4
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)
WHAT: The 3rd Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s not often you get one matchup of 9-3 regular-season teams on opening day of the college football postseason let alone two (San Diego State was 9-3 prior to their MWC title game win), yet here we are.  Both teams can run the ball, as each averages over 200 yards per game on the ground.  What sets the Rockets apart in this matchup is they are eighth nationally in passing yards; the Mountaineers, meanwhile, are 104th.  App State, one of the Sun Belt’s co-champs, is relatively stingy in that area defensively, ranking 29th in passing yards allowed (200.2 per game).  As mentioned, ASU was a co-champ of the SBC, along with Arkansas State.  The Rockets opened the season with a 31-10 win over… the Red Wolves.  There have been two Camellia Bowls previously, and they were decided by a combined seven points.  Last year’s winner?  App State, which beat a team from the MAC on a last-second field goal for its first FBS bowl win.  UT, meanwhile, will be looking to push its bowl winning streak to three straight, which would be the football program’s longest since it won four in a row between 1969-81.
THE LINE: Appalachian State, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Toledo 34, Appalachian State 31

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WHO: UCF (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
WHAT: The 2nd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State began the season with four-game losing streak that put its five-year bowl appearance streak in jeopardy before righting the ship by winning seven of the last eight.  UCF, on the other hand, lost its last two games, by at least 15 points each no less.  The Knights are coming off a winless 2015 campaign, so the job Scott Frost has done just getting the AAC team into the postseason is borderline miraculous and should earn him votes in the myriad Coach of the Year awards.  Part of the miracle can be attributed to the defense, specifically UCF’s third-down defense — the Knights were seventh nationally in allowing less than 30 percent of the opposition’s third downs to be converted into first downs.  The noteworthy teams ahead of them?  Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Clemson.  The fact that this will essentially serve as a home game for UCF also tilts the odds in their favor, with the university’s campus less than a half-hour from the stadium where they’ll call home Saturday.  In trying to steal a “road” win, ASU will looking to keep its bowl losing streak from reaching three in a row.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +6
THE PREDICTION: UCF 26, Arkansas State 17

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WHO: Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)
WHAT: The 16th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Between 2011 and 2014, Louisiana-Lafayette played in and won four consecutive New Orleans Bowls.  After missing the 2015 installment of the game, UL-L is back in its own backyard.  Then again, Hattiesburg is about 25 miles closer to New Orleans than Lafayette, so the Golden Eagles will be in their backyard as well.  After a strong 4-1 start to the year that included a season-opening win over bowl-bound Kentucky in Lexington, USM stumbled its way to a 2-5 finish in barely clinging to bowl eligibility.  Their opponents haven’t exactly been lights out coming down the stretch, although the 3-2 close of the regular season did get the Ragin’ Cajuns into the postseason after a one-year sabbatical.  Are you getting the feeling I’m reaching for things to write about here?  You’re right, which usually means this’ll end up being one of the best and most exciting bowl games of the year.  That’s normally how these things work.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette, +4½
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Southern Miss 23

Randy Edsall abruptly pulls plug on news conference after being asked leading DC question

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Randy Edsall wanted no part in heading down the road one media member at least attempted to get him to travel.

Following a subpar start to the 2018 season on that side of the ball, Wake Forest earlier this week announced that they had decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel. On a related note — you’ll see in a minute — UConn is currently dead last among the 130 FBS programs in total defense (a staggering 664 yards per game; next closest is Ohio at 540.3) and scoring defense (54.4 points per game; next closest is Bowling Green at 44).

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Edsall was asked about the Wake situation and his philosophy on such an in-season move. Suffice to say, the head coach wasn’t particularly fond of the media member’s line of questioning.

From the Hartford Courant:

Reporter: “Wake Forest just fired their defensive coordinator. I’m just curious about your philosophy on that.”

Edsall: “What does that have to do with us? I’m done. I can see where this is going. I’m not — I’m done.

Edsall’s defensive coordinator is Billy Crocker, who is in his second year with the football program. In Crocker’s first season, the Huskies were 122nd in scoring defense (37.9 ppg), 127th in total defense (519 ypg) and 130th (dead last) in pass defense (339 ypg).

Prior to his time at UConn, Crocker was on the coaching staff at Villanova for 12 seasons, the last five of which he spent coordinating the FCS team’s defense. In his last season with the Wildcats, they had the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense at that level.

Ankle injury leaves RB LJ Scott ‘day-to-day’ for Michigan State against Central Michigan

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Michigan State could again be without one of the top returning running backs in the Big Ten.

In the third quarter of the Week 2 loss to Arizona State, LJ Scott went down with an ankle injury and did not return to the game. The injury also sidelined him for the conference opener, a 14-point win over Illinois, in Week 4.

With its non-conference finale against Central Michigan set for this Saturday, it appears the senior back will be essentially a game-time decision. At least, I think that’s what his head coach was getting at.

“Probably a little of both,” Mark Dantonio said when asked if Scott was day-to-day or will play against CMU. “I expect him to play. Maybe day-to-day.

“He may be out there today or he may not be. Probably the best answer I can give you.”

Despite missing nearly a game and a half, Scott’s 103 rushing yards are still tops on the Spartans. Scott has led Michigan State in rushing each of the past three seasons — 898 yards in 2017, 994 in 2016 and 699 in 2015.

Following MSU’s Holiday Bowl win last December, Scott confirmed that he would be eschewing early entry into the 2018 NFL draft and would be returning to East Lansing for a fourth season.

Nevada’s EJ Muhammad announces season-ending surgery on Instagram

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Once again, a player has utilized social media to make a rather significant announcement.

On his Instagram account earlier this week, Nevada defensive back EJ Muhammad announced that he will miss the remainder of the 2018 season after undergoing surgery. Just what the medical procedure he underwent is unclear at the moment.

The football program, for what it’s worth, has not addressed Muhammad’s status moving forward.

Muhammad appeared in nine games as a redshirt sophomore last season, starting three of those contests. He had started the first two games of the 2018 season as well before missing the last two because of the injury that ultimately will sideline him for the remainder of the year.

Demoted Clemson QB Kelly Bryant misses second straight practice

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Things are certainly getting interesting, quarterback-wise, for the second-ranked team in the country.

Monday, Dabo Swinney confirmed that senior Kelly Bryant had been benched in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence.  A day later, Swinney revealed that he and Bryant had a lengthy conversation in which the two discussed, among other things, the possibility of a transfer.

According to Swinney, he gave Bryant the day off from practice Monday to allow him to wrap his head around the demotion.  Both TigerNet.com and The State are now reporting, though, that Bryant missed a second consecutive day of practice on Tuesday.

The obvious intimation from a second straight day of missing practice is that Bryant is seriously contemplating a move from the Tigers — or has already decided a move on is in his best interests.  Because of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, Bryant, who started the first four games of the 2018 season, could leave the Tigers now and retain a year of eligibility that he can use in 2019 at another school.

If he were to play another down this season, however, Bryant’s collegiate career would be over at the end of the 2018 season.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Swinney said earlier today, prior to the reports od a second missed practice surfaced. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Bryant has started the last 18 games under center for the Tigers, winning 16 of those contests.  Lawrence was a highly-touted five-star 2018 signee who had outplayed the incumbent the first third of the regular season.