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CFT Previews: Russell Athletic Bowl

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WHO: No. 16 West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)
WHAT: The 27th Russell Athletic Bowl
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
THE SKINNY: It may be difficult to comprehend the idea of the Miami Hurricanes have gone a decade without celebrating a postseason bowl victory, but that is the monkey on the shoulders of the once-proud Hurricanes today. New head coach Mark Richt can start to turn the program around and bring his first campaign as the head coach to a happy ending that has long since been missing heading into the offseason.

Richt can have faith in his defense and quarterback Brad Kaaya to some degree, although Kaaya has far from perfect on the biggest of stages Miami has taken during his tenure. Could that change in the bowl game this year

Miami will be reunited with former Big East rival West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The two programs have not faced each other since 2003, before Miami left the Big East for the ACC. The Mountaineers are coming off their most successful season since moving into the Big 12 (also abandoning the Big East in the process) and is looking to put together the most wins in a single season under head coach Dana Holgorsen and the most wins since 2007.

West Virginia has been playing some of the best defense found in the Big 12, where defense often tends to be optional, but the Mountaineers are also ranked 80th in the nation in total defense. Regardless, the school gave a three-year contract extension to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who will be tasked with scheming against Brad Kaaya. On offense, West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard is coming off a season with 3,194 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, and Howard had a massive bowl game a year ago. If West Virginia can keep in sync on offense and cause Kaaya to make some mistakes, then West Virginia could gain an advantage unless Miami suddenly resurrects its running game.

THE PREDICTION: West Virginia 27, Miami 24

Family of the first Black football player in University of Texas history suing the NCAA

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A racial pioneer in the Texas football program is back in the news.

As we have noted previously, dozens of Texas student-athletes, including football players, are demanding change at the university.  One of those demands is naming a part of Royal-Memorial Stadium in honor of Julius Whittier, the first-ever Black player in University of Texas football history.

Coincidentally or not, the family of Whittier this week filed a lawsuit against NCAA.  In the suit, which is seeking damages in excess of a million dollars, the Whittier family is accusing the NCAA of negligence and wrongful death in connection to the pioneer’s passing in September of 2018.  Whittier had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years prior to his death.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “[p]ostmortem examination of his brain at Boston University… revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma.” The suit, filed by Whittier’s sister on behalf of her brother’s estate and three surviving children, alleges the Whittier’s death at the age of 68 was the direct result of football-related head trauma.

“Julius Whittier was a pioneer who became a lawyer and a member of the district attorney’s staff in Dallas County, and his life was about justice,” the family’s attorney told the Chronicle. “His family wants to carry on in his name and hope that we can make changes.

“We don’t want to end football. We just want to make it as safe as possible and make sure that everybody is informed about what can happen. That has not been the case historically, and we want to change that.”

The sister, Mildred Whittier, had previously filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of college players who suffered brain injuries from 1960 to 2014.

In 1970, Whittier became the first black player to letter in football at Texas.  He first joined the Longhorns in 1969.  At the time, though, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play.  Whittier lettered every year from 1970-72, first as an offensive guard and then as a tight end his senior season.

Memphis to wear ‘BLM’ decals on their helmets this season

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Memphis will take its off-field social activism onto the football field this fall.

Across the country, student-athletes, football players especially, have seen their collective voices grow louder in protesting for racial equality and against social injustices. And flags.  Several members of the Memphis football program took to the streets of their city last month to do just that.

This week, on his personal Twitter account, first-year Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield announced that his players will wear “BLM” decals on their helmets throughout the 2020 college football season.  “BLM,” of course, stands for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The use of the BLM logo on a helmet decal was an idea from our student-athletes,” Silverfield told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in a text message. “It doesn’t mean we support any anti-American, violent organization or hate group or any specific political party. In fact, I love this country and I love our players. Rather the decal is a show of support to our team.”

And what of a backlash against wearing the decals?  It was subsequently reported by The Athletic that “[a] prominent University of Memphis booster has informed the school that he will match, and then double, whatever donations the school might lose as a result of the Black Lives Matter helmet decal.”

The name of the booster was not revealed.

Memphis is coming off a school-record 12-win football campaign.  They claimed the program’s first-ever win in the AAC championship game after two straight losses.

Head coach Mike Norvell left the school for the same job at Florida State in mid-December.  Memphis stayed in-house for its next head coach, with Silverfield, the offensive line coach, promoted three days later.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including experts holding out hope that the famed oaks on Toomer’s Corner could survive being Updyked

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on July 4, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Five-star 2020 LSU commit probably would’ve committed to Ohio State if Urban Meyer hadn’t left
THE SYNOPSIS: Elias Ricks is the recruit in question.  The cornerback ended up signing with LSU earlier this year.  Ricks, expected to contribute to the defending national champs immediately, underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Fox, BTN reportedly among those making run at Paul Finebaum
THE SYNOPSIS: Yeah, that didn’t work out as the SEC mouthpiece remains at ESPN.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Penn State suing Tennessee DC Bob Shoop for breach of contract
THE SYNOPSIS: Nittany Lions were seeking $900,000 the university said Shoop owed after he left as the defensive coordinator at Penn State for the same job at Tennessee in January of 2016.  In February of 2018, the two sides settled their dispute.  Terms of the settlement weren’t divulged.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Alabama self-reports multiple secondary violations
THE SYNOPSIS: “Alabama” and “NCAA violations” always bring out the commenters.  This was no exception.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Tragic: new Ole Miss OL killed in car accident
THE SYNOPSISPark Stevens’ truck collided with the back of a semi-truck attempting to cross a four-lane highway.  The lineman was a 20-year-old junior college transfer.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Experts not ready to say Toomer’s oaks are ‘definitely not going to make it’
THE SYNOPSIS: Thanks to Alabama “fan” Harvey Updyke, the iconic trees at Auburn definitely didn’t make it.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Purdue player missing; last seen swimming in Indiana lake
THE SYNOPSIS: Sadly, 22-year-old running back Sean Matti‘s body was found a day later.

Pandemic-related restrictions force Western Michigan to schedule a new season-opening opponent

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The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted the 2020 season for Western Michigan football.

Western Michigan was scheduled to open the upcoming football season against Colgate on Sept. 4.  However, the Patriot League, Colgate’s conference, mandated late last month that all of its member schools not be permitted to travel by air or stay overnight in another locale.  As the distance between Hamilton, NY, to Kalamazoo, Mich., is nine-plus hours, that opener was certainly in jeopardy.

This week, Western Michigan confirmed that it will now open the 2020 college football season against Stony Brook.  The game will still be played Sept. 4 at Waldo Stadium, the football home of the Broncos.

“We are looking forward to opening the 2020 season with Stony Brook,” WMU head coach Tim Lester said in a statement. “We know coronavirus has changed, and will keep changing, how we operate this season. We will continue to operate with an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, staff members, fans and WMU community.”

It should be noted that Syracuse is also supposed to open its home schedule Sept. 19 against Colgate.  It’s unclear if that game will be played, although distance certainly isn’t as much of an issue as it was for Western Michigan.

WMU is coming off a second consecutive 7-6 season under Lester, who will be entering his fourth season with the Broncos.  That 2019 campaign also included narrowly missing out on a berth in the MAC championship game.