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CFT Previews: Cotton Bowl Classic

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WHO: No. 15 Western Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3)
WHAT: The 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: MAC champion Western Michigan ran the table this season, ended the year as one of two FBS undefeated programs with Alabama being the other. That was still far from good enough to get a crack at the College Football Playoff, but P.J. Fleck has his upstart program rowing their boats to the Cotton Bowl to take on Wisconsin.

The Badgers hope quarterback Alex Hornibrook is healthy enough to stay in the game after getting roughed up against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the real focus of the Wisconsin offense should fall on the running game with Corey Clement working behind a steady offensive line that should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage.

It should go without saying that Wisconsin will be, by far, the best defensive team Western Michigan has faced all season long, led by T.J. Watt. The Broncos may feel confident having two wins already this season against Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois), but the Badgers beat those two teams as well by a combined 59 points, as opposed to Western Michigan’s combined 25-point margin of victory over the Wildcats and Illini. Wisconsin’s defense did get exposed in the Big Ten championship game by Penn State’s big play offense though, and it should be expected Western Michigan will attempt to find those some cracks with Zach Terrell looking to find future NFL receiver Corey Davis for some big gains.

Western Michigan may be overmatched in the trenches, but the running game should be a key for the Broncos regardless. Jarvion Franklin rushed for 1,300 yards this season, but finding room to run against the Badgers defensive front will be his toughest challenge yet, especially if Wisconsin comes out looking to rebound from a poor showing in the Big Ten championship game.

Which brings us to the all-important yet completely unpredictable motivation factor. It would not be fair to take anything away from Western Michigan’s effort should things go well, but what exactly is the motivation level for Wisconsin? The Badgers were the favorite in the Big Ten championship game and lost steam to go from playing in the Rose Bowl (or potentially the College Football Playoff?) and now are paired up with this year’s Group of Five representative in the bowl lineup. Wisconsin does not seem like the kind of program that will go through the motions, and Paul Chryst may not strike you as a rah-rah go-get-em type of coach, but he will have the Badgers ready to go on the big stage in Arlington.

There is a bit of an experience factor at play as well, as a majority of this Wisconsin team has already played in AT&T Stadium. Wisconsin opened the 2015 season in this stadium against Alabama, so the initial wow-factor of playing in this venue may not be a concern. Western Michigan, however, is playing on this kind of stage for the first time in program history. Will that be an intangible?

THE PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 20

Former Arizona head coach Dick Tomey being treated for lung cancer

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Sad news out of Tucson this week as Dick Tomey and his family has issued a statement that the former  Hawaii, San Jose State and Arizona head coach was undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

“Coach Dick Tomey was recently diagnosed with a type of lung cancer at Tucson Medical Center and is currently undergoing further tests this week at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston, Texas,” the statement, obtained by the Arizona Daily Star, read. “We (Coach and his family) greatly appreciate all the people who have reached out to help in so many ways and all the expressions of love and well-wishes being sent our way from so many people. Following Coach Tomey’s example, our family is feeling very grateful and hopeful for a positive outcome.”

Tomey, now 80 years old, had an impressive resume after several stops out West, including a long stint at UCLA as an assistant before taking over as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors. He eventually became Hawaii’s winningest head coach by the time he left for Arizona, where he revived the program and became famed for being the architect of the ‘Desert Swarm’ defense. His best season with the Wildcats resulted in a 12-1 mark that included a top five finish in 1998.

Per the Daily Star, Tomey had moved back to Tucson in recent years to live full-time in retirement.

Count school presidents on board with renewing Texas-Texas A&M rivalry game

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Do you hear that? Could it actually be the start of détente in the Cold War between Texas and Texas A&M after realignment split the two bitter rivals apart?

Well, as usual in these cases, it’s best to be very cautiously optimistic about the most recent series of words coming out of both Austin and College Station. But make no mistake about it, there is at least some optimism that the Aggies and Longhorns could meet once again on the gridiron.

“It’s a storied rivalry of a hundred years or so,” UT President Gregory L. Fenves told the Austin American-Statesman. “We’ve told our ADs (athletic directors) to figure out a plan and bring it to us.”

“We’re supportive’ of renewing it.” A&M President Michael K. Young said. “Absolutely. We have been from Day One.”

The talk is good but it did come with some demurs about scheduling, such as the fact that both have games already on the non-conference docket for most of the next decade and other issues related to when they could actually get onto the field.

Young and Fenves are far from the only ones to call for the historic rivalry to be renewed in recent years. We’ve seen state legislators get involved, regents from both sides, head coaches like Tom Herman, both athletic directors and even the Texas governor call for the two teams to play each other again… mostly to no avail.

The Longhorns have a major opponent already on the schedule through 2029, including A&M’s fellow SEC opponents LSU, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia (plus Ohio State and Michigan). The Aggies, meanwhile, have an extra non-conference slot available but also have big names on the docket until 2027, including Colorado, Miami, Notre Dame and Arizona State.

As is typically the case, these two old rivals could renew their series if they really wanted to no matter what either side wants to say. They can claim scheduling conflicts all they want but it seems like it will still be another generation before the burnt orange clashes with the maroon white once again.

Despite taking big pay cut from being head coach, Urban Meyer still making six-figures with Ohio State going forward

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We’re approaching a month into Ryan Day’s tenure as the new head coach at Ohio State but the guy he  replaced just can’t seem to stay out of the headlines.

That would be one Urban Meyer, who is officially known by another title nowadays by being the Buckeyes’ “Assistant AD, Athletics Initiatives and Relations.” What exactly does that entail? Well Eleven Warriors put in an open records request to find out more and discovered it’s mostly a fundraising/public relations/development role that comes with a lovely $100,000 per year salary.

“The Assistant AD, Athletics Initiatives and Relations is responsible for fundraising and community relations initiatives and is committed to excellence and advancing Department of Athletics through its strategic plan,” a statement to the site said. “In alignment with the department’s mission and values, and in conjunction with the Executive Associate Athletics Director for Development, this position provides leadership and supports fundraising strategies for the Department of Athletics.  The Assistant AD, Athletics Initiatives and Relations will serve as an ambassador through numerous speaking engagements, service events, donor events, corporate events and engagements.”

While the $100k is notable, it’s a far cry from the over $7 million Meyer was supposed to make in 2019 had he remained in charge of OSU football. The six-figure salary isn’t all that he’ll be taking home either, as Meyer is reportedly signing on with Fox Sports to be a TV analyst for the network going forward.

Tennessee confirms Tee Martin is officially back on Rocky Top as an assistant

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Who says you can’t go home again? Tee Martin is certainly glad you can.

Tennessee confirmed reports on Saturday afternoon that the former Vols legend was indeed returning to Rocky Top as an assistant coach, set to fill an unspecified role on the offensive staff.

“I’m excited to welcome back Tee Martin as one of our assistant coaches,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “He coordinated some of the nation’s top offenses at USC, and he develops and identifies players as well as any coach in the country. He’s an excellent recruiter, and he is terrific at building relationships with his players. He cares about developing young men on and off the field. Tee was the quarterback on one of the greatest teams in school history, winning a national championship. He knows what it take to win here, and I’m excited to have him on our staff.”

Martin was an assistant at New Mexico and Kentucky before spending the past seven years at USC, rising all the way up to become the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. However he was first stripped of play-calling duties this past season by head coach Clay Helton and then not retained after the team failed to make a bowl game in 2018.

It’s not known what specific position group he will handle under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney but Martin was highly regarded for his time as a recruiter and for developing wide receivers. However he could be going back to his roots to handle quarterbacks at Tennessee given that Brian Niedermeyer is on staff and coaches tight ends while David Johnson handles the Vols’ receivers.

Either way, the homecoming is a welcome one for many fans in orange and white who have to feel a bit like the band is getting back together to lead the program back into contention. Phillip Fulmer is of course athletic director and now Martin is back in the fold, returning to the place where he has a street named after him for his heroics in leading UT to the national championship some 20 years ago.