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CFT Previews: Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
THE SKINNY: To say that Oregon and Boise State share a history on the field would be understating things just a bit despite the fact that they’ve played each other just twice. After all, bring up the Ducks to a Broncos fan or vice versa and you’re bound to hear about events from nearly a decade ago when the two played a memorable pair of games for anything but the outcome.

Boise State kicked off a perfect regular season during the first meeting back in 2008, a game best remembered for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked out then-Ducks starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. College football fans far and wide know all about the rematch a year later, which resulted in a 19-8 victory on the blue turf for the Broncos but is etched into everybody’s minds for LaGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout after the game to ruin Chip Kelly’s debut even further.

Those kinds of games seem like distant memories for both fan bases considering what each side have gone through to get to this point on Saturday.

Boise State enters with their first Mountain West in three years but are not quite the fun, high-scoring team many expected with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien at the controls. The signal-caller has rotated with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart as the offense has resorted to grinding out yards and using second half comebacks instead of scoring at will like in the past. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t explosive however, as wideout Cedrick Wilson is one of the best pass catchers in the region and should find plenty of open space during the game. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the normally stout defense, which has allowed only two 100 yard rushers all season.

On the opposite sideline, Oregon enters on a slightly different note with Mario Cristobal officially coaching his first game as the team’s new head coach. He takes over for Willie Taggart, who left Eugene for the job at Florida State after just a single season at the school. What kind of impact that will have on the Ducks for the game remains to be seen but most of the staff has remained in place to help with bowl preparations so it’s one of the swifter transitions as far as these things go in the postseason.

No matter how fans feel about the new head coach though, chances are good that they’re just happy to have another chance to see what Justin Herbert can do behind center. The quarterback only threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but suffered a broken collarbone early in the year to derail the team’s hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. The team went 5-1 in games he started, 2-4 in those he didn’t with a huge drop in points, yards and efficiency. That in turn hurt the productivity of the defense, which is led by linebacker Troy Dye and has still made huge strides from where they were a year ago. Also notable is the team’s best player — running back Royce Freeman — is opting to skip the bowl in order to prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

A lot of those factors would have you lean in the direction of the Broncos given the fact that they won the conference title just a few weeks ago and have the kind of defense that could give the Pac-12 power problems running the ball. Cristobal will have the Ducks fired up and ready for this kind of challenge however, and the return of Herbert has made this a completely different — and dangerous — team in their final two games of 2017. Something says the quarterback will be able to use a big performance against the Broncos on Saturday to parlay himself into being a Heisman favorite next season and end the year on a good note for Oregon with a bowl victory.

THE PICK: Oregon 38, Boise State 27

Iowa State forced to swap Incarnate Word for Drake as make-up opponent

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Most college football schedule is done years, if not decades in advance. Not for Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard. He’s had to line up two separate make-up game opponents within the same season.

The Cyclones were supposed to open this season with South Dakota State but, like Nebraska, the game had to be cancelled due to heavy thunderstorms in the Midwest. Whereas Nebraska was able to line up and play Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 27, Iowa State was not able to schedule a make-up game until Dec. 1, against Incarnate Word. Delaying the game so far into the calendar opened up the possibility it could be cancelled due to either Iowa State making the Big 12 Championship or UIW making the FCS playoffs. Remote as they seemed at the time, those possibilities floated out there in the distance.

Well, Iowa State (6-4, 5-3 Big 12) will not play for the Big 12 title, thanks to last Saturday’s loss to Texas. But Incarnate Word, 2-9 a year ago and playing under first-year head coach Eric Morris, managed to make the FCS playoffs. The 6-4 Cardinals, co-champions of the Southland Conference, snared an at-large bid and will open their first playoff run at Montana State on Saturday.

Given that their make-up opponent may not be available, Iowa State had to line up a make-up to the make-up opponent and found one in another FCS school — Drake.

“We’re most grateful to Drake Athletics Director Brian Hardin, Coach Rick Fox and the Bulldog leadership team for working with us through a very fluid situation,” Pollard said. “Coach (Matt) Campbell wants to play a 12th game and I believe our fans would welcome another chance to see this bowl-bound team play. I know the Bulldogs will enjoy the chance to play at Jack Trice Stadium and compete against a Power 5 opponent.”

Drake is located in Des Moines, just a 40 minute drive directly south on Interstate 35 from Ames, while Incarnate Word is located in San Antonio.

While Drake will not have to make a long trip to play this hastily-scheduled make-up game, it is still a significant undertaking for the Bulldogs. Drake competes in the Pioneer Football League, which does not offer scholarships. The Bulldogs went 7-3 overall and 6-2 in PFL play, completing their scheduled season with 43-6 win over Morehead State last Saturday.

They’ll have one more opponent to face this fall, and it’s a significant step up from their regular competition.

The game will kickoff at noon ET.

South Florida handing out free tickets to rivalry game vs. No. 11 UCF

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The War on I-4 was one of the very best games of 2017. With the AAC East championship on the line, 10-0 UCF hosted 9-1 South Florida before a national television audience and a packed Spectrum Stadium crowd. It was a game the visiting Bulls led 34-28 entering the fourth quarter, UCF rocketed forward to take a 42-34 lead with 2:21 to play, South Florida tied with 1:41 remaining on an 83-yard touchdown pass and a 2-point conversion, and then UCF immediately wrestled the lead back with game-winning 95-yard kickoff return.

Regardless of classification, conference, what have you, it was one of the most intense and entertaining games of the entire season.

Fast forward a year with the scene shifting to Tampa and it’s safe to say the atmosphere will not be the. UCF is controls its fate to win the American, but South Florida does not. The Bulls are 7-4 overall and 3-4 in conference play.

With their rivals traveling southeast on Interstate 4 (hence the rivalry’s name) South Florida’s powers-that-be were apparently nervous about black-and-gold taking over the green-and-old in their own stadium, so they decided to give out some free tickets.

It’s not exactly fair to say USF has worse fans than UCF. USF shares its home with a pro team while UCF does not. Thus, USF has to fill a larger stadium (65,890) than UCF (45,031). Knights fans also get to root for a better team than Bulls fans, at least over those past two seasons.

Even given those caveats, it still may be more embarrassing to give out free tickets to your rivalry game rather than just selling them to your rivals.

South Florida hosts No. 11 UCF at 4:15 p.m. ET on ESPN on Friday.

Broyles Award for top assistant narrows field to 15 semifinalists

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The most prestigious award a college football assistant can claim has significantly narrowed its list of potential winners.

Tuesday, the Broyles Award unveiled its 15 semifinalists for the 2018 version of its hardware.  Four of the semifinalists come from the SEC, while two each hail from the Big 12, Pac-12 and football independents.  The ACC has two of the 15 and the Big Ten has one.

Group of Five conferences account for three of the semifinalists as UAB, UCF and Utah State are all represented.  Army also accounts for one of the semifinalists.

Of the 15 semifinalists, seven are defensive coordinators and seven are offensive coordinators.  Just one position coach made the cut — UCF offensive line coach Glen Elarbee.

Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott was the 2017 winner of the Broyles Award; the Tigers’ other offensive coordinator, Jeff Scott, is a semifinalist this year.

Alabama – Mike Locksley, Offensive Coordinator
Army – Jay Bateman, Defensive Coordinator
Cal – Tim DeRuyter, Defensive Coordinator/Outside Linebackers
Clemson – Jeff Scott, Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Georgia – Sam Pittman, Offensive Line
LSU – Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator
Michigan – Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator
Mississippi State – Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
Notre Dame – Chip Long, Offensive Coordinator
Oklahoma – Bill Bedenbaugh, Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
UAB – David Reeves, Defensive Coordinator
UCF – Glen Elarbee, Offensive Line
Utah State – David Yost, Offensive Coordinator/QBs
Washington State – Tracy Claeys, Defensive Coordinator
West Virginia – Jake Spavital, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

Miami Hurricanes down to one healthy tight end, a walk-on

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To say that injuries at the tight end position have been an issue for Miami this season would be a significant understatement.

In early August, Michael Irvin II suffered an MCL injury in his right knee and will be out for up to four months.  In mid-September, the Hurricanes were down to two healthy scholarship tight ends when Brian Polendey suffered a season-ending injury.

Unbelievably, both of the remaining scholarship tight ends, Brevin Jordan (pictured) and Will Mallory, who are both true freshmen, were injured in last Saturday’s win over Virginia Tech.  Both Jordan, who is second on the team in receptions with 30, and Mallory will be sidelined for the regular-season finale against Pitt this weekend.

The good news is that, per head coach Mark Richt, the two tight ends should be healthy enough to return for a bowl game.  The bad news?  According to the Sun-Sentinel, the Hurricanes are now down to just one healthy tight end, and he’s a walk-on — Nicholas Ducheine.

The redshirt freshman Ducheine has appeared in two games this season — Week 2 vs. Savannah State, Week 12 vs. Tech — and is still looking for his first career reception.