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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

Jeff Thomas reneges on Illinois commitment, returns to Miami

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The saga that is Jeff Thomas has taken a couple of twists over the past couple of days, with the latest apparently leading him back to The U.

In late December, Illinois announced that Thomas had signed a financial aid agreement and would enroll at the university for the spring 2019 semester.  That move came a month or so after the talented wide receiver was dismissed by then-Miami head coach Mark Richt for unspecified reasons.

Richt, however, abruptly retired on Dec. 30 and was replaced by former UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who had taken over as the head coach at Temple a couple of weeks earlier before abandoning the Owls.  The combination of Richt’s retirement and Diaz’s return apparently cracked the door on a future for Thomas with the Hurricanes as it was reported this past weekend that there was a possibility the receiver will return; that possibility, though, was seemingly snuffed out by Thomas himself yesterday.

“I’m on my way now,” Thomas told the Champaign News-Gazette Monday afternoon. “I’m really excited to get started at Illinois.”

A day later, Thomas is apparently no longer excited and no longer on his way to Champaign as he posted on Instagram that he is instead headed back to Miami.  Well, at least for now he is.

It doesn’t appear that Thomas ever actually enrolled in and attended classes at Illinois, which means he would be eligible to play for Miami in 2019.  Well, provided he actually sticks with this particular commitment this time around.

At the time of his departure/dismissal in November, Thomas was leading the Hurricanes in receptions (35) and receiving yards (563).  The sophomore’s 16.1 yards per reception were second on the team while his three touchdown receptions were tied for third.

Barry Odom’s brother officially leaves Mizzou for Oklahoma

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UPDATED JANUARY 15  AT 9:48 P.M. ET: Oklahoma confirmed Tuesday night that Brian Odom has indeed left his head coach brother’s football program at Missouri to return “home” to Norman as the Sooners’ inside linebackers coach.

The younger Odom played his college football for the Sooners, and spent the past two seasons as the outside linebackers coach for his Barry Odom at Mizzou.

(The original post appears below.)

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New Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch reportedly has his first major hire in Missouri outside linebackers coach Brian Odom.

Yes, that would be the younger brother of Missouri head coach Barry Odom.

The news was first reported by Power Mizzou and has since been confirmed by a number of Oklahoma outlets.

While it obviously doesn’t compare to the one he’s leaving, the younger Odom does have a prior relationship with Grinch. The pair worked together at Washington State from 2015-16, a stint that helped Grinch get the Ohio State (and later Oklahoma) jobs, and Odom get his first full-time job at Mizzou.

Grinch first targeted Odom for the position last week, but Odom turned him down. A week later and the offer apparently became even more appetizing compared to the $300,000 Odom earned at Mizzou. We’ll see how sweet when his new Oklahoma contract is approved.

Army takes first Lambert Trophy in 60 years

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For the first time in six decades, Army is officially the best college football team in the East.

The honor was bestowed upon the Black Knights Tuesday by the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, which selected Army as the Lambert Trophy winners. First awarded in 1936, the Lambert Trophy honors the best college football team from the Eastern seaboard, defined as everything from Virginia on up. Though the Black Knights had not won the honor since College Football Hall of Famer Earl Blaik led that year’s club to an 8-0-1 season and a No. 3 final ranking back in 1958, Army is still in second place all-time with eight Lambert trophies.

Penn State holds the all-time lead with 31, including Lambert trophies in 2016 and ’17.

This year’s Army team completed the best season in the academy’s modern history, going 11-2 with their second straight Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, their third straight win over Navy and a No. 19 final ranking in the Associated Press poll, their highest year-end ranking since 1958. Head coach Jeff Monken was also named the national coach of the year by the Maxwell Football Club and the Lombardi Foundation.

Great as the Black Knights were in 2018, an argument can be made Syracuse should have actually taken home the award. The Orange played an inarguably tougher schedule — two of their three losses were to Clemson and Notre Dame — and at 10-3 finished the season ranked four spots higher than Army in the AP poll.

For their efforts, Dino Babers‘ bunch took home the ECAC’s FBS Team of the Year award, which, to an unwashed non-Easterner like yours truly, sounds like when certain conferences hand their MVP award to a quarterback but then name a different quarterback as their offensive player of the year.

Furthermore, Colgate won the Lambert FCS Cup while Maine was the FCS Team of the Year; LIU-Post won the Lambert Division II Cup and West Chester University the Division II Team of the Year; Johns Hopkins won the Lambert Division III Team of the Year and RPI won the ECAC Division III Team of the Year.

All winners will be honored on Feb. 21 in Danbury, Conn.

Rod Carey bringing three assistants along from Northern Illinois to Temple

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New Temple head coach Rod Carey is bringing along three familiar faces from Northern Illinois, the Owls announced Tuesday.

Jeff KnowlesMelvin Rice and Walter Stewart will make the trek from DeKalb to Philadelphia, though each coach’s role has yet to be sorted out. Position assignments will be announced once the full staff is hired, Temple said.

At Northern Illinois, Knowles served as defensive coordinator and was previously a quality control assistant at NC State. Rice was NIU’s cornerbacks coach and Stewart handled the Huskies’ defensive line.

“Jeff runs an aggressive defense that was not just one of the best in the MAC, but one of the best in the nation last season,” Carey said in a statement. “Individually, defensive end Sutton Smith was an All-American. Jeff, Mel and Walt know how to get the best out of their players and will continue to work together to coach an outstanding defense.”

Northern Illinois finished the 2018 campaign ranked second in sacks (50) and fourth in tackles for loss (110). As a unit, NIU was No. 18 in yards per play (4.78) and No. 34 in scoring (22.6 points per game).

The trio are the first on-field assistants named by Carey and the fourth overall to join him from Northern Illinois; strength coach Brad Ohrt was also hired from NIU. Carey was announced as Temple’s head coach on Jan. 11.