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CFT Previews: Cactus Bowl

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WHO: Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)

WHAT: The 4th Cactus Bowl

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

WHERE: Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona

THE SKINNY: Kansas State and UCLA are no strangers to playing each other in the postseason — they met just three seasons ago in the Alamo Bowl — but the situation around this year’s meeting could not be further from the last time they played.

While that meeting in San Antonio was marked by an ugly ending that saw a near fight and an angry handshake between head coaches, both programs still appeared to be on solid footing and aiming higher in the future after two pretty good campaigns. In sharp contrast, this game in Phoenix sees both sides limping along to the finish line of a season that had a few notable moments but was otherwise marred by misery, injuries and dysfunction.

Not that UCLA fans are complaining, however, as their .500 season was the impetus for the program to part ways with Jim Mora and make the biggest hire of the coaching carousel in landing Chip Kelly.

Kelly, however, won’t be leading the team onto the baseball field-turned-gridiron the day after Christmas. That would be interim coach Jeff Fisch, who did a good job getting his team bowl eligible in the first place directing the No. 5 passing offense in the country but still is leading a rag-tag group of coaches who are short-staffed and likely looking at other opportunities after the game.

What shouldn’t be lost on the UCLA faithful, however, is that this is almost assuredly the final game of Josh Rosen’s career in powder blues. The likely first-round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft has had a rocky tenure in Westwood due to injuries but a month full of rest before the game will allow him to leave one last impression for scouts against a pretty solid defense that has seen their fair share of good passers this season.

While Rosen is hoping to end the year on a high note, the Wildcats are hoping to keep their late surge going and do the same. The team was dreadful in the middle of the year as injuries hit at several key positions but third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson has proven to be the clutch play-maker Kansas State needed to turn around their season and has powered Bill Snyder’s club to four wins in their last five games. He forms quite the combo with running back Alex Barnes and wideout Byron Pringle, each of whom might not look like much getting off the bus but will easily take it to the house quickly if you don’t contain them early and often.

They could be doing quite a bit of that on Tuesday night. Even with Rosen back under center and making big plays, the Bruins have been unfocused this year. With all that is going on with coaches coming in and out, it remains to be seen if they can pull it all together and get the team’s only win on the road all season long. Perhaps more importantly, UCLA ranks second to last in the FBS in rushing defense while KSU averages 187 yards a game in one of the bigger statistical mismatches of the postseason.

The Kelly era can’t start soon enough for one team and something says that the old white and purple windbreaker on the other sideline ensures that happens quickly and politely out in the desert.

THE PICK: Kansas State 31, UCLA 24

Florida to host Florida Atlantic in 2021

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Florida will host Florida Atlantic in 2021, FAU announced Tuesday. The game will take place on Sept. 4 and serve as the season-opener for both schools.

The schools have met three times previously, all of them in Gainesville. Florida won 59-20 on Nov. 17, 2007, 41-3 on Sept. 3, 2011, and 20-14 on Nov. 21, 2015.

The game will round out both schools’ non-conference schedules.

Florida will visit USF on Sept. 11, host Florida State on Nov. 27 and has a TBD home game against Samford, most likely on Nov. 20.

Today’s news means Florida has a future game on the schedule with every FBS program in the Sunshine State except UCF and Florida International. Florida beat Miami in Orlando to open this season and will play a home-and-home with the ‘Canes in 2024-25.

Florida Atlantic will follow its Gainesville trip with an excursion to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. After that, the Owls will host Fordham and Georgia Southern to round out September.

 

With Husky mascot retiring in 2021, Northern Illinois to introduce successor on Tuesday

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Northern Illinois’ husky mascot, Mission, is retiring in 2021, and on Tuesday the school will introduce his successor.

Mission II, born on July 6 and weighing a tender 14.5 ounces, will replace Mission two years from now, and the puppy will begin his official duties as NIU’s next official mascot on Tuesday.

“We have long been searching for the heir apparent to Mission, and there is no question that we have found the right Huskie,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “Mission has set very high expectations, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mission II cannot only meet those demands, but surpass them.

“We are happy that Mission will have plenty of years to enjoy his retirement.”

Mission will turn 10 years old in 2021, and by that time Mission II will be fully versed in all the expectations placed upon the Official Northern Illinois Husky.

Mission II, a Siberian husky born in southern Wisconsin, will accompany Mission “to all eligible events for experiential learning and proofing,” which begins at a tasting for an NIU-branded beer on Tuesday evening in DeKalb.

The school has not revealed when Mission II will make his debut at a Husky football game, and in the meantime he’ll continue training with Lisa Boland while also attending daily puppy classes.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing Mission and Mission II do the job together during the training period,” Boland said. “It will be wonderful to watch ‘Mini-Mish’ learn from Mission, and see them work as a team. Mission has set a very high bar in mascotting, and Mission II will be working very hard to follow in his footsteps. I am so proud of Mission and the work that he’s done as the official NIU mascot.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege of guiding his successor to best represent Huskie Nation.”

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.