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CFT Previews: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

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WHO: No. 21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The 20th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE SKINNY: It was not all that long ago the thought of Northwestern being able to win a bowl game seemed like an impossible feat, but the times have changed. This year, the Wildcats are going for their second-straight bowl victory in as many years for the first time in school history. In order to get it, they will have to fend off the Wildcats of the SEC from Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, where the Wildcats figure to have a bit of an advantage in the crowd.

Kentucky slides into the bowl season with more than enough wins to be here, but they do so having lost two straight games by a combined score of 86-30 against division foe Georgia and in-state rival Louisville. Defensively, Kentucky was overmatched by the eventual SEC champions and playoff participant and a Louisville team and Heisman finalist Lamar Jackson out for revenge from last season. So how much can Mark Stoops regroup Kentucky to prepare for what could be a decent battle with Northwestern?

For Kentucky, converting inside the red zone will be essential. Kentucky has left too many points on the field by having to settle for field goal attempts this season once getting inside the 20-yard line. In 39 red zone trips, Kentucky has scored just 24 touchdowns and had to kick 12 field goals. Northwestern has been much more successful in the red zone with 39 red zone touchdowns (in 54 trips), with 10 field goals.

Kentucky’s offense will be fueled by running back Benny Snell, who has rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Stephen Johnson has done well in avoiding making too many costly mistakes, and he’ll have to do that again against a feisty Northwestern defense.

This will also be a chance for Northwestern running back Justin Jackson to shine in one final game for the Wildcats. One of the top running backs in the Big Ten a year ago, Jackson got lost in the shuffle of talented running backs in the conference this season, but still rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect him to be a factor against the 61st-ranked run defense of Kentucky.

THE PICK: Northwestern 30, Kentucky 26

Trevor Lawrence once again says he has no desire to skip bowl games to protect NFL stock

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The trend of college football players with the NFL coming into view has become a growing one the last few seasons, but Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence says you won’t have to worry about missing him in a postseason bowl game.

“Sitting out bowl games and stuff, that’ll never be me,” Lawrence said in an interview with ESPN. “You won’t have to worry about writing those stories.”

This quote is nothing new from Lawrence. In March, Lawrence stressed a similar stance with regard to sitting out of college football bowl games to protect NFL draft stock.

From The Athletic‘s Grace Raynor in March:

Asked specifically if he would consider sitting out in an effort to protect his health for an NFL future, the Georgia native answered with two resounding “No’s.” That’s not in the cards, he says.

“Everyone’s talking about that, but I don’t really care about that,” Lawrence said Monday evening in his first public interview since the College Football Playoff.

“It’s definitely not coming from me, all that stuff, so (I’ll) just kind of ignore it. Just keep working.

Of course, there is something that needs to be pointed out here. A large majority of the players choosing to skip bowl games aren’t playing in the College Football Playoff and a national championship. While New Years Six bowl games are high in prestige even if not in the playoff rotation, they simply are not the same as playing in the playoff with a national title in sight.

Lawrence has played for and won the national championship in his freshman season and probably has two more seasons that could see Clemson continue to compete for a playoff spot. If Clemson is in the playoff the next two (or three years), the chances Lawrence skips a bowl game are reduced significantly.

Maybe Lawrence is just confident in Clemson’s ability to make the playoff the next couple of seasons. He’s not wrong though, right?

Syracuse seeing spike in football season ticket sales

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Dino Babers had Syracuse enjoying a 10-win season for the first time since 2001 last season. Fans of the Orange have had their enthusiasm for the football program rejuvenated and it shows in the season ticket sales this offseason.

According to a report from Syracuse.com, Syracuse has recorded 4,500 more season ticket sales this year than the school saw all of last year. To date, as of Friday, Syracuse has sold 6,800 season tickets for the 2019 season as the total inches closer and closet to a possible school record (8,000).

On top of the increased season ticket sales, Syracuse is also seeing a great retention rate through season ticket renewals. Syracuse has seen over 90 percent of season ticket holders renew their ticket packages for the 2019 season.

Syracuse ended the 2018 season ranked No. 15 in the final AP poll. IT is the highest Syracuse has ended a season in the AP Top 25 since the 2001 season (No. 14). Babers also ended Syracuse’s bowl drought in style by coaching Syracuse to a Camping World Victory in Syracuse’s first bowl game since 2013.

Syracuse opens the 2019 season on the road at Liberty on Aug. 31.

Auburn four-star linebacker Richard Jibunor enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal never takes a day off in college football. Auburn linebacker Richard Jibunor is one of the latest players to add his name to the list. Matt Zenitz of Al.com reported the transfer portal news, via Twitter.

Coincidentally enough, Auburn received a commitment from a four-star linebacker yesterday (Cameron Riley), but you can make your own guess as to whether those two developments were related in any way. Regardless, Auburn is still potentially about to lose a linebacker off the roster.

A player is free to make contact with any other football program looking to recruit him once his name is officially added to the NCAA’s transfer portal. But adding a name to the portal doesn’t necessarily mean this is the end of the line for Jibunor at Auburn, because a player can always take their name out of the portal and decide to stay with their current program. However, Auburn also has the option of dropping Jibunor from his scholarship now that he is in the transfer portal.

Jibunor was a four-star recruit in Auburn’s Class of 2018. As a true freshman last season, Jibunor appeared in 10 games and recorded eight tackles and two sacks. He also forced a fumble for the Tigers defense. The Athens, Georgia native chose Auburn, who seemingly had the lead in his recruiting for a while. He committed to the Tiger sin Nov. 2017 after two previous unofficial visits earlier in the 2017 season.

Jibunor will have to sit out the 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program unless there is a waiver approval in the works with the NCAA offices. There is no suggestion at this time that is an option in play. Jibunor still has a redshirt to burn, so he will still have three years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.

Mike Gundy inspired to improve after Oklahoma State’s 2018 failures

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The best college football coaches are always learning and adjusting over time rather than stick to their guns no matter what. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy had the Cowboys humming along as a typical 10-win program until hitting a speed bump last season. Now, after winning just seven games last season, Gundy is feeling as energized as ever going into a new season, if not more.

In an interview with The Oklahoman, Gundy made it clear he was inspired to get going in 2019 after seeing his program take a few more lumps than they were accustomed the last few years.

“It energized me, because I failed to get our team to play at the highest level last year,” Gundy said to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. “We were a very undisciplined football team, and we were not a very tough football team. And those two things fall on the head coach.”

Oklahoma State was ninth in the Big 12 with 70.5 penalty yards per game, with an average of 6.8 penalties called against them per game, which is more in the middle of the Big 12. In Oklahoma State’s case, it wasn’t so much the number of penalties received per game, but the yardage tacked on to those penalties. In 2017, Oklahoma State had the second-fewest penalty yards per game assessed to them in the Big 12, and in 2016 they led the Big 12 with the fewest penalty yards per game.

“So when I see mistakes that can be corrected and should be corrected, and when I go back and see the reasons for those mistakes were me, the head coach, it energizes me to come up with a solution, put a plan in place, solve the problem and make it better,” Gundy said. “Moreso than even an 11 or 12-win season, just for me.”

Gundy is about to embark on his 15th season as the head coach in Stillwater. The last time Oklahoma State recorded a seven-win season, the Cowboys ripped off three consecutive 10-win seasons.