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CFT Previews: Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 21 Fresno State (11-2) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
WHAT: The 27th Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
THE SKINNY: Two of the biggest head-turners West of the Mississippi converge in the desert as they take part in a super appealing bowl matchup between Mountain West champion Fresno State and Pac-12 South runners-up Arizona State.

The Sun Devils, who had an up-and-down first season under head coach (and master motivator) Herm Edwards, enter fresh off a wild Territorial Cup victory and sport one of the more explosive offenses in the Pac-12. Quarterback Manny Wilkins (2,896 yards, 19 TDs, 4 INTs) naturally leads the way with his ability to move around the pocket and launch bombs down the field but the veteran signal-caller will be without his top weapon in the passing game as star receiver N’Keal Harry is skipping the contest in favor of the NFL draft. Either way, it’s worth tuning in alone for seeing what dazzling tailback Eno Benjamin can do with the ball in his hands and the sophomore will be well motivated coming in considering he needs just 42 yards on the ground to set a school record for rushing yards in a season.

Defensively, ASU has looked far stouter than the numbers suggest (allowing over 400 yards per game coming in) but will need several players to step up on that side of the ball considering top linebacker Merlin Robertson will miss the game due to a personal issue. A win would mean plenty to the program considering the team hasn’t won eight games since 2014 and would naturally like to cap the first year under Edwards by notching one more win over a ranked opponent in 2018.

That won’t be easy by any stretch given how good the Bulldogs are. Head coach Jeff Tedford has done a marvelous job since taking over a previously 1-11 team and has since turned his alma mater into a powerhouse, capping things off this year with a win at Boise State to secure the MWC title in overtime. That puts the team right back in the Las Vegas Bowl where they are hoping for a much different trip than their last time in 2013, a disappointing loss to USC.

Optimism is running wild at Fresno State this time around though because their defense is among the best in the country, giving up just 13.7 points per game despite facing numerous high-powered offense. Linebacker Jeff Allison captains the unit and has already racked up 121 tackles this season — a number he won’t mind adding to while trying to contain Benjamin and company on the other side. The Bulldogs are no slouch on offense either, as their QB-WR combo of Marcus McMaryion (25 TDs, 3 INTs) and KeeSean Johnson (1,307 yards, 8 TDs) is as good as they come — even if they don’t get the press of others out West.

Perhaps even more enticing to the pair could be what’s at stake on Saturday afternoon as Fresno State has never won 12 games in a season before. They haven’t finished ranked in the final polls since 2004 either and knocking off Arizona State would certainly tick that box off as they look to beat two Pac-12 programs (UCLA being the other) in the same season as well. Despite the relatively close proximity of the two schools, this will also be the first time since 1941 that the Sun Devils and Bulldogs have met on the field and a little preview of a future series the two have on the docket beginning in 2023.

It goes without saying that both sides won’t lack for motivation coming into this one and looking to end the year off on a high note by leaving Sin City with a rare win. While ASU can put up some points, they’ll likely struggle to find much consistency against one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, leaving Tedford and company to finish off a season to remember just off the Strip.

THE PICK: Fresno State 28, Arizona State 17

Florida State apologizes for MLK Day tweet

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As the old adage goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men’s Twitter accounts often go awry.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, Florida State’s official recruiting account on Twitter posted an inspirational quote from the slain Civil Rights leader. It would’ve been fine for all involved if the account would’ve stopped there; unfortunately for all involved, they didn’t stop there.

Instead, a photoshopped image of Dr. King wearing a football glove and apparently performing the Tomahawk Chop was included as part of the tweet.

Not surprisingly, the Twitter account caught significant heat and flack for the image on social media. Just as unsurprisingly, the tweet was deleted less than an hour after it was posted and an apology subsequently issued.

Rutgers hires Andy Buh to coordinate defense

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Rutgers has hired Andy Buh as its defensive coordinator, the program has announced.

“We are excited to add Andy to the Rutgers football family,” head coach Chris Ash said in a statement. “He is an outstanding linebackers coach and has extensive experience in the Big Ten. Andy and I share a defensive philosophy and he is very familiar with the scheme we run, which will benefit the continued development of our defense.”

Ash and Buh worked together previously at Wisconsin, where Ash was the defensive coordinator and Buh the linebackers coach. He spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Maryland and has previous coordinator experience at Stanford, Nevada and Cal.

Buh replaces Jay Niemann, who served as the Scarlet Knights’ defensive coordinator for the first three seasons of the Ash era. Rutgers was 69th in total and yards per play defense and 89th in scoring in 2018, surrendering 31.4 points per game. Buh’s Maryland defense placed 78th, allowing 28.7 points per outing.

Rutgers is 7-29 under Ash and 3-24 in Big Ten play.

North Texas inks home and homes with Baylor, Tulane

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North Texas celebrated MLK Day by announcing a slew of future football opponents.

The Mean Green announced Monday it will play home-and-homes with Baylor and Tulane in the 2028 and ’29 campaigns. North Texas will visit the Bears and Green Wave in 2028, then host both in 2029. UNT will visit Baylor on Sept. 2 and Tulane on Sept. 23 in 2028, while the Mean Green will host Baylor and Tulane in back-to-back weeks to open 2029, with the Bears coming on Sept. 1 and the Green Wave on Sept. 8.

A previously scheduled home game with Army was bumped from 2027 to 2028 in conjunction with Monday’s announcements. North Texas also announced a home game with Texas Southern for Sept. 24, 2022.

Baylor will be the fourth Power 5 program and the second Big 12 opponent to visit Apogee Stadium, which opened in 2011. Indiana visited in Apogee’s opening season, Cal will make a visit in 2022 and Texas Tech will come to Denton in 2027.

“I am thrilled to announce two quality home-and-home series have been added to our schedules,” Mean Green AD Wren Baker said in a statement. “Baylor joins Cal and Texas Tech as Power 5 conference teams coming to Denton over the next few years. Tulane is a quality American Athletic Conference team that will be a fun trip for our fans when we return to New Orleans. I appreciate (COO) Jared Mosley‘s diligent efforts to find compelling games for our fans.”

North Texas and Baylor have met 13 times previously. The Bears have won 12 of those meetings but North Texas took the most recent meeting in Denton, a 52-14 thumping in 2003. That remains UNT’s most recent win over a Big 12 opponent.

The Mean Green and Green Wave have played just once previously, a 21-14 Tulane victory in New Orleans in 2013.

Baylor has a previously scheduled trip to Oregon slated for 2028, a return trip for the Ducks’ flight to Waco in 2027. Tulane also has a home-and-home with Iowa State in 2028-29, with the home dates flipped from the UNT series.

Boise State to replace iconic blue turf (with more, newer blue turf)

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Boise State became a household name through playing on its trendsetting blue turf (and winning a lot), such that the school now owns a trademark for any non-green collegiate field.

The current blue playing surface is set to go away this spring, only to be replaced by a newer, bigger, bluer (probably) version.

“It’s needed,” Boise State AD Curt Apsey told the Idaho Statesman. “We’re not just doing it to do it. It’s near the end of the usual lifespan.”

The current playing surface was installed ahead of the 2010 season; FieldTurf surfaces usually have a lifespan of eight to 10 years.

“The field is shredding,” Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin told the paper last summer. “It’s just old. It needs to be replaced. It’s just time.”

Boise State has played on a blue surface since 1986, when then-AD Gene Blaymaier put in blue AstroTurf at a cost of $750,000. The school did not even join FBS until a decade later.

The new surface will extend beyond the playing field to cover the area that previously held the Broncos’ track. It is expected to cost between $600,000 and $1 million, but the school is approved to spend $600,000 as of now.