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CFT Previews: Your Dec. 15 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 15 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS games as the 2018 postseason officially kicks off.  The featured teams include the first Power Five squad to make its 2018 postseason debut, the first Group of Five member ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, two conference champions and a pair of league runner-ups.

WHO: Utah State (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-3)
WHAT: The 13th New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: North Texas and Utah State have met seven times previously (the last coming in 2004), with the Aggies holding a 4-3 edge. … The Mean Green is playing in their third straight bowl game, while the Aggies have played in two straight and seven of the last eight years. … Matt Wells, the head coach for Utah State’s last five bowl appearances, accepted the same job at Texas Tech and was replaced by Gary Andersen, who was responsible for the first two appearances on USU’s bowl run. … North Texas’ Seth Littrell, meanwhile, removed his name from consideration for the Kansas State job to remain in Denton. … Utah State sandwiched a 10-game winning streak between losses to open and close out the 2018 regular season. … Just two teams this season averaged more points per game than Utah State’s 47.2 — Alabama (49.5) and Oklahoma (47.9). … As North Texas is 21st nationally at 36.4 ppg, this game could morph into a classic bowl shootout. … “Could” is the key word there, though, as both defenses also rank inside the top 40 in points allowed (UNT, 31st, 21.8 ppg; USU, 38th, 23 ppg). … The Mean Green’s Mason Fine has thrown for 3,734, which is eighth nationally, while the Aggies’ Jordan Love is 16th with 3,208 yards. … North Texas is looking to win 10 games in an FBS/Div. 1 season since the football program first played at this level in 1953. … Utah State, meanwhile, would tie a school record, first set in 2012, with its 11th win.
THE LINE: North Texas, +8
THE PREDICTION: Utah State 44, North Texas 38

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WHO: Tulane (6-6) vs. Louisiana (7-6)
WHAT: The 4th AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: While the two teams will each travel more than 650 miles to face one another in this game, the cities in which the schools reside are separated, per MapQuest.com, by just 135 miles in real life. … Given their proximity, it’s no surprise that the Green Wave and Ragin’ Cajuns have met 26 times previously, with the current AAC program holding a decided 22-4 edge in the in-state rivalry… Prior to 2011, Louisiana, The School Formerly Known As Louisiana-Lafayette, had never played in a bowl game; since then, they’ve played in six, with the first five coming in the New Orleans Bowl. … Tulane, meanwhile, is ending a bowl drought that stretches back to… the 2013 New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana. …. The Green Wave won four of its last five games to reach bowl eligibility, while the Ragin’ Cajuns won three of their last four to get past the magic six-win mark. … Louisiana’s lone loss in that stretch?  To Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. … Unit matchup to watch: Louisiana gives up 209.8 yards rushing per game, good for 117th nationally, while Tulane is 32nd in the country in rushing at 208.3 yards per game. … Tulane hasn’t won a bowl game since 2002, while Louisiana carries a 4-1 all-time bowl record into the game.
THE LINE: Louisiana, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Tulane 24, Louisiana 20

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WHO: No. 21 Fresno State (11-2) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
WHAT: The 27th Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Arizona State, +4½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Georgia Southern (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5)
WHAT: The 5th Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This marks the only bowl game this season in which both teams are nicknamed the Eagles, so the Raycom Media folks have that going for them.  Which is nice. … This will also mark the first-ever meeting between the two football programs. … Georgia Southern is the only team in the country that hasn’t thrown an interception in 2018; that stat would be more impressive, of course, if GSU had more than the 110 pass attempts it does this season. … Against FBS teams, Eastern Michigan scored 28 or more points in just one game this season, while Georgia Southern hit or surpassed that mark in eight of its 12 games. …  Conversely, EMU gave up 27 or more points twice, while GSU gave up 25-plus points in all but three games. … Both teams come into this game riding mini-winning streaks, with the MAC Eagles winners of three straight and the Sun Belt Eagles having won two in a row. … This is the fifth season for Georgia Southern at the FBS level and its second bowl appearance, with a win in its first making it undefeated in postseason play thus far. … Eastern Michigan has or will have played in three bowl games over the last 44 years — 2018, 2016 and 1987; they’re 1-1 in those limited appearances. … If the game is as close as the sportsbooks currently see it, the outcome could very well come down to the kicking game.  In that phase, lean heavily towards GSU as its kicker, Tyler Bass, has hit on 16-of-18 field goal attempts this season while his EMU counterpart, Chad Ryland, is 12-20.
THE LINE: Eastern Michigan, +2½
THE PREDICTION: Georgia Southern 34, Eastern Michigan 17

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WHO: Middle Tennessee State (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)
WHAT:
The 18th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE:
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN:
9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY
: The bowl gods saved arguably the best first-day matchup for last as this game pits the Sun Belt Conference champions in Appalachian State against the Conference USA runner-up in Middle Tennessee State. … Brent Stockstill, whose father is MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill, is playing in his last game at the collegiate level and has currently thrown for more than 12,000 yards (12,165) in a career that’s been under-the-radar prolific. … The Stockstills, though, will be going up against an App State defense that is currently third in the country in pass defense, giving up just 148.1 yards per game. Their 15 interceptions on the season are also tied for 15th nationally. … Stockstill, who is 15th amongst FBS quarterbacks with 3,214 yards passing this year, had thrown just six interceptions during the regular season before coughing up two in the conference championship game loss to UAB. … The Mountaineers have played in three bowl games in its four years as an FBS program, and have a perfect 3-0 mark in that span. Those three postseason wins, though, came under Scott Satterfield, who earlier this month was named as the new head coach at Louisville. … In 13 seasons under Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have played or will play in eight bowl games; those are the only bowl appearances in the football program’s history. … MTSU and ASU have met three times previously — Blue Raiders lead 2-1 — although the last meeting was way back in 1992. … App State has managed a pair of five-game winning streaks this season, the last of which they will ride into this bowl matchup. … MTSU stumbled a bit to end the season in going 1-2, although one loss was to then-No. 20 Kentucky and the other in the league title game. Their lone win in that stretch came against the same UAB team that beat them for the Conference USA crown a week later.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +7
THE PREDICTION: Appalachian State 31, Middle Tennessee State 23

Ohio State DL coach Larry Johnson denies facilitating player payment at Penn State

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The ongoing federal corruption case against College Basketball, Inc., took an unplanned-but-not-unexpected swerve into college football on Tuesday when a witness for the government said he facilitated payments for numerous college football players from 2000 through 2013.

Pittsburgh-based financial advisor Marty Blazer, who has already pleaded guilty to defrauding clients, is now testifying on behalf of the government during the New York-based trial, and said he paid players representing a handful of programs ranging from Alabama and Michigan to Northwestern and Pitt, funneling them funds ranging from three to five figures.

Blazer did not name names for any coaches on Tuesday, but he did name the name of a player — former Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin — which led anyone who follows college football to figure out his coach — former Penn State defensive line, and current Ohio State defensive line coach, Larry Johnson.

According to Blazer, Maybin was considering leaving school early to enter the 2009 draft when Johnson (without naming his name) arranged a meeting between himself, Blazer and Maybin’s father. There, Johnson got Blazer to give Maybin’s father $10,000, with the hope that the cash-in-hand would keep Aaron Maybin a Nittany Lion while ensuring the player would become a Blazer client when he eventually went pro.

Maybin, as we all know, entered the 2009 draft and was selected 11th overall. Blazer said Maybin’s father later returned the money.

Johnson was reached by Yahoo Sports on Tuesday and vehemently denied the accusation.

“That is not accurate at all,” Johnson said. “That is absolutely false. I would never, ever ask anybody to do that. That is not me.”

“Why is it that something like that comes out and nobody says anything to me?” Johnson Sr. said. “This is the first call I’ve gotten. All of a sudden this Marty Blazer guy can just say whatever he wants? That is absolutely amazing. Wow.”

Johnson coached Penn State’s defensive line from 1996 through 2013 and has been at Ohio State since 2014. The 67-year-old is generally regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in college football, and while it’s unclear if the NCAA would even take an interest in the case, Johnson obviously wants to make sure the testimony of an admitted fraudster does not ruin his reputation.

Clemson lands No. 1 overall player in Class of 2020

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Clemson has managed to dominate college football without really dominating the college football recruiting rankings. Since 2015, the Tigers’ classes have ranked, in order, No. 9, No. 11, No. 16, No. 7 and No. 10, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Those are good classes, to be sure, but not necessarily great ones; they’re the type of classes you’d expect to lead to a team competing for ACC championships and New Year’s Six bowls, not beating Alabama in the national championship game twice in three years.

Clearly, Clemson’s coaches have cornered the market on finding a few great players and a bunch of really good ones, then developing them to all play like great players. The question then becomes: What happens if Clemson starts recruiting a bunch of great players? What happens if, in addition to playing like Alabama, Clemson started recruiting like Alabama?

We’re about to find out.

The Tigers on Tuesday landed Bryan Breese, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive tackle from Damascus, Md., who happens to be the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2020, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

“At the end of this little run I was really between Clemson, Georgia and Penn State and over that last visit everyone talks about you’ll feel it and I didn’t understand that till the last visit and I got the feeling and knew where I was supposed to be,” Bresee told 247Sports.

But Tuesday’s news wasn’t just about Breese. He became Clemson’s first 5-star commitment of this class, joining a group of 11 4-stars that vaults the Tigers over Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the 2020 team rankings, with three less players on board than the Crimson Tide. Beyond Breese, Clemson is also favored to land 5-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, 5-star defensive end Jordan Burch and 5-star Myles Murphy, all of whom rank in the top 10 nationally, plus 5-star linebacker Antoine Sampah, who ranks No. 31 in the country.

If all that comes to pass, Clemson could follow one of the best seasons ever with one of the best recruiting classes ever.

“This class could be by far one of the best classes ever,” Bresee said. “I think definitely one of the best classes for Clemson.”

Transfers from Rutgers, Coastal Carolina land at same FCS school

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The same FCS program has double-dipped in the NCAA transfer portal, FBS division, in bulking up the talent on its football roster.

Monday afternoon, Albany announced via social media that running back Alex James and fullback Max Anthony have officially signed with the program.  James, a redshirt junior, comes to Albany from Coastal Carolina, Anthony, a fifth-year senior, from Rutgers.

As both players come to the Great Danes from the FBS ranks, they will each be eligible to play immediately in 2019.

The past two seasons for the Chanticleers, James has rushed for 475 yards and seven touchdowns on 114 carries.  He also caught 16 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.

Anthony had started six of the 27 games in which he played for the Scarlet Knights.

Witness in hoops trial claims he paid football players from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, others

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A sweeping college hoops scandal that’s engulfed the sport has now touched its gridiron counterpart.

Marty Blazer, a Pittsburgh financial advisor-turned government informant after pleading guilty to securities fraud charges, took the witness stand Tuesday in the college basketball fraud trial and levied some potentially explosive allegations.  As part of his testimony, Blazer alleged that, between 2000-14, he paid football players from, among others, Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Pitt.  The payments, some of which were in the thousands of dollars, were aimed at convincing the player to remain in college and not enter the NFL draft in the hopes that they would retain him as their financial adviser when they did turn pro.

The names of specific players were, for the most part, not mentioned by Blazer.

The most damning of the accusations made by Blazer seems to involve Penn State during the Joe Paterno era.  Specifically, Blazer alleges that he paid the father of then-Penn State player Aaron Maybin $10,000, with the payment being made at the behest of an unnamed Paterno assistant coach.

If accurate, the NCAA would consider such an arrangement a major infraction.  It’s unclear what, if any, action The Association will take on the football side of the accusations made under oath.

Requests for comment from each of the football programs mentioned in Blazer’s testimony have not yet been met with a response.