College Football Bowl Preview
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College Football Bowl Preview: Your Dec. 21 Viewer’s Guide

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Your trusty and semi-daily college football bowl preview that today takes a quick-hit look at the Dec. 21 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features six games.  Included in that is a battle of 10-win teams and, most notably, the Chris Petersen Bowl.

WHO: Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
WHAT: The 14th New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Talk about going from worst to (nearly) first.  Last season, Central Michigan went a school-worst 1-11. This season, under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, CMU won the MAC West title and came within six points of winning in the conference championship game. … With a win, San Diego State will reach 10 (or more) for the fourth time in five seasons. The Aztecs have already won seven or more games each of the past 10 seasons. … Here’s a statistic to note: The Chippewas are undefeated (8-0) when they rush for at least 140 yards this season. … Here’s another statistic, this one to chew on: The Aztecs are currently second nationally in run defense, giving up 72.3 yards per game. … Of the 54 touchdowns CMU scored on offense, 35 came on the ground. The Aztecs’ seven rushing touchdowns allowed are the fourth-fewest in the country. … Do you sense a key-to-the-game vibe I’ve got going on here? … If not, how about this one: San Diego State hasn’t given up more than 23 points in any game this season, while CMU is 0-5 when they score fewer than that number in 2019. … This game will mark the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.
THE LINE: Central Michigan, +3½
THE PREDICTION: San Diego State 23, Central Michigan 15

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WHO: Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
WHAT: The 5th FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl
WHERE: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: Cure Bowl fact: All four previous games have been decided by 10 or more points. … In just its second season at the FBS level, Liberty has qualified for its first bowl berth. So pleased with the program’s progress, university administrators have already handed first-year head coach Hugh Freeze a contract extension. … While not quite the neophyte as their opponent, Georgia Southern will be playing in just its third bowl game. In fairness, they have only played at the FBS level for six seasons. … The Flames and Eagles have one common opponent this season: FCS Maine.  GSU beat them 26-18, while Liberty won their matchup 59-44. … Another similarity? Both teams went 2-2 in the last four games of the regular season. … To say that GSU is run-heavy is a bit of an understatement. The Eagles’ 261.5 yards rushing per game is eighth nationally and second in the Sun Belt. To further highlight how ground-dependent they are, leading passer Shai Werts has rushed for nearly as many yards (683) as he has thrown for (704). … GSU’s run-pass ratio this season is 621-136. … For those curious, the Flames’ give up 192.7 yards per game on the ground, which is 100th in the country. … One final note: Liberty’s starting quarterback goes by the nickname “Buckshot” — and Stephen Calvert‘s thrown 26 touchdowns vs. just five interceptions — so I know who I’m going with.
THE LINE: Liberty, +4
THE PREDICTION: Liberty 34, Georgia Southern 21

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WHO: SMU (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)
WHAT: The 6th Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: FAU, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
WHAT: The 6th Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: A win in the second-to-last game of the regular season clinched bowl eligibility for Butch Davis and Florida International for the third time in his three seasons at the Conference USA school.  The fact that it came at the expense of Davis’ old school, Miami, was simply icing on the cake and still makes me ROTFLMAO every single time I think about it. … Blake Anderson‘s wife lost her brave fight with cancer in mid-August and, after being away for a couple of weeks, the head coach rejoined the team in Week 2. Over the last nine games of the year, the Red Wolves went 6-3. … One of the best matchups of the early bowl season could be Omar Bayless vs. the FIU secondary.  The Arkansas State All-American has caught 84 passes (tied for ninth nationally) for 1,473 yards (second) and 16 touchdowns (second). He’s also averaging 17.5 yards per reception.  Conversely, FIU is sixth in the country in allowing 178.5 yards passing per game.  The Panthers give up just 6.45 yards per attempt as well. … If you’re a gambling man/woman, and I’ll bet you are, keep this tidbit in the back of your mind as you open your wallet: The first five Camellia Bowls have been decided by a combined 17 points.  Average score, rounded down? 31-27.
THE LINE: FIU, +2½
THE PREDICTION: Arkansas State 24, FIU 23

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WHO: Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5)
WHAT: The 28th Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Boise State, +3½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Appalachian State (7-5) vs. UAB (6-6)
WHAT: The 19th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE LINE: UAB, +16½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

New three year deal at Auburn for Chad Morris winds up saving Arkansas money

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Arkansas has had to tap the well for buyout money quite a bit in recent years. The good news for the school however is that those checks will be a little smaller than first thought going forward.

That’s the result of ex-head coach Chad Morris’ new deal at Auburn. Terms were released to the media last week of the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and per AL.com, that will result in a three-year contract worth roughly $735,000 annually. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot for an SEC coordinator, you’d be right. It’s especially true given how much rival Alabama is prepared to pay their OC, Steve Sarkisian, given recent reports.

However, Morris isn’t just being paid by Auburn. Arkansas still owes him millions in buyout money. 

The figure was originally on the order of $10 million after he was fired midseason by the Hogs last year. That total was spread out over the next four years. However, Morris had an offset in his deal so the amount the Tigers are paying him will mitigate down that total from Fayetteville some. 

Morris will still wind up taking home nearly $2.5 million each of the next four years. Thanks to the AU deal however, the amount coming from UA will drop to nearly $1.7 million from now until 2022.

The new coordinator deal is also fully guaranteed between Morris and the Tigers. If he’s fired, the school owes him every penny. If he leaves for another job that isn’t a head coaching gig, he would owe everything left as a buyout.

Either way, Morris is both reunited with his old friend Gus Malzahn on the Plains and a very rich man. At least for folks at Arkansas, that arrangement will at least save them some money even if their ex-coach is at a division rival.

The Hogs also recently stopped paying former head coach’s Bret Bielema’s buyout last year as part of some legal wrangling. As a result, the nearly $22 million the program was set to be on the hook for in just the past three seasons is actually quite a bit less than first thought. 

That all might not help take the sting out of the lack of victories in Fayetteville but it certainly will help the ol’ check book if nothing else. 

Alabama losing special teams staffer to the New England Patriots

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The Alabama kicking game needs all the help it can get but will have to soldier on without a key member of the coaching staff.

According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, assistant special teams coordinator Joe Houston is leaving Tuscaloosa for a position with the New England Patriots.

Houston certainly has become a fast-riser as a coach. He was kicking field goals for USC from 2007-10 and got into coaching just recently. He served as an assistant special teams coach at Iowa State prior to joining the Crimson Tide staff.

While Houston is highly regarded off the field, his slim small body of work at Alabama was a mixed bag. Kickers Joseph Bulovas and Will Reichard combined to made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts in 2019. That includes a critical miss in the Iron Bowl that knocked the team out of the Playoff chase.

The Tide should still be okay on special teams come 2020 though. Reichard was injured early and hopes to be healthy after signing as the top prep kicker in the country a year ago. Highly regarded special teams coordinator Jeff Banks also returns.

Houston’s move to Foxborough no doubt came with a recommendation from Saban to his old pal Bill Belichick. The latter also struggled with the kicking game last season. Hopefully for both, this latest move will boost both teams in the critical third phase of the game.

Colorado closing in on hiring… Karl Dorrell?

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The unexpected Colorado coaching search may have an unexpected conclusion.

In a move first reported by Yahoo! Sports, the Buffs are supposedly close on hiring Karl Dorrell as their next head coach. USA Today later confirmed the news. He replaces Mel Tucker, who left for Michigan State in early February.

Bringing Dorrell in is, needless to say, a surprise move. The school had flirted heavily with former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian before parting ways. As it turns out, Colorado was looking at the wrong former coach in Los Angeles.

Dorrell spent five seasons in Westwood as head coach at UCLA from 2003-2007. The tenure had a high point of going 10-2 in 2005 but otherwise floated around .500. It didn’t help either that Pete Carroll had things humming across town at the same time as Dorrell was trying to get things turned around at his alma mater.

Since his firing, Dorrell has mostly been in the NFL. He had a one season stint as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2014 but is otherwise been coaching in the pros. That includes two stints in Miami and others with the Houston Texans and New York Jets.

Less than 24 hours before his reported hire at Colorado, Dorrell was promoted to assistant head coach of the Dolphins by Brian Flores.

Though Dorrell reached a bowl game in all five of his seasons in Westwood, his meddling record saw him pushed out the door. His replacement then? Former Buffs coach Rick Neuheisel. The two memorably helped lead the Bruins to the 1984 Rose Bowl together at the school.

Now Dorrell once again has the goal of getting back to Pasadena. Just not where anybody expected it to happen.

SEC says no to Arkansas spring game in Little Rock

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Arkansas has long been one of the more unique programs in college football in playing their “home” games roughly 200 miles away from campus. As much as playing down the road in Little Rock has become a way of life for the Razorbacks though, it won’t be a part of fans first close up with new head coach Sam Pittman.

In a release this week, UA confirmed that their final practice of spring ball would be held Saturday, April 25 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. That was not originally the plan however, as the team was hoping to host the scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The reasoning? It had nothing to do with scheduling conflicts but rather the conference office.

“As part of our ONE Razorback initiative, our goal remains to engage fans throughout Arkansas and beyond,” Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the necessary waiver to accommodate the spring game at War Memorial Stadium as originally planned. However, we will continue to explore additional opportunities to enhance the numerous events already being held throughout the state to help bring the Razorbacks closer to our fans.”

SEC bylaws require the league to approve any off-campus spring practice. They didn’t despite Little Rock truly being the team’s home away from home for nearly a century.

The school just recently negotiated a new deal with War Memorial that runs through 2024. That was supposed to result in spring games being held at the venue in even years and a trio of conference games against regional rival Missouri in the Fall of every odd year.

It’s not known if the SEC’s decision was more of a one-off or if spring games in 2022 and 2024 will have to be scrapped.

The news is certainly a blow to those in the Southeast part of the state who were hoping to get a glimpse of the Hogs in their backyard instead of making the trip deeper into the Ozarks. Arkansas won’t have a presence at all in Little Rock this season as a result (for the first time since 1931) and will instead be fully confined to Razorback Stadium for all seven home games plus the spring scrimmage (for the first time ever).

It wasn’t too long ago where the Hogs were called in the state capital three or four times a year. That sadly is no longer the case now as a result of the league office putting a kibosh on things this spring.