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College Football Bowl Preview: Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 19 Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5)
WHAT: The 28th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: December 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada
THE SKINNY: There are a ton of fun and interesting matchups on tap this bowl season but few have the kind of storylines surrounding them that the Las Vegas Bowl sports in one of the most anticipated postseason games of the entire 2019-20 slate. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling option than this one if you throw out the records next to the team names and disregard the College Football Playoff semifinals.

And most of it has to do with one man: Chris Petersen.

The Washington head coach stunned the college football world earlier in the month when he announced he was stepping away from the Huskies after six fairly memorable seasons on Montlake. While he is not retiring from the game, his departure from the program was bound to ratchet up interest in whatever bowl game the team landed in as it would result in a fairly sentimental sendoff for one of the best active coaches in the sport’s history.

Well, as luck would have it, the Las Vegas Bowl that UW wound up getting ticketed to was also set to play host to the team where Petersen first made his name (i.e. going 92-12) as head coach: Boise State. With a number of his former players and coaches (like Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin) on the other sidelines, this is probably the last opponent that Petersen wanted his swan song to come against but viewers at home or in the stands won’t fret too much about all that and will instead get to enjoy one of the more compelling games of the month.

Beyond the Petersen storyline though, there’s plenty to enjoy in this one. BSU defensive end Curtis Weaver is one of the best players west of the Rockies and has totaled up career marks of 34 sacks and 47.5 tackles for loss going into what is likely his last time in the school’s uniform. His ability to get off the edge has made him a nightmare in the Mountain West and now he’ll get to chase down Huskies QB Jacob Eason in a matchup NFL scouts are sure to keep a close eye on. The Seattle native has been hot and cold during his first season as a starter under center but also completely capable of reminding you why he was a five-star coming out of high school when he unleashes his cannon of an arm down the field.

He’ll need to do so quite a few times because Boise State really put a team effort together to win their league and come ever so close to capturing the New Year’s Six bid. On top of a fast and physical defense, the Broncos have a wide variety of skill position weapons to beat you with and they over came needing to rely on three different quarterbacks this season to go nearly unblemished in 2019. While they typically wouldn’t be super motivated to play in Vegas for the second time in three years, this will be the final MWC appearance in the game before the bowl changes affiliations so closing out the conference’s impressive year with another win over a Power Five opponent — and over their old coach — is bound to be in the back of BSU players minds.

Still, as solid as Boise State has been and disappointing the Huskies have looked for much of the year, it’s hard to see this one not following the script and seeing Petersen ride off into the desert night a winner. His teams have typically shown up and put up impressive outings in the Las Vegas Bowl in the past and while he’s wearing different colors for this one, the result may very well wind up being the same as both sides say their goodbyes just off the Strip.

THE PICK: Washington 24, Boise State 20

Alabama reportedly hires Charlie Strong as defensive analyst

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It appears the marriage between Charlie Strong and Alabama is a go.

In early December of last year, Strong was let go as the head coach at South Florida.  Over the past two-plus months, the 59-year-old Strong has remained on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  There has been speculation, though, that Strong could be returning to Florida and joining Dan Mullens‘ extended staff as a defensive analyst.

Late last week, however, it was reported that Charlie Strong was in Tuscaloosa visiting with the Alabama football coaching staff.  Overnight, yet another report surfaced that Strong was set to be back in Tuscaloosa this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, with a hiring all but a given.  Late Tuesday morning, Chris Low of ESPN.com reported that Strong has agreed to join the Crimson Tide football staff as a defensive analyst.

Strong has spent the past decade as a head coach.  After going 37-15 in four seasons (2010-13) at Louisville, Strong left to take the head job at Texas.  Three seasons (2014-16) in Austin ended with his dismissal following a 16-21 record.  Strong’s tenure at USF ended after three seasons (2017-19) as well and a 4-8 2019 campaign.

In the last six years of his head-coaching career, Strong posted a 37-37 record.

Prior to that, Strong spent seven years (2003-09) as the defensive coordinator at Florida.  During that time with the Gators, he also coached defensive ends and linebackers.  For four of those seasons, Mullen was UF’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before leaving to take the Mississippi State job.

That was actually Strong’s fourth stint with the Gators.  From 1991-94, he coached defensive tackles (1994) and defensive ends (1991-93).  He also served as outside linebackers coach from 1988-89.  Strong began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at UF in 1983-84.

Strong was also the defensive coordinator at South Carolina for four years (1999-2002) before moving on to Gainesville that fourth time.  In between the third Gainesville stint and his time in Columbia, Strong was the defensive line coach at Notre Dame from 1995-98.

Notre Dame could be landing spot for Stanford transfer Trevor Speights

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Courtesy of a rival, Notre Dame football could see its roster bolstered as we trudge deeper into the offseason.

In early January, Trevor Speights became one of more than a dozen Stanford players who had entered the NCAA transfer database.  A month later, and citing two sources very close to the prospect, 247Sports.com is reporting that Notre Dame football has started recruiting Speights.

In fact, Notre Dame football could very well be labeled as the front-runner early on in the process.  From the report:

Not only have conversations gone extremely well so far, but we’re actually told the 5-11, 205-pounder is finalizing plans to get on campus for a visit in March. Running backs coach Lance Taylor is leading the way on this recruitment and if things go well on the visit between both sides and the staff is sure there is a spot for him, it’s hard to see him landing anywhere else.

On that relationship between player and coach, Taylor has actually known Speights and his family for years. He actually recruited the young man to Stanford a few years ago and played a major role in securing his commitment to play ball for the Cardinal. We’ll see if they get the chance to team up once again, but this time in South Bend at Notre Dame.

As a graduate transfer, Speights would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS school in 2020.  Not only that, the running back has, per the same website, another year of eligibility to use in 2021 as well.

Speights was a three-star 2016 signee.  After rushing for 363 yards and a touchdown on 95 carries in 2017-18, Speights didn’t record a carry in 2019.

For those keeping score at home, Speights could face his former team this season as Stanford travels to Notre Dame Stadium Oct. 10.

Speights, incidentally, would be the third graduate transfer added by Notre Dame football in recent months.  In November, Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor moved on to the football independent.  Two months later, Northwestern wide receiver Ben Skowronek made the move to South Bend as well.

Clemson transfer Xavier Kelly tweets commitment to Arkansas

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Another Clemson football transfer has found a new college football home.

In mid-January, Xavier Kelly took the first step in leaving the Clemson football program by announcing that he had entered the NCAA transfer database.  Later that month, it was reported that the defensive lineman would be taking a visit to Arkansas as he looked to move on from the Clemson football team.

Late Monday night, Kelly made his future-home decision.  On Twitter, the lineman confirmed that he “will be finishing out my college career at the University of Arkansas.”

Kelly left the Clemson football program as a graduate transfer, making him eligible to play immediately in 2020. The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, Kelly was rated as the No. 1 player regardless of position in the state of Kansas. The Wichita product was also rated as the No. 8 weakside defensive end in the country. He took a redshirt for his true freshman season.

The 6-4, 305-pound lineman went on to play in 28 games the past three seasons. For his career, Kelly has been credited with 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Kelly would become the fourth graduate transfer added by Arkansas since mid-January.

  • Arkansas State defensive back Jerry Jacobs (HERE).
  • Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (HERE).
  • Oklahoma linebacker Levi Draper (HERE).
  • Duke kicker AJ Reed (HERE).

Son of ex-Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder to stay, play sixth season with Monarchs

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A potentially awkward situation for Old Dominion football and one of its players has turned into anything but.  To the credit, it should be noted, of both sides.

In early December, Bobby Wilder stepped down as the head coach of the Old Dominion football team after 11 seasons.  Wilder was the only head coach in the history of the Monarchs program.

Wilder’s son, ODU defensive end Derek Wilder, was “hurt and angry” over what some considered the forced resignation of his father.  In December, after the coaching upheaval, the younger Wilder was granted a sixth season of eligibility he could use in 2020.  Whether that additional year of eligibility would be as a part of Old Dominion football program or another remained up in the air.

A call from Wilder’s replacement, Ricky Rahne, to the man he replaced helped set the wheels in motion for the lineman to return to Monarchs this coming season.  From the school’s official website:

He called me to ask me some questions about the program and the players and that was the first conversation that Ricky and I had about my son,” Wilder said. “He indicated that he wanted Derek to come back.

“I shared that with Derek and he met with Ricky his first week here. Derek really enjoyed talking to him and decided at that point he was coming back.

“He thinks a lot of Ricky and is excited about next season.”

Rahne said he told Derek that “I wanted him back, that I thought he could be a good leader for us.

“Obviously, he’s experienced a lot. He’s had to grow a lot throughout this process. I felt like this would be an opportunity for Derek to go out and play a little bit freer.

“I was excited when he got his sixth year and I am excited that he is coming back.

Because of injury, Wilder the player missed 21 of 24 games in the 2016-17 seasons.  That made the decision by the NCAA to give him another season of eligibility a relative slamdunk.

In 2018, Wilder played in 10 games at linebacker.  This past season, he moved up to the line and played in all 12 games for the first time in his career.  Wilder started 10 of the contests at defensive end, and will be expected to keep that starting job heading into the 2020 campaign.