Cayleb Jones

AP Photo/Andres Leighton

Arizona kicks off bowl season with wild New Mexico Bowl victory

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The first game of this year’s college football bowl season was not one short for fun. Arizona (7-6) came away with an exhilarating, back-and-forth New Mexico Bowl victory over New Mexico (7-6) of the Mountain West Conference, winning 45-37 on Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque.

Arizona took a 28-17 into halftime and wasted little time extending its lead in the third quarter. Jared Baker broke loose for a 32-yard touchdown run right up the middle fo the New Mexico defense on Arizona’s second-half opening drive. New Mexico could not be buried though, as the Lobos and Wildcats exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, with each scoring twice. Arizona capitalized on a New Mexico turnover a Lamar Johnson interception that put the Wildcats on the four-yard line. One play later, Baker crossed the goal line for a short touchdown and a 42-24 lead.

New Mexico rallied to make things interesting, getting a three-yard Lamar Jordan scoring jaunt to pull within 42-31 late in the third quarter and a four-yard Austin Apodaca dash to climb with 42-37 with 13:52 to play.

Arizona welcomed back linebacker Scooby Wright III, who finally got on the field after a season riddled with injury issues, and he turned in an admirable performance, hitting double digits in total tackles in the first half alone, then making two clinching plays to thwart New Mexico’s rally. Facing a 4th-and-13 with 6:42 remaining, Wright sacked Apodaca to end the threat. After a Casey Skowron field goal with 1:32 to play, it was Wright who pressured Apodaca into his game-ending interception.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon looked like the player that led the ‘Cats to the Pac-12 South title a year ago, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones turned in a big game as well, with 182 receiving yards and a score.

With the win, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez picked up his third bowl victory since being named the head coach at Arizona. Arizona has won three of the last four bowl games they have played in, which included the New Mexico Bowl in 2012 as well. Arizona lost last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. New Mexico head coach Bob Davie is still on the prowl for his first career bowl victory. Davie was 0-3 in postseason bowl games at Notre Dame.

In 2016, Arizona will kick off the new season in Glendale, Arizona against BYU on September 3. New Mexico will also open the new season that same day, but they will do so at home against FCS power Sam Houston State.

Two glaring omissions headline Biletnikoff watch list

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It’s not often that who’s not on what’s essentially a meaningless preseason watch list is the main storyline, but that’s the case when it comes to the Biletnikoff Award this year.

First, who is on the watch list for the award handed out annually to the nation’s top wide receivers: a total of 48 players at the position, which is actually a rather subdued number compared to other watch lists that come out this time of the year.

Headlining the four dozen receivers actually listed is Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, who was a finalist for last year’s award that went to Alabama’s Amari Cooper.  Joining Higgins are 2014 semifinalists Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma and Nelson Spruce of Colorado.

Now, the players who was inexplicably excluded from the initial watch list? Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, first and foremost. The senior wideout was already named to the Maxwell Award watch list earlier this month. He’s considered by many to be the best receiver in the SEC — Mel Kiper has Williams as his No. 1 player at that position — yet four receivers from that conference are included.  The only receiver on the Biletnikoff watch list to also make Maxwell’s is South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.

Williams missed three of the last four games last season because of an injury, yet still totaled 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Kiper may have him a bit overrated on his Big Board, but Williams certainly deserves one of the 48 spots allotted — or the award should at least make room for a 49th.  Or a 49th and 50th.

That said, Williams can, and probably will, be added to an in-season update from the folks at the Biletnikoff.  The same could be said for Player. No. 2: Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell.

Despite missing the last four games of the year because of a gruesome leg injury, Williams still led the Rebels in receptions with 48 and was second in yardage with 632.  Like Williams, Treadwell made the cut for the Maxwell, which is awarded annually to the best player in college football regardless of position.

Anyway, below is the complete Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Victor Bolden, Oregon State
Devonte Boyd, UNLV
Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Ryan Burbrink, Bowling Green
KD Cannon, Baylor
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Rashon Ceaser, ULM
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
River Cracraft, Washington State
Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Josh Doctson, TCU
Travin Dural, LSU
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
William Fuller, Notre Dame
Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Donovan Harden, Georgia State
Carlos Harris, North Texas
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Ajalen Holley, ULM
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Corey Jones, Toledo
Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
Marcus Kemp, Hawaii
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Mitch Mathews, BYU
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
Mike Williams, Clemson
Ron Willoughby, Buffalo

CFT Previews: The VIZIO Fiesta Bowl

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WHO: No. 10 Arizona (10-3) vs. No. 20 Boise State (11-2)

WHAT: The 44th VIZIO Fiesta Bowl

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

WHEN: 4:00 p.m. ET Dec. 31 on ESPN

THE SKINNY: It may not be quite the same as the days of busting the BCS party, but Boise State is back in the Fiesta Bowl for a third time. The Broncos won the lucrative reservation to the New Years Six New Years Eve party by being the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion (sorry Marshall), and the Broncos look to take advantage of it.

Boise State is riding an eight-game winning streak, including a victory in the Mountain West Conference championship game to clinch its spot in the New Years Six line-up. The Broncos have come a long way since opening the season with a loss in Atlanta to Ole Miss and their turnover-filled setback at Air Force. Running back Jay Ajayi has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns and quarterback Grant Hedrick has started to protect the football much more confidently as the offense found its bread and butter down the stretch. The defense has held three straight opponents to fewer than 20 points, but that could be difficult to do in this bowl match-up.

The Broncos will face Arizona, champions of the Pac-12 South and the only team to beat Oregon this season. Rich Rodriguez, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and his Wildcats were unable to take down te Ducks for a second time, but they look to be a tough test for Boise State. The star attraction will be middle linebacker Scooby Wright III, who received quite the haul of postseason awards (Bronko Nagurski Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award and multiple defensive player of the year and all-conference mentions) for his efforts this season. But there is more to Arizona than the phenomenal Wright. Arizona’s offensive nucleus has shown plenty of promise with freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (3,458 yards, 27 touchdowns), freshman running back Nick Wilson (1,289 yards, 15 touchdowns) and sophomore wide receiver Cayleb Jones (902 yards, 9 touchdowns).

This one has potential to open things up offensively. Can Boise State score a third Fiest Bowl memory, or will Arizona represent the PAc-12 admirably on the big bowl stage?

THE PREDICTION: Arizona 37, Boise State 30

2013 Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award winner Bryce Petty among 16 semifinalists for 2014 award

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The state of Texas has produced a number of great college football players, and this year is no exception. The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award will go to one of 16 of the best talents to come out of the state of Texas. The semifinalists for the award have been announced, and it includes last year’s inaugural award winner, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty.

Petty is among the players currently in the chase for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Petty is joined as semifinalists by TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman and running back Shock Linwood are also among the semifinalists. So is TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson is also among the list of semifinalists. You will also see the new record holder for most rushing yards in a single game among the semifinalists, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine.

The full list of 2014 semifinalists for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award follow:

Jay Ajayi, Boise State, RB, Junior – Plano, Texas (Frisco Liberty HS) – Mountain West Conference

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, QB, RS Freshman – Wichita Falls, Texas (Rider HS) – Big Ten

Trevone Boykin, TCU, QB, Junior – Dallas, Texas (West Mesquite HS) – Big 12

Shane Carden, East Carolina, QB, Senior – Houston, Texas (Episcopal HS) – American Athletic Conference

David Cobb, Minnesota, RB, Senior – Killeen, Texas (Ellison HS) – Big Ten

Corey Coleman, Baylor, WR, Sophomore – Richardson, Texas (Pearce HS) – Big 12

Josh Doctson, TCU, WR, Junior – Mansfield, Texas (Legacy HS) – Big 12

Rashard Higgins, Colorado State, WR, Sophomore – Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite HS) – Mountain West

Aaron Jones, UTEP, RB, Sophomore – El Paso, Texas (Burges HS) – Conference USA

Cayleb Jones, Arizona, WR, Sophomore – Austin, Texas (Austin HS) – Pac-12

Shock Linwood, Baylor, RB, Sophomore – Linden, Texas (Linden-Kildare HS) – Big 12

Keevan Lucas, Tulsa, WR, Sophomore – Abilene, Texas (Abilene HS) – American Athletic Conference

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, RB, Freshman – Pflugerville, Texas (Hendrickson HS) – Big 12

Bryce Petty, Baylor, QB, Senior – Midlothian, Texas (Midlothian HS) – Big 12

Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M, WR, Sophomore – San Antonio, Texas (Jay HS) (Tyler Junior College) Southeastern Conference

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas, RB, Junior – Allen, Texas (Allen HS) – Southeastern Conference

Washington fumbles away a Pac-12 win to No. 14 Arizona

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Sometimes icing the kicker works. Other times, like Saturday in Tucson, it backfires. Washington (6-5, 2-5 Pac-12) head coach Chris Petersen called a timeout to ice No. 14 Arizona (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) kicker Casey Skowron. Skowron missed the kick on the dead play, and took advantage of his official kick by sailing a 47-yard try through the uprights to give the Wildcats a wild 27-26 victory. The win helps keep Arizona in the hunt for the Pac-12 South Division championship.

Washington really did let this one slip through their fingers. The Huskies lost three fumbles to Arizona, including one late in the first half to lead to a quick Arizona touchdown and the other late in the game to give Arizona the game. The Wildcats had to earn it though. What looked to be a go-ahead touchdown pass from Anu Solomon to Cayleb Jones was overturned by a video review. Jones had caught the ball but his toe landed on the back of the end zone to rule the play an incomplete pass. This soon led to Arizona having to try a long field goal as time expired, and Skowron delivered in the clutch.

Arizona had a rough time getting this win, not that they will apologize for that. The Wildcats converted just three of 15 third-down attempts and were out-gained 504-375. Arizona also had three turnovers in the game. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was intercepted twice in the game, and completed 17 of 39 pass attempts.But what teams do with those turnovers is often the difference in a game. Both teams scored 10 points off of three turnovers in this game, but Arizona’s came at best possible times, at the end of each half. Turnovers may be a great equalizer, but timing can always be helpful as well.

Arizona will be on the road next week at Utah and they end the regular season at home against in-state rival Arizona State on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Arizona sits one loss back of Pac-12 South leading Arizona State in the loss column. However, Arizona also has losses to USC and UCLA, so winning the Pac-12 South will likely have to rely on getting some help from around the Pac-12 these next few weeks, in addition to beating Arizona State.

Washington will look to bounce back next week at home against Oregon State.