Cody Fajardo

WVU’s season-opening opponent sees starting QB suspended

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In what could be a make or break year for head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia may have caught a bit of a break to open the 2015 season.

Georgia Southern announced Wednesday that starting quarterback Kevin Ellison has been declared academically ineligible and will miss the first two games of the 2015 season.  The Sun Belt Conference school opens the year in Morgantown against WVU Sept. 5, following that up with a home game against Western Michigan Sept. 12.

Provided there are no further academic missteps, Ellison will be eligible to return for the Sept. 19 game against Citadel.

While Ellison passed for just 1,001 yards for the run-heavy Eagles, his 1,096 yards rushing were second on the team behind Matt Breida‘s 1,485 yards.  He ran for more than twice as many touchdowns (12) as he passed for (five), while his 172 carries were 44 more than his passing attempts.

Ellison, a second-team All-SBC selection, was one of just five FBS quarterbacks — Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (1,191), Boston College’s Tyler Murphy (1,184), Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas (1,086) and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo (1,046) being the others — to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2014.  Ellison, Reynolds and Thomas all return for at least another season in 2015.

As for WVU’s rush defense, a similar one that will be going up against a GSU team that was second nationally at 381.1 yards per game?  The Mountaineers were 63rd in the country last year, giving up 168.2 ypg on the ground.

Offenses struggle in Shrine Game as USF kicker wins MVP

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If you thought yesterday was the first Saturday without college football since August, then you were not paying attention to the college football all-star schedule. The 90th East-West Shrine Game was played in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the East team winning by a score of 19-3. As the score might suggest, there was not a whole lot to be seen in this one, but it served as an opportunity for some NFL-hopefuls to show what they can do to NFL Scouts.

USF kicker Marvin Kloss won game MVP honors with his display of field goal kicking. Kloss notched field goals from 47 yards, 39 yards, 30 yards and a short 19-yard field goal to lead the way for the East team’s victory.

Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was the most consistent of the quarterbacks in the game, completing seven of eight passes for 71 yards for the East. Duke’s Anthony Boone completed four of his eight passes for 49 yards and Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke struggled with just two completions out of nine passes and an interception. Louisville running back Dominique Brown scored the game’s only touchdown late in the fourth quarter and he was the game’s leading rusher with 70 yards.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was the leading passer for the West, completing seven of 13 passes for 65 yards. Kelly also led the West in rushing with 23 yards. Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson combined to complete three of 12 passes for 10 yards. Both Fajardo and Thompson were intercepted as well, with each intercepted by FAU safety Damian Parms. The West offense was held to just 93 yards of offense, and completed just three of 133 third-down conversion attempts.

The offenses for both teams clearly struggled, which helped the defenses look even better in the all-star game. Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith came away as one fo the more impressive defensive standouts in the game with his ability to bring pressure on West quarterbacks.

One of the most dazzling plays in the game may have been pulled off by Colorado punter Darragh O’Neill. O’Neill leaped and snagged with one hand a high snap in the back of his end zone before getting off a punt. It was quite the effort, and a cause for celebration for punters everywhere watching.

With the Shrine Game now in the books, as well as the NFLPA Bowl that was played at the same time out west, the focus now shifts to the Senior Bowl this week. The Senior Bowl is the top-level college all-star game with the best of the best, so the level of play should be a little more entertaining that what the Shrine Game had to offer this season. The Senior Bowl will be played Saturday in Mobile, Alabama.

Ragin’ Cajuns win fourth straight New Orleans Bowl to start bowl season

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For the fourth straight season, the Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) season comes to an end by celebrating a victory in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns buckled down defensively to hold off Nevada (7-6, 4-4 Mountain West Conference) for a 16-3 victory. UL-Lafayette is the first school to ever win the same bowl game in four consecutive seasons.

UL-Lafayette jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter before Nevada got a handle on things defensively. The offense for the Wolf Pack could never really get going though. For the first time this season Nevada was held to fewer than 20 points, and it was the first time since losing to Florida State in 2013 (62-7) that Nevada was held to fewer than 10 points in a game.

UL-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway was accurate and effective with his passing against Nevada, completing 26 of 31 attempts for 227 yards and a touchdown. Running back Elijah McGuire led the Ragin’ Cajuns on the ground with 97 yards and was the team’s leading receiver with 54 receiving yards.

Not only is this the fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl victory in as many years for Louisiana-Lafayette, but this marks the fourth straight season with a record of 9-4 for the program, another tremendous credit to the work and model of consistency put together under the leadership of head coach Mark Hudspeth. The program had just four winning seasons dating back to 1990 before Hudspeth was named the head coach before the 2011 season. Hudspeth had his contract extended earlier this year, but he is going to remain one of the coaches to watch during next season’s coaching carousel unless he still moves somewhere during this season’s cycle. Pittsburgh and Michigan still have coaching vacancies to fill, as well as Colorado State.

Nevada’s last bowl victory came in the 2010 season in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Head coach Chris Ault did show signs of improvement with the Nevada a program this season though. Although it ended with a loss, Nevada doubled its win total from a year ago, at a time when the program was in the midst of some significant turnover and going through a realignment adjustment. One key offseason task for Nevada will be to find a replacement for quarterback Cody Fajardo. The senior was Nevada’s leading passer and rusher in the losing effort, and he had a rough finale as a college player. Nevada plays in a wide-open division in the Mountain West Conference, so it would not be a surprise at all to see Nevada bounce back next season and contend for the West Division.

With the Ragin’ Cajuns winning, the Sun Belt Conference gets off to a good start in the bowl season. The Sun Belt went 2-0 in its two bowl appearances last season. The Sun Belt has two more bowl games to be played this season, starting later today with South Alabama playing Bowling Green in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. Arkansas State will face Toledo on January 4 in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Nevada off to slow start vs ULL in New Orleans Bowl

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Playing in its fourth consecutive R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns showed plenty of comfort and poise playing in the Superdome, but after jumping out to a 10-0 lead the Cajuns have simmered and allowed Nevada to get back in the mix.

On the game’s opening possession, UL Lafayette marched right down field on the Wolf Pack with a 77-yard drive ending with a Terrance Broadway touchdown pass to C.J. Bates for the early 7-0 lead. They added a field goal on the next drive in the first quarter while Nevada’s offense was sputtering and slow to get rolling. This has been the story for UL Lafayette in previous trips to the New Orleans Bowl under head coach Mark Hudspeth.

Broadway completed his first 11 passes of the game before throwing one out-of-bounds. At the half, Broadway has completed 15 of 17 passes for 123 yards.

The second quarter started to swing the momentum toward the others sideline though. Nevada’s defense started to clamp down on their opponents, forcing a pair of three-and-outs and changing the field possession game. The offense did its part as well as Cody Fajardo started to get in a rhythm. However, the Wolf Pack could only manage to put a single field goal on the board. A fumble deep in ULL territory killed one scoring threat, and a crucial false start penalty on the one-yard line may have prevented Nevada from punching in a touchdown.

Nevada has been a good second half team this season. Nevada averages 19.4 points per game in the second half, ranking ninth in the country.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 20 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 20 bowl menu, which on “opening weekend” features five bowl games as the 2014 postseason kicks off.

WHO: Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
WHAT: The 14th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Unless you were on Bourbon Street the night before, what better way to cap off your Saturday morning, and start the 2014 bowl season, than with a little Mountain West vs. Sun Belt action?  After never making a bowl in the first 38 years of the football program’s existence, Louisiana-Lafayette has now qualified for four straight under Mark Hudspeth.  Not only that, but they’ve won their first three appearances — all of which came in this very bowl.  Nevada, meanwhile, has lost its last two bowl games and six of its last eight.  The Ragin’ Cajuns are also playing very well as they head into the postseason, closing out the regular season with a 7-1 burst.  That burst came after a 1-3 start to the season that featured losses to nationally-ranked Ole Miss and Boise State as well as Conference USA runner-up Louisiana Tech. UL-L will prove to be a significant challenge to Nevada, one that Cody Fajardo and the Wolf Pack may not be able to overcome.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette, +1
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nevada 27

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WHO: Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5)
WHAT: The 9th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
WHEN: 2:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you’re a fan of old school football that features copious amounts of defense and pounding yards out on the ground, this game is for you.  Utah State is very stingy defensively, giving up just 20.8 points per game (21st nationally).  USU is also very good against the run (26th, giving up 129.2 ypg); that also happens to be UTEP’s strength offensively (35th, 213.8 ypg).  The Aggies, though, are coming off their worst performance of the season, giving up 50 points and nearly 500 yards in the regular-season finale against Boise State.  Something tells me that it’ll be the Miners who will end up paying the price for that debacle.
THE LINE: UTEP, +10½
THE PREDICTION: Utah State 48, UTEP 17

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WHO: Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2)
WHAT: The 23rd Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
WHEN: 3:30 ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: The first day of bowl action has landed what could be one of the best and most intriguing matchups of the postseason.  Colorado State is coming off its best regular season in over a decade, but will also be without its head coach as Jim McElwain took the Florida job and won’t coach in the bowl game.  Utah, the only Power Five team in action today, began the 2014 season 6-1, but stumbled to a 2-3 finish that eliminated it from contention for a significantly more important bowl berth.  The teams do have one 2014 opponent in common in Colorado, with CSU winning at home 31-17 in Week 1 and the U of U winning 38-34 in Week 14 on the road.  A significant focus for Utah’s defense, one of the best in the country, will be shutting down All-American wide receiver Rashard Higgins.  If the Utes can accomplish that feat — it won’t be easy as Higgins has at least 143 yards receiving in each of the last seven games — it would go a long way in securing their first bowl win since after the 2011 season.
THE LINE: Colorado State, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Utah 27, Colorado State 20

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WHO: Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Air Force (9-3)
WHAT: The 18th Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Id.
WHEN: 5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This game very easily could’ve been called the Turnaround Bowl.  The fact that either team, let alone both, are playing in the postseason somewhat constitutes a minor miracle as Air Force won a mere two games in 2013 while Western Michigan trumped even that with just a single win last season.  This game is also your classic immovable object vs. irresistible force matchup: WMU is 37th in the country in rushing yards given up per game (142.7) while AF, as service academies ofttimes are, is seventh in rushing offense at 272.2 yards per game.  Throw in how the Falcons gain those yards on the ground, and it could be a long day for the Broncos.
THE LINE: Western Michigan, +1
THE PREDICTION: Air Force 37, Western Michigan 24

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WHO: South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6)
WHAT: The Inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
WHEN: 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s appropriate that South Alabama is appearing in the first-ever Camellia Bowl as the Jaguars, who moved to the FBS level three years ago, are making their first-ever bowl appearance.  Their opponents, meanwhile, are playing in their seventh bowl game the past 12 years.  The Jaguars have struggled to score points all year long, with their 20.2 points per game ranking 113th out of 128 FBS teams.  The Falcons, meanwhile, have struggled to stop the opposition from scoring all season, as its 33.9 ppg (109th nationally) attests.  Whichever trend continues will play a significant role in determining the outcome.
THE LINE: Bowling Green, +3
THE PREDICTION: Bowling Green 38, South Alabama 24