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.

College Football Bowl Preview: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

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WHO: No. 20 Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4)
WHAT: The 19th R+L New Orleans Bowl
WHEN: December 21st at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
THE SKINNY: For the second striaght season, Appalachian State is playing in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl as the Sun Belt Conference champion. The Mountaineers certainly enjoyed their experience in this bowl game last season with a 45-13 victory over Middle Tennessee of Conference USA. This year, the Mountaineers face another team from Conference USA when they face UAB for the first time.

Appalachian State will be coached by Shawn Clark, who was elevated to head coach following the departure of Eli Drinkowitz to Missouri. Don’t expect a bunch to change amid the coaching change. The Mountaineers have been betaing up on opponents all season long, including hard-fought wins against power conference opponents South Carolina and North Carolina. The offense is led by experienced starting quarterback Zac Thomas, a junior who has thrown for 2,576 yards and 26 touchdowns and run for 412 yards and seven touchdowns. The Mountaineers like to use their power as their strength. Helping that cause is running back Darrynton Evans, who has rushed for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns. Of all the Group of 5 programs outside of the top teams in the AAC or Boise State, Appalachian State may have the best offensive line going, and they have the physicality that could make for a tough battle for even the top teams in the Group of 5. If not for one slipup in conference play against rival Georgia Southern, Appalachian State might be the team heading to the Cotton Bowl instead of Memphis.

Bill Clark has done a tremendous job with the UAB program, and he and the Blazers are looking forward to moving on from a disappointing showing in the Conference USA Championship Game. FAU humbled UAB in a 49-6 blowout for the C-USA championship, and Clark will be the first to admit his team was not ready for the game. UAB may be lacking firepower on offense (just 23.6 points per game this season), so it is up to the defense to keep the game within reach for an upset. UAB has held opponents to an average of 20.8 ppg this season, although the overall competition faced wasn’t exactly like taking on offenses like Clemson and Ohio State, or even Memphis and Boise State. On offense, clock management will rely on moving the ball on the ground with Spencer Brown and avoiding any mistakes from quarterback Tyler Johnston III (15 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions this season).

This might have been a more competitive game two years ago, but this one could get away from UAB in a hurry. Appalachian State has been on a roll and that looks to continue for a second consecutive New Orleans Bowl.

THE PICK: Appalachian State 38, UAB 17

Eli Drinkwitz brings in third App State assistant to Mizzou

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Two of Eli Drinkwitz‘s first hires at Missouri were with him at Appalachian State. Now, you can officially make that duo a trio.

The football program late Friday afternoon announced that D.J. Smith has been hired as an assistant on the defensive side of the ball. As was the case with another of the hires, Smith’s title wasn’t detailed and his duties will be laid out upon the “completion of the human resources process.”

Smith, who played his college football for the Mountaineers, spent the past four seasons at App State. After the first two years were spent in off-field roles, Smith served as ASU’s linebackers coach the past two seasons.

“D.J. is a man of character who has played football at the highest level,” said Drinkwitz in a statement. “He’s a great teacher and organizer, and he impressed me with how he presents his ideas in a clear and concise way. That gives him an ability to relate to the players both on a personal level, as well as the football aspect.”

“I’m blessed and honored to have the opportunity to come work with Coach Drink,” Smith said. “Having worked with him the past year, I learned a lot from him on how to be a better coach, a better man and a better father. I’m excited to come to Mizzou and to work hard to build something special with the team and for our fans. I can’t wait to get started.”

In addition to Smith, Mizzou has also confirmed the hirings of Drinkwitz App State assistants Charlie Harbison (HERE) and Erik Link (HERE).

Appalachian State confirms no interim tag for Shawn Clark, ex-Mountaineers OL gets five year deal to be head coach

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Eli Drinkwitz surprise departure from Boone after just one season has led to a rather expected move to fill his shoes with somebody who definitely won’t be bolting the school that soon.

Confirming reports from earlier in the week, Appalachian State has officially removed any sort of interim tag from Shawn Clark and give him the permanent position with a five year deal as head coach.

“It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer,” Director of Athletics Doug Gillin said in a statement. “We are thrilled to announce Shawn Clark as our new head coach. He’s been a great leader for us since the day he returned to his alma mater. He has experience at both Power Five and Group of Five schools and is highly respected among his peers, his players, on campus and in the community. His experience as a leader, play-caller and recruiter will help us to continue to raise our football program to new heights.”

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to be named the head football coach at my alma mater, the school that I love so much,” Clark added. “I would like to thank Chancellor Everts, the Board of Trustees and Doug Gillin for entrusting me with this great responsibility. I am excited to keep pushing our players to greatness on and off the field and to work with a great coaching staff to win championships. My family and I are grateful to stay in Boone and keep pushing this program to new heights.”

Clark has been the offensive line coach at his alma mater the past four years under both Drinkwitz and Scott Sartterfield before both moved onto Power Five gigs.

The 44-year-old Clark was part of staffs at Louisville, Eastern Kentucky, Purdue and Kent State as well before returning to Boone, where he was an offensive lineman on some of the program’s powerhouse teams back in the mid-1990’s.

Clark’s first game fully in charge will come on Dec. 21 in the New Orleans Bowl against UAB — a spot he’s pretty familiar with having served as the interim offensive coordinator for the team’s game at the Superdome in 2018. That resulted in a blowout win that no doubt played a role in him getting the full time gig just a year later and AppState fans have to hope for similar results as Clark takes the field this time around as head coach.

Second App State assistant added to Eli Drinkwitz’s Mizzou staff

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For the second time Thursday, Eli Drinkwitz has added an assistant to his new Missouri coaching staff. And, for the second time, it’s a member of his old Appalachian State.

First, Charlie Harbison was announced as a defensive assistant whose specific duties will be spelled out later. Next, it’s Erik Link being the second confirmed addition as part of Drinkwitz’s 10-man on-field staff.

Unlike Harbison, though, Link’s role has already been defined — special teams coordinator. That’s the same job Link held with the Mountaineers in 2019, his first and only season with the Sun Belt Conference school.

“Erik is a man of high character with a background in teaching and coaching,” said Drinkwitz in a statement. “His special teams units are detailed and very sound, and his guys play hard. They focus on effort, execution and high energy.”

Link was the special teams coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2018, his first season as an on-field assistant at the FBS level. In 2011-12, he was the special teams coordinator at FCS Montana State.

In two separate stints at Auburn, he served as a quality control assistant (2010) and special teams/offensive analyst (2013-15).