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Iowa losing AJ Epenesa to the 2020 NFL Draft

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For the Iowa Hawkeyes football team, Tuesday morning brought an expected personnel loss.

In a statement, AJ Epenesa confirmed that, “after long discussion with my parents and loved ones, I have decided to follow another childhood dream and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.” The defensive end is widely viewed by most draftniks as a Top-20 talent.

“Over the last three years, I have had the amazing opportunity to play for the University of Iowa,” the Iowa Hawkeyes football player wrote. “I got to live my childhood dream and represent the black and gold. …

“My time at Iowa has been everything I have dreamt it would be.  I couldn’t be more grateful and proud to have been given the opportunity to be a part of The Swarm and play in Kinnick Stadium in front of 70,000 Hawk fans! I will never forget the many great memories that have come from Iowa!”

Epenesa will finish his collegiate career with 26½ sacks.  Nearly a dozen of those sacks came in 2019, with seven of those coming in the final four games.

Each of the past two seasons, the Illinois native was named first-team All-Big Ten.  In 2017, he was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team.

College Football All-Decade Team — CFT’s selections

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Hey, look, it’s a College Football All-Decade Football Team, so let the whining commence in earnest as there’s little doubt that we hate (insert name of your favorite player from your favorite team here).

While it might be hard for some to believe, we have come to the end of yet another decade. As such, we — Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, Kevin McGuire and myself — decided to cobble together a list of players who have been the best of the best in college football over the past 10 years. And, yes, we’ve done so fully aware of the verbal slings and written arrows that are sure to follow.

(Writer’s note: Speaking of the esteemed panel and verbal slings/written arrows, their personal Twitter accounts can be found HERE, HERE and HERE. Fire away at will.)

This was truly an impossible task — with a small handful of exceptions. Justin Blackmon as one of the wide receivers? Zero doubt. Luke Kuechly manning one of the linebacker spots? No-brainer. Aaron Donald in the middle of the defensive line? Obviously.

Outside of those three, plus a couple of more? Good luck.

Let’s also be clear: This team is based on what the players did at the collegiate level.  What they did or didn’t do in the NFL has no — zero, none, zip, zilch, nada — bearing whatsoever in this endeavor.

One final note before we get on to the festivities: Players needed to have spent more than half of their collegiate careers in this decade to be included. Thus, players such as Alabama’s Mark Barron, Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles, Alabama’s Julio Jones, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Texas’ Early Thomas were ineligible.

With that all out of the way, let’s get it on.  Or something.

OFFENSE

QB: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
A three-time Heisman finalist, the former two-time walk-on finally claimed the trophy in 2017.  Twice Mayfield helped lead the Sooners into the College Football Playoffs as well as breaking the FBS pass-efficiency rating each of his last two seasons in Norman.  This was arguably the hardest selection as I wouldn’t argue one bit if someone were to put the special mention in this spot.
(Special Mention: Deshaun Watson, Clemson)
(Honorable mention: Lamar Jackson, Louisville; Robert Griffin III, Baylor)

RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama; Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin 
The only reason this position was “easier” to select than quarterback is the fact that there are two players instead of one.  Taylor is a two-time Doak Walker Award winner who this season, in breaking Herschel Walker‘s record, became the only player in FBS history with more than 6,000 yards rushing his first three seasons.  As part of the Crimson Tide’s 2015 title team, Henry won the Heisman Trophy after rushing for more than 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns.  He was the only running back to win the Heisman this decade.
(Special mention: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State; Christian McCaffrey, Stanford)
(Honorable mention: Any other Wisconsin running back; Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona)

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State*; Amari Cooper, Alabama*
As noted earlier, Blackmon was one of the no-brainers.  In 2010 and 2011, Blackmon caught 233 passes for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns.  He’s one of just two receivers to win back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards, the other being Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree. Cooper put up two 1,000-yard seasons during his three years in Tuscaloosa, winning the Biletnikoff following the 2014 season.  He was a unanimous All-American that year as well.
(Special mention: Corey Davis, Western Michigan)
(Honorable mention: Justin Hardy, East Carolina; Marquie Lee, USC; James Washington, Oklahoma State)

TE: Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Andrews totaled 22 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Sooners, coinciding with Baker Mayfield‘s time in Norman.  He was named the winner of the Mackey Award after catching 62 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.
(Honorable mention: Jake Butts, Michigan; Evan Ingram, Ole Miss; Nick O’Leary, Florida State)

OT: Barrett Jones, Alabama*; Brandon Scherff, Iowa*
Jones was a four-year starter at Alabama.  He was a Freshman All-American at guard, won the 2011 Outland Trophy at tackle and claimed the 2012 Rimington Trophy at center.  Those last two seasons, he was a consensus All-American.  Scherff started at both guard and tackle at Iowa, and was a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy winner for the 2014 season.
(Special mention: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M; Cam Robinson, Alabama)
(Honorable mention: Spencer Drango, Baylor; Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; David Yankey, Stanford)

G: Quinton Nelson, Notre Dame*; David DeCastro, Stanford
Nelson was a three-year starter for the Fighting Irish.  He earned unanimous All-American honors in 2017.  A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, DeCastro was a unanimous All-American in 2011.
(Honorable mention: Chance Warmack, Alabama)

C: Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Elflein began his career as a guard, where he was twice named All-Big Ten.  After moving to center, he was named as the 2016 winner of the Rimington Trophy.
(Special mention: Ryan Kelly, Alabama; Billy Price, Ohio State)

DEFENSE

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State*; Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
On the defensive side of the ball, this might’ve been the toughest group to select.  His last two seasons in Columbus, Bosa was a unanimous All-American one year and a consensus All-American the other.  In three seasons, he totaled 51 tackles for loss and 26 sacks. Garrett was a two-time All-American who had 31 sacks his last two seasons with the Aggies.
(Special mention: Derek Barnett, Tennessee; Chase Young, Ohio State)
(Honorable mention: Vic Beasley, Clemson, Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois)

DT: Ed Oliver, Houston; Aaron Donald, Pitt*
I think people tend to forget just how dominating Donald was at the collegiate level.  His last three seasons, Donald was credited with 63 tackles for loss (63!!!).  A two-time unanimous All-American, Donald won Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski Awards in the same season.  In just 32 career games, Oliver accumulated 53 tackles for loss.  In 2017, he became the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy.
(Special mention: Christian Wilkins, Clemson)

LB: Luke Kuechly, Boston College*; Jarvis Jones, Georgia; C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Kuechly, who finished his three seasons at BC with more than 530 tackles, was a two-time consensus All-American and the winner of the 2011 Butkus, Lombardi, Lott IMPACT and Nagurski Awards.  Like Kuechly, Mosley was a two-time consensus All-American and a Butkus Award winner.  Jones, who began his collegiate career at USC, was a two-time consensus All-American as well.
(Special mention: Khalil Mack, Buffalo)
(Honorable mention: Dont’a Hightower, Alabama; Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame; Roquan Smith, Georgia; Manti Te’o, Notre Dame)

CB: Morris Claiborne, LSU; Desmond King, Iowa*; Jalen Ramsey, Florida State*
Ramsey played multiple positions in the secondary during his time with the Seminoles, earning All-American accolades his last two seasons.  King was a two-time All-American as well who started all four seasons for the Hawkeyes.  His junior season, he was named winner of the Jim Thorpe Award.  Claiborne won the Thorpe Award in 2011.
(Special mention: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida)
(Honorable mention: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Adoree’ Jackson, USC)

S: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU*; Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama*
One of the most exciting players in the sport this past decade, Mathieu was a finalist for the 2011 Heisman after a season in which, among other things, he returned two fumbles and two punts for touchdowns.  The Honey Badger won the Bednarik Award that season as well.  A two-time consensus All-American and winner of both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards in 2017, Fitzpatrick was the greatest defensive back produced by a Tide program known for cranking out quality secondary personnel.
(Honorable mention: Landon Collins, Alabama; Grant Delpit, LSU)

SPECIALISTS

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State*
Twice a first-team All-American, Aguayo is the third-most accurate kicker in college football history on field goals and never missed an extra point.  Following the 2013 regular season,  he was named as the winner of the Lou Groza Award.
(Honorable mention: Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State)

P: Tom Hackett, Utah
Hackett was the second punter to win back-to-back Ray Guy Awards.  As a senior, he averages exactly 48 yards per punt. For his career, he placed nearly 44 percent of his 242 punts inside the 20-yard line.
(Special mention: Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech; Michael Dickson, Texas)

RS: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Penny finished his collegiate career tied for the most career kick return-touchdowns (7) and combined kick-/punt-return touchdowns (8) in FBS history.  Four of those seven kick returns went for 100 yards, one shy of the FBS record.
(Special mention: Adoree’ Jackson, USC)

AP: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford*
In 2015, McCaffrey shattered Barry Sanderssingle-season all-purpose yardage record, finishing that season with 3,864 yards (Sanders’ old record was 3,250).  McCaffrey finished his time with the Cardinal with (take a deep breath) 3,922 yards rushing and 21 rushing touchdowns; 1,206 yards and 10 touchdowns on 99 receptions; a 26.4-yard average and one touchdown on 56 kick returns; an 11.2-yard average and a touchdown on 34 punt returns; two passing touchdowns; and seven tackles.
(Special mention: Saquon Barkley, Penn State; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan)

(*Denotes unanimous selection)

No. 16 Iowa breaks out offensively to thump No. 22 USC in the Holiday Bowl

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Ihmir Smith-Marsette, meet the wider college football world. World, meet Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

The Iowa wide receiver almost single-handedly beat No. 22 USC on Friday night, as his No. 16 Hawkeyes did pretty much what they wanted in all three phases of the game to lock up a convincing 49-24 win in the Holiday Bowl.

Smith-Marsette had his hand in just about everything, attempting a pass, returning a kickoff return for a 98 yard touchdown, rushing for a score and hauling in two catches for 46 yards and another touchdown. It was as an impressive performance as you’ll find so far this bowl season and just more of the same for the budding star plenty capable of reminding folks about a thing called B1G speed.

Not to be overshadowed, signal-caller Nate Stanley was fantastic as well in closing out his career with 213 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps more memorable for Iowa fans however were his big QB sneaks in the second half (including three straight in the red zone for a total of 10 yards) that later setup Tyler Goodson’s short plunge across the goal line. All those numbers would have been even more impressive had the team not had several short fields or had the game in hand well before the fourth quarter.

As good as things went for the Midwest visitors though, things went equally bad for the nominal home team from Southern California. Clay Helton ensured he’ll have the hottest seat of anybody once again in 2020 with a complete nosedive of a performance after what was initially a solid first quarter.

QB Kedon Slovis threw for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns but was knocked out with a shoulder/elbow injury in the second half while backup Matt Fink was far from the player who led the upset of Utah in relief, contributing a key fumble tossing a pick-six late. The Trojans defense failed to stop much of anything either with their undisciplined play either way as they forced just four punts and looked out place throughout.

If there was any silver lining at all for the cardinal and gold, at least they were able to take part in Iowa’s great tradition of waving at children from local hospitals (in both San Diego and Iowa City via video) prior to the start of the second quarter. Other than that though, USC fans that were hoping for a coaching change earlier this month were only reinforced in their belief about the state of the program not being what it historically has been up in Los Angeles.

The flip side was that the outing was a perfect way for Iowa to close out a 2019 campaign with 10 wins and celebrate their late, legendary head coach Hayden Fry with a performance befitting of his status in the game’s lore.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette helping Iowa to halftime lead over USC at the Holiday Bowl

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The 2019 Holiday Bowl was widely expected to be one of the more intriguing non-New Year’s Six Bowl games and so far it’s lived up to the early billing. In a sharp — but quite fun — contrast of styles, Iowa’s ball control offense was every bit of a match for USC’s quick-strike Air Raid setup as the visitors from the midwest took a 28-17 lead into the halftime break from San Diego.

Hawkeyes QB Nate Stanley was an ever efficient 11-of-12 for 130 yards (1 TD) passing but was far from the center of the team’s offensive output. As has been the case for several games in the past few months for the team, wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette was all over the field and disabusing plenty of people about preconceived notions of Big Ten speed. He attempted a pass off a trick play, had 15 yards rushing and a trip to the end zone off a reverse plus breezed past a host of white shirts with a thrilling 98 yard kick return for a score. Oh, he also caught a 12 yard touchdown as well to complete the trifecta.

For good measure, Tyrone Tracy also chipped in with a 23 yard rushing touchdown as Smith-Marsette’s theatrics were complimented nicely by a team that held the ball for 18 minutes in the first half.

USC had their own moments moving the ball even if it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Iowa. Freshman QB Kedon Slovis tossed a pair of touchdown throws despite facing a constant stream of pressure in his face, netting 144 yards as well through two quarters. Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t score but did have six catches for 72 yards in a game where the opposing defense took a bit of time to adjust to his ability to find the open space.

As fun as the early action was from SDCCU Stadium though, perhaps the highlight of the night was the Hawkeyes bringing their fantastic tradition of ‘The Wave’ out West. At the end of first quarter, fans and players all stopped to wave at kids from local hospitals in the stands as well as to kids in Iowa City via the scoreboard.

It will be hard to top that moment in this year’s Holiday Bowl but Smith-Marsette and USC’s skill position players will surely try in the second half.

College Football Bowl Preview: Your Dec. 27 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. 27 bowl menu, one that features five games and schools from every Power Five conference.

WHO: North Carolina (6-6) vs. Temple (8-4)
WHAT: The 12th Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE LINE: Temple, +5
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
WHAT: The 10th New Era Pinstripe Bowl
WHERE: Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York
WHEN: 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE LINE: Wake Forest, +3½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
WHAT: The 14th Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
WHERE: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE LINE: Oklahoma State, +6½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: USC (8-4) vs. Iowa (9-3)
WHAT: The 42nd San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
WHERE: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, California
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1
THE LINE: USC, +2
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6)
WHAT: The 31st Cheez-It Bowl
WHERE: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona
WHEN: 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Ye Olde College Football Bowl Preview has decreed that there may be more disparate college football teams than Air Force and Washington State, but it certainly wouldn’t take long to call the roll. The Cougars lead the nation — by a wide margin — in passing, averaging 444.3 yards per game; LSU’s 386.8 ypg is second.  The Falcons, meanwhile, are 124th at 131 ypg.  Conversely, the military academy is third at the FBS level in averaging 292.5 ypg on the ground. … Average number of runs per game for Air Force: 57.  Average number of passes per game for Washington State: 56. … Wazzu’s Anthony Gordon is second in the FBS with 45 touchdown passes this season.  In two games (vs. UCLA in September, vs. Oregon State in November), Gordon threw a combined 15 touchdown passes; in 12 games this year, Air Force threw 14. …  The Falcons will be playing in their first bowl game since 2016.  The Cougars are playing in their fifth straight, and will be looking for back-to-back bowl wins for the first time since the mid-nineties. … A win today would be Air Force’s 11th, which would be the football program’s most since 1998. … A loss for Wazzu would leave them under .500 for a season for the first time since 2014, Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman. … Coming into the postseason, the Falcons have won seven straight.  The Cougars started the 2019 campaign 3-0 before losing six of their last nine, including the Apple Cup to rival Washington. … Wazzu has played in this game once (1992), back when it was called the Copper Bowl.  Air Force’s only appearance came three years later. … In addition to the Cheez-It Bowl and Copper Bowl, this game has also answered to names such as Insight.com Bowl, Insight Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Cactus Bowl. … Regardless of how this game plays out, it can’t possibly match the ugly duck that was last year’s game.  In a matchup that featured nine interceptions (nine!!!) and 15 punts, TCU came away with a 10-7 overtime “win” over Cal.
THE LINE: Washington State, +3
THE PREDICTION: Air Force 28, Washington State 34