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Biletnikoff Award watch list highlighted by 2017 finalist David Sills

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You know how I know we’re getting closer to the start of a new season?  Yet another watch list.

The latest to release theirs is the Biletnikoff Award, with the honor going to the nation’s top receiver issuing a list consisting of 50 players from all nine FBS conferences as well as one independent (UMass).  Headlining this year’s preseason list is West Virginia’s David Sills, who was a finalist for the 2017 award claimed by Oklahoma State’s James Washington.  One other 2017 semifinalist is included as well, Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown.

A total of seven teams placed two receivers each on the watch list: Cal (Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton III), Louisville (Dez Fitzpatrick, Jaylen Smith), Nebraska (Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman), North Texas (Jalen Guyton, Michael Lawrence), Oklahoma (Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb), Toledo (Diontae Johnson, Cody Thompson) and West Virginia (Gary Jennings Jr., Sills).

Three conferences totaled seven players apiece, the ACC, Big 12 and MAC.  That trio is followed by five each from Conference USA and four apiece for the AAC, Pac-12 and Sun Belt.  The Big Ten and Mountain West each placed three.

Below is the complete list of 2018 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch listers:

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford
Tyre Brady, Marshall
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Trevon Brown, East Carolina
Ryan Davis, Auburn
Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
Terren Encalade, Tulane
Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
James Gardner, Miami-Ohio
Jonathan Giles, LSU
Marcus Green, ULM
Jalen Guyton, North Texas
Emanuel Hall, Missouri
Justin Hall, Ball State
Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Penny Hart, Georgia State
Justin Hobbs, Tulsa
Andy Isabella, Massachusetts
Gary Jennings Jr., West Virginia
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
Collin Johnson, Texas
Diontae Johnson, Toledo
KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Michael Lawrence, North Texas
Ty Lee Middle, Tennessee
McLane Mannix, Nevada
Scott Miller, Bowling Green
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
Kanawai Noa, California
James Proche, SMU
T.J. Rahming, Duke
Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
David Sills V, West Virginia
Steven Sims Jr., Kansas
Jaylen Smith, Louisville
Kwadarrius Smith, Akron
JD Spielman, Nebraska
Cody Thompson, Toledo
John Ursua, Hawaii
Teddy Veal, Louisiana Tech
Jamarius Way, South Alabama
Nick Westbrook, Indiana
Vic Wharton III, California
Malcolm Williams, Coastal Carolina
Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia

Louisiana Tech destroys SMU in the Frisco Bowl to spoil start of the Sonny Dykes era

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Sonny Dykes began Wednesday full of optimism thanks to the early National Signing Day and the initial crop of recruits in his first SMU recruiting class. The new head coach on the Hilltop ended Wednesday night full of despair however, as his old team of Louisiana Tech laid an absolute beatdown on his new one in the Frisco Bowl by a 51-10 margin that really didn’t indicate how lopsided the game was.

All told, the Mustangs turned the ball over six times in the game — five in the first half, including two pick-sixes and a fumble on the very first play. It was a theme that was repeated early and often and probably a reminder that there’s a reason that new head coaches don’t coach their new team in a bowl game after a week on campus for good reason.

About the only thing that didn’t go the way of the Bulldogs came on their first drive as they squandered the opening fumble by shanking a field goal attempt in the red zone. That didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things as quarterback J’Mar Smith played nearly perfectly on all those short drives, throwing for 216 yards and a trio of touchdowns while also running one in on a fourth down sneak. Not a bad little performance with a school legend like Terry Bradshaw looking on from the sidelines.

Wideout Teddy Veal was the top target in the passing game and recorded five catches for 118 yards and a pair of scores as he got behind the defense numerous times. He formed a pretty hefty one-two punch with running back Boston Scott, who added another 110 yards on the ground to round out the offensive attack that simply took what SMU gave them up-and-down the field.

Skip Holtz’ defense was the real star of the show though, looking a good two steps faster than their opponents despite limping in with a .500 record as a team. Amik Robertson hauled in a 45 yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter while teammate Darryl Lewis followed things up with a 23 yard pick-six of his own in the second quarter as the Tech defense would have nearly won the game on their own even without their offense putting up points a plenty.

On the flip side, it appeared that SMU starter Ben Hicks spent too much of the bowl prep explaining the offense to his new head coach and not enough time getting ready for the game itself. The quarterback would up with three interceptions on the night (after tossing just nine all year) and needed several late drives to finish with 127 yards and a score. His inability to throw the ball to the right team hampered the send off of star wideout Courtland Sutton before he left for the NFL, though the latter did manage 68 yards on the night against some pretty tight coverage.

Louisiana native Trey Quinn also caught eight passes for 45 yards and a touchdown while Xavier Jones ran for 56 yards to lead the team on the ground in a very forgettable postseason return.

It wasn’t how any of them imagined things unfolding just up the road in the Dallas suburb of Frisco on Wednesday night though. Instead, just about everything went the way of Louisiana Tech as they gave their old coach from just a few years ago a rude introduction to his SMU tenure after a wild day of emotions for many in college football.

Louisiana Tech RB Jaqwis Dancy finds out he’s cancer-free

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Instead of some of the normal crap that passes for offseason college football news, how about something positive?  Check, that, positively excellent.

In mid-October last year, Louisiana announced that sophomore running back Jaqwis Dancy had been diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fast-forward four months and chemotherapy sessions every few weeks at St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and Darcy, in a phone call Thursday evening, received the absolute best news possible — he’s cancer-free.

“It felt amazing when I heard the news that I am cancer-free,” Dancy said in quotes provided by the school. “It was something I have been waiting to hear since I was diagnosed and I can’t wait to share my happiness with all my teammates. I especially want to thank the LA Tech family and everyone who supported me in this fight. The support I have received since the beginning has been amazing. My biggest goal right now is to get back on the field with my teammates.”

Darcy is not completely done with his treatment, it should be noted, as he will still need to undergo a couple of rounds of radiation to ensure there are no lingering cells that are cancerous.  It’s unclear whether Darcy will be available for spring practice, and his status for the 2017 season wasn’t addressed.

That, though, is the least important facet of this encouraging development.

“We are thrilled about the positive news and to hear about the progress he has been making in his battle against cancer,” head coach Skip Holtz said. “It has been a tough fight for Jaqwis and his family. There is still work to do, but this is certainly positive news to celebrate. As much as anything, I am thrilled for him and his mom for what they have been through. At this point, it is nice to know he is cancer-free and we are optimistic, but we know he still has some work to do.”

As a true freshman in 2015, Dancy played in all 13 games and, while he didn’t record a carry, he did return 17 kicks for 296 yards.  An ankle injury, then the cancer diagnosis, prevented him from playing at all last season.

Louisiana Tech tops Navy in wild Armed Forces Bowl shootout

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Louisiana Tech and Navy have opposite approaches to offense… but they both agreed to score plenty of points on Friday.

The Bulldogs managed to put up just a tad more in the Armed Forces Bowl and won 48-45 in an fun postseason shootout on Friday.

Quarterback Ryan Higgins kicked off the scoring for Tech back in the first quarter with a rushing touchdown but did most of his damage with his arm, passing for 409 yards and four scores. Tailbacks Jarred Craft and Boston Scott both added a combined 96 yards on the ground while the latter also found the end zone.

Receiver Trent Taylor — FBS’s third-leading receiver coming into today — closed his career out in style with yet another remarkable performance for the senior. He finished the bowl game with 12 catches for 233 yards and two touchdown receptions and was a tough cover despite some mucky conditions in Fort Worth, Texas. Fellow wideout Carlos Henderson also chipped in with another 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Navy quarterback Zach Abey did all he could to deliver a victory but ended up just a little short operating the triple-option and was knocked out of the game with an injury with just four minutes to go in the game. The third-stringer made his second start and threw for 159 yards and a touchdown while topping the century mark on the ground with 114 yards rushing and two more scores.

The Midshipmen wound up with over 450 yards of offense and averaged over seven yards a play for the game but simply couldn’t come up with enough stops on the defensive end to capture the win.

Instead it was the Bulldogs who emerged victorious in a high-scoring affair between the runners-up of the American and Conference USA that was certainly one of the better bowl games so far this year.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.