Tag: NCAA Football
The Trojans and Jaguars meet on Tuesday night in Mobile
Midweek college football returns on Tuesday night, as Troy heads to Mobile to take on South Alabama in the “Battle for the Belt” in a key Sun Belt matchup for both teams. In addition to what’s at stake on Tuesday night and for the 2018 season, the Trojans are also out for revenge. After picking up a huge win in Baton Rouge against LSU on Sept. 30 last year, Troy was upset 19-8 against South Alabama on Oct. 11.
Troy is off to another strong start behind rising star coach Neal Brown. The Trojans are 5-2 and 3-0 in Sun Belt play entering Week 9 but lost 22-16 at Liberty in their last game. Missed opportunities summed up that performance for Brown. Troy lost three turnovers, committed 10 penalties, went 4 of 15 on third-down attempts, kicked three field goals instead of scoring touchdowns and allowed an 89-yard drive to Liberty with less than four minutes remaining. The Trojans opened 2018 with a loss to Boise State but scored a huge upset win over Nebraska in Week 3 in Lincoln. Brown’s team has picked up victories in league play against ULM, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State, with three out of their final five contests coming away from home. Troy’s path to a conference title got a little tougher in early October, as starting quarterback Kaleb Barker was lost for the year due to a torn ACL.
South Alabama is a program in transition under new coach Steve Campbell. The Jaguars sit at 2-5 through seven games, earning victories over Texas State and Alabama State. Campbell’s team lost by four to Louisiana Tech in the opener, but its other losses all came by 27 points or more. In addition to for an opportunity earn back-to-back victories over its in-state rival, South Alabama needs a win to keep its bowl hopes alive. With trips remaining against Arkansas State and Louisiana, along with home dates versus ULM and Coastal Carolina, the margin for error is very small on a path to six victories.
The all-time series between Troy and South Alabama is tied at three wins apiece. As mentioned above, the Jaguars won last year’s matchup and have claimed three out of the last four games between these two teams.
Troy at South Alabama
Kickoff: Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Troy -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Troy’s Quarterbacks
Tuesday night’s matchup will be the second career start for Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith. Kaleb Barker edged Smith in the battle to replace Brandon Silvers this offseason and started the first six contests. However, Barker suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Oct. 4 victory over Georgia State.
With Barker sidelined, Smith moved into the No. 1 role and threw for 135 yards and a touchdown on 13 completions in the loss to Liberty. However, Smith also tossed one interception and lost a fumble. True freshman Gunnar Watson received limited snaps against Liberty, completing three of four passes for 25 yards. He could see action on Tuesday night as well.
Troy’s offense ranks second in the Sun Belt by averaging 33.7 points a game, but this unit sputtered in its only game without Barker. Will Smith have a better encore in his role as the team’s starter? Brown won’t expect Smith to carry the offense, especially with a potent ground game that features junior B.J. Smith and Jabir Daughtry-Frye leading the way. However, there should be plenty of opportunities to throw against this defense. South Alabama’s secondary ranks seventh in the conference in pass efficiency defense and has allowed quarterbacks to complete 60.9 percent of their passes this year. Additionally, the Jaguars have allowed seven completions of 40 yards or more in 2018.
With extra time to prepare after his first start, along with a deep group of weapons on the outside in a favorable matchup, Smith should have Troy’s offense operating at a higher level this week.
2. South Alabama’s Offense Against Troy’s Defense
It’s strength versus question mark when these two units take the field on Tuesday night.
Troy’s defense is one of the best at the Group of 5 level, as coordinator Vic Koenning’s group limits offenses to just 5.2 yards a play and 24.6 points a game. The Trojans rank second in the Sun Belt against the run, fourth in pass efficiency defense and have generated 22 sacks through seven contests. Troy surrendered 56 points to Boise State in the opener but has not allowed an opponent to score more than 27 points in a contest since the first game of 2018.
On the other sideline, new South Alabama coach Steve Campbell is searching for the right answers to help the offense take a step forward over the team’s final five games. Senior quarterback Evan Orth has flashed potential in the new offense, completing 117 of 174 throws for 1,366 yards and seven touchdowns to three picks. He’s also completing 67.2 percent of his passes and has just three interceptions in 2018. Orth’s favorite target is All-Sun Belt candidate Jamarius Way (39 catches), with Kawaan Baker (21) and Jordan McCray (18) next up.
While South Alabama’s passing game has showed promise, the ground attack has struggled to generate positive yardage. The Jaguars rank last in the Sun Belt by recording only 130.7 yards a game and average 3.5 per rush. Troy can counter with a defense that ranks second in the Sun Belt against the run and is only giving up 3.3 yards a carry, which only adds to the uncertainty of how effective the ground game will be on Tuesday night. Tra Minter paces the offense with 263 yards (3.1 per carry), with Baker next up with 179 yards, followed by Deonta Moore with 168.
Considering the strength of Troy’s defense up front and the struggles of the ground game, it makes sense for Campbell to put this game in Orth’s hands. While the Trojans have one of the Sun Belt’s top defensive backfields, this unit has allowed seven plays of 40 yards or more. Opposing quarterbacks are also completing 62.5 percent of their throws versus the Troy secondary.
3. Turnover Margin
Despite outgaining South Alabama 299 to 224 last season, Troy came up short on the scoreboard. Turnovers are largely to blame, as the Trojans had four giveaways, which the Jaguars converted into 10 points. Troy coach Neal Brown has lost only 15 games since taking over as the program prior to the 2015 season. Of Brown’s 15 losses, 12 came with a negative turnover margin.
Troy is plus-two in turnover margin so far this year, while South Alabama checks in at minus-two. Just like last season, can the Jaguars create a couple of takeaways to convert on short fields for points? If so, South Alabama will be in position to pull off the upset once again. If the Trojans dominate the turnover margin on Tuesday, it’s tough to find a path to victory for the Jaguars.
The recent history between these two teams suggests Tuesday night will be close. Each of the last five matchups have been decided by 14 points or less, including three by a touchdown or less. Campbell is a good hire for South Alabama and will continue to get this program on track over the next couple of seasons. However, Troy is the better team and should find a way to win on Tuesday night. Smith should be sharper in his second start, and the Jaguars will have trouble putting together enough drives to secure the victory.
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2017 CFP National Championship
Clemson Tigers vs Alabama Crimson Tide Preview
Top-seeded Alabama looks to claim its fifth national title in 10 seasons under Nick Saban when it battles second-seeded Clemson in Monday’s CFP National Championship (Enter contest) at Tampa, Florida. It is a rematch of last season’s title game in which the Crimson Tide prevailed 45-40 despite a huge game by Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (405 yards passing, 73 rushing). Alabama is attempting to record its 27th consecutive victory while Clemson is pursuing its second national title and first since 1981.
Watson passed for 259 yards and one touchdown while adding two rushing scores in Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the semifinals, and he has a major advantage in experience over counterpart Jalen Hurts. Watson, who finished second in this season’s Heisman Trophy balloting and third in 2015, has passed for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns this campaign but also is prone to miscues, as evidenced by his 17 interceptions. Hurts has accounted for 34 scores (22 passing, 12 rushing) and is aiming to join Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway (1985) as the only true freshman quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title, but he passed for only 57 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 24-7 semifinal victory over Washington.
Alabama made the odd move of separating itself from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after the win over Washington, as the new Florida Atlantic coach became a distraction while attempting to juggle two jobs. Saban was highly disappointed with the offensive showing against the Huskies and promoted offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator, insisting it will be a smooth transition.
ABOUT CLEMSON (13-1)
Watson threw three or more touchdown passes on seven occasions and topped 300 yards six times while fueling a powerful offense that averaged 39.5 points and scored over 40 seven times. Juniors Mike Williams (90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (73 catches) form a potent one-two receiving combo. Junior running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 scores. The Tigers’ defense allows averages of 17.1 points and 306.9 yards per game but features weak-side linebacker Ben Boulware (team-best 121 tackles), defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (team-high 10.5 sacks) and strong safety Jadar Johnson (team-leading five interceptions). They are all seniors.
ABOUT ALABAMA (14-0)
Bo Scarbrough is the squad’s third-leading rusher (719 yards) behind fellow sophomore Damien Harris (1,013) and Hurts (891), but he’ll play a major role after rushing for two touchdowns and a Crimson Tide bowl-record 180 yards against Washington. Clemson’s defense certainly will be paying close attention to senior tight end O.J. Howard (41 catches, 489 yards, two touchdowns) after he made five catches for a career-best 208 yards and two TDs while winning Offensive MVP honors in last year’s national title game. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen (9.5 sacks, two fumble-return scores) won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and, along with sophomore strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (team-best six interceptions), is among the standouts for a unit that scored 11 defensive touchdowns (six interceptions, five fumbles) and leads the nation in both scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and total defense (244 yards).
Bahamas Bowl Preview
Eastern Michigan Eagles vs Old Dominion Monarchs
The two previous matchups in the Bahamas Bowl produced plenty of points and entertaining games (Enter Contest). In 2014, WKU held off Central Michigan in a 49-48 shootout, while Western Michigan won 45-31 over MTSU last year.
This season’s matchup features an Old Dominion team making its first bowl trip in program history, and an Eastern Michigan program earning its first bowl appearance since 1987. The Monarchs have a dynamic offense, averaging 36 points a game behind quarterback David Washington and running back Ray Lawry. Coach Chris Creighton has brought marked improvement to Eastern Michigan in just three years. He took the Eagles from 1-11 last season to 7-5 in 2016. Quarterback Brogan Roback leads an EMU attack that ranks second in the MAC in passing offense.
ABOUT EASTERN MICHIGAN (7-5, 4-4 MAC)
Chris Creighton directed the turnaround for Eastern Michigan, which won a combined three games in his first two years with the program. Creighton took over for coach Ron English, who was fired after addressing his team with what the school’s administration deemed as “wholly inappropriate language” in 2013. Quarterback Brogan Roback fuels the offense, throwing for 2,394 yards with 16 touchdowns and he passed for 468 yards and three scores in the Eagles’ bowl-clinching win over Ball State earlier in the season.
The Eagles may not have leading running back Ian Eriksen (741 yards rushing, nine touchdowns). He missed the team’s regular season finale with an undisclosed injury and remains listed as questionable. Pat O’Connor paced the Eastern Michigan defense, which allowed 30.3 points per game, with eight sacks to set the school’s career mark with 19.5. The Eagles finished fourth in the MAC’s West Division. Unfortunately for them, they were outscored by 27 points in conference play but cemented their bowl bid with a late come-from-behind victory over Central Michigan and won seven games for the first time since 1989.
ABOUT OLD DOMINION (9-3, 7-1 Conference USA)
Old Dominion’s only loss in Conference USA play came to Western Kentucky. It proved to spell the end of its title hopes as both teams finished 7-1 in conference play. The Monarchs averaged 36 points per game (27th in the FBS). They are led by David Washington, who is one of four FBS quarterbacks to have thrown for 25 touchdown passes with four or fewer interceptions. Washington threw for 2,648 yards overall while completing 59.7 percent of his passes for the Monarchs. The team rides a five-game winning streak all of which came by double figures.
Coach Bobby Wilder guided the Monarchs since 2007. He’s rumored to be on the Temple short list after Matt Rhule took the Baylor job. Ray Lawry powered the Old Dominion running game amassing 1,122 yards and 11 touchdowns. He capped his junior campaign with a career-high 194 yards and three scores in a 42-28 victory over Florida International. Wideouts Zach Pascal and Jonathan Duhart both caught eight touchdown passes. Linebacker TJ Ricks became the first defensive player in school history to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. Ricks led the team with 93 tackles.
Idaho Potato Bowl Preview
Idaho Vandals vs Colorado State Rams
Thanks to some swapping of tie-ins, Idaho stays close to home for the postseason instead of making a trip to Tucson for the Arizona Bowl. They’ll now get to face Colorado State in the Idaho Potato Bowl on December 22nd (Enter Contest).
The Vandals are moving to the FCS level in 2018 but that hasn’t slowed the progress of this program under coach Paul Petrino. After winning just two games from 2013-14, Idaho went 4-8 in 2015 and finished 8-4 this year. It’s the program’s highest win total since 2009. Quarterback Matt Linehan has quietly produced a steady 2016 campaign (15 TDs, 2,803 yards). The Vandals have been opportunistic to help win four games decided by one score or less.
After a 3-4 start, Colorado State finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the Mountain West. The Rams won four out of their last five games, including a 63-31 blowout over San Diego State. Quarterback Nick Stevens returned to the starting lineup after an injury to Collin Hill. He finished the year with 14 touchdowns and 1,491 yards. Receiver Michael Gallup emerged as one of the top targets in the Mountain West, catching 70 passes for 1,164 yards and 11 scores this fall.
ABOUT IDAHO (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt)
The Vandals were dismissed from the Sun Belt effective after next season. They elected to drop down to the FCS level in hopes of enjoying more success and losing less money. Not much was expected from this Idaho squad when it lost consecutive games against Washington and Washington State in September by a combined 115-20 score, but coach Paul Petrino guided the team to a strong turnaround.
Junior quarterback Matt Linehan, the son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, has passed for 2,803 yards and 15 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Aaron Duckworth (615 yards, four touchdowns) and Isaiah Saunders (584, six) share the Vandals rushing workload. Senior tight ends Trent Cowan (46 receptions, 532 yards, six touchdowns) and Deon Watson (36, 555, two) are Linehan’s top targets. The defense held three of its last four opponents to 14 or fewer points and is led by middle linebacker Tony Lashley (team-best 99 tackles), defensive end Aikeem Coleman (team-leading eight sacks) and senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan (team-high five interceptions).
ABOUT COLORADO STATE (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West)
The Rams are playing in a bowl for the fourth consecutive season. It’s the second-longest streak in school history behind a string of five under Sonny Lubick from 1999-2003. Colorado State averaged an impressive 47.4 points and 520.6 yards over its final five games. Their four victories during the stretch coming by an average of 26.5 points.
Things appeared bleak when standout freshman quarterback Collin Hill (1,096 yards, eight touchdowns) was lost to a torn ACL in his left knee in October. Fortunately, former starter Nick Stevens was up to the task of saving the Rams’ season. The junior tossed 14 touchdowns against just one interception over the final six games. Standout receiver Michael Gallup (70 catches, 1,164 yards) recorded eight of his 11 receiving scores after Stevens regained the job. The defense is led by senior weak-side linebacker Kevin Davis, who posted a team-leading 101 tackles, with middle linebacker Josh Watson (80 tackles) and free safety Braylin Scott (team-high three interceptions) also enjoying solid campaigns.
Poinsettia Bowl Preview
Brigham Young Cougars vs Wyoming Cowboys
Two old WAC and Mountain West foes meet for the first time since 2010 in San Diego on December 21 for the Poinsettia Bowl(Enter Contest). This will also be BYU’s 12 consecutive bowl trip, while Wyoming is making its first bowl trip since 2011.
The Cougars won’t have quarterback Taysom Hill for this game. The senior suffered a season-ending arm injury in the finale against Utah State. Although Hill is a big loss, backup Tanner Mangum is a proven option. He threw for 3,377 yards and 23 scores in 2015. Running back Jamaal Williams capped a standout career in Provo with 1,165 rushing yards this season and is a tough matchup for a Wyoming rush defense allowing just over 200 yards per game. After a 6-18 start to his tenure in Laramie, Craig Bohl guided Wyoming to an 8-5 record and a Mountain Division title this fall. Brian Hill is one of the top running backs in the Group of 5 ranks, and quarterback Josh Allen has delivered a breakout year (26 TDs) in his first season as the starter.
ABOUT BYU (8-4)
The Cougars’ rushing defense is eighth in the country at 108.4 yards allowed per game. BYU senior Jamaal Williams rushed for 1,165 and 11 TDs despite missing three of the last five games with an ankle injury. He’ll face a Wyoming defense that allows 34.8 points per game. Williams rushed for 618 yards and nine scores in a three-game stretch versus West Virginia, Toledo and Michigan State this season, including a school-record five TDs and a career-high 286 yards against Toledo. The 6 feet-2 inches, 220 pounds player rushed for 131 yards and collected a score on 18 carries in a 28-10 victory over Utah State in the Cougars’ last contest.
Mangum saw action in the last three games. He completed 14-of-18 pass for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback appears to be less of a running threat than Hill (603 yards, eight TDs this season) although he carried seven times for 30 yards in 2016 after not recording an attempt in 2015. Only one of the Cougars’ eight victories came against a winning FBS team (9-3 Toledo) while the four-game winning streak they ride saw them outscore clubs with a combined 15-32 record 136-29, including 37-7 over FCS member Southern Utah (6-5). BYU’s four losses to Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Boise State were by a combined eight points while their victories include Arizona, Michigan State and Cincinnati on the road, along with Mississippi State and Toledo at home.
ABOUT WYOMING (8-5, 6-2 MWC)
Craig Bohl made a name for himself by coaching North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS titles from 2011-13 before taking on the challenge of bringing the Cowboys back to respectability. Bohl was 6-18 in his first two seasons before nearly leading Wyoming to an MWC championship. They lost to San Diego State 27-24 in the conference title game December 3. Bohl was named MWC Coach of the Year. The Cowboys didn’t waste much time extending his contract through 2023.
Sophomore Josh Allen (2,996 yards, 26 touchdown passes) appears capable of exploiting the air weakness in the Cougars’ defense, although his 13 interceptions are cause for concern. Senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry (18.7 yards per 65 receptions, 12 touchdowns) is Allen’s favorite target. Senior tight end Jacob Hollister boasts seven TDs among his 30 receptions. Wyoming’s non-conference schedule included a 40-34 triple-overtime victory over Northern Illinois and a 52-17 loss at Nebraska.
Boca Raton Bowl Preview
Memphis Tigers vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Like offense? The Boca Raton Bowl is your game (Enter Contest). WKU averages 45.3 points a game, while Memphis isn’t far behind at 39.5. This matchup was slated to feature Jeff Brohm (WKU) and Mike Norvell (Memphis), two rising stars in the head coaching ranks. However, Brohm accepted the head coaching position at Purdue. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt will lead the Hilltoppers in this game.
WKU closed the season on a seven-game winning streak and scored at least 44 points in every contest during that run. Quarterback Mike White successfully replaced Brandon Doughty this year, throwing for 4,027 yards and 34 scores. He’s supported by standout running back Anthony Wales and two dynamic receivers (Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris). Quarterback Riley Ferguson (3,326 yards and 28 TDs) frequently targets Anthony Miller (84 catches), and the Tigers have three players with at least 460 rushing yards. This is the first meeting between these two programs.
ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 AAC)
The Tigers had a tough task replacing head coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch after last season but barely missed a beat behind new coach Mike Norvell and quarterback Riley Ferguson. Memphis won three of the last four games to improve its bowl position, including knocking off then-No. 20 Houston 48-44 in the regular-season finale. The Tigers average 39.5 points and rolled up 555 yards of total offense in the win over the Cougars.
Ferguson saved his best performance for last, passing for 409 yards with four TDs and no interceptions against Houston to cap a 3,326-yard season. Ferguson’s campaign places him second on the school’s all-time single-season throwing yards’ list. He’s just behind Lynch’s total of 3,776 from last season. Tigers freshman Tony Pollard was named the AAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year after ranking third in the nation with 993 kickoff return yards. He’s tied for third with two kickoff return TDs.
ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-3, 7-1 C-USA)
Western Kentucky closed out the season on a seven-game winning streak, capped by a 58-44 victory over Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship game. The Hilltoppers are second among FBS teams with a scoring average of 45.1 points. They’ve bumped that number up to 52.1 over the last nine contests. Western Kentucky is aiming for its third straight bowl win after knocking off Central Michigan 49-48 in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl and beating South Florida 45-35 in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl.
The Hilltoppers’ offense is led by quarterback Mike White, who passed for 4,027 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions while averaging 10.43 yards per attempt. Making White’s job easier is senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor. Taylor logged in 1,586 yards and caught 16 of those TD passes, including two in the C-USA championship game. Western Kentucky’s defense held three of its last five opponents under 10 points. They’ve recorded as many sacks (five) as rushing yards allowed against Louisiana Tech.
Miami Beach Bowl Preview
Central Michigan Chippewas vs Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
If you like offense, there’s a good chance you will enjoy this showdown in Marlins Park on December 19 (Enter Contest). The first Miami Beach Bowl in 2014 featured a combined 103 points between Memphis and BYU, while WKU and USF went back-and-forth in a 45-35 victory by the Hilltoppers last season.
Tulsa features one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks on offense, averaging 260.8 yards per game through the air and 261.8 on the ground. Quarterback Dane Evans has passed for 27 scores, while running backs James Flanders (1,529 yards) and D’Angelo Brewer (1,330) each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Central Michigan is led by senior quarterback Cooper Rush (23 TDs), but the Chippewas have struggled in pass protection and ranked last in the MAC in rushing offense. However, Central Michigan is still averaging nearly 30 points a game (27.7). The Golden Hurricane ranks near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference in scoring defense (31.5), so this one shouldn’t be short on fireworks.
ABOUT CENTRAL MICHIGAN (6-6, 3-5 MAC West)
An improbable win over the Oklahoma State on September 10 came in very handy for Central Michigan. It allowed the Chippewas a partipation in the Miami Beach Bowl. This win helped because they’ve lost four of their final five games, including a 26-21 heartbreaker to Eastern Michigan in its regular-season finale. The game ended in favor of the Eagles on a long touchdown pass with 21 seconds left. Without the Oklahoma State victory in its hip pocket, Central Michigan would be spending mid-December in chilly Mount Pleasant instead of sunny Miami.
The Chippewas are led by senior quarterback Cooper Rush, who has completed 254-of-416 passes for 3,299 yards and 23 touchdowns. Wideout Corey Willis is his favorite target with 1,028 yards receiving and nine touchdowns while Devon Spalding is the team’s top rusher with 737 yards and six scores on 131 carries despite missing two games. Cornerback Amari Coleman, who led the MAC in passes defended (19) and tied for first in the conference with four interceptions, and inside linebacker Malik Fountain (84 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) both were First Team All-MAC selections.
ABOUT TULSA (9-3, 6-2 AAC East)
Tulsa finished second to Navy in the American Athletic Conference West Division. The Golden Hurricane’s three losses came against the Midshipmen (42-40), Houston (38-31) and Ohio State (48-3). Coached by former Houston and Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, Tulsa ranks sixth nationally in total offense (522.8 yards), eighth in rushing offense (261.8) and 11th in scoring (41.4 points), and will be going up against a Central Michigan defense that ranked 43rd in total defense (376.2).
The Golden Hurricane feature two 1,000-yard rushers in senior James Flanders (1,529) and D’Angelo Brewer (1,330), who finished 1-2 in the AAC, a 3,000-yard passer in senior Dane Evans (3,044) and a 1,000-yard receiver in senior Keevan Lucas (1,108). If senior wide receiver Josh Atkinson (927) reaches the 1,000-yard mark in the bowl game, Tulsa would become the first team in FBS history with a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers. Senior linebacker Trent Martin leads the defense in tackles (94) and interceptions (two) while defensive lineman Jesse Brubaker tops the team in tackles for loss with 12.5 to go along with 54 tackles. He also collected 4.5 sacks.
New Orleans Bowl Preview
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun
After a one-year absence, the Ragin’ Cajuns are back in the New Orleans Bowl (Play Now). Under coach Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana has made four trips to the Superdome for this postseason matchup and won all four games. The Ragin’ Cajuns rank fourth in the Sun Belt in rushing (180.8 ypg). Thanks in part to running back Elijah McGuire (1,028 yards) and quarterback Anthony Jennings (322) carrying the offense.
Southern Miss has been solid against the run, limiting opponents to 149.3 yards per game and ranking fourth in Conference USA in fewest points allowed (30.3) per game. First-year coach Jay Hopson had an up-and-down debut, as the Golden Eagles lost five out of six games after starting 4-1. However, the return of quarterback Nick Mullens from injury sparked Southern Miss to a 39-24 victory over Louisiana Tech in the regular season finale. Running back Ito Smith (1,774 yards) is another standout to watch.
ABOUT SOUTHERN MISS (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA)
The Golden Eagles are led by senior quarterback Nick Mullens, who returned from a two-game absence due to a concussion in the regular-season finale and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) to help clinch the bowl berth. Mullen will go up against a Ragin’ Cajuns pass defense that allowed opposing signal-callers to complete 62 percent of their throws during the regular season but have tightened things up of late. Louisiana surrendered 31 passing yards in its victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Mullens is playing his final college game after setting a school record with 85 career touchdown passes. He found a new weapon in the finale in Keon Howard. Howard, who started two games at quarterback while Mullens was out, shared the field against Louisiana Tech while serving as a receiving and a wildcat threat in the backfield. Running back Ito Smith rushed for 1,321 yards and 15 TDs while adding 42 receptions to an offense that averages 33.4 points.
ABOUT LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt)
The Ragin’ Cajuns should feel right at home in the Superdome. They made four straight appearances in the New Orleans Bowl from 2011-14. Louisiana earned the win on the field in all four trips. They’ve beaten San Diego State, East Carolina, Tulane and Nevada, but two of the victories were later vacated. Southern Miss lost to Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. They also are making their fifth appearance in the New Orleans Bowl after wins in 2004, 2005 and 2008 and a loss in 2009.
Coach Hudspeth will start a senior at quarterback in Anthony Jennings, who remarkably guided his team to a win in the regular-season finale without recording a passing yard (2-of-5 for zero yards). Running back Elijah McGuire rushed for over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. He has recorded 52 career touchdowns (10 receiving). Louisiana turned things around on the defensive end down the stretch en route to bowl eligibility. They’ve totaled three defensive TDs in its final two games.
AutoNation Cure Bowl Preview
Central Florida Knights vs Arkansas State Red Wolves
The second edition of the AutoNation Cure Bowl is a home game for UCF (Play Now). The Knights were one of the nation’s most-improved teams this fall, as new coach Scott Frost sparked a six-game improvement in the win column after an 0-12 record in 2015. Frost is known for his background on offense, but UCF is still working out some of the kinks on that side of the ball. Freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton (9 TDs) is promising and leads an attack averaging 30.1 points per game. However, the strength of this team is a defense limiting opponents to 24.1 points a contest.
Arkansas State started 0-4 but rebounded to win seven out of the last eight games to claim a share of the Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves aren’t as explosive on offense as in recent years, but coach Blake Anderson’s team is led by a solid defense. Arkansas State ranks third in the Sun Belt in scoring defense (22.2 ppg) and holds offenses to 5.2 yards per play. Defensive lineman Ja’Von Rolland-Jones is one of the nation’s most underrated players. He recorded 18 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in 2016.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (6-6, 4-4 AAC East)
The Knights allowed a total of nine points to American Athletic Conference rivals Tulane and Cincinnati in the first two games of November. It’s a team that is led by linebacker Shaquem Griffin (85 tackles, 11 sacks). Arkansas State has allowed an average of 13.7 points over its last seven contests while defensive ends Chris Odom and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones have combined for 24 sacks.
It’s their first postseason appearance since losing to North Carolina State 34-27 in the 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl, dropping to 3-4 in the program’s history that includes a 2013 Fiesta Bowl triumph over Baylor. Milton, who played in nine of the last 10 games after taking over for senior Justin Holman, is averaging almost 201 yards through the air with nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has thrown for 458 yards in his last two games and has one premier target in sophomore Tre’Quan Smith. Smith has made 54 receptions for 808 yards along with five touchdowns. UCF is 96th in the nation in rushing (151.9 yards). Freshman Jawon Hamilton (481, four TDs) and senior Dontravious Wilson (463, eight) leading the way.
ABOUT ARKANSAS STATE (7-5, 7-1 Sun Belt)
Arkansas State starts a sophomore quarterback in Justice Hansen. Hansen did not open the season as the starter but has thrown for 2,514 yards with 16 TDs and eight interceptions – 10 and two, respectively, in the last six games.
Hansen has a variety of weapons at his disposal as five receivers have accumulated 300 yards, including tight end Blake Mack (33 catches, 585 yards, three touchdowns) and senior wideout Kendall Sanders (33, 426, four). Running back Warren Wand has recorded 867 yards and seven scores on the ground for the Red Wolves, who are 2-4 in bowl games as they prepare for their sixth in a row. The defense (374.5 yards allowed) has had several contributors, including senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster (team-leading 88 tackles).
Las Vegas Bowl Preview
Houston Cougars vs San Diego State Aztecs
The Las Vegas Bowl doesn’t have its traditional Mountain West vs. Pac-12 matchup, but this year’s game features two of the top Group of 5 teams (Play Now). Houston suffered three losses in league play but defeated Louisville and Oklahoma in non-conference action. With Tom Herman taking the job at Texas, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was promoted to interim coach for this game. Orlando won’t tweak too much, as the Cougars lean heavily on quarterback Greg Ward (349.6 ypg) and a defense limiting opponents to 22.6 points a game.
San Diego State earned its second consecutive Mountain West title with a 27-24 victory over Wyoming. The Aztecs rank No. 7 in the nation in rushing offense, featuring running back Donnel Pumphrey (2,018 yards). Pumphrey needs just over 100 yards (108) to surpass Ron Dayne for the FBS career mark. Houston leads the American Athletic Conference in rush defense (97.9 ypg), so this will be a tough challenge for Pumphrey and the San Diego State offensive line.
ABOUT SAN DIEGO STATE (10-3, 6-2 Mountain West)
San Diego State senior running back Donnel Pumphrey (6,290 yards) sits 108 yards away from surpassing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time leading career rusher in FBS history. Moving past Dayne doesn’t come without controversy for Pumphrey as the NCAA didn’t recognize bowl statistics during Dayne’s career from 1996-99, otherwise Dayne’s yardage total is 7,125. Pumphrey rushed for 2,018 yards in the regular season but figures to be tested by the Cougars, who rank third nationally in rushing defense (97.9 yards per game) and allow just 2.9 yards per carry.
The Aztecs have won 11 games three times in their history. This squad is a run-based team that relies on Pumphrey and junior Rashaad Penny (995 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). Pumphrey rushed for 16 touchdowns while shattering numerous records held by school legend Marshall Faulk. Penny averaged 7.9 yards per carry running the ball as well as averaging 31.9 yards and scoring two touchdowns on kickoff returns. Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman (19 touchdowns, six interceptions) isn’t asked to do a lot in passing game. San Diego State rides a sturdy defense led by senior cornerback Damontae Kazee (seven interceptions this season, school-record 17 in his career) and senior outside linebacker Calvin Munson (team-best 108 tackles).
ABOUT HOUSTON (9-3, 5-3 American Athletic Conference)
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is playing the final game of his spectacular career. He ranks fifth in school history in both passing touchdowns (52) and passing yardage (8,476). Ward accounted for 31 touchdowns (22 passing, nine rushing) this season while throwing for 3,328 yards and rushing for 518. His health is something to watch. Ward has been dealing with shoulder soreness for most of the campaign. Leg soreness could have an effect as well on a player who has 38 career rushing touchdowns.
Ward fuels an attack that averages 38 points per game. Junior receiver Linell Bonner caught 93 passes for 1,076 yards but only found the end zone three times. The Cougars’ best player is freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who posted 19 1/2 tackles for losses (including five sacks). He could be hampered in the Las Vegas bowl game by a balky knee. Sophomore cornerback Howard Wilson intercepted a team-best five passes while senior outside linebacker Steven Taylor had a team-best 72 tackles.
Clemson (5-0) vs Boston College (3-2)
Clemson once again has put itself in the driver’s seat in the ACC and will try to maintain its momentum against the conference doormats when it visits Boston College on Friday (Enter Contests). The third-ranked Tigers, who served notice with their 42-36 home win over then-No. 4 Louisville last weekend, will try to extend a pair of impressive winning streaks. A 19-game regular-season run and an 11-game string in ACC play. Despite that, Clemson should know how much of a struggle it was to get out of Chestnut Hill the last time the Tigers paid a visit in 2014. Boston College eked out a 17-13 triumph.
As quarterback Deshaun Watson goes, so go the Tigers. The junior recorded season highs of 306 yards and five touchdowns in the thriller against Louisville. He also collected a season-best 91 rushing yards and has been sacked only twice this season, giving him enough time to consistently find the likes of Mike Williams (25 catches, 373 yards, two TDs) and Ray-Ray McCloud (24, 271, two). Watson registered 420 yards in last year’s 34-17 win over the Eagles.
Senior linebacker Ben Boulware is coming off a monster performance in which he registered a career-high 18 tackles (three for losses), a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. It was good enough to earn him ACC Player of the Week honors at his position. Clemson has won seven in a row on the road, one shy of matching the longest run in program history (1978-79).
ABOUT BOSTON COLLEGE
On the other side of the coin are the Eagles, who have dropped 10 straight conference affairs, including a 49-0 rout at the hands of Virginia Tech on Sept. 17. Although the level of opponent had a lot to do with it, the Eagles have to be pleased with their improvement on offense, as they averaged 445 total yards in their last two games after being held to 124 by the Hokies. Boston College followed its ugly loss to the Hokies with consecutive non-conference victories, including a 35-3 rout of Buffalo on Saturday.
Patrick Towles threw four TD passes with no interceptions in the wins over Wagner and Buffalo after recording two scores through the air and four picks in the first three games of the season. The Eagles lead FBS teams in total defense (202 yards allowed per game) and are seventh in rushing defense (78).
Stanford (3-0) vs Washington (4-0)
Junior running back Christian McCaffrey is ranked second in the nation in rushing yards per game but is somehow considered to be experiencing a down season. He leads No. 6 Stanford into a Pac-12 showdown at No. 9 Washington on Friday night (Enter Contest). McCaffrey’s spectacular 2015 campaign in which he rushed for 2,019 yards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting has made his 145.3 rushing yards per game seem pedestrian but only San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (199.7) has a better average. Washington coach Chris Petersen is well aware of who will be the best player on the field. Both teams won their last seven games dating back to last season. This contest is the Huskies’ opportunity to show they are for real and not unbeaten just because of a soft schedule.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning threw 14 touchdown passes against two interceptions this season while helping the Huskies rank 10th nationally in scoring offense at 45.8 points per game. Sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin leads the team with 302 rushing yards, but is being pushed from behind by junior Lavon Coleman. Coleman exploded for a career-best 181 yards on 11 carries in Saturday’s 35-28 overtime victory over Arizona.
Washington allowed a staggering 308 rushing yards to the Wildcats. It makes slowing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey seem like more of a challenge for a defense led by junior linebacker Azeem Victor (team-best 31 tackles) and junior safety Budda Baker (20 stops). On the upside, the Huskies are tied for the national lead in takeaways (13) and have committed only four turnovers.
McCaffrey aims to help the Cardinal defeat the Huskies for the eighth time in the past nine meetings. He rushed for 436 yards and leads the Cardinal in receiving (12 catches for 119 yards). Despite opponents crowding the line to stop McCaffrey, you would believe that it helps opening up the passing game. Though senior quarterback Ryan Burns (395 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) hasn’t displayed the ability to be a downfield passing threat despite throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to beat UCLA on Saturday.
The defense ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense at 12 points per game. Junior defensive tackle Solomon Thomas has been named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after returning a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown and also posted a sack against the Bruins. Stanford won 15 of its past 16 contests and matched the school record of seven consecutive Pac-12 road wins. The Cardinals recent dominance has allowed them to tie the series 41-41-4. Senior WR Francis Owusu (concussion) won’t be available for this game. He got injured against UCLA.
NCAA Mountain West Preview 2016
The NCAA football season is near. Get ready to play CFB at FanPicks (click to play). With the impending kickoff in Sydney on August 26th, FanPicks will cover every NCAA conferences and their teams for the 2016 season. NCAA Mountain West crowned a West division champion last year. Mountain division’s Boise State comes as early favorite to take home the hardware this year, not only into the conference championship game but also on the national stage.
Last year’s Moutain West runner-up seem to have overcome the traditional roadblocks that handicap other military programs. Coach Troy Calhoun has somehow established a talent pipeline, and once the players get to Colorado Springs they get the job done. Once again AF will feature an attacking defense that runs after opposing QBs.
Boise State has the look and feel of a team ready to once again make some noise on a level beyond the Mountain West. They have a rising quarterback in Brett Rypien, who completed 64 percent of his passes as a freshman last season, the receiving corps comes back almost intact, and they play at a pace that is too fast for most teams on their schedule. They seem to have outgrown their conference, yet they remain.
CSU is clearly on the upswing as the program will begin play in a new on-campus stadium in 2017. The Rams finished last season a much better team than they started with. It should give them lots of confidence entering this year. An effective ground game should help them overcome a dubious air attack.
After wandering around in the wilderness for years, New Mexico is finally back on its two feet. The Lobos are counting heavily on continued improvement from QB Lamar Jordan. He’ll get plenty of support from the back end, because NM should be able to run the ball behind a solid offensive line and veteran RBs.
When you have a solid QB, the coaching staff can put more time developing other areas of need. The Aggies have a great QB in Kent Myers. Myers had 1,593 passing yards and 16 TDs in less than a full season in 2015, and if he can cut down his sack total (14) Utah State will be in business.
Amid a sea of inexperience within the team, Wyoming still has two solid skill position players in RB Brian Hill and WR Tanner Gentry.
CFB 2016 Other Previews