College Football
NCAAF News Wire
  • Stanford RB McCaffrey declares for 2017 NFL Draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey will skip his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

    • McCaffrey hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ed McCaffrey, who spent 13 years in the NFL and was a Pro Bowl wide receiver and three-time Super Bowl champion.

      "After three incredible years at Stanford, I've decided to enter the 2017 NFL draft. #BlessedByTheBest," McCaffrey wrote on Twitter in officially making the announcement Wednesday.

      The 6-foot, 202-pound McCaffrey is ranked 21st overall, third at his position and projected as a first-round pick by NFLDraftScout.com. LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook are ranked ahead of McCaffrey at his position.

      McCaffrey rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns on 253 carries as a junior, along with 37 catches for 310 yards and three scores. He finished his three years at Stanford with 3,922 rushing yards, 1,206 receiving yards, 1,859 return yards and 33 career touchdowns.

      "Since I was 6 years old, I've wanted to play in the NFL," McCaffrey said on GoStanford.com. "It's been on every list of goals that I've ever written. Now, it's time to take that step. There's nothing more I can put on film.

      "I love Stanford more than anything. It will be extremely hard to leave. I feel humbled and inspired every day by the peers who surround me. I came to Stanford because I wanted to be challenged more than I ever have in my life. And that desire is shared by everyone who walks on this campus, by people who literally will change the world. ... As I walked off for the last time as a Stanford player, I realized how much I owe this university for how much it's given me. Stanford has taught me more about overcoming adversity and focusing and finishing than I could ever know, and I will carry those lessons forever."

  • Oregon taps Harbaugh disciple Taggart as head coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Oregon hired South Florida coach Willie Taggart, a disciple of the Harbaugh Way, to replace Mark Helfrich with the Ducks.

    • Taggart, 40, played quarterback at Western Kentucky for Jack Harbaugh and later served as running backs coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh.

      USF won 17 of its last 21 games under Taggart, who is 40-45 overall as a head coach including three seasons at Western Kentucky. This year's 10-2 record was the best in USF school history.

      "We are thrilled to welcome Willie, his wife, Taneshia, their sons, Willie Jr. and Jackson, and their daughter, Morgan," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement Wednesday. "Willie places an emphasis on ensuring a positive student-athlete experience and on winning, and his previous stops have proven his success at both. We have a very bright future under his leadership."

      The school said Taggart will be introduced at a news conference Thursday.

      "I am grateful for the trust that President (Michael) Schill and Rob Mullens have put in me to be the next head coach of the Oregon football program, and I thank them for the opportunity," Taggart said in a statement. "Oregon has a strong national presence and a proud recent history of playing among the nation's elite, and I look forward to the challenge of upholding the excellence. I can't wait to get started."

      The move represents a major philosophical change at Oregon. The Ducks became synonymous with offense under Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Helfrich, with a shotgun, fastbreaking system that piled up points but never produced a national championship.

      Kelly, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, said last week he had no interest in returning to Eugene despite a plea from Helfrich to return to the Ducks.

      Taggart represents a stronger commitment to a run-first, pro-style system that will also stress excellence defensively.

      Helfrich coached the Ducks to a 37-16 record after taking over for Kelly in 2013. He led the team to the College Football Playoff championship game after the 2014 regular season, but the Ducks went 9-4 in 2015 and fell to 4-8 this season, including a 34-24 defeat at Oregon State on Saturday.

      "It is a great honor to have served as the head football coach at the University of Oregon," Helfrich said. "It is with respect and disappointment that we receive this decision. Plain and simple -- we didn't win enough games this season."

      This was the first season since 2004 that Oregon finished with a losing record and without a bowl appearance. The Ducks had won at least nine games in eight consecutive seasons prior to this one.

      The unusual development for Oregon, which last fired its football coach in 1976, will be an expensive one.

      Due to terms of his buyout, Helfrich, 43, is owed $11.6 million for the remaining three years of his contract, according to The Oregonian. The staff is also owed a combined $3.7 million in buyouts, if none are retained.

      The length and value of Taggart's deal were not released. Taggart will owe $1.7 million to USF according to his buyout, the newspaper reported.

  • Ex-Wazzu star Utley headlines Hall of Fame inductees
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Mike Utley, a former Washington State and Detroit Lions offensive lineman who sustained an injury 25 years ago that left him paralyzed, was one of 16 former players and coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame during the National Football Foundation awards dinner on Tuesday in New York.

    • Others inducted into the College Hall of Fame were: Nebraska-Omaha quarterback Marlin Briscoe, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau, UNLV quarterback and punter Randall Cunningham, Iowa State running back Troy Davis, North Carolina defensive tackle William Fuller, LSU quarterback Bert Jones, Wisconsin defensive lineman Tim Krumrie, Harvard tight end and punter Pat McInally, Colorado defensive end Herb Orvis, Ashland linebacker Bill Royce, Georgia defensive back Scott Woerner, Purdue defensive back Rod Woodson, New Hampshire coach Bill Bowes and Lycoming coach Frank Girardi.

      Cunningham is known for his outstanding play as a quarterback at UNLV and the NFL, but he earned first-team All-America honors as a punter for the Rebels in 1983, a requirement for eligibility in the Hall of Fame.

      "In life you go through wonderful things, and I just happened to be that person that had a big foot," he told the Las Vegas Review Journal on Tuesday. "So I had a size 13 way back then. And so when the ball hit my foot, it was going somewhere. I didn't know where it was going."

      Brooks has a special memory of Florida State's victory over Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl.

      "It would be coach (Bobby) Bowden's face in that locker room after we won the championship in '93," Brooks said, according to Local10.com. "And the first two words out of his mouth were, 'Thank you,' to us. Obviously, we'd been down that road a lot, and two field goals in the wrong direction (against Miami in the two previous seasons), we felt, cost us national championships."

      Much of the focus was on Utley. He played in the days before concussion protocol and targeting fouls as the rules were modified to try to make football a less violent game.

      Utley was an offensive lineman for the Lions when he was hurt during a 1991 game against the Rams at the Silverdome. The spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down. He gave a thumbs-up sign as he was being carted off the field.

      "It was a life-changing moment but not life-defining," Utley told the Detroit Free Press in October. "(My injury) changed the direction of my life. It wasn't the most pivotal moment of my life, though. It ended my career as a football player, but Nov. 17, 1991, didn't change who Mike Utley was. It just changed the direction of his path."

      The Mike Utley Foundation raises money and awareness for the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

  • College football notebook: Former Heisman winner Salaam dies
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Former Heisman Trophy winner and Chicago Bears running back Rashaan Salaam has died. He was 42.

    • Salaam's alma mater, the University of Colorado, released a statement detailing that his body was found in a park in Boulder (Colo.) on Monday night and that police do not suspect foul play.

      Salaam's death is being investigated as a possible suicide, the Boulder Daily Camera is reporting, citing a source.

      "The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today," athletic director Rick George told the school's website. "We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time."

      The Bears also acknowledged Salaam, writing on their official Twitter account that "Our thoughts are with his family."

      -- Michigan State standout defensive tackle Malik McDowell announced that he will bypass his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL draft.

      McDowell had 34 tackles as a junior, including seven for losses, while splitting time between tackle and end. He missed the final three games due to an ankle injury.

      "I'm excited to announce that after careful consideration and numerous discussions with my family and coaches, I have decided to forgo my remaining college eligibility at Michigan State University and enter the 2017 NFL draft," McDowell announced on Twitter. "This was a very difficult decision and I will always cherish my time in East Lansing. I want to thank my family, coaches, teachers, administrators and teammates.

      "I'm ready to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the NFL. I promised my parents that I would come back to Michigan State University to finish my college education and get my degree."

      -- Alabama middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the SEC title game, AL.com reported.

      The damage was determined after an MRI exam.

      An ACL injury would end the season of Hamilton, a junior who ranks third on the squad with 64 tackles, including nine for losses.

      Hamilton was injured during the second quarter of Saturday's victory over Florida. He was helped to the locker room and was seen sporting crutches after the contest.

      -- Former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett is transferring to Arizona State.

      Barnett posted a picture on Twitter on Monday night that included Sun Devils coach Paul Graham. The key hashtag was #committed.

      Barnett plans to enroll at Arizona State in January and hopes to compete for the starting position during spring drills.

      Barnett was a redshirt freshman this season and started the Crimson Tide's season-opening game against USC. He was removed after two series and true freshman Jalen Hurts took over and quickly established himself as the starter.

      -- Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was named the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to college football's top assistant coach.

      The announcement was made in Little Rock, Ark.

      Venables won the award over four other finalists: Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

  • Former Alabama QB Barnett headed to Arizona State
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett is transferring to Arizona State.

    • Barnett posted a picture on Twitter on Monday night that included Sun Devils coach Paul Graham. The key hashtag was #committed.

      Barnett plans to enroll at Arizona State in January and hopes to compete for the starting position during spring drills.

      Barnett was a redshirt freshman this season and started the Crimson Tide's season-opening game against USC. He was removed after two series and true freshman Jalen Hurts took over and quickly established himself as the starter.

      Barnett departed Alabama in late September and will have to sit out the first four games of the 2017 season to meet transfer requirements.

      According to Al.com, Barnett has been taking classes at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., to maintain his academic eligibility.

      Barnett was 11-of-19 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns in parts of three games for the Crimson Tide before leaving the program.

      Upon quitting the team, Barnett was sharply criticized by Alabama coach Nick Saban.

      "It's one of those things where I think the culture has changed a little bit," Saban said on his weekly radio show. "I think there's a certain pride people have in competition. There's certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through.

      "I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don't think I'd have a place to stay."

  • Clemson's Venables wins Broyles Award
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was named the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to college football's top assistant coach.

    • The announcement was made Tuesday in Little Rock, Ark.

      Venables won the award over four other finalists: Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

      Venables won the award for the first time in his third time as a finalist. He was also a finalist for the award last season and in 2006 while serving as a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.

      Venables' defense at Clemson ranked ninth nationally this season in total defense (313.9 yards per game) and helped the Tigers return to the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season. Clemson will face Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

  • Ailing Navy seeks 15th straight win over Army
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    An injury-marred Navy will have to rely on some backups to earn its 15th consecutive victory over Army in the 117th meeting between the archrivals Saturday in Baltimore.

    • Midshipmen starting quarterback Will Worth and slotback Toneo Gulley suffered season-ending injuries in the American Athletic Conference championship game last week against Temple. Tago Smith, who opened the year as the starting quarterback, and linebacker Daniel Gonzales, a co-captain with Gulley, went down earlier in the season.

      As a result, the Black Knights have a prime opportunity to end a 14-year losing streak, the longest drought in the history of the series. However, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is 8-0 against Army and the Black Knights know he will have an effective game plan ready to maintain that success.

      "I feel terrible for the guys that got injured in that last game," said Army coach Jeff Monken, whose team enters the game with six wins for the first time since 2010. "Those kids have had great seasons. They mean so much to their team, and playing in this game means so much to them. It's tough to lose players like that, but Kenny does such a great job that he'll have somebody step in at each one of those positions and they'll be ready to go."

      Another challenge is that Navy (9-3) did not have the usual extra week to prepare for Army because of the AAC championship game. The Black Knights, on the other hand, have not played since Nov. 19 when they beat Morgan State 60-3.

      This will be the first time since 1941 the Midshipmen have not had more than one week to prepare for its game against Army (6-5).

      "You don't want to make excuses, but it's not the most ideal situation," Niumatalolo said. "When we joined the league, we saw that was going to be the schedule. The championship game would be right before this game. I don't think you want to do anything to change (Army-Navy) being a standalone game and what it represents to our country. Obviously, you'd like some time in-between."

      This is also the second time Navy has to thrust a new quarterback into the starting lineup to run the triple option. Worth took over the job when Smith went down with a knee injury in the season opener. Worth then broke a bone in his foot in the 34-10 loss to Temple, forcing sophomore Zach Abey into action.

      Abey completed 7-of-13 passes for 104 yards with two interceptions. He also had 70 yards on 14 carries, including a 47-yard scamper late in the third quarter.

      Abey hopes the extended reps this week in practice will get him ready for the biggest game of not only the season, but of his life.

      "It is going to be a big responsibility, and I will be up for it," said Abey, who will be making his first career start. "As a second stringer, you have to warm up every game as if you are going to play, which showed today. My preparation is going to be the same and act as if I am going to play anyway. I will be ready to play next Saturday if that comes to it."

      Slotback Darryl Bonner was also lost for the season against Temple. The Midshipmen, however, are deep at that position and Niumatalolo is confident other players will take advantage of playing time, with Calvin Cass Jr. likely to serve as the primary back.

      Nonetheless, this appears to be an advantage for the Black Knights' defense, which is ranked second nationally behind Michigan in total yards allowed (3,178). Army is led by a pair of talented linebackers in Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. King has five sacks, while Timpf who managed 88 tackles, including nine for a loss.

      "This game is the biggest game of the year," Timpf said. "The guys are going to come out fired up in Baltimore."

      Navy leads the all-time series, 60-49-7, and is 3-0 against the Black Knights in games played at M&T Bank Stadium.

      Navy's focus, however, is solely on this year and not the previous 14 victories.

      "We never really talk about the streak," Niumatalolo said. "We just talk about beating Army. Nothing from any other years matters this year. It's not like you can carry over points or anything. We just have to get ready for this game."

  • Colorado Heisman winner Salaam dead at 42
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Former Heisman Trophy winner and Chicago Bears running back Rashaan Salaam has died. He was 42.

    • Salaam's alma mater, the University of Colorado, released a statement detailing that his body was found in a park in Boulder (Colo.) on Monday night and that police do not suspect foul play.

      Salaam's death is being investigated as a possible suicide, the Boulder Daily Camera is reporting, citing a source.

      "The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today," athletic director Rick George told the school's website. "We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time."

      The Bears also acknowledged Salaam, writing on their official Twitter account that "Our thoughts are with his family."

      Salaam won the Heisman Trophy in 1994, beating out Warren Sapp and Steve McNair and winning by a landslide margin of 842 points. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back by rushing for school records of 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns to lead Colorado to an 11-1 mark.

      "He was very coachable," Bill McCartney, Salaam's coach at Colorado, said in a statement released by the university. "He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive."

      Salaam was selected with the 21st overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft by Chicago and rolled up 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns during his rookie season.

      Salaam's NFL career took a nosedive after his impressive first season, with the running back admitting that marijuana played a role.

      Salaam broke his leg during the 1997 season and entered a rehabilitation program the following year, but Salaam remained out of football until signing as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders in 1999.

      Salaam's stay with the Raiders was short, but he latched on with the Cleveland Browns and played two games before briefly playing with the XFL's Memphis Maniax in 2001.

      A failed attempt to return to the NFL prompted Salaam to sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 2004, but a suspension effectively ended his professional career.

      Former Heisman Trophy winner and Chicago Bears running back Rashaan Salaam has died. He was 42.

      Salaam's alma mater, the University of Colorado, released a statement detailing that his body was found in a park in Boulder (Colo.) on Monday night and that police do not suspect foul play.

      Salaam's death is being investigated as a possible suicide, the Boulder Daily Camera is reporting, citing a source.

      "The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today," athletic director Rick George told the school's website. "We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time."

      The Bears also acknowledged Salaam, writing on their official Twitter account that "Our thoughts are with his family."

      Salaam won the Heisman Trophy in 1994, beating out Warren Sapp and Steve McNair and winning by a landslide margin of 842 points. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back by rushing for school records of 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns to lead Colorado to an 11-1 mark.

      "He was very coachable," Bill McCartney, Salaam's coach at Colorado, said in a statement released by the university. "He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive."

      Salaam was selected with the 21st overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft by Chicago and rolled up 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns during his rookie season.

      Salaam's NFL career took a nosedive after his impressive first season, with the running back admitting that marijuana played a role.

      Salaam broke his leg during the 1997 season and entered a rehabilitation program the following year, but Salaam remained out of football until signing as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders in 1999.

      Salaam's stay with the Raiders was short, but he latched on with the Cleveland Browns and played two games before briefly playing with the XFL's Memphis Maniax in 2001.

      A failed attempt to return to the NFL prompted Salaam to sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 2004, but a suspension effectively ended his professional career.

      Salaam rushed for 1,684 yards in 33 NFL games.

      Prior to landing at Colorado, Salaam played eight-man football for La Jolla Country Day School in suburban San Diego, and McCartney and the Buffaloes prevailed in recruiting to gain his services.

  • Michigan State DT McDowell to enter NFL draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Michigan State standout defensive tackle Malik McDowell announced Tuesday that he will bypass his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL draft.

    • McDowell had 34 tackles as a junior, including seven for losses, while splitting time between tackle and end. He missed the final three games due to an ankle injury.

      "I'm excited to announce that after careful consideration and numerous discussions with my family and coaches, I have decided to forgo my remaining college eligibility at Michigan State University and enter the 2017 NFL draft," McDowell announced on Twitter. "This was a very difficult decision and I will always cherish my time in East Lansing. I want to thank my family, coaches, teachers, administrators and teammates.

      "I'm ready to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the NFL. I promised my parents that I would come back to Michigan State University to finish my college education and get my degree."

      The 6-foot-6, 276-pound McDowell is rated as the top defensive tackle and 11th-best overall prospect by NFLDraftScout.com.

      McDowell posted 90 tackles (24 1/2 for losses) and 7 1/2 sacks in 36 career games (23 starts) for the Spartans.

      "Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year's Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

      "We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL."

  • Allen wins first Nagurski Trophy in Alabama history
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Alabama has been loaded with defensive standouts during its rich football history.

    • But none of them achieved what senior defensive end Jonathan Allen did on Monday night.

      Allen was presented the Nagurski Trophy as the national defensive player of the year and the surprise element was this: Allen is the first player in Crimson Tide history to win a major national defensive award.

      "I'm honestly speechless right now. I never in a million years thought I would even be up for this award, yet win it," Allen said at the presentation ceremony in Charlotte, N.C. "I've got to thank all the guys back at Alabama, God, my parents, my girlfriend, everyone who's had a part in shaping me and making me who I am. This is just a tremendous award."

      The 6-foot-3, 291-pound Allen enjoyed a tremendous season with 8 1/2 sacks and two fumble returns for touchdowns for the Crimson Tide, who lead the nation in scoring defense (11.8 points per game) and total defense (247.8 yards per game).

      He ranks second in Alabama history with 26 1/2 career sacks, trailing only school legend Derrick Thomas, the linebacker who went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

      "Jonathan Allen is a fantastic player for us, even a better person and leader," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "He's had an outstanding year. I think he's sort of someone that a lot of players should look at who came here weighing probably 250 pounds. We kind of recruited him as an outside linebacker.

      "The guy has developed each and every year into being a better and better and better player. I think sometimes a lot of players lose sight of how football is a developmental game, how they improve, how they can improve their value by continuing to grow and develop as players in college. Jonathan Allen is a great example of that."

      Allen is considered a top five NFL draft choice in the 2017 draft with the possibility he could go first overall.

      The other Nagurski finalists included Allen's teammate -- outside linebacker Reuben Foster. The others were Michigan outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden.

      Foster didn't go home without hardware. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.

      Alabama has had a Nagurski finalist seven times in the past eight years.

  • Alabama's Hamilton tears ACL in SEC title game
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Alabama middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the SEC title game, AL.com reported on Tuesday.

    • The damage was determined after an MRI exam.

      An ACL injury would end the season of Hamilton, a junior who ranks third on the squad with 64 tackles, including nine for losses.

      Hamilton was injured during the second quarter of Saturday's victory over Florida. He was helped to the locker room and was seen sporting crutches after the contest.

      Hamilton has two interceptions, including one against Florida that he returned 40 yards to set up a field goal.

      The Crimson Tide have yet to acknowledge the seriousness of Hamilton's injury.

      Top-ranked Alabama faces No. 4 Washington in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 31.

  • Trump plans to attend Army-Navy game
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    President-elect Donald Trump plans to attend this Saturday's game between Army and Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

    • Trump, who attended military school but did not serve in the military, will sit on the Army side for one half and the Navy side for the other.

      President Barack Obama attended the 2011 game in Landover, Md.

      Navy (9-3) has won 14 straight against Army (6-5) and holds a 60-49-7 edge in the all-time series. This is the first time since 2010 that both Army and Navy enter the game with winning records.

      The Midshipmen lost the American Athletic Conference title game to Temple last Saturday, but will play against Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl.

      The Black Knights will battle North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

  • Baylor hires Temple's Rhule as new coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Matt Rhule was hired as the 27th head coach of the Baylor football team, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.

    • Rhule replaces interim coach Jim Grobe, who guided the Bears to a 6-6 regular-season record in 2016 after Art Briles was fired last May following a sexual assault scandal involving football players at the school.

      "Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights," Rhule said in a statement. "I am excited to get started."

      Rhule, 41, coached at Temple for the past four seasons, leading the Owls to a 28-23 record and back-to-back 10-win seasons. He also has assistant coaching experience at Albright, Buffalo, UCLA, Western Carolina and the New York Giants.

      The 24-ranked Owls (10-3) beat Navy 34-10 last Saturday to win the American Athletic Conference championship.

      "Matt is the absolute right man at the right time to lead us forward and I am confident that his values are our values and that his teams and student-athletes will make us all proud, on and off the field," Baylor interim president David Garland said.

      Baylor president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw resigned in the wake of the scandal.

      Former LSU coach Les Miles and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin were also reportedly considered for the position.

  • Drop out of CFP leaves Wolverines with sour taste
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Dropping two of its last three games sent Michigan spiraling from a spot in the College Football Playoffs to unhappy outsiders.

    • The Wolverines finished sixth in the final CFP rankings and instead of the playoff party, that placement sends them to the Orange Bowl against Florida State on Dec. 30.

      But Michigan (10-2) had higher aspirations and being upset at Iowa was the first defeat that torpedoed its campaign. A season-ending loss at Ohio State that was billed as a CFP elimination game proved to be just that as the Buckeyes are part of the field.

      The Orange Bowl might be a sweet consolation under most circumstances but it had a sour taste on Sunday's bowl announcement day.

      "It's disappointing, it is," senior tight end Jake Butt told reporters. "But again, you've got to remind yourself that we put ourselves in that position. We had plenty of opportunities to change outcomes. The season was in our hands, and we didn't get done what we needed to get done."

      A 9-0 start had players and coaches feeling that a playoff spot was a mere formality. But the failure to take care of business left the Wolverines pointing fingers -- at themselves.

      "We put ourselves in this position to leave it up to other people," sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight told reporters. "Four points away from sitting here in front of you guys undefeated. It's tough, but at the same time we've got a lot to prove and we can really make a statement in Miami."

      This marks the third meeting between the Wolverines and Seminoles with the teams splitting the previous two. The most recent matchup was in 1991.

      Florida State (9-3) is led by star junior running back Dalvin Cook (1,620 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns) and averages 35.2 points per game. The defense gives up an average of 24.4 points, and has a star attraction in sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who is tied for the national lead with eight interceptions.

      The Seminoles are just three years removed from being national champions and remain one of the biggest names in college football. They definitely have the attention of the Michigan players despite the disappointment of the bowl destination.

      "I know what this win could mean for us if we get the win," Butt said. "Playing a great team like Florida State, I'm really excited about that. I'm not really focusing on how hard it is or what could have been. I'm just focused on winning this game."

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --QB Wilton Speight is battling a sore left collarbone but the break between the regular-season finale against Ohio State and the Orange Bowl will give him time to heal. The sophomore wasn't on his game in the regular-season finale against the Buckeyes as he rushed his way back on to the field and he tossed two of his six interceptions in that game. Speight was a third-team All-Big Ten choice while passing for 2,375 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season as a starter and will have to know the whereabouts of Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation's top defensive back.

      --TE Jake Butt was a first-team All-Big Ten selection for the second consecutive season and is a finalist for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end. The senior caught 43 receptions for 518 yards and holds the school career marks for a tight end of 135 catches and 1,618 yards. Butt can be counted on when Michigan needs a big reception as 29 of his catches went for first downs.

      --OLB Jabrill Peppers compiled 16 tackles for losses and his spectacular versatility led him to be named a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. The sophomore was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by recording 72 total tackles, four sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. He is one of the nation's top return specialists -- averaging 26.0 on kickoffs, 14.8 with one touchdown on punts -- and his role on offense (167 rushing yards, three scores) keeps evolving.

      --CB Jourdan Lewis was named Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and also is a finalist for the Thorpe Award, which is awarded to the nation's top defensive back. The senior allowed just eight receptions during the regular season while breaking up 12 passes. Lewis intercepted only two passes and will be aiming to add to that total against Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, who was picked off just six times in 373 attempts.

  • Western Michigan finishes dream season in Cotton Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck is no stranger to overcoming odds or beating established teams. Coming out of Sugar Grove, Ill., Fleck earned a scholarship to Northern Illinois. Then-NIU coach Joe Novak decided to offer Fleck a scholarship over the objection of most of his staff members.

    • Four years later, in 2003, Fleck was involved in a memorable photo, pointing to his NIU helmet after the Huskies defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Yes, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

      Thirteen years later, Fleck is the driving engine behind No. 12 Western Michigan earning a berth in the Cotton Bowl against No. 8 Wisconsin.

      Dreams do certainly come true. On Jan. 7, Fleck displayed a Cotton Bowl logo on a screen for his players to see, serving as a motivation to be the Group of 5 champion. The Broncos defeated Ohio 29-23 in the Mid-American Conference Championship game. The Broncos, adopting Fleck's Row the Boat mantra, will be heading to Arlington, Texas with finishing undefeated as their main goal. Fleck, in his fourth year, guided the Broncos from a 1-11 mark in his first season to a 13-0 record.

      "Who would have thought that here we are accepting a bid to the Cotton Bowl 10 months later," Fleck said. "It's pretty amazing to really kind of see it in full force and really pan out the way hit has. It's a credit to our players."

      Many things happened in the final weekend to make Fleck's vision become a reality. The Broncos received some help when Navy lost to Temple, helping the Broncos edge out a number of one- and-two-loss Group of 5 teams for their at-large berth.

      "We're the best Group of 5 team in the country," Fleck said. "We didn't lose a game. Whoever they put on our schedule, we beat. There's two undefeated teams in the country -- us and Alabama -- and there is no argument."

      With wins over Northwestern and Illinois on the road, the Broncos hope to cap the best season in school history with win No. 14. Western Michigan is only the second MAC program to earn a New Year's Six or BCS bid. Fleck's alma mater, Northern Illinois, lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013.

      "If you go undefeated in sports, it's very special, no matter what," Fleck said. "To go undefeated takes a ton of resolve, resilience, energy, commitment, trust and belief."

      Still, the odds are stacked against the Broncos. The Badgers (10-3) nearly won the Big Ten title, but Penn State stormed back in the second half to knock off Wisconsin. The Badgers do own big wins over LSU, Nebraska and Iowa and battled highly ranked Ohio State to overtime and lost by seven points at Michigan.

      Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, a 1,000-yard rusher, is one of the best backs the Broncos have faced in the past few years. The Broncos will look to make the Badgers a one-dimensional team, applying pressure to the quarterback duo of Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. The Badgers are not a high-scoring team, with WMU quarterback Zach Terrell and wide receiver Corey Davis one of the best combinations in the country.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH

      --QB Zach Terrell, a redshirt senior, headlines WMU's explosive offense with pinpoint passing and making sure to throw many passes in the direction of senior wide receiver Corey Davis. Terrell has to avoid throwing interceptions and targeting Davis at all costs. Davis has caught 91 passes for 1,427 yards, but Wisconsin's secondary is athletic and has the ability to contain Davis.

      --WR Corey Davis is a big-play threat who is one of the top players in the country, regardless of conference. Davis averages 15.7 yards per catch and hauled in 18 touchdowns. How Davis shapes up against Wisconsin's secondary of Sojourn Shelton, D'Cota Dixon and Derrick Tindal is a key element.

      --RB Jarvion Franklin headlines a trio of talented backs that Western Michigan's offense relies on. Franklin leads the team with 1,300 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. The Broncos can't rely on the passing game alone to beat Wisconsin. Moving the ball on the ground is essential, starting with Franklin.

      --LB Robert Spillane tops the Broncos with 105 tackles. His play in the middle is key. He has three interceptions and four quarterback hurries. He's all over the field, and must not allow Wisconsin running back Corey Clement to break free for long gains.

  • Alamo Bowl bound Buffaloes happy to go bowling again
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    After missing out on bowl games since 2007, Colorado was just happy to be invited to a postseason party this year.

    • Yet amid the excitement of being invited to the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State, there was some disappointment that the Buffaloes did not get into a bigger bowl.

      At 10-2, Colorado was ranked No. 9 in the College Football playoff last week giving it a longshot chance of reaching the playoff if it had beaten Washington in the Pac-12 Conference title game on Friday night. However, a 41-10 loss not only ended that possibility, it also wiped away Colorado's hope of making the Rose Bowl when USC jumped one spot ahead of the Buffaloes at No. 9 to earn a match-up with Penn State in Pasadena.

      "They will bounce back," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "They are resilient and we will get them going. They will be excited about playing in a bowl game. None of them have ever been in a bowl game so it will be exciting for them."

      No. 10 Colorado (10-3) accepted an invitation to play No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

      "We're excited to play in the Valero Alamo Bowl," MacIntyre said. "San Antonio is a tremendous town. It's a fun, fun town and they love football there. We'll play our first Big 12 opponent since leaving. It'll be a heck of a game."

      Colorado and Oklahoma State were longtime rivals in the Big 12 who last played in 2009. Two years later, Colorado moved to the Pac-12 Conference.

      The Buffaloes have an all-time-record of 26-19-1 against the Cowboys, but Oklahoma State won the last two matchups.

      The match-up with the Cowboys features one of the Pac-12's top defenses against one of the top offenses in the Big 12

      Oklahoma State ranks third in the conference in scoring offense with 38.7 points per game while ranking second with 322.8 passing yards per game. Colorado allowed 18.8 points per game to rank second in the Pac-12 while having the top pass defense that allows 187.8 yards per game through the air.

      Colorado should have success running the ball against Oklahoma State, which gives up an average of 204.4 yards per game on the ground. Led by 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay, Colorado is averaging 201.1 yards per game on the ground.

      Colorado did not qualify for a bowl game in each of the past eight seasons, but will return to the postseason for the first time since it lost to Alabama, 30-24, in the 2007 Independence Bowl. After winning just two conference games in MacIntyre's first three years at the school, Colorado had eight this year.

      "These seniors and fourth-year juniors brought Colorado football back," MacIntyre told the Pac-12 Network after the loss to Washington. "They rose out of the ashes and made us great again. To win seven games, that has only been done 10 times at Colorado."

      The Buffaloes are coming off one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent college football after going 10-3, including an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play to win the South Division. It's three losses came against Michigan, USC, and Washington, three schools in the Top 10 of the final CFP poll.

      "An 11th win would be awesome and put this team in the conversation with the best teams in program history," MacIntyre said.

      Colorado finished 11th in the Associated Press poll, its highest mark at the end of the regular season since 2001.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --RB Phillip Lindsay has 47 catches on the season to break the school record for most catches by a running back of 45 set by Rodney Stewart in 2011. He has 17 touchdowns, including 16 on the ground, for a total of 102 points that ranks sixth in single-season history for CU and the most at the school since 2002. The junior ranks third in school history with 3,953 all-purpose yards and 13th in rushing at 2,233. He was held to 53 rushing yards in the loss to Washington and that has been a trend this season. CU has not run for 100 yards in any of its three losses and will likely need to get over the century mark to beat Oklahoma State.

      --QB Sefo Liufau was injured and ineffective in the loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. He missed most of the first half due to an injury, but returned in the second half to finish with three interceptions to go with three completions for 21 yards. The senior holds the school career records with 10,509 yards of total offense and 9,568 passing yards. He should be back to full strength for the bowl game and CU will need him to be more effective than he was against Washington to have a shot at beating Oklahoma State.

      --LB Kenneth Olugbode had a career-high 19 tackles in the loss to Washington including six solo tackles and one-half sack. He leads the team with 135 tackles on the season. The senior also led the Buffs in tackles two years ago with 83. He earned honorable mention, all-Pac-12 honors and will need to be stout against Oklahoma State to give the Buffaloes a chance to win the Alamo Bowl.

      --DB Ryan Moeller earned first-team, all-conference honors on special teams. The junior has nine tackles, including six solo, on special teams to rank second on the team. He also made eight starts as a nickel back and registered 45 tackles, including nine in the Pac-12 championship game against Washington. Special teams could be a big part of the Alamo Bowl and Moeller was voted as the conference's best player on those units as he looks to keep Oklahoma State from getting any big plays in the return game

  • Rosy finish for Trojans after rough start
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    USC, with three losses, was never in the discussion for the College Football Playoff. In fact, the Trojans wouldn't have made the playoff even if it featured eight teams and not just four.

    • But, know this, nobody wants to play USC right now.

      The Trojans ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, and although they fell one game short of winning the Pac-12 South, they were chosen ahead of the Buffaloes to represent the league in the Rose Bowl after league champ Washington earned a No. 4 seed in the playoff.

      USC (9-3) will play Big Ten champion Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

      The Nittany Lions, which were No. 5 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings are mighty hot, too, making this, arguably, the best of the non-semifinal matchups. Penn State (11-2) is one-up on USC in that it has a nine-game winning streak that includes a home victory over Ohio State and a 38-31 triumph over Wisconsin in the league title game.

      So, each team has a similar comeback story this season, led by coaches -- USC with Clay Helton and Penn State with James Franklin -- who were considered to be on varying degree of hot seats back in September. The Trojans started 1-3, starting with a 52-6 blowout loss to Alabama in Arlington, Texas. They lost their first two conference games -- at Stanford and at Utah.

      "You know, when we started 0-2, we have talked about, we kind of went into playoff football mode," Helton said.

      "We understood that being able to do something special throughout the season that we were going to have to go on a run and go on a run in conference. And to be able to win seven straight conference games, eight total for the second season in a row, along with that Notre Dame game, put us in this position to play in a very, very special game."

      For USC, the turning point coincided with the insertion of redshirt freshman Sam Darnold into the starting lineup in the fourth game. Although USC lost to the Utes 31-27, it was more because of a defense that allowed a touchdown in the final seconds.

      Since that game, the Darnold-led offense has racked up at least 400 yards in each game, with the Trojans beating opponents by an average of 20.5 points during their winning streak.

      USC -- ninth in the selection committee rankings -- will be making its first Rose Bowl appearance since after the 2009 game, when it played ... Penn State.

      Soon after, each program went through tough times because of NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations. The NCAA punished USC over illegal benefits to running back Reggie Bush; Penn State was hit because of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal.

      Now, it's all Roses again.

      "Credit to our players and credit to what they've accomplished," Helton said. "These are the things that you dream about as a little kid."

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --RB Ronald Jones II, after an early rib injury and often playing behind Justin Davis, came on strong in the second half of the season. He rushed for 1,027 in the regular season, with 742 yards coming in the final five games. He has the kind of explosive skills that Penn State saw in the Big Ten title game, when Wisconsin's Corey Clement ran for 164 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown.

      --CB Adoree Jackson is in any discussion of the most electric players in college football. He scored on a 55-yard punt return, a 52-yard pass and a 97-yard kick return against Notre Dame, in addition to breaking up two passes. He usually hasn't seen more than a couple of plays on offense in as game this season (if at all), but the junior is likely off to the NFL after this, so it might be a case of "anything goes."

      --WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is another USC junior who seems likely to declare for the NFL Draft. Smith-Schuster will be a big test for a Penn State secondary, which is the most vulnerable part of the Nittany Lions' defense, especially because the Trojans have so many other targets that bear watching. Smith-Schuster was dealing with a hip-pointer late in the season, so the time off will serve him well.

      --LB Cameron Smith, a sophomore, has a team-high 79 tackles, including seven for loss, and he's known to be a super run-stuffer. We'll see how he holds up on those inside runs by Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

  • Tigers, Cardinals meet for first time ever
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    At the beginning of the season a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl would have been considered a huge disappointment for LSU.

    • Now that the bowl pairings have been finalized, that destination for the Tigers Dec. 31 match-up with Louisville (11 a.m. CST) in Orlando, Fla., still isn't exactly what LSU had in mind, but all in all it'll do.

      That's because a tumultuous season that began with a 2-2 start that knocked the Tigers way down the bowl pecking order and led to the firing of coach Les Miles was followed by a fresh start under interim coach-turned new head coach Ed Orgeron. Under Orgeron, LSU was rejuvenated, went 5-2 and his hiring was well received within the team.

      The Tigers came up a bit short against the two best teams they faced under Orgeron -- Alabama (10-0) and Florida (16-10) -- but they won each of the other five games by double figures, including a 38-10 victory at Arkansas, a 38-21 victory over Ole Miss and a 54-39 win at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale.

      Now a chance to face No. 13 Louisville (9-3, 7-1 in the ACC) and quarterback Lamar Jackson -- the ACC Player of the Year and a Heisman Trophy finalist -- gives No. 20 LSU (7-4, 6-3 SEC) a chance to add a win against a highly ranked team and use it as a springboard into recruiting and the rest of the offseason.

      "I'm excited for our seniors, the guys that pulled together," Orgeron said. "This is going to be a fun trip, an exciting trip."

      This is the first time LSU and Louisville have met in football.

      Jackson has run for more than 1,500 yards, thrown for more than 3,300 yards and has accounted for 51 touchdowns.

      "Dynamic," Orgeron said of Jackson. "The last guy I've seen like that was called Michael Vick."

      The LSU defense ranks 13th in yards per game (323) and sixth in scoring (16.4 points per game). It has allowed the second-fewest touchdowns (16) in the country.

      "Tremendous challenge," Orgeron said. "I like (defensive coordinator) Dave Aranda in all our challenges. I like our defense. I know Lamar Jackson and the offense is going to pose problems, but it's something that we'll be able to do. We have a very good defense."

      Aranda is in his first season after coming over from Wisconsin and already he has been rewarded with a new three-year contract, which includes a raise and the title of associate head coach, sources told NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune.

      The deal is for between $1.8 and $1.9 million, according to a report by Foxsports.com, which says Aranda, 40, is believed to be the highest-paid coordinator in the country.

      Aranda got a one-year extension in the new deal. His original contract paid him $1.3 million in 2016.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --RB Leonard Fournette will all but be playing his final game at LSU, if his sore ankle allows him to. He has been slowed all season by the injury, but the five weeks between the end of the regular season and the bowl game could leave him healthy enough to play. He was considered one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders before getting hurt and in his finale, if healthy, he will be looking to show what could have been had he been healthy all along.

      --RB Derrius Guice has been mostly what Fournette was supposed to have been when he has filled in and the Tigers have found ways to keep both involved when Fournette has been available. When LSU has been successful it has been because of the way it has run with Fournette or Guice or both. The Tigers hope to be able to get both rolling in this game and send Fournette to the NFL on a high note and also show the future is still bright with Guice.

      --LB Duke Riley will be a busy man to trying to keep an eye on Louisville's elite dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson. With ILB Kendell Beckwith, the Tigers leading tackler, out because of a knee injury, Riley takes on an even bigger role than usual.

      --OLB Arden Key is back after being suspended for the regular-season finale against Texas A&M because of an unspecified violation of team rules. He leads the team with 10 sacks and he will be an important player in the Tigers attempts to disrupt Jackson.

  • Disappointed Cougars look to finish strong
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    This is not the matchup that Houston fans were hoping for halfway through the season, when it had a top-10 ranking, a rising star at coach and an outside shot at being one of the four teams selected for the college football playoffs.

    • But the Cougars lost three of their final seven games, including a 48-44 defeat at Memphis in their regular-season finale, and accepted a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl to take on Mountain West champion San Diego State. It will do with a new coach -- Todd Orlando is serving as the interim coach in place of Tom Herman, who left to take the head coach position at Texas. He's also had to readjust staff duties with four assistants leaving along with Herman.

      Orlando and Major Applewhite -- the offensive coordinator -- will interview for the fulltime coaching duties as well. Both are also candidates for other jobs, so this bowl game will be part of their resumes going forward. Expect both to have their units ready to go to take on the Aztecs.

      San Diego State is a challenging opponent. It has an excellent running game, led by running back Donnel Pumphrey. Houston is one of the top run defenses in the country, but it's also struggled against top teams. There's ample film out there for the SDSU staff to study on how to find the cracks in Houston's defensive armor.

      However, that cuts both ways. Houston's Ed Oliver is battling injury, but should be ready to go for the Las Vegas Bowl. One of the top freshmen in the country, he and senior linebacker Steven Taylor lead an opportunistic defense that prides itself on getting into the opposing backfield and disrupting the play. The Cougars punish opposing lines for blocking mistakes.

      Offensively, this team revolves around quarterback Greg Ward Jr. The winningest quarterback in school history by percentage, he's adept at running with the football, finding the safe and open option on third down, and hitting the deep ball.

      The Las Vegas Bowl kicks off on December 17, which has a couple of disadvantages. The early date means that the Cougars won't be able to use all of the practice sessions it's allowed to by the NCAA, limiting the benefit of the extra reps. It also means that the Houston players suffering minor injuries -- including quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and defensive tackle Ed Oliver -- won't have as much time to recover.

      "My point to Ed Oliver, and even to Greg Ward Jr., is we will monitor their practice reps," Orlando said. "Greg has to make sure he throws the football to keep his rhythm. I told Ed to get better. Get rested and get better because ... I want the 100 percent Ed Oliver. I already know what he can do so there's no need to make him do 1,000 reps before this game. We know what Ed can do. If we manage and rest him correctly, I expect for him to be full throttle come bowl game."

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --QB Greg Ward will exit Houston after the Las Vegas Bowl as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in school history., He enters the postseason with 52 passing touchdowns, and just passed Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware to move into fifth place on the career passing yards list. He's equally dangerous when he runs with the football, but he'll have to be careful. Backups Kyle Postma and D'Erqi King will both miss the bowl game with injuries, so Hunter McCoy will have to step in if Ward gets hurt.

      --DT Ed Oliver not only won the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honor, he was a unanimous All-AAC First Team selection. He finished the regular season with 19.5 tackles for loss, and his 43 solo tackles are the fourth-most of any defensive lineman in college football, regardless of class. He also forced three fumbles. The Cougars have a lot of defensive playmakers, but even among this group Oliver stands out as a force to be reckoned with.

      --LB Steven Taylor made the All-AAC First Team as a senior after earning second-team honors a year ago. He led the team with 71 tackles in his 11 games, and his 8.5 sacks were the third-most in the league.

      --Todd Orlando will be the interim head coach for the Las Vegas Bowl. He's the Cougars defensive coordinator, while Major Applewhite will serve as offensive coordinator. Both will be candidates for the permanent position, and Orlando will use the game and its preparation as a chance to audition for Houston and other programs. One of the top assistants in the game, he should be ready for the challenge.

  • Cardinals moonwalk into Citrus Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Louisville entered November with an outside shot at the college football playoffs, with its only defeat to that point a defeat at Clemson that wasn't decided until the game's final play. But losses to Houston and Kentucky to end the regular season dropped this team from the ranks of the contenders, and even out of a spot in the Orange Bowl.

    • Instead, the Cardinals will play Louisiana State in the Florida Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31. For the high-powered Cardinals offense, the Tigers imposing defense will be perhaps the biggest test of 2016 on the year's final day.

      It says something about the Cardinals that a matchup like this would be a disappointment. But a season that seemed to offer more tantalizing possibilities following a 63-20 blowout of Florida State instead ended with the bitterness of seeing the Seminoles snake the Orange Bowl bid away from the Cards thanks to a stronger finish.

      That said, the Cardinals remain one of the more entertaining teams in the country, and the Citrus Bowl managed to create one of the more intriguing matchups of the postseason in this ACC-SEC clash.

      LSU has the sixth-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 16.4 points per game. Only Texas A&M broke the 21-point barrier on the Tigers this season. While the LSU offense has been better the second half of the season, it's the defense that's the star of the show for the Tigers most of the time.

      On the other hand, Lamar Jackson is often good for that many points by himself -- he was responsible for 51 touchdowns during the regular season, 30 passing and 21 rushing. The Cardinals can score quickly or grind out drives, through the air or on the ground. Jackson is a human highlight film and has shredded defenses all season long.

      It will be a contrast in styles between a Tigers team that runs the ball and chews up clock and a Cardinals team that flies through the air and scores early and often. Or, more pessimistically, between an LSU team that sometimes struggles to score with a Louisville defense that lately has had a hard time stopping anyone.

      Jackson will be the player to watch. The Cardinals quarterback is one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy despite a difficult finish to the regular season. As he captures more postseason hardware, he'll have more eyes on him to see if he's been the benefit of bursting onto the scene and dominating subpar defenses, or whether he can handle one of the best defenses in college football.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --QB Lamar Jackson has already been named ACC Player of the Year, the first of many postseason honors he's likely to get. He was responsible for 51 touchdowns, 30 passing and 21 rushing. He's thrown for more than 400 yards twice in 2016, and set the school's single-season rushing record. That said, teams lately have had success by pressuring him while forcing him to stay in the pocket. If he breaks free of the initial attack, however, few are capable of chasing him down.

      --LB Keith Kelsey isn't as flashy as some of his teammates, but he's the most reliable performer. The three-year starter led the team with 81 tackles, and will be looking to end his college career on a positive note.

      --LB Devonte Fields was an All-ACC First Team selection, with five sacks and 42 tackles in his senior season. Fields can be as dominant as anyone in football, but he also has games where he's been neutralized with relative ease. If Fields is at his best in the Citrus Bowl, LSU will have a hard time keeping him out of its backfield.

      --S Josh Harvey-Clemons finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles despite missing two games to injury. He's an aggressive defensive back who's strong both in run support and pass defense.

  • Runners prominent in Pinstripe Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    New York's Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium looks to feature a duel of running backs when Pittsburgh and Northwestern meet on Dec. 28.

    • Each team goes into the game with a 1,000-yard rusher with junior running back James Conner leading the 22nd-ranked Panthers (8-4) with 1,060 yards and junior running back Justin Jackson leading the unranked Wildcats (6-6) with 1,300.

      It is one of 14 bowls that have a 1,000-yard rusher on each team.

      It's kind of appropriate since the last time the two teams met back in 1973 Tony Dorsett rushed for 265 yards for their Panthers in a 21-14 victory that tied the series at 3-3.

      Conner and Jackson also have figured in their team's passing game as well.

      Jackson, who ranks in a tie for 23rd in the FBS in rushing, has caught 33 passes for 210 yards. Conner, who is 46th in rushing, has 20 receptions for 299 yards. He has scored four times on receptions, but Jackson has yet to record a touchdown reception.

      And they will be going up against pretty good run defenses, at least statistically. Pittsburgh's run defense has held opponents to under 109 yards a game and ranks ninth in the country in the category. Northwestern has yielded just over 136 yards a game and ranks 32nd.

      That could leave things up to the respective quarterbacks. They both have completion percentages under the 60-percent threshold, but will be throwing against somewhat soft pass defenses.

      Northwestern has yielded nearly 265 yards a game to opposing quarterbacks, Pittsburgh a whopping 343.

      Wildcats sophomore Clayton Thorson, who has completed 58.1 percent of his attempts for 247 yards a game, may have a slight advantage over Pitt's Nathan Peterman.

      Peterman has a similar completion percentage (59.7) and has come on strong down the stretch to average just under 217 yards a game, but his top target, wide receiver Jester Weah, has only 34 receptions for 795 yards and nine scores.

      Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr has had a breakout year with 1,196 yards (15th best among FBS receivers) on 84 catches (a 7.0 average that ranks in a tie for 13th) with 12 touchdowns (tied for 12th).

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --RB James Conner recorded a third-career 1,000-yard season when he finished the regular season by rushing for 115 rushing against Syracuse, giving him a season-total of 1,060 yards. He topped the 100-yard mark in six games, including four of the last five outings. In addition to his 14 rushing touchdowns, he also had four scores on receptions.

      --WR Quadree Henderson gives the Panthers a big-play threat in the running game as well as being the team's No. 3 receiver with 23 catches for 241 yards. Henderson rushed for 555 yards five touchdowns on just 54 carries. He is a major asset in the return game as well with three kickoff returns and one punt runback for scores.

      --DE Ejuan Price is a first-team all-ACC selection for a second straight year after finishing second nationally in tackles for loss (1.8 per game) and fifth in sacks (1.0 per game). Half of his 42 tackles were for losses. He could be in store for a big game against a Northwestern team that gave up 35 sacks on the year.

      --CB Ryan Lewis goes into the bowl game as Pitt's leading tacklers with 77 stops. He has a sack among his 1.5 tackles for loss and also has picked off two passes to share the team lead in the category with CB Avonte Maddox. Northwestern is likely to test the Pitt secondary, just as recent Panthers' opponents have done.

  • Near-miss against Clemson sends Hokies to Belk Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    The Virginia Tech football team won't be travelling far to play in its 24th straight bowl game.

    • The 19th-ranked Hokies went 9-4, won the ACC's Coastal Division championship and took No. 2 Clemson down to the wire in Saturday night's ACC title game. Their reward is a trip to Charlotte to play Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

      The Hokies and Razorbacks (7-5) will face off Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.

      It'll be the first appearance for either team in the Belk Bowl. That's more remarkable for the Hokies, whose campus is less than a three-hour drive from downtown Charlotte.

      Tech fans travel well, particularly when road games are in North Carolina -- they came out in droves for games at UNC and Duke this season -- so a strong Hokies turnout is expected for the bowl game.

      "Our fans have been fabulous all season, and I know Hokie Nation will be anxious to join us in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl," Tech first-year coach Justin Fuente said in a written release. "As I told the team after [Saturday's] game, our seniors deserve to end their careers out on a positive note. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to this senior class and our staff will do everything possible to prepare our squad to face a quality foe from the SEC."

      This will be the first matchup between Virginia Tech and Arkansas in football. The Razorbacks are making their third consecutive and 42nd overall bowl appearance.

      The Hokies, who had a fourth-quarter comeback thwarted in a 42-35 loss to Clemson on Saturday night in Orlando, possess the longest current bowl streak recognized by the NCAA.

      "[Former Hokies coach Frank] Beamer and his teams built Virginia Tech into the nation's most consistent postseason participant and we appreciate the standard we're expected to uphold," Fuente said. "For myself, these seniors and this entire squad, we felt an obligation to extend Coach Beamer's bowl streak. Now, our objective is to prepare and play to the best of our ability to conclude this season with a victory. I can't thank Hokie Nation enough for their unwavering support and our team looks forward to seeing the stands packed with Maroon and Orange in Charlotte."

      The Belk Bowl has been a matchup of teams from the SEC and ACC since 2014. The SEC team has won both games -- Georgia over Louisville, 37-14, in 2014 and Mississippi State over N.C. State, 51-28, last year -- since the current selection format was adopted.

      Tech faces an Arkansas team that faced a gauntlet of formidable foes this season. The Razorbacks went 3-4 against ranked teams, with wins against then-No. 15 TCU, then-No. 12 Ole Miss and then-No. 11 Florida.

      Arkansas won its first three games and was 5-2 after taking down Mississippi at home on Oct. 15, but it sputtered at the end with three losses in its final five games.

      Junior quarterback Austin Allen, a Fayetteville, Ark., native, has led a balanced offensive attack for the Razorbacks. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,152 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

      Sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III has paced the Arkansas running game with 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns.

      Senior linebacker Brooks Ellis leads the Razorbacks with 78 tackles and seven tackles for loss.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH:

      --QB Jerod Evans has made quite an impression in his first season with the Hokies after transferring from Trinity Valley Community College in the offseason. Evans, a junior, has set school records this season in passing yards (3,303), passing touchdowns (27), total yards (4,062) and total touchdowns (37). The threat he poses as a passer and rusher, as well as his ability to limit mistakes -- he has thrown only seven interceptions -- has led Tech's offense to new heights. With one game remaining, the Hokies have already broken their single-season record for total yards (5,821 and counting).

      --WR Isaiah Ford needed only three seasons to rewrite Tech's receiving record book. And as a projected early-round NFL pick, this may be the end of his run as a college player. Ford became the first player in program history to gain 1,000 yards in a season in 2015, and he duplicated the feat this season. He leads the team with 73 receptions (two off his single-season record), 1,038 yards and seven touchdowns. Ford holds every major career receiving record at the school, including receptions (204), yards (2,911) and touchdowns (24).

      --DT Woody Baron has enjoyed a stellar senior season, racking up big numbers and accolades in the process. He has 17.5 tackles for loss this season, the most of any interior lineman at a Power 5 school this season and the most by a Tech defensive tackle since J.C. Price had 23 during an All-American season in 1995. Baron, who has 52 tackles and 4.5 sacks this season, was the Hokies' only first-team selection in media voting for the All-ACC team.

      --LB Andrew Motuapuaka has a nose for the football. The third-team All-ACC pick has three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries this season and he increased his career touchdown total to four when he returned a fumble 70 yards for a score against Virginia on Nov. 26. Motuapuaka, who leads the Hokies with 106 tackles and is tied for the team interception lead, has three fumble return touchdowns and one interception return touchdown for his career.

  • Defense vs. offense in Sugar Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spent some time last weekend watching Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 38-20 to win the Big 12 title, and there was no doubt about his take on the Sooners.

    • "Very impressed," Malzahn said. "You're talking about a big-time offense to go with a very good defense. We have a lot of respect for them."

      Malzahn will be making an even more extensive evaluation of the seventh-ranked Sooners (10-2) between now and Jan. 2, when his 17th-ranked Tigers (8-4) take them on in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

      "It's going to be a huge challenge," Malzahn said. "There's no doubt about that."

      The game will be a matchup of classic irresistible force versus immovable object.

      The Sooners have the third-highest scoring team in the country (44.7 average) and also rank No. 3 in total offense with their average of 557.3 yards per game.

      The Tigers rank No. 5 in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 15.6 points a game, and are No. 20 in total defense. They have limited their foes to 348.4 yards per game.

      Led by quarterback Baker Mayfield (305.8), Oklahoma nearly averages that passing (319.8) before adding in another 237.5 yards a game rushing (No. 21).

      "The thing that stands out to me is they run the football so well," Malzahn said. "They've got the explosive guys down the field. They've got one of the better quarterbacks in college football.

      "It'll be a good challenge. I think that will probably be a key to the game, their offense versus our defense."

      Auburn's chances of pulling the upset could very well lie in the health of the team. Injuries hit the Tigers hard down the stretch, sidelining key performers like quarterback Sean White and running back Kamryn Pettway on offense and free safety Johnathan Ford and cornerback Josh Holsey on defense.

      But Malzahn expects his team to benefit from the time between games.

      "I feel pretty certain we'll be close to 100 percent," Malzahn said. "We had some key injuries to impact players late in the season that really hurt us."

      NOTES, QUOTES

      PLAYERS TO WATCH

      --QB Sean White should be recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered late in the season. White was hurt against Ole Miss and played just one half against Vanderbilt, but after starting against Georgia, when he re-aggravated the injury, he did not play in the last two games. He is not a deep passing threat but his ability to run the offense could be a key as neither senior Jeremy Johnson nor junior John Franklin III has exactly lit it up in their appearances.

      --RB Kamryn Pettway returned for the Iron Bowl after missing the previous two games with a leg injury but rushed for only 17 yards on 12 carries against Alabama. Despite missing three games, he still finished as Auburn's leading rusher with 1,123 yards, an average of 124.8 per game. If he is healthy, Oklahoma is going to see a different runner from the one who struggled against the Crimson Tide.

      --DE Carl Lawson stayed healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, and it showed in his production. He led the Tigers in sacks with 9.0 among his 28 tackles, which means about one in every three of his stops was involved in a sack. He now faces the job of keeping versatile Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield contained.

      --SS Tray Mathews, a transfer from Georgia who earned a starting job last year, led Auburn in tackles with 73 stops, had an interception, and was credited with forcing a fumble. He also broke up two passes, one of them in the loss to Alabama in the regular-season finale. He likely will carry a big responsibility in slowing Oklahoma's running game in the bowl as well as containing the Sooners' passing game.

  • Five Heisman Trophy finalists named
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 5, 2016

    Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson and Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson headline a group of five Heisman Trophy finalists announced Monday evening.

    • Oklahoma junior quarterback Baker Mayfield, Sooners senior wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Michigan junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers are also finalists.

      Jackson is the first Heisman finalist in Louisville history. The 19-year-old set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for total touchdowns this season with 51 (30 passing, 21 rushing) after passing for 3,390 yards and rushing for 1,538 for the 13th-ranked Cardinals (9-3).

      "It really hasn't hit me yet," Jackson said of his Heisman candidacy, via ESPN.com. "I'm still trying to let it sink in."

      Jackson was named the ACC's Player of the Year. He is the first player in FBS history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards.

      Watson, 21, threw for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns while rushing for 529 yards and six more scores. He totaled 4,443 yards of offense in helping lead Clemson (12-1) to a second straight ACC championship.

      Watson and the second-ranked Tigers face third-ranked Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 with a spot in the College Football Playoffs Championship game on the line.

      He finished third in Heisman voting last year behind winner Derrick Henry of Alabama and running back Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.

      Mayfield, 21, led the country in completion percentage (71.2 percent) and quarterback efficiency after passing for 3,669 yards and totaling 44 touchdowns (38 passing, six rushing) for the seventh-ranked Sooners (10-2).

      He finished fourth in Heisman voting as a sophomore in 2015.

      Westbrook, 23, is fourth in the country in receiving yards per game (122.1) after hauling in 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns.

      Peppers, 21, is the first defensive player since former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in 2012 to be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

      The Wolverines' website bills him as the "most versatile player in college football," as Peppers has logged 933 snaps and played 15 different positions for sixth-ranked Michigan (10-2) this season.

      Peppers is tied for second on the team with a career-high 72 tackles and has four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in 2016.

      He leads the Big Ten and is tenth in the country with 14.8 yards per punt return this season.

      The 82nd Heisman Trophy will be awarded in a nationally televised ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 10.

  • LSU RB Fournette plans to enter NFL Draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 5, 2016

    LSU star running back Leonard Fournette announced Monday he will bypass his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

    • Fournette's last game with the Tigers will be in the Dec. 31 Citrus Bowl game against Louisville.

      "I will be declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft after our bowl game," Fournette wrote in a letter posted on his Twitter account. "I make this announcement now so that there will not be speculation and distractions while we prepare. I want everyone to know that I will forever treasure my experience as a Tiger."

      The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Fournette is projected as the No. 1 running back by NFLDraftScout.com.

      As a sophomore in 2015, Fournette had his best season when he finished with 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.

      Fournette ran for 2,987 yards and scored 33 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Tigers. He missed four games this season, including the finale against Texas A&M, with a lingering ankle injury. The junior rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns for a 6.5 per carry average in seven games this season. His 3,830 career yards total is 12th best in SEC history.

      The highlight of the season for Fournette was his 284-yard performance against Ole Miss on Oct. 22.

      LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Sunday night that he expected Fournette to be ready for the bowl game against Louisville.

      "He's been at every meeting bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, wanting to go," Orgeron said. "He's always indicated to me that he wants to represent the LSU Tigers in the best way. I don't see any other reason for anything to happen. Now if an injury prevents him, it prevents him. But I think if he's well, he's ready to go, he's going to play."