By James Ward


Matt Rhule: The former Temple Owls head coach became the third straight coach to leave Philadelphia for a Power Five job, when he signed on to become Baylor’s new coach. Rhule led the Owls to back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in program history. Before Rhule, the Owls had only won 10 games once in a season, while losing at least 10 games nine times. In addition, Rhule helped Temple end a 39 game unbeaten streak against in-state rival Penn State in 2015. Underrated.

Lane Kiffin: The former Raiders, USC and Tennessee head coach became the new head coach at Florida Atlantic this week, hoping to continue his career rebuild after having success as the Alabama offensive coordinator. While the former Boy Wonder has a terrible reputation, FAU’s new head coach has NFL experience and coached at two prestigious universities. Kiffin took this job to rebuild his reputation as a head coach and will do everything he can to make that happen. Is it possible that Kiffin is underrated? 

Florida Group of Five: Usually Florida, Miami and Florida State represent the state of Florida’s major football programs, but with three new coaching hires this off-season, don’t sleep on the Group of Five schools in Florida. When USF hired Charlie Strong, Florida Atlanta hired Lane Kiffin and Florida International hired Butch Davis, the Power Five schools in Florida got legitimate in-state competition. With Scott Frost expected to succeed at UCF, is there a state with a better college football coaches than Florida? Underrated.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. This offseason coaching carousel saw Willie Taggart hired at Oregon and Jeff Brohm hired at Purdue. What do these guys have in common? They’re both former Western Kentucky head coaches. Including Bobby Petrino, who coached the Hilltoppers in 2013, the last three coaches for Western Kentucky are now coaching Power Five schools.
  1. Former Texas head coach Charlie Strong was only unemployed for two weeks, as this week, he signed on to be the new head coach at USF, taking over for Willie Taggart. Strong is just the fourth coach in USF program history.
  1. Jabrill Peppers was the only defensive player in New York for this year’s Heisman Trophy presentation, but I thought Jonathan Allen was the best defensive player in college football this season. The Heisman voters backed this opinion as Allen had 17 first place votes while Jabrill Peppers had just 11 first place votes. Allen finished in seventh place overall and was the SEC’s top finisher for the award this season.

Ward’s Winners:

Las Vegas Bowl: Houston and San Diego State (+3.5): There’s a lot to look into when it comes to handicapping bowl games. What’s on the line? Is it vacation or a work trip? Does the team want to be there? (Vegas insider Todd Fuhrman has a great, more in-depth guide of tips to betting bowl games.) Houston started this season with legitimate aspirations of playing on New Year’s Eve as a potential playoff team, but instead, the Cougars are playing in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17. In case you’ve been living under a rock, former Houston head coach Tom Herman is the new head coach at Texas and while Major Applewhite is already in place, it’s still a change in front for the Cougars. Applewhite will coach the bowl game, replacing interim coach Todd Orlando, who may leave Houston following the bowl game. Slightly awkard.

On the other side, San Diego State won the Mountain West Conference and the Las Vegas Bowl serves as a homecoming for their all-world running back Donnel Pumphrey, who’s in position to break Ron Dayne’s career rushing record. This is also the first time since Oct. 23, 2015 that the Aztecs are underdogs. Houston dominated Oklahoma and Louisville earlier this season, but the Cougars struggled with AAC opponents they should have overcome handedly, and like those AAC games, motivation may be an issue for the Cougars heading into this game. Houston has the No. 2 run defense in the country, but Memphis rushed the ball well against the Cougars in Houston’s regular season finale. San Diego State has one of the best defensive teams in the country, as the Aztecs are No. 12 overall in yards allowed per game. Motivation for the game favors the underdogs and I expect San Diego State to keep this game close. Take the points.

Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State (+1) and Toledo: This game features one of the best defenses in college football versus one of the best offenses in college football. Appalachian State has allowed just 17 points per game this season, and that includes a loss to Miami where the Mountaineers allowed 45 points. Appalachian State is 9-3 this season behind that defense, with their three losses to formidable opponents Tennessee, Miami and Troy. In addition to stopping Sun Belt opponents, the Mountaineers defense stymied Tennessee in the season opener. In addition to a strong defense, Appalachian State also boasts a tough rushing attack behind Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox, who combined for 2239 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.

Toledo’s offense is prolific behind quarterback Logan Woodside, who threw for 43 touchdowns with just nine interceptions this season. Toledo averages 329.1 yards per game in the air, which is good for No. 9 in the country. However, against the Rockets two toughest opponents, BYU and Western Michigan, Woodside threw two interceptions in each game. The Appalachian State defense is Toledo’s toughest task this season and I expect the Mountaineers to win this game easily behind their defense and strong run game.

Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis (+5) and Western Kentucky: If you like points, this game will be fun: An AAC vs. Conference USA matchup disguised as a Big 12 shootout. On paper, this game seems to give Western Kentucky the edge, but the HIlltoppers are a program currently influx. Their former head coach and offensive guru Jeff Brohm is the new head coach of Purdue. Interim coach and defensive coordinator Nick Holt (who admittedly wanted the head coaching job) will coach the Hilltoppers in the bowl game, with new head coach Mike Sanford watching on the sidelines. With a month off between games, I have a hard time believing Western Kentucky was focused on Memphis.

For Memphis, first year head coach Mike Norvell is hoping to build off the success the Tigers had this season, especially after a win against Houston in the Tigers regular season finale. Undoubtedly, Norvell used the extra month of practice to his advantage. The AAC is the new “feeder” conference to the Power Five, as three coaches from last year were promoted to the Power Five. Norvell has a chance to be the next coach to make the big move and a win against Western Kentucky would improve his stock. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller will return next season and after beating up on Houston’s defense in the regular season finale, the Tigers duo is confident heading into the bowl game. The coaching situation at Western Kentucky gives Norvell’s Memphis team a definitive advantage. The Tigers will be in this game late and an outright win is not out of the question.       

Last Week: 0-3

Season Record: 19-23

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 49-43-0

James Ward is the Associate Producer of the DA Show, as well as the Executive Producer of CBS Sports Radio Weekends and Sunday Morning Football. On Saturdays, you can find him in studio producing Eye on College Football and catching as many games as possible. Check him out on Twitter (@JamesWardCBS).


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