Saturday, December 19, 2015

Louisiana Tech: 2015 New Orleans Bowl Champions

It was quite the career capper for Louisiana Tech's seniors, as the Bulldogs rode a huge second half to a 47-28 New Orleans Bowl win over Arkansas State.
Louisiana Tech jumped out to a big 17-3 lead behind the arm of former Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel and the legs of NCAA record-setting running back Kenneth Dixon. However, Arkansas State came back and tied the game up at 17 by halftime, and the Red Wolves answered the Bulldogs' first touchdown of the second half, as well.
But after that, Louisiana Tech pulled away, thanks in large part to Driskel. He threw for three touchdowns and over 450 yards in a dominating performance, as the Arkansas State secondary had no answer for the Bulldogs' passing attack.
It was a tough ending of the year for the Red Wolves, who went undefeated in Sun Belt play, including an impressive 40-27 win over Appalachian State. Quarterback Fredi Knighton rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown, but he struggled as a passer, completing just half of his passes. The defense just couldn't keep up with that kind of production.
Here are three things we learned from the game.

1. Jeff Driskel got his redemption

Driskel really struggled while at Florida under Will Muschamp, and he ended up transferring to Louisiana Tech. Driskel's decline with the Gators really began in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, when his team lost to Louisville, 33-23, despite coming in heavily favored. This New Orleans Bowl, also at the Superdome, gave him a chance at redemption.
"It's amazing how life works, I get another chance at making a memory at the Sugar Bowl," Driskel said, according to the announcers.
He certainly delivered, with three touchdowns and over 400 yards passing. It was a nice career capper, even if it was unexpected.

2. NCAA record for Kenneth Dixon

Dixon had himself a day, setting the career NCAA rushing and receiving touchdowns record with 87. He also set a New Orleans Bowl record with four touchdowns, and he did it while running out of his jersey number.
Dixon might lose the record to Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who plays Pitt in the Military Bowl, but this was Dixon's day to cherish.

3. Bad experience for the Sun Belt

The Sun Belt got a nice win from Appalachian State over Ohio, but the league had a chance to show that its champion could hang with a simply above average Conference USA team. Instead, Arkansas State, which laid an egg in the New Orleans Bowl after going through the Sun Belt slate unscathed. Bowl games really shouldn't determine how we think of conferences, but they do, and this isn't great for the Sun Belt.

San Jose State: 2015 Cure Bowl Champions

The Cure Bowl, not even the No. 2 bowl on Orlando's depth chart, is a first-year endeavor that pitted 6-6 Georgia State against 5-7 San Jose State, which was only bowling because of good academic progress by previous SJSU teams.
There are probably too many bowls, in part because players are not paid money for these things. They instead get minor bowl gifts in addition to their other non-monetary compensation. That means all revenue rushes freely throughout the system, uninhibited by the kinds of natural market things* that tend to limit artificial sprawl in all other forms of labor-dependent entertainment.
If we were to start slashing bowls, this would be one of the very first to go. If we required winning records to make bowl games, this would've certainly been the easiest one to slash this year. If I were capable of feeling shame about enjoying a sporting event, it would've been while watching this game.
As Josh Oliver scored with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter to put the Spartans up by two scores, SJSU's players looked pretty happy. They were miming jump shots on the sideline when an Andre Chachere interception clinched a 27-16 win and 6-7 record. They surrounded retiring defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who joined them in dancing.
Those players looked pretty happy before the game, too. We know GSU's players were happy to be in Orlando, considering this was the first postseason football game in school history.
I don't know how much longer this market can bear expanding until things change. But as long as players still feel good about participating in these things, we might as well keep adding them.

Appalachian State Mountaineers: 2015 Camellia Bowl Champions

Despite taking the two middle quarters off, Appalachian State won its first ever bowl game in its first ever bowl appearance, beating Ohio, 31-29, in the Camellia Bowl, with a last-second field goal from Zach Matics, who missed his first two field goal attempts on the day.
The Mountaineers were ecstatic.
Appalachian State dominated the first quarter and most of the second quarter, scoring a touchdown and missing two field goals that could have put the Mountaineers up 13-0, but they were down by 10 at halftime after Ohio scored 17 unanswered points in the final 1:11 of the first half. After an Ohio field goal, the Bobcats got a pick-six to go up, 10-3. Then, five plays after the next kickoff, Ohio forced a fumble, then took two more plays to get into the endzone again.
Things kept going south for the Mountaineers in the second half, as Ohio linebacker Jovon Johnson just flat out took the ball from Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb for a touchdown.

Then the Mountaineers came back, scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and turning two straight interceptions into touchdowns.
Ohio came back with five straight points to take the lead again, but with the game on the line, Lamb stepped up, using both his feet and his arm to get the Mountaineers in field goal range. Then, Zach Matics hit a field goal to win it.

1. Appalachian State won its first bowl game

Appalachian State was an FCS team just two years ago, and despite being bowl eligible last season, the Mountaineers couldn't go to a bowl game because they were still a "transitional" team. However, they got to go this year after going 7-1 in the Sun Belt and 10-2 overall. Now, they end the season with 11 wins.
The future is certainly bright for App State, which will be among the Sun Belt favorites again next year, but this will be a memory to cherish for a long time. Winning a bowl game is the ultimate "we're here" moment for a former FCS team.

2. This was a game of runs.

This was essentially a basketball game, with lots of runs. Here's a closer look:
RUN 1: Appalachian State dominated the beginning of the game, scoring a touchdown and missing two field goals that could have made it 13-0. Ohio gained just four yards on its first four drives, and the Bobcats had -3 yards on their first three drives.
RUN 2: Everything changed quickly when Ohio scored 17 unanswered points in 1:11 before halftime. That came with a field goal, a pick-six, then a touchdown off a fumble. After halftime, the Bobcats returned a strip for a touchdown to go up 24-7
RUN 3: Appalachian State roared back with a touchdown, then two straight touchdowns off interceptions to go up 28-24.
Run 4: Ohio got a safety to make it a two-point game, then drove down the field to get a field goal and go up by one.
Run 5: Appalachian State drove back down the field to win the game.

3. There are not too many bowl games

Why aren't there too many bowl games? Because the Camellia Bowl was an awesome game. It featured two teams that absolutely deserved to be there, and two teams that got to face opponents in similar leagues. Moreover, it was an entertaining game, with big plays and huge momentum swings. This game won't be remembered forever, but it was a lot of fun for everyone involved.

Marian Knights: 2015 NAIA Football National Champions

The Southern Oregon Raiders fell to Marian of Indiana 31-14 in the NAIA football title game in Daytona Beach, Florida. 
It was a rematch of the 2014 championship that saw the Raiders win 55-31.

What: No. 7 Southern Oregon Raiders (11-2) vs. No. 6 Marian (Indiana) Knights (11-2) in NAIA championship game
When: 3 p.m. PST Saturday
Where: Municipal Stadium, Daytona Beach, Florida. Capacity: 9,600
TV channel: None
Live stream: Cable, satellite and internet customers who subscribe to ESPN can stream the game at or via the Watch ESPN app.
Forecast at kickoff: Clear, 57 degrees
Second half updates:
Ryan Retzlaff's scores his second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard pass from Tanner Trosin.  Southern Oregon cuts Marian's lead to 31-14 with 50 seconds left in the game.
Marian kicker Matt Plesac connects on a 37-yard field goal and makes it 31-7 with 5:39 remaining in the game.
Krishawn Hogan drags a couple Raiders into the end zone for a 55-yd touchdown. He's up to 147 receiving yards, his 12th straight 100-yard game. Marian leads Southern Oregon 28-7 with 7:57 left in the game.
Tanner Trosin bounces a backward pass to Jeremy Scottow, who fires 32 yards into the end zone to Ryan Retlzaff. Southern Oregon narrows Marian's lead 21-7 with 11:28 left in the game.
Maurice Woodard runs in another touchdown, this time from 18-yards out. Marian went 69 yards on eight plays during the scoring drive and leads Southern Oregon 21-0 with 14:20 left in the game.
First half updates:
Krishawn Hogan scores on a 2-yard keeper to extend Marian's lead to 14-0 with 1:05 remaining in the second quarter.
Marian's Maurice Woodward strikes first with a 19-yard touchdown rush to cap a 13-play, 76-yard drive. The Knights lead the Raiders 7-0 with 4:55 left to play in the first half.

Utah: 2015 Las Vegas Bowl Champions

It was 35 years ago to the day that BYU trailed SMU 45-25 with only four minutes remaining in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. On that day, Jim McMahon and the Cougars responded with 21 points in the final 240 seconds to win 46-45 in one of the most memorable bowl games in college football history.
In 2015, the Cougars came up just a bit short in their comeback attempt.
Thanks to five BYU turnovers on their first five possessions of the game, the Cougars fell behind Utah 35-0 in the first 11 minutes as Utah turned each turnover into a touchdown -- two directly via pick sixes. The deficit proved to be seven points too many for the Cougars.
Story of the game: It has to be the turnovers. Based on how the final three quarters of the game went, if not for the horrid start to the game, BYU probably wins this one. The fact of the matter is Utah's offense was not good on Saturday. Of the Utes touchdown drives, none of which occurred outside the first quarter, the longest was 39 yards. Utah only had one drive longer than that the entire game, and it ended with a turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter.
All in all, BYU actually out-gained Utah 386-197 in the game, as the Utes averaged only 3.1 yards per play. In essence, BYU handed Utah a 35-0 lead early, and then the Utes held on for dear life.
Player of the game: I'm actually going to go with Utah punter, and Ray Guy award winner, Tom Hackett. As I said, Utah's offense was basically non-existent during this game. If not for Hackett averaging 49.5 yards on his six punts -- three of which were over 50 yards, four of which pinned BYU inside its own 20-yard line -- the Cougars may have been able to pull off this comeback.
Oh, and then there was Hackett running this fake punt in the second half to pick up what seemed like a pivotal first down at the time. BYU had scored two touchdowns to open the half and steal all the momentum, and for a moment you thought this fake punt would put the final nail in BYU's coffin. It didn't, though, because Hackett then came off the field and was replaced by Utah's impotent offense.

Highlight of the game: This was the second BYU turnover, which is also the first pick-six. Utah's Tevin Carter snagged this ball out of the air after the deflection and took it 28 yards to the house.
Tweet of the game: There were a lot of good tweets during this game, particularly early when Utah jumped out to that 35-0 lead, but my favorite was actually a quote of something Brent Musberger said while calling the game.
Brent is a national treasure.
Grade: This game was a lot more exciting than anybody thought it would be after the first couple minutes of action, but even so, I just can't give it an "A." The fact is that while there was nearly an epic comeback, it's not like either team played very well. I mean, BYU did have five turnovers after all, and as I mentioned earlier, Utah's offense averaged only 3.1 yards per play. B+

Northwest Missouri State: 2015 NCAA Division II Football National Champions

Northwest Missouri State is the Division II Champion for the second time in three years, beating Shepherd, 34-7, in Kansas City. The Bearcats finished the season 14-0, dominating nearly everyone in their path. Up to this point, they'd outscored opponents by an average of 41.9-12.7. They didn't stop in this one, by blowing out the Rams, who had never been to this stage.

It was a banner day for Northwest Missouri State quarterback Brady Bolles, who was ultra-efficient in shredding the Shepherd defense. He finished by completing almost 75 percent of his passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. This was the 13th time this season that Bolles has thrown for more than 200 yards. He's thrown for 300 on four occasions and threw for 400 once. The Bearcats got solid rushing help from Phil Jackson and Cameron Wilcox, who combined for 170 yards on the ground.

Shepherd couldn't get anything going on offense all game, and when Northwest Missouri State went up 24-0 in the second half, the game was essentially over. The Rams couldn't throw the ball more than a few yards down the field — quarterback Jeff Ziemba's longest pass was 34 yards — and the running game couldn't get doing at all, as they finished with -39 rushing yards, including sacks.

Arizona Wildcats: 2015 New Mexico Bowl Champions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Anu Solomon threw two touchdown\ passes and ran for another score to help Arizona hold off pesky New Mexico 45-37 on Saturday in a wild New Mexico Bowl. Arizona (7-6) and its quick offense overwhelmed the Lobos (7-6) in a game that saw New Mexico surge late after being down as many of 18 points.

Jared Baker ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns, and Cayleb Jones had 182 yards receiving and a touchdown. Linebacker Scooby Wright III, who battled injures all season, came back for the bowl game and made two sacks.

New Mexico quarterback Lamar Jordan ran for three touchdowns and passed for another before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury. The Lobos then turned to a committee of running backs to get back in the game.

North Carolina A&T: 2015 Celebration Bowl/HBCU National Champions

North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn State 41-34 in a wild debut for the Celebration Bowl.
If you're wondering what exactly the Celebration Bowl is, you're not alone. Rather than participate in the FCS Playoffs, the SWAC and MEAC champions are meeting in the Celebration Bowl, with the winner claiming the crown of historically black college and university (HBCU) national champion. It's the first matchup of this type for HBCUs since 1999, which the Heritage Bowl ceased operations. The Heritage Bowl ran from 1991-1999, and previously, the Pelican Bowl was held in 1972, 1974, and 1975.
Aside from the fun plays on the field, there's lots of reasons this game is a good thing.

It's great exposure.

And with the national TV coverage and early time slot, it's great exposure for schools and conferences that don't normally get much. The FCS Playoffs have gotten more coverage in recent years, but those games don't start appearing on cable until fairly late in the tournament. The Celebration Bowl kicks off on the first Saturday of bowl season on a major network, before any other bowls are there to soak up the attention.

The schools make more money.

Each conference will bank a $1 million payout, which means this game is much more lucrative than a Playoff appearance. That's $100,000 for each SWAC team, and nearly $91,000 for each MEAC team. If a team wants to host a first round FCS Playoff game, they need to submit a minimum bid to the NCAA of at least $30,000.

It's a competitive matchup.

Unlike most HBCU's past forays into the FCS Playoffs, this game should actually be pretty close. The last HBCU team to win the FCS title was in 1978, and they haven't gotten particularly close since. To play in this game, the MEAC gave up its automatic bid just to play in this game, and the SWAC didn't have an automatic bid into the Playoffs anyway.
And this year's game was great from the first whistle. There were four touchdowns in the first eight minutes of the game, and the shortest of them was 74 yards. Each team had a long punt return for a touchdown in the first half. North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. And then there was the case of Alcorn State's Marquis Watford, who took out some frustrations by punching clean through a dang whiteboard.
The second half wasn't quite so explosive, but Alcorn State made up a two touchdown deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, with the game-tying touchdown pass coming from wide receiver Tollette George to quarterback Lenorris Footman. They would tie the game again later in the quarter on a fake field goal that went for a touchdown.

But despite all that craziness, it wasn't enough. Tarik Cohen scored the game-clinching touchdown on a 73-yard run right up the gut that was only his third-longest run of the game. Alcorn State drove all the way to the A&T nine yard line with 13 seconds left, but their final chance to tie the game fell incomplete in the end zone.
Cohen was absolutely sensational for the Aggies, and finished with 295 yards and three touchdowns on only 22 carries. Before this game, Cohen was probably best known for catching footballs while doing backflips. He was also their leading receiver in the game with 53 yards. A&T more than doubled Alcorn State's total yardage figure, 544 to 260, and it was the repeated big plays that made the difference for the Aggies.

Mount Union: 2015 NCAA Division III Football Champions

SALEM, Va. (AP) — Mount Union is back on top of Division III football, and coach Vince Kehres finally has one of his own.
Taurice Scott threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score and Mount Union won its NCAA-best 12th football title, beating St. Thomas of Minnesota 49-35 on Friday night in the Division III championship game.
It was the Purple Raiders' 11th consecutive appearance in the game, but the first time in the last three years with Kehres as the coach that they came out on top.
"It means a lot," Kehres said after adding to the family lore that saw his father, Larry, guide the Purple Raiders to the first 11 titles. "I had the great mentor and a lot of mentors to get to this point. ... I think it feels great for a lot of us."
Logan Nemeth ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns for Mount Union (15-0), which took over by scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, turning a 21-14 deficit into a 35-21 lead in a span of just over five minutes. And they did it while working against a wind that had limited them to 30 yards in the first quarter.
"The offensive staff wanted to be able to run the football in the third quarter going into that wind," said Kehres, who was part of 10 titles as a player and assistant coach under his father.
They did it with a fast-paced approach, something they haven't used much in the playoffs.
Jordan Roberts ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns for St. Thomas (14-1), which was appearing in the game for only the second time. The Tommies also played for the title in 2012, losing 28-10 to Mount Union.
"I've said it now for many years," coach Glenn Caruso said. "They are the standard in Division III."
The Purple Raiders took command with three four-play touchdown drives sandwiched around a turnover and a three-and-out by the Tommies. St. Thomas rallied with a fluky touchdown, but the Tommies had no answer for the big-play capabilities of the Purple Raiders.
"Three of the four times that we scored, they came right back and scored," Caruso said. "That's the sign of a championship team."
In the 21-0 third-quarter burst, Scott hit Roman Namdar for 63 yards to highlight the first drive, a fumble recovery set up the second, and Nemeth had a 42-yard run on the third drive before Scott's 18-yard scoring run.
St. Thomas got within 35-28 when Nick Waldvogel fumbled on run up the middle, and the ball bounced sideways and into the hands of quarterback John Gould, who outran the defense 55 yards.
Mount Union let Nemeth do most of the heavy lifting in the final quarter as it chewed time off the clock.
Unable to generate any offense moving into the stiff wind in the first quarter, Mount Union scored on its first two possessions of the second quarter with the wind at its back. Nemeth set up the first score with a 40-yard run, and Scott hit Lane Clark from 7 yards out for the touchdown. It was the 42nd touchdown pass of the season for Scott. He later hit Clark for another, from 13 yards, to make it 21-all.
After a three-and-out for the Tommies, Nemeth had runs of 15 and 3 yards, and Scott hit Namdar for 29 yards and the touchdown, his 20th scoring catch of the season.
The Tommies got help from a pass-interference call in converting a fourth-and-6 play from the Mount Union 30. After a holding call, Gould hit Charlie Dowdle for 25 yards. Dowdle initially bobbled the ball as he passed through the end zone, but a review ruled he gained possession in time for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
It was the largest deficit the Purple Raiders have faced this season, and the Tommies doubled it in the second quarter, again with help. It came in the form of a fake punt by Mount Union that failed, giving St. Thomas the ball at the Purple Raiders 34. Eight runs later, Jordan Roberts ran it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
It was Roberts' 33rd rushing touchdown, tops among NCAA players at all levels this season.