No. 12 Iowa State to face No. 25 Oregon in Fiesta Bowl

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — No. 12 Iowa State finished first in the Big 12 regular season for the first time and set a school record with eight conference wins.

The breakthrough earned the Cyclones a spot in their first New Year’s Six bowl, Saturday against No. 25 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

Like everything else in a pandemic, the experience will be a little different.

All extracurricular activities tied to the Fiesta Bowl were shelved, the sightseeing tours among them. When the game kicks off, it will be in an all-but-empty stadium instead of before 70,000 fans.

It will be a major bowl game on the field only.

“Our players, to have the opportunity to do the things that would typically be involved in the Fiesta Bowl would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “Certainly, missing out on that is tough. You would like to have the full experience of the Fiesta Bowl, but it’s the way that it’s gone this year.”

The Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of what coach Matt Campbell has built during five seasons in Ames.

The Cyclones (8-3) won three games his first season in 2016, but are now making their fourth straight bowl appearance, a program first.

Led by running back Breece Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy, Iowa State’s offense is nearing school records for scoring (32.8 points) and total offense (441.1 yards). The defense has been particularly stingy the past four games, allowing an average of 13.3 points.

All that’s left now is to win the program’s first January bowl game.

“To play in a game like this and to do things that this program has never done and, in a lot of ways, nobody thought could ever do, what an honor for us to be part of a game like this and to play an opponent like we’re about to play,” Campbell said.

A New Year’s Six bowl game is nothing new to Oregon (4-2). The Ducks won the Rose Bowl last season and are playing in their seventh major bowl in the past 12 years.

The road to this one was a little different.

Oregon was limited to six games after the Pac-12 Conference chose to start the 2020 season in November. The Ducks won their first three games, but lost the next two, including to rival Oregon State.

Oregon was a late add to the Pac-12 Championship game when Washington had to pull out and made the most of the opportunity, beating No. 21 Southern California 31-24 for its second straight conference title.

“Extremely proud of just the effort and the accomplishment thus far, but yet never content,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Our guys will never be. Being candid, it’s just not part of the DNA.”

ARIZONA CONNECTION: The two starting quarterbacks are quite familiar with each other and Arizona.

Purdy and Oregon’s Tyler Shough played baseball together when they were young and have the same quarterback coach. They played against each other at rival schools in the Valley of the Sun and work out together in the offseason.

Now they get to take their friendship/rivalry to the big stage.

“We haven’t talked much throughout the week, just because we know we’re competing and preparing to play against each other,” Shough said. “But I’m excited to go against him. We’ve had some great games in the past.”

HALL’S IMPACT: Oregon’s top priority defensive will be trying to slow Hall.

The sophomore running back was second nationally with 1,436 yards and has the nation’s longest streak of consecutive games with a rushing touchdown at 11. Hall has scored 19 touchdowns rushing and two more receiving this season.

“From his vision to his elite burst, his ability to break tackles and obviously he has a good O-line and tight ends that do a great job up front changing windows,” Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “The coaches do a great job changing surfaces and changing the looks within the formations, and they do a great job executing it.”

WOUNDED DUCKS: Oregon is hoping to get back several key players who have been injured.

Running back C.J. Verdell, the Ducks’ leading rusher, missed the Pac-12 title game with a knee injury that had been bothering him for several games. Offensive lineman Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, linebacker Adrian Jackson and cornerback Donte Manning also have been dealing with injuries, but Cristobal was optimistic they can all play.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”