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Takeaways from 1st day of bowl season

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 12/16/2018 By Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg

a group of people wearing military uniforms: Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford, right, embraces Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards after the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford, right, embraces Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards after the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Saturday marked the first day of the postseason with five bowl games. Here are our takeaways from those games and what they may mean for the programs involved moving forward.

Year 1 of Arizona State’s ‘New Leadership Model’

After winning seven games last fall, Arizona State made the decision to fire Todd Graham. ASU won 28 games in Graham’s first three seasons as head coach, but went 6-7, 5-7 and 7-6 in the subsequent three seasons.

“Our athletic department, university and community expect our football program to compete on the field for Pac-12 titles and qualify to participate in major bowl games on a regular basis. In evaluating Todd’s body of work over a four-year period, it became clear that a change is necessary,” ASU athletic director Ray Anderson said.

To move on from Graham, the school paid his $12 million buyout and Anderson — out of seemingly nowhere — hired Herm Edwards as Graham’s successor. In hiring Edwards, who hadn’t coached since being fired by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2008 season, Anderson touted a “New Leadership Model” where Edwards would essentially serve as a “CEO” and “central leader” of ASU football. Most observers of the sport were, to put it lightly, skeptical of the move.

After Saturday’s 31-20 loss to Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl, the first year of the “New Leadership Model” ended with the same record as Graham’s final season: 7-6.

It’d be shortsighted to write off the Edwards hire after one season. It takes time for a new coach to put an imprint on the program. But with quarterback Manny Wilkins graduating and star receiver N’Keal Harry moving on to the NFL, it’s hard not to wonder if things will start to trend downward in a hurry.

In appreciation of Jeff Tedford and Fresno State

It’s hard to overstate how good of a job Jeff Tedford has done at Fresno State. When he arrived two seasons ago, the Bulldogs had just endured a 1-11 season. In the two seasons since, the Bulldogs have gone 22-6, including two bowl games and the Mountain West title.

The second of those two bowl wins came Saturday, with the Bulldogs beating Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl. A 70-yard pick six by Anthoula Kelly was the highlight of the first half for Fresno. In the second half, Ronnie Rivers took over with two touchdown runs, including a 68-yard burst. Rivers finished the game with 212 yards to earn MVP honors.

The win was Fresno’s 12th of the season, a program record.

Tulane’s first bowl win since 2002

Back in October, things weren’t looking good for Willie Fritz and Tulane. After a 27-23 loss to SMU on Oct. 20, the Green Wave dropped to 2-5 on the year and looked well on their way to another losing season — the 15th in the last 16 seasons.

But things turned around. From there, Tulane won four of its final five games to clinch bowl eligibility before capping off that turnaround with Saturday’s 41-24 triumph over Louisiana in the Cure Bowl. The win marked Tulane’s first bowl victory and second winning season since 2002, giving Fritz some much-needed positive vibes headed into the offseason.

A big part of Tulane’s second-half surge was Fritz’s decision to put Justin McMillan, a graduate transfer from LSU, into the starting lineup at quarterback. McMillan, who will be back next season, completed 11-of-18 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 72 yards and another score. To put the game out of reach, McMillan converted two pivotal fourth downs in the final minutes, including a 16-yard touchdown run.

Utah State dominates with a short handed staff

Utah State trounced North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl, 52-13, tying a school record with 11 wins on the year. And the Aggies did so without the majority of their coaching staff.

Matt Wells, USU’s head coach the past six seasons, left the program for Texas Tech, taking much of his staff with him. That left assistant Frank Maile as the interim head coach — one of apparently just four full-time coaches who remained with the Aggies on Saturday. One coach who was on hand was offensive coordinator David Yost.

Yost has already signed on to join Wells with the Red Raiders, but called the game for USU one last time on Saturday. Texas Tech fans had to be impressed with what they saw as Yost’s offense scored more than 50 points for the seventh time this season.

North Texas’ rough day

The New Mexico Bowl was expected to be one of the more competitive games of the early bowls, but an injury to North Texas quarterback Mason Fine changed things. Fine appeared to pull his hamstring while running the football in the first quarter. He tried to return to action, but was too hobbled to continue.

That sent UNT head coach Seth Littrell into scramble mode, looking for any quarterback to run the offense. In all, four quarterbacks attempted a pass for the Mean Green. Combined, they completed just 17-of-34 throws for 193 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

It was a rough afternoon for North Texas, a team that was hoping to reach the 10-win mark for the first time in program history. Though it was an unfortunate way to end the season, Littrell, after being courted by Kansas State, will return in 2019. Fine, who admitted to pondering a graduate transfer, will be back for his senior season.

A positive first year for Billy Napier at Louisiana

Not much was expected from Louisiana in Billy Napier’s first year. The Ragin’ Cajuns were picked to finish fourth in the Sun Belt West in the conference preseason poll. Instead, ULL won its final three regular season games to clinch bowl eligibility and win the division.

The Ragin’ Cajuns lost to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt title game before losing to Tulane on Saturday, so the season didn’t end the way they wanted it to. But this was certainly a positive debut for Napier, who was hired to replace Mark Hudspeth after stints as an assistant at Alabama and Arizona State.

With the Sun Belt’s top recruiting class set to sign next week, things are looking good in Lafayette.

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Related slideshow: Best of bowl season (provided by USA Today Sports)

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