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Baylor seeks positive end to turbulent season in Cactus Bowl

No college football program in America needs a fresh start more than Baylor.

The sexual assault allegations against football players led to the firing of coach Art Briles prior to the season and the Bears finished the regular season with six straight defeats.

Baylor gets the opportunity to finish the campaign on a good note prior to focusing on its future when it faces Boise State in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix on Tuesday (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Bears (6-6) will have a new coach next season in former Temple head man Matt Rhule but interim coach Jim Grobe will run the team one last time. He was the choice as the interim coach as Baylor dealt with the scandal that greatly tainted the university’s reputation.

The football equation was looking good when the Bears rattled off six straight victories to open the season. But the defeats piled up as the schedule got tougher and standout senior quarterback Seth Russell was lost to a season-ending ankle injury.

So getting one last chance to play a football game is coveted and the Broncos (10-2) figure to be a challenging opponent.

statbox“I’m really excited that our players have a chance to play in a bowl game this year,” Grobe told reporters. “I think we’ve certainly had some challenges this year, but we’ve got a wonderful group of young men that I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with.”

True freshman quarterback Zach Smith (10 touchdowns, six interceptions) will again start in place of Russell and he has a superb target in junior KD Cannon, who caught 73 passes for 989 yards and 11 touchdowns. Cannon ranks fifth in school history in both career receptions (181) and receiving yards (2,887).

Senior running back Shock Linwood, the school’s record-holder in career rushing yardage (4,213) and rushing touchdowns (36) decided to skip the contest to focus on a possible NFL career.

Boise State has a star running back in junior Jeremy McNichols, who may be playing in the final contest of his career.

McNichols is weighing whether or not to bypass his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

McNichols was fifth nationally with 1,663 rushing yards during the regular season and ranks seventh in school history with 3,159 career yards. He scored 27 touchdowns (23 rushing, four receiving) this season and his 44 career rushing scores are fourth most in Boise State history.

“We want him to stay. Obviously, we think he can do some great things here,” Broncos coach Bryan Harsin told reporters. “We really haven’t gotten into it that much. Certainly it’s out there and people are talking about it, but from our standpoint, that has not been the focus and it really hasn’t been a distraction in here.”

Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien threw for 3,341 yards and 23 touchdowns for an offense averaging 35.6 points. Senior weak-side linebacker Ben Weaver (99 tackles) leads the defense.

Baylor allows 30.4 points per game but has a solid safety in senior Orion Stewart (five interceptions).

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