New Years Eve is one of the most popular days of the year for many reasons, but college football has recently made December 31st a date looked forward to for fans all over the country, as #1 Clemson takes on #4 Oklahoma, and #2 Alabama plays #3 Michigan State in the second ever College Football Playoffs. Last year’s tournament was packed with superstars and excitement, and while Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta aren’t running through that tunnel, Derrick Henry and Deshaun Watson will be, and fans should be ready to sit on the edge of their seats.
So while the CFP feature 3 games, there are still 37 other bowl contests to watch. Yes, 37, which is not a typo and no, you did not misread that either. This winter there are so many bowl games, and there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams, so colleges like San Jose State (5-7), Georgia State (6-6) and Nevada (6-6) were selected to bowl games based on their academics.
While it is going to be nearly impossible to sit and watch 40 college football games in two weeks, there are some contests that you cannot afford to miss, and they are listed in order here for you.
1) National Championship - January 11th – 8:30pm
We won’t know who will play in this match up until late the two semi-finals are over, but it will be a guaranteed blockbuster of a match up. With the star power of Alabama, the excitement of Clemson, the momentum of Michigan State and the swagger of Oklahoma, this is anyone’s playoff to win.
2) Cotton Bowl – December 31st 8pm
#2 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1) vs. #3 Michigan State Spartans (12-1)
This game won’t be as high scoring as the other semifinal, but it is going to be just as physical and exciting. These teams do not lack superstars, especially with the soon-to-be-crowned Heisman winner Derrick Henry leading the way for the Crimson Tide. The game kicks off at 8pm on New Year’s Eve, and if you plan on leaving the television during any of it to attend a party, your going to miss out on possibly the best four quarters of football all year.
Henry is the SEC’s single-season rushing leader after putting up 189 yards on the ground against Florida in the title game, which gave him 1,986 on the season. The Spartans allow just 113 yards on the ground, which is good for 7th in the nation, but they have not faced a player like Henry who carried the ball a combined 90 times for 460 yards in the past two weeks. To go along with his record setting yard tally, he also scored 23 touchdowns this season, all while carrying the ball at least 20 more times than anyone else in the country. He should open the offense for quarterback Jake Coker to stretch the field from time to time, and that is something the Spartans do not want to happen. They have allowed 122 passes of more than 10 yards, which lands them in the cellar of the FBS rankings in that category.
Michigan State used a 90minute, 22-play drive in the Big Ten title game to defeat Iowa and earn this spot in this CFP. They handed Ohio State their lone loss this season and ultimately kicked the Buckeyes out of the playoffs. For them to complete this impressive season, which would include defeating Ohio State, Iowa and Alabama, they will need to force turnovers. In the Crimson Tide’s lone loss this season to Ole Miss, Coker and company turned the ball over five times. Michigan State ranks third in the country with a plus 16-turnover margin, however Alabama seems to have fixed that problem and has only turned the ball over 10 times in their last 10 contests.
3) Orange Bowl – December 31st 4pm
#1 Clemson Tigers (13-0) vs. #4 Oklahoma Sooners
The Clemson Tigers put together it’s first 13-0 season in program history, and was rewarded with the top seed in the nation. Their prize for being number one? A Semi-final date with the Oklahoma Sooners, one of the hottest teams in the country.
Oklahoma has gained momentum with quarterback Baker Mayfield, and is putting up an average of 45 points per game, good for third in the country. Clemson has a great defense however, and yields just 167 yards per game in the air, 5th in the nation. They did surrender 224 yards and three touchdowns last week to North Carolina’s Marquis Williams though. The Tigers have a very good pass rush and they will need it to slow Mayfield down.
Offensively, Clemson counters with Deshaun Watson, a Heisman finalist and one of the most dynamic players in college football. He had 5 total touchdowns last week in the ACC title game to give him 41 on the season. He does have 11 interceptions however, including four in his last four games, and that will be the key for the Sooners. They need to force turnovers to keep Watson out of his groove. Look for Sooners’ cornerback Zack Sanchez to play aggressive and ball-hawk all night, just as he has all season with his six interceptions.
Clemson has played great all season and surely is deserving of the number one rank, however the way Oklahoma is scoring as of late, I think they have the advantage in this game. They have a new swagger to them and the way Mayfield is playing, I think the Sooners put up enough points to squeeze out the win, 35-31.
4) Rose Bowl - January 1st 5:00pm
#5 Iowa Hawkeyes (12-1) vs. #6 Stanford Cardinals (11-2)
Stanford is hands down the best two-loss team in the country. ‘Mr. Everything’ Christian McCaffery makes any Cardinals game worth watching, and putting his team up against Iowa in the Rose Bowl makes this a can’t miss event. The best part of the CFP only taking four teams for the playoffs is that the fifth and sixth ranked colleges are pitted against each other in a game of two teams feeling robbed of the tournament. Both Iowa and Stanford will be looking to make a statement that they belong in the top four, so expect their pride to create major fireworks in this game.
Iowa was undefeated heading into the Big Ten Championship Game, but still lacked the respect a no-loss team deserved, much to the fact that they avoided playing Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in the regular season. They were a scary team for the CFP system with single digit wins against Minnesota, Nebraska and Indian that proved Iowa was a good team, but not enough evidence to suggest they were a great team. If they were to end up in the playoffs, how would they fare against Alabama or Clemson? Would they get embarrassed playing elite competition, and show the system’s first flaw?
None of that matters now because they will be in the Rose Bowl on the first day of the new year taking on Stanford and McCaffrey, who recently broke Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards. Iowa has only allowed 10 rushing touchdowns this season, and although they have yet to face anyone as dynamic as McCaffrey, they have stifled opposing running backs all year long.
Iowa has scored 35 rushing touchdowns this season and the Cardinals have allowed opponents to rush an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Fortunately for Stanford, playing in the pass-happy Pac-12, they were able to make up for their questionable run defense with a good secondary.
Iowa has a lot to prove in this one and I see Kirk Ferentz putting together the right plan to pull this one out. It won’t be pretty, but they should win this one by a field goal, 24-21 or so.
5) Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl – January 1st 1pm
#7 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1) vs. #8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2)
A few weeks ago it looked like these two teams were destined to meet in in the playoffs, not the Fiesta Bowl. As the season started winding down, the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish were sitting with a top 4 rankings until losses to Michigan State and Stanford respectively dropped them to this bowl match up.
Even with the loss to Michigan State on a rainy afternoon a few weeks back, I still thought the Buckeyes had a chance of landing at #4. They are the defending champions and their lone loss this season was by 3 points. Sure, some of their wins were not impressive, but the way they embarrassed Michigan on the road at ‘The Big House’ was a pretty loud statement.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer is 9-2 in bowl games and will have his team fired up for a 1pm kick off. Offensively, he features two of the most exciting players in the country, running back Ezekiel Elliot, and quarterback J.T. Barrett. Elliott racked up 1,672 yards and 19 touchdowns, while Barrett picked up 781 yards and 10 touchdowns in the air to go along with 586 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. This all came while splitting time with Cardalle Jones.
Notre Dame counters with wide receiver Will Fuller who has caught 13 touchdowns and pulled in over 1,000 yards. When the Buckeyes defensive coordinator Chris Ash was hired to be Rutgers next head coach, there were concerns on who would set the defensive game plan for this match-up. Fortunately for Ohio State fans, Ash will still stay in his position under Urban Meyer for one more game. They will need him to be as creative as ever to find a way to stop, or at least contain, Fuller. His secondary has only allowed 12 passing touchdowns all year.
OSU has scored 100 points more than Notre Dame this season and while the Fighting Irish have some explosion on offense, they will not be able to keep up with the Buckeyes. Elliott is a big-game back, and there is no bigger game on his schedule than the Fiesta Bowl. Expect Ohio State to win this one by at least ten, perhaps along the lines of 35-20.
6) Allstate Sugar Bowl – January 1st 8:30pm
#12 Ole Miss Rebels (9-3) vs. #16 Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2)
The SEC and Big 12 were two of the most exciting conferences this fall, and these two teams finished with the second best records there. This should be a high scoring affair of two teams that score an average over 40 points per game, landing them both in the top-ten. This game could feature the most highlights of all the January 1st contests.
Receiver Laquan Treadwell leads the Rebels offense, having hauled in more than 1,000 yards this season, and is a monster for the Sooners to game plan against. He can shake cornerbacks loose for open field catches, or he can leap in the back of the end zone against the tallest defender, and either way, his quarterback feels like he is going to come down with the reception every time.
The Cowboys were not ranked for the first two weeks of the season, and didn’t play a ranked team until week 9 when they smoked TCU on the road. Their resume however was strong enough to land them in the top-20 with tickets to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
On paper, Ole Miss is the stronger team. They handed Alabama their only loss, and put up 43 points doing so, but they also lost to Memphis by 13 points. Oklahoma State had that great win against TCU, where they put up 49 points, but they were embarrassed by Oklahoma by 25 points. Regardless of past results, on January 1st, this should be a great game featuring two athletic teams and two high power offenses.
With the schedule of games lined up the way it is, the Sugar Bowl becomes the finale of the evening, and what a way to end the first day of the New Year, than by watching the Cowboys and Rebels battle it out. Ole Miss has just a bit more fire power on offense, so in a close game, I see them winning this one 37-28.
7) Russell Athletic Bowl - December 29th 5:30pm
#10 University of North Carolina Tar Heels (11-2) vs. #17 Baylor Bears (9-3)
This is going to be a fun game to watch, just don’t sit down and expect to get up anytime soon. This will be high scoring and it is possible that this contest features 100 combined points.
The Tar Heels lost in the ACC championship to Clemson and Baylor was surprisingly upset by Texas in the Big Ten title game. Both teams will look to end their season a high note, and it could come down to who has the ball last. Baylor leads the country with 48 points and 598 yards per game, while North Carolina isn’t far behind, putting up 41 points and 479 yards.
Injuries have Baylor in a bit of a scramble right now on their depth chart and might be left with just Lynx Hawthrone as their only quarterback. This will force them to rely on Shock Linwood who tallied 1,329 yards on the ground this season.
The Bears will need to put pressure on quarterback Marquise Williams, which is easier said that done. He is one of the most athletic players in Division-1. He put up 2,928 yards and 21 passing touchdowns to go along with 867 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground. He is tough to tackle and solid passing outside the pocket. He fought off a tough Clemson defensive front for 224 yards and three scores last week, and the Bears cannot offer the same pressure that the Tigers did.
If there were a healthy Baylor Bears team, I might think differently, but Williams is going to put up more points than the Bears can match. UNC wins this one 31-26.
8) Valero Alamo Bowl – January 2nd 6:45pm
#11 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) vs. #15 Oregon Ducks (9-3)
TCU could have been playing on New Year’s Day if it weren’t for injuries, but at least Gary Patterson’s team has over three weeks to heal up for the Alamo Bowl and should be as healthy as they have been in months. Quarterback Trevone Boykin and stud receiver Josh Doctson are getting closer to returning for this game and having this duo suit up for the Horned Frogs one more time makes this game must-see action. If they were announced to be defiantly playing, I would have this game listed higher. That is how exciting the Boykin-Doctson connection is.
The Oregon Ducks started the season 3-3 but have since ripped off six straight victories. With both teams averaging over 40 points per game, this should be a shoot-out. The difference should end up being TCU’s defense, which allows 26 points per game, compared to Oregon’s who allows 37. They give up a lot of points, and yards, and if Boykin is healthy, he should put up video game-like numbers.
This will be high scoring, but in every shoot out there is one man who fires last, and I expect that to be Trevone Boykin. The Ducks are the 98th worse team in scoring defense and TCU will exploit that multiple ways on January 2nd. I expect them to score 50, and win by at least 10 points.
9) Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl – December 31st 12pm
#9 Florida State Seminols (10-2) vs. #18 Houston Cougars (12-1)
Houston started their campaign 10-0, and after losing by a field goal to UConn in week 11, they handed out butt-whoopings to Navy and Temple on their way to their AAC title. First year head coach Tom Herman has had a successful start to his tenure as the Cougars lead man, but he has yet to face a team as dangerous as the Seminoles.
Florida State had a tough loss to top ranked Clemson but made an echoing statement two weeks ago defeating Florida 27-2. The Seminole defense has played tough the past month and only allows 16 points per game, which is good for 5th in the nation. Houston however enters the game averaging 41 points per contest, so one of these teams’ stats will change drastically.
For Houston, the game plan will be to try and stop Dalvin Cook, one of the top running backs in Division-1. A Heisman-snub, the sophomore running back who tallied 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns was not invited as a finalist to college football’s most prestigious award ceremony. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry and is a headache for any defensive coordinator. This season he has topped 100 yards 8 separate times and scored in 10 of his 11 games. He also averaged over 6 yards per carry in 9 of those contests.
We know Houston won’t shut down Cook, so how do they stay in the game offensively? They need to land big plays, just as they have all season long. They are top-ten in the country with 85 plays that have gone for over 20 yards, mainly off the arm, or heels, of Greg Ward Jr. The junior quarterback has had seven games where his longest run was over 20 yards, and 11 times where his longest completion has been at least that far. The Seminoles defense has only allowed 40 plays for over 20 yards, but all it takes is a big play, or two, and the Cougars could steal this bowl.
This game will be closer than expected, and just because Houston isn’t from a power conference, doesn’t mean they can’t hang with the big boys. I expect this game to go down to the wire, however I do believe FSU hangs on to pull this out at the end, somewhere to the tune of 30-24.
10) Buffalo Wild Citrus Bowl - January 1st 1pm
#14 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) vs. #19 Florida Gators (10-3)
Great defenses collide in one of the more interesting match ups of bowl season. Michigan showed dramatic improvement under first year head coach Jim Harbaugh and after a regular season finale let down at home against Ohio State, you can bet he will have the Wolverines ready to play on New Year’s Day. They allow just 159 yards per game in the air, good for 3rd in the country, and just 263 yards overall, good for 4th.
On the other sidelines, the Gators have struggled to put points on the board, but they haven’t had as many issues keeping them off for opposing teams either. They allow just 271 yards per game, which is 6th in the country. Florida also has a plus 25-turnover margin, which is impressive to say the least.
Michigan will send quarterback Jake Rudock under center coming off of four straight 250-plus-yard games. Florida will need to pressure him early and often to force mistakes and rushed throws. The Gators on the other hand have only scored 11 offensive touchdowns in their past six games. That lack of offensive production will make for a long day in the Citrus Bowl.
I don’t think Florida scores more than two touchdowns offensively against the Wolverines, and that will not be enough to beat Harbaugh and Rudock. Michigan takes this one in a low scoring game, 20-13
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