Welcome to the College Football Bowl Season - the most wonderful time of the year!
If you followed our preview last year, and took the advice to Las Vegas, you would have been rewarded in 12 of the final 14 games. Hopefully this year we can bring even brighter holiday cheer!
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
Virginia vs. Navy
Navy will be only 150 miles away from campus, at the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland, and will need all the support they can get from their supporters, as there is no doubt they are still feeling the emotions from losing to Army a few weeks back.
Navy began their 2017 campaign 5-0 but has since lost 6 of 7, including that 14-13 upset by Army. That game was played in a blizzard, and Navy missed a last second field goal for the win. To right the ship, Navy will use their 2nd ranked rushing attack. Averaging 350 yards per game, expect more handoffs than you have ever seen in a football game, especially since Virginia is outside of the top 75 in the country at stopping the run. Quarterback Malcom Perry has started just two games in place of injured Zach Abey, and in those contests, he rushed for 532 yards and 5 touchdowns. How’s his arm? It doesn’t matter. The Midshipmen have only passed the ball 100 times all season... In 12 games!
Virginia is trying to turn their momentum around, as they enter the Military Bowl having lost 3 in a row. Quarterback Kurt Benkert passed for over 3,000-yards in his senior year, breaking Matt Schaub’s school record. Almost one-third of his yards went to his favorite receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Look for the two to connect for short underneath passes often in this game, as they will need to keep the clock ticking on their side. They can’t let Navy’s running backs control the game flow.
Vegas is letting us decide on the winner, as the spread is a “pick.” Will Navy run all over Virginia, or can Kenkert cap off the most successful passing season in Cavalier’s history? When in doubt, take the team that can run really well, against the team who cannot defend the run. Navy wins this one in a very close game.
Camping World Bowl
No. 22 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State
What a game! We are spoiled with this match up.
The nation’s top passing offense, with a senior quarterback in his final game, against a very tough passing defense that has only allowed one more touchdown through the air than balls they intercepted. Woah.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph has a chance to catapult up the NFL draft boards with a good showing in this game. He is likely already one of the top fivers passers on the radar already, but he can separate himself from the pack quickly here. He led the country with over 4,500 yards passing and also accumulated these solid statistics: 35 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions and he connected on 65% of passes. He will be looking for All-American James Washington often in this game. The nation’s top receiver will be adding to his 1,400-yard, 12-touchdown season, which also saw him lead the country with catches of over 30-yards, 40-yards and 50-yards or more.
The Virginia Tech defense has heard this before. Facing a big, tall, strong-armed quarterback that will line up under center and pick apart their defense. Well, the Hokies have responded by allowing these opposing passers to average just 186 yards per game with 14 scores and 13 picks. The VT defense allows less than 2 touchdowns per game. Offensively, they counter with freshman quarterback Josh Jackson. In his first season as a Hokie, he led the team to 9 wins and put up 2,700-yards and 19 scores. His former partner in the backfield, running back Travon McMillian, is not playing in the bowl game as he has decided to transfer.
The Hokies have their hands full covering the field from Rudolph’s reign, but Mason will also need to be at his best to find the small windows where he can connect on his passes. It will be a chess match in this one, I just do not think the Virginia Tech offense will be able to match whatever Oklahoma State can put up. I don’t expect a big score in this one, but one that gets Oklahoma State in the winner’s column. Vegas favors them by 5 points. That is too much of a margin for the Hokies to lose by. They may not win, but take Virginia Tech with the points, and sit back and watch a great bowl game.
Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU
Bryce Love. That is the number one reason to watch this game. The Heisman Trophy runner up is playing against the toughest defensive front he has seen all season in the TCU Horned Frogs.
Stanford finished 9-4 on the season, with 7 wins inside the Pac-12 and lost in the conference championship. The Cardinals were highlighted all season long with highlights of Love out-running 11 opposing defenders up and down the field. This year he rushed for 1,970 yards and was tops in the country in runs of 20, 30, 40 and 50 or more yards. He also averaged 8 yards per carry. Enjoy watching every carry Love has in this game, because it could be a breakaway run for a touchdown any time he takes the handoff.
While Love is going up against the toughest line he faced all season, well, vice versa. This Horned Frogs defensive unit has not lined up against a running back with the explosiveness and run away speed as he has. This season they limited opposing halfbacks to just 3.2 yards per carry and feature two sack-monsters in Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu who combined for 20 sacks. Offensively Kenny Hill led an offense that put up over 30 points per game.
This will be a close one. TCU is giving 2.5 and while you may think Bryce Love will run away with this one, I this defense will be the difference maker. You can’t stop Love, not by a long shot, but you can limit the big runs. The rest of Stanford’s offense cannot carry the load when that happens. TCU wins this game by a field goal, so take the Horned Frogs and give the points.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
No. 18 Washington State vs. No. 16 Michigan State
In September, Washington State was my pick for the Pac-12 champion, and Michigan State wasn’t even in the picture in the Big-10. Here we are in December, and boy was I wrong. Washington State may be lucky to be in the Holiday Bowl, while the Spartans should be really upset they aren’t in the Outback Bowl.
Michigan State’s head coach Mark Dantonio looks for his 100th career win as his 9-3 Spartans enter as the favorites in this bowl game. On selection Sunday, it seemed as if his team was heading to a New Year’s bowl, however when the teams were announced, it was Michigan, not Michigan State, who got into the January 1st Outback Bowl. Remember when State beat their Wolverine rivals this season? Well, the Bowl committee didn’t. State had 2 more Big-10 wins as well, but regardless, here they are in the Holiday Bowl. They are led by quarterback Brian Lewerke who passed for 2,500-yards and ran for another 485.
Washington State brings their 15th ranked defense against the Spartans. They have allowed just 8 passing touchdowns all season and will make Leweke work for every completion he makes. Offensively, Luke Falk and the Cougars have the 2nd best passing game in the country, averaging 375 yards per game. No one throws, nor completes more passes per game than Falk.
Michigan State has 13 true freshmen on the roster, and they will all get into this contest. Dantonio is looking for win number 100 and his Spartans are getting 2.5 points on the spread. That will not be enough to cover Falk and his crazy passing game. Expect a unique game plan, and some different offensive schemes to get this done. Cougars win by more than 3, so give the points and enjoy one heck of a game.
Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M
It’s the last game for the Aggies until Jimbo Fisher takes over, and interim head coach Jeff Banks will have his hands full with a Demon Deacon team that defeated 5-bowl eligible teams this season.
Kevin Sumlin was on the hot seat from week 1, and it only got hotter right up until November 26th when he was given his termination notice. The 6-year head coach at Texas A&M won 51 games, but that wasn’t enough, and the University brought in Fisher and paid him $75 million for 10 years. Woah.
Back to the match up. Is Fisher going to have any input on the team in this contest? It’s likely he will, especially since it seems that Florida State doesn’t want him near his former Seminoles sidelines for their bowl game. The Aggies star player is Christian Kirk who is a solid receiver, with 730 yards and 7 scores, and is also one of the top punt returners in the country. He led the country with an average return of 23 yards.
Wake Forest won 7 games this season including victories over Boston College, Louisville, NC State and Syracuse. They were led by All-ACC second teamer John Wolford, who was tops in the conference with a 157.5 rating. He set a Demon Deacons record with 3,400 yards and 25 scores. His top receiver Greg Dortch is out for the season with an injury, so next in line is Tabari Hines, who has just 600 yards and 5 scores.
Wake Forest is giving a field goal on the books, and that should be an easy bet. Their quarterback will be making his mark on the game early on, and A&M will have trouble keeping up. This could be a double-digit point victory for the Demon Deacons.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 24 NC State vs. Arizona State
It’s a rematch! .... From 1974. That was the last time the Wolfpack and Sun Devils met.
Arizona State’s quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 3,000 yards and running back Demario Richard gained another 977 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Richard will reach the 1000-yard mark before halftime, and when he and Wilkins are carving up the defense on the ground, it will open up the passing game downfield for them to air it out.
NC State’s signal caller Ryan Finley and his top wide out Kelvin Harmon connected for 993 yards, and when they are in sync, they can be as dangerous as duo in the country. As a team, the Wolfpack finished 6-2 in the ACC and boast wins over Florida State, Louisville, Boston College and Pittsburgh. Of their 4 loses, only Notre Dame beat them by more than one touchdown, and that includes losses to Clemson and South Carolina.
The Wolfpack are favored by 6.5 points, and I think that is too much. Wilkins and Richard are great athletes and will find room to make plays. Take the Sun Devils and the points and feel confident in that pick.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Kentucky vs. No. 21 Northwestern
This is a great spot for both programs. These schools that have the alumni support and the facilities to become a major Power-5 brand, and this game could really go a long way for the winner. Also, they are both nicknamed the Wildcats, so there are extra bragging rights in the Animal Kingdom.
Kentucky started 5-1 and then all went downhill fast once the SEC schedule kicked in. A win earlier in the season over South Carolina was the highlight for these Wildcats. Running back Benny Snell Jr. recorded 18 scores and over 1,300-yards, with 12 of those touchdowns coming in the final 5-weeks of the season. When he gets going, he can really rack up the yardage. He hit 150-yards 3 different times.
Northwestern won 9 games this season, including their final 7 contests. They did so with a legit defense and an offense that scored an average of 35 points per game during that winning streak. These Wildcats beat Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue. Running back Justin Jackson ripped off 1,100 yards and can be a game changer for Northwestern. Defensively, this bunch allowed less than 20 points per contest.
Vegas is giving Kentucky a 7-point head start, and while that is a lot of points in a game featuring two good teams, I just think the Northwestern Wildcat defense is too tough for Kentucky to move the ball against. I like the purple ‘Cats by 10, so take them and give the points. Enjoy the win.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl:
Utah State vs. New Mexico State
I doubt this was done intentionally, but after the battle of the Wildcats, now we have the battle of the Aggies, as New Mexico State ends the nation’s longest bowl drought, 57 years, to take on Utah State.
The Aggies, of New Mexico State, have a fan base drooling for this contest, so much so that the school sold out of the 5,000 conference tickets immediately. They expect double that number of supporters to take the 275-mile drive to see their team play in this bowl game.
These Aggies finished an even 6-6 on the season and are led by senior quarterback Tyler Rogers and his 3,800-yards, 26 scores season. He ranks 4th in the country in passing offense, securing 350 yards per game. His favorite target is All-Sun Belt receiver Jaleel Scott, whom he connected with for 1,000 yards. Defensively they get in the backfield in a hurry and sacked opposing quarterbacks 40 times. Keep an eye on linebacker Dalton Herrington, the Sun Belt’s leading tackler with 124 this year.
The Utah State Aggies finished 6-6 and won 3 of their last 5 games to get into the Arizona Bowl. Their offensive playmakers won’t wow you with their statistics, like quarterback Jordan Love who passed for 1,300-yards, 8 scores and 7 picks, or running back LaJuan Hunt who carried for 650-yards, but they can keep games close enough to win them at the end.
Utah State is giving 4 points in this game, and that is no problem. They should win the battle of the Aggies, I mean the Arizona Bowl, by a touchdown or more.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic:
No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Are…. You…. Kidding…. Me?
USC vs Ohio State, and it’s not on New Year’s. It’s the Big-Ten champ vs the Pac-12 king, a game we are getting way too early in bowl season, but we’ll take it.
USC, the Pac-12 champions, finished 11-2 with wins over Stanford (twice) and Arizona, and loses to Washington State and Notre Dame. Led by Sam Darnold, and his 2,939 yards, this offense has been clicking down the stretch and the team hasn’t turned the ball over much as they were earlier on in the season. Ronald Jones II rushed 242 times for 1,486 yards, 18 scores and averaged over 6 yards per carry.
Ohio State finished 11-2 this season, are the Big-Ten Championship, and have a win over previously undefeated Wisconsin. So why are they not in the CFP?
Three reasons: Clemson, Oklahoma and Iowa.
With Clemson earning the top spot in the playoffs, was the committee going to risk putting OSU at #4 and having them get blown out again like last year, 31-0 to the same Clemson team? Or what about Oklahoma, who beat them by 15-points earlier in the season? And lastly, Iowa beat them by 31-points this season. Buckeye fans may feel robbed and cheated, but there are your three reasons why your team is in the Cotton Bowl, and not the Rose Bowl.
JT Barrett has been everything the Buckeyes could have asked of him over the past 5-years. He was dedicated, he was loyal and he played well in important moments this season. His 8 interceptions in the final month are cause for concern, but he has the ability to take over a game at any moment. He also has a special talent in the back field with him in J.K. Dobbins. He was the Big-Tem MVP and set a school record for rushing as a Freshman with 1,364 yards.
This is one of the toughest games to predict. Last year Darnold led the Trojans to a win in one of the most exciting Rose Bowls in history, beating OSU’s rival Penn State in an absolute thriller. But then you have Barrett and a pissed-off Urban Meyer led Buckeyes team, who want to show the world they belong in the top 4. The spread is 7.5 in favor of OSU. While I think Barrett goes out on top in what will be a storybook career in Columbus, it’s not by more than a touchdown. Darnold and Jones II are too talented to get beat like that. Take the Trojans and the points.
Louisville vs. No. 23 Mississippi State
It’s the all-important TaxSlayer Bowl. Whatever that means.
For football fans, it means possibly a final look at last year’s Heisman trophy winner LaMar Jackson in a Louisville jersey. It also means a chance for the Mississippi State Bulldogs to take another step forward in a rebuilding program.
Jackson blew the voters away in last year’s Heisman race, but finished 3rd this season. Still, a solid campaign saw him personally gain more yards per game, 410, than 75 other teams in Division 1. He passed for 3,500-yards and 25 touchdowns, and ran for an additional 1,440-yards and 17 scores. The Cardinals as a team finished 8-4 on the season, but just 4-4 inside ACC play, with disappointing losses to Boston College and Wake Forest.
The Bulldogs take the field for the first time without head coach Dan Mullen, who bolted for Florida, and do so with without their star quarterback and team leader Nick Fitzgerald. They will rely heavily on running back Aeris Williams who was their first 1,000-yard back in 4 seasons. On the defensive side of the ball, they have some playmakers like Jeffrey Simmons, an All-SEC first team tackle, and DeMarquis Gates, who is coming off of a 13-tackle performance against Ole Miss.
The Cardinals and Jackson are giving 6 points in this spread. Lamar Jackson will be making plays all day long against the Bulldogs who enter without their head coach or quarterback. This could get out of hand in a hurry, and I expect Louisville to win by a few touchdowns. Give the points away and watch Lamar cash your check for you.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Iowa State vs. No. 20 Memphis
Two teams that have their student body more excited than ever for their gridiron clubs. The Iowa State Cyclones are the only team to beat Oklahoma this season, and Memphis came yards away from knocking off undefeated UCF in their conference championship.
Iowa State also defeated Texas Tech and TCU. They showed plenty of promise this season, with their 5 loses by a combined 25 points, but they also lost games they had a chance of winning. Their 7-5 season could have very well ended 9-3, but here they are in the Liberty Bowl, with David Montgomery leading the way. This sophomore back ran for 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has 6-games with 20 or more rushes since mid-October, and has recorded 100-yards in all but one of them.
The Memphis Tigers finished 10-2 this season, with both loses coming to undefeated UCF. The first time they played this season was an ugly 40-13 loss. Then in the American Athletic Championship, they lost in double-overtime. Since then, head coach Mike Norvell signed an extension to remain the head coach for a long time and he will have his star quarterback Riley Ferguson to rely on in this one. The senior closes out his career and will add to a stellar season that saw him put up just shy of 4,000-yards to go along with 36 touchdowns. In that double-0vertime game against UCF he launched 471-yards and 4 touchdowns. He is a spotlight player for sure.
Memphis is favored by a field goal, and while Iowa State has quite the wins on their resume, they run in to an upset Tigers team with one of the hottest quarterback in the game. Ferguson will get his team into a position to win, and while they are giving 3 points, that should be covered easily. I like Memphis by a touchdown, or maybe more. Take the Tigers.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl:
No. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn State
At one point this season, Penn State was ranked second in the country and Washington was climbing the rankings quickly. Then the middle of the season brought tough road loses and both teams find themselves outside of the CFP.
This is the 7th appearance for the Nittany Lions in the Fiesta Bowls, and they enter this match up protecting a perfect 6-0 record. After a pair of disappointing losses to Ohio State, by 1-point, and Michigan State, by 3, PSU won their last 3 games of the season in convincing fashion and finished in the top 10 for the second year in a row. This could be the last time we see the 2-time Big-Ten MVP winner, Saquon Barkley. This junior halfback rushed for 1,134 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a serious contender for the Heisman up until those two losses in October where he averaged just 50 yards rushing. Quarterback Trace McSorley was excellent this year, leading the conference in passing and played his best football in the final month of the season.
After losing in the semifinals last year to Alabama, the Washington Huskies looked to rebound with a fresh start this spring. They started hot until a Friday night match up on the road at Washington State halted that dream. Still, they have won 10 or more games for the second year in a row. Their main attraction is also in the backfield like Penn State, and their stud is Myles Gaskin. He is a handful of carries away from his third consecutive 1,300-yard season and he currently ranks third in the country with 19 touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Browning didn’t put up the numbers he did last year, but he was still effective, leading the Huskies to a 10-2 record and a #11 ranking.
Penn State is giving up 2 points in this contest, and that shouldn’t scare you from rolling with the Nittany Lions. This offense is too good to be slowed down. They scored 157 points in their final three games, and I expect them to hang another 40 in this one. Penn State wins by a touchdown, so feel comfortable giving those points.
Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 10 Miami vs. No. 6 Wisconsin
Had Miami won the ACC championship, they would be playing a day later in the CFP. Same for Wisconsin, had they won the Big-Ten. But here both teams are, in the Orange Bowl with top-ten rankings. It’s worth noting that this game also features a unique matchup on the sidelines with Paul Chryst, the Big-Ten Coach of the Year, and Mark Richt, the ACC Coach of the Year.
This game is at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, the home of the Miami Hurricanes. They will need all the support of the fans and alumni in this one, as they try to erase that embarrassing ACC title game performance from their memory. They gave up 38-points to Clemson in that one, which was tough for a defense that had allowed less than 20-points per contest in the regular season. The ‘Canes were rocking and rolling all year, with big primetime wins over Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Florida State, but stumbled in the final two weeks of the season with a 10-point loss on the road against Pittsburgh and then the ACC title game against Clemson. The offense is led by Malik Rosier, who connected on 55% of his passes for 2,917 yards and 25 scores. He threw a touchdown to 8 different receivers, but none of the ball catchers recorded more than 640 yards or 52 catches. Travis Homer was a star in the backfield, averaging 6 yards per carry and racking up over 900 yards.
Wisconsin packs up their 12-1 record and head East for true road bowl game. Even when they were undefeated, the team was not getting enough recognition based on their strength of schedule, but one person who did receive the accolades was freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. He recorded 1,847 yards on the ground and is just 80 yards shy of earning the all-time single-season FBS freshman record of yards in a season. The current record holder is Adrian Peterson. He averaged 150-yards per game, so expect that record to be broken. Defensively, the Badgers allowed just 13 points per contest, and they never allowed more than 24 points in a game. In fact, 11-times they kept opponents under 20-points, and 5 times under 10.
Two great defenses, trying to shake off poor performances in their conference title games. Miami features a stout secondary that shuts down opposing receivers, and Wisconsin stars a group that scored 6-defensive touchdowns, the most in the nation. Wisconsin is giving a touchdown here, but I don’t see how this game gets away from Miami. While the Hurricanes might not win this one, they certainly will not lose by a touchdown. Take the points and the ‘Canes. They are at home after all.
Michigan vs. South Carolina
The chairman of the Outback Bowl did something right to get this bowl placed on New Year’s Day. Neither team is ranked, and neither feature a player that you have to wake up early from your NYE hang over to watch. This game is just an appetizer to three unbelievable games that follow.
The Michigan Wolverines finished 4th in the Big-Ten with a 5-4 conference record. They had impressive wins over Florida and Purdue, but got dropped by 29 to Penn State and Ohio State by 11. The quarterback play was iffy, to put it kindly, and Jim Harbaugh and his staff are looking forward to getting Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson in town in the spring. But for now, they will stick with John O’Korn for this bowl game, the Senior who completed just 83 passes for less than 1,000-yards, and 2 touchdowns compared to 6 interceptions. If running back Karan Higdon isn’t in a groove, it will be a long, scary afternoon for the Wolverines.
South Carolina finished 2nd in the SEC East with a record of 5-3 in conference, and 8-4 overall. Their resume includes wins over NC State and Florida. Sophomore Jake Bentley took every snap at quarterback for the Gamecocks this season, and completed 62% of his 362 passes for 2,555 yards and 16 touchdowns. He did throw 11 interceptions however. The rest of the offense was by committee, with 4 different running backs carrying the ball 60 more times, and no receiver hauling in more than 58 passes.
Michigan is favored by 7.5 points. Favored. As in Las Vegas expects them to win. Have they not watched John O’Korn? I know the Wolverines defense is good, but there is no way they beat the Gamecocks by a touchdown. This could be the easiest spread on the whole bowl season. Take South Carolina confidently.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 12 UCF vs. No. 7 Auburn
Prove it. That’s the theme of this game. Show us, Central Florida, that you belong.
Undefeated, winning all 12 of their games, the Knights did everything they had to do, expect compete in a Power-5 conference. Now, with the world watching, facing the runner-up in the SEC, and a team that beat both Georgia and Alabama, UCF has an opportunity to show that they should have been in the final four with an undefeated season. A win, and the whole CFP system needs to be reevaluated. A loss just doesn’t hurt their locker room, but it effects all teams outside the ACC, SEC, Big-10, Big-12 and Pac-12 for years to come.
Let’s start with Auburn. The team we wrote off early in the season after loses to Clemson and LSU, until they ripped of 6 straight wins, including victories over CFP participants Georgia and Alabama. Had they won the SEC title game in a rematch against Georgia, perhaps they would have made the playoffs. Regardless, a number 7 seed for a 3-loss team is pretty impressive. Consider this, they are 5 spots higher than undefeated UCF.
The Tigers are led by wonder-boy Jarrett Stidham. I didn’t trust him earlier in the season, but he consistently made plays and moved the ball. On the season, he threw for 2,877 yards and 17 scores. He only made 4 mistakes all year resulting in interceptions. He has had the luxury of having Kerryon Johnson in the backfield, the Junior halfback who rushed for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns. Johnson ran for 200 yards against Ole Miss, 156 against LSU, 167 against Georgia and 104 against Alabama. The list keeps going, but you get the point. The kid can run against the best defensive line you could put him against.
The Knights will counter with McKenzie Milton, the sophomore quarterback who launched 3,800 yards and 35 touchdowns. He is facing the toughest front he has gone against all year, a line that headlines a defense allowing just 17 points per game. Emotions will be at an all-time high in this game for UCF as the University has allowed head coach Scott Frost to coach the Knights with his entire staff one more time before he leaves for Nebraska the next day. Most schools wouldn’t do that, but they know how much Frost means to the success of the team. And who could blame him for leaving? He is a Nebraska guy, and if this year proved anything, it’s that if you aren’t in a major conference, you can’t play for the title. Frost will have his guys playing as if this were the Super Bowl.
Auburn is giving 9.5 points in this one. Woah.
I think they are the better team, I think they have the better players, and in the long run, probably have the better coach in Gus Malzone. But something tells me this game is about more than football. It’s about the emotion the Knights will feel, the passion the coach will display. UCF will make this a game right up until the end, but emotion can be exhausting, and these Auburn boys have clawed their way through the season. In the end, Auburn pulls this out. Do they win by 10? I think so. Credit Kerryon Johnson with a last-minute touchdown to seal the deal.
But bravo on a great season UCF. It was one hell of a year.
Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton's
No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 LSU
Two top-15 teams collide in the Citrus Bowl when the Fighting Irish and Tigers meet in Orlando on New Year’s Day in a battle of 1,000-yard backs.
Notre Dame finished the year 9-3, and features Josh Adams, a breakout runner who made some Heisman noise midseason and finished with 9 scores and 1,400 yards. Through the first two months of the season, he was averaging almost 9 yards per carry, but say that number cut in thirds in the final four games. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush scored 14 times himself on the ground, and recorded almost 800 yards rushing. Defensively, the Fighting Irish will look to get back to their turnover ways. This year they caused 20 of them, but of those only 3 were in the last month of the season.
LSU’s running back Derrius Guice rushed for 1,100 yards and 11 scores, and can handle carrying the ball 20 times a game when necessary. He will be salivating when he gets his first hand off and meets a defensive line for Notre Dame that allowed over 225 rushing yards per game in November. Defensively, LSU ranks in the top 25 in both passing and rushing defense, and will look to force Wimbush into uncomfortable throws.
LSU is favored by 3 in this game, and I think that is great for anyone other than Vegas. Notre Dame had some good wins on the season, but their blow out losses to Miami and Stanford proved there are some holes in their defense. Look for Guice to build his resume and create some highlight reel rushes. LSU wins, covers and celebrates in Orlando.
College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
And here we are. At the Rose Bowl. In Pasadena, California with the SEC and Big-12 champions. The best quarterback in football, Baker Mayfield, against the best running back, Nick Chubb.
Let’s start with the Oklahoma Sooners who went 12-1 on the season, including the Big-12 crown, with their lone slip up being against Iowa State in week 5. Their resume includes wins over Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU (twice), West Virginia, Texas Tech and Texas. Their offense puts up 45 points per game, and is the fourth-highest scoring in the country. They are led by the Heisman Trophy Winner Baker Mayfield. This quarterback launched for over 4,300 yards and 41 scores. He will have his back-field buddy Rodney Anderson with him for this game as well, as the ball-carrier has been cleared of a legal situation in time to suit up for the Rose Bowl.
Georgia may not have Baker Mayfield under center, but they do have Roquan Smith at linebacker, the Butkus Award winner and the key to the fourth best defense in the country. Opponents average just 13 points per game and just 158 yards in the air. They have limited some solid offenses to embarrassing scoreboards, like Auburn scoring 7 points in the SEC championship, or Mississippi State managing just a field goal earlier in the season. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs feature a two-headed running back machine with Nick Chubb, the SEC’s second all-time rusher, and his partner-in-crime Sony Michel. Chubb has recorded 1,200-yards this season, and 4,600 in his career, while Michel will pass the 1,000-yard mark in this game with a few good carries. Quarterback Jake Fromm was baptized under fire this season, being thrown in the mix after starter Jacob Eason was injured in week one, but the Freshman held it together and improved weekly.
The Bulldogs defense is great against the pass, which is Oklahoma’s strength. The Sooner’s defense has been solid against the run, which is Georgia’s strength. Which one will give? No one, I repeat no one, seems more suited for this situation and this spotlight like Baker Mayfield. He completed 71% of his 369 passes, and only made 5 mistakes that resulted in interceptions. He is locked in, he is motivated, and he is the best player in the country. Georgia is giving two points in the spread, and I am taking Oklahoma confidently. It will not be a blow out by any means, this game is going down to the last drive. Give me Oklahoma, give me Baker, and I’ll be back to collect by winnings.
College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson
Next, we move on to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans for part-3 of the Tide vs the Tigers. Of Saban vs Sweeny. Of a long-time powerhouse vs America’s sweetheart. This game has everything, and promises to be just that.
In 2016, Alabama defeated Clemson to win the National Championship. In 2017, Clemson defeated Alabama to win the crown. In 2018, we have the rubber match, and it is ironic this is the Sugar Bowl, because man is this match up sweet.
After losing to Syracuse on a random Friday night in upstate New York, Dabo Sweeney settled his boys down and they went on a 6-game winning streak, making a statement with every dominant victory. Clemson won the ACC crown with ease, defeating Miami by 35 points. Their resume includes wins over Auburn, Louisville, Boston College, Virginia Tech, NC State, Wake Forest, Florida State, South Carolina and Miami. Yes, in a 13-game schedule, they defeated 9 bowl teams. This will be their toughest task, as junior quarterback Kelly Bryant will need to play the best game of his season to battle one of the country’s top defenses. Bryant recorded 2,678 yards on the season with 13 scores, but this Tide defense held opponents to a nation’s best 11.5 points per game.
Defensively, Clemson isn’t far behind Alabama, in fact, they are right behind them with the 2nd best defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game. Clelin Ferrell has been a headache for opposing coordinators, and with 8.5 sacks, he will be looking to get after Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts from the initial whistle.
Alabama dominated 11 games this season. The competition did not even seem like Division-1 football anymore at the rate Nick Saban and his boys were running through teams. Then, came the Iron Bowl. Auburn used their ground attack to control time of possession and a clever defensive scheme to keep Alabama from putting big drives together, and suddenly the nation’s best team was at home on Selection Sunday hoping the committee would look at the first 11.5 games on their season, not the 2nd half vs Auburn. And they did.
Hurts has had a good season, improving from last year’s true-Freshman campaign. He rushed for close to 800 yards this season, moved the chains at a good pace and only threw one interception. Last CFP, he almost single handedly won the Championship for the tide with a 30-yard 4th quarter scramble for a touchdown, and since that moment his confidence seems to be sky high. He is joined in the backfield with Damien Harris, 900 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Bo Scarborough, 550 yards. His best weapon is junior wide out Calvin Ridley who he connected with 55 times for 900 yards. They are banged up on defense, there is no question about that, but they will feature one of the country’s best players Minkah Fitzpatrick. The First-team All-American strong safety recorded 52 tackles on the season and made play, after play, after play.
Alabama is giving 2.5 points on the spread, and I am running with the Tide. Two years ago, the game came down to the wire because of Tiger’s quarterback DeShaun Watson. Last year, Clemson won on one of the most impressive drives in football history, administered by Watson. Well, Watson is in the League now, and while Kelly Bryant has been good this season, he isn’t his predecessor. Saban has his team in the semifinals for the 4th consecutive year, but for the first time ever they are coming off a loss. They won’t lose two in a row, not in this season and not in back-to-back playoffs to the same team. Alabama by 3 or more.