We are in the middle of the mos exciting time in sports! The thrill of college bowl mania is indeed intense and as we get closer to the much anticipated playoff battles the action only gets hotter and hotter.
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. South Florida
The Gamecocks are led by true Freshman quarterback, 18-year old Jake Bentley. In his 6 games, he threw for over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. As a team, 90% of their offensive scores came from underclassman, so this is a team who is young and will be together for another year. They will be playing with high motivation and looking to make some noise before the preseason rankings come out for 2017. Defensively they allow just 202 rushing yards per game.
USF’s Quinton Flowers is one of the most promising, and exciting, players in the sport right now. He had 43 total touchdowns this season and ranks 10th in the country in total offense, averaging 330 yards per game. His 2,550 yards in the air, and 1,425 on the ground lead his team in both categories, and what is even more impressive is his 8 yards per carry. Defensively, however, they are suspect, ranking 120th in the country in yards allowed.
South Carolina is a fun story this season, but bowl games are all about big plays by great players, and Flowers not only makes the plays to win this bowl, but he punches his name on the early ballot for next year’s Heisman race.
USF cruses to a 36-20 win.
Belk Bowl: #22 Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas
The Hokies bring their 9-4 record into this bowl game coming off a one-score loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. They had a moderate resume this season without any noteworthy wins, but they have a defense than can keep anyone honest in the country. They kept UNC to 3 points and instate rival Virginia to 10, but they also allowed 36 to Pittsburgh and 31 to Notre Dame, so you don’t know which Hokies team will show up on a week to week basis. Jerod Evans has been the one constant for this team all year long, with 3,309 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Arkansas had big wins over Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but also lost to Auburn, LSU and Missouri, to complete their up and down season. They are led by monster running back Rawleigh Williams III who ran for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes a 205 yard, 4-touchdown game in mid-November against Mississippi State.
This is your classic middle of the road SEC team against a top-of-the-heap ACC squad. Virginia Tech has a better passing game, while Arkansas has a better rushing attach, so who gives in this contest?
The Razorbacks have won all 6 games when they are able to rush for over 175 yards, and they will be running right at a defensive front that has allowed that many 5 times in their last 6 games.
Rawleigh Williams III is the difference maker in this one, and his Razorbacks roll to a big win in this one, 32-17.
Alamo Bowl: #10 Colorado vs. #12 Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State Cowboys ripped off 7 wins in a row to make it to the Big-12 title game, and they did so with a pass-heavy offense that averages just under 40 points per game. With a 1,000 yard back in Justice Hill, quarterback Mason Rudolph will have the play-action option available all day with a defense who needs to stay honest to both the run and pass.
Colorado on the other hand, has a tremendous defense against the pass. They are third in the country in this category, and will look to force Rudolph into passes he isn’t comfortable making. They don’t have the offense to get into a shootout with the Cowboys, but if their defense makes plays, they won’t need to.
Colorado has the better team in this contest, and while their offense isn’t as solid as the Cowboys, they can still hang close to 30, and with their defense, that should be enough to get the win.
Cowboys run to victory 30-26.
Liberty Bowl: TCU vs. Georgia
Before the season started, I was sure that Georgia was going to win the SEC East. They had the best offense, their schedule was favorable if they got by UNC on opening night, and they had the best player in the conference, running back Nick Chubb.
Instead, they went 4-4 in the conference and lost back-to-back games twice during the season. They did have some nice wins, like on the road at UNC, Missouri and South Carolina, and then at home against Auburn, so they do have the ability to win against good teams. Chubb, while healthy most of the year, did not have the breakout campaign I was expecting, but did log close to 1,000 yards. He only had four games where he reached 100 however, and only scored in 5 of the 12 games. He should be able to get going quickly in this game against a TCU team that allowed 1,400 rushing yards this season. This game feels like it could be Chubb’s moment
TCU has always been a fun team to watch, but this roster seems to be missing some pieces. At times their run game looks like it could score on any team in the country, and other moments you wonder what happened to the Horned Frogs of old. They will need to get the passing game going to beat Georgia, whose defense will not give them many opportunities for big plays. Quarterback Kenny Hill has always been the guy who drives you crazy as a fan, but more often than not throughout his career, he gets it done. The beginning of the season, he was excellent, then he got injured and it was a struggle the rest of the way. Keep in mind, when healthy, Hill threw for 450 yards and 5 scores against Oklahoma, which was almost double the yards of Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield in that one.
It will be Georgia’s running attack vs the Horned Frog passing game, and the difference maker will no doubt be the Georgia secondary. Hill will take chances, and one too many will cost him. It will be close, but the ‘Dawgs are scrappy and squish the Frogs in this bowl.
Georgia beats TCU 30-24.
Sun Bowl: North Carolina vs #18 Stanford
Christian McCaffrey sits out this one, and boy does it hurt the Cardinals. The team’s leading rusher secured over 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns, but what hurts more than his consistency, is his big play potential. This season he scored a 90-yard rushing touchdown and a 56-yard score by reception, so when he plays, the defense can never leave him alone, or even in single coverage.
So what does Stanford do now? Their leading rusher after Christian is Bryce Love, who had 664 yards in 90 carries, which was less than a third of the touches by the starter. Quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst were moderate this season, combing for 1,900 yards, 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. No receiver had more than 40 catches, 500 yards or 5 touchdowns. Without McCaffrey, this is a scary offense to bode confidence in.
On the other side of the Sun Bowl is the Tar Heels and stud Mitch Trubisky, who somehow wasn’t in the Heisman voting. The quarterback threw for close to 3,500 yards and completed almost 69% of his passes. His 28 touchdowns were a nice added statistic too. His favorite target Ryan Switzer caught 91 balls for over 1,000 yards and they tormented teams together all season.
I just don’t see how Stanford gets anything going in this offensively. Their momentum is going to be stalled without their play maker and their moral may be down that he left them hanging.
Trubisky caps off a great year with a stellar performance and heads into the draft as the top quarterback option after this 34-17 win.
Music City Bowl: #21 Tennessee vs. Nebraska
Tennessee has four more quarters of Joshua Dobbs before he heads to the next level, so expect the Vols’ to play inspired football for their leader. His 35 touchdowns this season fueled an offense where he passed for over 2,600 yards and led the team with 713 yards on the ground. On the defensive side, the rush gets in the backfield quick and pressure the quarterback, so if the secondary can hold the routes long enough, the defensive front will have opportunities to hit the quarterback.
Nebraska has a good running game in Terrell Newby (864 yards, 7 touchdowns) when they are playing well, but to do so, Tommy Armstrong needs to set the run up by landing early throws in this game to keep the defense honest. He connected on 52% of his passes this season and also led the team with 8 rushing touchdowns. Defensively, they were top 25 in the nation. They won 7 in a row before back to back losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State. The game against the Badgers wasn’t too bad, they only lost by 6, but the following week in Columbus against the Buckeyes was as ugly as can be, losing by 59 points and only mustering a lone field goal.
Dobbs is too good to lay an egg in his final game. He will put up points and make plays that remind us why he was must-watch football earlier this season. Nebraska simply can’t keep up on the scoreboard.
Tennessee wins 30-14.
Arizona Bowl: Air Force vs. South Alabama
This is likely to be the December 30th game you don’t watch, given the power teams on the schedule, but it won’t be as bad of a game as you think. South Alabama boasts a resume that includes over Mississippi State and San Diego State, and Air Force has wins over Army, Boise State and Colorado State. While neither team are a powerhouse, they have pulled off underdog wins.
Air Force has a good rushing attack, and they will be able to run all over South Alabama. On the other side, Air Force has a tremendous rushing defense, holding both Navy and Boise State to less than 85 yards. Those weren’t the only two victims, 5 other teams were held under 100 yards on the season. In the air, South Alabama has the advantage, allowing just 170 yards per game. So if Air Force won’t be able to pass, and South Alabama won’t be able to run, how will these teams score points?
Air Force is good at forcing turnovers, and I expect that to be the case in this one, as one turnover too many costs South Alabama the Arizona Bowl.
Air Force flies high, winning 26-23.
Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan vs. #11 Florida State
This game features two of the best players in college football, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.
With big wins over Penn State, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Wolverines appeared to be primed for the final four, until loses to Iowa and Ohio State on the road left them out. They have had monster games, like a 78-0 win over Rutgers, and then others where they barely score, or get scored on, like the 14-7 win against the Badgers. Fortunately for John Harbaugh’s team, quarterback Wilton Speight will be healthy for this game, and of course you never know where Peppers will be involved in the game plan.
The Seminoles have a chip on their shoulder, and it weighs 213lbs. That chip is named Dalvin Cook, the junior running back who secured 1,620 yards on the ground, and another 426 receiving, for a total of 19 touchdowns. He had 8 games in the last 9 where he rushed for over 100 yards, including the 160 yard, 4 touchdown performance against Clemson. Why was he not invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony? That is what the ‘Noles don’t understand, and you can expect a heavy dose of Cook in this game to show why he should have been involved.
Hands down the Seminoles have a better offense, and undoubtedly does Michigan have a better defense, so who wins this matchup?
Michigan may have the better resume, they may have the better defense, but they don’t have Dalvin Cook. The best player on the field makes the difference in this one, and the Wolverines fall to the Seminoles 28-24.
Citrus Bowl: #13 Louisville vs. #20 LSU
This game could be really fun to watch Lamar Jackson go head to head with Leonard Fournette, in one of those games where each player breaks off ridiculous runs or plays for their team in a back-and-fourth slugfest!
Wait, Fournette is playing. He is getting ready for the draft. Yuck, the fans lose big time in that move.
Louisville was flying high this season, with Jackson bringing constant attention to the Cardinals team as they ripped their way through their schedule, destroying Florida State and then dropping a shootout to Clemson in a game featuring 78 overall points. Then, they stumbled to close out the season, losing to Houston by 26 and then a home game against Kentucky. The Heisman winner Jackson collected 3,390 yards in the air, 1,538 on the ground, and a total of 51 touchdowns as the country’s best player.
LSU once again had a successful running game, even though Fournette wasn’t the main ball handler due to injury. Derrius Guice out carried, out gained and outscored Fournette, and will be the top guy once again in the Citrus Bowl. Quarterback Danny Etling had trouble in his first year with the Tigers, scoring just 9 times through the air compared to 4 interceptions. Defensively, is where LSU shines. In a span of three weeks in November, they allowed 10 points to both Alabama and Arkansas, followed by 16 to Florida. While the Cardinals dominate opponents with zone reads, the Tigers will need to focus on Jackson as the first option, and work on containing him first. If they can contain the edge, it could be a great day for LSU.
The way LSU contained Alabama and other SEC powerhouses this season, I expect them to come out with plenty of confidence. They won’t win this in a shootout, but they won’t have to either. Jackson is a once-in-a-lifetime style of player for the Cardinals, but he can’t do it all.
LSU runs their way to a 26-21 victory.
Taxslayer Bowl: Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
Kentucky allowed 200 yards rushing in five of the last 6 games which spells trouble for the Wildcats. Tech’s Justin Thomas is the typical Yellow Jacket quarterback who can effectively run the option. Defensively, they have won the turnover margin consistently this season, and that bodes well against a Kentucky team who has 2 plus turnovers in all but one of their games all season.
The Wildcats have two solid running backs in Boom Williams and Benjamin Snell that have led a rushing attack that has hit the 200-yard level in 8 of their last 10 games. Georgia Tech cannot stop opponents on third downs, and that should excite the offense in this one. They can play aggressive and run the ball on any down. Also, let’s not forget about Stephen Johnson, the quarterback who outplayed Lamar Jackson earlier this season by throwing for almost 340 yards in their meeting.
This game will feature run after run, after run, and when it’s time to open up the field, the Yellow Jackets are better suited to thrown for big yards. There could be one or two of those that make the difference in the game.
The Yellow Jackets sting the Wildcats 32-29.
Peach Bowl: #1 Alabama vs. #4 Washington – CFP Semifinal – Saturday, December 31
How good is Nick Saban’s Tide this year? They beat 10 bowl teams during the regular season, and outscored them 400-107. That’s right, in a 13 game schedule, they played 10 bowl teams, and beat them by 293 points combined. Every week it seemed there was another ranked team gunning to knock off the top dawgs, and as sure as a sunset, Alabama rolled on to victory.
They have scored more touchdowns on defense and special teams, than some other school’s throughout the country did on offense. Their secondary is loaded with ball hawks and their defensive front has caused more headaches than New York City traffic, but with that said, the best quarterback they played all season, Chad Kelly of Ole Miss, put up 421 yards and 3 touchdowns against them. Kelly is a good quarterback, but not a great one.
Across the sidelines from Alabama, could be their first look at a great passer. Jake Browning was a Heisman candidate all season, but a few hiccups late in the season cost him a trip to the trophy presentation, but that doesn’t discount all of the big plays he made all season. He has a tendency to take chances and hurl up a deep ball on any down, so he will give Alabama the toughest look they have had all season.
Forget about Washington’s rushing attack, even though they are led by Myles Gaskin and his 1,300-yard season, Saban and his coaching staff has proved brilliance in their game planning all year long against the best running backs in the SEC. Washington will only have a shot in this game if Browning takes chances and connects on big plays.
The bottom line, is this could be the best defense Nick Saban has had in his historic career in Tuscaloosa, and giving him over a month to prepare for the Washington Huskies is almost unfair. If this game were played on a week notice, I would say it would be closer, but I just think Alabama is going to be ready to fail.
Alabama will move on to the finals for the second straight year, beating Washington 30-16.
Fiesta Bowl: #2 Clemson vs. #3 Ohio State – CFP Semifinal – Saturday, December 31
They did it. Somehow, they did it. Dabo Sweeny’s Tigers clawed their way into the semifinals by giving their alumni and supporters a scare seemingly every week down the stretch. After beating NC State on a missed field goal, then losing to Pittsburgh by a field goal, Clemson seemed to be ripe for the picking, but fortunately for the Tiger-faithful, DeShaun Watson is a big-time player and he carried his team down the stretch, securing the ACC title and the #2 seed in the tournament.
They have the offense to hang with any team in the country, with a 3,900-yard passer in Watson, a 1,000-yard back in Wayne Gallman, and an 1,100-yard receiver in Mike Williams. Defensively, they have secured 46 sacks and bailed the offense out at times with key stops.
Then we have Ohio State, and Urben Meyer, the second best coach in college football. Meyer knows how to win and he knows how to get his team ready. He showed in the regular season finale against Michigan just how good he is by out-coaching Jim Harbaugh right up to the final play in overtime. Dabo Sweeny could be next in his line of victims, but there is much more to this OSU team.
The Buckeyes were tested this season, and aside from their loss to Penn State, they made easy work of their schedule, which included road wins at Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and back to back games where they combined to put up 124 points. Quarterback J.T. Barrett had a good year and made plays when he had to. In a league where touchdown totals won Lamar Jackson and DeShaun Watson trips to the Heisman show, Barrett quietly proved to be one of the most consistent players in the nation. His 24 touchdowns in the air and 9 on the ground weren’t jaw dropping amounts, but what was important was the 11 wins that accompanied them.
While this should be a great game to watch, with two of the most exciting players in the land going toe-to-toe in Watson and Barrett, I expect the Buckeye defense to make the difference. They have 7 defensive touchdowns on the season, and Watson’s only Achilles heel this season was the turnovers in big games. One wrong read or over throw and Ohio State is getting 6 the other way. Just ask Michigan what that is like.
I expect the game to come down to that one big turnover, and Ohio State will immediately shift focus to the finals against Alabama. Buckeyes should win this one 28-20, and then my head will explode thinking about a Saban vs Meyer finals!
Rose Bowl: #5 Penn State vs. #9 USC
Did the committee make a mistake in leaving Penn State out of the top 4 with a Big-Ten title? This game will prove how good the Nitnay Lions really are, as USC was one of the hottest teams in the country in November.
Winners of 9 in a row, Penn State has secured their offensive troubles early on and become one of the most exciting teams in the country. Of course, this is the Rose Bowl, and it is in Pasadena, California, right in USC territory. The fans will all be there, and they will be loud, making this a true home game for USC.
USC got smashed by Alabama in the opener and started the season 1-3, but turned it around quickly to win the final 8 games of the season. They have been red-hot as of late, but it is worth noting that this was against an average Pac-12 conference. They do have a win over Washington which was very impressive, so they do deserve the credit there. The Trojans march the field better than most in the country and sustain drives for long periods of time. Their defense has also been very steady and gets off the field quickly.
How well has Penn State played down the stretch? They are 9-0 in their last 9 games, which includes wins against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. They have won games putting up 62 points (Purdue) and have won putting up 24 (Ohio State), showing how balanced they can be. Quarterback Trace McSorley has settled in nicely with a 3,300-yard season that included 25 touchdowns, and on the ground Saquon Barkley has had a sophomore season that has everyone in Pennsylvania talking about. He finished with 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, but it was the big games against Maryland and Purdue that have everyone buzzing. He combined for 409 yards and three touchdowns in those two contests.
Penn State has played well from behind this season, and their comeback against Wisconsin is something to brag about, so at no point in this contest should USC feel comfortable with a lead. I do think that PSU is going to have trouble getting the run going, and when that happens, McSorley will be forced to make plays. The problem with that, is the Trojan secondary loves to make plays too.
Keep in mind, this Trojan defense held Washington to 17 yards rushing, UCLA to 55, and Oregon 85. Without Barkley getting any mojo, this could be a long day for PSU. If you can’t run, you can’t hide from the Trojans, and I think the defense makes enough plays at USC in this one to make the difference.
USC marches with the roses once again, winning this one somewhere around 32-20.
Sugar Bowl: #7 Oklahoma vs. #14 Auburn
While the final four teams in the CFP were predictable, I was curious to see if Oklahoma got any loving for what they accomplished. I know the playoffs are determined by the overall body of work, which is why the Sooners are in the Sugar Bowl and not the Fiesta Bowl, but if they were accepting teams based on their current value, as of today, Oklahoma would be in. Aside from maybe Alabama and Ohio State, there was no team playing better football than Bob Stoops’ boys.
Baker Mayfield is leading the country in passing efficiency and has been dominating defenses at a jaw-dropping level. In all but the two losses this season, his offense put up 34 or more points, and you can expect the quarterback and his fellow Heisman finalist receiver Dede Westbrook to be showing off their skills, even against a good Auburn defense. The Sooners have a good run game too, which will work early on enough to give Mayfield the chances to hit long passes. On defense, however, they are shakey in the secondary and can be exposed on long routes. They have given up more than 20 points in four straight games, but they came up huge in the Big-12 title championship against in state rival Oklahoma State, allowing just 32 yards rushing and 186 through the air.
On the other side of the field, Gus Malzahn could be coaching for his job in this game. After stumbling out of the gate, the Tigers played well the rest of way, going 7-2 in their final 9 games which included wins against LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Their losses were to Alabama and Georgia in that time. When this offense is clicking, they can be very good, but when they get confused, it can be scary bad. Take those two losses for example, Alabama and Georgia played the run very tight and tempted the Tigers to throw downfield, which isn’t their strength. In those two games combined, they scored 19 points.
Auburn does have a nice running back in Kamryn Pettway who was able to amass 1,100 yards despite only playing in 7 games. While he will need to have a big game for the Tigers, it will be the defense that could win the game for Malzahn and company. In 9 of their 12 games, opponents scored less than 20 points, including Clemson, LSU and Georgia.
Yes, Auburn’s defense is very good, and yes, Oklahoma’s offense is too, so which one will give? Mayfield is one of the smartest passers in the country and will be playing with a major chip on his shoulder after last year’s CFP loss to Clemson. I expect him to play well, and the Auburn offense will not be able to keep up on the scoreboard.
I see the Sooners taking this one 30-17.
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs #17 Florida
Well…. It’s college football bowl season, and while sitting in front of the television all day on January 2nd to watch all of these games seem like the best way to spend your 24 hours, the reality is at some point you will need to go to the store to get more beer, walk the dog or get up and stretch, and this is the game to do all those things during, as it should be a snooze fest.
Iowa is one of the worst teams to side with if you are a gambler, losing at home to North Dakota State but then beating Michigan and Nebraska. They scored only 14 points against a horrible Rutgers team, but put up 40 in 4 other games.
Florida is a great defensive team, as long as they aren’t playing Alabama. The Gator secondary is loaded with NFL talent and Iowa is going to have a very hard time stretching the field. If their run game is not moving the chains, look for a lot of punting action from the Hawkeyes.
Their offense is not as good however and will have trouble keeping pace if they were ever called upon to a shootout. Last year they were embarrassed by Michigan 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl, so you know they will be looking to right the ship after that. They struggle to score in the red zone, but they do have an offense that sustains drives long enough to find opportunities.
This will no doubt be a defensive struggle. Neither offense is explosive, and both defensives are strong. Florida should be able keep the chains moving enough where the Iowa offense will have trouble getting any rhythm while on the sidelines. This could come down to a game winning, or losing, field goal at the final seconds, and I see this being a 17-14 type of game.
I’ll take Florida in this one, by 3.
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