With the majority of the national attention focused on the College Football Playoff semifinal games between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State and No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma, we take a look at some of the other fantastic bowl matchups that we’ll be gorging ourselves on over this holiday season.
Russell Athletic Bowl, Tuesday, December 29th – No. 10 North Carolina vs No. 17 Baylor
I wish Baylor could be at full strength for this one, because these two offenses were among the country’s best this year. Unfortunately, Baylor will be missing their best quarterbacks, running back and wide receiver due to injury. But the Bears offense is still a thing of beauty, regardless of who plays.
The Tar Heels are coming off one of their best seasons ever in program history. Despite missing their best offensive weapons, Baylor recruits phenomenal athletes, so look for less heralded guys like receivers Jay Lee and KD Cannon to make a name for themselves in this game. The Bears averaged 48 points and an insane 605 yards per game. UNC put up 41 points and 487 yards of offense when they stepped on the field.
Carolina QB Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood have had exceptional years. They’re not household names, but they should be. Baylor’s defense gives up lots of touchdown passes, so look for Williams and his talented receivers Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins to see the end zone plenty.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Thursday, December 31st – No. 18 Houston vs No. 9 Florida State
If Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 18 touchdowns and 1,658 yards while being plagued with ankle and hamstring woes, didn’t miss three games to injury this year, the Heisman might be sitting in a trophy case in Tallahassee right now as opposed to Tuscaloosa.
Houston’s offense is incredibly balanced and is led by the otherworldly talents of quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., who passed for 2,590 yards and 16 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,041 yards and an additional 19 scores.
Houston’s run defense is pretty good, so Cook and the Florida State running game will have their hands full. While some see the Seminoles season as a step back from their accomplishments over the last two years, what Jimbo Fisher has accomplished while replacing all of that talent that won a national championship and advanced to the playoffs last year has been incredible.
As electrifying as Ward is, this will be the toughest defense he’s faced all year. This has the potential to be one of the best games of the bowl season. Both Fisher and Houston coach Tom Herman are among the nation’s best.
Outback Bowl, Friday, January 1st – No. 13 Northwestern vs No. 23 Tennessee
The Volunteers closed the season with five straight wins and both of these squads excel at running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense. Tennessee has been a very good team in the first half of games this year, but they seem to fade in the last two quarters. Their quarterback Joshua Dobbs is a duel-threat phenomenon. His performances against Georgia and Florida this year were exceptional. I’m also a huge fan of their running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derrick Barnett.
Northwestern struggles to score touchdowns in the red zone, but their strength lies on the defensive side of the ball. They only allow 16 points per game and the way they shut down Stanford’s explosive offense in their 16-6 victory over the Cardinal to open the season was pretty impressive. But they’ll have their hands full trying to stop Hurd and Dobbs.
The Volunteers will be tasked with stopping the Wildcats’ Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1,344 yards this year. For Northwestern to win though, they’ll have to pass the ball exceptionally well, which they haven’t really done all year.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Friday, January 1st – No. 14 Michigan vs No. 19 Florida
After some down years, both of these programs are on their way back into college football’s upper echelon thanks to exceptional first-year coaching jobs by Jim McElwain and Jim Harbaugh. Florida is looking to keep up their successful recent bowl game history, as they’ve won five of their last six.
The Gators boast the most gifted secondary in America and an overall defense that is exceptional. Michigan does not have the weapons to exploit Florida in the passing game, so look for them to try to ground and pound their way to victory. Michigan’s defense is no joke either and Florida’s passing game is rather pedestrian. So this one has the look of a back alley brawl.
The stars in this game will all be roaming in both secondaries. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers can play corner and safety, as well as being a threat as a kick returner and situational offensive threat as a ball carrier and receiver. His teammate, cornerback Jourdan Lewis, has also had a great season with 49 tackles and 19 passes broken up.
Florida’s Vernon Heargraves is the best cornerback in all of college football while fellow Gator Marcus Maye made 73 tackles with four forced fumbles and six passes broken up. Brian Poole is another talented Gator roaming in the secondary.
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Friday, January 1st – No. 16 Oklahoma State vs No. 12 Ole Miss
If you love offense, you’ll love this shootout. The Rebels walk in having beaten two Top 25 teams, LSU and Mississippi State, in their last two games. The Cowboys were in the playoff hunt through their first ten games when they got off to a 10-0 start. But after losing to Baylor, Oklahoma beat up on them as if they’d stolen Grandma Sooner’s rent money, 58-23, in the Bedlam Rivalry game.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly makes throws that most college guys can only dream about and is directing a prolific offense that averages 515 yards per game. Oklahoma State’s defense is nothing to brag about and they’ve given up 30 or more points in five of their last six games. But they can score like Wilt Chamberlain at the Playboy Mansion, so this one should be jam packed with big plays and lots of touchdowns.
Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl, Friday, January 1st – No. 8 Notre Dame vs No. 7 Ohio State
Both of these squads are loaded with NFL draft picks, most notably Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who will be both be among the top picks in the 2016 NFL meat market. Buckeyes junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, who some consider to be a better player than Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, is among them.
Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, will try to make sure that Elliott’s final college game is not a memorable one. The matchup that I’ll be paying special attention to is Ohio State’s secondary deals with Notre Dam’s gifted receiver Will Fuller.
If the Buckeyes offense can get Elliott loose in open space, Notre Dame might be in big trouble because that’s when elusive quarterback J.T. Barrett is at his best as a thrower and a runner.
Valero Alamo Bowl, Saturday, January 2nd – No. 15 Oregon vs No. 11 TCU
Oregon made a late-season surge, winning six in a row after starting 3-3. Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams, once healthy, proved to be a special talent while sophomore running back Royce Freeman, who is fourth in the nation in rushing and comes into the bowl game with eight straight 100-yard rushing performances, quietly had a fantastic season.
Both of these squads score plenty of points and they do so in a variety of ways.
TCU is excited to get all-world wide receiver Josh Doctson, who’s the only player in the country ranked in the top six in receiving touchdowns, receiving yards and catches per game, back for his final college contest. Hopefully, Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin will be fully healed from the ankle injuries that took him out of the Heisman race.
TCU has given up a lot of big plays this year, and that doesn’t bode well when facing a team that specializes in scoring quickly. Look for Adams to take plenty of shots downfield. Oregon is very good at pressuring and sacking quarterbacks, but Boykin, who’s good for at least 400 yards of total offense whenever he steps on the field, is no ordinary QB. The Ducks, however, are not so good in protecting their own signal caller.
I’m hoping that the Horned Frogs get the ball into freshman sensation KaVontae Turpin’s hands as many times as possible. The diminutive speedster is electrifying when he cuts loose in the open field. Oregon’s explosive weapon in the passing game is receiver Darren Carrington.
Northwestern Mutual Rose Bowl, Friday, January 1st – No. 6 Stanford vs No. 5 Iowa
The Hawkeyes are making their first trip to the Rose Bowl since Tre had a nervous breakdown after being harassed by the LAPD in Boyz N The Hood back in 1991. They will present Stanford with the best defense they’ve faced this year.
The Cardinal’s amazing all-purpose threat Christian McCaffrey kicks off his 2016 Heisman Trophy campaign in this game. Expect the Hawkeye defense to see a heavy dose of the young man who broke Barry Sanders lofty record for single-season all-purpose yardage.
Iowa is outstanding in stopping the run, so Stanford better be ready to open up its passing game. Kevin Hogan, who passed for 2,644 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing close to 70% of his passes, should be up to the task.
There’s no glamour and glitz to what Iowa does, they’re coming to punch you in the mouth. Quarterback C.J. Beathard and running back Jordan Canzeri, who averaged close to six yards per carry while accumulating 976 rushing yards and 12 TD’s while playing through injuries, will hold the key to the Hawkeyes’ offensive success.
This should be a great showdown between two teams who are stylistically on opposite ends of the spectrum. Stanford’s explosive, prolific offense going against Iowa’s big boy, bully-style defense will be worth the price of admission.