The time has finally come. We are down to the final ten games of the bowl season. I hope you’ve stuck with me throughout my selections here, and maybe learned something about a team that you may not watch on a weekly basis. I know I sure have. We have ten games left, of which I believe eight could be decided by one score. These games will all take place on either December 30 or January 1, with the exception of the tenth game, the National Championship, which will be played on January 8. Of course, the teams have yet to be decided on said championship, but what kind of crystal ball would this be if I didn’t give you a taste of which two teams I believe will be playing for the title. Let’s get started one final time.
Saturday, December 30
Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Joe Moorhead will begin his campaign as the Bulldogs head coach once this one is over, but for now, there’s still a football game to be played. The Bulldogs will be without their former head coach, Dan Mullen, but more importantly, will likely be without their star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. After Fitzgerald went down with an apparent leg injury in the final weekend of the regular season, Mississippi State dropped rivalry week to Ole Miss, finishing the season 8-4. Fitzgerald was responsible for 29 touchdowns and 2800 yards of offense between his arm and legs. He’ll be replaced by freshman Keytaon Thompson, who saw limited action before being pressed into duty against Ole Miss. Even prior to the Fitzgerald injury, this offense feautres a heavy dose of Aeris Williams out of the backfield. He’s a mismatch for most defenses with his abilities. The Bulldogs have one of the more underrated defenses in the country, especially in the SEC where they’re overshadowed by Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. They give up just 20 points a game, however, and are led by a cast of talented defenders, eight of which have 40 or more tackles. Across the line from the stout Bulldog defense stands an electrifying athlete who could be playing in his final collegiate game. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, was outstanding once again in 2017, as many were blind to his success for one reason or another. Comparably, Jackson was just as good this year as he was last season, yet was considered an afterthought for the Heisman. He’s your do-it-all quarterback, having thrown for nearly 3500 yards and rushing for another 1400. He was responsible for 42 touchdowns this season. This one seems to be an average offense versus an average defense on one end, and a great offense versus a great defense on the other. It’ll really come down to, can Jackson make more plays against the Mississippi State defense or will Williams be an issue for the 52nd ranked Cardinal run defense. I don’t like transitional teams, and therefore, I’ll take Louisville.
Louisville 31-Mississippi State 21
Memphis vs. Iowa State
Very few teams get the privilege to stay home for bowl season, but the the Memphis Tigers are one of them. The Liberty Bowl is played in the similarly named Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, home of these Memphis Tigers. That;s a clear edge on the surface alone. The Tigers also feature a quarterback that is wildly underappreciated in the ranks of the average college football fan. Riley Ferguson has been sensational this season, leading the number one scoring offense in the nation to 48 points per game. Ferguson threw for just shy of 4000 yards this season while adding 36 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He likely would have eclipsed 4000 had he thrown more than 14 passes against East Carolina in a game that saw his offense score 70 points and the backups get considerable playing time. He’s been pinpoint accurate lately, having completed 69 percent of his passes or better in the last four games. The 10-2 Tigers suffered a regular season and a conference title loss to UCF this season, which is the difference between the Tigers playing in the Liberty Bowl or against Auburn in a New Years’ Six game as the highest ranked non-AQ team. Ferguson could be an issue for a Cyclones defense that finished 82nd in passing yards allowed this year. Despite the suspect pass defense, Iowa State gave up just 21 points per game this season. It’s a 7-5 team that played defensively at times like a nine or ten win team. The offense has been in limbo much of the season, as opening day starter Jacob Park has requested a transfer from the university after stepping away from football due to a work balance issue. He was replaced by Kyle Kempt. The senior threw for nearly 1500 yards in seven starts this season. The Cyclones were quite puzzling at times, defeating TCU but losing to Texas and Kansas State. While they’ve grown exponentially as a program, there are too many hurdles to overcome.
Memphis 38-Iowa State 24
Penn State vs. Washington
I’m not going to dive too deeply into this bowl in this segment, (I’m sorry, I know many of you have probably been reading along strictly to see my prediction for the Penn State game.), as I’ll do a weekly breakdown of the game on the Friday prior to kickoff, just as I have for every Penn State game this season. In short, this one comes down to the Penn State offensive line versus the Washington front seven. Washington allows the fewest rushing yards in terms of yards per carry, yards per game and total yards allowed this season. They also surrendered just eight rushing touchdowns all season long. The sixth lowest scoring defense all season will be very difficult to solve for James Franklin, especially sans Joe Moorhead. While Saquon Barkley will be the best player on either side, the Washington defense will be too much to handle, and for the second year in a row, the Nittany Lions fall to a Pac 12 foe in the postseason. Expect a low scoring affair in this one.
Washington 24-Penn State 23
Miami vs. Wisconsin
For the second time in three games, one team will have the luxury of playing in front of their home fans. The Orange Bowl is played in Miami every year, and this time, the Hurricanes have the opportunity to close out the season where it began. The hurricanes come into this matchup 10-2, but losers of two straight. After starting the season 10-0, Miami dropped games to Pittsburgh to end the regular season and to Clemson to lose the ACC title game in, quite frankly, embarrassing fashion. Mark Richt, cast out of Georgia just a few years ago, was selected as the Head Coach of the Year. He has helped raised the historic Miami program from out of the ashes. Quarterback Malik Rosier is a stellar athlete and can cause serious problems for defenses, but is extremely careless with the football at times. He’s thrown 11 picks this season, including four over the last three weeks. Rosier can’t be allowed time in the pocket, because he’ll beat you with a strong arm and fast legs. the Miami defense was one of the best this season, allowing just 20 points per game. No doubt, by now, you’ve seen the turnover chain all over TV. I’ve always been a believer in backing up your smack talk, and the Hurricanes have certainly done that this season, forcing 30 turnovers, tied for the most in the country. They’ll take on an offense that has turned the ball over 23 times this season, including 15 interceptions from quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who looked lost in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. With a chance to improve to 13-0 and get into the CFP, the Badgers fell to Ohio State 27-21 in a game in which Hornibrook threw two picks. While Hornibrook looked overmatched at times this season, the Badgers run game never did. Led by freshman Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers rushed for nearly 3000 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Taylor will only get better as his career goes on, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he hoists the Heisman Trophy before he goes to play on Sundays. Much like Badger teams of the past, the 2017 Wisconsin squad is defensively minded. They allow just 13 points per game, good for third in the country. The Badgers are second in the nation against the run and fourth against the pass. It’ll be tough sledding for both of these offenses to move the football. When it comes to a defenses battle, there are few teams I’d take over Wisconsin. I’m taking the Badgers in a low scoring game.
Wisconsin 17-Miami 14
Monday, January 1
Michigan vs. South Carolina
This game features two of the lowest scoring teams in the nation in Power Five conferences. The Gamecocks score just 23.5 points per game, good for 94th in the nation. The Wolverines aren’t much better, averaging 25.8 points per game, the 81st most. It also features two defenses who allow less than three touchdowns per game. I’ve spoken highly of Michigan’s defense all season long, and how resilient it was, having lost a multitude of starters from a season ago and still remaining dominant. The Wolverines take away all passing outlets, allowing just 142 yards through the air per game, the best in the country. In four losses this season, though, Michigan has failed to put 21 points on the board, dropping four conference games. Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will join the fold next season in Anne Arbor, but that doesn’t help Jim Harbaugh’s offense in this one. On the other side, the Gamecocks seemingly refuse to score as well, and as a result, the program has fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Jake Bentley hasn’t been sharp this season, tossing 11 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns. The team has also left at least 36 points off the board this season, having missed 12 of 25 field goals attempted. Seeing as three of the Gamecocks’ four losses have come by 14 or less, those points are huge. It’s a shame that the Wolverine passing attack is anemic because the Gamecocks are susceptible to aerial scoring. They allow over 225 yards per game, good for just 82nd in the country. They’re much better against the run, which is the uptick in the Michigan offense. The three headed backfield of Isaac, Evans and Higdon are dangerous, but only if the passing game can keep eight defenders out of the box. In a second consecutive defensive showdown, I feel obligated to go the team that isn’t coming in on a two game losing streak.
South Carolina 24-Michigan 20
Auburn vs. UCF
This game has one looming question behind it: Just how good is Central Florida? The Knights enter bowl season as the only undefeated team in FBS play, going a perfect 13-0 and capturing the AAC title. they’ve beaten Memphis twice and USF in a close rivalry week game, but outside of that? The schedule has been lackluster, at best. If Wisconsin received unwarranted flak, then here’s my rebuttal and chance to give similar discredit to UCF. Despite going 13-0, very few outside of Orlando know the name McKenzie Milton. The quarterback produced almost 4400 total yards, adding 42 touchdowns in the process. Milton has led the Knights to become the second highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 47 points per game. Five times the team scored over 50. Four of those times, they reached 60 or better. The defense, however, was a bit suspect as of late, giving up 42 and 55 points in the final two games of the season. While defeating the high-flying Memphis offense twice was impressive, the Knights will take on the most complete team they’ve faced this season when they play Auburn. Much like UCF, the Tigers have one burning question: Do they care? What I mean by that is, the Tigers were an SEC title away from playing the CFP. They lost to Georgia, placing them outside the final four, while both Georgia and Alabama represent the SEC from within the top four. Does this game mean anything to the Tigers at this point? We’ve seen in the past teams lose in the final week come out with little aggression in a lesser bowl game. After starting the 2013 season 11-0, Alabama lost to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, keeping them out of the title game. They went on to get throttled by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl later that year. If Auburn can avoid this, they’ll be ready to pick apart UCF. The known name on the Auburn offense is Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 2800 yards and 17 scores this season. Maybe the lesser known entity is running back Kerryon Johnson, who ran for over 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Knights allow 166 yards per game on the ground. The Tigers allow 178 through the air per game. Advantage: Auburn. Even with head coach Scott Frost in the picture, this is a tough draw for UCF if Auburn wants to play. I’ve always been taught to take the team with it’s coaching staff in tact. I’ll continue that trend. The magic ends for the Knights.
Auburn 30-UCF 24
Notre Dame vs. LSU
After five weeks this season, I wouldn’t have given you grief if you said LSU might go 6-6. After losing to Troy to drop to 3-2, a loss which doesn’t look nearly as bad anymore, the Tigers seemed dead in the water. But then the Tigers ran off six of their final seven game, finishing the season 9-3. Derrius Guice is the most highly talked about player on the Tigers’ squad, having rushed for over 110 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the LSU essentials go through edge rusher Arden Key. Both will likely be first round picks come April, but Key could be a top five pick in the NFL Draft. He leads the Tigers defense He had just 33 tackles this season due to injury. His status for the game is uncertain. Key would be a huge missing cog should he not suit up. If he does, it will be an interesting matchup between two potential top ten picks when he lines up against Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey. Even without Key, the Tigers are stout defensively. They allow just 19 points per game, 185 yards through the air and 126 yards on the ground. They’re simply tough to beat. The man tasked with defeating them will be former Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush, who combined for over 2500 yards and 30 touchdowns this year. To his hip is Heisman finalist Josh Adams. Adams ran for 1300 yards and nine scores this season. While the Fighting Irish dropped a week two game to final four Georgia by just one point, I find the schedule to be lacking. Maybe it was a Notre Dame bias, but it appeared the Irish were getting a better spot in the rankings than they should have each week. Despite beating USC, the Notre Dame lost its three most important games this year, falling to Georgia, Miami and Stanford. I’m not convinced this Notre Dame team is anything more than good in 2017. I’m taking the Tigers.
LSU 28-Notre Dame 23
Rose Bowl Semi-Final
Oklahoma vs. Georgia
The CFP gets things started off in style, as the high flying Sooners take on the defensive minded and upstart Bulldogs. Oklahoma was picked by many to win the Big 12, and they delivered, losing just once this season. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield leads the way for the Sooners offense that scores 45 points per game. Six times this season, they’ve exceeded that number. In route to the Heisman, Mayfield threw for 4340 yards and 41 touchdowns, both good for second most in the country. He added five scores with his legs. Outside of Mayfield, the offense is spread efficiently. Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon have split carries this season and each have been effective, rushing for 960 and 710 yards respectively. Like many Big 12 defenses, the Sooner defense was suspect at times this season, but finished allowing 25 points per game. That’s more than enough to win comfortably when the offense is firing like it so often does. Georgia, on the other hand, was not as expected, but have been a very welcome addition this season. After starting quarterback Jacob Eason went down to injury just seven throws into the season, freshman Jake Fromm stepped into the spotlight and shined. He threw 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and while the stats aren’t mindboggling, he was never asked to be THE GUY, but instead, just be you. He’s excelled far beyond that. The Bulldogs have, quite possibly, the best running back trio in the nation. Headlined by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the trio have rushed for nearly 2700 yards this season and 29 touchdowns. Chubb leads the way with 1175 yards, followed by Michel, who’s racked up 948 yards. But don’t sleep on freshman Deandre Swift, who will be the starting running back next senior when both Chubb and Michel graduate. The defense gives up just 13 points per game and have been exceptional against the pass. What is concerning is that three Bulldogs have been arrested in the past few weeks, and while the charges aren’t serious, it could certainly impact a locker room. While Georgia’s defense is sensational, I think the Oklahoma offense is even better.
Oklahoma 34-Georgia 28
Sugar Bowl Semi-Final
Alabama vs. Clemson
The showdown the world has been waiting for. Heavyweight battle round three between the 2015 and 2016 National Champions. While this one isn’t for the title, it still will certainly have just as much intrigue. For the first time in this tilt, the Clemson Tigers are without Deshaun Watson, but instead, are led by Kelly Bryant. How important is Bryant to the Tigers? The lone game he didn’t finish, they lost. The junior threw for over 2600 yards and added an additional 646 on the ground. He was responsible for 24 combined touchdowns. But don’t sell the defense short, either. The Tigers boast the number two scoring defense in the nation, averaging just 13 points per game. They’re 13th in the country against the run, and even better defending the pass. The Tigers dominated Miami en route to an ACC title a few weeks ago. The Crimson Tide alos enter this game at 12-1, but without the luxury of a conference title. After losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Alabama sat back and watched Auburn fall to Georgia in the SEC title game, allowing the Tide to get in over both Aburn and Big Ten Champ Ohio State. It’s the usual suspects for Alabama: run the football and play the best defense in America. Jalen Hurts has been brilliant this season under center, throwing just one interception to 15 touchdowns. He’s also added eight rushing touchdowns. Often to his left or right hip is Bo Scarbrough or Damien Harris. The two are both powerful, quick runners who are a load to bring down. Standout wide receiver Calvin Ridley will likely be a better NFL receiver than a college one. He has 55 for 900 yards but just three scores. You know this team wins through defense, though. The Tide are third against the run, seventh against the pass, and allow the least points per game. It’s the two best defenses in the country squaring off, and the winner is all of us. But, of course, there must be an on field winner, and I’m taking Saban to get his revenge on Dabo and move onto the National Championship.
Alabama 20-Clemson 17
College Football National Championship TBA vs. TBA
While this, of course, is to be announced, you can wager a guess as to which teams I think will be playing in this game. I’ve already broken down the two squads in their prior matchups, so I won’t go into excruciating detail. This one is the game I’ve been craving to see all season long. It pits the best offense in the nation, (well fourth highest scoring but the best overall), against the best defense in the country (this one is actually true). It’s Baker Mayfield versus the vaunted Crimson Tide defense that allows just 11.5 points a game. Much like the previous two National Championships have been, I think we’d get an instant classic with this one. It’s not a complex idea, either. It comes down to Mayfield’s offense versus Saban’s defense. As good as that Crimson Tide defense is, there’s been something special about this Sooner team all year, and I’m taking them to win the national title.
Oklahoma 31-Alabama 30
There you have it, folks. The list is finally complete. It was a long, arduous process that took years off my life and the life of my laptop, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t worth it. It was a ton of fun to break these games down and go into detail about teams I knew, while getting to know teams I didn’t. Bowl season starts this Saturday, and will be an exhilarating ride for me, and I hope you, as well. I will put out a piece shortly following this that will simply give you all my predictions for all 40 bowl games. That way, you can hold me responsible when I go 13-27. Or, I could go 31-9 like I did a few years ago. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports