For college football fans, bowl season is bittersweet. Although it marks the end of the season, we get to see so many unlikely matchups between teams that generally don’t play during the regular season. Among the best of them are the New Year’s Six Bowls, the games that feature the top talent and highest ranked teams. Here’s a look into the matchups that will start Saturday afternoon.
Saturday, December 29, 2018
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida
Location and Time: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, Noon.
For Florida and Michigan, this matchup seems to be almost like familiar territory. These teams have met 3 times in the past 4 seasons. In fact, the two met in 2015 for the Citrus Bowl with Michigan pulling off a 41-7 win, and just last year with a 33-17 Michigan win. Florida has not yet beaten the Wolverines, and look to change that this year. With a full roster reporting for the bowl game, Florida will undoubtedly look for a big game from redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks and junior defensive lineman Jachai Polite. Franks this season has thrown for 2,284 yards this season with 23 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Polite has proven himself as a tremendous pass rusher. Polite has 11 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 4 pass breakups on the season, putting his name high on the list of things Michigan needs to prepare for, as their offensive line struggled late in the season, particularly against Ohio State.
As for Michigan, they will not hold the same full roster than Florida will. Michigan has 4 crucial players who are draft-eligible elect to skip the Peach Bowl, one of which being senior running back Karan Higdon. A strong leader for Michigan’s offense, Higdon rushed for 1,178 yards this season, with 10 touchdowns. Also missing the bowl game will be senior right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, junior defensive end Rashan Gary, and junior linebacker Devin Bush. Michigan’s defense will need to reclaim their identity as being the best defense in the nation after giving up 567 yards to Ohio State in their last outing in the Big 10 Championship game back in November. Their offense will also be looking to prove themselves. Junior running back Chris Evans will fill the void left by Higdon, after rushing for 403 yards on the season with 4 touchdowns in 9 games. His production increase will model what Wolverine fans are in for next season as the offseason approaches. Also on display will be junior Shea Patterson, who recently announced his return to Michigan for his senior season in lieu of entering his name for the draft. This will be his first bowl game, and statistically he has had a great season. Patterson has thrown for 2,364 yards with 21 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
The quarterback play will be an interesting aspect for both teams, while Florida looks to take the next step in developing an identity under their first year coach Dan Mullen, and Michigan looks to return back to the playoffs in 2019.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 2 Clemson vs No. 3 Notre Dame
Location and Time: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, 4 pm.
The Cotton Bowl has been a hot subject for discussion recently for a wide variety of reasons. Featuring two of the teams selected by the College Football Playoff Committee to compete for the chance to play for the championship on January 7th, Clemson leads Notre Dame in head to head wins 2-1, with Clemson winning their last meeting in 2015, 24-22. Before that, their last meeting was in 1979.
Controversy has surrounded both teams. Notre Dame has been heavily criticized for years for being an independent team (meaning they belong to no conference and do not play for a conference championship), which became a point of heavy emphasis last year. On the other side of the field, Clemson had 3 players who tested positive for a banned substance, one of which being starting defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. These players have been officially suspended by the NCAA and will not play in the game.
Moving along, both teams bolster impressive undefeated records, with Clemson sitting at 13-0 after winning the ACC Championship for the 4th consecutive year. Their sensational freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence gained sole control of the job earlier this year after splitting with graduate student Kelly Bryant, who would later announce his transfer from Clemson to Missouri. Lawrence has been lethal, throwing for 2,606 yards, 24 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Sophomore running back Travis Etienne has also been explosive, rushing for 1,463 yards with 21 touchdowns. If the two have a shutout night, combined with their 4-man receiver corps that has caught 173 passes for 2,492 yards combined, Clemson’s high scoring offense will be rolling all night. Their defense is also a force to be reckoned with. On average, their defense only allows about 13.7 points per game, with redshirt junior defensive end Clelin Ferrell exploding for 17 tackles for losses, and 10.5 sacks.
Notre Dame sits at 12-0. Many have counted out the Irish, but their offense has been silently efficient after replacing senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush with junior quarterback Ian Book, despite Wimbush leading the team to a 3-0 record. Book has passed for 2,468 yards with 19 touchdowns and 6 picks, and rushed for 250 yards with 4 touchdowns. Accompanying him is running back Dexter Williams. The senior was suspended for the first 4 games, but has been a tremendous asset for Notre Dame since his return. He’s rushed for 941 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 8 games, adding 104 receiving yards and a touchdown to that total as well. Notre Dame also has one of the top defenses in the country behind one of the top cornerbacks in the country, All-American junior Julian Love. He currently hold’s Notre Dame’s career pass breakup record with 38, with 15 of those coming this season. Another name to look for from Notre Dame’s defense is senior linebacker Te’von Coney. Coney has been an asset for the defense, with 107 total tackles, 59 of them being solo tackles. He also has 9 tackles for loss this year and 3.5 sacks.
This game has the potential to be strong defensive showing, with a trip to the championship on the line.
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Oklahoma
Location and Time: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida, 8
This matchup is expected to be the most interesting of the season. Oklahoma and Alabama have met a total of 5 times, with Oklahoma leads the series 3-1-1 after winning their last 3 meetings, with the most recent meeting being in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, a 45-31 win for the Sooners. Two efficient offenses will be on display, while a dominant defense will be out for vengeance.
Alabama is the more complete team from top to bottom. Their dynasty has been growing over the past decade, and their players are considered the best in college football. Sophomore quarterback and Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa has held the reigns for most of the season, after coming in for relief in last year’s national championship game against Georgia. The sophomore this year has thrown for 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 190 yards with 5 touchdowns on the ground. In almost prophetic fashion, the sophomore went down in the SEC championship game against Georgia, and who else should come in to his aid but junior quarterback Jalen Hurts, whom Tua replaced in the national championship game. Hurts led the Tide to another SEC championship and playoff appearance, accounting for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. The junior often played in the second half of games, with a total of 922 yards on the season and 10 touchdowns. The Tide has 5 players with over 500 receiving yards, accounting for 41 touchdowns. The quintet, which includes dominant sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and freshman Jaylen Waddle, average an astonishing 18 yards a catch. Accompanying them are 3 multi-dimensional running backs that have accounted for almost 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Junior Josh Jacobs has silently exploded this year for 14 touchdowns after only scoring 7 times in his first two years, so he will be an interesting factor for the Sooner defense to plan for in addition to senior Damien Harris and sophomore Najee Harris, no relation. To boot, the Tide’s defense has been dominant, allowing 14.8 points a game behind sophomore defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Williams has 18 tackles for a loss on the season, and 8 sacks.
The Tide defense will have their hands full with junior quarterback and Heisman winner Kyler Murray. Murray, the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft, has been lights out this year. With 4,053 passing yards and 892 rushing yards, Murray accounts for 51 touchdowns, 40 of them passing with 7 interceptions. The Sooners have relied on his mobility all season, and that shouldn’t change Saturday night. Assisting him will be redshirt freshman running backs Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon, and junior wide receiver Marquise Brown. Brooks has 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Sermon has 928 yards and 12 touchdowns as well. Brown is listed as probable for the game after a foot injury in their last game, but should be available. The junior has 1,318 yards on the season with 10 touchdowns.
The Sooner offense will have to operate to the highest efficiency to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Tide defense will be the tasked with limiting Murray to keep their high powered offense on top and in contention to hold their title as national champions.