Tuesday, January 1st
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 8 UCF vs. No. 11 LSU
Location and Time: State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, 1 pm.
This bowl game will be the first meeting between UCF and LSU. LSU is by far the more storied team, but UCF has become a topic of conversation in recent years.
UCF is undefeated this season, and last year’s self-proclaimed national champions hold the longest current winning streak at 25. Despite this, the Knights have been dubbed the underdogs of the Fiesta Bowl. They defeated SEC opponent Auburn in last year’s Peach Bowl, 34-27. The noticeable difference for this game? No McKenzie Milton. The junior quarterback suffered a traumatic leg injury late in the season, and has been relieved by redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr, who has thrown for 522 yards on the season and 2 touchdowns, with 340 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. 407 of those yards, as well as both passing touchdown and 4 rushing touchdowns came against Memphis in the AAC championship, a 56-41 win. UCF has an interesting and effective offense that features two running backs that are threats on the ground and in the air. Junior Adrian Killins Jr. has rushed for 698 yards with 4 touchdowns, and added 385 yards and 4 touchdowns in the air as well. Killins’ status is currently unknown for the game after suffering a lower-body injury against Memphis. His counterpart, sophomore running back Greg McCrae is available for the game, and has put up 1,101 rushing yards with 9 touchdowns, as well as 7 receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown. McCrae rushed for 100 yards or more in 4 out of his last 5 games, with a season high 206 in the AAC championship. Their defense bolsters a hefty plus-14 turnover margin, which places them third in the FBS.
LSU has had it’s ups and downs this season, one that saw several wins against top-10 teams, but featured 3 losses including a 74-72 loss in seven overtimes to Texas A&M. Led by redshirt junior quarterback Joe Burrow, the Tigers offense will look to displace its 4th top-10 opponent this season. Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State, has thrown for exactly 2,500 yards this season. He’s only thrown for 12 touchdowns with 4 interceptions, but has rushed for 375 yards and 7 touchdowns. The junior looks to match Zach Mettenberger as the only starting quarterbacks to win 10 games in their first season with the Tigers. Also chasing a record is senior running back Nick Brossette. Brossette sits at 922 yards, just 78 yards shy of giving LSU a 1,000-yard rusher for its sixth straight season. The Tigers will need help from their defense though, and a short-handed one at that. The Tiger defense has been stout in the past years, spearheaded by all-American junior linebacker Devin White. White has accounted for 115 tackles this season, including 12 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 recovered fumbles. The winner of this year’s Butkus Award given to the best linebacker in the country, White had a phenomenal season, and has committed fully to playing this game. The rest of LSU’s defense will not be so full. Freshman corner Kelvin Joseph will not be playing after violating team rules, while sophomore corner Greedy Williams and junior nose guard Ed Alexander have declared their intention of forgoing the game and entering their names into the NFL draft. Junior corner Kristian Fulton and junior defensive end Breiden Fehoko will not be playing in the game due to injuries, while freshman corner Kelvin Joseph is suspended for the game and sophomore linebacker Jacob Phillips will miss the first half from a targeting ejection against Texas A&M.
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Washington
Location and Time: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, 5 pm.
Ohio State and Washington were both teams with high playoff hopes at the beginning of the season. Various losses eliminated both teams from contention, but placed them in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Ohio State leads the series 8-3 with a current streak of 3. Washington’s last win over the Buckeyes was in 1995.
Ohio State’s lone loss, a devastating 49-20 loss to Purdue in October, shut the Buckeyes out of the playoffs. They’ve had a strong season, with coach Urban Meyer being suspended for the first three games and being pained by illnesses often throughout the season. Coach Meyer announced his retirement at the end of the season, and instead will teach at Ohio State. Ohio State’s offense, led by sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Haskins, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, was electric this year. Haskins threw for 4,580 yards with 47 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and threw for more than 300 yards in 9 out of their 13 games. He rushed for 122 yards as well and ran for 4 scores. His high powered offensive production will be accompanied by sophomore running back JK Dobbins, who has 1,029 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing, and 248 reception yards and 2 touchdowns in the air as well. Senior receiver Parris Campbell will look to make an impact as well, with 992 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. The Buckeyes don’t have any players who are draft eligible reporting that they are skipping the bowl game,
For the Washington Huskies, the season was a bit of a roller coaster. The Huskies lost their first game of the season to Auburn, 21-16, and would lose to Oregon and Cal, but still manage to stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 title, and eventually beat Utah 10-3. Their offense has not been as efficient as the Buckeyes. Led by senior quarterback Jake Browning, the Huskies have averaged about 26 points per game. Browning has thrown for 2,879 yards and 16 touchdowns in his last season, but has also thrown 10 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 147 yards and 4 touchdowns. Senior Myles Gaskin has also been largely responsible for the offensive production, rushing for 1,147 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. With this 1,000-yard season, Gaskin becomes the only Pac-12 player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in 4 seasons. The Huskies will need complete games from their senior leaders as well as senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who accounts for 164 of Washington’s total tackles. Burr-Kirven, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, forced 4 fumbles, had 2 interceptions, and had 4 tackles for loss. None of the Huskies have opted out of the bowl game either, and will have their hands full with the Buckeyes.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 15 Texas
Location and Time: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, 8:45 pm.
Georgia and Texas haven’t met since 1984 in the Cotton Bowl, a 10-9 Georgia victory. Although Georgia has the most recent victory, Texas beat them 3 time prior to that, in 1949, 1957 and 1958. Two teams with a lot to prove, this matchup has potential to be one of the best of the season, despite being the last.
Coming off of a national championship appearance last season, Georgia’s playoff hopes skidded to a halt with a 36-16 loss to LSU midway through the season, and a 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Many considered Georgia to still be one of the best teams in the country despite the two losses, and their efficient offense was a big reason why. Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm had a great year, throwing for 2,537 yards and 27 touchdowns with 5 interceptions. He was the third most pass efficient quarterback this season behind Heisman winner Kyler Murray and runner-up Tua Tagovailoa. Balancing some of the workload with him were the electric running backs that had such big shoes to fill. Junior running back Elijah Holyfield and sophomore running back D’Andre Swift were just 7 yards shy of 2,000 combined yards. Swift rushed for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns, adding 267 receiving yards and catching 2 touchdowns as well. Holyfield, who hasn’t given any indication of either returning for next season or heading to the draft, rushed for 956 yards and 7 touchdowns tExpect the junior to come out hungry to reach that 1,000 yard mark. Fromm spread his passes among 4 primary targets. Sophomore wide receiver Riley Ridley led the team with 509 yards and 9 touchdowns. Junior tight end Isaac Nauta had 427 yards and 3 touchdowns, while junior receiver Jeremiah Holloman and senior receiver Terry Godwin shared 727 yards and 8 touchdowns. All of these players will be out to prove the belonged in the top 4 teams. They’ll need some help from their defense though, who will be without All-American, Jim Thorpe Award winning senior defensive back Deandre Baker, who will sit out of the game in preparation for the draft. Georgia’s defense has a number of other playmakers that will step up, including sophomore defensive back Richard Lecounte III. Lecounte saw in increase in playtime this season, and led the team with 67 tackles, 40 of which were solo, also a team-high. He also has an interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 recovered fumbles.
The Longhorns had a few more obstacles to overcome this season. Finishing at 9-4, they beat Oklahoma in the regular season, 48-45, but lost to Maryland at the beginning of the season, Oklahoma State and West Virginia in back-to-back weeks, and then would fall to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship. They put up impressive numbers and are hoping to come back even stronger next season, and they have a strong leader to guide them. Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger will look to improve an already impressive season, after throwing for 3,123 yards with 25 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He is recovering from a shoulder sprain, but is expected to play in the Sugar Bowl. Ehlinger also rushed for 418 yards and 13 touchdowns on his own, so that will be an important aspect to monitor with his shoulder situation. One of his favorite targets, junior wide wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey has 1,109 yards and 9 receiving touchdowns on the season, with a rushing touchdown as well. Combined with junior receiver Collin Johnson, who has 945 yards and 7 touchdowns, the Longhorns are sure to rely heavily on the two in an effort to outscore Georgia and finish the season on a high note. Defensively, the Longhorns are going to have their hands full. They allow about 401 yards a game, while Georgia puts up 478. They’re going to rely on senior linebacker Gary Johnson, who leads the team with 85 tackles (56 solo) and has 15.5 tackles for loss, and senior defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, who has 43 tackles, a team-high 16 tackles for loss, and a team-high 9.5 sacks. These boys will be eager to push through Georgia’s offensive line and get pressure on Fromm to give them a 10-win season for the first time since 2009.
Alex Powers | @LAXGirlLex