Your New Year’s Weekend Bowl Preview

These previews will get us through Sunday.  I’ll have a big column Monday morning previewing the Playoff and other bowl games that day.  Enjoy the weekend!

Cotton Bowl: No.8 USC vs. No.5 Ohio State

This game is going to be awesome.  There’s so many variables, so many what-ifs, and so much talent.  I can’t wait.

Say what you want about Ohio State and the Playoff.  I thought the committee got it right, but I understood the other side of the story.  However, the concerns the committee had about the Buckeyes are going to show again in this game.

USC was the team always on the cusp.  They were good, but never quite good enough.  A lackluster defense hurt them, and so did sometimes-mediocre play from quarterback Sam Darnold.  If I’m him, I’m staying another year.  This wasn’t nearly his best season.

This is a great matchup.  On paper, these are two powerful, talented offenses with multiple ways of putting up points.  They can run effectively and get big plays through the air.

But for the Buckeyes, that hasn’t exactly been the case.  Effort and execution has plagued them this year on both ends, with effort being main the problem offensively.  They start slow, or J.T. Barrett is off, or there’s a laziness to their game plan.  It was always something this year, and I think the committee saw that and passed.

That can’t happen against USC.  While the Trojans are also mediocre on that side of the ball, they can also explode at any moment.  You can be down 14 like that.

The stats love the Buckeyes defense for whatever reason, but they were quite bad in situational moments this season.  I don’t trust them a bit.  They’re talented enough to give Ronald Jones lll some trouble, but if Darnold is coming out and wants to make scouts way too excited, then this game would be the time to do it.

Ohio State’s offense on a perfect day should torch the Trojans.  But there haven’t been many perfect days for the Buckeyes on that side of the ball this year.  You really think I can trust any aspect of this team?

We’ve gotten to the point with this offense that I’m not sure I want J.T. Barrett with the ball in his hands all the time.  With that being said, I’m feeding J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber and am letting them take over this game, giving the Trojans as few possessions as possible.

If I’m USC, I’m attacking immediately, trying to limit the confidence of Buckeyes defenders as early as possible.  Once they give up, they are done (Except for the Penn State game, but that had some other crazy things happen).

I’ve been critical of them all year, and because of that I’m hesitant to trust them in big games.  I’m taking USC.  I can’t put any faith in Ohio State, and I think Darnold can go off against this defense.

Prediction: USC-38  Ohio State-30

Fiesta Bowl: No.11 Washington vs. No.9 Penn State 

Do you like points?  Well, then this is the game for you.

These are the 10th and 11th ranked teams in offensive FEI per Football Outsiders.  Penn State torched teams all year with Saquon Barkley running down people’s throats, and then cap drives off with Trace McSorley touchdown passes.

Washington runs a similar offense with running back Myles Gaskin, who ran for 19 TDs and caught three more.  Jake Browning’s less talented than McSorley, but has still managed to get the ball out effectively.  It helps when you have Dante Pettis and Hunter Bryant as wide receivers.

The only reason the defenses may matter is because, like the offenses, they’re top in the nation too.  FEI has the Huskies defense ranked 6th, and Penn State’s 12th.

Both defenses have an insane amount of weapons to worry about, which why I think this game comes back to offense at the end of the day.  So who outscores who?

As good as Washington has been, Browning’s a tad concerning.  He’s got a big arm, but accuracy remains an issue.  Even though he averaged 8.26 yards per attempt this year, Browning’s not the gunslinger the stats make him out to be.  He only completed 212 passes all year!

Penn State’s more complete offensively, but you have to wonder if Joe Moorhead’s exit will have an effect (By the way, that was the best coaching move this offseason by Mississippi State).  The history of teams switching offensive coordinators before big bowl games in recent years isn’t great (Cough, Alabama).  But, the Nittany Lions’ offense isn’t the Crimson Tide’s.  When you have Saquon Barkley, it may not matter.  It’s something to keep an eye on though.

The Huskies won’t be able to stop Barkley, but can limit him significantly with their run defense, which is the best in the country by yards allowed.  That’s gonna force McSorley to throw, which isn’t necessarily a bad plan either.  This isn’t the Washington secondary from last year; you can throw on them.  Washington allowed a 63.8% completion percentage against opposing QBs.  They’re gonna have to hope Browning steps up to keep them in this game.

Penn State’s pass defense isn’t great either, so it’s gonna take a flop for Washington to struggle.   We’ve seen the Nittany Lions have poor defensive performances against so-so offenses earlier this season.  No offense they’ve faced has been as good as this one.

This is a tough game to pick.  I think it comes down to the final possession.  Both teams are gonna be able to throw the ball well, as Barkley isn’t going to be as effective against the Husky front.  Washington will attack a weak Lions secondary.  In these games, you usually take the better defense or the better quarterback.  Washington’s D is better, but McSorley is the guy I want in a shootout.  I’ll take him.

Prediction: Penn State-48  Washington-45

Orange Bowl: No.6 Wisconsin vs. No.10 Miami

The committee nailed the four non-playoff New Year’s Six games.  What great matchups.

However, this is probably the most lopsided.  Miami’s been a fun story, with a bunch of people hopping back on the bandwagon from 20 years ago and the Turnover Chain lighting up Twitter, but on the field it hasn’t been as happy.  Though ranked 10th in the 2nd-to-last rankings, the Hurricanes are carried by their defense, and are screwed in any game if quarterback Malik Rosier doesn’t play well.

That’s not saying Wisconsin’s all that better.  They’re both very similar teams, with great defenses and offenses that are capable of stalling during any game.  Badgers QB Alex Hornibrook is just as likely, if not more likely, as Rosier to make a terrible decision.

Wisconsin had no chance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.  The only reason they were in the game was because of the turnovers they forced.  Part of it was the classic, nonfunctional offense of the Badgers, part of was terrible throws by Hornibrook, and part of it was the Ohio State defense taking advantage of it (I just can’t give the Buckeyes more credit than that).

Miami’s defense is ranked 11th in FEI, one behind Ohio State.  Shouldn’t the Badgers struggle mightily again?

Not necessarily.  The Hurricanes offense ranks a paltry 39th in the country.  This should be easy money for Wisconsin’s defense, which is far and away the top dog on that side of the ball.  In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Rosier has completed 54.8% of his passes, and only threw 25 TDs with 11 interceptions this year.  Not great!  Rosier will have Braxton Berrios, but being without Ahmmon Richards once again bites.  He’s a downfield threat the Hurricanes miss.  Wisconsin’s defense is too good; they’ll be able to take Berrios out of the game, leaving Rosier to force balls.  That’s how Wisconsin wins games, and it’s how they’ll win this one.

Offensively, Wisconsin should give Jonathan Taylor the ball as much as possible.  Miami’s the 44th best team in the country against the run.  Taylor and the Badgers have that matchup all day, and if Hornibrook can make a couple big throws, then the Badgers should ease to an Orange Bowl win.

Prediction: Wisconsin-24  Miami-10