So that I could enjoy New Year’s Eve, I split up Monday column into two parts. Here are previews for the non-Playoff bowls today. The Playoff previews will go up later today.
Peach Bowl: No.12 UCF vs. No.7 Auburn
The rejuvenation of Auburn has been awesome this season. This was the first year in awhile where they ran a competent, explosive offense that had an actual quarterback at the helm. Pair that with one of the best defenses in the country, and the Tigers were a Playoff contender.
I hate to smear them, but it seems like every Group of Five that ends up in a New Year’s Six is a “good story”. OK, they are, but someone has to get that bid. One of them has to be a “good story”. Can we just get rid of that label?
Also, it seems like every coach of the Group of Five team who ends up in the New Year’s Six is coaching their final game, like Scott Frost is at UCF. Is that a little concerning for focus’ sake for the Knights?
Auburn has the matchup advantage here. Yards per attempt and rush do not favor the Knights, who are 67th in YPR and 76th in YPA. For Kerryon Johnson and Jarrett Stidham, those are good conditions for offense.
Johnson’s incredible. If not for Saquon Barkley, he was the best running back in the country this year. The position is always stacked, and was again this year, but his explosiveness and toughness was close to unmatched (Bryce Love was a tough MFer too).
The Tigers just have to do their thing and take care of the ball. If UCF does one thing well, it’s force turnovers. That’s why they’re ranked 20th in FEI. If Auburn is mistake free, they should roll.
Central Florida could get their offense going to, though. They like to throw the ball around; quarterback McKenzie Milton completed 69.2% of passes this year, and averaged an incredible 10.54 yards per attempt. Talk about a downfield passing attack…
Auburn’s defense is great overall, but it’s really the front seven that’s the core of it all. Their secondary was 27th in the nation this season; good but not great. The Tigers are gonna be without top corner Carlton Davis, so UCF should attack that side of the field. Davis was probably gonna be lined up on Tre’Quan Swift, the Knights’ No.1 target.
My concern with the Knights’ on the offensive end revolves around the fact that Auburn’s defense is one of the three best in the Nation, and UCF hasn’t dealt with anything like it. The best defenses they faced were Memphis’, Temple’s and USF’s. Those games were all shootouts; defense didn’t matter. If that’s the case against Auburn, then UCF will find themselves in trouble.
Prediction: Auburn-42 UCF-28
Citrus Bowl: No.14 Notre Dame vs. No.17 LSU
This is the 2nd time these two have matched up in a bowl game in this site’s history, and it’s as underwhelming as ever!
Once again, Notre Dame fell apart late in year after everyone overhyped them. Who could have seen that coming?
LSU was ranked exactly where they should have been. They’re the classic good defensively, average offensively SEC teams that’s probably a little too overrated but no one’s too upset about it. The bias doesn’t exists as much here as it does at other schools.
The Tigers are the never good enough team. With offensive coordinator Matt Canada out the door after this game, LSU is about to go through yet another overhaul.
The passing game just never really got going this year. Danny Etling was alright; he didn’t make mistakes and was actually willing to put the ball downfield. But he lacked big play ability, only throwing for 14 touchdowns.
The Tigers featured Derrius Guice quite a bit in their offense, who did as good a job as one can replacing Leonard Fournette.
The Notre Dame defense is stout. It’s made up for their lacking offense, keeping them in games and really getting them to this bowl game. Traditional stats disagree with their performance this year, but the Irish force a lot of field goals, and are tough to get first downs against. You have to get big plays against them, whiiiiich LSU isn’t good at.
The Irish can’t rely on their offense in this game either. LSU’s defense hasn’t been the same as past years either, but they still rank 32nd in FEI. They’re good against both the run and the pass, but have a huge challenge in Josh Adams. The Tigers got toasted by Kerryon Johnson against Auburn earlier in the season, but engaged in a stalemate with Alabama, and held their running backs to only 69 yards rushing. Jalen Hurts had the most yards that game. Brandon Wimbush isn’t running, and he isn’t gonna be able to throw either. I’ve been over that.
Notre Dame has to get Adams going, because relying on the pass won’t get them far in this game.
The same goes for the Tigers. I trust Etling more than I trust Wimbush, but I’m not confident in either.
I see both teams struggling to get their offenses going, and this ends up a low-scoring, defense-dominated grudge match.
As for who wins? Crap-shoot. Both teams are known for choking rather than being clutch, and neither was overly impressive this year. If I take the better running back, that means Notre Dame is my pick. Do I really feel good about that?
Nope. If anyone’s gonna choke, it’s gonna be the Irish. I’m taking LSU.
Prediction: LSU-24 Notre Dame-13