Rose Bowl: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
There was a wild stretch during the regular season where it really seemed like both Oregon and Wisconsin could be legitimate Playoff contenders. The committee was overselling the Pac-12 schools, desperately trying as hard as they could to squeeze the conference in since it was a total embarrassment last season. Wisconsin had completely transformed itself offensively, almost in an LSU-like way, thanks to Jack Coan’s throwing ability and Jonathan Taylor. It really seemed like two schools who had been always outside the bubble were maybe going to burst in.
The same old occurrences happened. Oregon completely choked their chances away in Tempe against Arizona State, where a freshman quarterback totally outplayed Justin Herbert in primetime. Wisconsin was in great shape until they decided to not score a point the entire second half of the Big Ten Championship Game, blowing leads of 14-0 and 21-7 versus Ohio State.
There’s probably no better runner-up game than the Rose Bowl though. This game has seen a lot of points in the past four years; the only exception was last year’s game between the Buckeyes and Washington.
This year could follow a similar path. These are two very good defenses – ranked ninth (Wisconsin) and 11th (Oregon) in Football Outsiders’ FEI – pitted against offenses that have their ups and downs. They could be reduced to nothing fast.
Herbert and the Ducks offense could be crossed off almost immediately from having a substantial impact in this game. Oregon’s infamous for not showing up when it matters post Marcus Mariota; Herbert could have three interceptions at halftime if he really wanted to some days. Pit that up against the Badgers defense – the second-best group Oregon has faced this year (Utah was first, a game in which Oregon won, but that was much more predicated on the offense not showing up for the Utes) – and the Ducks could be leaning heavily on their D to bail them out.
Wisconsin doesn’t come into this game with the same offensive concerns. Despite’s Oregon’s talented group, the Badgers have lit it up against good units this season. It put up 38 on Michigan State in a shutout, 35 on Michigan, 38 on Minnesota and, as mentioned above, stomped Ohio State in its tracks in the first half of the pair’s second meeting of the season in Indianapolis.
If the Badgers can force Herbert into a bad performance, the Ducks defense will be out there a lot. Wisconsin’s ability to run the ball and wear out opponents creates a tough dynamic for Oregon. And that’s not even considering Coan and the passing game, who can act as just another option for this revamped offense.
Oregon will need Herbert to play like a top ten pick in this game. If he doesn’t, it’s Wisconsin’s to lose.
Prediction: Wisconsin-30 Oregon-17
Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor
The only team to beat the Baylor Bears this season was Oklahoma – who did it twice, both in absurd fashion.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement now, given the Sooners’ embarrassing performance in the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma was also the best team by far that Baylor played this season. Now they’re faced with the SEC’s second-or-third best team; a group that likely would have made LSU work more than Oklahoma did.
But despite the glorification of Georgia, they have their own dings. They’re essentially what LSU was before Joe Burrow showed up: an inefficient offensive team that had trouble doing anything but running the ball and relied on its defense to win games.
Their defense is one of the best in the country – ranked fourth by FEI. The team right behind them on that chart though? Baylor.
Baylor’s schedule might have been a cakewalk, perhaps overrating its defense. But the Bears do play in the Big 12, where explosive offenses rule the land. They held Oklahoma to 34 and 30 points in each matchup, a respective number considering their firepower. Oklahoma State was held to 27, while Texas Tech to 20 and Texas to just 10.
Georgia might have more skill than those Big 12 opponents, but the 39th ranked offense by FEI hasn’t made use of it. They tend to start slow, and don’t have a quarterback who can carry them when defenses lock up the run game. Baylor should be able to contain them at least adequately.
Baylor has to get a performance like that or better to have a chance. The Bears haven’t encountered anything like this Georgia defense all season. For every powerful Big 12 offense there’s a porous Big 12 defense (Baylor’s the exception to this). Those defenses are what the Bears offense has been facing all season.
The Bulldogs might be a massive wakeup call for Baylor offense. A stifling could be the result.
Prediction: Georgia-31 Baylor-14