New Years Day Early Slate Preview

2020 will be the seventh calendar year that this website will be functioning for.  Thanks to everyone who has stuck with it for so long.

Anyways, here are previews for the two Noon/central bowl games today.  Previews for the Rose and Sugar Bowl will go up later today.

Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 13 Alabama

It’s not clear if these two teams being ranked within one spot of each other documents the College Football Playoff committee’s continued overvaluation of Michigan or their strange underestimation of Alabama.

Such a fall for the Crimson Tide feels harsh. With Tua Tagovailoa’s injury, it wasn’t really their fault they’re in this spot.  If their star quarterback had played, perhaps one could punish them more for the Iron Bowl loss.

But backup quarterback Mac Jones has played particularly well in relief for Tua.  He’s a gunslinger; this isn’t someone like Blake Sims. Jones has put up numbers thanks to his loaded receiving core, which is a group that should probably hold more weight amongst the committee.

Perhaps Alabama’s ranking feels low because of how they match up with the teams around them, and their bowl game opponent. The Tide are so much more talented across their entire roster. That has to play into some consideration, rather than just resume and eye test.

That talent difference should be evident in this game, and be a death blow to the committee’s obsession with Michigan, which likely stems from their massive fan base and celebrity head coach (They draw ratings. The committee loves that). Michigan’s defense has been the element keeping them in the spotlight due to its sheer competentence. Without this group, Michigan is probably on the bowl eligibility bubble and is searching for a new head coach.  This is unit is really good, and are amazing compared to the unit on the other side of the ball. The Wolverines D keeps them in and wins this team games. Alabama is their toughest task ever, though.

Last season, Ohio State laid out a beautiful blueprint for how to defeat this defense. In that showdown at the Big House, Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes took advantage of the Wolverines man-heavy defensive scheme by attacking with short-range passing. They beat them with pure speed and scheme of their own. Ohio State ran slants the entire first quarter, and jumped out to an early 21-6 lead by doing so. It forced Michigan’s defensive backs to run hard and play press almost every down, tiring them out and causing a slippage in performance.

The Crimson Tide can learn greatly from that game, and possibly use it to their advantage as well. Alabama has two of the fastest players in the country in Henry Ruggs lll and Jaylen Waddle, alongside Jerry Judy, who’s so good at everything that his speed is underrated.

Playing man-to-man against those guys is terrifying. But Michigan’s defensive backs are so skilled that those concerns have never manifested except for that one game last year. That was just one really bad game.

Heavily relying on your secondary though is dangerous, especially in a game like this where Michigan’s offense – that’s had immense struggles – is going up against one of the best defenses in the country.

The matchup between Michigan’s offense and an SEC defense has the potential to be hysterically bad. The Wolverines have had such excruciating strings of non-production with the ball this season that it’s been hard to watch. For an offensive-minded coach like Jim Harbaugh to be in charge of an offense like this has been embarrassing at times.

It’s hard to see how Shea Patterson and Co. has a chance against the Tide’s stout front, which means that their talented secondary has little margin for error against the best receiver group in the country.

Even if the Tide can’t capitalize as frequently as Ohio State did a year ago, it won’t mean that they won’t have any success. If Bama’s defense pitches the performance they’re capable of, then one or two big plays from the Tide’s offense is all that should be needed for Alabama to get a victory.

Prediction: Alabama-27 Michigan-13

Outback Bowl: No. 18 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Auburn

For most of the season, it seemed as if both of these teams would be playing in a New Years Six bowl, but a fall from grace for the Golden Gophers and the Tigers coming to the reality of starting a freshman quarterback led to these two teams squaring off against each other in what is a game that could see quite a bit points.

Atop their ceilings, these are two powerful offenses. When Bo Nix is having a good game, Auburn becomes very scary thanks to their top five defense on the other end of the field. Minnesota, on the other hand, needs their secondary to be consistent and not blow coverages at critical times – there’s just too much talent back there for that to continually be the case.

If the Golden Gophers can force Nix – who has a knack for really bad decisions at times – to be uncomfortable in the pocket, then this game becomes a battle between the Minnesota receivers and the Auburn secondary.

The wide-out group in Minneapolis is scary. There’s two first round talents lurking there in Tyler Johnson (who won’t sneak into the first round in April but would in any other draft thanks to this year’s insane class) and Rashod Bateman (A likely first rounder in 2021). Throw in Chris Autman-Bell and the strong-armed Tanner Morgan and the Gophers become a lot to handle.

But Auburn is the No. 12 team in the country, and that’s with playing the second-hardest schedule in college football. The Tigers faced and shut down powerhouse SEC offenses, among them LSU, Georgia and Florida. Auburn lost all three of those games, but they gave up less than 24 points in each of them. Defense has kept the Tigers in every game this year, and practically every game has been one they may not have had any business winning.

The Tigers might be the most battle-tested team in the land. Yet, they can succumb fast if it’s not the right day. Nix was horrible in practically every big game Auburn played in this year. Oregon in Week 1 was the outlier – where he led a huge – but his numbers were still quite ugly after that game.

Minnesota’s group isn’t as good as some of the defenses Nix has had to deal with this season. They’re 37th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive FEI, but are top 20 in turnover rate, which could play a big factor due to Nix’s decision making issues.

Though the stakes aren’t nearly as high and the opponent isn’t nearly as talented, this game is set up similarly to the Iron Bowl. Auburn still has a freshman quarterback who can be an absolute loose cannon going up against a good defense in a big game. Their defense is matched up with a powerful, multidimensional offense with big, highly-skilled receivers. And it’s a huge game. Two top 20 teams. New Years Day. The spotlight is on.

All of that could result in defense getting thrown completely out the window, like it was in that Auburn-Alabama shootout in November. If that’s the case, it’s probably best to go with who you trust more at quarterback. Nix has shown us all season that we shouldn’t trust him.

Prediction: Minnesota-42 Auburn-38