Curator Sam Burnham This is the week we've all been waiting for. Today we will have five of the so-called New Year's Six, including the two that will determine the contestants for the National Championship Game. The other three promise to be excellent games as well. For my side, I'll be providing my "key to the game", the biggest factor determining the outcome. Football is so much bigger than just stats and the "Xs and Os." So we'll look at what to really expect.
OUTBACK BOWL - MICHIGAN vs SOUTH CAROLINA Jim Harbaugh is headed back to the South but not to seek better players to come to the arctic to play for him...at least not explicitly. The last time these two teams met in Tampa, Jadaveon Clowney separated Vincent Smith's soul from his body before recovering the ensuing fumble. But Clowney and Smith are now gone now.
With Harbaugh and Muschamp walking the sidelines there is bound to be plenty of yelling and probably some ugly words. There will also be some defense. Muschamp teams have never suffered on defense Offense has been a different story. This year the Gamecocks have mustered enough offense to manage 8 wins.
Michigan had a nice start to the season. then the wheels seemed to come off. They edged Indiana in OT before dropping 3 of their last 6, including the last 2. Winning today will depend on Michigan's ability to recover from that late season slide and get back on track. That is mostly a psychological hurdle for the players and coaches alike.
Carolina started the season with a big win against what proved to be a good NC State team. Then they meandered through this season doing what had to be done to get wins. They lost at home to Kentucky and at A&M before the expected losses to Georgia and Clemson.
The key to this game will be for Michigan to put those last two losses behind them and start a new season today. If they can do that as well as ignore the mutterings that this team just is not live up to expectations this year, they have a chance. These guys know they underachieved. They saw the rankings in the early season. There is a disappointment for them in being in this game. They could be playing later in the day. This is an issue of confidence for the Wolverines.
The key for Carolina is to play solid defense and make Michigan make mistakes. As opposed to Michigan, The Gamecocks have done much more than people expected them to do. This year has been a vast improvement over both last season and Muschamp's experience at Florida. So they come in with the confidence factor on their side. They've made it through the year doing just enough to win. That is all they have to do today.
South Carolina has the easier psychological row to hoe. Look for the Big 10 to pick up that first bowl loss of the season. WINNER: SOUTH CAROLINA
PEACH BOWL - AUBURN vs CENTRAL FLORIDA Auburn comes into this game after what can only be called a disappointing end to the season. They were in the driver seat for a playoff run only to have it all upended by the same Georgia team they'd blown out just three weeks prior.
Central Florida has yet to lose a game this year. This will be their final time out with Scott Frost before he heads to his new job at Nebraska. The Knights have yet to score fewer than 31 points in a game this season.
But Auburn has yet to give up more than 28 points in a single game. They have wins against 2 playoff teams. 2 of their 3 losses were to playoff teams. To be sitting in the Peach Bowl with 3 losses, this is a very good football team.
There has been some trash talk from Knights players, some even questioning if Auburn has speed or seen any speed like they will against UCF. I assure you the answer to both is yes. A healthier Kerryon Johnson and with a powerful defense will be ready to show them just how much speed I'm talking about.
The key for UCF will be to not get the opponent in their mind. Was that trash talk for Auburn or was it some self-reassurance? They have played some tough teams this season but this is their chance on the marquee. No one will say "Undefeated but they only played Auburn." This could be a signature win.
The key for Auburn is to just come out and play football. They need to be the team that pummeled Georgia and Alabama. They need to put that SEC Championship loss and missing the playoff out of their mind. The team across the field is one they can beat, maybe one they should beat. But if they come in moping over not being in New Orleans they are going to have bad ending.
I see a healthy Auburn team as one that will take care of business today. Gus will get their key taken care of. WINNER: AUBURN
CITRUS BOWL - NOTRE DAME vs LSU I'm so glad this isn't the Hooters Bowl or the Tidy Bowl or something stupid like that.
What we have here is to sets of big boys about to fight over a 10 win season. The winner gets one, the loser doesn't. 10-3 is worlds better than 9-4. Neither team wants to be 9-4.
Notre Dame has had a great year. They clubbed arch rival Southern Cal as well as scoring double digit wins against Sparty and NC State. The sting of the year is that their best game may have been a 1 point loss to Georgia at home.
LSU had a home loss as well. It certainly wasn't the high point of their season. Sometimes a giant needs a punch in the nose to get back on track. And that seems to have worked in this case. With the exception of a loss in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers finished pretty strong.
The biggest factor is Notre Dame dealing with key injuries and suspensions. It can be a tough task to take on LSU in a bowl with all hands on deck. The Irish comes in with two tight ends and two receivers out before he game even begins. How do they deal with these gaps? They need to be able to throw in a way that keeps LSU's defense honest and opens up their running game. If they can't run today, they can't win today.
On LSU's side of the ball they have to get points on the board. Their defense can play with Notre Dame but the offense has to pull their weight today. Senior QB Danny Etling is playing against his childhood team. He dreamed of playing for Notrre Dame but they never recruited him. He says he is happy to have plated for LSU but you know he wants to prove to the Irish they missed out. Look for this young man to have a big day. WINNER: LSU
NATIONAL SEMIFINAL - ROSE BOWL GEORGIA vs OKLAHOMA The Grandaddy of Them All. This game is usually a great time for a nap on the sofa while the Big 10 and Pac 12 wrestle over a consolation prize in Pasadena. The nao tradition began for me back when Roopville's own Keith Jackson was calling the game. Best nap narrator ever! Great announcer for an usually mediocre game.
Something about this year's Rose Bowl seems to have Georgia's attention...
The Oklahoma Sooners come in with a high powered offense led by Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and only one tick in the L column. They have torn through their schedule, including a win over the Buckeyes in Columbus back in Week 2. Only Iowa State has put a mark on the Sooners.
The Georgia Bulldogs bring what is probably the best defense in the nation to Pasadena. Their offense is anchored by five running backs who could all start anywhere in the nation. In my opinion, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are the best two RBs in the nation. Georgia won the SEC Championship by avenging their only loss by beating Auburn in Atlanta.
My key for this game will be when Georgia has the ball. The Sooners defense gave up 41 to Baylor, 38 to Iowa State, 35 to Kansas State, 52 to Oklahoma State, and 31 to West Virginia. It's not exactly the Steel Curtain. While the Dawgs will present, by far, the best defense that OU has seen this year, Georgia's offense will make or break this game. If they keep Mayfield and company off the field, control the game tempo and time of possession, it will be a long day for the Sooners. Mayfield cannot help you win if he is watching his defense from the sideline. WINNER: GEORGIA
NATIONAL SEMIFINAL - SUGAR BOWL ALABAMA vs CLEMSON Round Three in what is starting to look like an annual playoff match up. The two teams that split the last two finals now meet up in the semis in the New Orleans Superdome.
Bama comes in a the Titan of college football. Everyone is familiar with the "We want Bama" routine. But after a stumble in last year's final is a changing of the guard upon us? The Tide ran through their schedule until they came to Auburn, who proved to be the only top tier team they would face. So Bama isn't coming in untested, they're coming in having failed their only true test. They are coming into a traditional SEC game in the Big Easy. And the Big Easy has not been kind to Saban.
Clemson is the reigning champ. They have only a loss against Syracuse to mar their record this year. They ran through their schedule, knocking off some pretty good competition along the way. They finished the season looking like a championship caliber team. Their dismantling of Miami was complete. This teamis peaking at the right moment
The key to this game is going to be wearing a headset. These two teams match up well. They are both well disciplined, well trained and are true quality teams. I don't think you'll see a lot of razzle dazzle in this one. I don't expect a lot of trash talk or dancing. I do expect two teams to line up and try their best to bust each other in the mouth.This one will come down to the game plans and play calling. This will be a chess match between Swinney and Saban. We've seen this in the previous two games with each one picking up a win. This isn't a popular opinion but I truly think Dabo knows the formula. I think he is going to edge out Alabama by punching the right numbers against Saban.
I'm looking at two teams heading down 85 into Atlanta next week. WINNER: CLEMSON
Coach Drew Burnham Welcome to the show! These are the ones we’ve all been waiting for. There are some unbelievable matchups in the remaining games and to ensure they get to coverage they deserve, I’m going to add some spice to my breakdown. For each game I’ll give the normal breakdown but I’m also going to add in a “matchup to watch”. It could be an individual player or an entire position group vs. the ones across from them. This is going to be exciting.
OUTBACK BOWL – MICHIGAN VS SOUTH CAROLINA A repeat of the game that shot Jadeveon Clowney to superstardom only a few years ago! Let’s just hope this one is as exciting as its predecessor.
Starting with the Wolverines, Coach Harbaugh showed up to Ann Arbor and cranked up the hype machine. They have had some impressive signing classes since his arrival, and have enjoyed success that Michigan hasn’t seen in a while. However, just like the Wizard of Oz, it only looks big and scary until you pull back the curtain and dig a little. “Pay no attention to the Harbs behind the curtain.” In the last 3 years The Wolverines are 22-10 vs. Power 5 opponents. They are 5-7 against ranked opponents in the same time frame. Just this season they are 6-4 against power 5 and 1-3 against ranked teams (the 1 win was Florida in the opening week so take it for what it’s worth.) So what am I saying? Michigan has been beating the people Michigan is supposed to beat, but hasn’t been consistently getting over the hump in “the big ones”. Not to say that South Carolina has been a power, but just saying that maybe this matchup is closer or even reversed from what most people are thinking.
Michigan’s defense is what has kept them afloat. They have been stellar, except against their high-powered competition. Penn State made them sit at the kid’s table when they racked up over 500 yards of offense and 6 TD’s in their matchup. Ohio State wasn’t far behind, completely controlling the game on the ground. “Man, coach, you’ve spent a chunk of time bashing Michigan. What are you getting at?” Allow me to present my first “Matchup of the game”.
South Carolina Rushing Offense vs. Michigan Defense.
Michigan has shown their problems defending the run, but has been solid against the pass, even against those good opponents. If South Carolina wants to have a shot, they have GOT TO get a rushing attack started and sustained early on. This is something they haven’t really been able to do only averaging 125 rushing yards a game this season. Look for this early in the game. If SC can run the ball, they will draw an extra defender or 2 into the box allowing Jake Bentley to do his thing (and he does it well). If Michigan can stuff the run from the beginning, they’ll b able to start teeing off on Bentley making him uncomfortable early. This game, like many, will be won in the trench. WINNER: SOUTH CAROLINA
PEACH BOWL – UCF VS. AUBURN UCF is fresh off a historic season. In an almost unprecedented move, their head coach takes a bit time job, yet stays to coach the bowl game. Loyalty is had to come by these days and Scott Frost is showing it in unbelievable fashion. This game is a CLASSIC example of what I said in the first installment of our bowl series. “Who GETS to play vs. who HAS to play.” Auburn may feel like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. Late in the year, they were the hottest thing going and were a shoe in for the playoff, controlling their own destiny. Now, a small list of heartbreaking things has happened: 1. You don’t win your conference, losing to a team you already beat. 2. You didn’t make the playoff. 3. You don’t even get to play a big time opponent in your bowl game to rebound your name heading into next season. No positive outcome can come from this game for the Tigers. If they win, they were supposed to and it seems unimpressive. If they lose….oh, if they lose.
Meanwhile, Scott Frost and company have completed the most magical season in school history and are on the cusp of greatness. The kids have earned an opportunity to get the respect they feel like they have been looking for all season. People respect them, but this is a totally different scale. A win in this game would be huge for them. You’d better believe that there won’t be a single ounce left to give in any of those boys when the final horn sounds Monday.
MATCHUP OF THE GAME – UCF DL VS AUBURN OL
Once again, it’s won and lost in the trench. Both of these teams are highly explosive on offense. UCF doesn’t have to dominate the line of scrimmage; they just have to prove that they can compete with the Tigers enough to stay in the game. The game is going to be a shootout that much I feel confident about. I just want to see if the Knights up front can hold their own considering that defense has given up 428 yards a game against less than elite competition. WINNER: UCF (TOO MUCH TO PLAY FOR)
CITRUS BOWL - NOTRE DAME VS LSU One thing is certain: They are going to RUN the football in Orlando Monday afternoon.
The Irish average just less than 280 yards a game on the ground and the Tigers sit right at 210. HOWEVER, both teams are also respectable run stoppers neither of which allows more than 150 a game on the ground. Notre Dame fell victim to 2 late season setbacks and need this opportunity to beat a solid opponent to finish their season and propel them into next year’s push for a National Championship.
LSU saw a lot of success in the first year under the leadership of the 2nd best interview in all of college football, Ed Ogeron. (Mike Leech is of course the best.) His team has shown great offensive balance and has played solid defense all year. They’re a typical LSU team and I believe this is only the beginning of another terrific run in Tiger history. So what’s going to be the deal breaker?
MATCHUP OF THE GAME – BRANDON WINBUSH VS DANNY ETLING
2 teams who pride themselves on running the football and stopping the run, so what’s the difference maker? The Quarterbacks of course! The Irish go as Winbush goes. The only games he had more than one turnover this season? Miami and Stanford. Both late season losses. It really is that simple.
Etling has only turned the ball over twice all season for the Tigers and that stability is what has kept that offense going. Both of these teams have playmakers on offense so neither of these QB’s has to be world-beaters. Just take care of the football and let your players around you take care of business. The QB who does this best will lead his team to victory. WINNER: NOTRE DAME
NATIONAL SEMIFINAL - ROSE BOWL UGA VS OKLAHOMA And so it begins! This matchup is more intriguing than the other playoff game in my opinion just because neither of these teams has seen anything like the other this season. The closest the UGA defense has seen stylistically may be Notre Dame (not quite the same). Oklahoma hasn’t seen anything close.
There’s so much mystery in that which makes for a great game but a tough prediction. So many storylines like first year head coaches, Georgia’s 2-headed rushing attack, Baker and his Heisman, Big offense vs. big defense and on and on. Oklahoma has been the master of the big game this year going 4-0 vs. ranked opponents winning by an average of almost 17 points. They have more than stepped up to the challenge every time a major opponent tested them. That experience will help them on this stage.
The Dawgs are most definitely “ahead of schedule” under 1st year head coach and defensive wizard Kirby Smart. They haven’t played an offense like this, though and, quite frankly, it’s because there aren’t very many of them. The Sooners have averaged a booming (sorry, I had to) 583 yards of offense and 44 points a game. Classic tale: big offense vs. big defense. So what’s it going to be?
MATCHUP OF THE GAME – BAKER MAYFIELD VS HIMSELF
Baker seems to be feeling under the weather this week, missing a couple media sessions to rest and recover from a little sickness. He also has to carry the weight of the Heisman trophy, which seems to weight a lot more than the 25 advertised pounds in bowl games. If Baker can get over this sickness and not fall victim to the Heisman hangover like so many before him this may turn out ok for the Sooner faithful. WINNER: OKLAHOMA
NATIONAL SEMIFINAL - SUGAR BOWL ALABAMA VS CLEMSON
This series seems to be a little less like Back to the Future and a little more like Star Wars; they just keep getting better.
Clemson is the most slept on #1 team in recent memory. Not many people, including myself, gave the Tigers much of a chance this year and they answered the bell at every turn. Brent Venables has that Clemson defense HUMMING and their offense just seems to always be moving the ball. They don’t have a player like Watson this year and I think that’s why they haven’t gotten much of the respect they deserve. Respected or not, these guys are for real and they’re hungry to show it against their newfound rival.
I’m so glad Alabama got in. They have created an aura around themselves as the kings of the sport and right, wrong or indifferent, it doesn’t seem like a team can prove themselves to be the best in the land without having to prove it against them. This season the Tide are allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game, a stat that, in the SEC, absolutely baffles me. That is an incredible number in a conference that prides itself on running the football. This one has all the makings of Rocky Vs. he Russian in the 4th Rocky installment. What’s going to make the difference?
MATCHUP OF THE GAME – CLEMSON VS. THE TURNOVER MACHINE
What I personally believe to be the #1 most important part of winning any game will be the most important in this one. Take care of the football! Alabama has a turnover differential of +13. Clemson is only +5. For those who are unfamiliar with what a good number is, a coach wouldn’t be mad if his team had Clemson’s number. Alabama has been phenomenal on both sides of the ball regarding turnovers this season and it will, in my opinion, be the single deciding factor in this game. I think that if Clemson can throw the ball around and get Alabama playing in space without losing the ball, it will be a long day for Nick and the Tide. If Alabama can steal a possession or 2, there’s no way they lose. WINNER: ALABAMA