The two College Football Playoff semifinal games, and the remaining four New Years Six College Football Bowls are coming up. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to take a look at the playoff games, and their elite bowl counterparts.
Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan vs. #11 Florida State (Friday 8:00 P.M.)
Line: Michigan by 6.5
Steen: Michigan was (perhaps) one bad officiating call away from a spot in the college football playoff. The Wolverines are clearly back in terms of being nationally competitive, and have completed the transition that the Seminoles made back a few years ago when they returned to the big stage. This is a matchup of proud fanbases, and both teams have something to prove in this one, especially with recruiting in Florida at stake. The Wolverines defense is stifling, and while FSU’s defense has improved after being an early season dumpster fire that resulted in the Seminoles notching three losses in their first eight games, it’s not up to par with the Big 10’s best. Miami native Dalvin Cook, and an incredibly tough DeAndre Francois will give it their best shot, but Michigan should score just enough to come out ahead in a good football game. Michigan 27, Florida State 21
Yesh: Michigan is 1-2 in games outside the state of Michigan this year, and that one win was against Rutgers. Still, the Wolverines are supremely talented team and match up pretty favorably against Florida State. The Wolverines D-line should be able to contain Dalvin Cook enough to not be troubled too much by the Florida State offense. Michigan 31, Florida State 17
John: Never in the history of the Orange Bowl (dating back to 1934) has the game been played any earlier than New Year’s Eve. That all changes this year as Michigan and Florida State will face off on December 30th. It’s an intriguing matchup between two teams with talented playmakers on both sides of the football.
Second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh has already built a defensive juggernaut in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines rank top 15 nationally or better in all major stat categories on defense, as well as sacks, tackles for loss and opponent third down conversion percentage. On offense, quarterback Wilton Speight boasts the second-highest passer efficiency rating in the Big Ten.
Though the Noles give up more yards per game on defense than Michigan, they have a fearsome defensive front that’s accounted for 47 sacks on the year. Edge rusher DeMarcus Walker had 15 on his own which was tied for the best mark in FBS during the regular season. The FSU offense is led behind center by quarterback Deondre Francois who was the only freshman signal caller in the nation to throw for more than 3,000 yards in 2016. Running back Dalvin Cook is one of the top pro prospects at the position.
Last year, Michigan won their bowl game in Florida against a program from that state fairly convincingly. Wolverines prevail again, albeit in a much closer game. Michigan 34, Florida State 27
Mike: The Wolverines have only played three games outside of Michigan this season and lost two of them. The third was an unlosable matchup against Rutgers. Florida State had a rough road through the ACC this year, and playing against Michigan’s punishing defense won’t be any easier. Michigan 31, Florida State 24
Peach Bowl: #4 Washington vs. #1 Alabama (Saturday 3:00 P.M.)
Line: Alabama by 14.5
Steen: This will be a virtual home game for Alabama, and I expect their world beater defense to pummel Jake Browning and company all afternoon. The Huskies have some talented players, but Bama has NFL starters in their two deep at almost every position, and this is a battle tested team that knows how to adjust to situations and find ways to win. I just can’t pick against Saban and Alabama this year after how they have gotten up for the big games this season. Alabama 38, Washington 21
Yesh: I have a ton of faith in Chris Petersen. I still think he might be the best coach in college football. He hasn’t had a chance to prove it yet, but he definitely belongs in the same conversation as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. I don’t know if Washington quite has enough talent yet to beat Alabama, but if any coach in the country can slay this giant, it’s going to be Chris Petersen. Washington 35, Alabama 34
John: Not many people are giving Washington much of a chance in Atlanta against Alabama. There are some who probably remain unconvinced their resume was the best among the teams gunning for that four spot in the CFP. But here they are with a chance to shock the world and upset the overwhelming favorite to repeat as national champs.
The edge at quarterback clearly goes U-Dub’s way. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning comes into this game having thrown for 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions compared to Bama’s Jalen Hurts’ 22 and nine. Browning also has the fifth highest passer efficiency rating in the nation.
But facing Alabama’s defense is a completely different animal altogether. The Crimson Tide average an FBS-best 11.8 points per game. Only three other teams have more than their 44 sacks on the year. Sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has five interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns. Washington leads the nation in takeaways themselves (33) and will need to force some to have a chance in this game. If not, Bama will win fairly convincingly. Alabama 41, Washington 24
Mike: At this point, someone is going to have to prove they can hang with Alabama. A two touchdown-plus spread in a semifinal is absurd, except when you consider that Jake Browning isn’t very mobile and Alabama’s front seven devours stagnant quarterbacks. The Tide’s defense might cover the spread on their own. Alabama 41, Washington 20
Fiesta Bowl: #3 Ohio State vs. #2 Clemson (Saturday 7:00 P.M.)
Line: Ohio State by 3
Steen: Despite close shaves in four ACC games this year, an ACC loss, and also a narrow win over Auburn, I’m still a big believer in this Clemson team, and I think they are hungry for a shot at revenge against Alabama in a rematch of last years great championship game. DeShaun Watson and this whole team is more experienced and really wants to go out on top. Ohio State is a very good teamas well and there isn’t much on the field to parse these two. The Buckeyes started hot and weren’t quite as strong at years end however, they deserved to make the playoff, but I think Clemson will be prepared and grab a win. Clemson 35, Ohio State 31
Yesh: Ohio State and Clemson are both supremely talented teams with glaring flaws. This game will depend on J.T. Barrett. He has regressed as a passer this year, and if he can’t find a rhythm throwing the ball then Ohio State won’t be able to win this game. Clemson’s defense has been porous at times, though (especially against Pitt and Virginia Tech), and Urban Meyer should be able to find those holes. This should be a great game.
Ohio State 31, Clemson 27
John: It’s a duel in the desert of epic proportions as Ohio State and Clemson prepare to clash in the second semifinal. Both coaches, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney, have the opportunity to lead their team to the national title game for the second time in the CFP era with a win.
Two of college football’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks will be on display. OSU’s J.T. Barrett will likely add to his school record 100 total touchdowns while Clemson’s Deshaun Watson comes into this game as the top pro-ready prospect at the position. Other complimentary players such as Buckeyes hybrid back Curtis Samuel and Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams will look to make their mark on this game.
But making big plays on defense might determine who wins this game. Both players have a bevy of playmakers on that side of the ball. For the Buckeyes, defensive back Malik Hooker is one of just two players to have three pick sixes on the year. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell have combined for 20 sacks. This one has the potential to be a down to the wire slugfest. But the Buckeyes prevail, giving Meyer the chance to win his fourth national title. Ohio State 27, Clemson 23
Mike: This Ohio State team has played up as much as last year’s team played down. The Buckeyes don’t have the dominant running game that they should’ve had last season, but they’ve put together the second best resume in the nation. Clemson seemed to be the heir apparent to Alabama after bringing back a lot of talent from last year’s runner-up team. But they’ve been inconsistent all season, and have escaped on multiple occasions. Look for Ohio State to peak when they need to most. Ohio State 30, Clemson 21
Cotton Bowl: #15 Western Michigan vs. #8 Wisconsin (Monday 1:00 P.M.)
Line: Wisconsin by 8.5
Steen: Western Michigan’s two Big 10 wins should give them hope in this game, but the punishing defense and powerful run attack of Wisconsin should overwhelm them, especially on defense. The Broncos will need to get off to a hot start if they’re going to pull the upset, but I simply can’t pick against a good, and balanced Wisconsin team, against a WMU team that lacks elite players in most of the 22 positions on the field. Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 17
Yesh: Western Michigan is just outmatched here. Wisconsin is too strong in the trenches and has enough speed in the secondary to neutralize the Broncos’ weapons. I feel bad for the boat-rowing Broncos, who could have stayed close to a top team given the right matchup, but this just isn’t it for them. Wisconsin 45, Western Michigan 14
John: It’s hard to argue with the notion that Wisconsin is the best three-loss team in the nation. All three setbacks came against teams currently ranked ahead of them in the CFP rankings. The Badgers excel at running the ball and preventing teams from doing it themselves. Running back Corey Clement led the Big Ten with 1,304 rushing yards, while Wisconsin’s run defense is one of just three in FBS allowing fewer than 100 yards per game.
Facing the eighth-ranked Badgers in Arlington is undefeated MAC Champion Western Michigan. The Group of Five conferences’ highest ranked team has, without a doubt, its toughest challenge of the 2016 season. But P.J. Fleck’s squad rowed the boat this far and would love to prove the doubters wrong by notching their third win against a Big Ten opponent this season. Pay attention to wide receiver Corey Davis as he’s a player you will certainly see playing on Sundays in the future. As inspiring as a WMU upset would be, it’s hard to see them matching up well at the line of scrimmage against Wisconsin’s physical fronts on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 24
Mike: Western Michigan is a good team, but they will be thoroughly out-matched against a solid Wisconsin team that is as battle-tested as any team in the nation. Wisconsin’s size and talent will slowly squeeze the Broncos into submission. Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 17.
Rose Bowl: #9 USC vs. #5 Penn State (Monday 5:00 P.M.)
Line: USC by 6.5
Steen: USC beat Washington and Colorado, the best of the PAC-12, after a pair of early conference losses, and a complete disaster against Alabama in what should have been a marquee game to start the season. Playing without pressure has certainly helped these talented Trojans. Penn State faced plenty of pressure after stunning Ohio State at home, but they haven’t lost since that big win, and are sneaky good on both sides of the football. Penn State is a good team, but USC is faster and more talented, if the Trojans show up they will win this game. USC 42, Penn State 31
Yesh: USC and Penn State are two of the hottest teams in the country right now. USC has been a different team once it put Sam Darnold at quarterback. I keep on underestimating Penn State, but I just don’t see the Nittany Lions secondary being able to keep up with USC’s speedy skill players. I won’t predict a blowout, though, because the last two times I predicted Penn State getting blown out I got burned. USC 31, Penn State 28
John: This year’s “Granddaddy of Them All” pits the two teams who may have had the most compelling case to get the four-seed in the CFP should Washington have faltered in the Pac-12 title game. USC and Penn State come into this game sporting a combined winning streak of 17 games. And both knocked off teams who would eventually clinch a berth in the semifinals.
The Trojans never looked back after Sam Darnold took the reins at quarterback from Max Browne. The redshirt freshman finished with the Pac-12’s second highest passer rating. PSU has a pretty competent young signal caller themselves in Trace McSorley. His 3,360 pass yards led the Big Ten and he threw 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions. On the ground, Nittany Lions Saquon Barkley took home conference offensive player of the year honors. This has the makings of a much more competitive contest than last year’s blowout between Stanford and Iowa. Trojans in a nail-biter. USC 23, Penn State 20
Mike: The Big Ten Champions come into this game having won nine straight games. USC comes in with a very respectable eight game win streak. The Trojans seem to have found their answer with quarterback Sam Darnold. The Nittany Lions have a balanced offensive attack and a bend-but-not-break defense. Even after winning the toughest conference in the nation, they find themselves as underdogs in the Rose Bowl. Look for Penn State to come in motivated. Penn State 28, USC 24
Sugar Bowl: #14 Auburn vs. #7 Oklahoma (Monday 8:30 P.M.)
Line: Oklahoma by 3
Steen: Oklahoma reeled off an undefeated Big 12 record after starting slow, and in the process they earned themselves an elite bowl spot. Auburn had two losses down the stretch, and two losses at the start of the season. Despite going under the radar, the Tigers still earned a great bowl bid and will likely have a bit of home field advantage in this one. Auburn will be strong on defense, but their pedestrian offense is contrasted by the speed and fluidity of the Oklahoma attack. The Sooners should prevail. Oklahoma 35, Auburn 21
Yesh: I can see Oklahoma lacking motivation in this game–it certainly has happened in the Bob Stoops era. I also think that Auburn has a defense that can slow down Oklahoma a bit, which can make this game closer than expected, but Oklahoma is just a more talented team. Oklahoma 35, Auburn 28
John: Want to know the only two teams from Power Five conferences who went undefeated in league play? Alabama and Oklahoma. The Sooners blew through the Big 12, averaging nearly 48 points per game and winning by an average margin of 19.3 points. That epic tear played a major role in two OU players, quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook, being invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Auburn comes into this game as the lone four-loss team in a New Year’s Six bowl. But make no mistake about it. The 14th-ranked Tigers are a dangerous team not to be taken lightly. Their running back tandem of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson combined for 1,985 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those two could be a handful for the Sooner’s mediocre run defense.
Three of Oklahoma’s last four bowl games have been losses, but the lone win was over Alabama in this very bowl game. Look for Bob Stoops and company to get it done against the other big name program from that state in New Orleans. Oklahoma 40, Auburn 27
Mike: The Auburn defense might be the most underrated unit in the Power 5. Their efforts are overshadowed by the sputtering offense, but they’ve been effective the entire season. Remember the Sooners haven’t fared well against the two quality defenses they’ve played in Ohio State and Houston. Is this another Big Game that might slip away from the Sooners? Auburn 42, Oklahoma 34