The six marquee bowls this year feature college football’s best teams, and our finest experts, Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Brett Margolies are on hand to offer their previews and predictions for the six marquee bowl games of 2017’s college football season.
Tailgate Pick ‘Em New Year’s Six Bowl Picks Including Clemson-Alabama
Cotton Bowl: #8 USC vs. #5 Ohio State (12/29 at 8:30 P.M.)
Line: Ohio State by 7.5
Steen: The two teams that would argue they were “left out” of the 4 team playoff, both suffered bad losses during the season but ended up conference champions regardless and now have a chance to cap off a quality season with a win. USC’s offense gives them a slight edge for me, even though Ohio State is the streakiest team in college football. USC 35, Ohio State 28
Yesh: This Ohio State offense will struggle a little against USC’s defense. It’s been a consistent problem for JT Barrett against fast defenses this season. Ohio State has enough talent to put up points and come away with a win, but this should be a great game and a touchdown spread is a bit too much. Ohio State 42, USC 39
John: Normally a clash between these two bluebloods of the Big Ten and Pac-12 would be reserved for Pasadena. But with the Rose Bowl as one of the two CFP semifinals this year, it moves to JerryWorld in Arlington. No team from their respective conferences has more national titles in the AP poll era than Ohio State and USC. The Buckeyes nearly got an opportunity to add to their title haul this year but found themselves as the last team out in the final CFP rankings.
Friday’s game contains a mouthwatering quarterback matchup between OSU’s J.T. Barrett and USC’s Sam Darnold. The former will end his college career as the most prolific quarterback in Big Ten history. The latter could have his name called first overall in next year’s NFL Draft. Under Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes tend to rebound after bad losses. A year removed from getting blanked by Clemson in the CFP semis, Barrett could feast on the Trojan’s 112th ranked pass defense. Ohio State 34, USC 24
Mike: USC 2017 looks a lot like USC 2016. The Trojans get off to a cold start and finish strong. Can USC replicate it’s 2016 bowl performance with an instant classic win against a Big Ten opponent? Ohio State comes in shunned by the CFP Committee and with as much talent on the roster as any team in the nation. But consistency has alluded the Buckeyes all season. They’ve also shown to be vulnerable to an effective running game that’s a component of a balanced attack. Ronald Jones might be the most underrated player in college football. The men of Troy sneak away with a win. USC 42, Ohio State 41
Brett: I’ll always give an advantage to an Urban Meyer coached team with time to prepare. The Buckeyes probably feel as if they deserved a place in the CFB playoff, so look for them to make a statement on Friday. If they can apply pressure to Sam Darnold this game has a chance to get ugly. I think the Buckeyes will control the game throughout and win comfortably. Ohio State 41, USC 27
Fiesta Bowl: #11 Washington at #9 Penn State (12/30 4:00 P.M.)
Line: Penn State by 2
Steen: Both teams have 2 losses, and neither got to play for their conference titles, but Penn State simply has a better resume this year. Saquon Barkley is special and Penn State also has a solid defense and weapons built around Barkley. Washington has developed into a consistent contender, but this is not their best team. Penn State 27, Washington 17
Yesh: I love this matchup. Washington wasn’t quite up to its 2016 level this year, but this is still a great defense and a solid offense. Penn State has a great offense and a strong defense. It’s a battle of strengths vs strengths, and both teams have incredible kick returners. Saquon Barkley will get his yardage, and Dante Pettis will make plays for Washington. Penn State 31, Washington 28
John: Another potential Rose Bowl matchup taking place elsewhere, this game pits two sides that are very hard to score on. The Huskies and Nittany Lions currently rank sixth and seventh respectively among FBS teams in scoring defense. It’s just the third all-time meeting between these two programs, with the last one coming in the Aloha Bowl back in 1983. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1921 to find the last time they faced off against each other.
PSU won both those games but will be hard-pressed to remain unbeaten in the all-time series. Though they boast a dynamic running back in Saquon Barkely, he’s going up against the nation’s top-ranked rush defense in Glendale. He’s also dealt with some inconsistency in 2017, rushing for over 100 yards just four times. That said, he does have 16 touchdowns on the ground and his counterpart for the Huskies, Myles Gaskin, has 19 of his own. The two quarterbacks, PSU’s Trace McSorley and U-Dub’s Jake Browning are among the top 15 in the nation in passing efficiency. Penn State 27, Washington 20
Mike: In the second Pac-12 versus Big Ten New Year’s Six Bowl matchup, Penn State finds themselves out west for the second straight year. Washington has disappointed this season, with an underperforming Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin having to carry too much of the load. The defensive front hasn’t been as dominant as they’ve needed to be. The Nittany Lions are a far more complete and balanced team. They’ve been close for the second straight year, losing to Ohio State after a furious Buckeyes comeback and losing to Michigan State in horrible weather. They’ll be constantly reminded of giving up the Rose Bowl last year. Won’t happen a second time in the desert. Penn State 42, Washington 30
Brett: It’ll be interesting to see how Saquon Barkley fairs against the talented Washington defense. Bryce Love managed to run for 166 yards on the Huskies earlier in the season, so no reason why Barkley can’t have a big game. I think the key in this game will be Myles Gaskin, he’s flown under the radar all year long. Look for him to have a big game as the Huskies pull off the upset. Washington 30, Penn State 27
Orange Bowl: #6 Wisconsin vs. #10 Miami (12/30 8:00 P.M.)
Line: Wisconsin by 6
Steen: Miami only ended up with 2 losses but they have really tailed off at the end of the year as injuries took their toll. The Hurricanes pulled off a series of close wins, 4 of them to be exact, to get to this game, while Wisconsin went under the radar most of the season and only lost the BIG 10 title game. The Badgers deserve respect and should earn it in this one. Wisconsin 24, Miami 17
Yesh: This line baffles me a little. I know Miami was manhandled against Clemson, but this team is fast and the defense is still opportunistic. Against a quarterback like Alex Hornibrook, that could be lethal. If Wisconsin avoids mistakes it can win this game, but Terry Rozier should be able to make some huge plays over the top of the Wisconsin defense, and that will matter. Miami 35, Wisconsin 21
John: Among Power Five programs, Wisconsin was the only one with one loss who didn’t get into the CFP. Had they prevailed over Ohio State, they likely would’ve been the only undefeated team in the semifinals. But the Badgers are getting a decent consolation in escaping the bitter cold of the Upper Midwest with a trip to South Florida. Nevertheless, they’re essentially facing a road game in the Orange Bowl against Miami.
The Canes floundered a bit down the stretch. They came into their regular season finale against Pittsburgh undefeated. But they lost to the Panthers and then proceeded to get blown out by Clemson in the ACC title game. In order to end the season on a high note, Miami needs to rekindle the spirit of the turnover chain. They forced just three in those two losses, way below their 2.7 per game average heading into those games. Against Wisconsin, the opportunity is there considering the Badgers rank 104th nationally in giveaways. Miami 31, Wisconsin 27
Mike: This is a seemingly big spread for a Wisconsin team that likes to squeeze teams and finally win in the fourth. But Wisconsin has proven that they’re a great team. This will be a classic speed versus toughness match-up. Can Miami’s defense hold up for four full quarters against a punishing Badgers rushing attack? Can the Miami offense put it all together for the bowl game? There’s far more questions about the Canes than there are about the Badgers. Wisconsin 24, Miami 21
Brett: This game feels similar to the Miami-Notre Dame game in November. We’ve seen what the hurricanes can do to teams that don’t have much speed. Even though the canes have dropped back to back games, I think the time off will help them in this game. Playing at Hard Rock Stadium won’t hurt either. Look for the canes to finish off the season on a high note with some momentum heading in to next year. Miami 27, Wisconsin 21
Peach Bowl: #12 UCF vs. #7 Auburn (1/1 12:30 P.M.)
Line: Auburn by 9.5
Steen: Scott Frost piloted the Golden Knights to an undefeated season and a conference title, now he’s off to Nebraska but not before finishing the job in this year’s Peach Bowl. He gets to face one of the SEC’s best in Auburn, a team that had some great highs this season (wins over Georgia and Alabama), and also some lows (close losses to Clemson and LSU and a blowout loss to Georgia in the SEC title.) Auburn is a good team but they are missing at least one running back, and UCF has offense in heaps. UCF has been ranked too low in the final weeks of the season and they are going to show why they deserve more credit than the pollsters have been giving them. UCF 38, Auburn 27
Yesh: Auburn looked great against Georgia (the first time) and Alabama, but this team had its ups and downs throughout the season. The offense will get its yards and move the ball, but Auburn has not seen an offensive attack like UCF’s all season. Scott Frost is dedicated to staying focused until the bowl game and not moving on to Nebraska early, and he wants to deliver the first undefeated season any team has had in the CFP era. It might be tough to pull that off, but this will be less than ten points. Auburn 45, UCF 42 I
John: Auburn experienced a great deal of volatility late in the season. In the span of three weeks, they blew out Georgia, upset Alabama and looked set to make the playoff. Then the Tigers crashed and burned in the rematch against the Bulldogs in the SEC title game. It forced them to settle for a date in Atlanta one week before the CFP final takes place against the Group of Five New Year’s Six qualifier in UCF.
Despite the sizable point spread, the Knights are going to be a tough out. Though head coach Scott Frost has to juggle sending his existing team out on a high note with his duties as new Nebraska head coach, his side boasts plenty of talent. It includes quarterback McKenzie Milton. The only player in college football who had a higher pass efficiency rating in 2017 than Milton was Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. He could have a favorable matchup against an Auburn secondary that’s ranked 109th in FBS with just six interceptions. I’m going with an upset here. UCF 33, Auburn 30
Brett: After running the table all year this is a golden opportunity for UCF to show the country they belong. They haven’t been shy leading up to the game either, UCF running back Adrian Killings Jr noted that they (Auburn) don’t have much speed. I think this might be a rude awakening for UCF. They’ve been great all year, but this is just another level. Auburn will be able to do what they want on offense. Look for Kerryon Johnson to have a huge game as Auburn wins comfortably. Auburn 41, UCF 23
Rose Bowl: #3 Georgia vs. #2 Oklahoma (1/1 5:00 P.M.)
Line: Georgia by 1.5
Steen: Georgia has a solid running game and a QB that can peak, they also have a stifling defense, that said, Baker Mayfield is the Heisman winner for a reason and I firmly believe he’ll fulfill the adage that big time players play well in big time games. Georgia should be unable to keep up with the Sooners and lose a close one. Oklahoma 42, Georgia 35
Yesh: Honestly don’t know what will happen in this game. I think that Georgia can’t contain Baker Mayfield–no college team can this year. But I don’t think that Oklahoma can slow down the Georgia rushing attack, even if the Sooners keep the box loaded all game. As long as Kirby Smart doesn’t get too fancy and sticks with his running game, I think Georgia can control the pace and tempo, and come out of the Rose Bowl with a tough win. Georgia 35, Oklahoma 31
John: Only once since 1919 has a Rose Bowl not featured at least one team from the leagues currently known as the Big Ten and Pac-12. It came in 2002 when Miami upended Nebraska, then of the Big 12, in the BCS title game that year. This time around, the road to the CFP title game the following Monday runs through Pasadena for a second time. Both Oklahoma and Georgia have competed in the Rose Bowl just once in school history. The Sooners did so in 2003 while the Bulldogs last trip came way back in 1943.
Baker Mayfield is looking to continue the recent trend of Heisman Trophy winners adding a national championship to their resume. Over the past decade, winners of the award are 4-1 with a title on the line. He faces a Georgia team ranked second nationally in pass defense but 64th in takeaways. Look for a motivated Mayfield who’s still trying to convince pro scouts he can hang in the NFL to put up an impressive showing. For the Bulldogs, their ground game prowess with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel may be offset by quarterback Jake Fromm‘s inexperience. Oklahoma 38, Georgia 21
Mike: Baker Mayfield is just that good. He’s got the passing game of Drew Brees and the elusiveness of Johnny Manziel. That will create problems for Georgia’s excellent defense. He’s a player you can’t necessarily scheme against because of his ability to make plays off-the-script. But the key to this game will be Sooners tight end Mark Andrews. The combination of a mobile quarterback with a great pass catching tight end is deadly against elite defenses. It’ll be up to Jake Fromm to keep up with the Sooners as Oklahoma will consistently play a front seven against the Dawgs vaunted rushing game. If Fromm can have some success in the vertical passing game, Georgia might pull this out. But it just feels like Mayfield’s year. Oklahoma 38, Georgia 28
Brett: I don’t think Baker Mayfield has seen a defense like Georgia’s this season. Their defense will do enough to help them win the game. I think Georgia will rely on Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel as they both have big games in the backfield. This game should be close throughout, but Georgia’s defense will come up with key stops throughout the game helping them advance to the national championship. Georgia 24, Oklahoma 21
Sugar Bowl: #4 Alabama vs. #1 Clemson (1/1 8:45 P.M.)
Line: Alabama by 3
Steen: Alabama is really talented, but so is Clemson, the Tigers handled Auburn, while the Tide did not, and Clemson won this game last year. Dabo Swinney knows how to outscheme Saban and Clemson hasn’t lost when Kelly Bryant is healthy. Look for Clemson to remain college football’s #1 team. Clemson 27, Alabama 21
Yesh: I don’t know how anyone who saw Alabama’s game against Auburn can like the Tide here. Alabama was badly beaten on both sides of the trenches–and Clemson’s lines are better than Auburn’s (or Mississippi State’s). I think Clemson slowly, methodically, and very definitively beats down Alabama in this game. Clemson 31, Alabama 10
John: These high-flying programs played for all the marbles in the previous two iterations of the CFP. After trading wins in those games, they do so one round earlier in the semifinals on New Year’s Night 2018. Bama snuck into the playoff as the four-seed this year in rather controversial circumstances after not even playing in the SEC title game. Clemson, on the other hand, comes into this game as arguably the hottest team in college football.
Much is made of the dynasty that Nick Saban’s built in Tuscaloosa. But Dabo Swinney deserves a ton of credit himself for turning Clemson into a perennial power. If the Tigers repeat as national champs, he certainly deserves inclusion into the pantheon of greats among the current crop of coaches including Saban, Urban Meyer and others. Though these teams are one-two nationally in scoring defense, their previous two meetings have seen points galore. Clemson’s superior ability to convert on third down could help get them over the edge and into the CFP final. Clemson 38, Alabama 34
Mike: For the first time in a long, long time, there is a program that is consistently as talented and as good as Alabama. And it’s Clemson. Kelly Bryant has gotten better as the season has progressed, more so than Jalen Hurts. Clemson actually has more speed and talent at the skill positions, and their defense might not be quite as large and fast as Alabama’s, but they are gritty and just as athletic. This is Alabama versus Clemson, Dabo versus Saban, Frazier versus Ali. Look for Clemson to stake their claim as the pre-eminent program in the nation. Clemson 31, Alabama 28
Brett: Alabama is getting just what they want. A chance to make up for last years loss in the championship game. Jalen Hurts having the experience from last year will be huge. They’ll have the upper hand as the moment might just be too big for star quarterback Kelly Bryant. Even though Alabama snuck in to the playoff, I think they’ll make the most of what can be looked at as a second chance for the Tide. Alabama 30, Clemson 20