Our panelists preview and predict all of the New Year’s Six bowl matchups including the playoff semifinals Alabama vs Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and Notre Dame vs Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
Cotton Bowl: #3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs #2 Clemson (13-0) (Saturday at 4:00)
Line: Clemson by 12.5
Steen Kirby: Two unblemished teams with quasi ACC member Notre Dame facing off with the ACC champions Clemson. The Tigers had a couple of close calls early in the season but dominated their competition overall in a way that Notre Dame simply did not. The suspensions won’t help the Tigers but they are still the favored side here, with Notre Dame boasting a puncher’s chance. Clemson 38, Notre Dame 28
John Bava: Clemson has been a fixture in the CFP. That much is certain considering they’re making their fourth straight appearance. In fact, the only time they haven’t made the college football final four was in the inaugural edition back in 2014. And it’s that experience which makes them a fairly sizable favorite against Notre Dame. It’s worth noting that this is the first ever CFP matchup between two unbeaten teams.
The Irish are making their first appearance in the CFP and with a win can play for a national title for the first time since 2012. Back then, they were an overmatched bunch against an Alabama side boasting plenty of NFL caliber players. But this ND team is different. Brian Kelly has done a tremendous job recruiting elite talent on both sides of the ball. It includes quarterback Ian Book who’s amazingly accurate throwing the ball down the field. Couple that with the suspensions to a few Clemson players including defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and you have the recipe for an upset. Notre Dame 27, Clemson 24
Yesh: Clemson is without some top players including Dexter Lawrence for this game, and that’s going to be an additional challenge. The Notre Dame offense is very underrated and might be able to get some work done if the Clemson D-Line ins’t whole. Similarly, Notre Dame’s defense can shut down just about anyone. If Notre Dame comes out at its absolute best, this game might be close. Clemson 37, Notre Dame 28
Mike Loveall: Even with Clemson’s suspensions, the Tigers are just too good on defense. Notre Dame is deserving, but the last half of the season they’ve shown no indication of being a serious threat to the favorites. Clemson 41, Notre Dame 27.
Orange Bowl: #4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs #1 Alabama (13-0) (Saturday at 8:00)
Line: Alabama by 14
Steen: These two blueblood programs remain at the top of their respective conferences and both expect to win the National Championship this season. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is an incredible player, the type of player needed to beat Alabama (Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow), but the Oklahoma defense is pedestrian at best. The Tide are a more complete team regardless of which QB is under center and I expect them to (eventually) run away from the Sooners in a shootout. Alabama 59, Oklahoma 42
John: Nick Saban has built a near invincible juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. His Alabama side has appeared in all five editions of the CFP, winning it all on two occasions. Overall, Saban has five national titles with the Crimson Tide and six overall. With one more, he’ll pass the legendary Bear Bryant for the most by any college football coach in the AP poll era. It’s certainly a distinct possibility with this Bama team as complete as ever.
The first opponent standing in their way is an Oklahoma squad boasting an explosive offense led by current Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. He’s as dynamic a big play weapon as there is in college football. He currently leads the nation in yards per pass and is second in completion percentage. Meanwhile, questions abound at quarterback for Bama with Tua Tagovailoa possibly not at 100 percent due to a high ankle sprain. Still, Jalen Hurts is as capable a second option there is. Add in the Sooners’ defensive issues and the Tide should prevail in South Florida. Alabama 45, Oklahoma 34
Yesh: I want this to be a close game. I really, really do. Alabama has never faced an offense like this, so maybe the Sooners have some magic in them. At the end of the day, though, this is still Alabama, and the Sooners don’t have the defense to get stops against either Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts. The Crimson Tide wide receivers are going to have a track meet in this one. Alabama 63, Oklahoma 42
Mike: This could be an instant classic. Oklahoma’s offense and Kyler Murray are legitimate threats to Alabama’s reign. Mobile quarterbacks are Nick Saban’s kryptonite. And Murray is nothing if not mobile. Alabama can get a few stops, however, and that’ll make all the difference. Alabama 38, Oklahoma 31
Peach Bowl: #10 Florida (9-3) vs #7 Michigan (10-2) (Saturday at 12:00)
Line: Michigan by 6
Steen: Florida has had some close calls this season but they did enough to secure a fourth spot for the SEC in the NY6 bowl games. Michigan looks to be the better football team though, their only defeats came at the hands of elite teams (Notre Dame and Ohio State) and I don’t see Florida punching above their weight in Atlanta, especially against the Wolverine defense. Michigan 27, Florida 17
John: This is the fifth meeting between these two programs and the fourth that’s occurred in a bowl game. It’s also the third straight year they’ve faced one another. All in all, Michigan is undefeated in this series. They come into this game hoping to recover from a blowout loss to archrival Ohio State, their seventh straight loss to the Buckeyes.
This one should be a defensive slugfest with both quarterbacks expected to have issues throwing the ball. The Wolverines are number two nationally defending the pass while the Gators rank 10th. But the Maize and Blue will be missing running back Karan Higdon who’s sitting out the bowl game to focus on the NFL Draft. Add in the motivation factor with Michigan missing their opportunity to make the CFP and there’s definitely the possibility for an upset here. Florida 23, Michigan 20
Yesh: Will Michigan be motivated? The Wolverines are more talented and have the better coach. They also have a defense that should keep Florida bottled up all game. The Gators will want revenge for two losses in the past two years, but they won’t get it. Michigan is too solid. Michigan 31, Florida 17
Mike: Michigan is the more complete team, particularly on defense. The sit-outs and constant drama in Ann Arbor is concerning, but the Wolverines still get it done. Michigan 24, Florida 13
Fiesta Bowl: #11 LSU (9-3) vs #8 UCF (12-0) (Tuesday at 1:00) Line: LSU by 7.5
Steen: LSU has been shaky far more often this season than UCF, and the Golden Knights have more to play for. Even without their best QB I expect UCF to send a message here, securing a second straight NY6 bowl win, and doing enough to claim a second straight national title. UCF 35, LSU 21
John: For the second straight season, UCF finds itself in a New Year’s Six bowl as the highest ranked Group of Five school. And once again, they’re hoping to prove the doubters wrong by knocking off an SEC team. The Knights might be in for a bigger challenge than last year with McKenzie Milton done for the year.
Expect UCF to rely heavily on their rushing attack. They certainly did so in the AAC title game with Greg McRae rushing for 206 yards in their win over Memphis. LSU will probably do the same via senior running back Nick Brossette who’s taken the reins rather well from Derrius Guice. Both sides have combined for 29 interceptions in 2018 so there should be plenty of defensive playmaking. Ultimately, the Tigers prevail narrowly. LSU 31, UCF 27
Yesh: This line is crazy. No, UCF isn’t as good as last year. No, there’s no Mackenzie Milton. But LSU has been pretty overrated all year. The offense is inconsistent, and the defense can definitely have holes in the middle. UCF is going to go undefeated for a second straight season. UCF 41, LSU 28
Mike: Until someone beats them, I’m going with UCF. LSU will be without a few key players and the Knights are getting used to this. LSU will make the same mistakes Auburn did last year and a mobile quarterback spells doom. UCF 31, LSU 27
Rose Bowl: #9 Washington (10-3) vs #6 Ohio State (12-1) Tuesday at 5:00 Line: Ohio State by 6.5
Steen: I don’t expect this game to go well for the PAC-12 champions. Chris Peterson did well to rally his team to win their conference but the talent gap on both sides of the ball is pretty wide between these teams. Ohio State is one bad loss away from potentially being the national champions, and they’ll want to send Urban Meyer off on a high note. Ohio State 38, Washington 10
John: This year’s “Granddaddy of Them All” reverts back to the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup with Ohio State facing Washington. Something has to give with the Buckeyes boasting a potent offense while the Huskies are stacked with elite defensive talent. The latter has been apparent during the previous two games with Washington holding Gardner Minshew and Washington State to 15 points in the Apple Cup and followed that up by giving up just 3 to Utah in the Pac-12 title game.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins is the focal point of the OSU offense. He currently leads the nation in both passing yards and touchdown passes while he’s also one of just six FBS signal callers with a completion percentage above 70 percent. He’ll face a challenge against a Washington defense that’s allowed just nine touchdowns in 2018, tied for fourth-best in the nation. Haskins draft stock is rising and look for him to ensure that trend continues in Pasadena. Ohio State 34, Washington 23
Yesh: Urban Meyer is going to ride off into the beautiful Pasadena sunset to end his career. Whether you like him or not, he’s been an incredible football coach. Chris Petersen is no slouch–and Meyer probably won’t run up the score out of respect–but the Buckeyes are winning Urban’s last game. Ohio State 38, Washington 24
Mike: Ohio State always finishes well and that’s no different this year. They’re better at pretty much every position and look for the Buckeye faithful to make this all about sending Meyer out right. Ohio State 49, Washington 27
Sugar Bowl: #15 Texas (9-4) vs #5 Georgia (11-2) (Tuesday at 8:45) Line: Georgia by 13
Steen: Texas is gunning for 10 wins, and a marquee bowl win to show their improvements under a new coaching regime. Georgia wants to remain in college football’s elite though and a win here would go a long way to ensuring they finish the season in the top 5. Texas defense is going to get exposed here. A lot of points will be scored, with Georgia putting up more in the end. Georgia 49, Texas 35
John: The New Year’s Six concludes in the Big Easy with an intriguing SEC-Big XII showdown. This is just the fifth all-time meeting between Georgia and Texas and the first since the 1984 Cotton Bowl. That game was the Bulldogs only win in the series. This time around, they’re a fairly hefty favorite. But give Longhorns head coach Tom Herman credit. He definitely seems to have the program headed in the right direction after some lean years following the departure of Mack Brown.
This is a matchup between two quarterbacks who don’t make many mistakes with Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Texas’ Sam Ehlinger both having just five interceptions on the year. And neither of these defense are particularly adept at forcing picks out of opposing quarterbacks. What should tilt this game in the Dawgs’ favor is their dynamic backfield partnership of DeAndre Swift and Elijah Holyfield who’ve combined for 1,993 yards and 17 touchdowns. Georgia 33, Texas 27
Yesh: Georgia has far more talent than Texas, but don’t sleep on what Tom Herman can do. Georgia hasn’t faced a quarterback this year as dynamic as Sam Ehlinger (well, they faced Jalen Hurts for about a quarter, and he saw how that ended). Texas will put up some points, but I doubt it will be enough. Georgia 45, Texas 35
Mike: This might be the toughest of the NY6 to call with the spread. Take the money line here as Georgia is certainly in control, but by two touchdowns? It’s hard finding a path for Longhorns to get more than two scores, and the Bulldogs can grind down a decent Texas defense. Pour a little Sugar on the Peach State team. Georgia 34, Texas 17