The first half of the day is going to be an offensive showcase featuring a lethal Memphis passing game playing in their host city Liberty Bowl for the first time, an eclectic Iowa State offense that can score in droves, Joe Moorhead’s new-look Mississippi State Bulldogs (absent Nick Fitzgerald, sadly,) and then a guy named Lamar Jackson who has obliterated records the last two All-American seasons. This afternoon, we may see a bit more defense, but it’s not exactly like Penn State is a scoreboard slouch either.
Louisville (-7, 63) at #23 Mississippi State - Taxslayer Bowl
Sat, Dec 30, 12:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN
Louisville will have the best individual player on the field. It will also have the Louisville defense, which offsets that a great deal. Joe Moorhead vs. Bobby Petrino will be a playcaller’s paradise. Or, it would have been: Cohen and Moorhead decided that the latter would coach at neither Penn State nor Mississippi State this bowl season. And that’s a real shame. We’ve seen what Moorhead did with Saquon Barkley, so we could have expected State’s Aeris Williams to get plenty of carries and see action out of the backfield as well. But, who knows what we’re getting with a staff that has four assistants and an interim coach. Blood, is my guess. And lots of it. The other questions here are: Can Louisville’s defense get enough stops -- they’ve been pretty awful at times this season, and 2. Can a Nick-less State offense find some points in the passing game absent Fitzgerald, and especially on the road, where the Bulldogs have not played good football. I’d like CLANGA a lot better if they were healthy. Fitzgerald’s legs would be a nice equalizer here.
Iowa State (-4, 67) at #20 Memphis - Autozone Liberty Bowl
Sat, Dec 30, 12:30 PM ET ABC/WatchESPN
Iowa State went on a tear in the midway point of this season, playing six ranked teams in a row and knocking off four of them (three on the road.) That included an improbable win against Oklahoma where the Cyclones harassed Baker Mayfield into uncharacteristic mistakes and then pounded the ball to secure the victory. Here’s the thing, though. Memphis doesn’t care about mistakes. They make a ton of them, and they still keep chucking it all over the field. The Tigers defense will get scored on a lot today, but you have to think scrappy ISU will find a way to give up some points too. In a game that should be razor-thin, Memphis can turn it to their favor with the Tigers’ exceptional special teams. Jay Norvell and Matt Campbell are two of the best young coaches in the game: It makes me happy their respective schools made substantive financial commitments to both, and it will be a pleasure to watch. Must-See TV.
#11 Washington at #9 Penn State (-3, 54.5) - Fiesta Bowl
Sat, Dec 30, 4:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN
The Huskies defense has generally withstood the PAC 12 offensive onslaughts this season. But, when they’ve been bad, they’ve been fairly bad, such as letting Utah hang 33 on them. Where Washington has really fallen short has been the offense, which makes no sense with its best running back returning and Jake Browning under center. When UW has laid an egg, they’ve done so spectacularly too — like scoring a solitary sad touchdown against notoriously-porous Arizona State. It’s not the points per game, it’s the inconsistency. Penn State has not had problems scoring this season. Your Heisman lock through Halloween, Saquon Barkley, has been fantastic. Throw in the mobility and fearless vertical passing of Trace McSorley and it’s a tough offense to stop. I don’t think Washington can keep up here, even if Jake Browning reverts to his 2016 All-American form. One quirk to keep an eye on: PSU’s James Franklin is 0-10 versus ranked teams on the road at Penn State. Meanwhile, Penn State has never lost a Fiesta Bowl. Something has to give.
#6 Wisconsin at #10 Miami (+6, 45) - Orange Bowl
Sat, Dec 30, 8:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN
Bless their hearts, Wisconsin really does try despite having little-to-no elite talent. They get by playing some of the best fundamental paleoball you’ll see. Still, like their more talented counterparts in Ann Arbor, it’s not been enough to get them past athletic squads: They’ve gone 0-fer Ohio State when it’s mattered the most. Two things that tell you enough about Wisconsin: The Badgers’ freshman phenom Jonathan Taylor is an exceptional back, and he’s going to need to make the most of his elebenty carries tonight for UW to have a prayer. And, QB Alex Hornibrook is dreadful. He’s the worst starting P5 quarterback I’ve seen this season. The passing game’s biggest strength, TE Jay Fumigali, is pitted against Miami’s biggest strength: its active, fast, excellent linebackers...and all of them have coverage skills. For the ‘Canes, they can play it both ways: They light up bad teams with Malik Rosier, and can play close-to-the-vest percentage/defensive games against excellent defenses as well. Wisconsin has a great statistical defense, but if you want to see what happens when they face elite speed, Ohio State toyed with them in a game the Buckeyes could have won by four touchdowns if they tried. I can’t help but look at what the Hurricanes did to one-dimensional Notre Dame and think we see something similar today. Speed kills, and the Badgers have none of it. For the life of me, I can’t see why Mark Richt’s team is the underdog in their home city.
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