It’s the most wondrous time of the year...meaningful games, I mean. I regret to inform you that perhaps the best game of the season has already come and gone — Liberty - Coastal was every bit the barn burner I predicted a few days ago (including the straight-up Flames win. We are having a very good bowl season over there, BTW. We stand at 9-2 vs. the spread, 12-4 overall, 2-0 in Mortal Bowl locks. Just sayin’.)
I predict some close ones on New Year’s, but isn’t that usually when someone runs away in a laugher? Most of these look great on paper, but...yeah...an unexpected blowout is definitely coming down the pipe. As I am not Gumpstradamus, and as an algorithm doesn’t fully capture what’s going on around team personnel and their collective psyche, we shall endeavor to work around it as best we can.
A weird 2020 sees us no move to the games of consequence, and we’ll touch ‘em all here below. Hopefully, some of these marquee games hosted by old fat guys in garish sports coats will be as good as the one we just witnessed. #CancelBowlTieIns
Cotton Bowl: OU +3 vs Florida
Let’s not bury the lede; the wrong team is favored. There’s no Kyle Pitts, which instantly makes this a far more limited offense. There’s no Shawn Davis, the Gators best defender in a tire fire of a secondary. Todd Grantham is still coaching. The Gators still have no running game. And the Sooners’ offense is one that create a lot of havoc. This really is a matter of bracketing Grimes, putting your best defender on Kadarius Toney at all times, get after the QB and stop the run — the latter aretwo things OU has excelled at all year. Had the Gators had everyone on deck, I’d take Florida. They don’t. Were this game played in October, I’d take Florida. It’s not. Add in some disappointment, a pouty clown coach, and a de facto home game for the Sooners, and Oklahoma covers the field goal and wins straight up. Oklahoma 41 Florida 37
Peach Bowl: Cincinnati +7 vs. Georgia
Bowl games are about favorable matchups, who’s healthy, and who gives a shit. And, let’s be honest, Kirby hasn’t been great about the latter, and no matter who’s healthy or how good the matchups would have been on paper, the ‘Dawgs are down a ridiculous eight opt-outs for this one.
Cincinnati will walk into this game with a tremendous chip on their shoulder playing an SEC also-ran team of questionable offense, who are not very motivated to begin with, with a coach who has been spotty in bowl prep. Intangibles aside, the secondary for UC is outstanding — by far the best one UGA has faced, maybe all year. If the Bearcats can hold up on the lines, and the Dawgs have great ones, and can get some timely plays out of their outstanding special teams and Sr. QB. Riddle, the SEC is going to take another one on the chin to a very hungry team proving they belong.
We saw this script play out with UCF-Auburn, we saw it play out with Utah-Alabama, we saw it play out with Boise-Oklahoma, we saw it play out with then-MWC TCU vs. Wisconsin, and we’ll see it play out again on New Year’s.
Cincinnati can (and will) stake a claim to some sort of national title if they win. I think it happens too. Cincinnati 27 — Georgia 26
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M -7 vs. UNC
The Tarheels have been rotten against teams with good defenses and a ball control physical offense, of which they’ve played exactly one team that meets that criteria: Notre Dame The Aggies are significantly better than the Irish; faster than the Irish; better than the Irish across both lines; have more dangerous skills players; have Kellen Mond finally living up to his potential and playing within the scheme; and a coach motivated to prove the committee got it wrong. Mack Brown will turn it around in Chapel Hill. The ACC is so bad that he can’t help but to do so. But for all the weapons that the Tarheels possess, it’s nothing that Aggie hasn’t seen or prevailed against.
Since the ‘Bama game, A&M beat Florida, then won its next six all by double digits. That’s the definition of a hot team peaking and the right time. Take A&M — I do think we’ll get a lot of derp in this one though. Texas A&M 38 UNC 28
Fiesta Bowl: Iowa State -4 1⁄2 vs. Oregon
Well, you kept Mario around for a while longer, Ducks. Now, let’s see what you won: oh, a loss in Phoenix to some pasty corn bros with three losses, one of whom was to a Sun Belt team! Seriously, Oregon has been given its wins this year, Kedon Slovis’ implosion just the most recent. Brock Purdy is a lot more conscious of what he’s doing with the ball, the ‘Clones defense is better than USC in every respect; ISU has been playing meaningful games and more of them twice as long as Oregon; Iowa State will have at least one and probably the two best players on the field; and the Cyclones won’t give it away. Not to mention, I really don’t think Cristobal is a good game manager. If this is a one-score game, he’ll do something dumb. The Ducks have lacked a killer instinct since he set foot in Eugene. I don’t think it will be a one-score game though. ISU 33 Oregon 24
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss + 7 vs Indiana
Wait? How is a 4-loss team with one of the worst defenses in the country just a one-score ‘dog against the alleged No. 11 team in the country? Well, have you seen the offense? I assure you, the Hoosiers have not seen anything like it. And preparing for the speed at which Ole Miss runs it is doubly terrifying. Moreover, IU’s biggest weakness is one that Kiffin spotted early in the ‘Bama game and exploited it for a full 60 minutes: the interior line. Ole Miss will run the ball straight at them for 45 straight plays until IU pulls some safeties into the box. That makes the corner group significantly weaker, and teams like Penn State and OSU feasted on single coverage outside by forcing the tempo on the ground.
Penix is out, and that’s a blow to IU’s chances here, but they could roll out a sentient hot dog and score 30+ on this ghastly defense. In fact, they will. But too much speed played at speed, a superior ground game, Kiffin in a big game where he really gets up for it, and some structural deficits on IU’s roster dooms the Cinderella season.
If you’re not comfortable with riding the Lane train (and you should be), at least take over 66 1⁄2. Or both! Ole Miss 41 — Indiana 40
Rose Bowl: Alabama -20 1⁄2 vs. Notre Dame
I think Notre Dame knows what they’re getting in to here. They’re bad on the outside; the corners are the worst Kelly has had in a few years; the offense is limited; Ian Book is still Ian Book; and the lines have been inconsistent — when they play great, Kyren can feed and the defense forces turnovers; when they don’t, he won’t and they can’t.
There’s just way, way too much firepower here to keep up with, and Alabama has been outstanding against limited offenses this season. I expect some busts...it’s just what the Crimson Tide do. But I also expect a very conservative defensive game plan that will get stops and force turnovers and turn it back over to the nation’s best offense.
Brian Kelly should be glad Saban likes him. Nick won’t intentionally humiliate Notre Dame, but he’ll cover the spread and leave no question about it either. Alabama 48 Notre Dame 20
Mortal Lock of the Week
Clemson -7 1⁄2 vs Ohio State
This is the weakest Clemson team Dabo has trotted out during the Tigers’ 6-year run. It also happens to be the weakest Ohio State team we’ve seen in about a half a decade too. Funny what happens when you roll over half a dozen first-rounders or so for a few years. Still, this battle will be hyped as a quarterback duel between the likely No. 1 and No. 2 NFL 2021 draft picks (and what I think will actually be two inevitable busts-to-backups, at best).
And we can talk about that, sure. I’ll make this quick: Clemson has an elite college quarterback; Ohio State has a player with elite potential and measurables who is not. Sunshine has been on this stage before, has excelled, and has minimized mistakes in an offense designed to showcase his talent and hide that ghastly long windup and slow release. But OSU, despite the inaccuracies and scheme limitations of Justin Fields, will nevertheless put him in position to make bad reads and overthrows that only freakish Chris Olave has been able to bail him out of — and not even then, in many cases. If Olave cant go — and he may not — this offense becomes an erratic big-armed quarterback who prays like hell the ground game can prop him up.
Re: running game: Clemson has Travis ETN, who though having a bit of a down year, is still remarkably dangerous in the open field, while OU trots out Trey Sermon and about four other guys all averaging 6 yards a pop. The heart of this Buckeye’s team is very much its interior rushing attack. The Irish gashed Clemson earlier this season doing exactly that very thing, pounding the rock, so you expect OSU to sell-out and try and win some B1G paleo-ball. But, this is a healthier Clemson defense than in that first meeting with the Irish, with both a starting safety and best LB now back in the fold. And the Tigers’ much better defensive performance has borne that out. In the rematch, Clemson didn’t just control both lines of scrimmage, they dominated. They won’t dominate against OSU (and their OL is a concern against a concerted pass rush), but CU will do more than enough on defense to get Justin Fields making poor decisions and to limit damage from the Ohio State ground game.
The last areas where you must have real concerns if you’re a Buckeye partisan, is the passing defense — easily the weakest group in years, a group that has been victimized by busts all season, and in the intangibles. This is old hat for Clemson. They know how to prepare; they know how to win these games; and the coordinator staff, perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the country (and the only thing keeping Dabo from being an 8-4 cheerleader) know how to exploit opponent weaknesses. It’s shown in big games this year. When healthy, though diminished, Clemson is still hell on wheels because of that tandem. And, pals, do the Bucks ever have some weaknesses in 2020. Tony Elliott and Brent Venables will again earn their checks this week. But more than anything, it shows in how Ohio State has played in big games. Against the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes got up big, then couldn’t stop a pass to save their life. Against Penn State, the Buckeyes were in a dog fight against a 3-win team that lost its best talent to the draft and had its best player sit out. Against the Northwestern Wildcats, OSU could neither stop the run nor complete a pass to someone not wearing purple and white. In two games, the Buckeyes adjusted, in the other, they folded. But in neither case should OSU have had to do this. OSU should have beaten the hell out of all three of those teams handily. They didn’t.
That has not been the case this year in Clemson. When the chips have been down — as against BC, Wake early etc. — the coordinators dialed up what worked and were nearly perfect when they had to be. And what started out as competitive games, turned into beatdowns. Watch. It’ll happen again too — assuming OSU ever even gets off the mat to return counterpunches. I get the feeling they won’t.
You know why Dabo put Ohio State No. 11 in his final poll? He means it.
This game is going to be an asswhipping and it will show. Take the Tigers big: Clemson 37 Ohio State 17