The final College Football Playoff rankings have been announced, and the teams listed came at no surprise. Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma, all conference champions will be playing in this year’s semifinals. At two locations, this should breed intriguing matchups everywhere.
Most of the chatter will revolve around the two playoff games, as they should. However, the rest of the bowl games that reside on New Year’s, such as the Rose or Fiesta Bowl carry equal amounts of build-up. Moving quickly, here is a brief run through over the entire slate of major bowl games.
Playoff Semifinal Games
Capital One Orange Bowl (December 31st, 2015)
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Clemson Tigers
The playoff’s top-seed, Clemson, got into the playoffs by virtue of winning the ACC. The Tigers also remain as the nation’s lone unbeaten. They’re led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, who maintains a sharp 3:1 TD-Int ratio. In t13 games this year, Watson passed for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns. Furthermore, he is the heart of Clemson and nearly everything goes through him, but to say that’s he’s the only playmaker within this offense is a guided fallacy.
Although Watson has been responsible for 66% of Clemson’s total yards this season. Key contributors such as 1,312 yard rusher Wayne Gallman, who splits time between running back and receiver, is the Tigers’ most well-rounded athlete. In addition, wide receiver Artavis Scott owns a 84 catch, 805 yard season thus far.
Oklahoma stumbled early this season with a convoluted loss to Texas in Dallas. This set up many hurdles for Bob Stoops’ Sooners to overcome in the rankings. But since then, Oklahoma has bounced back considerably and might be playing the best football out of anyone. The reckless, unorthodox style of Baker Mayfield jump-started Oklahoma’s offense in late October and hasn’t let up. Mayfield’s Heisman case is still worth mentioning. His 42 total touchdowns (35 passing, 7 rushing) is the most out any ranked Power 5 quarterback. Also not only is his 3,389 passing yards exquisite, but only five interceptions adds to his near perfect season.
The Sooners have weapons all across the field to help Mayfield out, them being WR Sterling Shepard, and two work-horse tail backs; Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl (December 31st, 2015)
Michigan State Spartans vs Alabama Crimson Tide
Death, Taxes, and Alabama winning the SEC again for what seems to be the millionth time. Yes, call it boring or monotonous, but the Tide keep getting the job done. After steam rolling Florida in the SEC Championship Game to get to this point. Alabama has utilized college football’s most tireless player in Derrick Henry. Henry, who at the moment is the Heisman front-runner has carried Alabama’s offense on his shoulders.
During their stretch run in Atlanta, Henry had broken Georgia running back Herschel Walker’s single-season rushing record. With potentially two more games left in Henry’s collegiate career, he only needs 14 yards to surpass the 2,000 yard plateau. This would be the first time an Alabama running back rushed for at least 2,000 yards in a season since Mark Ingram in 2009, oddly enough he was that year’s Heisman winner. It goes without saying that Henry is Alabama’s integrated DNA on offense, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin won’t bother using him 40-45 times per game.
Michigan State, winners of the Big Ten, comes into the Cotton Bowl with an abundance of confidence. Not only will they have a reputable shot at winning the national championship. But Michigan State is all too familiar in playing games in Dallas during the year 2015. The Spartans ironically ended their season last year in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day–defeating Baylor in a wild turn of events.
This time they’ll end 2015 for a chance to advance to the National Championship Game, a place where the program has never been to since 1966. The Spartans’ most prolific passer–Connor Cook, will be playing more than likely his final games in college and will look to recap it with the final prize. Running back L.J. Scott and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge are the match-ups that Cook will try to get going against a stingy Crimson Tide defense.
Rest of New Year’s Six Bowl Games
Rose Bowl Game (January 1st, 2016)
Stanford Cardinal vs Iowa Hawkeyes
If you are an Iowa fan, this is an environment that you haven’t experienced in 25 years. Despite falling short in heartbreaking fashion in last Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, a trip to Pasadena is nothing at all to fret about.
It’s hard to believe C.J. Beathard would be the first guy to lead the Hawkeyes back to the Rose Bowl, but he has excelled in his “game managing role” quite well. He’s not flashy, but his 62% completion percentage bodes well, as it’s a rarity you will see him turn it over. Relying on a heavy-based ground attack, running backs Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr. are the anchors of Iowa’s crazy efficient offense.
Unlike Ohio State or Michigan State, two B1G teams that are vastly different offensively than Iowa. The Hawkeyes use of receivers stretching the field vertically is an uncommon practice. Instead, an unconventional mix of tight ends and fullbacks is the game that head coach Kirk Ferentz implements weekly. It’s no surprise that tight ends Henry Keiger-Coble and George Kittle have been responsible for catching a combined 52 passes this season.
Unlike Iowa, who will be experiencing such a pageant event for the first time in over two decades. The Stanford Cardinal is familiar with this game, having now played in three over the past four years. Stanford possess similar characteristics as Iowa; by being more run dependent than most, but also carry a veteran quarterback, Kevin Hogan, who knows when to make the best plays for his team.
Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman campaign was put on notice in Saturday’s commanding win over USC, where he posted over 430 all-purpose yards. In fact, he broke Barry Sanders’ record for most all-purpose yards in a season.
Allstate Sugar Bowl (January 1st, 2016)
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs Ole Miss Rebels
Seemingly both of these teams will head into the matchup in New Orleans off different paths. Before the middle of November, Oklahoma State was maintaining an undefeated record and a high national ranking. Ole Miss on the other hand, experienced major wins over Alabama and Mississippi State, yet were dragged down with questionable losses (blown out against Florida, and suffered a deflating 3OT loss at Arkansas).
Oklahoma State will ride into their first ever Sugar Bowl appearance in program history, losers of two straight. Not a lot of expectations were set out for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys this season, and considering how much they’ve overcome should be taken seriously. Very few quarterbacks were as hot to open the season as Mason Rudolph was. Through the team’s first six games, Rudolph attained an exceptional 65.9 completion percentage and an average of 316 yards per game. Lingering foot injuries caused Rudolph’s production to significantly decline. But nonetheless, he should be ready to go once game time approaches.
For Ole Miss, they’ve gone as far as Chad Kelly can take them. In his first year starting, Kelly suffered similar setbacks as Oklahoma State’s Rudolph did, minus nagging injuries. Kelly is coming into this game owning a 65.2 completion percentage and 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. His big arm opposes threats for many defenses, however Kelly’s decision-making hasn’t been something he’s improved on greatly. As far as play makers go, Laquon Treadwell is head-and-shoulders the Rebels’ most complete receiver, hauling in 76 passes for 1,082 yards. Treadwell is a big play waiting to happen every time the ball is in his hands, and it’s very difficult to impede his progress often.
Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl (January 1st, 2016)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Ohio State Buckeyes
A rematch of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, a game in which was dominated heavily from the Buckeyes’ Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. Fortunately for Notre Dame, both of those stars no longer play in Columbus. However, this time around the Irish defense must account for a whole different crop of catalysts on offense.
First things first, there is going to be great controversy of who Urban Meyer decides to roll-out as his starting quarterback in this game. Cardale Jones has been the regular option this season, although it’s created some risks. Jones’ accuracy is slightly behind that of Barrett’s, (Barrett 63.8 completion percentage, Jones 62.5), and as a result Ohio State’s offense has run very rough. That stat might not reveal much in the grant scheme of things, but the next one will. Overall, Jones has thrown eight touchdowns, compared to five interceptions (just below 2:1 TD-Int ratio). Barrett on the other hand, even in less playing time, garners 10 TD passes to three interceptions, which is just under 4:1. When Barrett has started, for instance in their curb stomping over rival Michigan in Ann Arbor, Barrett contributed with many read-based option looks that helped filter running back Ezekial Elliot with more touches.
Through twelve games this season, Elliot carried the ball 262 times for 1,672 yards. Barrett SHOULD be the clear-cut choice to start on New Year’s, but don’t ever jump to conclusion with Urban Meyer.
Notre Dame was in firm grasp of a playoff shot until Stanford ruined the party two weeks ago. Brian Kelly hasn’t endured more turmoil at each position the most than this year. After losing starters Malik Zaire, C.J. Prosise, and a set-load of defensive talent, Kelly was still able to mold his Irish squad to a 10-win season and a big bowl game, which is quite remarkable.
For the Irish it will start with DeShone Kizer, who has improved almost every week. Kizer’s biggest upside will come with his legs and being able to extend plays from outside the pocket. Without question his arm strength has been there all season and when you have vertical threats such as Will Fuller and Amir Carlisle to throw to, these are big-time receivers that makes it easier for young quarterbacks to grow.
Chick-fil- A Peach Bowl (December 31st, 2015)
Houston Cougars vs Florida State Seminoles
Second to Clemson, Florida State might be the next best team in the ACC. Despite missing out on the conference championship game, the Seminoles have hit their stride and are playing there best football right now. Evidently, Jimbo Fisher’s decision to move on from Everett Golson and hand the keys to his Ferrari to Sean Maguire has paid off.
Maguire’s arm strength has risen considerably this season, however the touch on his balls have dropped off. Situated into more of a “don’t screw it up, just hand the ball off to Dalvin Cook” role has kept Fisher and Seminole fans quiet and pleased. Maguire’s numbers aren’t outstanding in terms of yards per attempt or even raw passing yards. But the ability to not turn the ball over in critical spots makes the Seminoles offense challenging to stop. In total, he’s passed for 1,128 yards and 9 touchdowns. These numbers that don’t need anymore enhancing when you have the most agile and complete running back in the game. A definite Heisman snub, Dalvin Cook has done it all for the Seminoles as a sophomore. Cook is sixth in terms of total rushing yards in the nation (1,658), plus he also holds the second best yards/carry average in the FBS with 7.9.
It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t watched Houston play yet. Just make sure you get to know them before this game starts. Mainly, Greg Ward Jr. is the Cougars’ quarterback and is the engine that makes this Houston offense go. Just like how Cook is the most important player for Florida State, Ward Jr. shares this same equivalent. It’s no surprise to why Ward is responsible for 57% of Houston’s total yards. Behind a deadly accurate arm, that’s passed for 2,590 yards and completed 68% of his passes, Ward Jr. can annihilate any defense he comes across with both his arm and legs.
Ward is the one of a very short list of quarterbacks to have thrown for 2,000 and ran for 1,000 yards in the same season (Navy’s Keenan Reynolds has also done it this year). Although Ward is blessed with two outstanding receivers in 1,1000 yard Demarcus Ayers and Oregon transfer Chance Allen, the Cougars have received a team effort on defense, preferably the secondary play.