By Marcus Williams
College Football Bowl Predictions
After months of games to sort it all out, the 2016-17 college bowl season is upon us. Forty-two games will be played over a three-week period, culminating in the crowning of a National Champion in Tampa on January 9th. With that in mind, here’s a look at the College Football Playoff and a few other bowl games of interest.
Playstation Fiesta Bowl
#2 Clemson will take on #3 Ohio State for the right to advance to the championship game. The playoff will be familiar for both teams as the Buckeyes were here in 2014, winning it all and the Tigers fell just short against Alabama last season. While a key matchup in this game will be Clemson’s high-powered offense vs. Ohio State’s fourth-ranked defense, this game will ultimately come down to which quarterback, Clemson’s Heisman finalist DeShaun Watson or Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett plays the best. While Watson’s rushing numbers this season were about half of what they were a year ago, if Clemson is going to win this game (and a National Title) it will most likely be Watson’s legs that carry them there.
Against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, Watson tallied 85 yards and two scores on the ground. For Barrett, this game, and a possible title run, is about staking his claim in Buckeye lore. An injury forced him out of the playoff in 2014 and he was forced to watch from the sidelines as Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a title. While Clemson is battle tested from a year ago and Ohio State is a young team with few holdovers from two years ago, Head Coach Urban Meyer is the wily, veteran coach who should make the difference in this one.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Strength will meet strength when #1 Alabama faces off against #4 Washington in the Georgia Dome as the top defensive efficiency team in the Crimson Tide battles the second best team in offensive efficiency in the Huskies. Alabama is looking to make history by extending a 27-game win streak and winning a title that will put them in the conversation as one of the greatest college football dynasties of all time. The Huskies, meanwhile, are looking to show everyone they belong after enduring an eight-year process of building a championship contender. Fun fact, the Tide and Huskies faced off in the 1926 Rose Bowl, with Alabama beating a Washington team many thought was unbeatable, 20-19. While the score might be different this time around, the result should be the same.
The Rainbow Warriors come into this game with a losing record at 6-7, having lost three of their last five after a big win at Air Force. Middle Tennessee State, on the other hand, comes in with a potent offense led by running back I’Tavius Mathers, who is only the seventh player in FBS history to rush for 1,500 and hit 500 receiving yards in the same season. The Blue Raiders averaged 40 points per game and broke several school offensive records this year. While the outcome doesn’t seem to be in doubt, if they get quarterback Brent Stockstill back for this game (recovering from a broken collarbone) the blowout could really be on.
Camping World Independence Bowl
Vanderbilt’s hopes of winning this game rest on the right arm of quarterback Kyle Shurmur. If he’s the player who threw for 689 yards and four touchdowns over their last two games (both wins) the Commodores have a chance to play like the team that beat then #17 Tennessee and come away winners. If not, N.C. State and their underrated defense will pounce. The Wolfpack almost beat Clemson this year and had other close games that could’ve gone their way and put them in a much more prestigious bowl game. They are eager to prove they belong with the big boys and will probably be more than Vanderbilt can handle.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Expect Tennessee to come into this game hungry against a Nebraska team that seems to be just going through the motions. The Vols beat Florida for the first time in 11 years and had a shot at the Sugar Bowl before an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt in which they gave up 608 yards to the SEC’s worst offense. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, started 7-0 before losing three of their last five (including a 62-3 defeat at Ohio State) Their offense goes as quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. goes and he has been hurting. If he isn’t healthy when these teams kickoff, expect a Tennessee win.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Two teams who can’t wait for the season to be over in Georgia and TCU will face off in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs were ranked 9th at one point this year, but finished 7-5, going 3-3 down the stretch and seem ready to put this season behind them. The same can be said for the Horned Frogs as they lost four of their last six to finish at 6-6. Slight edge to TCU though because a win would keep them from a losing season, something they’ve only had twice in the last 19 years.