It’s bowl season again and this year’s New Years Six bowl games are jam-packed. We have games like Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State, Ohio State vs. Utah, and even the Group of Five team Cincinnati taking on Alabama. In each of these games, there will be a crucial matchup to watch that will play a huge factor in determining the outcome. These are the matchups to watch.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl:
Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh
The Michigan State Spartans were expected to only have four wins this season according to pre-season models. Well, instead they finished 10-2 and will be participating in their first New Year’s Six bowl game in six seasons. This was largely due in part to their star running back Kenneth Walker who put up 1,636 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Walker has opted out of the game though to focus on the NFL Draft. On the other side of things, Pittsburgh is coming off an 11-2 season which is the best record they have had under head coach Pat Narduzzi and they did so with Kenny Pickett, their Heisman finalist quarterback. Pickett would finish with the fifth-most passing yards in the nation with 4,319 and the third most touchdowns with 42. Much like the Spartans though Pickett has opted out of the game and is turning his attention to the NFL Draft. So with both teams without their star players, these are the two players to watch.
While the Panthers don’t have Pickett, fill-in quarterback Nick Patti will have a reliable target in Jordan Addison to target. This season Addison led the team in receiving yards with 1,479, and touchdowns with 17. Addison has even been used as a running back six times where he gained 28 yards. He should be able to have a huge impact in the game against a Spartans defense that allowed 4,052 passing yards, the most in college football this season. If the secondary can slow down Pittsburgh’s passing attack look for their safety duo of Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose. Henderson leads the team in tackles with 94, while Grose has the second most passes defended with six.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl:
Cincinnati vs. Alabama
For the first time in the College Football Playoff history, a Group of Five team will have a chance to compete for the National Championship. That team is the Cincinnati Bearcats who defied all odds in 2021 by going undefeated and beating teams like Arkansas and Notre Dame. The next hurdle they will have to face is Alabama, who is looking to get to their seventh title under head coach Nick Saban. Both of these teams have had explosive offenses this season, the Bearcats being led by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, and the Crimson Tide being led by first-year starter Bryce Young. This will be an exciting game to watch and the outcome will be decided between an Alabama wide receiver and the Bearcats cornerback.
Alabama will be missing one of their top wide receivers in John Metchie who suffered an ACL injury, so look for Young to heavily target their other speedy wide receiver in Jameson Williams. The transfer from Ohio State made an immediate impact on the Crimson Tide offense having 1,445 yards for 15 touchdowns while having the second most receptions with 68. With Williams being the top receiver he will be covered by the Bearcats top cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Over his three seasons with the Bearcats, Gardner has never allowed a touchdown and over the 32 times he was targeted this season he only allowed 14 receptions. How well Gardner covers Williams will play a crucial role in how explosive this Alabama offense is in this game. With Gardner being one of the top potential cornerback prospects one area people are skeptical about is how he fairs with receivers that aren’t from the AAC, this is the perfect opportunity for him to do so and raise his draft stock.
Capital One Orange Bowl:
Georgia vs. Michigan
Up until their loss in the SEC Championship to Alabama, the Georgia Bulldogs had looked like one of the most dominant teams this season. They allowed only an average of 9.5 points per game and only 81.7 rushing yards per game. The rushing portion of the Michigan Wolverines is what that offense has relied on this season. As good as Georgia’s defense had been it allowed 41 points to Alabama and allowed them to have 536 total yards on offense. The Wolverines are coming off their Big Ten Championship Game where their defense did the exact opposite of Georgia’s. Michigan’s defense allowed Iowa to only three points and kept the Hawkeyes to only 279 yards of offense. With going 12-1 this year head coach Jim Harbaugh has finally been able to get the team to where he wanted it, now he must overcome the Bulldogs to get to his first National Championship.
Georgia’s offense hasn’t asked their quarterback Stetson Bennett to do too much this season as he has only thrown the ball 350 times compared to them rushing the ball 480 times. This has been in part to their offensive line keeping Bennett protected when he goes to throw, and creating running lanes for when they go to run the ball. What we saw in their game against Alabama though is when you go up against a powerful defensive front that limits their rushing game to only an average of 3.6 yards per carry it doesn’t end well. With the Crimson Tide forcing Bennett to throw the ball for a season-high 48 times it led to him being sacked for a season-high three times and two interceptions. Michigan’s defensive front is not one to mess around with either as they have a potential top-three NFL draft pick in edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. This 2021 season with the Wolverines, Hutchinson set a single-season record of 14 sacks, the defensive line as a whole has had 34 and has been decent against the run allowing only 121.5 rushing yards per game. If the Wolverines can follow what Alabama did, it could be a tight game for the Bulldogs offensively.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State:
Both of these teams will be looking to redeem themselves as they just missed being in the final four. In Oklahoma State’s case, they are coming off a 21-16 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game where had they won they could’ve had a chance at the fourth spot. For Notre Dame, they had an 11-1 season but without being in a conference to put a conference championship next to their name hurt their case in getting in the final four. The other notable mention considering Notre Dame is this will be the first time we see how they look under new head coach Marcus Freeman.
The matchup to watch here is Notre Dame linebacker JD Bertrand going up against Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren. Bertrand currently leads the Fighting Irish defense in total tackles with 93, the next highest is 49 from fellow linebacker Drew White. Bertland has been a crucial piece on this defense that has the 29th best run defense allowing only 1,533 rushing yards, they will need to con this dominance against Warren. In the Baylor game where Oklahoma State played without Warren, it made their offense very one-dimensional. They finished that game with their second-lowest rushing total of the season with 70-yards, and it was their quarterback Spencer Sanders who led the team in rushing with 33 yards. With the lack of a run game, this led to Sanders throwing a season-high four interceptions. If Bertland and the Notre Dame defense can limit Warren it should lean in their favor, if Warren finds a rhythm early it could lean more in Oklahoma State’s favor
Ohio State vs. Utah:
The last time we saw this Ohio State team it was in their 42-27 loss to their rival Michigan. Utah on the other hand is coming off a 38-10 win over their rival Oregon where they won the PAC-12 Championship. Since Ryan Day took over as the Buckeyes head coach the team has made it to the Final Four both of the two years until now. For the Utes, their head coach Kyle Whittingham has led the team to their eighth winning season in a row all while guiding the team through tragic events. Both coaches will have to get their teams ready for this matchup that will play a huge factor.
Ohio State’s offense picked right up where it left off last year with freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud putting up 364.9 passing yards per game. In his first season as a starter, Stroud has completed 70.9% of his passes for 3,862 yards for 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The Buckeyes offense will be without Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson as both have opted out, instead it will be Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, and Emeka Egbuka showing off Ohio State’s wide receiver depth. Utah’s strength is defending against the pass, the Utes passing defense is 24 in passing yards per game allowing only 195.3. This is mostly due in part to the Utes linebacker Devin Loyd who not only has 107 tackles but six defended passes and a team-leading four interceptions. Along with cornerback Clark Phillips who has 12 defended passes. The Buckeyes are loaded at the wide receiver position and should still be able to use their passing attack efficiently as they also have freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson as well to help out on the ground.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Baylor vs. Ole Miss:
Ole Miss will pretty much be playing this game in their own backyard and will look to cap off their 7-2 season with the bowl win to send off 2022 NFL Draft quarterback prospect Matt Corral on a good note. Since taking over the team last year, head coach Lane Kiffin will be making his second bowl appearance with the Rebels as he looks to get another win. Baylor will be looking to end their 2021 underdog story with a bowl win. Many people thought it would be Oklahoma winning the Big-12 again this year as Baylor dealt with injuries that led to players switching positions, and they only were in their second season with head coach Dave Aranda. The Bears made this clear they were the team to beat in the Big-12 this season after statement wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma.
What will play the factor in determining the outcome is the Bears defensive front going up against Corral. The Bears defensive front has been a dominant force this season with Gabe Hall who has five sacks, Siaki Ika who has four sacks, and TJ Franklin who also has four sacks. This defensive front that has been able to get constant pressure on quarterbacks is what has helped lead them to success this season. How star Matt Corral handles this pressure will be important, he has handled fairly well in previous matchups after being hit 195 times this season. Corral will be a quarterback who will be competition for this Bears defense as he can beat teams through the air and on the ground. Even dealing with a nagging ankle injury for the second half of the season, Corral still finished with 3,339 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 597 rushing yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns. Containing Corral will be the key for this Baylor defense but with the type of player Corral is this may be easier said than done.
With how each team stacks up against the other these New Year’s Six games should come down to the last possession. For more College Football coverage make sure to follow TWSN on Twitter and Instagram. Also for more College Football content, Buffalo Bills coverage and NFL updates throughout the season make sure to follow myself on Twitter and Instagram as well!