For Saturday, December 28, there are only four games on tap. But two of the four games will determine who plays in the BCS Title game. It is only fair that PU devotes more time to evaluate those games.
The other two games have no bearing on the BCS series. But they do offer more quality football, we hope. So there will be a longer look at them as well.
Time to get to the games. We start with Notre Dame versus Iowa State.
Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame (-3.5) vs. Iowa State
Iowa State goes into the game with a 7-5 record while Notre Dame is 10-2 and ranked No. 15 in the nation.
Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly has his 4th straight season with ten wins, losing only to Georgia and Michigan. But the season is a let-down for the Irish by not getting an invite to the Playoffs like last year’s team.
Quarterback Ian Book leads the Notre Dame offense. He has 2,792 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes on the season. The knock on Book is his lack of consistency and accuracy when throwing. As well, he has a problem hitting the long pass. In a shootout, this could be a problem for the Irish. The good news is that he is very effective on third downs.
Along with Book, running back Tony Jones Jr. leads with 722 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The top receiver is Chase Claypool is with 59 catches for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns. Khalid Kareem leads the defense with 5 1/2 sacks while Kyle Hamilton has four picks this season.
Notre Dame is not a “clock control” team. The secret for them will be to rely on their defense to hold its own and defend against the pass when the Iowa State offense is on the field.
This is the 3rd straight bowl game for Iowa State. Quarterback Brock Purdy leads the offense with 3,760 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes. Purdy had only nine picks for the year, three against Oklahoma State. His accuracy and running ability in a pinch will be of benefit against the Irish.
Purdy is joined in the backfield by running back Breece Hall who has 842 yards and nine touchdowns. Receivers are Deshaunte Jones with 72 catches for 832 yards and two touchdowns and Charlie Kolar with seven touchdowns. O’Rien Vance leads the defense with six sacks.
For the Cyclones to have any hope in winning, they will have to get their running game going. Though the offensive line is solid in pass protection, when the Cyclones rush for under 100 yards, they have lost all four games. They will need the rushing to take the pressure off Purdy and open up the passing game.
Notre Dame goes into the game without an Offensive Coordinator. Chip Long left for different pastures so the question becomes who will handle duties for the Irish and run an offense that ended the season averaging 429 yards and 37 points per game.
Notre Dame wins 40-26 and COVERS the spread.
Cotton Bowl: Penn State (-7) vs. Memphis
To begin, it is still hard getting used to the Cotton Bowl not being on New Year’s Day this year.
In a game only for bragging rights, #13 Penn State, 10-2, goes up against the #15 surprise Memphis Tigers who went 12-1 and won the AAC title. A win for Memphis would end with the season being the best in Tiger history.
This will be the final game for Tiger Head Coach Mike Norvell, who will be taking over the Florida State program for next year.
The key to the Tiger success will rely upon the performance of running back Kenneth Gainwell and wide receiver Damonte Coxie.
Gainwell was the 8th best rusher in the FBS for 2019, running for 1,425 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his last two games against Cincinnati, Gainwell was held to just 4 yards per carry. Since Penn State has one of the best rushing defenses in the country, holding opponents to 2.6 yards per carry, Coach Norvell will need to find creative ways to get him involved more in the offense. Passing may be a way to go since Gainwell also has 44 receptions for 532 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback Brady White has performed well for Memphis, with 3,560 yards passing and 33 touchdowns. He will be facing Penn State’s three leading pass-rushers Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney and second-team All-American linebacker Micah Parsons. who have combined for 32.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks this season.
Damonte Coxie will have to play a big role so the Tiger offensive line will have to provide enough time for Coxie to get open. He has done well during the season with 1,144 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he has not met this tough of a defensive unit before
Penn State has been well tested throughout the season playing against Top Ranked teams. They are led on the field by quarterback Sean Clifford who threw for 2,511 yards and 22 touchdowns against 6 interceptions for the season. However, in losses to Minnesota and Ohio State, he completed only 33 of 60 passes (55 percent) and one touchdown, compared to three interceptions. He has 21 touchdowns and three interceptions in the Nittany Lions’ 10 wins. He will be up against a Tiger secondary that allowed 200.7 passing yards per game and 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions all season?
Penn State has the fifth-best rush defense in the nation, allowing 97.7 yards per game on the ground, and has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season, against Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (157 yards) and Rutgers’ Isaiah Pacheco (102 yards). They will be getting after Brady White all game.
Memphis just does not have the weapons to win this game.
Penn State wins and the spread.
Peach Bowl: LSU (-13) vs. Oklahoma
The Peach Bowl features the #1 ranked and undefeated LSU Tigers versus the #4 ranked, one loss Oklahoma Sooners in what should be a high scoring game. But looking at the spread at 13 points, this seems a bit too high for two such high powered offenses.
The “fun” matchup for this game will be Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow playing against Heisman finalist Jaylen Hurts. Both are efficient passers and runners. This will be the time to see just how good each is.
LSU led the nation in total offense with 554.3 yards per game average, and 47.8 points per game with was 3rd in the nation. The team is deep in talent besides Joe Burrow with first-team SN All-Americans Ja’Marr Chase, Derek Stingley Jr. and Grant Delpit.
Burrow is not just a passing threat, he is also a sneaky good runner. He averaged 12.5 carries and 52.5 rushing yards in victories against Georgia and Alabama. When passing, his targets will be and LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase (73 catches, 1,498 yards, 18 touchdowns), Justin Jefferson (88 catches, 1,207 yards, 14 touchdowns), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (50 catches, 399 yards one touchdown), and Terrace Marshall Jr. (37 catches, 545 yards, 10 touchdowns).
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire status is “iffy” for the game thanks to a hamstring injury. His status won’t be known until game time. This could be a major problem for the LSU offense if he does not play since he adds both a rushing and receiving threat for the Oklahoma defense to worry about.
Oklahoma is in the Playoffs for the third straight year, this time led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. He leads a talented offense that finished second in the FBS in total yards (554.2) and fifth in points per game (43.2).
Hurts has played LSU twice before in his career, each time with Alabama where LSU lost each game. So the LSU defense should be very familiar to him. During those games he averaged 17 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown each. If he can run against LSU, it will open up the air game for the Sooners.
Hurts targets for passing will be CeeDee Lamb with 58 catches, 1,208 yards, and 14 touchdowns and Charleston Rambo,42 catches, 734 yards, and five touchdowns.
The OU defense is better than in previous years, but will be without starting defensive end Ronnie Perkins who was suspended for this game. The loss of Perkins will certainly affect defensive play and take some pressure off the LSU offense.
Suspended as well are running back Rhamondre Stevenson and receiver Trejan Bridges potentially affecting the Sooner offense greatly..
Negatively affecting the Sooners also is that they are penalized 75.08 yards per game. Additionally, they have the worst turnover margin among the Playoff teams at -7. To have any chance at winning, the Sooners must play most effectively and eliminate penalties and turnovers.
Expect a shootout in the Peach Bowl for the right to go to the Championship Game.
LSU wins but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson (-2) vs. Ohio State
The final game being played on Saturday is the most looked forward to, the Fiesta Bowl featuring No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) against No. 3 Clemson (13-0) in the Fiesta Bowl. The winner goes to the Playoff Final for the National Championship.
Ohio State has been thoroughly tested throughout the season, having played numerous highly ranked opponents. Clemson has not been tested, having played a very weak schedule, once again. Even then, Clemson is a 2 point favorite.
Ohio State led the nation in scoring offense (48.7) behind Heisman finalist Justin Fields and tied for third in scoring defense (12.5) behind Heisman finalist Chase Young.
Clemson, the defending national champions, owns a 28-game win streak under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers ranked fourth in scoring offense (46.5) and first in scoring defense (10.6) and have a talented roster around quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne.
The game will revolve around the two quarterbacks like with Oklahoma and LSU. Ohio State Sophomore Justin Fields threw for 2,953 yards, 40 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Joining Fields in the backfield is running back J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins had 100 carries for 540 yards and seven touchdowns in just three games against ranked teams Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. He totaled for the season 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 182 carries.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the hero of last year’s National Title game will once again lead the offense. Lawrence has not shown the same burst of talent as he did during the Title game, garnering 3,172 passing yards, 34 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Granted that these are great numbers for any quarterback, but Clemson did not play the quality teams that Ohio State played.
Lawrence still has the National Title performance ability in him, but it is waiting to reveal itself again. If it comes out, then the Buckeyes could be in for a long day.
Turnovers will play a key part in this game. But the teams are equal in turnovers as they are in scoring trends. Each team committed 14 turnovers, with Ohio State having 13 fumbles and 1 interception. Clemson had 10 interceptions, 8 of them interceptions by Lawrence, and 4 fumbles.
If the Ohio State secondary can make an interception or two, it will go far in getting them to the final game.
The defensive for each team is strong against the run. Ohio State gives up 2.82 yards per carry and Clemson gives up 2.96 yards per carry. Getting the running game going is critical for each team so that the two quarterbacks can carry out an effective air attack.
As mentioned before, Clemson has not been tested. In the first quarter in previous games, Clemson has outscored all opponents 170-17. Ohio State, playing against much better teams, outscored opponents 136-38. If Ohio State gets off to a fast start, then the Tigers are in for a long day.
All in all, the numbers reflect two evenly matched teams going up against each other. Expect the game to be exciting with turnovers being the key factor in winning or losing.
Ohio State wins and COVERS the spread.
There you have it. By the end of Saturday, we will know the two teams playing for the National Championship. LSU should have the clear edge against Oklahoma, but the Ohio State/Clemson game is so evenly matched, that either team could win.
Enjoy the games and PU will be back with more predictions for Monday through New Years Day.