Tag Archives: 2015 Bowl Games

Recapping a Phenomenal Football Game

It’s a real shame that the College Football Playoff National Championship Game did not get good ratings last night.  If you didn’t tune in then you missed out on an instant classic.  The Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide battled back-and-forth for four quarters to decide which team would take home the ugliest trophy in sports and you didn’t even turn it on.  Oh well, your loss.

Or, maybe you fell asleep during a fourth quarter that didn’t start until 11:15 and ended sometime after midnight in the east.  I can’t say that I blame you but you too missed out on a frantic finish.

Or, maybe you’re one of us.  Those who were glued to the four-letter network’s “Megacast” were treated to a tremendous football game between two championship-caliber teams.  Yes, Alabama won the game and the national championship but it was undoubtedly well-earned.  Clemson played well enough to win, and would’ve on most other nights.  The Tide was not to be denied though.

This game had just about everything.  The Heisman winner went off.  The second runner-up put his team on his back.  Unexpected heroes stole the show.  A trick play drastically swung the momentum late in the game.  There was even a feel-good aspect to the ending.  That wasn’t all either, but if we go through everything how are we supposed to make people feel like they missed out?  Here are the essential highlights of the biggest, and arguably the best, game of the 2015-16 season:

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry struck first, shrugging off a defender and scampering 50 yards into the end zone.  When the night was over Henry had carried 36 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns.  All that and it didn’t even seem like he had impacted the game as he normally does.

DeShaun Watson was the one wowing those watching.  He carried the Tigers all night, as he did all season.  Scrambling for first downs, extending plays, marching his offense down the field against the best defense in the country, Watson showed us a little bit of every part of his game.  Most impressive of all were his two touchdown passes in the first quarter.  The first of which was an absolutely perfect throw to the corner of the end zone.  The second one was placed where only his guy could catch it.

The guy on the receiving end of those perfect passes was former walk-on Hunter Renfrow.  This redshirt freshman came into Monday night with just 26 catches, 404 yards and three touchdowns to his name.  What a coming out party it was for him, reeling in seven balls for 88 yards and two scores in the national championship.  Renfrow certainly stole the first half headlines.

Another unlikely hero emerged in the second half.  Alabama tight end O.J. Howard plays a vital role in the offense even if he doesn’t get the statistical reward he deserves.  Howard had only one game with more than four catches this season.  He hadn’t scored since November 9, 2013.  That is, until he exploded for 208 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions last night.  The first touchdown was a brilliantly designed play, called at the opportune time by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.  On the second, Howard was the lucky recipient of some poor communication in Clemson’s secondary.  The real highlight of his night, however, was a little screen pass that should’ve resulted in a two-yard loss.  Instead, Howard slipped a tackle, turned the corner and tiptoed down the sideline, picking up 63 yards and setting up Alabama’s game-winning touchdown.

By far the most surprising and exciting play of the game came on special teams.  An Adam Griffith field goal tied the game at 24 with about 10 and a half minutes left in the game.  Then Nick Saban, a notoriously conservative coach, dialed up the trick play that would allow his team to take the lead for good.  Griffith pooched one right into the hands of his intended receiver.  He kicked it more accurately than most guys can throw it.  Clemson was caught off-guard and you could feel the wind shift in favor of the Tide’s sails.

As the confetti fell all around the victorious Alabama players, none must have felt as accomplished as Jake Coker.  You want to know what patience is, ask him.  This guy’s had to sit in the back seat his entire collegiate career.  He started at Florida State where he was redshirted and beat out by EJ Manuel and then Jameis Winston.  Then he transferred to Alabama where he was immediately eligible to play because he had already graduated from FSU.  Coker competed with Blake Sims for the starting job only to be relegated to backup duty for the fourth year in a row.  This year Coker finally got his chance to start but did not play well early in the season.  In fact, Cooper Bateman got the start in Alabama’s only loss against Ole Miss.  Bateman’s poor play in that game opened the door for Coker yet again.  The second half comeback attempt fell just short that night but Coker had won his job back.  Fast forward three months and Coker found himself on top of the college football world.  We can only imagine the feeling of validation that washed over him after such a journey.  His story is one that makes college football so special.  You had to feel good for him during his postgame interview where it seemed to sink in what he had accomplished.

Congratulations are in order for Coker, Griffith, Howard, Kiffin and, of course, Saban who has won his fourth national championship in seven years.  You can hate on them all you’d like but you can’t deny that Alabama’s current run ranks high in terms of the all-time great dynasties of not just college football, but all major American sports history.

So yeah, you either missed all that or were so enthralled by it that you wanted to recap.  Either way, there’s no doubt that the second edition of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game was simply sensational.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Alabama and Clemson are not Equals; Yes, We’re Talking about Practice

Alabama and Clemson have each earned the right to play in the national championship game on January 11. The players and coaches have all put in long hours on the practice field and film room to get themselves to the brink of winning the biggest game in college football. Because the NCAA has a rule for everything, there are rules to follow for the amount of weekly time the players can spend doing athletic activities while classes are going on. The athletes can only spend a maximum of 20 hours per week doing these athletic activities and because this is the NCAA, the rules are pretty black and white without room for a grey area.

The idea going into this game is that Alabama is playing like the best team in the country. After seeing them dismantle Michigan State, it is hard to argue with that. The Crimson Tide have the best coach and best recruits and now they will have extra time to prepare for the big game. Clemson is getting the short end of the stick due to the timing between the game and when their students go back to class.

Alabama will receive the extra practice time because until the second semester begins, teams are not handcuffed by the 20 hour per week rule. Alabama begins their second semester on January 13 which is 2 days after the championship game while Clemson begins its second semester on January 6. You can see the problem here.

This is not the first time this rule has impacted the national championship game and it certainly won’t be the last time the game is effected by the rule. There was one college football fan who offered a possible solution to this issue in the comments section of the ESPN article. Rick Eckle from Columbus, Ohio, offered this thought:

They could alleviate a lot of this by playing the semi-final games during that dead period between Thanksgiving and Christmas and then have the title game as the Prime Time game on New Year’s Day. Give the teams two weeks to prepare for each game and the lack of a long layoff between games will lead to better execution by each team and better football.

Rick Eckle’s suggestion makes a lot of sense. His idea would alleviate the issue of unequal practice time and it would solve the entire fiasco of having playoff games on New Year’s Eve. My only question in the proposal would be this: Would the purists be in favor of this?

Would the purists be in favor of taking the spotlight off of bowl games like the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl? Because that is what having the championship game on New Year’s Day would do. Would these historic bowl games themselves be willing to move their games or share the spotlight? That’s debatable.

Bowl games like the Granddaddy Of Them All will share the spotlight with the bowl games that they grew up alongside with. But making room for the new girl may be too much for a game like the Rose Bowl to stomach.

College football is in its very own mid-life crisis.

Here’s my suggestion for solving this practice time issue. The NCAA could do something that actually makes sense and operate in a grey area. In situations like this, why can’t the NCAA just balance the practice time between the two schools. Up until January 6, both Alabama and Clemson have unlimited practice time. Once January 6 rolls around, both teams must abide by the 20 hour per week rule. Pretty simple.

It’s not a difficult problem and the NCAA should just keep it balanced and simple.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

The Class of the Big Ten was Outclassed

At the start of the New Year’s Eve matchup between Michigan State and Alabama, there was a lot of hope and an expectation that the game would be a close, low-scoring affair. By the end of the game, Alabama had pitched a shutout and thoroughly dominated the Big Ten’s best. While it might be surprising considering that both teams were the best in their respective conferences, there are many reasons why it was completely expected.

Alabama recruits players who fit a certain height, weight, and player type mold that translates well to the NFL. When this strategy is combined with selecting from the best 4- and 5-star players in the country and placing them into a well-thought out scheme, it isn’t surprising that Alabama does very well. Against Michigan State, Alabama matched up better than usual. Michigan State does all the things that Alabama does, but does it with players who are not at the same level. Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge is good, but he isn’t Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, a freshman who showed on throughout the year that he has speed, acceleration, and great hands. Likewise, Michigan State’s LJ Scott isn’t at the same level as Derrick Henry even though the two have a relatively similar physical makeup. Michigan State’s offensive line has been good throughout the year, but couldn’t handle Alabama’s relatively straight forward 3- and 4-man pass rushes.

While it is unexpected that Michigan State got shut out, it shouldn’t be a shock. Alabama practices against a Michigan State-like offense every day. In addition, Michigan State doesn’t run the spread, up-tempo, read option attack that Nick Saban has complained about and struggled against, not necessarily in that order. Giving Nick Saban several weeks to prepare against any offensive scheme is dangerous; give Nick Saban several weeks to prepare against an offensive scheme that is similar to his own and it creates an almost no-win situation for his opponent.

Toward the end of the game, as the announcers ran out of things to discuss, the topic of “will this loss set Michigan State back?” arose. While it is easy to say that an embarrassing loss on one of the biggest college football stages could set a program back, the more pressing concern for Michigan State is how to replace Connor Cook, their starting quarterback for what seems like forever. Considering the string of Michigan State quarterbacks in the NFL either as starters or backups, it is a pretty safe assumption that Michigan State will find someone who can effectively run their offense and maintain the program’s status as one of the Big Ten’s and nation’s elite. As for the semifinal game against Alabama, a loss against one of the best defensive units in college football and against an offense featuring the Heisman trophy winner should not cause panic or set a program back. It happens to almost everyone Alabama faces.

Photocredit: Got Credit/Flickr

Valero Alamo Bowl: #11 TCU vs. # 15 Oregon

This year’s Valero Alamo Bowl has the potential to set all types of offensive records as the Big 12 representative #11 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) face the #15 Oregon Ducks (9-3) of the Pac-12.

TCU Horned Frogs:

Coming into the season, TCU was arguably one of the most prolific teams in the Big 12, let alone, the nation. Unfortunately, injuries to key players down the stretch dashed those hopes. However, with a healthy Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson , TCU is poised to have a dynamite ending to a season once filled with College Football Playoff hopes.

Bright Spot:

Very few college football players have been able to make the transition from one impact position to another like TCU’s Trevone Boykin. Boykin started off his career as a wide receiver. After TCU’s lost its original starter to personal issues, Boykin stepped in and has led one of the most potent spread offenses ever seen in the last 5 years. With Boykin and his number one target, receiver Josh Doctson back and healthy, they’re sure to cause havoc for any defense they face.

Low-Light:

Injuries to Boykin and Doctson have cost TCU a chance at a College Football Playoff berth. This scenario is a prime example of what might have been if both were to remain healthy throughout the season.

Oregon Ducks:

After the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, few thought that the Oregon Ducks would have the type of success as they have experienced in seasons past. Enter FCS transfer, Vernon Adams Jr. The former Eastern Washington quarterback stepped in and gave the folks of Eugene, Oregon something to cheer for. After a sluggish start, the Ducks have kicked in to overdrive and run amuck over the competition. After beginning the season 3-3, Oregon has regained their swag and have ripped of six straight wins to close out the season. All that’s left is to finish on a high note to remind the nation that Duck football is still to be respected.

Bright Spot:

To complement Vernon Adams in the back field, running back Royce Freeman has had a stellar season. Freeman was a force, rushing for 1,706 yards and 14 touchdowns. Oregon has had a reputation of having speedy, elusive backs. Freeman is a hybrid of the two, and you can kick in uncanny size (5’11” 230 lbs.) to boot. Though Oregon’s record has not compared to seasons past, one shining moment came in a thrilling 38-36 victory over favorite, Stanford. That victory, although it was in the midst of a three-game win streak, gave the Ducks the utmost in confidence that they had regained their place among the Pac-12 elite.

Low-Light:

Two moments stick out to me as low lights for the Oregon Ducks. First, the 62-20 pummeling to the then-undefeated Utah Utes. Yes they are good, but that loss is completely unacceptable. The second was a 45-38 loss to the surprising Cougars of Washington State. Of course, Oregon wasn’t the only victim of the upstart Cougars, but this game was not written in the script. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Ducks haven’t lost since then.

X-Factor:

Both teams are incredibly explosive and can score in a second’s notice. It comes down to rhythm. Whichever team can play with and maintain offensive rhythm, will more than likely be the victor. Vernon Adams is more comfortable in the offense and with comfort comes confidence.

Prediction:

Looks like all the stars will be out for the Alamo Bowl. Though Boykin and Doctson are back in the lineup, Vernon Adams and the Ducks are on a roll right now. Ducks over Frogs, 42-37.

Photo: Luke Lienau/Flickr

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Bret Bielema and His Very Erotic Holiday

This year’s Liberty Bowl pits Arkansas and Kansas State. It pits Bret Bielema against Bill Snyder. There are so many directions that I could go with this preview so let’s just jump right in.

To listen to Kansas State fans, Bill Snyder is the greatest coach to ever grace the sideline of a football field. Each and every Kansas State game is met with cries of “EMAW!” and the over confident swagger that accompanies rooting for a team with a coach who just can’t be beat.

And yet Snyder guided EMAW Nation to a 6-6 record this year.

This 6-6 record included a 6-game losing streak. But never fear, Snyder sent lots of letters to opposing players and even to the student body of EMAW Nation. Gosh darnit, he’s just so loveable. Or is he?

He may in fact be a wolf in sheep’s clothing who hides behind his grandfatherly demeanor. Yea, he’s guilty of ageism against himself.

Remember last year’s Alamo Bowl? I do. There was a bit of controversy at the end of that game.

Remember, Snyder is the same holier than thou coach who recruited Marcus Raines and seemed to have had his hand forced when rescinding Raines’ scholarship offer.

EMAW Nation just couldn’t believe the disrespect that Mora showed their Messianic coach. Oh the horror. This is who Snyder is as a coach and Bret Bielema would be wise to have his Razorbacks prepared for some end of game shenanigans.

As for Bret Bielema and Arkansas, they’re hoping for a very erotic holiday season.

After Arkansas finished off Texas in last season’s Texas Bowl, Bret felt a tingle go up his leg and he’s hoping for a similar experience in this year’s Alamo Bowl. If Bret does beat Bill Snyder, it will be a short plane ride back to Arkansas. This just means he’ll be hopping on the wife sooner rather than later. Right?

What should we expect out of this season’s Alamo Bowl? A lot of Woo Pig Sooie!

When you’re Kansas State and your best win was either against Louisiana Tech or West Virginia, I just have a difficult time taking you and your 6-6 record seriously. Arkansas finished 7-5 which really isn’t much better but the Razorbacks had some nice wins against Ole Miss and LSU.

I don’t care who you are or what your biases are. Arkansas’ feeble body of work is better than Kansas State’s feeble body of work.

Yes, my bias is an anti-Big 12 one and I have never attempted to hide that bias.

I expect Arkansas to pound Kansas State to the point that we are all pointing at the television as we yell:

Stop! He’s already dead!

By the end of the game, Bret will have had a very erotic experience as he dreams of hopping on the wife. And if Bret behaves and lives up to the high EMAW Nation standards, he can also expect a lovely handwritten journal entry from Snyder.

Prediction:

Arkansas: 31
Kansas State: 13

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Outback Bowl: #13 Northwestern vs. #23 Tennessee

There might not be two more opposite teams coming into this game.

Northwestern was the team that no one was talking about because to be perfectly honest, Northwestern is usually not so good. They’re usually good for about one magical win a year and every once in awhile a decent season. On the other hand you have Tennessee who, every year, people are talking about taking the next step and really ascending to the top of the SEC.

Well, neither of those things happened.

Tennessee did take a step forward but not as big as many predicted. Instead, they found ways to squander big leads in the second half. With the exception of Georgia, they really didn’t beat anyone of note. They didn’t get blown out by Alabama and depending on who you talk to, that’s basically a win.

Northwestern on the other hand shocked everyone. They started off with an upset victory over Stanford that had everyone questioning just how good Stanford really was. It turned out that they were very good and so was Northwestern. Northwestern lost only two games this season, one to a red-hot Michigan team and one to the eventual Big East West Champions Iowa. That’s a pretty successful season for anyone.

To be honest, this game is going to get ugly.

Both teams boast strong defenses with Northwestern 11th in total defense. Tennessee’s numbers look good when you look at points scored against them where they rank 25th but the SEC wasn’t nearly as good as people liked to pretend it was this season. Even the almighty Alabama didn’t have the usual juggernaut offense that people are used to seeing.

Northwestern is going to get their stops but it’s all going to come down to whether or not they can score. Earlier in the season when the Wildcats ran into a stiff defense they crumbled. They’re a more experienced team now but against the three tough defenses of Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin they scored a combined total of 13 points. That’s not good. If they want to win, Northwestern is going to have to lean heavily on its defense and get some turnovers to put their offense in good starting positions. If that offense gets pinned deep in its own territory repeatedly, they’re going to struggle to score.

The Betting

Northwestern is coming into the Outback Bowl a 9-point dog to Tennessee which is actually a little surprising. I actually figured it might be a bigger spread as no one likes to give Northwestern any credit at all. Even in other bowl previews Tennessee is being talked about as putting its name into the national conversation for next year. If Tennessee is thinking like its fans and its media, their confidence will be their weakness. I’d like to think that Butch Jones is a better coach than that though. However, I still think Northwestern covers the spread.

The over/under is set at 47 which most people are probably counting on Tennessee to cover. I think the Northwestern defense doesn’t let that happen though. Look for a low-scoring game, maybe first team to 20 wins.

The Pick

I’ve been on the Northwestern bandwagon all season and it was pretty lonely on here for most of it. The Wildcats are probably a better team than anyone gives them credit for. That said, they just don’t have the offensive firepower to win the big games yet. Tennessee wins in an ugly one, 24-17.

Sugar Bowl: A Look at Ole Miss

Damien once asked me which bowl game would I most like to attend between the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl. My choice was the Rose Bowl for one reason and that reason was because the Rose Bowl was not in New Orleans. I’ve been to New Orleans and it’s not high on my list of places to go back to. Why is that you ask? Simple. I saw far too many pools of vomit on the streets.

But I’m sure Ole Miss is thrilled to be in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.

Ole Miss finished the year at 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC West which earned them a second place finish behind Alabama. The Rebels were cruising along in the SEC until they lost 53-52 to Arkansas. They must have felt like they had fallen out of a fourth floor hotel window with that loss. If they would have beaten Arkansas, they most likely would have taken the place of Alabama in the college football playoff. The Rebels landed on their feet and only fell to the Sugar Bowl where they’ll face Oklahoma State.

What should we expect from Ole Miss in this game? Points. Lots and lots of points.

Like Ole Miss, Oklahoma State scores tons of points. And like Ole Miss, Oklahoma State. gives up points. The Rebels and Cowboys are mirror images of each other.

What will make this game a challenge for Ole Miss is when they line up on defense. As I said, the Rebels defense gave up points this year and that was with Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche. Robert fell out of a window, was suspended for the Sugar Bowl and declared for the NFL draft. Denzel was hospitalized for the 2nd time this year and will not be available for the Sugar Bowl. Even if Denzel had not been hospitalized a second time, it sounds as if his Ole Miss career was already considered to be finished.

So where does this leave Ole Miss? It leaves them in the hands of Chad Kelly and the Rebel’s offense. They will be called upon to score and to score often.

Kelly’s road to Ole Miss has been well documented. He seems to have cleaned up his act as he has kept himself out of trouble since arriving in Oxford. His maturity will be put to the test as Ole Miss heads to New Orleans. My advice to Kelly is to stay away from the French Quarter voodoo, stay out of Larry Flint’s Barely Legal Club and to stay away from hotel windows.

If Kelly takes my advice, he and his arm should light the Superdome up.

Here’s how I see this game playing out for Ole Miss.

I can see them jumping out to an early lead and falling into a false sense of comfort. Oklahoma State can score and Ole Miss has been known to turn the ball over. In 12 games this season the Rebels turned the ball over 22 times. To beat Oklahoma State, Kelly and company will have to take better care of the ball. This is magnified even more when considering their best defensive player will no longer be with the team.

Prediction:

Oklahoma State 50
Ole Miss 42

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Desert

Outside of the National Semi-Finals, and the Championship Game, one New Year’s Six Bowl Game stands above every other game this postseason, the Fiesta Bowl.

Ohio State and Notre Dame have not matched up against each other in exactly 10 years.

Many people expect this matchup to have a similar outcome as the battle in the desert did 10 years ago did, with Ohio State winning 35-21, in a game that didn’t feel as close as the score was.

This game is sure to be where eyes will be glued on New Year’s Day.

Ohio State and Notre Dame represent two of college football’s biggest fan bases and most historical backgrounds.

Any time two powerhouses in the college football world meet up, plenty of fanfare is sure to follow.

Meanwhile, the game should be a good one.

Ohio State enters the contest with a record of 11-1, with their lone slip-up coming at home against Michigan State by a score of 17-14.

With that being said, the Buckeyes greatly underachieved all season, and ultimately failed their only test that mattered.

Instances of the team not reaching their potential included a 20-13 win at home against Northern Illinois University and squeaking by Indiana in Bloomington.

The Buckeyes failed to look like a championship caliber team until they took a trip to Ann Arbor to close out the season, by that point it was too little, too late.

On the other side of the coin, Notre Dame was a team that also entered this season with championship aspirations, only to fall short.

The Irish lost two games, by a combined four points in 2015.

Both of those losses came on the road to teams that would end up finishing in the top six, top-ranked Clemson and sixth-ranked Stanford.

This year’s edition of the Irish came to be one known for playing with a “Next Man Up” attitude out of necessity.

Injuries ravaged Notre Dame starting in preseason camp with Shaun Crawford and Jarron Jones, and continuing all the way into bowl practice with Devin Butler. In between those casualties Notre Dame lost key players such as RB Tarean Folston, QB Malik Zaire, TE Durham Smythe, FS Drue Tranquill, and CB KeiVarae Russell.

Despite all of that, Notre Dame found its way to a 10-2 season.

This matchup between an overachieving team and an underachieving team brings the question of which team really wants to be in Glendale, AZ and which team has players looking ahead to the NFL Draft this coming spring.

My money would be on the underachieving team loaded with talent looking towards the future, and the overachieving team trying to make one more mark on this season.

Of course, neither team will be entering this game at full strength, and even with that fact, there will be an abundance of NFL-caliber talent on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium on New Year’s Day.

The key to this game for me will be how well can Notre Dame run the ball, and convert in the red zone against the Buckeyes.

The Fighting Irish will be getting back RB CJ Prosise, who was absent in the loss against Stanford. Prosise was the team’s third team running back this spring, and finished the regular season by topping the 1000-yard mark, which is no small accomplishment.

The flip side of that battle is an Ohio State defensive line weakened by injury and suspension.

Senior DT Adolophus Washington of Ohio State was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl for solicitation of a prostitute in Columbus, and DT Tommy Schutt will also be missing the game with a broken foot.

Washington was the run-stopping anchor of Ohio State’s defensive line. Even though the brightest star of the line is DE Joey Bosa, Washington may be the most important player on the defensive front.

The other area where Notre Dame will need to excel is capitalizing in red zone opportunities.

Notre Dame struggled mightily in the red zone all season, including three red zone turnovers in games against Temple and Boston College. If the Fiesta Bowl sees a performance like that, expect a Buckeye victory.

On the flip side, the key to victory for Ohio State will be the ability to take advantage of Notre Dame’s depleted secondary.

SS Max Redfield was sent home earlier this week for missing curfew, and CB Devin Butler suffered a fractured foot in practice, causing him to miss this game.

The defensive backfield will already be without starting CB KeiVarae Russell, who suffered a fractured fibula against Boston College.

Offensively for Ohio State, QB JT Barrett has not had the type of season passing as he did in his previous season.

Part of that can be attributed to having to split duties with Cardale Jones, as well as the lack of a true number one receiver.

WR Michael Thomas has been solid for the Buckeyes, although he has struggled to replace Devin Smith. Braxton Miller has been largely underwhelming following a vey explosive week one performance against Virginia Tech, and Jalin Marshall has underachieved as well.

I expect this game to be high-scoring, and much closer than the contest ten years ago.

Pick: Notre Dame (+6.5), Over 59

Citrus Bowl: #14 Michigan vs. #19 Florida

Let’s be honest here: if you came to me a year ago today and told me that Michigan was going to go 9-3 and could have been 10-2, would be ranked 14th in the country and about to play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, I would’ve laughed at you. Coming off a five-win abomination of a season, no one expected this much of a turnaround from the Wolverines. If not for the blocked punt against Michigan State, Michigan most likely would have been 10-2. Although, then Ohio State would probably be in the College Football Playoffs and no one wants that.

Florida on the other hand is pretty much where everyone thought they’d be. Well, except for probably Florida fans. They lost their starting quarterback to suspension and were basically carried by their defense for the majority of the season. The Gators are also coming into the game about as cold as you can be. They scored a measly two points against Florida State and no that’s not a typo. Then they got smacked around by Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

Sure they won 10 games but the SEC was not good this season so it’s hard to say how good the Gators actually are. The same can be said for Michigan too though. The Wolverines started off slow, carried by defense only to have the defense suffer injuries and fifth year senior Jake Rudock suddenly become a touchdown machine. However they stalled against Ohio State so they’re not exactly streaking right now either.

When it comes down to it, the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl is going to be ugly.

Both offenses have shown flashes but this is going to come down to defense. Specifically the secondary. Florida probably has the best pair of cornerbacks that Jake Rudock will have seen this season in Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor while Michigan counters with Jourdan Lewis, one of the best cover corners in the nation, and Jabrill Peppers. There’s other guys out there but all eyes will be on these four. The game is going to be decided by them too. Neither team can really run the ball so it’s going to be an aerial attack from both sides.

However when it comes to passing, Michigan has something that Florida doesn’t: Butt.

Specifically tight end Jake Butt which if you haven’t figure out by now is the greatest name ever for a tight end. He always seems to come up with a big catch when it’s needed and to be in the right spot whenever the game calls for it. With Florida’s corners locked up with Michigan’s receivers, look for Butt to exploit the middle of the field.

The Betting

In what is undoubtedly part of the Harbaugh Effect, Michigan comes into the Citrus Bowl a 4-point favorite over Florida. When you look at the numbers they’re actually really similar in points allowed and yards allowed. Truth be told, there’s not a real glaring gap between any of their stats when you look at them on paper. Still though, I think the Wolverines just have “it” this year. They believe and I think they want this more than Florida. Look for them to cover.

The over/under is set at 39 which is laughably low. It’s really funny because I don’t think they’ll get there. If both teams crack 20 I will be surprised. Take the under on this one for sure.

The Pick

I’ve poked fun at the myth of Jim Harbaugh as Khaki Jesus all season but I’ve bought in now. There’s something about the guy that just somehow makes the kids that play for him better. He might not actually walk on water but don’t tell Ann Arbor that. Michigan wins 21-14.

Outback Bowl: A Look at Tennessee

Tennessee finished 8-4 this season and their 5-3 SEC record was good enough for a second place finish in the SEC East. Their overall record and SEC record may not have lived up to the expectations of their fans, but the Vols finished strong and have given their faithful following a sense that 2016 will be their season. The 2016 season starts January 1 against Northwestern.

It’s true that I never bought into the preseason 2015 hype for Josh Dobbs or Butch Jones. Some would disagree, but I wasn’t being too hard on Tennessee, I just wasn’t drinking the orange kool aid. All of that changes beginning January 1.

Now that you’ve read Tennessee’s Rocky Road on Rocky Top, you know that 2016 is the season that I have circled for Butch Jones and his Volunteers. He not only has recruiting classes that have had time to mature, but he will also have the benefit of playing in an SEC East that is breaking in three new head coaches. Of these three new head coaches, two have no prior head coaching experience. It’s time for Tennessee to be the Beasts Of The East.

Tennessee’s Outback Bowl opponent is Northwestern. Northwestern finished 10-2 and that was a nice season. I say it was just a nice season because other than a 16-6 opening game win against Stanford, the Wildcats didn’t have any wins that really popped.

That opening weekend win against Stanford does show how tough Northwestern can be. They can and will grind out wins and that should have the attention of Tennessee. Tennessee developed the reputation of not being able to close games out and playing 60 minutes of football could be challenging for the Volunteers. To come out victorious against Northwestern, the Vols will have to play 60 minutes worth of football.

Going into this season, fans thought that this was Dobbs’ team and that was partially due to Butch Jones thinking that as well. Both Jones and the fans learned that this team was about Jalen Hurd. Run with The Hurd and win.

This is why I believe Tennessee is poised to beat Northwestern.

The Outback Bowl will not only be Tennessee’s coming out party but I also expect it to be Jalen Hurd’s coming out party. When Northwestern played a team with a true pulse, they had problems defending the run game. Michigan chewed up the Wildcat’s rush defense by committee and Iowa absolutely torched the Wildcat’s rush defense and that was with Canzeri only getting 4 touches for Iowa.

My expectation is for Tennessee to win big against Northwestern behind a huge performance by Hurd. The SEC East will be put on notice, the nation will be put on notice and Jalen Hurd will be on the entirely too early 2016 Heisman radar.

It’s 2016 and everything will be coming up Tennessee orange.

Prediction:

Tennessee 38
Northwestern 17

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.