…in which we look at six games that are all matchups between ranked teams, three that will take place on New Year’s Eve, and three on New Year’s Day.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 9 Ole Miss Rebels (9-3, 5-3 in SEC) vs. No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs (11-1, 8-1 in Big 12)
Wednesday, December 31 – New Year’s Eve at 12:30 PM ET/9:30 AM PT
Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA).
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Brock Huard, and Shannon Spake).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Dave Neal, Andre Ware, and Laura Rutledge).
Series History: This will be the seventh meeting all-time between the Rebels and Horned Frogs, with Ole Miss leading the series 5-1.
45-year old Hugh Freeze is in his 3rd season as Head Coach at Ole Miss with a record of 24-14 (.638). Freeze is seeking a bowl win in three consecutive seasons as he has improved the Rebels’ win total from seven wins in 2012 to eight wins in 2013 and now nine wins in 2014.
54-year old Gary Patterson is in his 15th season as TCU Head Coach with a record of 131-45 (.744). This year, Patterson led the Horned Frogs to a share of the Big 12 title in just their third season as conference members, earning him Big 12 Coach of the Year honors.
Things may have ended on a sour note for the Rebels but it is important to recognize this as one of their best seasons in recent memory. Ole Miss opened the year as the No. 18 team in the country and won their first seven games including a neutral site win against Boise State and a 23-17 win over No. 3 Alabama. The Rebels received a second chance after losing a nailbiter in Death Valley as the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings still had Ole Miss in the Top 4. After their 35-31 loss the next week to No. 3 Auburn however, the Rebels title hopes had been dashed. Still, Ole Miss capped their season off with by ending someone else’s title hopes — those of their archrival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
At the center of the Ole Miss offense is 6’4″ senior QB Bo Wallace, whose inconsistent performance was observed throughout the year in countless “Good Bo/Bad Bo” type hot takes from the sports talk world. Wallace ended his Ole Miss career with his third season of 3,000+ yards (he had 2,994 his sophomore season, so we’ll round up for his sake), 18+ passing TDs, and 5+ rushing TDs. His top target – 6’2″ sophomore Laquon Treadwell – broke his tibia at the end of the Auburn loss, but Wallace found a new connection in All-SEC first team selection Evan Engram. A 6’3″ sophomore TE, Engram finished the season with 18 catches for 359 yards and a touchdown over his last three games. The Rebels strength lies on defense however, as they held opponents to 13.8 points per game (Best in FBS). Ole Miss features three All-SEC first team selections in 6’4″ 280 lbs DT Robert Nkemdiche, 5’9″ CB Senquez Golson, and 6’2″ safety Cody Prewitt. Golson had nine interceptions – one of the highest marks in the nation – and was a consensus first-team All-American.
TCU had the pleasure of starting the season as an unknown as they were unranked in the preseason poll. Their anonymity didn’t last as made a splash in beating No. 4 Oklahoma 37-33. They lost their next matchup in what would be one of the most talked about games of the season, a 61-58 defeat at No. 5 Baylor, but even with wins in every remaining game the Horned Frogs were left on the outside looking in when the College Football Playoff participants were announced. Now they’ll look to get their 12th win for the first time since 2010 and the third time under Gary Patterson.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, a 6’2″ senior from Dallas, was an AP All-American second team selection and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Boykin is a dual-threat who finished with 3,714 passing yards (9th in FBS), 30 passing TDs (10th in FBS), as well as 642 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. The Horned Frogs have a multitude of offensive weapons along with Boykin, though 6’4″ junior WR Josh Doctson has the most significant numbers (959 yards and nine touchdowns). Their talent at the skill positions – as well as two All-Big 12 second team selections on the offensive line in juniors Joey Hunt and Halapoulivaati Vaitai – allowed TCU to average 46.8 points per game (2nd in FBS), 542.2 total yards per game (4th in FBS), and 332.8 passing yards per game (7th in FBS).
The Big-12 is typically known more for its offense than its defense, but TCU was able to hold opponents to 117.1 yards on the ground per game (13th in FBS). At the center of the Horned Frogs defense is 6’2″ 230 lbs senior LB Paul Dawson, an AP All-American first-team selection. Dawson, the No. 6 ranked LB by Mel Kiper Jr, finished the season with 18.5 TFL, five sacks, four interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles.
Dylan’s pick: Ole Miss put forth a number of valiant performances this year and they’ve now returned to the national spotlight. But they’re not getting through this Horned Frogs team. I’m taking TCU, 38-17.
Vizio Fiesta Bowl
No. 20 Boise State Broncos (11-2, 7-1 in MWC) vs. No. 10 Arizona Wildcats (10-3, 7-3 in Pac-12).
Wednesday, December 31 – New Year’s Eve at 4 PM ET/1 PM PT
University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ).
TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, and Todd McShay).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Dave Flemming, Danny Kanell, and Allison Williams).
Series History: This is the first meeting all-time between Arizona and Boise State
38-year old Bryan Harsin is in his first season as Boise State head coach after succeeding Chris Petersen who left for the University of Washington. Harsin played QB at Boise State from 1995-99 and served on the Broncos coaching staff from 2001-10.
51-year old Rich Rodriguez is in his 3rd season as Arizona head coach with a record of 26-13 (.667). The Wildcats’ 10-3 mark this season is the best for a Rich-Rod led team since West Virginia went 10-2 in 2007.
We’re all familiar with Boise State as the spoilers who are annually the class of the Mountain West and threaten to make a big game bowl game, giving big name programs fits throughout the regular season. The constant in these Broncos teams has been Chris Petersen, however, who is now the head coach of the University of Washington. Enter Bryan Harsin, born and bred in Boise, a former Broncos quarterback and the offensive coordinator/QB coach from 2006-10. In just his first season, Harsin has guided the Broncos back to the Fiesta Bowl losing only two games all year — Week 1 against No. 18 Ole Miss and at Air Force.
The Broncos offense is among the best in the nation at scoring (39.8 points per game, 9th in FBS) and total yards per game (496.1, 13th in FBS). Taking the snaps for Boise State is 6’0″ senior QB Grant Hedrick, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 3,387 yards (15th in FBS) and 22 TDs while running for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. The real star is AP All-American second team selection Jay Ajayi, a 6’0″ 216 lbs junior RB who finished the season in the Top 5 in FBS in rushing yards (1,689) and rushing TDs (25). On defense, the Broncos were more adept at stopping the run (141.5 yards allowed per game, 37th in FBS) than the pass (225.0 passing yards allowed per game, 60th in FBS) and feature two All-Mountain West first-team selections in defensive lineman Kamalei Correa and defensive back Darian Thompson.
2013 saw the Arizona Wildcats finish the season at 8-5 for the second consecutive season and after a victory in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, the Wildcats brought some momentum into the new season. Arizona started the year with four wins before heading into Eugene and taking down the mighty Ducks, 31-24. They lost two of their next three however, and fell to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, a 51-13 beatdown. Still, the 10 wins are the most since they won 12 in 1998 and finished as the No. 4 team in the country.
The Wildcats offense ranked 25th in FBS in both points per game (34.8) and total yards per game (461.5) and features two freshmen who have had great seasons. 6’2″ quarterback Anu Solomon had 3,458 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, both in the Top 20 in FBS. In the running game, 5’10” 199 lbs tailback who amassed 1,289 yards and 15 TDs (15th in FBS). Though the Arizona defense allowed 449.5 total yards per game (103rd in FBS), they do feature AP All-American Scooby Wright, a 6’1″ 246 lbs LB from Windsor, CA who finished with 28 tackles for loss (Best in FBS) and 14 sacks (T-3rd in FBS).
Dylan’s Pick: The aforementioned Scooby Wright may be among the nation’s best linebackers, but I don’t have much faith in the Arizona defense. That said, I also struggle to put too much faith into a Boise State team that played only one ranked team all year. I’m certainly willing to wager this thing ends up in a shootout. I’ll ride with the Broncos. Boise State, 45-38.
Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs (10-2, 6-2) vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3, 6-2 in ACC).
Wednesday, December 31 – New Year’s Eve at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT
Sun Life Stadium (Miami, FL).
TV: ESPN (Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).
Series History: Georgia Tech has won all four of the previous meetings between the two teams, the last being a 42-31 victory in Starkville, MS on Oct. 3, 2009 in Dan Mullen’s first season.
42-year old Dan Mullen is in his 6th season at the helm of Mississippi State with a record of 46-30 (.605). This has been the Bulldogs best season under Mullen as they’ve won 10 games, 6 in conference, and finished 2nd in the SEC West, none of which had occurred over the last six seasons.
57-year old Paul Johnson is in his 7th year as Georgia Tech head coach with a record of 57-35 (.620). Johnson has taken his triple option offense from Georgia Southern (1997-01) where he won two Division II Championships, to Navy where he was 2-2 in bowl appearances, and now Georgia Tech. Despite reaching a bowl game in every year while in Atlanta, Johnson has won only once for a record of 1-5 while at GT.
Mississippi State was most certainly a dark horse at the start of the year, unranked nationally and picked to finish fifth in the SEC West while receiving only one vote to win the conference all together. The Bulldogs started the year 9-0 thanks to Dak Prescott and their run defense and looked poised for the SEC Championship and the first ever College Football Playoff as they were ranked No. 1 in each of the first CFP rankings. Their last two road games would end their title hopes as they lost 25-20 at No. 5 Alabama and fell 31-17 in the Egg Bowl, but with a win Mississippi State would finish with 11 wins for the first time ever.
The Bulldogs finished the season ranked in the Top 15 in both points scored per game (37.2) and fewest points allowed per game (19.4). Dan Mullen has amassed a roster littered with talent that includes two All-SEC first team selections on offense. 6’2″ 235 lbs junior QB Dak Prescott finished the year with 2,996 passing yards and 24 TDs (24th in FBS) to go with 939 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs (21st in FBS). Also of note is 6’3″ 306 lbs senior lineman Ben Beckwith, who started all 12 games for the Bulldogs this season. The Mississippi State defense posted an interesting combination of 19.4 points allowed per game (9th in FBS) and 411.7 total yards allowed per game (81st in FBS). Two Bulldogs were selected to the All-SEC second team including 6’6″ 270 lbs senior defensive end Preston Smith who had 14.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and three interceptions.
The ACC was generally seen as a one-team conference – Florida State – all season long and while Georgia Tech may have wanted to threaten that, back-to-back midseason losses to Duke and North Carolina hampered any hope of major recognition. They did end their regular season with wins over No. 19 Clemson and at No. 9 Georgia before fighting Florida State tooth-and-nail in the ACC Championship Game, an eventual 37-35 loss. Now they seek their 11th win, a mark they haven’t reached since 1990 when assistants Ralph Friedgen and George O’Leary helped lead Georgia Tech to a national championship.
The Yellow Jackets are known for head coach Paul Johnson’s triple option rushing attack which saw them average 333.6 yards per game on the ground (2nd in FBS) while also ranking in the Top 25 in FBS in points per game (37.0) and total yards per game (468.8). Four different Georgia Tech players were named to the All-ACC second team including 5’11” sophomore QB Justin Thomas. Thomas, who passed for over 1,500 yards and 17 TDs, led the team in rushing yards (965) and was one of three Yellow Jackets with at least 750 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Of note on the Georgia Tech defense are 6’5″ 282 lbs DT Adam Gotsis (All-ACC second team) and 6’2″ 205 lbs senior safety Isaiah Johnson (No. 8 safety according to Mel Kiper Jr).
Dylan’s Pick: This one
is going to could be a real high scoring affair as Georgia Tech isn’t very stout defensively and the Bulldogs defense will have to deal with the incredible GT rushing attack. At the end of the day, I don’t think the Yellow Jackets will have as much success on offense as they’re used to. Mississippi State, 38-24.
No. 19 Auburn Tigers (8-4, 4-4 in SEC) vs. No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3, 7-1 in Big Ten)
Thursday, January 1 – New Year’s Day at Noon ET/9 AM PT
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, FL).
TV: ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen, and Quint Kessenich).
Radio: Touchdown Radio (Taylor Zarzour, Gino Torretta, and K.C. Jones).
Series History: The all-time series between Auburn and Wisconsin is tied 1-1-1 with the last meeting coming in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, a 24-10 win for Wisconsin.
49-year old Gus Malzahn is in his 2nd season as Auburn head coach with a record of 20-6 (.769). After leading Arkansas State to a 9-3 record in his one year Jonesboro (2012), Malzahn took over last year in Auburn and led the Tigers to the final BCS national championship game where they fell to Florida State, 34-31.
Gary Anderson left Wisconsin for Oregon State in a move west, and former Badgers assistant coach Paul Chryst will replace him. Serving as the interim head coach for this game however will be 67-year old Barry Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director who spent 16 years as the Wisconsin head coach from 1990-05, winning three Rose Bowls in that time (1993, 1998, and 1999).
Last year, Auburn lost the National Championship game in a close one, 34-31 to Florida State. This led Auburn to start the season as the No. 6 team in the country and rattled off five wins including two against Top 20 opponents (at No. 20 Kansas State and vs. No. 15 LSU). They bounced back after their loss at Mississippi State with wins against South Carolina and at No. 4 Ole Miss and found themselves in the Top 4 on November 2. Auburn lost three of their last four – including a 55-44 loss against No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl – and now they’ll look to end their season with a win over the Big Ten runner-up in Wisconsin.
Auburn found success on offense this season by running the ball (258.5 rushing yards per game, 11th in FBS), specifically with two seniors — one at QB and one at RB. 6’1″ Nick Marshall threw for 2,315 yards and 18 TDs while running for 780 yards and 11 TDs. 5’11” RB Cameron Artis-Payne, an All-SEC first team selection, ran for an SEC-best 1,486 yards as well as 11 touchdowns. Auburn was not particularly great on defense this year as they allowed 26.1 points per game and 388.7 total yards per game (both 58th in FBS).
After losing a close one to No. 13 LSU to start the year, Wisconsin went 10-1 over their next 11 games, winning the Big Ten west division in the process and earning a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. They didn’t return from Indianapolis victorious however, not even close, as they were demolished 59-0 by No. 5 Ohio State. They’ll look to end the year on a high note, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon. Gordon, a 6’1″ junior from Keonsha, WI, is widely regarded as the best running back in the country, a title he earned in part by setting the single-game rushing record on Nov. 15 vs. Nebraska. Gordon led the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns, finishing with 2,336 and 26 respectively. Wisconsin also had one of the best defenses in the country this season, averaging 20.0 points allowed per game (15th in FBS), 283.2 total yards allowed per game (3rd in FBS), and 164.3 passing yards allowed per game (5th in FBS).
Dylan’s Pick: I’m gonna roll with star power (Gordon) and the better defense in this one. Wisconsin, 38-27.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
No. 8 Michigan State Spartans (10-2, 7-1 in Big Ten) vs. No. 5 Baylor Bears (11-1, 8-1 in Big 12).
Thursday, January 1 – New Year’s Day at 12:30 PM ET/9:30 AM PT
AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX).
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, and Tom Luginbill).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Brad Sham, Kelly Stouffer, and Ian Fitzsimmons).
Series History: Michigan State and Baylor have met only once before, with the Spartans defeating the Bears 28-10 on Sep. 28, 1968 in East Lansing.
58-year old Mark Dantonio is in his 8th season as head coach of the Spartans with a record of 74-31 (.705). With a win, Dantonio’s Spartans would notch a school-record fourth consecutive bowl victory.
59-year old Art Briles is in his 7th season as Baylor head coach with a record of 55-33 (.625). Briles’ Bears struggled through his first two seasons, winning a combined eight games in 2008 and 2009, but have now established themselves as one of the best in the Big 12 with 11 wins in each of the last three seasons.
Coming off a season in which they finished 13-1 including a victory in the Rose Bowl, hopes were high in East Lansing for the Spartans. They started the year as the No. 8 team in the country but after their 46-27 loss at No. 3 Oregon on Sept. 6, their season seemed all but over. They would reel off six straight wins – including a 27-22 victory over No. 19 Nebraska – but whatever optimism may have been re-born in those seven weeks was dashed when they lost 49-37 to No. 14 Ohio State on Nov. 8. At the heart of Michigan State’s success has been their offensive line, led by 6’2″ 299 lbs junior center Jack Allen who is the fourth MSU center to be named a first-team AP All-American. The Spartans’ secondary was also great this season – their 17 interceptions ranked 11th in FBS – a unit that featured two All-Big Ten first team selections in 6’1″ senior Kurtis Drummond and 6’1″ junior Trae Waynes.
Unlike Michigan State, Baylor didn’t finish 2013 on a high note. They entered the Fiesta Bowl at 11-1 before losing in a shootout, 52-42 to No. 10 UCF. They began 2014 ranked 10th in the country and after winning six games – including their now infamous 61-58 win over No. 9 TCU – before they lost in Morgantown 41-27 to a then unranked Mountaineers team. From November 1 on however, Baylor didn’t lose as they went 5-0 including a 48-14 win at No. 15 Oklahoma and a 38-27 win over No. 9 Kansas State. Denied a shot at the inaugural College Football Playoff, Baylor seeks win No. 12 on the season, an unprecedented mark in Waco. They’ll do it with the highest-powered offense in the country as they lead the nation in points per game (48.8) and total yards per game (581.3). 6’3″ senior QB Bryce Petty (3,305 passing yards, 26 TDs) is among the best in the country and he’ll throw the ball to anyone. Four different Bears receivers finished the year with 500+ receiving yards and six or more touchdowns, lead by All-Big 12 second team selection Corey Coleman (969 receiving yards and 10 TDs). Baylor’s defensive strength lies up front where they feature two All-Big 12 first team defensive linemen in sophomore Andrew Billings and 6’9″ 280 lbs junior Shawn Oakman who combined for 12 sacks and 30 tackles for loss.
Dylan’s Pick: Even though I think Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country, I don’t think anyone is going to stop what Art Briles, Bryce Petty, and the Bears offense are able to do. I’m taking Baylor, 48-42.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
No. 16 Missouri Tigers (10-3, 7-1 in SEC) vs. No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4, 5-3 in Big Ten).
Thursday, January 1 – New Year’s Eve at 1 PM ET/10 AM PT
Orlando Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL).
TV: ABC (Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Dave Lamont, Tom Ramsey, and Kayce Smith).
Series History: This will be the ninth contest all-time in a series that Missouri leads 4-3-1 and has not been contested since 1970.
62-year old Gary Pinkel is in his 14th season as Missouri head coach with a record of 112-66 (.629). Pinkel has now led the Tigers to SEC East division championships in two of their first three seasons as conference members.
53-year old Jerry Kill is in his 4th season as head coach of the Golden Gophers with a record of 25-25 (.500). Kill is 0-4 in bowl games with two losses each as head coach at Northern Illinois (2008-10) and Minnesota.
This one’s not particularly scintillating compared to the rest of the day’s slate but we’ll take a look at it anyway. Missouri played a weak non-conference and still managed to lose to Indiana, they came out of the SEC East which was quite poor this year, and they got flattened by Alabama in the SEC Championship game, 42-13. Now they seek their second consecutive season with at least 11 wins, something that’s never been done in program history. Missouri didn’t throw – or run – the ball very well, and while they did rank 25th in opponent’s points per game (21.4), they were 2-2 against ranked opponents. Keep an eye on AP All-American defensive end Shane Ray, a 6’3″ 245 lbs junior who excels at rushing the passer.
Minnesota’s barely ranked (No. 25 in the CFP rankings, unranked in the other two polls), they played a terrible non-conference schedule, and one of their four losses is to Illinois. Their offense isn’t particularly impressive (356.0 total yards per game, 103rd in FBS), they don’t throw the ball well (131.4 passing yards per game, 121st in FBS), and they’re not that great at stopping the run (161.2 rushing yards allowed per game, 60th in FBS). They do feature 5’11” 229 lbs senior RB David Cobb, an All-Big Ten second team selection whose 1,545 yards on the ground was third best in the conference this season.
Dylan’s Pick: There was a point in time – the week of November 10 to be exact – where Minnesota had a chance to show just how great they are. The Golden Gophers were 7-2 and their next three opponents were all in the Top 25, including road contests against Nebraska and Wisconsin. They lost two of those three however and this leads me to take the Tigers. Missouri, 31-26.
We’re in the homestretch at this point, people. Only six more bowl games remaining — plus the matter of that inaugural College Football Playoff, which I will take a look at soon. Until then, have a safe and Happy New Year’s Eve!