The matchups are ramping up, and this Thursday slate has a little for every college die-hard. Teams with winning pedigrees that failed to live up to expectations, teams that exceeded all expectations and seem to be on the verge of returning to glory, and many players who will soon be playing in the NFL.
Without further adieu, here is your 12/29 slate and who to watch!
Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl @2 p.m. ESPN
Syracuse (7-5) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
The Orange will be without star RB Sean Tucker, who unsurprisingly opted out to go to the NFL Draft. He was the cog the offense revolved around and will be missed. Syracuse started hot, winning their first six games before dropping five in a row. They won their final game to get to seven wins, and this bowl game will tell us a lot about life after Tucker. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae is gone, and former QB coach Jason Beck gets a chance to call plays.
Minnesota’s star back, senior Mo Ibrahim, is playing and as the rushing game goes, so do the Gophers. Syracuse was 7-0 when holding opponents under 150 yards, which Minnesota eclipsed in eight games. They are 6-1 when rushing for over 240 yards. It feels like the rushing output will be the key decider in this matchup. Minnesota won four, lost four, and finished by winning four of its last five games.
On a side note – Bad Boy Mowers are pretty frickin’ sweet. I have never owned one but have used a few, they are a lot of fun.
- Garrett Schrader, QB RS JR – The Syracuse QB was solid this season and gives them a dual-threat option, and the presence of Tucker made Schrader even more dangerous. He threw for 2,310 yards and 17 TDs with six INTs, adding in 406 yards with seven scores on the ground. In 2021, he nearly doubled that ground production. Schrader’s running ability forces defenses to account for him, and he’s got a decent arm and takes care of the ball.
- The depth chart drops off like the Mariana Trench. After Tucker, freshman LeQuint Allen will get a shot to step up. He looked explosive in limited action, rushing 26 times for 180 yards and catching six passes for 57 yards. Allen has a tough task ahead, the Minnesota rushing defense allowed the 15th least rushing yards per game in the FBS.
- Oronde Gadsden II, WR SO – The passing game features a rising star, and Gadsden is going to be climbing draft boards going into next April, should he declare. At 6’5” and 210 pounds, Gadsden caught 54 passes for 891 yards and six scores. The technical ability and route running really show when watching Gadsden. He’s smart and tough to defend, then his size allows him to pluck the ball out of the air with ease. Keep an eye on him going forward, he’s gaining traction, and Gadsden isn’t going to be off the radar much longer.
- Whether it’s senior Tanner Morgan or sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis, I am not interested in the Gophers QB for CFF or NFL. Morgan is stable, and the veteran presence would be nice, and Kaliakmanis – I like him out of high school – but he has been okay at best thus far. He’s barely completed 50% of his passes and had three TDs with four INTs over five starts. Kaliakmanis did have a solid last game, completing 19 or 29 passes with 319 yards and a pair of scores in Minnesota’s win over Wisconsin.
- Mohamed Ibrahim, RB SR – An Injury sidelined him in 2021, but Ibrahim returned with his best season in college. He rushed for 1,594 yards and reached the end zone 19 times. I was surprised he is playing in the bowl game, but he is on the cusp of breaking several records at Minnesota. Ibrahim will be in the NFL next season, and I have him as a good backup, but his lack of pass-catching, as well as his age and injury history, are concerns.
- Junior Daniel Jackson, redshirt junior Michael Brown-Stephens, and redshirt senior TE Brevyn Spann-Ford get the most targets in the passing game. Still, none are factors for CFF or NFL aspirations.
Cheez-It Bowl @ 5:30 p.m. ESPN
Oklahoma (6-6) vs. Florida St. (9-3)
Just 20 years ago, these two teams played for a National Championship, and each team is on very different paths.
Oklahoma had high hopes with a new coaching staff and transfer QB Dillon Gabriel would continue to keep the Sooners winning. The offense kept scoring, 32.9 points a game, but disappeared entirely at times. The Sooners started off winning three straight, but Kansas State, TCU, and Texas exposed the team. Texas walloped Oklahoma 49-0, and the team could have been in a tailspin. They rebounded with wins over bowl-bound Kansas and Oklahoma State but still stumbled to eligibility with three losses in the last four games.
Florida State, on the other hand, won four, lost three, then reeled off five straight convincing wins to end the season. The team is on the ascension, and I felt they deserved a better matchup in bowl season. The offense scored 36.2 points a game, 16th most in the FBS, and Jordan Travis and Trey Benson look like future stars. I love this team to make some noise in 2023 and have a Tennessee-like run.
- Dillon Gabriel, QB RS JR – After Lincoln Riley’s departure and the loss of Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler to the portal, the Sooners quickly found themselves without a good option at QB. Gabriel came to the team via the portal, from UCF, and gave them a gunslinger who loves to push the ball down the field. Gabriel missed time, including the Texas game, and the offense was much different when he was out. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 TDs with only six INTs and his mobility helped as well, rushing for another 300 yards and five scores. Gabriel is a good college QB with little NFL upside, but I like him to stabilize this offense going forward.
- Gone is starter Eric Gray, he opted out to train for the draft, and it’s a blessing in disguise. Powerful redshirt junior Marcus Major is the next man up. He’s a powerful back that doesn’t mess around, and I love his contact balance. The name I am most excited about is freshman Javontae Barnes. He had 89 carries for 411 yards and four scores in limited duty this season. He’s got great contact balance, nearly elite, and I love his work between the tackles. He chooses holes well and has impressive cutting ability at the second level. Barnes has three-down ability and looks natural as a pass-catching back. If either falters, explosive freshman Gavin Sawchuk is waiting for his shot too.
- Marvin Mims, WR JR – As of this moment, Mims has not declared his intention to return or head to the NFL, but he’s slated to play in this game. He caught 52 balls for 1,006 yards and six scores in 2022 and could have had so much more. Mims is a loping route runner from the slot, he has sneaky speed and gets behind defenses routinely. He has an uncanny knack for getting open and could be a dangerous player in that role on Sundays.
- As for depth, the Sooners have some interesting options at receiver. Theo Wease transferred, but sophomore Jalil Farooq and redshirt sophomore LV Bunkley-Shelton are two guys itching for a bigger role. Senior TE Brayden Willis also caught seven TDs with over 450 yards, and the Sooners love to get TEs involved.
Florida State Seminoles
- Jordan Travis, QB SR – Travis was one of the most impressive players from a growth standpoint and will return in 2023 as a possible Heisman contender. He threw for 2,796 yards and 22 TDs with only four picks and added 367 yards and seven scores on the ground. His dual-threat ability helps him keep plays alive, and he improved as a passer immensely. I’d like to see his efficiency improve, he’s at 60% on his career, and we could be talking about Travis more as a draftable QB in 2024.
- Trey Benson, RB RS SO – Another player I love, Benson was plagued by injuries at Oregon and finally saw a full workload at Florida State. They slowly started using him more, and toward the end of the season, he was unquestionably the main man. He rushed for 965 yards and averaged 6.8 YPC. He caught 12 passes for good measure. Benson is a tough runner, hard to bring down, and he has good vision and patience. I am very excited for him to continue to impress in 2023 and he’s a big riser for me.
- Past Benson, the Seminoles feature a smattering of complementary pieces and guys who don’t have a ton of CFF value. Redshirt sophomore RBs Lawrance Toafili and Treshaun Ward produced well when called into action and Toafili caught 23 passes. Johnny Wilson, another redshirt soph, came over from Arizona State and led the team with 35 catches for 695 yards and five TDs. Redshirt junior Mycah Pittman, redshirt senior Ontaria Wilson, and TE redshirt senior Camren McDonald were the other prominent targets for Travis, but none were startable consistently.
Valero Alamo Bowl @ 9:00 p.m. ESPN
Texas (9-3) vs. Washington (9-4)
Finally, a matchup of teams with nine wins apiece! This game features two teams with potent offenses although the team in purple and gold has been far more consistent. We could see loads of points here, but there are some storylines to take note of.
Texas, oh what could have been? They took Alabama to the brink in Week 2 and should have won that game. Then they spent the season trading a few wins with a loss, with all of their losses by less than a touchdown. Future star Bijan Robinson is off to the NFL, as well as backup Roschon Johnson. The WR corps has a stud in Xavier Worthy but has lost a few to injury or portal. It’s time to turn a new page, with QB Quinn Ewers taking this offense fully in his hands, and this game is the next step.
Washington has been one of the best offenses in the country, leading the nation in passing and third-down conversions. They average over 40 points a game and the team is almost entirely intact. They are going to move the ball on Texas and make the Longhorns try to keep up. I doubt they will be able.
- Quinn Ewers, QB SO – The Golden Mullet is one of the biggest reasons so much hype has been placed on Texas and Steve Sarkisian. The former five-star looked great against Alabama, and then an injury sidelined him for a few weeks. Hudson Card, now in the portal, looked good in his absence. Ewers returned and was on fire before stumbling down the stretch. He had several games under 45% completion and threw six picks. Ewers looked human. But he was playing his first football in almost two years. Ewers has a phenomenal arm and that ‘moxie’ we want in our QBs. He needs to work on accuracy and anticipation, then Ewers is right back where we expect him to be.
- Losing Bijan and Roschon hurts but the stable is full behind those two horses. Redshirt freshman Jonathon Brooks was impressive in limited duty, rushing for 179 yards and four scores on only 24 touches. A former Alabama back, redshirt junior Keilan Robinson also gathered a smattering of touches in limited duty. But these two guys are only keeping the seat warm for freshman Jaydon Blue. He’s a prototypically built running back with speed and strength for days. Blue could slide right in, and the rushing offense wouldn’t miss much.
- Xavier Worthy, WR SO – Many people, myself included, did not expect Worthy to regress after his phenomenal freshman season. His regression was still 53 catches for 676 yards and nine trips to the end zone. Worthy didn’t seem to have a strong connection with Ewers, and hopefully, it improves, as the talent is there. Worthy is lean but incredibly fast and gets behind defensive backs in a hurry. His long-term outlook is still strong, and I expect much better things for him vs. Washington and 2023.
- Ja’Tavion Sanders, TE SO – Sanders is such an interesting prospect and quite possibly my favorite in this article. He’s an athletic freak at 6’4” and 255 lbs., so lining him up at TE is almost unfair. Sanders emerged as the season went on and caught 49 balls for 577 yards and five TDs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think those numbers could balloon up to the 60/900/10 range, making him a CFF TE1. And his NFL future is bright too.
- Michael Penix Jr., QB RS SR – He’s got that big Penix energy y’all, and should have won every award for Comeback Player in 2022. Penix threw for 4,354 yards and 29 TDs with seven picks. The Washington offense exploded, and Penix is being talked about in the QB3 range for the 2024 Draft. He will be an older prospect, and there is always the talk about how left-handed QBs can’t succeed. The ball flies out of his hand, he throws a beautiful ball and has good touch and anticipation. Penix will be playing in the NFL in 2024.
- At the RB spot, redshirt senior Wayne Taulapapa was the lead back and ran for 779 yards with ten scores. He factored in the passing game with 21 receptions, but I don’t see any potential in the NFL for Taulapapa. Redshirt freshman Cameron Davis found the endzone 13 times on only 107 carries. Extrapolate that to a full workload if you would like, the kid has a nose for scoring TDs. He also caught 19 balls, and I would like to see him take a lead role in 2023.
- Rome Odunze, WR RS SO – It was a huge season for Odunze, breaking out by catching 70 passes for 1,088 yards and seven TDs. He’s a nearly complete receiver, and he does many things very well. He tracks the ball, has great body control, and has unreal timing. He makes every catch look routine. Odunze could enter the draft, but at this time, we are just going to enjoy him torching Texas.
- Jalen McMillan, WR RS SO – McMillan also benefitted from the arrival of Penix to the tune of 71 catches, 1,040 yards, and eight scores. He could also enter the draft and has some of the same traits as Odunze but isn’t quite as complete. He plays smooth and fast, his hands are stronger, and his cutting ability with speed is pretty ridiculous. McMillan doesn’t have the same developed route tree or tracking, but his ability to set up DBs is uncanny.