This is the day it’s all led up to. Days with bowls featuring “Sicko Mode” matchups and crazy DFS options. Prop stat betting players 99.9% of the college football world has never heard of. It’s finally here. This Saturday’s slate features two College Football playoff games, and neither of them features Alabama. That’s one of the “appetizer” games.
We have a few games after New Year’s Day, but this feels like the big day. Today, we decide who the National Championship game will have in it.
Transperfect Music City Bowl @ Noon ABC
Iowa (7-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
It’s going to take some fortitude for me to try to write with much excitement about this game. Both teams had disappointing seasons by their standards. This game has a 31-point over/under, which should tell you what most are expecting from this matchup.
Iowa – the offense is as exciting as watching paint dry – and the longtime starting QB is out due to injury. They averaged 17.4 points a game, 123rd out of 131 FBS teams, and won seven games. It doesn’t seem possible, right? But the defense allowed only 14.4 a game, sixth best, and they force turnovers.
Kentucky lost QB Will Levis and RB Chris Rodriguez to the draft and are reloading in the portal, but that help won’t be here today. The offense scored 22.1 a game, the defense allowed 19.1, and head coach Mark Stoops gets the most out of his team. They will have a new offensive play-caller, and the Cats do have some really fun young players.
- I’ve got to write something here. Iowa has nearly 90% of its land devoted to agriculture and is the largest producer of corn in the U.S. They produced over two billion bushels of corn in 2022, about 16% of the U.S. production.
- The editor says I have to say something about the football team, I do like freshman Kaleb Johnson as a player to watch. He emerged as the lead back and finished with 762 yards and six scores. Johnson torched Purdue for 200 yards but only had three other games over 93 yards. Unfortunately, defenses can focus on the run game due to a lack of passing prowess.
- Devin Leary will be at the QB spot next season, and with Levis off to the NFL, sophomore Kaiya Sheron is at the helm versus Iowa. He attempted 29 passes this season and was a three-star prospect.
- Kentucky has always had strong RB options, and junior Jutahn McClain gets to tote the rock for this tough matchup. He had 49 carries this season and averaged 4.9 YPC while also roping in 15 receptions. Vanderbilt transfer Ray Davis will likely be the starting back in 2023.
- Barion Brown, WR FR / Dane Key, WR FR – Leary is going to have options at WR, and if Sheron can get the ball to this duo, Kentucky will be moving the ball on Iowa. Brown had 45 receptions for 604 yards to lead the team and caught four TD passes. He’s incredibly versatile, and I love his change of direction speed. Brown averaged 28 yards a kick return and had one return TD. Key caught 31 passes for 472 yards and reached the end zone six times. He’s a smooth receiver with good ball-tracking skills and is a natural hands catcher.
Allstate Sugar Bowl @ Noon ESPN
#5 Alabama (10-2) vs. #9 Kansas St. (10-3)
It feels strange mentioning the Crimson Tide not in the playoffs, but it was a ‘down’ year for Nick Saban’s squad. They are still ranked fifth in the country and make the first of the “New Year’s Six” Bowl games.
The Tide has an extensive list of players hitting the portal, but all the key guys are still here and playing in what should be a good matchup. They scored 40.8 points a game, good for fourth in the country, and their only two losses were on walk-off scores. They could be playing with a massive chip on their shoulder.
Kansas State, with veteran Adrian Martinez at the helm, was a trendy pick for Big 12 darkhorse title contenders. Martinez missed a big chunk of the season the offense didn’t miss a beat with junior Will Howard taking over. They stumbled in the middle of the season and hit their stride later in the year, knocking out TCU in the Big 12 title game, avenging one of their previous losses. It’s a dangerous team, and they don’t have any pressure on them in this game.
Alabama Crimson Tide
- Bryce Young, QB JR – After winning every award a QB could win in 2021, Young had a great season in 2022, but it was much less productive. He threw for 3,007 yards and 27 TDs with only five INTS, adding in nearly 200 yards rushing. The Tide struggled to find an “alpha” receiver like Devonta Smith. Young is the unquestioned leader and has the ability to take over a game. He can put the whole team on his back and make plays. Young will be a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and I expect a huge game today.
- Jahmyr Gibbs, RB JR – Gibbs actually led the Tide with 42 receptions while also rushing for 850 yards and seven scores. He tallied just over 1,200 total yards and ten scores. At 5’11” and 200 lbs., Gibbs may be a bit smaller than a prototypical NFL back, but there’s no doubt he’s a playmaker. He’s incredibly quick, doesn’t lose speed when cutting, and then has a second gear he can kick it into when he sees an opening. Gibbs is also hearing his name called early in April and will likely wow at the combine.
- If I have to tout one WR, it’s sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks. He leads the receivers with 37 catches for 623 yards and seven scores. He’s got NFL upside for days, country-strong hands, and a deceptive route runner with good footwork. I was on the hype train for junior Jermaine Burton. Heck, I was almost the conductor. There were flashes of brilliance and then he would be invisible. He caught 37 balls for 590 yards and six scores. When he’s on, Burton is a strong receiver who can bully defensive backs. Senior TE Cameron Latu will be involved, and the Tide has a bevy of young WRs who could emerge. JoJo Earle and Traeshon Holden have entered the portal, and freshman QB Jalen Milroe has been seen working out at WR.
Kansas State Wildcats
- Will Howard, QB JR – All seemed lost when Martinez went down, but the offense was dangerous when Howard took over. Martinez was a dual-threat guy, and Howard is a pocket passer. He threw for 1,423 yards and 15 TDs with only two INTs. Howard took over during the loss to TCU in the regular season and was 5-0 as a starter. He can really push the ball downfield and moves around the pocket well, but isn’t a mobile guy. If he starts in 2023, Howard could rise in QB rankings, but I’m not sold on him as an NFL prospect yet.
- Deuce Vaughn, RB JR – For all my CFF shares, I hope Vaughn returns to college, but he may bolt for the NFL after the bowl game. He rushed for over 1,400 yards again but only rushed for eight TDs, as Martinez vultured a lot of Vaughn’s scoring opportunities. Vaughn caught 42 passes and had over 1,800 total yards for the second straight season. He’s small at 5’6” and 175 lbs., but he is an electric runner and tough for his size. The size would be an issue for NFL aspirations, but Vaughn’s talent is evident.
- Vaughn is probably the Wildcats’ best pass-catching option, but several WRs benefitted from Howard being the QB. Senior WR Malik Knowles led the team with 47 receptions for 719 yards. Senior Phillip Brooks is a smaller, dynamic WR and caught 41 balls for 543 yards. Sophomore TE Ben Sinnott emerged as Howard took over, finishing with 28 grabs for 399 yards and four scores.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
VRBO Fiesta Bowl @ 4:00 p.m. ESPN
#3 TCU (12-1) vs. #2 Michigan (13-0)
The heavily favored, at least in public perception, Michigan Wolverines come into the playoffs with a bit more confidence this year. The Horned Frogs stumbled in the Big 12 title game after a lucky at times run through their regular season and still got the playoff nod. Don’t tell TCU they won’t win, this team finds a way to win in many different ways.
The Horned Frogs, with the best football uniforms in Wakanda, scored blow for blow with teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State, grinding out low scoring wins like the Texas victory, and scored more than 50 points three times. They won at the last moment with a run on FG versus Baylor. Throttled Iowa State 62-14. Sometimes the passing game thrived, and sometimes the running game was on point. It feels like whatever game you want to try to force them to play because you think you have an advantage – coach Sonny Dykes and TCU can make that plan misfire.
Michigan, on the other hand, is going to try to force its will on you and bully you around on each side of the line of scrimmage. They will run, run, run and then sprinkle in enough passes to keep you on your toes. The defense lost a lot of talent and was supposed to be worse, but they are physical and will make you earn every point you get. They also scored 50 points four times, but the opponents were much softer. The Wolverines didn’t face the gauntlet TCU did, but they manhandled whoever was in front of them. Including playoff team Ohio State, although it took them three quarters to fully overwhelm the Buckeyes.
TCU Horned Frogs
- Max Duggan, QB SR – Duggan is one of the best stories in college football this season. After three years as a starter, it looked like he may be overcome as the starter. Wrong. All he did was throw for 3,321 yards, 30 TDs, four INTs, and rushed for 404 yards and six more scores. Oh, and he earned an invite to the Heisman ceremony. Duggan is on to the NFL after the playoffs, I don’t see a scenario where he gets picked on the first two days. But there is no reason he couldn’t hang around the league for a while and be a good backup.
- Kendre Miller, RB JR – The more I watch, the more I am impressed by Miller, and he’s going to be a key in this game. If the Horned Frogs get him going and have a balance on offense, it greatly ups their chances. Miller rushed for 1,342 yards and 17 TDs, adding 16 catches for another 116 yards. He runs hard, has impressive vision, and his contact balance is exceptional. I’d like to see a bit more as a pass catcher. He wasn’t asked to run many route types out of the backfield. Miller is my RB3 in the 2023 Draft, and I think he’s got the potential to be something special.
- Quentin Johnston, WR JR – I went into my off-season film reviews expecting to nitpick QJ. But I can’t, the kid has the potential to be a special WR at the next level. He caught 53 passes for 903 yards and five TDs. If you’re scouting box scores, you’re likely passing him by. With the uptick in passing, I expected Johnston to finally truly emerge. He did in a few games, but the attention he gets from opposing defenses hinders his statistics some. When Duggan would target Johnston, he would always catch the ball. They used him all over, and he physically imposes his will on DBs. He’s got strong hands and can catch in traffic. He’s a good route runner, but I didn’t see a lot of nuanced route concepts asked of him. Johnston will get a lot of attention in this game, and if Duggan can get him the ball – it greatly increases their chance of keeping up with Michigan.
- JJ McCarthy, QB SO – Going with McCarthy was a ballsy call, but it turned out to be the correct one. I think Cade McNamara, now transferred, would have been okay but McCarthy seemed to spark the offense. He only threw for 2,376 yards and 20 TDs, and he rushed for 254 yards and four scores also, but his dual-threat ability makes defenses account for him. He selectively runs and seems to pick the perfect time to. McCarthy pushed the ball downfield versus Ohio State, can he do that whenever he needs to? He’s a player I look forward to having another year to grow and show us if he’s got legit NFL talent.
- Donovan Edwards, RB SO – With the injury to Corum, Edwards was asked to fully step in, and he has made it able for the Wolverines’ offense to not miss a beat. Edwards is closer to NFL size at 6’0” and 205 pounds and has proven to be as effective a rusher as a pass-catching back. He rushed for 872 yards at a 7.5 YPC clip and caught 17 balls to boot. He’s a complete back, not afraid to run inside, and has the ability to make people miss. I like Edwards a bit more than Corum as an NFL talent. It’s his chance to shine on the biggest stage now.
- I would have loved to see junior Blake Corum, who rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 TDs in 11 games, but he’s been shut down due to injury. Will he stay another year? If Michigan goes all the way, I don’t think he’s back. If he hits the NFL Draft, he’s another divisive prospect. Some think he’s too small, but he has proven he can handle a large workload this season. Corum won’t be a guy you run inside a lot though.
- The receivers all help in different ways, and there is talent, but not the guys who will have monstrous games and be picked early in the NFL Draft. I love senior WR Ronnie Bell, he has a knack for making big plays at key times, and I would love to have him on my NFL team as a WR3. Senior TE Luke Schoonmaker caught 34 passes for 386 yards and three scores. He’s a favorite target of McCarthy’s. I was most impressed with freshman TE Colston Loveland later in the season, and he could be a good TE with NFL potential.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl @ 8:00 p.m. on ESPN
#4 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #1 Georgia (13-0)
If USC beats Utah, Ohio State is on the outside looking in. But here they are. Possibly the only offense in the country with the firepower to take out Georgia’s defense is here. Will they live up to the promise? All the pieces are there but Georgia, lacking the names it had on last year’s defense, is still stifling teams and they enter this game confident and prepared.
Ohio State, in all its offensive glory, trounced teams en route to its final season matchup at the Shoe with hated rival Michigan. The offense looked off balance, missing its top two RBs, and QB CJ Stroud seemed out of sorts all game. One of their backs is back, and the WR corps is the best in the country. Can they give Stroud enough time against this tough Georgia D?
Georgia’s offense throws more than Ohio State, but you wouldn’t know it if you watch box scores and don’t pay attention. They score nearly 40 points a game and have a steady veteran QB with a deep stable of weapons. The offense can score at will when it needs to but seems to prefer to slowly bleed opponents out before turning on the jets in the second halves. As I mentioned, the defense lost half of its starters to the NFL Draft and doesn’t look as dominant on paper. Watch the games, there is always pressure along the lines and the secondary doesn’t allow much to get by them. Like Michigan, Georgia will bully teams on each line of scrimmage and will likely be using a similar game plan on Ohio State that Michigan did.
Ohio State Buckeyes
- CJ Stroud, QB JR – Like Young, Stroud is going to be one of the first names called in April. He has thrown for 3,340 yards, and 37 TDs with only six picks this season, numbers that were also down compared to 2021. Stroud has question marks, but he’s got a good arm and has won in some big spots. He’s not proven to be able to take over games like Young has and is throwing to several NFL talents at WR. Everyone has questions and criticism after a player has years of tape out there, and Stroud can answer some of them by leading the Buckeyes to a win.
- Miyan Williams, RB JR – Superstar RB TreVeyon Henderson is still out and reports, at this time, are pointing toward Meatball starting for the Buckeyes tonight. Williams rushed for 825 yards and started a few games in Henderson’s absence, and reached the end zone 13 times. He could enter the draft, but I don’t see him taking that road. Williams is a tough runner with surprisingly good footwork for his size and doesn’t offer much as a pass-catcher.
- Marvin Harrison Jr., WR SO – Expect Harrison to see a lot of star CB Kelee Ringo tonight, and Harrison is up to the test. He led the receivers with 72 receptions for 1,157 yards, 12 TDs, and numerous highlight reel catches. Harrison moves up to my WR1 in Devy, and he’s going to be a CFF monster regardless of who is throwing the ball in 2023. He’s got phenomenal hands, body control, route running, and is versatile enough to play all over the field.
- Emeka Egbuka, WR SO – Having two receivers as talented as Harrison and Egbuka at the same time, and for another season, is pretty much #UNFAIR. He caught 66 passes for 1,039 yards and nine TDs. Egbuka has great body control and isn’t afraid to get physical. He’s got more speed than Harrison and excels at creating separation. As much as I love Harrison, Egbuka isn’t far behind in my rankings.
- Veterans WRs Gee Scott Jr. and Julian Fleming, and TE Cade Stover, give Stroud ancillary weapons that would start on many teams in the FBS.
- Stetson Bennett, QB SR – The normal guy fan in me loves the story of Bennett and the success he’s had at Georgia. The man gets ridiculed and was pronounced dead before 2021, and he’s led the Bulldogs to a national title and is on the brink of another. He completed 68% of his passes, three for 3,425 yards and 20 TDs while also earning an invite to the Heisman ceremony. Bennett takes a lot of flack, but he’s going to get drafted late and should hang around as a depth QB in the NFL for a while.
- Kenny McIntosh, RB SR – One of the most underrated prospects heading into the draft process, I expect McIntosh to see a nice rise before April. He rushed for 709 yards and 10 scores, but his pass-catching prowess is what got my attention. He caught 37 balls for 450 yards, and when he’s in space, McIntosh is a dangerous runner. At 6’1” and 210 pounds, he’s got the size and skill to run inside and handle a big workload too.
- Brock Bowers, TE SO – The most dangerous receiver for Georgia is the best TE in the nation, Bowers. He had 52 receptions for 726 yards and six TDs, tops amongst all receivers on the team. Bowers is a complete TE, but his pass-catching ability is unreal. He runs routes like a WR and has sure hands. Bowers reads defenses perfectly and makes big plays right when Georgia needs them.
- Speaking of big plays, sophomore Ladd McConkey is the receiver Bennett targets when he needs them. His status is up in the air, and Georgia will miss him if he’s out. “Backup” TE Darnell Washington is off to the NFL after the season. He’s a freak athlete and a monstrous human being at 6’7” and 265 pounds. Ohio State will need to find an answer for him too.