ReliaQuest Bowl 1/2 @ 12:00 PM EST
Mississippi State (-1) 8-4 vs. Illinois 8-4
The Bulldogs come into this game with heavy hearts following the passing of Head Coach Mike Leach. Undoubtedly, nothing can quantify the loss of their leader and how it may impact their performance in this one however there is no doubt that they come into this game with more motivation to bring home a bowl win than any team not in a playoff matchup. Illinois’ plan of attack is the antithesis of the Bulldogs’ air raid approach, as they plan to ground and pound Mississippi State into submission. The Illini defense should be the best unit on the field as they’re 2nd in the nation in overall yards allowed per game (263.8).
Will Rogers (JR. QB) – The Air Raid offense starts and ends with the QB and Rogers has been a brilliant distributor of the ball so far this year. He ranks 7th in the nation in passing yards per game (309.4) and has 38 touchdowns through the air. It will be interesting to see if there’s any deviation from the offensive scheme that they’ve run all year with the coaching change shifting to Zach Arnett. However, it seems most likely that this will be business as usual and the offense will continue to hum.
Caleb Ducking (SR. WR) – With no Ra Ra Thomas in this one, following his transfer to Georgia, Caleb Ducking enters Bowl Season with three more receiving touchdowns than the next closest receiver (Austin Williams with five). He also has the most games having led the team in receptions (five) than any active receiver. The Bulldog WRs typically see volatile target shares from game to game, so expect Rufus Harvey, Jaden Walley, Lideatrick Griffin, and Austin Williams to all contribute in some way.
Josh McCray (SO. RB) – The Illini offense will be without the leader of their regular season production in Chase Brown (as he has declared for the NFL Draft). Most predict that the torch will be passed to a combination of Josh McCray (assuming he’s fully healthy) and Reggie Love (though Chase Hayden and Jordan Anderson may get some run as well). Love has seen the majority of the spell-work for Brown during the season, however, McCray’s involvement has been limited to missing the majority of the year with a knee injury.
Isaiah Williams (SO. WR) – Isaiah Williams saw 26.5% of the Illini’s targets this season and is the primary target in this offense. Part of the reason Illinois has seen an increase in success this year has been Tommy Devito and increased success in the passing game. That has allowed for more opportunities for Williams to show his athleticism. If Mississippi State gets off to a fast start or begins to pull away at any point, Isaiah Williams will likely see an expanded role in this one.
Citrus Bowl 1/2 @ 1:00 PM EST
LSU (-14.5) 9-4 vs. Purdue 8-5
As with most bowl games, this one will likely come down to motivation for these two teams. Both teams are coming off of Conference Championship losses however those regular season results exceeded the public’s expectations for sure. If LSU brings their A-game, it would be tough to think this Purdue team, with an interim coach, will be able to keep pace. However, there are no guarantees with bowl season, and these teams matchup up quite a bit closer on paper than one might think. The defenses are separated by 2.1 yards/game in what they’ve allowed this season and LSU’s 31st-ranked offense has only 31.2 yards/game more than Purdue’s 49th-ranked offense. Depending on how Purdue overcomes the loss of Head Coach Jeff Brohm and QBs Aidan O’Connell, and Brady Allen will dictate how this one plays out.
Jayden Daniels (JR. QB) –LSU saw up-and-down offensive performance this year, but I think it’s safe to say that Jayden Daniels exceeded expectations. In 13 games, he put up 2,774 passing yards and 818 additional yards on the ground while scoring 27 total touchdowns. Daniels should have sufficient opportunity to expand on all of those numbers against a middling Purdue defense.
Malik Nabors (SO. WR) – With Kayshon Boutte out of this one, Malik Nabors comes into this matchup with nearly double the number of targets as the next closest Tiger receiver (87). LSU finished the season 42nd in passing yards/game (256.8) so continuing to find success in this area will likely filter through Nabors’ game. Jaray Jenkins and Brian Thomas should see an increase in targets with Boutte’s absence.
TJ Sheffield (JR. WR) – With Aidan O’Connell declaring for the NFL and Brady Allen entering the portal and Charlie Jones and Payne Durham opting out of this one the Boilermakers’ passing game will have an uphill battle in this matchup. Sophomore QB Michael Alaimo will likely lean on the next man up and the primary receiver remaining that put up decent contributions this year. Sheffield fits the bill here, but Tyrone Tracy is another name to watch that can pick up the slack.
Devin Mockobee (FR. RB) – With Brohm on his way out, this Purdue ground game may see some more run. Devin Mockobee has a chance to be the first Boilermaker to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Kory Sheets in 2008. He enters this game with 920 yards and nine touchdowns and will look to establish his presence in this one.
Cotton Bowl Classic 1/2 @ 1:00 PM EST
USC (-2) 11-2 vs. Tulane 11-2
This one should be fun. Everyone saw the Trojans get exposed on defense in the PAC-12 Championship game. The Green Wave have to be licking their chops in hopes that they see a similar defense standing across the line of scrimmage from them at AT&T Stadium in this one. Tulane has the 20th-ranked run game in the nation this season and will look to capitalize on a defense that has legitimate issues tackling.
Caleb Williams (SO. QB) – The Heisman Trophy Winner has said he fully expects to play in this one and his presence (and health) keeps them in any game. Tulane’s 26th in the nation against the pass but they have not faced a quarterback near Williams’ caliber. As seen throughout the season, Williams can carry USC in a big way but ensuring he’s healthy will be priority number one. If for any reason he’s limited, this game slants heavily in Tulane’s favor.
Tahj Washington (JR. WR) – Washington is the most likely receiver to jump into the void left by Jordan Addison for this game. Washington stepped up when Addison was out in weeks eight and nine with seven receptions, over 100 yards receiving, and at least one touchdown in each of those games. Washington’s been able to show glimpses of the talent that brought him from Memphis to USC a few years ago, and he’s a name to watch in a receiver group that might be missing Addison.
Mario Williams (SO. WR) – Caleb’s transfer portal companion, Mario Williams, had a bit of a disappointing season this year however without Jordan Addison, he is as likely as Washington to have a chance to stand out in this one. USC has a clear talent advantage over Tulane in this matchup so if Williams comes in motivated, he has a chance to remind the country why he was so highly sought after just a year ago.
Michael Pratt (JR. QB) – The Tulane offense is a balanced attack led by their QB who can get things done both through the air and on the ground. Pratt has thrown for 2,775 yards and rushed for 395 while accumulating 35 total touchdowns. This matchup is prime for his coming out party on a National Stage as USC’s passing defense is 105th in the nation, allowing 266.5 yards/game. Though the Green Wave is known for a ground-and-pound attack with Willie Fritz’s scheme, Michael Pratt has raised this offense to new heights in terms of versatility.
Tyjae Spears (JR. RB) – Spears comes into this game 15th in the nation in total rushing yards this season with 1,376 yards. He’s found the endzone 17 times this season and is a very legitimate concern for USC coming into this matchup. Expect Spears to lead this backfield with a sprinkling of Shaadie Clayton as they look to make USC prove they can tackle with consistency on Monday.
Rose Bowl 1/2 @ 3:00 PM EST
Utah (-2.5) 10-3 vs. Penn State (10-2)
The Granddaddy of them all – this year’s Rose Bowl presents one of the most intriguing matchups outside of the College Football Playoffs this season as Utah takes on Penn State. The Utes rolled USC in order to become PAC12 Champions and get their bid, while Penn State’s only losses came to playoff combatants Michigan and Ohio State. Both teams have rooted their identity this year in strong defenses and complementary offenses.
Cameron Rising (JR. QB) – Both of the quarterbacks playing starting this game have built a brand of toughness in the way they play the game. Rising has quietly thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this season and has scored 31 total touchdowns. The Penn State defense will be without CB Joey Porter Jr., however, Kalen King and the rest of the Nittany Lions secondary have been very tough hurdles to clear for opposing passing attacks this season.
Thomas Yassmin (JR. TE) – Filling the void of Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid will be Thomas Yassmin. The Utes love to utilize the TE in the passing game and Yassmin in the middle of the field will likely be the best way to attack the Penn State defense. Despite being TE3 for most of the year, Yassmin has put up 12 receptions for 300 yards and five touchdowns. He should be seen as a primary weapon for the Utes.
Micah Bernard (SO. RB) – Since Tavion Thomas opted out, Micah Bernard has been seen as the primary RB for the Utah ground game. He and converted QB Ja’Quinden Jackson create a lightning and thunder approach and pose a formidable duo to try and attack the 13th-ranked run defense of the Nittany Lions. Bernard’s shiftiness could see a big play or two if he’s able to find some open field.
Sean Clifford (SR. QB) – The leadership Clifford brings to the table is his secret weapon. As a sixth-year Senior, he has seen just about everything a defense can send his way at one point or another in his career. It would not surprise me to see Drew Allar get a few series in this one, as Franklin is no stranger to getting younger players opportunities during Bowl Season. Still, I’d assume sending Clifford out “the right way” and gaining a Rose Bowl win are at the forefront of his mind.
Nicholas Singleton (FR. RB) – The emergence of the ground game has been a huge boom for the Penn State offense this year. Both freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have flashed their incredible talent on the field already. Singleton has emerged as the big-play threat as Allen has taken on a bit more of the plodder role so far this season. If Penn State wants to beat the Utes in this one, both young RBs need to make their presence known.
Mitchell Tinsley (SR. WR) – As Parker Washington has opted out and looks to prepare for the NFL Draft, Mitchell Tinsley becomes the de-facto WR1 in this game. TE Brenton Strange will also be out, so Tinsley’s targets should see a nice bump along with TE Theo Johnson and peripheral targets Harrison Wallace and KeAndre Lambert Smith. Tinsley’s season has seen mild success with a few flashes here and there, but this will be a premium opportunity for him to go out with a bang.