Outback Bowl Noon EST on ESPN2
Penn State Nittany Lions v. Arkansas Razorbacks
Opt-outs have weakened the top-tier talent in this game, but there are a few names to watch for the 2022 college football season and beyond. I’m expecting a low-scoring game with no Jahan Dotson (PSU) or Treylon Burks (Ark). Both players accounted for over 40% of their teams’ respective passing offenses this season, and there is not necessarily an obvious guy to take the mantle from either.
Let’s start with Penn State. Everyone is excited about their recruiting class for 2022, but those guys won’t be on campus yet. Who else should you have an eye on? Parker Washington should be the primary weapon in the passing game. He was second on the team this year in receptions (57), yardage (722), and receiving TDs (4). This game should give us an idea if he can step up into that number one role. Keandre Lambert-Smith is a capable WR3, and should also feature in this matchup.
The Nittany Lions are a total mess at running back, with no enticing options on the roster. Keyvone Lee and Noah Cain received the most work out of the group but didn’t do much with their touches. In a combined 205 rush attempts, the duo ran for only 817 yards and six touchdowns. They’re capable pass catchers, but nothing more than that. Neither are guys I want in a devy draft, and I’m likely fading in campus to canton drafts too.
I may actually prefer the Arkansas playmakers in this game. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is one of the most athletic QBs in all of college football, as evidenced by his 554 rush yards this season. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone, where he can use his 245-pound frame as a battering ram. He’s Cam Newton-esque in that regard. If he was a bit more consistent as a passer, we could be talking about a legitimate Day 2 NFL prospect. I’m not on that train at the moment, but stranger things have happened.
The real strength of this roster sans Treylon Burks is in the RB room. Arkansas legitimately has four different guys that can make a difference at any point in a game. My favorite of the crew is true freshman Raheim Sanders. By now, most of us know his back story. Sanders entered Arkansas with an ATH designation, but he believed that he’d play receiver. After a few spring practices, the coaching staff quickly discovered that they wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible. Sanders had some down games but will still finish the year with over 500 yards rushing and a handful of touchdowns. That’s a great start.
The Razorbacks also feature, at times, three other backs. Senior Trelon Smith is the steady, experienced back in the group, and he likely sees some work here in what should be his final college game. Dominique Johnson and AJ Green are both also highly talented. Johnson especially seems to have a nose for the end zone, with seven total touchdowns on the season. Penn State has a top 40 rush defense by most metrics, so it will be interesting to see if they can impose their will on the ground. Can any of the second-tier receivers on Arkansas step up if they can’t? The answer to this may determine the outcome of the game.
Vrbo Citrus Bowl 1pm EST on ABC
Iowa Hawkeyes v. Kentucky Wildcats
The least appealing game across the New Years Bowl slate from a devy perspective. These teams are built around strong defenses, so points may be few and far between in this one.
Iowa started the season hot but was exposed down the stretch. They’ll also be missing their best offensive weapon in Tyler Goodson, who has declared for the draft and opted out of the game. The biggest question for the Hawkeyes may be: who steps in for Goodson? Second-year back Gavin Williams should get the first crack at that job. He has the size (6’0, 211 lbs) to be a feature back and was ok in spot duty this season.
There are two guys worth watching in the passing game. The less sexy of the duo is tight end Sam LaPorta. Although he’s draft-eligible this season, LaPorta strikes me as a four-year player. He saw the most targets this season and led the squad in receptions and yardage. I suspect the quarterback(s) will look for him early and often. True freshman Keagan Johnson is also a guy to keep your eyes on. Colin Decker, co-host of the flagship podcast here at Campus2Canton, highlighted Johnson as a sleeper on Campus Life early this offseason. That prediction has been accurate. Johnson averaged almost 20 yards per reception and was one of the few truly explosive weapons on the team.
Like Iowa, Kentucky has primarily depended on the running game this year. Chris Rodriguez is the main rushing threat for the Wildcats, and unlike Goodson, he is playing in this game. Rodriguez is a borderline NFL prospect at this point, so a big game could push him toward the draft. If he struggles, he may look to run it back in 2022.
Beyond the run game, Kentucky possesses a huge advantage at quarterback and wide receiver. First-year starter Will Levis has helped propel the Kentucky offense this season. He possesses an arm that matches up against any other in college football. The accuracy and mental game aren’t always there though, so Iowa can potentially give him some problems. Wan’dale Robinson is one of my favorite sleepers for the 2022 NFL Draft. The transfer from Nebraska is extremely versatile, and he was able to answer many questions in his first year with the Wildcats. Robinson certainly wants to have one more big game before heading to the NFL.
There’s no use in trying to watch for Robinson’s replacement today, as he likely isn’t on the roster yet. Kentucky welcomes transfer Tayvion Robinson from Virginia Tech and adds a very strong class of freshmen, headlined by 4-stars Barion Brown and Dane Key.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl 1pm EST on ESPN
Oklahoma State Cowboys v. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Like the Iowa/Kentucky matchup, this game is a battle between two teams known more for their defenses in 2021. Both are top 10 scoring defenses, and they got better as the year went on.
Notre Dame has more prospects playing in this game. Although QB starter Jack Coan is not a future draft pick, true freshman Tyler Buchner is a star in the making. Will there be a new mandate to open up the offense with a new coach at Notre Dame? Maybe we get a glimpse of that this weekend.
The biggest pass-catching weapon for the Irish is tight end Michael Mayer. Mayer’s profile is about as good as it gets. He’s a former 5-star recruit, he has the perfect size at 6’4.5 and 251 pounds, and he produced immediately as a true freshman. He’s the top receiver on the roster. The group behind Mayer is a hodgepodge of players that have not lived up to their potential yet. Kevin Austin is the most explosive of the group, but the NFL potential is questionable. Freshman Lorenzo Styles is my favorite of the bunch. He’s savvy for his age and has close to the ideal size for the position. I’m buying Styles this offseason and hoping the Irish can finally put together a modern offense.
I’m most excited to watch the running backs in this one. For Notre Dame, starter Kyren Williams is headed to the NFL. He’s a possible Day 2 selection and will be on radars during rookie draft season. The back at Notre Dame has traditionally been a solid play in college fantasy, so hopefully, we get a preview of 2022 in this one. I’m predicting that Logan Diggs ends up with this job because he’s the most well-rounded guy on the roster. Chris Tyree should remain a change of pace back, and Audric Estime may get some goalline work.
There aren’t many players on the opposite sideline that I’d consider must-haves. Starting running back Jaylen Warren had a strong 2021, but this is his last season in college, and the chances that he’s drafted are slim. He might make a roster, but he’s not long for the NFL. Because Warren is playing in this game, we won’t get the chance to look for potential replacements.
The passing attack at OSU is slightly underwhelming. At this point, QB Spencer Sanders is what he’s shown over the past three years. He’s inconsistent and often fades in big moments. Receiver Tay Martin is playing in the Shrine Bowl, so there is some NFL potential there. Returning receivers Brennan Presley and Jaden Bray are strong options in campus to canton leagues.
Rose Bowl 5pm EST on ESPN
Utah Utes v. Ohio State Buckeyes
Finally! The potential for an offensive explosion. Even with Ohio State’s opt-outs at wide receiver, this game has the potential to be a high-scoring contest.
The Buckeye offense has consistently been explosive because of their coaching staff and because they have more talent than almost any other college program. The group is led by quarterback CJ Stroud, who picked up right where Justin Fields left off. Not only has Stroud produced big numbers in college, but he’s also a legit NFL prospect in 2023. He’ll be throwing to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a future top-15 pick in his own right. The biggest question will be the receivers behind him. Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka all have a chance to stake their claim to a job for 2022.
The only guy who matters for the Buckeyes at RB is TreVeyon Henderson. We can debate whether he’s the best back in college or not, but at worst, he’s top-3 as a true freshman. He should have a big day against Utah. Tavion Thomas has been a revelation for the Utes on the opposite side of things. What he lacks in long speed, he makes up for in vision and physicality. He’s been one of the leading scorers in the country, despite not seizing the job until midway through the season.
Allstate Sugar Bowl 8:45pm EST on ESPN
Baylor Bears v. Ole Miss Rebels
The main draw in this game is Ole Miss QB, Matt Corral. He may be the top offensive player taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, but he still opted to play this game. Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond are both strong receiving options for him and intriguing as NFL draft picks. Drummond especially has proven himself this year. He can reach over 1,000 receiving yards and earned an appearance in the Senior Bowl. I don’t love the rushing options for Ole Miss, but the Rebels will need Jerrion Ealy to continue his hot streak for Ole Miss to win.
There are not a ton of options on Baylor that are exciting. Receiver Tyquan Thornton rebounded nicely in 2021 after a down year in 2020, and he’s headed to the NFL this offseason. Running back Abram Smith has also received buzz this year. After spending a year as a linebacker, Smith returned as a running back and was one of the top backs in the Big 12. He’s another guy headed to the Senior Bowl. Draft capital will be critical for his value moving forward.
TaxAct Texas Bowl January 4th @ 9pm EST on ESPN
LSU Tigers v. Kansas State Wildcats
This Bowl has the odd date in the schedule, but we will preview it here. LSU is in a huge transition phase, with questions at virtually every position offensively. The talent is certainly there, though, and we just won’t know how new Head Coach Brian Kelly views these guys until next season.
The Tigers have three quarterbacks that will face off for the job in 2022. Myles Brennan decided to return for another year at LSU, and he will compete with Garrett Nussmeier and highly-rated freshman Walker Howard for that job. I’m skeptical that Kelly will start a true freshman at QB, so look for one of Brennan or Nussmeier to be the man in 2022.
LSU is just as unsettled at the skill positions. Running back Tyrion Davis-Price announced that he’s headed to the NFL, so we should get to see some freshmen compete for the job. Corey Kiner is my favorite, but Armoni Goodwin is also an option. With no notable RB recruits coming to LSU this year, the job should come down to a battle between those two.
There is no Kayshon Boutte in this one (and he recently announced he’s back at LSU in 2022), but the room is still crowded behind him. Chris Hilton, Brian Thomas Jr., Malik Nabers, Jack Bech, and Deion Smith are all more than capable and should all play roles in 2022.
Kansas State’s discussion starts and ends with Deuce Vaughn. He’s extremely undersized, but it hasn’t mattered for him so far. He has almost 1,700 scrimmage yards this season. Can he make it to the NFL? Maybe, but we can enjoy his collegiate dominance without worrying about that at this stage.