Following the first round of the college football playoffs last week, college bowl season continues on New Years’ Day with match-ups between teams that just missed out on those playoffs. That means all four games will be between highly-ranked teams and, by extension, feature a smorgasbord of next-level talent. This year, the group even includes perennial powerhouse Alabama.
So, as always, let’s talk about the games, leave questions on prospects and enjoy the weekend.
Both teams play a physical brand of football, and that is apparent in their NFL prospects. Auburn’s defensive line, featuring edge players Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson, are huge players but also surprisingly athletic. That also describes their defensive leader Derrick Brown, a massive 6’5”, 318-lb defensive tackle. Minnesota’s defensive line doesn’t have near that level of talent, but pass rusher Carter Coughlin could pose a threat to Auburn’s offense. On the other hand, Auburn’s left tackle is Prince Tega Wanogho, a second-day prospect in his own right. The Gophers may have to turn to the pass, and rely on their do-it-all receiver Tyler Johnson.
It’s almost impossible to list out every NFL prospect who will be playing in this match-up, but the biggest key to the game for both teams will be the play of their wide receivers. If the Wolverines’ pack of wideouts, including juniors Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black, prove more productive than Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, Michigan will have a chance. The problem is that Michigans’ receivers are facing a Tide secondary that includes man-cover corner Trevon Diggs and safety Xavier McKinney. If the secondary can hold up, Alabama pass rusher Anfernee Jennings.
This may be the last time quarterback Justin Herbert suits up for the Ducks, as he is sure to declare early and enter the draft. He’ll be protected by an offensive line that features various mid-round prospects including tackle Calvin Throckmorton and guard Shane Lemieux. Herbert will be throwing to one of the more physical receivers in the nation in Juwan Johnson, who is averaging 57 yards a game since coming back to the team in October. Attempting to chase down Herbert will be Wisconsin’s pair pass rushers Zack Baun and Cris Orr, both of whom finished the regular season with more than 11 sacks. The Badgers’ offense is all about the ground game, though, with tailback Jonathan Taylor. Taylor is both big and surprisingly fast in a straight line.
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor
8:45 PM Eastern, ESPN
With a younger defense, Georgia’s NFL prospects mostly hail from the offensive side of the ball this year. Offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson ensure that quarterback Jake Fromm has a clean pocket most times, while running back D’Andre Swift is an elite check-down option in the passing game and a speedy runner with the ball in his hand at all times. Baylor’s challenge will be slowing down, or even stopping, Swift with the help of their beefy defensive line. The leader of that unit is James Lynch, an almost 300-lb defensive end who somehow has 12 sacks on the season. The other asset Baylor has is receiver Denzel Mims, a Senior Bowl participant, who no doubt hopes to raise his stock against some big competition.