Bowl season is upon us. As we look forward to the 40 games that dot the schedule over the final two weeks of 2015 and first two days on 2016, here are some of the biggest questions facing the college football world. Our respondents are Joe Boozell, Tyler Greenawalt, Courtney Martinez, Eric Vander Voort and Austin Vaughn.
1. Which individual/unit matchup will have the biggest impact on the College Football Playoff semifinals?
Joe Boozell: Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson against the Oklahoma offensive line. Baker Mayfield is elusive in the pocket, but Lawson’s combination of speed, strength and motor is on another level. The Sooners will need to keep him out of the backfield if they want to have a chance to win.
Tyler Greenawalt: The quarterback duel of Watson versus Mayfield offers the most intriguing matchup, but Henry versus the Spartan front seven will impact the semifinals the most because it will be Henry’s biggest challenge this year. Michigan State is the seventh-best run defense in the nation, and the Spartans have the best chance of upsetting the Crimson Tide if they can contain Henry.
Courney Martinez: I’m interested to see Alabama’s passing game against Michigan State’s secondary. The Spartans struggled in their first nine games and gave up at least 300 passing yards in four of those games, including the loss to Nebraska. But they have only given up 185 yards per game and total of four pass touchdowns to finish the season. So I will be curious to which secondary will show up against Jake Coker and Calvin Ridley, who have been explosive lately.
Eric Vander Voort: Derrick Henry is going to get his carries, and he's going to get his yards. What will make or break that game for the Spartans is how Connor Cook fares against the Alabama secondary. Remember, this is a team that had three pick-sixes in a single game against Texas A&M, and its 16th in the country in passing yards allowed. Cook and his receiving corps, especially Aaron Burbridge, will have to be clicking.
Austin Vaughn: The quarterback matchup in the Orange Bowl will be the most exciting thing on New Years Eve. Watson’s thrown for 100 more yards, has a higher completion percentage and ran for 467 more yards than Mayfield. However, it was Mayfield who led his team to strong wins over some of the best teams in the FBS in the crucible that was the Big 12’s November. Meanwhile, Clemson struggled to put away the likes of Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina. But, Clemson did put them away. Staying undefeated, no matter how you do it, is a feat. Both of these teams rely heavily on quarterback play, and whoever wins the battle of Mayfield vs. Watson will punch their ticket to Tempe.
2. What is the best game outside of the New Year’s Six?
JB: Give me Oregon vs. TCU. The Ducks have one of the best offenses in the nation with Vernon Adams healthy, and you know Trevone Boykin will want to impress in his last college game.
TG: The Alamo Bowl features two teams trending in opposite directions in No. 15 Oregon and No. 11 TCU. The Ducks have won their last six games after a disappointing first half of the season, while TCU has floundered after an 8-0 start to the year.
EV: The best and most entertaining bowl games aren't always between the best teams. I can't wait to see Georgia Southern take on Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl on Dec. 23. Georgia Southern tops the nation with a whopping 355.6 rush yards per game. Bowling Green QB Matt Johnston leads the country with 4,700 total passing yards. The contrast in styles should be so fun to watch, and expect to see a lot of points.
AV: Harbaugh. McElwain. Son of Schembechler. Student of Saban. Big Ten. SEC. The Citrus Bowl offers an exciting matchup between two first-year head coaches who exceeded expectations. And, both programs should expect even more success as the programs get settled into their new eras. But, what fans should expect immediately, is Harbaugh’s first bowl win leading the Maize and Blue.
3. What is your bold prediction for bowl season?
JB: Leonard Fournette breaks Samaje Perine’s FBS record of 427 rushing yards in one game. Angry Fournette (wasn’t invited to the Heisman ceremony) plus Texas Tech run defense equals lots and lots of yards.
TG: BYU will finish the 2015 season as it started it: with a big win over a Power Five school, this time over No. 22 Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
CM: Despite it being left out of the playoff, the Pac-12 will come away with the best bowl record out of the Power Five conferences.
EV: Michigan State will beat Alabama. The Spartans have shown they can beat good teams in close games. They have the defense to at least slow down Derrick Henry. Alabama, on the other hand, lost to the best team they played in Ole Miss, and I think they took advantage of a down year in the SEC. Hey, the Big Ten stunned the Tide last year. Why not again?
AV: Houston 52, Florida State 17. Only one of these teams deserves to be in a New Years Six bowl, and it's not the one from the Power Five conference. Sure, the Seminoles only have two losses, but the other one was to 3-9 Georgia Tech. And yes, it was a dramatic last-second loss, but the Yellow Jackets other wins came from Alcorn State and Tulane; yet, they were able to keep a Top 10 team under 17 points? Meanwhile, Houston shut out an SEC team and defeated Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals. Honestly, Houston played much better football than the bottom half of most Power 5 conferences and probably could make it in the top half of some.