College Football expert, savant, and ATN Contributor, Joe Lisi gets you all set for New Year’s Day with previews, analysis, and predictions for the first five Bowl Games of 2018.
South Carolina vs Michigan:
Line: Michigan: -7.5
South Carolina has fired their co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper prior to this game. Brian McClendon (co-coordinator) will be calling this game solely for the Gamecocks heading into this contest against the Wolverines.
South Carolina struggled stretching teams vertically over the past four games of 2017. On the year, the offense averaged 219 passing yards per game, but managed 199 passing yards per game during the last four games of the regular season. The offense struggled every time the unit failed to rush for over 100 yards and was 1-4 in those games, losing by an average margin of 13.7 points per game.
Defensively, the Gamecocks were 0-4 every time they allowed opposing offenses to rush for over 180 yards per game and lost those games by 13.7 points per game.
That will be the key in the Outback Bowl against very blue-collar, Michigan offensive and defensive lines.
The Wolverines are averaging 186 rushing yards per game in 2017 and were 6-0 every time the offense rushed for over 190 yards per game. The Wolverines won those games by 17.5 points per game.
Defensively, Michigan has one of the best statistical defenses in FBS. The Wolverines enter this contest allowing 125 rushing yards per game and only 145 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks. The unit has recorded 39 total sacks and is holding opposing offenses to 27% on their third down attempts.
The ability to run the football and force South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley (16 TD’s, 11 INT’s) into third down and long situations will be the key to a dominant Wolverine victory over the Gamecocks.
Michigan 37 South Carolina 20
UCF vs. Auburn
Line: Auburn -9.5
UCF enters this contest undefeated and looking for respect against a heavy SEC opponent in the Auburn Tigers.
Scott Frost and his staff will be coaching in this game and will look to challenge an Auburn secondary that is allowing 177 passing yards per game.
Quarterback Mackenzie Milton has completed 69% of his passes for 3,795 yards with 35 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
UCF is rushing for 201 yards per game and is passing for 339 yards per game in 2017.
Defensively, the Knights are allowing 165 rushing yards per game and 262 passing yards per game. The unit has one of the best turnover margins in FBS and enters this contest at +15 in turnover margin. The weakness of the unit has been in run support over the last three games and they must contain the speed of Auburn on the perimeter.
Auburn enters this game with a balanced offense that is rushing for 228 yards per game and passing for 225 yards per game. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has completed 66% of his passes for 2,827 yards with 17 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Auburn was 8-0 in 2017 when they were able to rush for over 200 yards per game and won those games by an average margin of 28.6 points per game.
Running back Kerryon Johnson should be completely healthy for this game and look for him to wear down a smaller defensive front in UCF. Johnson led the Tigers with 1,320 yards averaging 5.2 yards per carry with a team leading 17 rushing touchdowns.
Auburn has the ability to play man to man coverage and force Milton into short throws underneath coverage. The unit has recorded 36 sacks as a defensive unit in 2017. Auburn enters this game holding opposing offenses to 32% on third down conversions.
Auburn 45 UCF 31
LSU vs. Notre Dame
Line: LSU -3.0
LSU was 4-2 on the road this season and played a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts (recorded 6 sacks in Tuscaloosa 24-10 loss). The Tigers have stepped up against mobile quarterbacks in recent years, especially in last year’s dominant bowl win over Lamar Jackson (Citrus Bowl).
LSU enters this game with a balanced offense that is rushing for 210 yards per game and is passing for 201 yards per game. Quarterback Danny Etling will be making his last collegiate start and look for him to be focused and prepared in this contest.
Etling completed 60% of his passes for 2, 234 yards with 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Running back Derius Guice and Darryl Williams could be huge factors in wearing down the Notre Dame front seven in this contest. Both players have combined for 20 rushing touchdowns in 2017.
Defensively, the Tigers are holding opposing offenses to 126 rushing yards per game and only 185 passing yards per game. The unit has recorded 35 total sacks and is +8 in turnover margin entering this game.
LSU has the ability to run sideline to sideline against Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
Wimbush has struggled when teams force him to pass in the pocket and make his reads and progressions. He has competed only 49% of his passes for 1818 yards with 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Notre Dame was 3-2 on the road in 2017 and lost both of those games to Miami and Stanford by 25.5 points per game.
Notre Dame is rushing for 279 yards per game and is passing for 175 yards per game.
Defensively, the unit is allowing 153 rushing yards per game and is giving up 213 passing yards to opposing offenses.
This is a rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl in which the Fighting Irish won 31-28.
LSU’s defensive speed will be the difference and Tiger’s head coach Ed Orgeron has shown an ability to motivate his team in a bowl scenario. The Tigers secondary will force Wimbush into critical mistakes and look for the Tigers front seven to take over the game.
LSU 28 Notre Dame 17
Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Line: Georgia -1.5
Georgia enters this game with a 6-1 road record this year while Oklahoma is 7-0 on the road in 2017.
The Bulldogs have been able to run the football consistently behind a very physical offensive line that is averaging 263 rushing yards per game. Georgia has utilized play action with quarterback Jake Fromm (63%, 2,173 yds, 21 TD’s) and is averaging 170 passing yards per game.
The Bulldogs have converted 47% of their third down attempts and will look to sustain drives against the Oklahoma defense to keep Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (71%, 4,340 yds, 41 TD’s) on the sidelines.
Georgia has four solid running backs in Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, De’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield that allow the Bulldogs to have “fresh legs” in the backfield at all times. All four backs can catch the football out of the backfield and can put pressure on the Sooners defense on the perimeter in the short to intermediate passing game versus linebackers and nickel backs.
Swift has come on in recent weeks averaging over 9.0 yards per carry the last three games while Michel can be utilized in the Wildcat or slot formation.
West Virginia utilized the “Wildcat” formation later in the season against Oklahoma and rushed for 251 yards on the Sooners in the loss. However, Georgia has much better personnel to run the scheme against the Sooners front seven.
Defensively, Georgia is allowing 112 rushing yards per game and is holding opposing offenses to 158 passing yards per game. The unit is holding opposing offenses to 33% on their third down attempts and is +5 in turnover margin.
Oklahoma will look to force the tempo against Georgia and force them into a high scoring game which will put pressure on the Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm (freshman).
The Sooners are rushing for 215 yards per game and are passing for 367 yards per game. The offense is converting 43% of their third downs and will look to spread the Bulldogs defense to open up running lanes for running backs Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and Adbul Adams (16 rushing touchdowns in 2017).
The key will be the edge rushers for Georgia in creating pressure on Baker Mayfield and the offensive line of the Sooners. Lorenzo Carter, Jay Bellamy and Roquan Smith are utilized in multiple blitz packages by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and will challenge Mayfield to check down into short throws.
Georgia 37 Oklahoma 24
Alabama vs. Clemson
Line: Alabama -3.0
Rematch of the last two National Championships (both teams won one game – Alabama 45-40 and Clemson 35-31).
Alabama’s offense struggled in the second half of the season and could be the key to the win in this contest with a long layoff.
In the first seven games of 2017, the Crimson Tide rushed for 302 yards per game with 24 rushing touchdowns (3.4 touchdowns per game).
In the last five games of 2017, the unit rushed for 213 yards per game (89.0 yards less per game) with 12 rushing touchdowns (2.4 touchdowns per game).
Alabama enters this game rushing for 265 yards per game and is passing for 200 yards per game with quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts has completed 60% of his passes for 1,940 yards with 15 touchdowns and one interception. He has played in this environment last season and has the edge over Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant in this contest.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide is holding opposing offenses to 94 rushing yards per game and is giving up 163 passing yards to opposing offenses. The unit has recorded 31 total sacks and is +12 in turnover margin entering this playoff game.
The unit has held opposing offenses to 32% on third downs this season.
A cause of concern over the last four games of 2017 was the unit’s inability to stop the run. During that span the unit allowed 149.5 rushing yards per game with 6 rushing touchdowns. The defense allowed 8 total rushing touchdowns all season long in 2017.
Alabama played two mobile quarterbacks in the SEC in 2017 in Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State). The Crimson Tide won both games by a total of 15 points or 7.5 points per game.
Clemson enters this game with a balanced offense, rushing for 204 yards per game and passing for 244 yards per game.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant will be the X-factor for the Tigers in this contest. On the year, Bryant has completed 67% of his passes for 2,678 yards with 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He has rushed for 646 yards averaging 6.4 yards per carry with 7 touchdowns.
Clemson has the offensive personnel to stretch Alabama’s defense vertically with wide receivers Deon Cain, Hunter Renfro and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Running back Travis Etienne has emerged as the leading rusher with over 700 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. He is tough inside runner that can also catch the football out of the backfield on swing passes and screens.
Defensively, the Tigers boast the best defensive front in college football that is allowing 112 rushing yards per game. Their ability to run sideline to sideline to contain Hurts could be the key to the Tigers win in this contest.
Clemson has faced four mobile quarterbacks this year in Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Josh Jackson (VA. Tech), Taquon Marshall (GT) and Malik Rosier (Miami). The Tigers were 4-0 in those games and won by an average margin of 22.2 points per game.
Clemson has recorded 44 total sacks and is holding opposing offenses to 27% on third down conversions. In last season’s title game, Hurts converted 2 of 15 third down attempts against the unit which allowed Clemson to win the field position battle in the second half last year.
Clemson is +5 in turnover margin while Alabama enters this game at +12 in turnover margin.
People forget that the defending national champs reside in the state of South Carolina and not Alabama. Clemson is the team that has also played in back to back title games and has made three straight CFP appearances.
Dabo Swinney has defeated teams like Alabama, Florida State, Louisville, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech over the past five seasons.
If anyone has recruited just like Alabama, it has been Clemson – especially on the defensive side of the football.
Clemson 38 Alabama 24
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