This is what you’ve been waiting for – it’s Saturday and you’re going to spend the afternoon and evening watching four teams vie for a place in the 2019-20 College Football Playoff National Championship.
Before the main attraction kicks off, keep in mind that there are two high-quality non-CFP contests on the college football bowl schedule worth watching, and both kickoff at Noon EST: the Camping World Bowl on ABC and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic over on ESPN.
Both CFP Playoff games air on ESPN, so once you tune in there is absolutely no reason to switch channels. First up, it’s the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at 4pm EST (No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU) and after that, at 8pm EST, it’s the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State).
I wish I could buy you a beer, friend. Enjoy!
Saturday, Dec. 28
CAMPING WORLD BOWL
(15) NOTRE DAME (10-2) vs. IOWA STATE (7-5) – Big 12 vs. Independent – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – Noon EST – ABC
First year: 1990
Previous names: Blockbuster (1990-93), Carquest (1994-97), MicronPC (1998-2000), Tangerine (2001-03), Champs Sports (2004-11), Russell Athletic (2012-16)
Most appearances: NC State (3-2), Miami Fla. (3-2), West Virginia (0-5)
Last year: (17) Syracuse 34 – (15) West Virginia
Notre Dame is 18-19 in bowl play. It fell 30-3 to then (2) Clemson in last season’s Cotton Bowl/CFP Semi-Final. Its most recent win came in the 2017 Citrus Bowl when it edged then (16) LSU 21-17.
Iowa State is 4-10 in bowl action. It lost 28-26 to then (12) Washington State in last year’s Alamo Bowl. The previous season, in 2017, it bested then (19) Memphis 21-20 in the Liberty Bowl.
This is the first-ever football meeting between Notre Dame and Iowa State.
Line: Notre Dame -5.5
In a Saturday filled with much more meaningful action, don’t sleep on this one – the No. 9 passing attack in the Americas (Iowa State) trying to move the ball against the No. 3 pass defense in the nation (Notre Dame). Where the Cyclones have thrown for 300-plus yards on seven occasions this season, the Irish have held opponents to fewer than 155 air yards eight times. Only Clemson and Ohio State have allowed less. On the flip side, the common offensive thread in Notre Dame’s two losses this season is rushing yards. The Irish were held to 46 and 47 yards respectively at Georgia and at Michigan – also the only sub-100-yard performances in 2019. Iowa State is currently No. 34 vs. the run – compare that to the Bulldogs’ No. 3 ranking and the Wolverine’s No. 23 mark.
Players to Watch
Notre Dame: senior RB Tony Jones Jr. (#6) and senior QB Ian Book (#12) (combined they’ve rushed for 1,238 yards and nine TDs)
Iowa State: sophomore QB Brock Purdy (#15) (No. 5 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
Goodyear COTTON BOWL CLASSIC
(17) MEMPHIS (12-1, AAC champions) vs. (10) PENN STATE (10-2) – AAC vs. Big Ten – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas – Noon EST – ESPN
First year: 1937
Most appearances: Texas (11-10-1)
Last year (CFP Semifinal game): (2) Clemson 30 – (3) Notre Dame 3
Memphis is 4-7 in bowl play. It got nipped 37-34 by Wake Forest in last year’s Birmingham Bowl, also it’s fourth-consecutive bowl loss. The most recent win came in the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl, a 55-48 victory over BYU in double overtime. The Tigers have never beaten a current Power 5 member in a bowl game (0-3).
Penn State is 29-18-2 in bowl action. It got edged by then (16) Kentucky 27-24 in last season’s Citrus Bowl. Prior to that, it bested then (12) Washington 35-28 in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl.
This is Memphis and Penn State’s first-ever meeting in football. The Tigers are 0-4 all-time vs. the current membership of the Big Ten.
Line: Penn State -7
Another pre-Playoff sleeper on Saturday, the Cotton Bowl pits Memphis’ superior offense against Penn State’s elite defense and the Tigers’ average defense vs. the Nittany Lion’s decent offense. The most compelling matchup is Memphis’ No. 8 ranked scoring machine (averaging 40.5 points per game) vs. Penn State’s No. 7 ranked scoring D (giving up 14.1 points per game). On one hand, it’s a Tiger offense that scored 34 and 29 points respectively in back-to-back wins over (21) Cincinnati, owner of the best scoring D in the AAC which prior to that had given up and average of 19.9 points per game. On the flip side, it’s the same Nittany Lion defense that held (2) Ohio State – the No. 1 scoring offense in America, averaging 48.7 points per game – to a season low 28 points. The only defensive component Penn State’s defense has struggled with is vs. the pass (No. 76 in the FBS), which is precisely what Memphis has been successful doing (No. 26). Though there are lots of angles to this one, can the Tigers keep up with the Nittany Lions, especially without their head coach?
Due to the departure of Mike Norvell to Florida State, Ryan Silverfield has been promoted to the head coaching role at Memphis. His debut will come in the Cotton Bowl. Silverfield joined Norvell at Memphis in 2015, serving first as the offensive line coach and then as deputy head coach.
Players to Watch
Memphis: redshirt freshman RB Kenneth Gainwell (#19) (No. 14 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), junior QB Brady White (#3) (No. 9 in the FBS in passer rating), junior WR Damonte Coxie (#10) (No. 23 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), junior PK Riley Patterson (#36) (No. 9 in the FBS in field goal percentage)
Penn State: junior DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#99) (tied for No. 25 in the FBS in sacks), junior QB Sean Clifford (#14) (No. 28 in the FBS in passer rating)
Chick-fil-A PEACH BOWL – CFP Semifinal Game
(4) OKLAHOMA (12-1, Big 12 champions) vs. (1) LSU (13-0, SEC champions) – Big 12 vs. SEC – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Ga. – 4 pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1968
Previous names: Chick-fil-A (2006-13)
Most appearances: Clemson (3-5)
Last year: (10) Florida 41 – (8) Michigan 15
Oklahoma is 29-22-1 in bowl play. It fell 45-34 to then (1) Alabama in last season’s Orange Bowl/CFP Semifinal. The most recent win came in the 2016 Sugar Bowl, a 35-19 victory over then (17) Auburn. The Sooners have never won a CFP game, currently holding an 0-3 mark.
LSU is 26-23-1 in bowl action. It beat then (7) UCF 40-32 in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. This is the Tigers’ first-ever CFP appearance.
A rematch of the 2003/04 and 1949/50 Sugar Bowls, Oklahoma and LSU have only met twice in history with both teams being ranked in the Top Ten on each occasion. The Sooners won the first meeting 35-0 and the Tigers triumphed most recently 21-14.
Line: LSU -14
This one will likely come down to which defense can better contain the opposing elite offense. Oklahoma is No. 5 in scoring offense, No. 12 in rushing yards per game and No. 16 in passing yards per game. LSU is just as potent – No. 3 in scoring offense – but less balanced, No. 2 in passing offense vs. No. 62 in rushing. Neither defense has performed to the level of (2) Ohio State and (3) Clemson, but it could be argued that the Tigers and Sooners have been more severely tested defensively in 2019. LSU is ranked No. 27 in scoring D, No. 24 vs. the run and No. 56 vs. the pass. It gave up a season-high 400-plus passing yards and four passing TDs apiece to the two best passing attacks it played this year – Texas (No. 18 in passing offense) and (13) Alabama (No. 2 in passing). Oklahoma is No. 49 in scoring D, No. 32 vs. the run and No. 24 vs. the pass. Its worst outing of the season came vs. Iowa State, when it allowed a season-high 282 air yards and five passing TDs in a narrow 42-41 victory.
The other side of the equation is the quality of the defenses each prolific offense has faced this season. Where LSU has managed to score enough points to beat the likes of (9) Florida (ranked No. 8 in scoring D), (12) Auburn (No. 13 in scoring D), (13) Alabama (No. 15 in scoring D) and (5) Georgia (No. 2 in scoring D), Oklahoma’s best defensive opponents in 2019 were (7) Baylor (No. 16 in scoring D) and Iowa State (No. 28 in scoring).
Oklahoma’s defense has certainly performed better this season, but LSU’s offense has blown up some of the best defenses in the country.
Players to Watch
Oklahoma: senior QB Jalen Hurts (#1) (No. 3 in the FBS in passer rating, No. 17 in passing yards per game and No. 7 in rushing TDs), junior WR CeeDee Lamb (#2) (No. 11 in the FBS in receiving yards per game and tied for No. 3 in receiving TDs), junior LB Kenneth Murray (#9) (tied for No. 20 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)
LSU: senior QB Joe Burrow (#9) (No. 1 in the FBS in passing TDs and No. 2 in both passing yards per game and passer rating), sophomore WR Ja’Marr Chase (#1) (No. 1 in the FBS in receiving yards per game and receiving TDs), junior RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (#22) (No. 11 in the FBS in rushing TDs – a “game-time decision” after suffering a hamstring injury), freshman CB Derek Stingley Jr. (#24) (tied for No. 5 in the FBS in interceptions)
PlayStation FIESTA BOWL – CFP Semifinal Game
(3) CLEMSON (13-0, ACC champions) vs. (2) OHIO STATE (13-0, Big Ten champions) – ACC vs. Big Ten – State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. – 8pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1971
Most appearances: Ohio State (5-3)
Last year: (11) LSU 40 – (7) UCF 32
CLEMSON is 24-20 in bowl play. After beating then (3) Notre Dame 30-3 in last year’s Cotton Bowl/CFP Semifinal it most recently destroyed then (1) Alabama 44-16 in the 2018 CFP National Championship. The Tigers are 5-2 in CFP appearances.
OHIO STATE is 25-25 in bowl action. It nipped then (9) Washington 28-23 in last season’s Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes are 2-1 in CFP play.
A rematch of the 2016 Fiesta Bowl/CFP Semifinal, the 2013/14 Orange Bowl and the 1978 Gator Bowl, Clemson has never lost to Ohio State (3-0). The last time the two met was also the last time the Buckeyes appeared in the CFP bracket – a 31-0 shutout loss to the Tigers.
Line: Clemson -3
On paper, these are the two best teams in college football. Each is ranked in the Top Ten in every major statistical category except for passing offense – Clemson is No. 20 nationally in passing yards per game while Ohio State is No. 41. Other than that, it’s as elite as it gets – The Tigers’ No. 4 ranked scoring offense squaring off with the Buckeyes’ No. 2 ranked scoring defense and Ohio State’s No. 1 ranked scoring offense taking on Clemson’s No. 1 ranked scoring defense.
The bigger question is – who did each team earn its statistical achievements against and how will their numbers hold up against the best opponent they’ve faced this season?
What if I told you that of the 12 FBS teams that Clemson’s faced this season, NOT ONE is ranked better than No. 35 nationally is scoring offense or defense? The best defense the Tigers (again, they’re No. 4 in scoring) have faced in 2019 is Texas A&M, currently No. 36 in scoring D. Beyond that, five of the defenses Clemson has faced are ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in scoring. On the other side of the ball, the best offense the Tigers’ D (ranked No. 1 in scoring) has had to contend with is Wake Forest – No. 39 in scoring.
Ohio State, on the other hand, has been more severely tested this season. The Buckeyes’ No. 1 ranked scoring offense has faced three defenses ranked in the top 20 in scoring – (10) Penn State (No. 7 in scoring D), (8) Wisconsin (No. 10 in scoring D) (who OSU played twice) and (14) Michigan (No. 18 in scoring D). On the flip side, Ohio State’s stingy defense (again its No. 2 in scoring) shut down three offenses ranked in the top 25 in scoring – FAU (No. 16 in scoring offense), (8) Wisconsin (No. 21 in scoring) and (10) Penn State (No. 22 in scoring).
Logically speaking, Ohio State has earned its numbers against stiffer competition. But a weaker schedule doesn’t mean that Clemson is a weak team, a point which it proved by waltzing through last year’s CFP bracket, winning its two games by a combined score of 74-19.
Players to Watch
CLEMSON: junior RB Travis Etienne (#9) (No. 1 in the FBS in rushing yards per carry, No. 8 in rushing TDs and No. 10 in rushing yards per game), sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence (#16) (No. 7 in the FBS in passer rating), junior WR Tee Higgins (#5) (tied for No. 6 in the FBS in receiving TDs)
OHIO STATE: junior RB J.K. Dobbins (#2) (No. 4 in the FBS in rushing yards per game and No. 6 in rushing TDs), sophomore QB Justin Fields (#1) (No. 4 in the FBS in passer rating), junior DE Chase Young (#2) (No. 1 in the FBS in sacks and tied for No. 4 in tackles for a loss)