Bowl Game Previews: Notre Dame vs. Ohio St., Northwestern vs. Tennessee, Iowa vs. Stanford, Oklahoma St. vs. Ole Miss
BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl: #8 Notre Dame at#7 Ohio State
The #8 Fighting Irish were just six points short of a perfect season, suffering two-point losses to both #1 Clemson and #6 Stanford only to finish the season 10-2 – that’s what happens when you play the 8th-toughest schedule in the land. The #7 Ohio State Buckeyes came even closer to perfection, losing only in November to #3 Michigan State 17-14.
Ohio State’s star running back Ezekiel Elliott (1,672 yards, 19 TDs) was involved in a car accident that left one person with minor injuries. Elliott was cited for driving under suspension, driving without a license, and failure to control his car, according to ESPN, but his status for the game is unaffected.
The Irish’s offense features RB CJ Prosise and WR William Fuller, both of whom gained more than 1,000 yards this season, leading a unit that averaged 7.1 yards per play, making them the fifth best across the nation. The Buckeyes will counter with one of the best defenses in the NCAA, which has allowed the fifth-fewest yards per play at 4.4 and the second-fewest points per game at 14. Two of college football’s most storied programs, who both managed to fall short of a perfect, will meet for sixth time in history to put their explosive offense against a punishing defense, respectively, to the test.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: #5 Stanford at #6 Iowa
The #6 Stanford Cardinal managed to knock Notre Dame out of playoff contention with a dramatic 38-36 win, but had their own aspirations derailed with losses to Northwestern and Oregon. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan will join Ohio State’s Cornelius Greene (1974-1976) and Michigan’s Rick Leach (1977-1979) as just the third QB to start in three Rose Bowls. But, the star of the show for the Cardinal is Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey, who set the NCAA record for all purpose yards in a season with 3,496, besting the mark previously held by Barry Sanders. McCaffrey rushed for 1,847 yards, had 540 receiving yards, returned punts for 67 yards, and returned kickoffs for 1,042. Leading the charge for McCaffrey has been Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett, who turned heads earlier this season by tossing a pass rusher to the ground before making his way up the field to flatten a cornerback, allowing his receiver to gain an extra five yards–it’s kinda nuts.
The #5 Iowa Hawkeyes gave fans something to think about – other than the tsunami of campaigning that hits the area every four years – by shattering their perfect record against Michigan State 16-13. Led by head coach Kirk Ferentz, winner of the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, Iowa’s defense allowed the 13th-fewest points and 21st-fewest yards per game this season. Defensive back Desmond King is a Consensus All-American, whose eight interceptions were the second most in the NCAA. Iowa’s offense isn’t explosive, but they take very good care of the ball, averaging just a turnover a game. QB C.J. Beathard posted a 139.6 quarterback rating, thanks largely to 15 TDs versus just four interceptions.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: #13 Oklahoma State at #16 Ole Miss
Oklahoma State had been cruising along at 10-0, peaking at #4 in the rankings before finishing the season with back-to-back losses to Baylor and Oklahoma; the defense collapsed in the face of two top-10 teams as Baylor and Oklahoma combined for 103 points and 1,224 yards over the Cowboys.
Sophomore QB Mason Rudolph passed for 3,591 yards and 21 TDs, as he finished 6th in the nation with 9.1 yards per pass attempt with James Washington as his most dangerous target. Washington pulled in 52 passes for 1,077 yards, an average of 20.7 that ranked 10th overall this year. Altogether, the Oklahoma State offense averaged 41.2 points per game, placing them ninth in all the land. Despite the late-season troubles on the defensive unit, Emmanuel Ogbah was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, as he led the conference in tackles for loss, and sacks and was third in fumbles forced with a total of three.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly had a monster season two years after transferring from Clemson after his freshman year. Kelly completed 65% of his passes for 3,740 yards and 27 touchdowns as the Cowboys averaged 41.2 points and 489 yards a game. Kelly and Ole Miss climbed as high as 3rd in the polls after a 4-0 start, but lost three of their next six, falling to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas. While Kelly was his usual self during those three losses, in two of them the running game failed to show up, amassing 40 and 69 yards as the secondary broke down – Memphis and Arkansas completed 72 of 98 passes for 826 yards and 9 TDs. If that’s the defensive unit that shows up on New Year’s Day, Mason Rudolph will eat their lunch.