Georgia Bulldogs (1) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (4):
The Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State Buckeyes will face off against each other in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The game will kick off at 5 pm Pacific time on New Year’s Eve.
The Bulldogs have been number one in the AP Top 25 for nearly every week of this year’s college football season. Coming off a National Championship win last year over the Alabama Crimson Tide, many thought the Bulldogs would struggle to find the same success this year because of all of the talent they lost to the NFL draft. Out of the first-round draft picks, the Bulldogs lost 5 players in the draft, including first-overall pick Travon Walker who is now a player for the Jacksonville Jaguars on the defensive side of the ball. Instead, the Bulldogs continued their winning habits and finished the season with an undefeated record and as Southeastern Conference (SEC) Champions.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV continued his solid play this season and built on his comeback story. Bennett IV was even named a Heisman finalist for his leadership and steady play. The Bulldogs, led by Head Coach Kirby Smart, had a trio of wins by a comfortable margin that bolstered them to the top spot in the polls by the end of the year.
With a 49-3 win over the Oregon Ducks to open the year, a 27-13 win over Tennessee who was ranked number one in the AP Top 25 at one point in time, and a convincing 50-30 win over LSU to win the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs have proved themselves time and time again.
The Bulldogs’ biggest game of the season up to this point will be against the Buckeyes in Atlanta, Georgia. While labeled a neutral site, this game will bring quite the home-field advantage for the Bulldogs as the stadium is just over a 70-mile drive from the University of Georgia Campus in Athens. For context, Ohio State University is over 550 miles away. The Bulldogs hope to build off of this “home crowd” and the success they have garnered over the course of the season to boost them to a National Championship appearance.
The Buckeyes have had an excellent season, but one week left a blemish on their record. Up to their home match against Michigan, the Buckeyes were undefeated and found themselves in the upper echelon of the AP Top 25 rankings every week. That all changed when they found themselves on the wrong end of a 22-point blowout.
This embarrassment pushed the Buckeyes out of the playoff momentarily. At the five spot heading into championship weekend, the Buckeyes in no sense of the word controlled their own destiny as they didn’t qualify for the Big-10 Championship. They needed a loss from the USC Trojans in the PAC-12 Championship because, at that point, they had hold of the four seed. The Buckeyes got what they needed after USC squandered an early 14-point lead and lost to the Utah Utes.
To the dismay of the Trojans, Ohio State regained their position in the top four later that week as they were announced as the final team to sneak into the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes could prove to be a dangerous team once they make it into the Playoff because — barring the one embarrassment against Michigan — they have had an excellent season.
The quarterback to wide receiver connection that CJ Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr. have had thus far has been nearly unstoppable. Heisman finalist CJ Stroud has had 37 passing touchdowns with 3,340 passing yards as well. Harrison Jr. also filled up the stat sheet this year with over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns receiving. Thanks to their offensive explosiveness, this is the Buckeyes’ fifth College Football Playoff appearance since it was introduced nearly ten years ago. The Buckeyes hope to build off of that experience and return back to their winning habits.
Brett: Each of these programs has seen a lot of success in recent years and both sides have a lot of experience in the College Football Playoff under the bright lights. I do expect the Bulldogs to win by a score of 45-28 since I don’t see the Buckeyes’ defense showing the ability to slow down the Bulldogs’ potent offense.
Brooks: These might be the two best programs in the country, but while Ohio State has an incredible offense, Georgia is a juggernaut on offense and defense. They’ve already shown the ability to shut down top offenses, and that’s why I have the Bulldogs winning 33-23.
Michigan Wolverines (2) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (3):
For this year’s Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, the Michigan Wolverines and TCU Horned Frogs will be battling it out in State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona for a spot in the National Championship.
The Wolverines have been dominant the entire season, and no game was a better example of that than their 45-23 beat down over the Ohio State Buckeyes. Up to that point in the season, experts had been dismissive of the Wolverines because of their weak strength of schedule. They had only played against one ranked team before the matchup in Columbus.
Something to keep an eye on as this game progresses is the running game of the Wolverines. They will be without their star running back Blake Corum, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury that prompted surgery. Corum has been a star for the Wolverines this year with nearly 1500 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage. In his absence, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh will need strong and reliable production from sophomore Donovan Edwards. Edwards has proven that he can handle the backfield to himself, rushing for 185 yards and scoring a touchdown in the Wolverines’ rout of Purdue in the Big-10 Championship.
The two-seeded Wolverines will need another strong performance from Edwards against the Horned Frogs’ defense in order to give their offense another dimension. At the moment, the Wolverines are a touchdown-plus favorite, as they look to continue their victorious streak against a stout Horned Frogs side.
The Horned Frogs are led by standout quarterback Max Duggan, who has had an excellent year. Duggan, who won the Davey O’Brien award as the best passer in college football, has put up outstanding numbers this year with 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns. Prior to this year, Duggan had never had a season with over 20 touchdown passes. Up until early December, Duggan and the Horned Frogs hadn’t lost a game this season with a 12-0 record.
They lost in the Big-12 Championship game against the Kansas State Wildcats in overtime, but the committee decided to keep them at the number three spot, thanks in large part to the strength of schedule and the dominance they had displayed earlier in the season. The Horned Frogs started off the season not being ranked and it took until week six for them to be recognized in the AP top 25.
As the season progressed, Head Coach Sonny Dykes led the Horned Frogs to their first College Football Playoff appearance, making them the first school from Texas to get to the Playoff. The Horned Frogs came close in 2014 but were amongst the first two out of the bracket.
With the support of Duggan and Dykes, the Horned Frogs look to hand Michigan their first loss of the season and clinch their spot in the National Championship.
Brett: As I look at this matchup, I believe that the Wolverines’ power on both sides of the ball will be too much to handle for the Horned Frogs. The Horned Frogs showed some defensive holes in the Big-12 Championship, which Michigan should be able to take advantage of. I think Michigan will win the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl by a score of 34-20 and advance to the National Championship.
Brooks: TCU has had a Cinderella run to the playoff this year. However, this will be the game where the clock strikes midnight for the Horned Frogs. Michigan simply has too much talent on both sides of the ball. I have the Wolverines winning this one 30-13.