12:00pm ET, ESPN2
Really interesting game kicking things off right now.
It was obviously a disappointing year in Ann Arbor with four losses after that big season-opening win over Florida. With the news that Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson will transfer to Michigan after the season, they’ve filled the biggest roster issue moving forward. They still need to wait and see if the NCAA will allow him to play in 2018 or if he needs to sit out a year, a decision expected to come in the next two months. For now, they’re thin on exiting NFL talent. DT Maurice Hurst is the headline prospect, but Los Angeles Rams fans will be more interested in C Mason Cole.
For the Cocks, it’s about Head Coach Will Muschamp and the program. South Carolina hit 8 wins for the first time since 2013. Of course, there was a similar second-year bump for Muschamp at Florida that petered out thereafter, but there’s reason to buy into a legitimate ascendancy for the southern USC. The defensive recruits have been pouring in more heavily, but it’s the offensive talent coming out that will excite NFL fans. WR Deebo Samuel and TE Hayden Hurst are going to be all over boards on Day 2.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
12:30pm ET, ESPN
What a season for UCF and Head Coach Scott Frost. Pretty cool that he’s sticking around to coach this one for the Knights before taking over at Nebraska in 2018. For NFL talent though outside of S Shaquem Griffin, there’s not much. That only underscores the job Frost did this year.
Auburn is a horse of a different color. They’ve got tons of NFL talent. And they were very close to being in the national playoff mix with just three losses all year: a close loss to Clemson, a close loss to LSU and a less-than-close loss to Georgia. None were all that egregious. Together, they were enough to keep Auburn out. RB Kerryon Johnson leads the draft board, but G Braden Smith will impress and QB Jarrett Stidham has a lot of traits NFL offices covet. And CB Carlton Davis could be a riser if he declares.
#14 Notre Dame vs. #17 LSU
Citrus Bowl presented by Overton's
1:00pm ET, ABC
Heading into November, Notre Dame carried just one loss: a one-point downer to Georgia. Then the Irish got whooped by Miami and stuttered against a talented Stanford team leaving their season looking much worse by season’s end than it did not long ago. There’s top billers coming out of South Bend this year. OT Mike McGlinchey and G Quenton Nelson could both be top 10 picks. And DT Jerry Tillery is headed our way with strong NFL-level skills.
And poor LSU. They keep filling their roster with ridiculously talented players and they keep...not winning. How did this team lose by 20 to Mississippi St.? How did they lose to Troy?! And how did they do both of those and not fire Head Coach Ed Orgeron? Plenty to pull from in Baton Rouge. RB Derrius Guice is lightning in a bottle when healthy. CB Kevin Tolliver is the latest in a long line of tall, very clean corners coming out of LSU. WR D.J. Chark might have played his way into the middle of the draft. G Will Clapp will make a roster. But the discussion around DE Arden Key, perhaps the most naturally gifted pass rusher in the draft with perhaps the longest list of behavioral concerns, will be one that front offices will contend with throughout the period.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual
5:00pm ET, ESPN
And here’s where the big ones start.
LB Roquan Smith might be the best college defender in 2017, but he won’t be the top defensive prospect. He’ll still be first-round material nonetheless. RB Nick Chubb has followed in the footsteps of RB Todd Gurley admirably. LB Lorenzo Carter has had a nice 2017 season that could help him creep toward Day 2 as has OL Isaiah Wynn.
For OU, it starts with QB Baker Mayfield, but they have a ton of NFL talent too. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if LT Orlando Brown hears his name called before his quarterback. OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is made for a 3-4 defense, but he’s not premier stock. He should get a Day 2 call. And TE Mark Andrews certainly had a breakout season. If he has a strong playoff run, he might even climb high into Day 2 discussions.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
8:45pm ET, ESPN
Ah, Bama-Clemson. An annual tradition...for the last three years.
As always, Bama’s stacked with NFL defenders. DB Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the “best” prospect in the entire draft. S Ronnie Harrison will get a lot of comparisons to Rams LB Mark Barron. LB Rashaan Evans is a hoss. DT Da’Ron Payne will be a starter in the NFL. CB Anthony Averett isn’t impressive in stature, but he’s really athletic and well-coached (obviously). He did sprain his ankle getting off the team bus (omen?) so he might not be 100% tonight. DL Da’Shawn Hand is an impressive physical specimen, but his game was really slow to develop in Tuscaloosa. And they’ve got some offense sprinkled in. WR Calvin Ridley is first-round caliber. And RB Bo Scarbrough is not fun to tackle. Can he sniff the first round?
For Clemson, it all starts with the defensive line. DE Clelin Ferrell, DE Austin Bryant and DT Christian Wilkins . Could they all hit the first round? OT Mitch Hyatt is one of those guys I have a really bad feel for. Is he late first-round material? Could he slip all the way to the back of Day 2? And man, WR Deon Cain has the build physically, but his game never really materialized. And I’m including prior to 2017 when DeShaun Watson was quarterbacking things. Yes, WR Mike Williams took much of the focus away from Cain until this year, but he just didn’t shine. Is he worth a Day 2 shot
As for the playoff battles themselves, they should both be really fun. The matchup between OU’s offense and Georgia’s defense is football porn.
Freshman QB Jake Fromm has had a hell of a season. Expected to backup Jacob Eason who was one of the top 2016 recruits, Fromm took over in Week 1 when Eason suffered a knee injury. Things will get very interesting in the offseason with QB Justin Fields, perhaps the top prospect in the country at any position, coming to Athens...but there’s still football for UGA.
For Oklahoma, they come down to their O-line and corners for me. The O-line is one of the best in the country and have been waiting for this opportunity since getting blown out by Clemson in the playoff semifinals two years ago. The corners? They were still in high school.
The X-factor could well be coaching. You’ve got two young coaches who learned at the hands of some of the sport’s best: Georgia HC Kirby Smart who spent nearly a decade as the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban and Lincoln Riley who provided offensive knowhow for Bob Stoops.
Bama-Clemson? A bit less interesting on the merits, but a fitting third meeting.
DeShaun Watson is gone and Clemson has a national championship in the books to show for it. How do they gear up for this run in his absence? The defense is better (much better?), but they had Watson and ILB Ben Boulware to come up with big moments when they needed them most. Who’s going to deliver in similar situations this year? If you’re selling me QB Kelly Bryant, I’m not sure that I’m buying...
As for Alabama, we finally saw some of the luster start to come off, which is kind of silly given that they were undefeated heading into the final game of the regular season, but that’s the bar they’ve set for themselves. QB Jalen Hurts had a solid albeit unspectacular season which is about what I’d guess Saban wants from the position. The offensive line, though, was perhaps the worst on the performance level that we’ve seen in the last maybe decade from Alabama. And the pass rush certainly wasn’t great. Going off of recruiting alone, we’ve seen a decline from Alabama the last two years. They’re on the precipice of a big drop on that front this year. Would a loss propel them into a new era of simply being really good instead of the spectacular brand of football we’re used to? Would it be the spark Saban & Co. would need to rev the engine? Or would a win do just that in its stead?
Time to see who heads to the national championship next Monday in Atlanta.