We look ahead to the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl…
THE Ohio State Buckeyes (6) vs Washington Huskies (9)
5:00 pm EST on ESPN/WatchESPN
In the spirit of complete transparency, I must inform you, the reader, I have been a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes since consciousness (I would listen to the Ohio State band tape on the way to preschool) and watched each and every one of their games this season (I even set an alarm to wake up at 9:00 am PST in Vegas to watch the Maryland game after going to bed five hours earlier). Thus, you will get an insider’s look at the skill players of the Scarlet & Gray in this preview.
The level of talent on Ohio State’s roster is easily top three in the country, but the Buckeyes haven’t consistently played to their potential in 2018. It’s infuriating to watch the same team who lit up the scoreboard for 62 points against the nation’s second-ranked defense (2,588 days and counting) not only struggle but get dominated by an average Purdue squad. The loss in West Lafayette is the only blemish on OSU’s record (12-1) this season; however, additional unimpressive performances against Maryland, Nebraska, and Minnesota resulted in a final fifth place CFB playoff ranking behind a more deserving Oklahoma team. Oh wait… that’s what SHOULD have happened. In reality, the Buckeyes finished sixth in the final rankings behind fifth place Georgia thanks to both the national media and committee’s undying love for the Confederacy Conference.
The Washington Huskies had College Football Playoff aspirations of their own coming into this season as they opened the season ranked sixth in the AP poll. Unfortunately, an opening game loss to Auburn coupled with October defeats at the hands of Oregon and Cal ended that dream. The Huskies have responded with four straight wins to close out the season including victories in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State and over Utah to win the PAC 12 title.
Let’s take a look at some of the key players in this matchup…
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Dwayne Haskins, OSU
Anyone watching ESPN’s coverage leading up to the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday, December 1st might have thought Haskins’ invitation was some sort of charitable act by the Heisman trust. All he did this season was break Big Ten records for both passing touchdowns (47) and yards (4,580) in a single season. Prior to this season, only one OSU quarterback had thrown for over 400 yards in a single game. The redshirt sophomore accomplished this feat five times in 2018 utilizing his rocket arm and ability to throw to a spot leading his receivers. Simply put, Dwayne Haskins is the greatest quarterback to ever don the Scarlet and Gray. Period.
This is likely the end of the road for the 6-3 signal caller in Columbus as he’s already received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board and now is likely to be the first quarterback off the board. Honestly, Haskins is showing his true dedication to his team as NOBODY would fault him for sitting out and preparing for the draft. Despite a stout Washington defense (15.5 points allowed per game), I still expect Haskins to bring some extra motivation into this contest. He’s playing his final game as a Buckeye, will be carrying a chip on his shoulder after being a Heisman afterthought, and will want to send his head coach into retirement on a winning note.
Jake Browning, WASH
The sixth-place finish in the 2016 Heisman trophy voting must seem like a lifetime ago for Browning. The senior signal-caller set career lows in both completions (334) and touchdown passes (16) in 2018. In fact, he was even benched during the game at Cal (an eventual upset loss for the then No. 15 Huskies) for poor play. The 2016 Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year will look to prove critics wrong regarding his arm strength and improve his current day three draft stock. Ohio State’s secondary is 83rd in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (239.8), meaning Browning should have an opportunity for success in the Rose Bowl.
Mike Weber, OSU
The number one recruit in that state up North in 2015, Weber bucked (pun intended) his in-state team to enroll at Ohio State. After a preseason injury cost him the entire 2015 campaign, Weber introduced himself to Buckeye Nation and the college football world in 2016 rushing for over 1,000 yards, scoring nine touchdowns, and appeared to be the next great running back in Columbus. Despite setting a career high in touchdowns (ten) his redshirt sophomore year, the last two seasons had to be considered somewhat of a disappointment for the Detroit native.
A cavalcade of injuries have not only cost Weber some of his athleticism, but opened the door for another (more on that in a moment) to usurp him on the depth chart. Still, Weber has already declared for the upcoming draft and, with his underrated receiving ability (53 career receptions), could be a middle-round sleeper come April.
JK Dobbins, OSU
Mike Weber’s statistical downturn over the last two seasons can be directly attributed with the arrival of J.K. Dobbins on campus. In fact, Dobbins had his backfield mate feeling like Wally Pipp as he ran for a school record debut 181 yards in prime time last August while Weber watched from the sidelines. The Texas native took control of the Buckeye backfield last season rushing for 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns. While this season saw his stats take a dip (223/1,029/9), Dobbins became the eighth Ohio State running back to tally 1,000 yards on the ground in a season twice. Yet, he’s the only one to accomplish this by his sophomore season.
The sophomore tailback will not be eligible for the NFL Draft until next season, but he will be one of the headliners in what looks to be a stacked 2020 running back class. Both Buckeye backs might find some initial tough sledding against Washington’s top 15 run defense and the winner of this matchup (Washington D vs OSU run game) may very well determine the winner of the game.
Myles Gaskin, WASH
Many were surprised last year when Gaskin, fresh off a 21 touchdown campaign in 2017, decided to return to Washington for his senior season instead of entering the draft. The Huskie back didn’t duplicate last year’s gaudy numbers, but did become the first running back to gain 1,000 yards on the ground in four consecutive seasons.
Gaskin’s biggest strengths are his vision and the uncanny ability to find extra yardage on runs, but lacks breakaway speed and is a bit on the small side (5-10, 193 lbs). The Huskie Senior will look to improve his day two draft stock against a below average (60th in rushing yards allowed per game) Buckeye run defense.
Parris Campbell, OSU
Clocked at a 4.26 (!) in the 40 yard dash as recently as this summer, Parris Campbell exemplifies the adage “You can’t teach speed.” However, what CAN be taught is how to run cleaner, crisper routes while expanding your route tree. The Akron native has worked hard to improve both this season thanks to the expert tutelage of new wide receivers coach Brian Hartline. Make no mistake, getting the ball in the speedster’s hands on reverses and screens is still a huge part of the Ohio State offense. Yet, with his overall improvement as a receiver, Campbell can turn a simple ten-yard curl route into a 50-yard score.
The senior’s production in this season (79/992/11) paced all Buckeye receivers and is currently projected as a late-first round pick in the 2019 draft. Look for Campbell to solidify, and perhaps improve, his professional prospects with a big Rose Bowl game.
K.J. Hill, OSU
While Terry McLaurin (34/669/11) and Johnnie Dixon (40/642/7) had solid seasons for Ohio State (both should be playing on Sundays next year), the best all-around receiver on the roster (in my opinion) is K.J. Hill. Hill doesn’t have the lighting speed (unofficial 4.42 40 yard dash) of Parris Campbell, but has a great set of hands. Plus, his ability to make big plays after the catch was no more evident than when he scored the game-winning touchdown in Happy Valley.
The redshirt Junior has not yet made a decision regarding his football future as of this writing. If Hill bolts for the NFL, a team will be getting an absolute steal in the third/fourth round. Should the Little Rock native return for his senior season, he would be the unquestioned WR1 for the Buckeyes and be in the conversation as a first-round pick this time next season.
The Washington pass defense, led by cornerback Byron Murphy, is ranked 21st in the nation meaning the entire Buckeye receiving corps will be challenged on New Year’s day. This group loves a challenge which was no more evident than in the 334 collective receiving yards for OSU receivers against the 2nd ranked pass defense of those punks from up North.
When this game was first announced, I was unsure whether the Jekyll (
Michigan) or Hyde (Purdue) version of the 2018 Ohio State Buckeyes would show up in Pasadena. Urban Meyer announcing his retirement on December 4th was unwelcome news to the Washington Huskies. Add in the College Football Playoff snub and I expect a focused, vengeful OSU squad ready to drop 50+ points.
If you reside in a state where sports betting is legal, take the Buckeyes (-6.5) to cover the spread and the Over (O/U 57.5). Washington should be able to find paydirt as the Silver Bullets have some holes in the defense leading to them giving up big plays. In the end, I expect an OSU offensive performance similar to the seventh straight win over our rivals in The Game.
Ohio State 55 Washington 31
Texas Longhorns (15) vs Georgia Bulldogs (5)
8:45 pm EST on ESPN/WATCHESPN
I’m sorry Longhorn fans, but you have no chance to win this game. The College Football Playoff committee saw to that when they placed you in a bowl game with a team from God’s conference (A.K.A the SEC). In fact, the SEC is so dominant and indestructible, in lieu of a bye week, each member of the conference allows an overmatched school like Idaho or the Citadel to share the same field with them out of charity. This group of schools is so revered by local and national pundits alike, when Georgia ALMOST beat the top team in the conference, a ticker tape parade was thrown for them by the Playoff Committee and Paul Finebaum.
In all seriousness, Georgia is good… damn good! They weren’t ranked as the second best team in the country into the middle of October by accident. A twenty point loss at LSU was the Bulldogs only stumble until they gave the top-ranked Crimson Tide all they could handle in the SEC Championship game. After blowing a 13 point halftime lead to the same Bama squad in the National Championship game a year earlier, it’s fair to wonder what kind of motivation UGA will have for this game knowing their ultimate goal for the season was to finish the job and win it all.
A spot in the Playoff was the furthest thing from Tom Hermann and Texas’ mind after they experienced an opening game loss to Maryland for the second straight season. Six consecutive wins later (including a huge upset in the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma) saw the Longhorns sitting as the sixth ranked team and on the doorstep of the CFB. Sadly, consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia derailed the national title train before it left the station. The team would rally for three straight wins before failing to spoil the Sooners season in the Big 12 championship.
Jake Fromm, UGA
While the Bulldogs pride themselves on being able to run the football (12th in the nation at 251.6 yard per game), Jake Fromm put together an extremely efficient (27 touchdowns against just five INTs) season from the quarterback position. In the biggest games of the season, Fromm flashed his immense upside against Florida (17/24, 240 yards, three touchdowns) and Alabama (25/39, 301 yards, three touchdowns), but struggled (16/34, 209 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) against LSU in Death Valley.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Georgia offensive coaching staff devised a game plan to turn the sophomore loose and let him attack Texas’ pass-funnel defense (114th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game). I expect a strong game from Fromm to propel him near the top of a loaded 2020 quarterback class.
Sam Ehlinger, UT
Unlike their Sugar Bowl opponent, the Texas Longhorns find the majority of their offensive success via the aerial attack (33rd in passing yards per game) as opposed to their ground game (93rd). However, much like his contemporary on the other sideline, Sam Ehlinger has thrived in protecting the football tossing 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The Longhorn signal caller was also an effective runner this year galloping for 418 yards and 13 (!) touchdowns.
The sophomore thrived in the biggest games of the year against Oklahoma (24/35, 314 yards, two touchdowns), Oklahoma State (22/42, 283 yards, two touchdowns), and the Sooners again in the Big 12 Championship (23/36, 349 yards, two touchdowns, one interception). Yet, I’m still expecting Ehlinger to struggle in this matchup as Georgia’s pass defense (15th in FBS) is much tougher than the weekly seven-on-seven passing scrimmages in the Big 12 (though 2018 Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker will be sitting out this contest to prepare for the draft).
Elijah Holyfield, UGA
Stuck in the shadow of his famous father, Elijah Holyfield made a name for himself this season. The junior running back had a coming out party rushing for 956 yards and seven scores as the thunder compliment to D’Andre Swift’s lightning.
Holyfield’s physical running style makes him the ideal fit to be an early-down/goalline back in the NFL. Though he has not yet made an official decision regarding the future, the rumor mill has him returning for his senior season.
D’Andre Swift, UGA
Make no mistake about it, Swift (155/1,037/10) is the leader of the Georgia Bulldogs running back committee. Not only is Swift the more dynamic playmaker, but his receiving ability (27/267/2) makes him a more well-rounded option for the Bulldog offense.
The sophomore is not eligible to enter the draft until next season, so the Bulldog dynamic duo of running backs should run wild on defenses next season. The Longhorns run defense (35th) is no slouch, but Swift and Holyfield should still find success in the Sugar Bowl.
First off, yes, that’s his actual, legal name. The Longhorn junior receiver became more than just the guy with the unique name in 2018 leading the team in receptions (79), receiving yards (1,109), and touchdowns (9). Humphrey was an integral part of Texas’ offensive success in their Red River Shootout upset catching nine passes for 133 yards and a score.
The homegrown Texan has been mum regarding his NFL decision up to this point. LJ is a tough competitor with abilities to make plays after the catch despite lacking the ideal speed (4.52 unofficial 40 yard dash) for the next level. Humphrey will have a difficult task in improving his middle to late round draft stock in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia’s secondary full of top-tier, NFL talent.
Riley Ridley, WR UGA
There might not be a more debated 2019 draft prospect than Riley Ridley. The detractors will cite the lack of collegiate production (64/954/13) while supporters mention his strong hands and wide catch radius as a potential possession receiver in the league. The younger brother of Falcons’ rookie Calvin Ridley only had 38 receptions for 498 yards this season but still managed to find the endzone nine times.
If this game were being played in September, I could see an easy, two-three touchdown win by the Bulldogs. Yet, playing in a New Year’s five bowl has to be a major letdown to a team that could taste a national championship almost a year ago. Texas has enough talent to catch Georgia napping early in the game and I envision a scenario where the Longhorns jump out to an early lead. Though, I expect the SEC runner-up to have its way with an overmatched Big 12 defense and ultimately prevail.
Georgia 38 Texas 28