Bowl Game Previews: December 30

AJ Fernandez

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I’m not talking about Christmas, I’m talking about going bowling! Look, we’ve all had a rough year but things feel like they are slowly progressing back to normal. However, even the bowl schedule is a little wonky with some teams declining bids and some having to skip because of team outbreaks.

Barring any unforeseen news, there will be some college football on the TV between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s something to celebrate. For once, I don’t think motivation will be something we have to guess about. If these teams are playing, it would seem to be it’s because they want to and for many of these players, it will be the last time to put some plays on tape for NFL evaluators.

Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the season’s exciting match-ups!

Duke’s Mayo Bowl

Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin (-7)

ESPN, Dec 30th @ 12 p.m. EST

This game will feature a clash of very different styles as Wake Forest plays fast and runs 75 plays per game on offense as well as allowing 75 plays per game on defense. Wisconsin typically runs about 70 plays per game but only allows 55 plays run per game on defense, second-fewest in the country. I have concerns that the Demon Deacons will be able to score on Wisconsin.

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman is not terribly accurate but has had over eight yards per attempt the last two seasons. He has contributed some on the ground previously, but not this season. I think Hartman and this offense, which relies on running a lot of plays, will have a difficult time in this game against a strong Wisconsin side.

Christian Beal is now Wake’s feature running back after Kenneth Walker opted out. Beal was actually more efficient with his touches this year but has only recently seen increased volume. He is one-dimensional and won’t really help in the passing game. He has the backfield to himself as only Justice Ellison has even 20 carries on the season.

After NFL hopeful Sage Surratt opted out, Jaquarii Roberson stepped up and led Wake Forest in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The redshirt junior probably doesn’t have a bright future at the next level, but was very good for Wake Forest this year. Behind him, Donavon Greene averaged 20 yards per reception on his 23 catches and is easily the second option for the Deacons if he can suit up. The redshirt freshman has some interesting tools and I’d like to see more of him moving forward.

The Wisconsin offense has been a dumpster fire since the opening weekend against Illinois. Quarterback Graham Mertz started his season going 20-21 for 248 yards and five touchdowns. Since then, he has registered a total of three touchdowns and has not sniffed 250 yards in any game. He has very good processing skills and if Wisconsin could find some semblance of a dynamic weapon, Mertz would benefit. The Wake Forest defense should be a sight for sore eyes and perhaps Mertz and company can end the season as they started.

I would love to see true freshman Jalen Berger get a chance to break out against Wake Forest. In limited action, he has averaged almost six yards per carry and looked like the next in line of countless excellent Badger backs. The report on his status is positive at this time and he should be able to play. Backups Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek would spell Berger. Should Berger get the lion’s share, I’d expect a big game and he would generate a lot of buzz heading into his sophomore season.

My mother always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So, the blurb on the Wisconsin receivers will be short. Tight end Jake Ferguson led the Badgers with a 29-284-4 line and no other receiver even got to 200 yards. There just isn’t much going on here. Ferguson might be an NFL prospect as he has finished no worse than second on the team in receiving since he was a freshman in 2018. As for the rest, I hope that the staff is working hard on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

#6 Oklahoma (-2.5) vs. #7 Florida

ESPN, Dec 30th @ 8 p.m. EST

The line for this one has moved from Florida as a field goal favorite to the Sooners by that same margin. The reason for this is almost the entire Gator offense has either declared for the NFL draft or is under COVID quarantine. However, as long as Kyle Trask is playing I would take Florida and the points. But this is a fantasy article, and we should get a nice glimpse of the 2021 Florida offense in this game.

We know who Kyle Trask is, but as a refresher, he started his first game since eighth grade in 2019 and has since lit the SEC on fire. Trask has registered a fantastic 68% completion percentage, nine yards per attempt, 68 touchdowns, and a mere 12 interceptions over 23 games as a starter. He won’t add much in the run game but Trask has a ceiling of Drew Brees in a perfect team context. He should be drafted in the mid-to-late first round or second round of next spring’s NFL draft. For fantasy purposes, I wouldn’t get too excited outside of superflex leagues.

There are two possible first-round picks on the Florida offense, but since they won’t be playing, you can check out where they are ranked here. I’d like to focus on who is next which would be transfer Justin Shorter, freshman Xzavier Henderson and converted safety Trent Whittemore.

Shorter is intriguing as he was the number one wide receiver in his 2018 recruiting class and signed with Penn State, only to tear up his patella and struggle to see the field. In his first year as a Gator, he was the clear fifth option in the passing game and has registered 23 catches for 246 yards and three scores on 35 targets. It remains to be seen if he will ever get back the explosion that made him so exciting at 6’5” and 225 pounds. Henderson was a four-star recruit and brother of first-round NFL pick CJ Henderson. He offers enticing length but has looked raw in limited time. The spotlight should be on for this bowl game, and he could put himself squarely on the map for a sophomore breakout in 2021. Whittemore probably takes over in the slot and has flashed on a few plays this season. One dark horse to see his first action of the season is true freshman Jaquavion Fraziars, a 6’4” beast who plays like a power forward. He fits exactly what Dan Mullen likes in his outside receivers.

The running back room has been a revolving door for Florida, with three players seeing at least 50 carries. Dameon Pierce is the closest thing to a lead back with Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright filling a change-of-pace role. Davis is the best receiver of the group and is a nice weapon for Trask who can deliver one of the best wheel route throws in college football. As for future potential, no one in this group really stands out at the moment. Pierce seems like a quality back at times but the fact he is now a junior and has failed to make much of an impact limits any projection at the next level. Davis and Wright both look comfortable catching passes and therefore could earn a role on an NFL team. Wright has the most upside given that he is only a redshirt freshman and can build on his 2020 season.

With all-world tight end Kyle Pitts wisely choosing to prepare for the draft, redshirt junior Kemore Gamble and sophomore Keon Zipperer will get a chance to show their talents. Neither has done much to this point, although Zipperer did have a two-touchdown game while Pitts was out earlier this year. Zipperer has the upside of an athletic but undersized tight end that can make plays in space. It should be fun to watch if he can make an impact against Oklahoma.

The Sooners have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the nation in Spencer Rattler. The redshirt freshman has been quietly excellent this season, ranking second in Pro Football Focus’ passing grade of quarterbacks with at least 233 dropbacks. His 68% completion percentage is excellent especially given that he is a second-year player seeing his first live action this season. He is also fifth in adjusted completion percentage under pressure which is very promising. He has some rushing ability but it’s not a major component to his game. He should have his way with the Florida defense and this game will likely springboard Rattler into the 2021 Heisman watch list.

Oklahoma’s receivers have been mostly underwhelming this season with a combination of injuries and suspensions they have rarely had a full quiver of options. The one standout had been true freshman Marvin Mims who outproduced sophomore Theo Wease and junior Charleston Rambo. He was targeted on a massive 34% of his routes, establishing himself as the alpha dog in year one. He was fourth in the nation in yards per route run with 4.16, of receivers with at least 25 targets. He is absolutely a star in the making and it will be awesome to watch Mims alongside a healthy Jadon Haselwood and a full season of Trejan Bridges next year. It seems that Theo Wease and Charleston Rambo are destined to be role players at best and I question whether they will play a significant part in next year’s offense.

Like Florida, the backfield is a bit of a mess and usage has been staccato with suspensions and COVID-related absences. The season began with true freshman Seth McGowan averaging about six yards per carry and scoring twice in as many games. However, TJ Pledger was eventually activated and became the lead back for a few games, producing admirably. Finally, when redshirt senior Rhamondre Stevenson was reinstated he quickly took over the Sooners’ backfield. Stevenson is obviously old for a prospect but has shown some impressive skills for a 240-pound back. He was actually the most efficient Oklahoma runner in 2019 averaging a massive eight yards per carry on his 64 carries. In 2020 he has also been the best back for the Sooners. Stevenson has caught 18 balls in just five games this season showing dual-threat potential. Look for him to continue to be the lead back in the bowl game and see 18-20 touches once again. He will probably be a draft process riser for many with his combination of size and receiving skills.

Going forward, Stevenson will enter the NFL draft, Pledger has announced he will be entering the transfer portal and we will wait to see how McGowan handles a feature role. I think a 2021 breakout is likely.

At tight end, Oklahoma has also seen a lot of upheaval with Grant Calcaterra retiring, un-retiring, and then transferring. Austin Stogner took over at the position and was the Sooners’ third-leading receiver. He has excellent size at 6’6” and 260 pounds. Unfortunately, it’s looking like he will miss the bowl game and so true freshman Mikey Henderson may get a chance to show his unique H-back, tight end hybrid skills. Jeremiah Hall will also work in a rotation.

Check back for breakdowns of the December 31st slate!

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