- From the Peach Bowl to the playoff, get ready for a Saturday full of big-time college football with our five-minute guide to each matchup.
The big day is finally here, but the College Football Playoff semifinals aren't the only games to watch on Saturday. The action starts at noon with two marquee matchups, and continues all the way through the primetime Alabama-Oklahoma showdown at the Orange Bowl. We've got you covered with everything you need to know for all five games.
Bowls From Last Night:
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Auburn 63, Purdue 14
Camping World Bowl: Syracuse 34, West Virginia 18
Valero Alamo Bowl: Washington State 28, Iowa State 26
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan (Noon ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: This clash should be a treat for fans of smash-mouth defense. Before inexplicably giving up 62 points to Ohio State, Michigan had strangled opponents to under 14 points per game—though it will be without DT Rashan Gary and LB Devin Bush in Atlanta. Florida has a top-25 scoring defense in its own right, and edge rusher Jachai Polite should make a few highlight-reel plays. The Gators pieced together impressive wins over LSU and Mississippi State in Dan Mullen’s debut season in Gainesville and have fully recovered from a 4–7 disaster in 2017. Get ready for some rough-and-tough football as these teams meet for the third time in four years.
Betting Preview: Michigan Seeks Redemption Against Florida
What You May Not Know: Defense has been a hallmark for many of the 2000s Florida teams, but sophomore QB Feleipe Franks has been the primary difference maker in 2018. Believe it or not, this season Franks became the first Florida gunslinger to pass for 2,000-plus yards since 2011. Any guesses at who was the last? It was John Brantley, who started for the first two years of the post-Tebow era. —Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Florida right tackle Jawaan Taylor has been a fast riser this season thanks to his quick, steady feet to go along with his 335-pound frame. He could slide inside to guard to get the most out of his physicality. —Axson
Belk Bowl: South Carolina vs. Virginia (Noon ET, ABC)
Why You Should Tune In: This is a big-time game. Virginia isn’t a big college football name, but Bronco Mendenhall has turned the Cavaliers into a program on the rise. After a highly successful 11-year run at BYU, he came to Virginia and went 2–10 in Year 1 and 6–7 last season. This year’s team went 7–5 in the regular season and came a few plays away from winning nine or 10 games. It’s a team with a solid, experienced offense led by dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins and a top-25 defense that only allows 180 passing yards per game. An eighth victory would mark the program’s first bowl win since 2005, though it won’t come easy against South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ explosive offense scored 35 points against a Clemson team that allowed 11.9 points per game to everyone else it played. They’ll be missing their best weapon in receiver Deebo Samuel, but Jake Bentley still has two talented targets in Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith. South Carolina has won five of its last six bowl games.
Betting Preview: Can Virginia Keep Defying Odds and Beat South Carolina?
What You May Not Know: Shoutout to Reddit for pointing out this oddity: since 1986, there have only been two players on bowl-eligible teams with the last name Belk and both were selected to the Belk Bowl. Chandler Belk was on the NC State roster for one season, 2015, and the Wolfpack played in that year’s Belk Bowl. This year, South Carolina has a freshman defensive tackle named Josh Belk. Something’s fishy here. —Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Expect Virginia safety Juan Thornhill to start rising up draft boards with his unique ability to play cornerback and safety. Projected to be a safety because of concerns about matchups with fast receivers and his speed, he had five interceptions and 92 total tackles for the Cavaliers in 2018. He's comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage as a linebacker, covering a slot receiver or playing as a single-high safety. —Axson
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Nevada (1:15 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Why You Should Tune In: This will be a tough sell for casual fans given that it’s on CBS Sports Network and takes place mostly at the same time as the Belk and Peach bowls. So for all you diehards out there, this is where you prove yourself. Find a screen for the Arizona Bowl. It may well have the most points of any of the early games Saturday, and most of the second half should still be on after the other two end. It’s a solid Group of Five quarterback matchup, too: Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen will get some NFL looks thanks to his 6’4” frame and big arm, and Nevada’s Ty Gangi has had some huge games this year.
Betting Preview: Arkansas State Has One of the Hottest Offenses in College Football
What You May Not Know: Arkansas State recently secured its eighth straight season with a winning record. The first three years of that streak featured three different head coaches. Hugh Freeze won 10 games with the Red Wolves in 2011, then left to coach at Ole Miss. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (2012) and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin (2013) also spent one year leading Arkansas State before bolting for greener pastures. Blake Anderson took over in 2014 and has brought much-needed stability to the program. —Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Arkansas State's Justice Hansen, a dual-threat quarterback, improved significantly from 2017 as far as limiting his mistakes, cutting his interceptions from 16 to 6 while raising his completion percentage and adjusted pass yards per attempt. He has good size and is a 68% passer when facing a rush, and he led the Sun Belt’s best offense. Hansen could be a good fit for teams that utilize run-pass options because of his quick release and arm strength. —Axson
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington: Clemson vs. Notre Dame (4 p.m ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: The masses seem to think an Alabama-Clemson 4.0 national title is inevitable, but I wonder what the folks in gold helmets will have to say about that. It seems as if no one is giving the underdog Irish a fighting chance, but all they’ve done is win. Coach Brian Kelly has taken his team from Chicago to New York to LA, jet-setting across America and piling up wins. His early-season QB switch has looked genius; junior Ian Book has delivered some stellar performances down the stretch, but he’ll face the best defensive line in the country. Clemson’s fear-inspiring foursome will be without the suspended Dexter Lawrence, but still includes two ACC first-teamers, with all four being possible first-round picks. Passing mention is given to Clemson’s jaw-dropping offense, which has tallied over 45 points per game.
Betting Preview: Should the Irish Be This Big of an Underdog?
What You May Not Know: Brian Kelly isn’t the only coach who aced a QB shakeup. Early in the season, Dabo Swinney called on true freshman Trevor Lawrence over senior Kelly Bryant, who was 16–2 as a starter and announced soon after that he would transfer. Lawrence was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, eclipsing 2,600 yards and throwing just four interceptions. Bryant announced on Dec 4 that he’s transferring to Missouri. Also, “Brian Kelly” is almost the exact inverse of “Kelly Bryant.” Maybe something spooky will happen in Arlington? — Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Clemson won’t have its first-round bound interior disruptor after Dexter Lawrence failed a drug test, but Notre Dame with have its equivalent: 6'7", 305-pound Jerry Tillery, who raked in All-America honors this season after leading the Irish with eight sacks and forcing three fumbles. Tillery has often been lost in the shuffle of the unprecedentedly deep D-line class, but a breakout performance in Arlington would earn him plenty of burn heading into draft season. — Eric Single
Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami: Alabama vs. Oklahoma (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: If you weren’t planning on watching this game, I’m not really sure why you’re reading this. Georgia and Ohio State fans aside, the country couldn’t have asked for a more alluring semifinal matchup. One of the most dominant teams this sport has ever seen faces one of the most unstoppable offenses in recent memory. The Heisman winner and top runner-up, owners of the two best passer ratings in history, go head-to-head for a chance to play for a national title. The key question is if Oklahoma’s maligned defense can find a way to get a stop or two on Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense. Kyler Murray has been indescribable all season and usurped Tua in the Heisman race late, but the best defenses he’s faced all year are Iowa State and TCU. The Crimson Tide represent a substantial step up from that level. It’ll take a near-perfect performance for Murray and the Sooners to slay the beast, one they’re more than capable of delivering.
Betting Preview: Can the Sooners Keep Up With the Tide?
What You May Not Know: There is precedent for Oklahoma putting up points on a Nick Saban defense. No. 3 Alabama came into the 2014 Sugar Bowl with the nation’s top-ranked defense and as a 17.5-point favorite (this year’s Tide are favored by 14). That team had just narrowly missed out on a national championship berth thanks to a certain missed field goal return. It had allowed 42 points to Johnny Manziel, 34 to Auburn and 60 total in its other 10 games. Trevor Knight and the Sooners came to the Superdome and dropped 45 points on Bama in a 14-point win. Before that, the only other matchups between these teams were a home-and-home in 2002–03, the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and the 1963 Orange Bowl. —Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: The dilemma with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, is whether he will stay in school, make himself available to the NFL or resume a promising baseball career. Murray’s arm and athleticism makes him an interesting project for a team willing to gamble on a non-prototypical quarterback. His size, at 5’10", could scare teams off, but this is all dependent on what he will do after the season. —Axson