All month long in the Daily Bowl Digest, we’ll be setting the table for each day of bowl action, with game-by-game previews and a quick look back at the previous day’s action.
What happened on Friday: Wake Forest outlasted Texas A&M, 55–52, in a high-powered Belk Bowl. Demon Deacons QB John Wolford threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in the win, while Aggies WR Christian Kirk caught three TDs and totaled 189 receiving yards in a losing effort. In the Sun Bowl, NC State took care of Arizona State in a 52–31 win behind Nyheim Hines and Reggie Gallaspy II's combined five scores on the ground. Northwestern edged Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, 24–23, after UK couldn't convert when it went for two in the game's final minute. In the Arizona Bowl, New Mexico State got its first bowl win in 57 years by defeating Utah State 26–20 in overtime. Finally, Ohio State handled USC 24–7 in the Cotton Bowl as the Buckeyes defense forced four turnovers, including three by Sam Darnold.
Saturday brings two more New Year's Six bowls, plus a pair of afternoon games. Here's what you need to know:
TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State (Noon ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: Lamar Jackson deserved better than a low-profile 8–4 season to close out his college career. His follow-up to 2016’s Heisman-winning campaign was scuttled by inexperience and injuries around him, but he was brilliant for the second year in a row, improving his completion percentage, cutting down on his turnovers and sacks and posting six straight games with over 100 rushing yards to close out the regular season. Jackson’s status as an NFL draft prospect is already a source of heated debate four months out from the first round; for now, let’s just enjoy one last afternoon of home run shots within head coach Bobby Petrino’s wide-open offense.
Most interesting player on the field: Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson. Thompson couldn’t have been blamed for freezing up when he replaced an injured Nick Fitzgerald in the middle of a stunning Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss, but the true freshman ran for 121 yards and a touchdown and threw for another score as the Bulldogs clawed back into the game. His counterpart for his first career start? Lamar Jackson, who knows something about being a super-raw true freshman. — Eric Single
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Why you should watch: Memphis’s offense, period. What the Tigers have done on that side of the ball this season has been at times jaw-dropping; they averaged 47.7 points per game and scored more than 50 points five times. Memphis’s only two losses came to UCF, the darling of the Group of Five, which is to say this team can play with anyone. Keep an eye on quarterback Riley Ferguson, who’s thrown for a combined 7,669 yards over the past two seasons.
Most interesting player on the field: Iowa State LB Joel Lanning. Lanning is Iowa State’s most versatile weapon. The former quarterback attempted four passes this season, got 34 carries at running back and spent a chunk of time at linebacker, where he logged five sacks. The turnover he recovered against Oklahoma was key to Iowa State’s biggest win of the year, a game in which he played snaps in all three phases. — Joan Niesen
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: Sure, this matchup would have been even more exciting last year, but these two teams are still loaded. And you may be treated to not one, but two potential top-five draft picks. Obviously you know about Penn State’s all-world running back Saquon Barkley. The junior racked up 1,728 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns, which include two on kickoffs. But what about Washington’s 340-pound athletic freak in Vita Vea? His combination of size and skill has scouts drooling, and this will be an excellent showcase outing for him. Vea is the centerpiece of one of the most tenacious defensive fronts in all of college football, and going against Penn State’s explosive offense will be a thrilling chess match. Chris Petersen and James Franklin certainly aren’t afraid to pull some tricks from up their sleeve, which will lead to a contest that should have everyone on their toes, including the viewers.
Most interesting player on the field: Washington WR Dante Pettis. Like Barkley, Pettis’s impact in this game will not only come on offense, but also on special teams. Washington’s top wideout is one of the most dangerous men on fourth down in the country, setting an NCAA record with nine career touchdowns on punt returns. Pettis also led the Huskies with 62 receptions, 721 receiving yards and seven touchdowns through the air. — Max Meyer
Capital One Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: Both these teams would have received a playoff berth with a win on conference championship weekend, but Miami’s blowout loss to Clemson and Wisconsin’s 27–21 loss to Ohio State brings them to South Florida. This is essentially a home outing for the Hurricanes, as the game will be played in the same Hard Rock Stadium that hosts Miami’s home contests.
This might not be the prettiest bowl game of the season, as both teams have been led by their defensive units all season. Wisconsin was the nation’s top defense in yards allowed per game and the third best scoring defense. Miami, on the other hand, is a ball-hawking unit that became famous by passing around a glorious, obnoxious, giant gold chain to any defender that caused a turnover. It became one of the signature images of this college football season: the Turnover Chain.
When Miami handled Notre Dame 41–8 under the lights on national television, and swaggered around the sidelines with that damn chain all game, the U fully had its edge back. Losses in two of its last three games, including a humbling 38–3 defeat to a Clemson team that outclassed it, has zapped some of this season’s moxie. But a win in a New Year’s Six bowl over a team whose only loss is to Ohio State will do wonders for recruiting and momentum going into next season. When Miami is at its swaggering best, college football is a better place.
Most interesting player on the field:Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor. Taylor appears to be next in the seemingly never-ending run of elite Wisconsin running backs. Though he was largely bottled up in the Big Ten Championship Game (15 carries for 41 yards and no touchdowns), the freshman rushed for 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns. When you watch him run, it’s hard to believe he’s a true freshman—he’s really patient, but he’s also thick enough to run defenders over in the open field. — Daniel Rapaport