Saturday features the final quartet of college football contests before we say hello to 2024. Several of these bowl games have traditionally been contested on New Year’s Eve but land a day earlier this season based on how the calendar falls.
The slate includes the next two of the so-called New Year’s Six pairings, although the level of engagement from the participants might not be optimal. Curiously, there are no prime-time offerings, so you’ll have to find something else to do with your Saturday night. We can’t really provide any advice in that regard, other than to say please be responsible – and save some fuel for the next night’s festivities.
Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):
On the one hand, the Nittany Lions are in their fifth major bowl in eight years, including last season’s Rose Bowl victory. But none were playoff games, leaving the nagging impression of a next step yet to be taken in the program on the eve of the 12-team era. The Rebels are in a somewhat similar position, having tasted the Sugar Bowl a couple of seasons ago but still seeking a place among the SEC’s elite. Topping the marquee in this matchup is the high-octane, high-speed Ole Miss attack against the Nittany Lions’ defense that was the stingiest in the nation. Rebels QB Jaxson Dart and RB Quinshon Judkins could set the table for big things next year in Oxford with a good performance on this stage, but Nittany Lions like DE Adisa Isaac and LB Curtis Jacobs could make their job difficult. If the Ole Miss offense does get going, it will be up to Penn State’s young backfield tandem of QB Drew Allar and RB Kaytron Allen to answer. The Ole Miss defense showed improvement this year, and DE Jared Ivey and DT J.J. Pegues can be disruptive.
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It’s hard to know what to expect from either team. The Tigers were last seen walking off their home field in disbelief after Alabama’s miraculous fourth-down score that saved the Crimson Tide’s playoff quest. The improved Terrapins couldn’t quite break through against the Big Ten’s top tier and arrive in Nashville shorthanded with QB Taulia Tagovailoa off to the NFL. Auburn QB Payton Thorne will be around, and he also announced he’d be back on the Plains for his senior campaign next year. But on this day he’ll have to beware of Maryland S Glendon Miller, whose third pick of the season helped seal the Terrapins’ victory against Rutgers in the regular-season finale. With Tagovailoa gone, Billy Edwards and Cam Edge should both see action for Maryland. They’ll try to solve the Auburn defense, anchored by LB Eugene Asante, that had its moments but struggled at times against the SEC’s more-accomplished passing units.
If you want a compelling argument in support of playoff expansion, look no further than this matchup that appears outstanding on paper but in reality will probably feature two teams going through the motions, with most of their elite players sitting out. One big name who will be taking the field is Georgia QB Carson Beck, who will be back next season hoping to take care of unfinished business. He’ll likely be without big-play weapons like TE Brock Bowers, who is still recovering from an ankle procedure and might not risk playing at less than full speed, but all-purpose WR Dillon Bell and other young playmakers could have chances to shine. The Seminoles will be shorthanded on both sides of the ball, but LB Kalen DeLoach, arguably the heart and soul of the defense all season, will take the field. Things are even more dicey on the offensive side for FSU with QB Tate Rodemaker’s decision to transfer and RB Trey Benson and WRs Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson all skipping the game. QB Brock Glenn did enough to get the team over the finish line in the ACC title game against Louisville, and FSU fans must hope a little more prep time will help his effectiveness in the passing game. The Bulldogs’ defense, however, should be mostly intact with LB Smael Mondon continuing to provide the centerpiece.
If the Orange Bowl goes stale and you happen to have a CW affiliate where you are, this mid-major duel in the desert might be worth a look. It will be the swan song for Cowboys coach Craig Bohl as he rides off into retirement, handing the reins to defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel. The Rockets couldn’t complete a sweep of the Mid-American Conference, losing a rematch with Miami (Ohio) in the finale, and hope to close an otherwise tremendous campaign on a high note despite some key exits via the portal. The catalyst for Wyoming is QB Andrew Peasley, who has accounted for 27 total TDs on the season, including seven by land. With Dequan Finn off to Baylor, Toledo will counter with Tucker Gleason at QB. Veteran RB Peny Boone is also out the door, so RB Jacquez Stuart will likely step in to take the bulk of the handoffs for the Rockets. Some names to know on the defensive side include Cowboys LB Easton Gibbs and Toledo DT Judge Culpepper.