This game sums up the current state of college football’s postseason. On one side you have #5 Texas A&M, the team directly missing the cut of the 4-team College Football Playoff. On the other side, you have a UNC roster that is wrecked by bowl game “opt-outs.” Playoff rank arguments and bowl “opt-outs” have been the trends/storylines over the past few weeks.
A&M’s surge to the Top 5 was led by their elite offensive line and a nasty front seven on defense. The offensive line features All-American Kenyon Green, and is the only line that ranks in the Top 10 of both of my line metrics: run push AND pass protection. They give veteran quarterback Kellen Mond enough time to get the ball to a stable of young (but dynamic) playmakers on the outsides. Look for Ainias Smith, Isaiah Spiller, and Jalen Wydermyer to be All-America candidates in 2021.
In this bowl game, I also really like A&M’s mentality and chip on their shoulder to prove to the Committee and the nation that they should have had Notre Dame’s spot in the Playoff bracket.
Compare that mentality and motivation to UNC, who has had 4 of its best players opt-out. UNC fielded one of the best offenses in America this year, but crucial pieces are out including 1100-yard receiver Dyami Brown, 1200-yard rusher Michael Carter, and 19-touchdown rusher Javonte Williams. Injuries knocked out another starting receiver (Beau Corrales) and 3rd back DJ Jones. Oh, and all-ACC linebacker Chazz Surratt is out too.
PREDICTION: TEXAS A&M 37, UNC 28
PICK: TEXAS A&M -7 @ -110
Northwestern completed one of the great year-to-year turnarounds we’ve seen in decades. In 2019, they finished 3-9 and by the end of that season they were down to just running wildcat offense with a 4th stringer. But it was a young team, and a very injured team that came back healthy and veteran in 2020. Credit Pat Fitzgerald and his defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz for coaching them up and ending with the #1 scoring defense in all of Power 5.
My concern is their roster uncertainty. They have 15 players listed as questionable. And that’s on top of losing Isaiah Bowser (most rushing attempts), Kyric McGowan (#2 receiver, and also used in run game), and Greg Newsome (star corner).
My Game Grader formula has this as a pure pick ‘em, and that is before learning of these 15-20 potential missing players for Northwestern. Another huge wild card is that Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn but their player personnel is a bit more predictable.
PREDICTION: AUBURN 20, NORTHWESTERN 17
PICK: AUBURN +3.5 @ -110