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Bowl Picks 2020-21: Peach Bowl-Orange Bowl (Jan. 1-Jan. 2)

Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

 *= Excludes CFB Playoff Predictions

Peach Bowl (Jan. 1st)

Georgia Bulldogs (7-2) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-0)

After a season in which they were regularly disrespected by the CFB Playoff Selection Committee, Cincinnati is hopeful to prove they can play with the big boys, against a 7-2 Georgia squad. The Bearcats don't necessarily do anything flashy, but they have a productive offense and the best defense in the nation. Quarterback Desmond Ridder has put together a marvelous 2020 and leads an offense that put up over 39 PPG on the campaign. The Bearcats are especially effective on the ground, where veteran Gerrid Doaks and former Alabama transfer Jerome Ford have led the way. They've regularly dominated the line of scrimmage against their American Athletic foes, but the Bulldogs are a different story. They're loaded with former blue-chip recruits, and have perhaps the deepest defensive front in college football. Cincinnati will not be able to bully them the way they have past foes, which presents a difficult challenge for this offense. Ridder is going to have to create more than ever before and while he has the tools, he will face down a very skilled and experienced UGA secondary. The good news for Cincy is that the defense will keep them in the game no matter what, a group that gets to their spots incredibly well and doesn't give up big plays. They face a Georgia offense that has had a really interesting 2020. This unit struggled throughout the season's first half before making the switch to J.T. Daniels at QB. Since making the switch, the Bulldogs have put up point totals of 31, 45 and 49, all wins. Cincinnati is a different challenge than those last three opponents, but Daniels gives them a great opportunity. His arrival of starter has coincided with improved play from this receivers corps, which has always been talented but is inconsistent. Sophomore George Pickens looks more focused, and Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson know how to put pressure on opposing defenses. The key is whether or not Georgia is going to be able to run the ball; Zamir White has had a very steady 2020 but hasn't dominated either. When the ground game struggles, the Bulldogs have been prone to forcing things, which won't work against this Bearcats' defense. It won't help that White's primary helper in the backfield, James Cook, will miss the contest after the death of his father. Motivation is another factor to watch for this game. Cincy is eager to show that they were deserving of a spot in the four-team Playoff field, while Georgia has had a rocky season. Georgia's edge in talent makes them the smarter bet, but this Bearcats team will not fold easily. I expect it to be a competitive game down to the wire, with the Bulldogs finding a way to come out on top.

The Pick: Georgia, 27 Cincinnati, 23

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1st)

Auburn Tigers (6-4) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (6-2)

Although the 2020 off-season has not yet officially begun, both Auburn and Northwestern have already had interesting starts to it. Auburn made the decision to fire Gus Malzahn and pay a hefty 21 million dollar buyout to do so, bringing on Boise State's Bryan Harsin in the process. Harsin is not slated to coach the bowl game, instead it will be interim head man Kevin Steele leading the Tigers. It's still an important game for Tiger players, eager to show the new staff what they can do. QB Bo Nix has had a frustrating sophomore season, but he's still talented enough to make things happen. He's helped out offensively by freshman phenom Tank Bigsby and stud wide out Seth Williams, but how much success will they have against this Northwestern defense? The Wildcats are fresh off a dominant performance against Justin Fields and Ohio State, and they hope to end the 2020 season with a bang. Nix could especially struggle to move the ball through the air, as the Wildcats have shut down QB after QB on the year. Perhaps Bigsby will be able to fuel the offense, but the Auburn offensive line has not helped him out very much on the season. On the other sideline, Northwestern seems to be entering somewhat of a transition mode, as they've seen a rash of transfers hit the portal in the last few weeks. It's unclear exactly why, but there's some thought that head coach Pat Fitzgerald may be interested in an NFL jump. But, for now the former NU linebacker will once again be leading the Wildcats. The offense is likely to rely on some new faces than they did during the regular season, although veteran QB Peyton Ramsey remains in the fold. He may not have the biggest arm in the country, but Ramsey has shown he can make the plays necessary to keep Northwestern rolling. The lead back is likely to be Cam Porter, a freshman that has really come on strong down the stretch. We saw Northwestern run a lot of "Wildcat" against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and I'm sure they'll do much the same to get them different looks against a good, but far from great, Auburn defense. Truthfully, I don't feel supremely confident about picking one way or another in this New Year's Day showdown. Neither team has much momentum entering the matchup, and it's unlikely to be a very pretty game overall. However, I usually lean the team with the better defense in evenly matched contests, and the advantage there is on Northwestern's side.

The Pick: Northwestern, 17 Auburn, 14

Gator Bowl (Jan. 2nd)

NC State Wolfpack (8-3) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (4-6)

The reality of college football is that preseason predictions are constantly proven wrong quickly once the games actually begin, and certain teams or programs can make you look fairly silly in the end. That is the case for NC State in 2020, a team I picked to finish dead last in the ACC this year but they instead went 8-3 and finished the regular season ranked #23. That's a testament not only to the coaching staff, but the players for putting together such a strong season, and winning several close games. They have done so despite losing quarterback Devin Leary to a season-ending injury, opening the door for former Florida State transfer Bailey Hockman. Hockman won't throw the ball deep often, but he's proven he can command the offense and move the ball. It helps that he has several fun playmakers surrounding him in sophomore tailback Zonovan "Bam" Knight, and wide out Emeka Emezie. Defensively, the Wolfpack are rock-solid as well, led by two stud linebackers in Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore. They match up well against a Kentucky offense that leans heavily on their ground game, ranking 46th nationally in rush offense. In addition to feature back Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky has one of the best dual threats in the nation in QB Terry Wilson, who eclipsed 400 yards rushing on the campaign. The thing is, Wilson simply has not taken the steps necessary as a passer to give defenses problems. The Wildcats have one of the worst aerial attacks in the country, and it's unlikely they suddenly found it during bowl practices. There's a possibility Kentucky will try and do some creative things offensively to make this NC State defense work. But entering the game, it's actually unclear who will actually be calling plays. New coordinator Liam Coen was hired by Mark Stoops a few weeks ago, but he will not join the staff officially until after the Los Angeles Rams' season is over. Instead, Stoops will utilize a committee to call plays and try to test the Wolfpack, which does not sound very encouraging. 

The Pick: NC State, 34 Kentucky, 20

Outback Bowl (Jan. 2nd)

Ole Miss Rebels (4-5) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (6-1)

Despite putting together a magical 2020 that will go down as one of, if not the, best seasons in school history Indiana was not selected for a New Year's Six bowl. Instead, they'll square off against Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss team, a sneaky team that is better than their 4-5 record may indicate. Kiffin's offensive genius has been on full display in his debut campaign with the Rebels, as they're averaging nearly 41 points per game and rank Top 20 nationally in nearly every offensive category. Big-armed quarterback Matt Corral has been a superstar running the offense, but he will be without his favorite target in Elijah Moore, who opted out. Moore was overshadowed inside the SEC by the brilliance of DeVonta Smith, but he was dominant throughout the fall, and his absence is notable. Instead, Ole Miss will lean on a solid crop of wide outs, namely Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond to test a very skilled Hoosier defense. To be fair, Indiana's defense is also undergoing a little bit of a transition as their coordinator, Kane Wommack, took the head coaching gig at South Alabama. This unit, which allowed just 19.4 PPG on the season, will still play hard and fast, but how will they respond without Wommack? His departure may put more pressure on Indiana to keep up offensively, which is a slight concern. They are without starting QB Michael Penix Jr., who tore his ACL in the Maryland win. Backup Jack Tuttle has been serviceable, but is not the type of weapon Penix is. Mississippi native Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor still give IU plenty of juice on offense, but the big question is the run game. It's never really shown it can guide this offense so far in 2020, even though Stevie Scott III may be one of the most underrated in the Big Ten. The good news is that Ole Miss may have one of the worst defenses they've seen all season. They've been gashed all season, whether it be by air or on the ground, and are fresh off surrendering 53 points to LSU. Indiana should still be able to put up points and their edge on defense makes them the smart selection in the Outback.

The Pick: Indiana, 38 Ole Miss, 30

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2nd)

Oregon Ducks (4-2) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (8-3)

Although they were not even slated to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game until Washington had to drop out due to COVID issues, Oregon will represent the Pac-12 in a New Year's Six. They face down Iowa State, who narrowly missed a chance to win their first conference title in a century a few weeks ago. You can never be quite sure what you're getting from Oregon's offense, which has put up strong numbers but has also struggled at times. QB Tyler Shough has actually been really solid in his first season as starter, but he does face a really skilled Iowa State defense. It's also likely we will see his backup, Anthony Brown, in certain packages. Brown had not seen a second of game time until that Pac-12 Championship, when he threw for two touchdowns. His presence will force ISU to be concerned about his legs, but he's a proven QB at the Power Five level, previously at Boston College. The key to Oregon's offense will be the running game, which has been their primary fuel all 2020. C.J. Verdell, who has topped 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, missed their last outing and his status is still unclear. That may put even more pressure on Travis Dye and Sean Dollars to carry the load against a very good Cyclone rush defense, which is led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose. Defensively, Oregon has not had a very good year, but that can be attributed primarily to the large number of opt-outs they saw when the Pac-12 season was originally cancelled. They're still really good up front, thanks in large part to defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, and will put pressure on a solid ISU offensive line. The Cyclones are going to have opportunities through the air, but can they take advantage of them? QB Brock Purdy has proven himself as one of the best in the Big 12 in his time in Ames, but he is still mistake-prone at big moments. For all their faults, Oregon still forces turnovers as well as any defense in the nation, which puts significant pressure on Purdy. However, Iowa State can always sit back and feed back tailback Breece Hall, who finished Top 10 in Heisman voting. Hall has had 1,436 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year, but he has slowed down a little bit over their last three games, at least compared to what he was doing through the first half of 2020. Another tough selection to make here; I truly believe Oregon is a better team than their 4-2 record may indicate, but ISU has the offensive weapons to make them pay. In the end, I'll lean Ducks, as they enter with slightly more momentum and have more experience playing on this type of stage as of late.

The Pick: Oregon, 29 Iowa State, 24

Orange Bowl (Jan. 2nd)

Texas A&M Aggies (8-1) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3)

Two flaming hot teams arrive in the Orange Bowl here, which pits 8-1 Texas A&M against 8-3 North Carolina. The Aggies have won seven straight after losing by four touchdowns to Alabama, thanks to an improved offense. Veteran quarterback Kellen Mond has put together since his best season since arriving in College Station, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns on the campaign. He's done so despite a depleted receiver corps that has dealt with injuries throughout all of 2020. Tight end Jalen Wydermeyer has once again stepped up and become Mond's favorite target through the air, while running back/receiver hybrid Ainias Smith has also proven his worth to this passing attack. Can others step up beyond those two, and put pressure on a mediocre UNC secondary? Either way, the Aggies remain confident in their ground game, which is led by Isaiah Spiller, running behind a strong offensive line. Spiller has been an absolute workhorse in 2020 and aside from the 'Bama game, has been amazingly consistent throughout the season. North Carolina's defensive front is awfully talented, but they don't see a lot of power-run attacks quite like A&M. How they're able to respond may determine the eventual result here. The Tar Heels have one of the most fun offenses in the entire country, but it's crippled entering this one. Their top receiver, Dyami Brown, opted out prior to this matchup and just a few days ago, both tailbacks Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, also announced they would not play. Brown is a major loss as he opens up this offense vertically, but Carter and Williams are even more crucial absences. They've often fueled the UNC offense in 2020, and have been especially dominant down the stretch. Without them, QB Sam Howell is forced to rely on an unproven cast of characters. Howell certainly has proven he can make things happen, but the Aggie defense is tough, even if the offense is full-strength. A&M is physical and athletic up front and while the secondary still can be inconsistent, there's more than enough talent back there. Even if Howell is able to work some magic, A&M is the better team up and down their roster and they also have more motivation, being left out of the four-team Playoff field a couple weeks ago. Jimbo Fisher and company should cap off their impressive 2020 with a NY6 victory.

The Pick: Texas A&M, 31 North Carolina, 24

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