Saturday’s college football bowl game previews and picks

ACC Championship - Clemson v Virginia Tech
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson scores a touchdown against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game on Dec. 3.
(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Saturday’s bowl games

Citrus: No. 13 Louisville (9-3) vs. No. 20 Louisiana State (7-4), at Orlando, 8 a.m., Channel 7 — Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, meet the best defense you have faced all season, the one that shut out top-ranked Alabama for three quarters and held the Crimson Tide to 10 points. Jackson had a phenomenal season, accounting for 51 touchdowns — 30 passing and 21 rushing — while passing for 3,390 yards and running for 1,538 yards. But the season also had its disappointments: After a 9-1 start that included a rout of what was thought to be a national title contender in Florida State, the Cardinals were crushed by Houston and defeated by in-state rival Kentucky. LSU started the season with the Heisman favorite — running back Leonard Fournette — but will end it with a new coach on the sideline and Fournette sitting out to protect his NFL future. However, the Tigers still have a more-than-capable running back, Derrius Guice, who rushed for 14 touchdowns and 1,249 yards, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, in place of  the oft-injured Fournette.  This will be Ed Orgeron’s first game as LSU’s (so-called) permanent coach. He had a 5-2 record as interim coach, stepping in when Les Miles was fired after a 2-2 start. The pick: LSU, 23-20.

TaxSlayer: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5), at Jacksonville, Fla., 8 a.m., ESPN — Both teams closed the regular season with wins over their big in-state rivals. Georgia Tech upset Georgia, 28-27, for its fifth win in six games. Kentucky upset Louisville, 41-38, further solidifying Mark Stoops’ hold on his job. It didn’t look good for Stoops early on. After three losing seasons, the Wildcats opened with a loss to Southern Mississippi and were then routed by Florida. Kentucky’s offense can strike quickly. The Wildcats have two big-play, 1,000-yard backs in Stanley Williams and Benny Snell Jr., plus three receivers who have scored on plays of 72 yards or longer. But the Kentucky defense has been weak against the run, and Georgia Tech counters with an option attack guided by senior quarterback Justin Thomas. He has run for 562 yards and five touchdowns and has passed for 1,454 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. The pick: Georgia Tech, 35-34.

Peach (CFP semifinal): No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (12-1), at Atlanta, noon, ESPN — These teams have one common opponent: USC. Alabama routed the Trojans, 52-6, to open the season. Washington lost, 26-13, at home in November when USC completely shut down the Huskies’ running game (17 yards on 27 carries). In this one, expect Washington Coach Chris Petersen to use every page in his playbook, and we know what can happen when he does. Remember his Boise State team’s 43-42 upset over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? The Huskies have top-notch receivers in John Ross and Dante Pettis who have the speed to challenge an Alabama secondary that likes to utilize one-on-one coverage. Washington quarterback Jake Browning, who wasn’t very good against USC and completed only nine of 24 passes against Colorado in the Pac-12 title game, will have to step up his game. Alabama? It just has to be Alabama in order to roll. The pick: Alabama, 35-17.


Fiesta (CFP semifinal): No. 2 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1), at Glendale, Ariz., 4 p.m., ESPN — As accomplished as Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is, he is approaching this game like he has something to prove — like maybe he should have won the Heisman Trophy? — and that’s a scary thing if you’re from Ohio State. Watson had Alabama on the ropes in last season’s national title game and he has big-play capability as a passer and a runner. He has rushed for 529 yards and six touchdowns. As a passer, he has 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns, but also 15 interceptions. His favorite target is Mike Williams, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound All-American who has 84 receptions for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ohio State counters with dual-threat running back Curtis Samuels, who has run for 704 yards and a 7.7-yards-per-carry average and caught a team-high 65 passes. The Buckeyes also have their own dual-threat quarterback in J.T. Barrett, who has passed for 2,428 yards and 24 touchdowns with five interceptions and run for 847 yards and nine touchdowns. Clemson is second in the nation with 46 sacks, but making Barrett scramble only makes him more dangerous. The pick: Clemson, 43-38.

Twitter: @MikeHiserman


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