Kramer: College football bowl and national championship semifinal preview



No matter what happens over the next few weeks, one thing is abundantly clear. Until further notice, Georgia is the elite team in college football. They are at the top of the mountain. Full stop. 


For the past decade, Alabama has held onto this honor. There wasn’t much debate about that either, although Clemson certainly made things interesting for a while. Alabama’s brilliance isn’t necessarily gone. That’s not what this is about. 

No, this is about Georgia and Georgia only. This is about the Bulldogs’ remarkable season, which is even more remarkable when you consider that they just had 15 players off an incredible roster drafted.

Now? Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite against a talented Ohio State team in the College Football Playoff. The matchup itself is fascinating, and we’ll get to that. But the Bulldogs’ relevancy and dominance are likely to become a yearly occurrence until further notice.

Amid the madness of bowl season and the transfer portal, Georgia currently has the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports. Eleven of the nation’s top 100 high school seniors signed with Georgia during the early signing period, which would be startling if it wasn’t normal.

Before the 2021 glass, which has been a gem, here is how 247Sports ranked the Bulldogs’ classes in the previous five years: No. 3, No. 4, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1.

This is a team that has been reconstructed from the ground up, just like Nick Saban did with Alabama when he began. It should come as no surprise that his star protégé is following the same path.

Only now, even before another national title is won or lost, Georgia has become the “it” program in college football. It has done so despite playing with a former walk-on QB under center and no major, immediate draft-eligible prospects at their skill positions.

Whether Georgia delivers the encore or not is still TBD. It will not come easy. It also won’t be the last crack Georgia gets at another title in the years to follow. The run is on.

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. I don’t know how DJ Uiagalelei will fare at Oregon State, but I love the pairing. For Uiagalelei, this will be out of the spotlight, and he’ll play behind an offensive line that should remain entirely intact. For Oregon State, this is a big body at QB who clearly has gifts; it’s also a huge reputation boost for the school. Uiagalelei will have to beat out Ben Gulbranson, who played well in stretches at QB this year. While it’s not a given, it would be a surprise if he starts on the bench. The potential is enormous; maybe this is the program that finally unlocks it.

2. Sam Hartman beat Missouri, and now it gets interesting. Wake Forest beat the Tigers by 10 in the Gasparilla Bowl, easily covering the 2.5-point spread. Now, the focus turns to Hartman, who has thrown more touchdowns than any player to ever play in the ACC. The buzz on the QB is that he’s set to transfer, and Notre Dame is a school that seems to keep coming up in conversations. Stay tuned, because a contender in need of a quality quarterback could soon get one.

3. Jayden Daniels isn’t leaving, and that is wonderful news for LSU. While the transfer portal and draft decisions swirl, Daniels announced he was staying with Brian Kelly for one more year. Considering how dynamic he was at times, this is massive news for a Tigers’ team that is poised to return a ton of talent. Also, I would expect Daniels to start in the top 10 for Heisman odds come this offseason.

4. Cheers to Air Force. I say that not just because I bet the Falcons to beat Baylor outright as a 3.5-point underdog in the Armed Forces Bowl, but because a team with such a known style closed the year so strong. Air Force finished the year with 4,247 rushing yards. The next closest team (Army) has 3,473 yards. My word.

5. This quarterback-heavy section will stay quarterback-heavy as we shift to Kedon Slovis. Slovis is headed to BYU after spending this past fall at Pittsburgh. Before that, he spent time at USC. He has shown glimpses of brilliance at every spot, producing along the way. With his fourth team, he could very well be a force once again. With Jaren Hall headed to the NFL, it’ll be the Slovis show yet again. 

The Buffet: The Five Best Bowl Games of the Week

With the holiday, we’re using the remaining bowl slate, including the College Football Playoff, in our breakdown. Have no fear; we will have a full national championship preview coming soon enough.

In the interim, we have many fascinating games to discuss.

1. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia (-6.5, 52.5) vs. Ohio State

From a sheer spread standpoint, the end of the year was not kind to Ohio State. The Michigan debacle was, well, a debacle. But along the way, the Buckeyes failed to cover the spread in four of their final five games. Georgia did the exact opposite, covering the spread in four of the final five games. After the matchup against Tennessee, it wasn’t exactly a daunting stretch. Still, it was successful. For me, this matchup boils down to one major element: Will Ohio State get pushed around up front as it did against Michigan? If The Buckeyes’ offensive line can protect C.J. Stroud, Ohio State has a real chance not only to cover this game but win it outright. Also, I think the over fits the style of football game that could unfold.  

2. Fiesta Bowl: Michigan (-8, 58.5) vs. TCU

The line has hovered around this number throughout, which feels about right. TCU’s perfect season came undone against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, although there’s no shame in that. Still, a healthy Max Duggan along with a stable of massive, talented wideouts make the Horned Frogs a threat. The problem, however, is that Michigan simply has more dudes. We could go into gambling trends and explore specific matchups, and there are some very interesting ones in this game. But if you think TCU will be competitive, and it could be, you are saying that they can overcome the size and speed differences in so many different places across the roster. That’s what I struggle with, even as Michigan has had to replace its best player, running back Blake Corum. It has done so marvelously thus far with Donovan Edwards, and that trend could very well continue here and beyond.

3. Sugar Bowl: Alabama (-6.5, 56) vs. Kansas State

The point spread leading up to this game has been a bit of a rollercoaster, although the ride seems to have slowed now that QB Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. have decided to play in this game rather than opt out. Will they play the whole game? We’ll find out, although the commitment to the bowl seems genuine. Kansas State went 10-3 against the spread this season. Even the losses were competitive, and the Wildcats will be once again. As for Alabama, it boils down to two questions. Is this team actually good? And how motivated will it be not playing in a playoff game?

4. Rose Bowl: Utah (-2.5, 53.5) vs. Penn State

We begin with the opt-outs because it’s tough to simply glaze over them. Utah will be without running back Tavion Thomas and tight end Dalton Kincaid in this game, which is a big deal. Kincaid, in particular, has been an enormous force. Those departures have not stopped oddsmakers from still pegging the Utes as the chalk. And it makes sense when you consider that Utah won six of his last seven games. In those games, the Utes went 4-3 ATS. Penn State’s year could be broken down into two parts: regular-season games and regular-season games against Ohio State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions lost two games all year, and it came against those two teams. (They did cover against the Buckeyes, for whatever that is worth.) This is a fun game. It’s also a tough one to figure out.

5. Orange Bowl: Clemson (-5.5, 63.5) vs. Tennessee

There will be a lot of orange. That much is a given. The rest is a bit up for grabs, although here’s what we know. The Cade Klubnik era begins here, and the outcome will be fascinating one way or another. The true freshman QB was brilliant against North Carolina, leading the Tigers to a massive win as a 7.5-point favorite. He’ll get the start against a defense that allowed 66 points to South Carolina not long ago. Offensively, Tennessee will be without wideouts Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt. QB Hendon Hooker, of course, won’t play either. The Tennessee team we see will be a shadow of what it was during the season, and Clemson could be in a position to take full advantage.

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

Cotton Bowl: USC (-2, 62) vs. Tulane

Obviously, we need to keep an eye on Caleb Williams and his injured hamstring. It’s a crucial part of this game, and it’s hard to make a pick until we truly know. I do know this; Tulane is no joke, especially on defense.

Holiday Bowl: Oregon (-14.5, 73.5) vs. North Carolina

This could be fun. In fact, despite the spread, I can’t wait for this game. Bo Nix vs. Drake Maye is maximum fun, and it could also be a fascinating Heisman preview for next year. (Also, I could see Oregon absolutely rolling.)

Alamo Bowl: Texas (-3.5, 67) vs. Washington

On the topic of fun, here’s another fascinating matchup. Michael Penix Jr. is coming back next year for Washington, although Texas will present a real challenge. The Alamo Bowl has produced some basketball scores in the past, and this could have a similar vibe.