The college football bowl season kicks off this Saturday afternoon with the Celebration Bowl, featuring Grambling and North Carolina A&T. After that, the 39 bowl games featuring FBS teams kick off and it’s two-plus straight weeks of postseason college football action. Football will be played on every day of the week (outside of New Year’s Eve) leading up to the College Football Playoff semifinal games that will take place on New Year’s Day.
There will be plenty of discussion over the next couple weeks about which bowl match-up is the best, and who has the edge in the semifinal games. To help break it down for you, we caught up with former Georgia Bulldogs QB and current CBS Sports college football analyst, Aaron Murray.
CBS Local Sports: Bowl season is here, as you look across the slate of games outside of the two semifinal match-ups, which bowl sticks out to you as the most intriguing?
Aaron Murray: The one that I’m really looking forward to is the UCF-Auburn game. This UCF team has shown that they are a really good football team by going undefeated this year, 12-0. But [it is] going against an Auburn team that is still one of the best teams in the country. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical. This UCF team is going to get a chance to prove why they, in years to come, may be… one of those teams [to get] into a playoff eventually. They’ll have their chance to prove why they belong with the big boys when they play Auburn in Atlanta in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
CBS Local Sports: Glad you mentioned UCF, because they were part of the coaching carousel this year, with Scott Frost moving to Nebraska and Josh Heupel taking over in his stead. What did you think of the hire?
Aaron Murray: I love it. Everyone ended up in a great place. Obviously, Scott Frost did a tremendous job in his couple of years at UCF, taking a team that had 0 wins in 2015, getting them to six wins last year and then going undefeated this year. The turnaround there is awesome, and he (Frost) has left some great players behind. They (UCF) are stacked with talent on both sides of the football. For a new coach, that’s what you want. You want to come to a team that’s undefeated; that’s not a bad gig to come in to.
Then you add in the fact that you’re in Florida, with the amount of talent that is in that state. You look around Florida too, and Florida State is a little bit down, Florida is a little bit down, Miami is getting better and better, but they’re in a good spot right now to recruit some guys, maybe some of the second-tier guys that people may not give a chance. You can get them there. There’s just so much talent all throughout the state of Florida that they’re going to be in a good spot with that new coaching staff coming in.
CBS Local Sports: Is there a player that you’re particularly excited to watch this bowl season?
Aaron Murray: For me, I’m interested to see Baker Mayfield, what he does after winning the Heisman. Everyone always says there’s a little bit of a Heisman curse or jinx or whatever it is. Just the amount of media and distractions that he’s having to deal with this week and next week leading up to their game versus Georgia. I’m interested to see how he handles it. That’s one of the big things for him, not so much what he does on the football field and playing-wise, but rather some of his antics off the field and during games.
There’s going to be a lot of distractions. A lot of people grabbing him, dragging him from one place to the next. He has to make sure he stays focused because he’s going against a really talented Georgia defense. Interested to see how he handles the whole spotlight. He’s been in the spotlight, but now you’ve got that Heisman on your back a little bit, and that just makes the bullseye a little bit bigger.
CBS Local Sports: Let’s get to that game, the Bulldogs won the SEC championship by dominating Auburn on the ground. How do you think that rushing attack will do against a Sooners defense that has acquitted itself well in big games this year?
Aaron Murray: The Sooners defense has played well in big games. It’s funny, because you watch some games with Oklahoma — the Oklahoma State game in particular — and it looks like 7-on-7 out there, throwing it back and forth. It was comical. But then, you look at the fact that they played TCU well in both games, giving up 20 points and 17 points respectively. West Virginia, they gave up 31, but that’s a high-powered offense for West Virginia, so that’s pretty good. And, early in the year, they shut Ohio State down. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from their defense. They haven’t faced an offense like Georgia yet this year.
Both teams defensively haven’t faced the types of offenses they’re going to see in this game before. Oklahoma really hasn’t faced a ground-and-pound team like Georgia. Most of the Big 12 teams are going to spread you out and pass the ball. Georgia is more traditional, get in the I-formation, run it and then go play-action from there.
On the flip side, Georgia defensively really hasn’t seen a spread offense, vertical passing game like Oklahoma has. Auburn is a little bit similar, but they’re still heavy run-first with Kerryon Johnson to set up the play-action, and let Jarrett Stidham throw it from there. So both defenses are going to have a challenge because they really haven’t seen it much this season.
The good thing is they do have a month to prep and get ready for these unique offenses. For Georgia, the biggest key for them… their best defense against Oklahoma is going to be their offense. Can they stay on the field? Can they run the ball? Can they eat up the clock? Because it’s hard, with Baker, the Sooners offensive line, and the speed they have at receiver, to really slow that offensive powerhouse down once they’re on the field.
CBS Local Sports: In the other semifinal, it’s the rematch. The third time we’ll have seen Clemson play Alabama in the College Football Playoff, but this time it’s in a semifinal as opposed to the national championship game. What do you see when you look at this year’s version of both teams?
Aaron Murray: I tell you what, Alabama is a scary football team right now. They should be healthier, I don’t know how completely healthy they will be. And teams nowadays aren’t really ever completely healthy this time of year. But, they had the week off, they didn’t have to play in the conference championship game. They have the shortest distance to travel for a bowl game, only having to head down to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. And they’re hungry. They have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, so they’re going to be a dangerous football team.
But Clemson, besides the Syracuse game, they’ve looked really good. Kelly Bryant has gotten better and better each week as a passer. He had a tremendous game throwing the ball against Miami, who has a really good defense, a team that has been getting turnovers all year long, especially interceptions. Bryant looked great against them.
It’s going to be fun. The big difference is going to be how Hurts plays for Alabama. Can he play the type of mistake-free football that he’s played all year with only the one interception? Can he utilize his legs is another big question. For both of these defenses, it’s about how can you contain these quarterbacks and keep them in the pocket and make them beat you with their arms. If either one of them gets out of the pocket, and can break down a secondary to where they’re having to say, ‘do I stay with my coverage, or do I get off my coverage to go try and stop a running quarterback?’ That really puts those guys in a predicament. It’s all going to be about containing those guys, and both of these teams have tremendous front fours.