The college football bowl season is upon us. With 39 games spread out over the next two and a half weeks there is plenty of opportunity to add a little bonus to your holiday gift pile. Our bowl picks series will let you know who we think will come out on top against the spread. All lines and totals courtesy of Sportsline. Find all our picks here. All lines are as of the date of publication
A bit of an added bonus to this bowl preview, along with the other five members of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games. In addition to the usual spread and total paragraphs we have in these previews, we’ll have a quote from one of the guys over at Sportsline, giving you some things they’re thinking about heading into these games. You’ll see it at the bottom of the post here and you can see more from the guys over at the site.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
#11 Washington (10-2) vs. #9 Penn State (10-2)
Spread: PSU -2
Spread: Both of these teams had playoff aspirations at one point during the season, but fell short due to a couple of key losses along the way. But, both teams have seniors looking to make a good impression on scout and the Nittany Lions have a top draft prospect in Saquon Barkley who will be looking to make one final statement on the field before presumably declaring for the NFL Draft.
For Penn State, the offense runs through Barkley and QB Trace McSorely. Through the first eight games of the season, Barkley was the jumping off point for the entire offense. His game-breaking ability forced opponents to commit more people to stopping the run, which led to open windows for McSorely to throw into and, green grass whenever he kept it on read-option plays. The Nittany Lions ranked 7th in the country in scoring at 41.7 points per game and garnered over 450 yards per game in the process. Wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson, along with TE Mike Gesicki are dangerous options in the passing game who will test the Huskies defense.
Speaking of defense, Penn State was pretty good on that side of the ball too, allowing opponents just 15.5 points and 329 yards per game. Linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen were the leaders of the unit, and though the pass rush didn’t have any one dominant guy, there were 18 guys who recorded a sack, and six who recorded three or more.
Washington profiles similarly to Penn State in many respects. Their QB, Jake Browning, is probably the better passer of the two, while their running back Myles Gaskin, isn’t quite as good as Barkley, but still a very good player. The game-breaker for the Huskies is WR Dante Pettis, who’s receiving numbers don’t scream speed threat (62 catches 721 yards 7 TD 11.6 YPC), but he’s a dangerous punt returner with a 19.5 yards per return average and four touchdowns this season. The Huskies averaged 36.9 points and just over 410 yards of offense per game, and it’ll be fun to watch Browning, Gaskin and Pettis work against this Lions defense.
The Huskies defense, meanwhile, was actually a shade better than Penn State, allowing 14.5 points and under 280 yards per game. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kiven led the team in tackles, while the defensive line of Tevis Bartlett and Vita Vea lived in opposing backfields, recording 17.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. The Huskies D is a swarming unit that consistently puts three or four guys around the football and that’ll be fun to watch against Saquon Barkley and company.
The teams were pretty even in terms of ATS trends, with PSU going 7-4-1 and Washington going 7-5. Washington never played as an underdog this season, so this game will be new for them in that respect. As Josh says below, it’s going to come down to a defensive stop at some point, but, I do think Barkley will show out in what will likely be his final game as a college player. Penn State -2
Total: With how stingy these two defenses have been this season, it’s hard to see this being a high-scoring affair, even with the play-makers on both sides. Under 55
Sportsline Expert: “The Fiesta Bowl has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games in the bowl season. It features a pair of teams that are loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball, and coaches who are noted for creative and thorough game-planning. Washington and Penn State both have among the top quarterback-running back duos in the country, with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley leading the way for the Nittany Lions, and Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin doing the same for Washington. The outcome will likely be decided by which club can get a late defensive stop.”- Josh Nagel