Things to watch during New Years Six Action
Peach: (10) Michigan State vs. (12) Pittsburgh
Kicking off the NY6 action, we have two teams without top offensive weapons. What a way to get things started, AM I RIGHT?!? Pittsburgh will be without QB Kenny Pickett while Michigan State is without RB Kenneth Walker III. So we have two offensive juggernauts out for each team, so that begs the question...
Who steps in for the Superstars?
For Michigan State, the workload falls on QB Payton Thorne. Walker led the team this season with 1,636 rushing yards. Jordon Simmons has rushed for 255 yards on the year. All the while, Thorne is the team's third-leading rusher with 177 yards and four touchdowns. Talk about a dropoff. Thorne has the weapons to work with on the outside with Jayden Reed and Jaylon Nailor. However, losing a guy like Walker and not knowing who will get the bulk of the workload will be difficult for the Redshirt Sophomore out of Naperville Central. Expect Jordon Simmons to step up.
For the Pittsburgh Panthers, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi announced Nick Patti would start in Atlanta. It's a good thing for the Panthers as the MSU Spartans' pass defense ranks dead last in passing yards per game with 337.7. Oh, and Patti will be chucking the pigskin to the Biletnikoff Award winner in Jordan Addison, who ended the season with 93 receptions for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns. Patti also has five other pass-catchers who have over 200 receiving yards for the Panthers. In terms of who will be the most vulnerable, I have the Spartans. Please give me the Panthers in a gritty game in the ATL.
Fiesta: (5) Notre Dame vs. (9) Oklahoma State
Marcus Freeman will take over as Notre Dame's head coach for the first time (11-1). Freeman succeeds Brian Kelly, who stunned many when he accepted the LSU job. Freeman is in a tricky spot in his debut as his star players on each side of the ball in Kyren Williams, and Kyle Hamilton chose to skip the bowl game to prep for the NFL Draft.
Oklahoma State (11-2) suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Big 12 championship game, but coach Mike Gundy's Cowboys are back in a New Year's Day Six bowl for the first time since 2015. After taking the same position at Ohio State, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will not coach in the bowl game.
Ever since Marcus Freeman took over in South Bend, there looks like there is a renewed energy for the Golden Domers. Freeman and Co. will have quite the test as the Irish take on veteran QB Spencer Sanders and 1,000-yard rusher in Jaylen Warren.
The loss of both Williams and Hamilton is monstrous, but I believe the Irish will be able to fill Williams's shoes a little better than Hamilton's. The duo of Chris Tyree and true freshman Logan Diggs had already done a solid job of rotating in when Williams would need a breather.
The primary key for the Irish will be to create turnovers against Spencer Sanders. The Oklahoma State quarterback threw six picks in the Cowboys' last two games, including four in Baylor's Big 12 championship loss. If the Irish front seven can create pressure on him, the Cowboys could be in trouble. I could lean into my Notre Dame fandom and say, "Irish by a million." However, I will not cause I have absolutely no clue who will win this game. I do expect it to be a very low-scoring one, though.
Rose: (6) Ohio State vs. (11) Utah
What an exciting time to be a Utah Utes football fan as they earned their first trip to Pasadena. It is just a shame they have to face an Ohio State team with one of the best offenses in the country.
I mean, this Ohio State offense is insane.
Led by Heisman Finalist C.J. Stroud, potential two first-round wide receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and then one of the best running backs in the country in TreVeyon Henderson. The Utes could have their hands full. Hey, maybe I am jumping the gun here as Utah beat the Oregon Ducks twice, who beat Ohio State in Columbus.
If Utah wins this matchup, they will need a big game from Tavion Thomas, which he can. The Utes keeping the ball out of Stroud's hands will be crucial for this game, but I do not think they can do that for too long. Give me the Buckeyes by multiple scores.
Sugar: (7) Baylor vs. (8) Ole Miss
I think this is the most exciting matchup out of the non-playoff New Year Six bowls as we have two goliaths on paper on each side of the ball. Baylor's defense vs. the Ole Miss offense. The Bears give up less than 20 points a game while the Rebels average over 500 yards per game.
Like what Utah will have to do against Ohio State and Stroud, Baylor will need to do the same against Ole Miss and Corral. Keep the ball out of his hands. The good news is they have an even better rushing attack than Utah. Abram Smith is a stud (1,429 yards and 12 TDs) and will likely see the endzone in this game. It also would not kill whoever is playing quarterback for Baylor to make a play or two, whether Gerry Bohanon or Blake Sharpen.
In what appears to be a swan song for the Ole Miss offense as Matt Corral gets his NFL audition, and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby is taking the same job at Oklahoma. I expect Lane Kiffin to give Corral a proper send-off and put as many points on the board as possible. However, I am looking at the backfield as the key to a Rebels victory. Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner can crack off a big run whenever they want to, and that will set up the aerial ambush from Matt Corral. Give me Kiffin and Corral in a "One Last Ride" game.