2024 ReliaQuest Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl Preview

January 1, 2024

Happy New Year!

My dad currently leads the Von Hugendong Bowl Mania group, but if history is any indication, a new leader will emerge heading into the national title game.

Let’s take a quick look at the games being played to kick off the New Year.

ReliaQuest Bowl

Wisconsin vs. #13 LSU (Monday, 12 PM ET – ESPN2)

The absence of Heisman winner Jayden Daniels really impacts the draw to this game, but the losses on the Wisconsin side may be more impactful to the outcome of this game. The decision by Braelon Allen and starting center Tanor Bortolini significantly alters a Wisconsin offensive attack that already struggled to score points this season (22.8 PPG average). The country’s top offense in terms of yards per game will certainly feel the loss of Daniels, but still has enough talent to allow sophomore Garrett Nussmeier to cook in Daniels’ place.

The Badgers may be the more motivated team in this game, but the wide gap in talent that will take the field will be difficult to overcome. Around The Corn stands behind its assertion that Wisconsin will once again rise to power under Luke Fickell, but patience is key for fans in Madison.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 31-16 LSU

Bowl Mania Confidence: 36 points

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl

#23 Liberty vs. #8 Oregon (Monday, 1 PM ET – ESPN)

It took Jamey Chadwell all of one year to prove the doubters wrong about his decision to jilt Coastal Carolina in favor of Liberty, guiding the young FBS program to its first ever NY6 bowl game. The creative offensive mind will have his hands full with an Oregon team that had a viable argument as the best team not to make the CFP this season. The Ducks will be at nearly full strength offensively, with Bo Nix and Bucky Irving both opting to play in this game. Liberty is no slouch offensively, either, leading the country in rushing yards per game (302.9 YPG) and boasting the only unbeaten record remaining outside of teams participating in the CFP.

You don’t become the top rushing team in the country without some talent and brains on the offensive side of the ball. Liberty will truly test an Oregon defense that allows under 100 rushing yards per game, and there will be no questions about motivation for the Flames. Bo Nix & Co. didn’t opt to play in this game for charity, though – the Ducks’ leader intends to walk away from the college game a winner, and that’s what will happen here.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 34-26 Oregon

Bowl Mania Confidence: 42 points

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl

#17 Iowa vs. #21 Tennessee (Monday, 1 PM ET – ABC)

Joe Milton III opting out of this game to focus on the NFL Draft paves the way for freshman Nico Iamaleava at quarterback, who some fans may have secretly been more excited about than Milton in the first place. Tennessee’s absences in this game don’t end with Milton, but Iamaleava will get a chance to gel with some other players that will be viewed as the “future” in Knoxville against a strong Iowa defense. Iowa hasn’t been particularly aggressive defensively this season, registering just 27 sacks, but may amp up the pressure in this one to see what Iamaleava is made of.

Risks will have to be taken somewhere from the Iowa coaching staff, otherwise the Volunteers can run away with this game. Given Milton’s inconsistency, there’s no guarantee that Tennessee won’t be similarly potent on offense with Iamaleava. Iowa needs to find a way to prevent that, because the Hawkeyes are unlikely to score a lot of points on this Tennessee defense.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 24-12 Tennessee

Bowl Mania Confidence: 37 points

Rose Bowl

#4 Alabama vs. #1 Michigan (Monday, 5 PM ET – ESPN)

The questions about the quarterback play from both teams has been warranted as much as anything that these two programs have endured leading up to this game, and the answers to those questions will almost certainly dictate the outcome to the contest. As we have recently learned, Jalen Milroe has dealt with his fair share of controversial criticism but thrives in an atmosphere where he is praised for his successes. J.J. McCarthy is hailed as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, but operates in an offensive scheme that doesn’t require his services to win many games.

Both will be called upon to make plays in this game, likely with their arm, to ensure that the offense isn’t stifled. Both Michigan and Alabama convert around 46 percent of third down tries, and the Wolverines are only slightly better at stopping them (30 percent opponent third down conversion rate) than the Crimson Tide (33 percent opponent third down conversion rate). The two teams are typically operating in third and manageable situations, and that inevitably won’t always be the case in this game. Scrambling yards will be difficult to come by, so the arm that breaks down one of these talented defenses will be the one heading to the national title game.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 31-28 Michigan

Bowl Mania Confidence: 20 points

Allstate Sugar Bowl

#3 Texas vs. #2 Washington (Monday, 8:45 PM ET – ESPN)

Given what these two teams have been able to do on the offensive end this season, Around The Corn is predicting that the national champion will ultimately come from this game. Washington has operated within what feels like some amount of controlled chaos, with Michael Penix, Jr. having an absurd amount of confidence in his receiving corps being able to go up and grab any ball he throws downfield. The Texas defense has struggled against the pass this season and will undoubtedly have its hands full against Penix & Co.

Similarly, Washington’s defense has had trouble defending the pass, and Texas will take full advantage of that in this one. Quinn Ewers is less controlled chaos than Penix but possesses the same ability to make downfield throws look easy. Coupled with a more robust running game, the Texas offense is more complete than Washington’s. However, the Huskies have shown time and again this season the ability to clamp down and make key stops on the defensive end when needed. When a unit has needed to step up for the Huskies this season, it has done it. Expect it to happen once again in New Orelans.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 41-37 Washington

Bowl Mania Confidence: 23 points

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