The sugar and the thorns: New Year’s Six college football bowl games

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A New Year’s Six Bowl game is much like a groundhog seeing its shadow in February: meaningless in and of itself, but invaluable in forecasting things to come. 

For elite teams playing in the oldest and most prestigious bowl games in college football, nothing less than a College Football Playoff appearance will do. But wins over other top competition are good indicators of things to come, and provide cannon fodder on their respective offseason recruiting trails.

Here are the results of the 2019-20 New Year’s Six Bowl games, and the larger implications of the matchups. 


Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Penn State, 53; No. 17 Memphis, 39 

UCF has been replaced by Memphis atop the American Athletic Conference, arguably the best Group of Five conference. Former head coach Mike Norvell, who recently became Florida State’s new head coach, led the Tigers to a 12-win season, a program record. But if Scott Frost’s departure from UCF in 2017 and the program’s subsequent stumbling is any indication of Memphis’s future, now would be the time for Tiger fans to enjoy their team’s unprecedented success.

The Tigers had no answer for sophomore running back Journey Brown, who took two voyages into the endzone and rushed for 202 yards on just 16 carries. After three 11-win seasons in the past four years — as well as a new superstar running back in Brown leading the charge into the 2020 season — the Nittany Lions look to be in good hands. Memphis, on the other hand? Well, not so much.


Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida, 36; No. 24 Virginia, 28

Florida is on the rise. 

In head coach Dan Mullen’s two years in Gainesville, the Gators have gone 21-5, including two New Year’s Six Bowl game wins. A signature win over No. 12 Auburn was easily the highlight of Florida’s season.

Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns, but the Cavaliers simply could not keep up. Despite the loss, head coach Bronco Mendenhall deserves some praise for an outstanding season. Virginia beat rival Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years and earned its first nine-win season in 12 years.


Rose Bowl: No. 6 Oregon, 28; No. 8 Wisconsin, 27

“The granddaddy of them all” lived up to its nickname, as the Ducks eked out a nail-biting win over the Badgers in Pasadena.

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, a projected first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, is known for his ability to tear secondaries apart with his passing game. On Jan. 1, Herbert proved he could get it done with his feet too, as he ran for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard gallop that put the Ducks up by one with about seven and a half minutes left.

Oregon managed to beat a No. 8 ranked Wisconsin team with just 204 total yards of offense. The reason? Turnovers — four, to be exact  — off of which Oregon managed to score three touchdowns.

All in all, a thorny offensive showing cost the Badgers what would have been their first Rose Bowl win since 1999.


Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia, 26; No. 7 Baylor, 14

After being the last team left out of the College Football Playoff last year  —  just as they were this year  —  the Bulldogs lost to Texas in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Fans and analysts alike speculated that Georgia simply hadn’t been motivated, as the Sugar Bowl was a measly consolation prize after not making the playoff.

Georgia was clearly not in want of motivation this year, as the Bulldogs lead 19-0 at the half. Wide receiver George Pickens had a sweet first half in which he amassed 165 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule will have decisions to make this offseason, as the third-year head coach of the Bears has attracted a great deal of interest from NFL teams. If Rhule decides to stick around, the Bears — who have improved from a 1-11 record in his first year to an 11-3 record this year — will only improve.


Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU, 63; No. 4 Oklahoma, 28


If Joe Burrow is not the No. 1 overall pick in this NFL draft, college football fans the world over should be shocked. 

Burrow set just a few CFP records against the Sooners, including but not limited to most touchdowns responsible for in a game (8), most passing touchdowns in a game (7) and most points in a game.

Oklahoma was the lone one-loss team outside the top three that was in serious contention for the No. 4 seed. Despite having earned their spot, Oklahoma’s secondary was simply no match for a Heisman-winning quarterback and the best wide receiver corps in college football.


Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Clemson, 29; No. 2 Ohio State, 23

Ohio State fans will argue that they should have won by one point when, if they had taken their chances and avoided penalties as Clemson did, they would have won by double digits and booked a spot in the national championship game.

The referees overturned an OSU scoop and score after ruling that Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross, who took three steps with the football after a catch, did not have clear possession of the ball before having it punched out of his hands by cornerback Jeff Okudah. 

The scarlet and grey had a terrible time in the red zone, as they were forced to kick three field goals on all three trips inside the 20-yard line. A targeting penalty and a roughing the punter penalty extended two different Clemson drives, which both resulted in touchdowns.

Much like fellow Big Ten team Wisconsin, the Buckeyes beat themselves. 


The national championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson will be played at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

William Cooke covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].