Tennessee-Clemson in Orange Bowl headlines New Year's Six matchups
The festivities begin with that matchup on Dec. 30 in Miami, before the Sugar Bowl between No. 5 Alabama and No. 9 Kansas State in New Orleans in the afternoon on New Year's Eve. The Rose Bowl will be played in an unconventional Jan. 2 time slot due to NFL action on New Year's Day. No. 11 Penn State returns to that game for the first time since 2017 with No. 8 Utah back for a second season in a row.
Here's how each matchup stacks up.
Orange Bowl: Tennessee vs. Clemson (Dec. 30)
Tennessee lit up scoreboards all season long, with its high-powered offense registering a statement win over Alabama in October. That victory saw Josh Heupel's program snag the No. 1 spot in the first edition of the CFP rankings in November. Losses at Georgia and South Carolina would see them crash out of the playoff conversation, but a New Year's Six bowl is still a great achievement in his second season with the Volunteers. Unfortunately, star quarterback Hendon Hooker will not be playing after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the loss to the Gamecocks.
The other half of the all-orange matchup in Miami is ACC champion Clemson, after the Tigers clinched the spot by beating North Carolina on Saturday. After using him sparingly throughout the season, Dabo Swinney finally went to backup quarterback Cade Klubnik over DJ Uiagalelei against the Tar Heels and the prized recruit responded in a big way. That new-found offense for Clemson could make this an explosive matchup.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Kansas State (Dec. 31)
It could be a very different Alabama team that takes the field against Kansas State on New Year's Eve than the one we saw all season. A number of Crimson Tide standouts could opt to sit out the contest to begin preparing for the NFL draft. Bryce Young and Will Anderson could be among that group, with Nick Saban likely to lean on young talent.
The Wildcats won the Big 12 in dramatic fashion Saturday, allowing the game-tying touchdown to TCU in the final minutes before securing the overtime win with a goal-line stand. Kansas State has been a different team since Will Howard took over as starting quarterback and the talented junior could give a vulnerable Alabama secondary fits in New Orleans.
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Utah (Jan. 2)
Utah returns to Pasadena for the second straight year fresh off its impressive victory over USC in the Pac-12 title game. The Utes were part of an epic Rose Bowl last season, going back and forth with Ohio State before falling in the final seconds, 48-45.
The Nittany Lions are no stranger to dramatic Rose Bowls; Penn State's last appearance in the game was an incredible 52-49 contest vs. USC in 2017. This was an impressive season for James Franklin's program, with the only losses coming against playoff teams Michigan and Ohio State.
Cotton Bowl: Tulane vs. USC (Jan. 2)
Tulane is one of the stories of the year in college football, as the Green Wave rebounded from a 10-loss season last year to go 11-2 and win their first conference title since 1998. It's safe to say the Tulane faithful will be pumped for the trip to Texas - the Cotton Bowl marks the program's first major bowl appearance since 1939.
Nobody will fault USC if the Trojans struggle to get fired up for the Cotton Bowl after Lincoln Riley's program saw its CFP hopes dashed in the Pac-12 title game loss to Utah. Heisman favorite Caleb Williams leads one of the nation's top offensive units into action, but the 119th-ranked defense could struggle to slow down the Green Wave rushing attack led by Tyjae Spears.