WHO: No. 12 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 7 Auburn (10-3)
WHAT: The 50th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
WHEN: 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
THE SKINNY: Before we go any further, let’s establish one thing — teams from so-called mid-major conferences are 7-3 against Power 5 leagues in BCS/New Year’s Six games. Any advantage you think Auburn gains simply from being in the SEC or UCF cedes from playing in the AAC needs to be wiped from your mind immediately. If Auburn wins, it will have to be because the Tigers are better on the field than the Knights, not from any osmosis-like strength gained simply from playing Georgia and Alabama.
That said, Auburn is very much capable of winning because Auburn is quite good. The Tigers’ defense, specifically the defensive front, is two steps beyond anything UCF has faced this season. This is a team that held Clemson to 2.67 yards a carry and Georgia to 1.44. Jarrett Stidham is an efficient signal-caller, hitting two-thirds of his throws for 8.6 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against four interceptions, and Kerryon Johnson is ready to handle the load after rushing just 13 times in the SEC Championship loss to Georgia.
Having said that, UCF’s offense is also better than anything Auburn has faced this season. In a world where Baker Mayfield does not exist, McKenzie Milton is within a whisker of Jameis Winston‘s 2013 season for posting the most-efficient season by a quarterback in the past six years. He connects on 69.2 percent of his throws for an insane 10.5 yards per attempt with 35 touchdowns versus nine picks. Milton’s last time out saw him complete 28 passes for 494 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing 69 times for another touchdown, in a 62-55 AAC championship win over Memphis.
As with any bowl game, the question of motivation and focus is at play here. Scott Frost and his staff have delayed their impending moves to Nebraska to coach this game, which could end up working to UCF’s favor or its detriment. Auburn played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in its most recent game, and will also open the 2018 season there against Washington.
If UCF can contain Johnson, the Knights have a chance to win. If not, they won’t.
THE PICK: Auburn 31, UCF 27
Today in ‘You’re getting old,’ part 9,374: Ron Dayne’s kid will soon play college football.
While it seems like just yesterday that the ‘Great Dayne’ was running wild at Wisconsin and winning the 1999 Heisman Trophy, the soon-to-be 40-year-old will be back in college football in a different light: as a dad. That’s because his son, Javian Dayne, just committed to Boston College as part of the class of 2018.
The elder Dayne amassed 7,125 yards on the ground over four seasons at Wisconsin, a mark that is more than any other player in college football history but good for second on the NCAA all-time list behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey due to the lack of counting bowl stats back in the day. The younger Dayne doesn’t have quite the same size and stats as his dad but wasn’t too shabby at Waunakee (Wis.) High in running for 4,269 yards and 56 touchdowns the past three years.
“I absolutely hated the process,” Javian told the Wisconsin State Journal of his recruitment. “I was one of those people who wanted to get it over with. I didn’t like the process at all. … We did a lot of traveling around.”
The six-foot, 200 pound recruit is listed as a two-star by 247Sports and was recruited heavily by the Eagles since November. He’ll have a tough time becoming the starter with A.J. Dillon coming off a 1,500 yard season as a freshman but could be in the mix with several others to see some carries early on with primary backup Jon Hilliman transferring to Rutgers.
Either way, the first time the cameras find Ron Dayne on the sidelines at a Boston College game watching his son will be yet another reminder that we’re all getting very, very old.
Alex Grinch isn’t the only member of Mike Leach’s staff who is ticketed out of Pullman this offseason.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman, Oregon had poached Washington State assistant Jim Mastro to be the Ducks’ new running backs coach and run game coordinator.
Mastro has been with the Cougars since joining Leach’s initial staff at Wazzu back in 2012 and has quite a bit of experience out west, including 11 seasons at Nevada and a year at UCLA. He replaces Donte Pimpleton, who followed former Oregon coach Willie Taggart to Florida State several weeks ago.
Interestingly, this is the third straight offseason that the Ducks have poached an assistant from their Pac-12 North rivals. Quarterbacks coach David Yost left for Eugene back in 2015 while Taggart hired defensive line coach Joe Salave’a last year. Mastro should have plenty to work with upon arrival with senior Tony Brooks-James and youngster Darrian Felix likely leading the way on the ground.
Kevin Sumlin is still sorting out his new staff at Arizona but reportedly has his special teams coordinator locked up and it’s a familiar face from his previous stop in College Station.
While Texas A&M’s former special teams coordinator Jeff Banks was hired for the same position at Alabama, Sumlin has hired his No. 2 in Jeremy Springer to be the Wildcats’ new special teams coordinator, a source told Sports Illustrated this week. The trio worked together for three years with the Aggies as Springer assisted Banks in the crucial third phase of the game.
Springer was originally ticketed to join another former Sumlin assistant in David Beaty as a staffer at Kansas but instead will head west to the desert. His most recent formal title was quality control special teams/tight ends assistant at Texas A&M but he’ll be an on-field coach in Tucson.
Springer played linebacker for UTEP and is still pretty fresh-faced in the coaching profession having graduated from the school in 2011.
It’s been nearly two weeks since the national championship game which means that Jeremy Pruitt has been in Knoxville as the new Tennessee head coach for some time now leading the program. Despite that fact, there’s still a visible reminder every day when he drives into work of the previous regime that was in charge of the Vols.
That’s because there’s a giant 35-by-30-foot picture of former head coach Butch Jones still up on the outside of Neyland Stadium… over two months after he was fired by Tennessee. According to the Times Free Press, the picture could even be up past signing day in February as the rather slow change is made for an item that isn’t as easy for the school to alter as the media guide is.
“That’s not an easy process,” athletic director Phillip Fulmer told Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR. “There’s mechanical things involved to get that done. It’s not just, ‘Let’s take down a picture off the wall or a graphic.’ We’re working through that.
“It is important to us, because it is important to reflect what we’re doing. It’ll be done in due time. I’ve heard the same thing from the chancellor. She wants me to speed it up, too. We will. We’ll get there.”
Funny enough, the giant picture of Jones (flanked by UT legends Reggie White and Robert Neyland) replaced an image of Fulmer from when the team won the BCS title 20 years ago. Something says they might revert back to that look with their now-AD until Pruitt can establish himself with the program over the next few years to prevent a repeat of this fiasco.
As the Times Free Press notes, it took Florida State just a week to scrub Jimbo Fisher‘s likeness from Doak Campbell Stadium but it might be three months before the Vols can do the same with their coaching change. It may not delight the fan base to see Jones some more but this is clearly one area on Rocky Top that is decidedly not moving at SEC-speed at the moment.