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QB battle in Cotton Bowl takes center stage on day with 5 games

Cotton Bowl quarterbacks
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The first “big” bowl of the season is Friday, with Big Ten champ Ohio State meeting Pac-12 champ USC in the Cotton Bowl.

The matchup is more fitting for the Rose Bowl, which hosts a national semifinal this season, but that shouldn’t take away from the allure of the game. Ohio State senior quarterback J.T Barrett will be playing his final college game, and it could be the final college game for USC quarterback Sam Darnold, a third-year sophomore who is eligible for the draft.

Both quarterbacks have able complements at running back. Ohio State has true freshman J.T. Dobbins, who has rushed for 1,364 yards and seven TDs; USC has underrated junior Ronald Jones II, who has rushed for 1,486 yards and 18 TDs. USC has the better receivers, Ohio State the better line.

Who has the better defense? That’s a good question. Ohio State’s numbers are vastly better, but the Buckeyes haven’t played that many high-level offenses.

The Cotton Bowl is the headliner on a day with five bowls. Here’s a quick look at all five, including two that feature SEC teams.

Belk Bowl

Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte.
TIME/TV: Friday, 1 p.m., ESPN
BUZZ: Wake Forest has had four games with at least 587 yards of offense. But the Demon Deacons also have been held to fewer than 350 five times. Wake senior QB John Wolford is a dual threat, and when he runs effectively, the Demon Deacons usually win. Will A&M’s defense – which was brutal against the run in SEC play – be up to the task? Wake’s defense isn’t good, but A&M’s running game has been a big disappointment. There’s not real reason to believe the Aggies can get it cranked up for this one, so this may well come down to Nick Starkel’s right arm. Wake’s secondary is exploitable, for sure. The Demon Deacons are aiming for just the seventh eight-win season in school history; this would be only the second season with eight victories since 1992.
OFFICIATING CREW: from the Pac-12.
LINE: Wake Forest by 3.
THE PICK: Texas A&M 41-35.

RELATED: Producing on the big stage: The 10 best bowl performances by SEC players in history

Sun Bowl

Arizona State (7-5) vs. NC State (8-4)
WHERE: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas.
TIME/TV: Friday, 2 p.m., CBS
BUZZ: Arizona State already has fired coach Todd Graham, but he will be on the sideline for the Sun Devils one final time for this matchup. A victory would give Arizona State eight wins in a season for fourth time in the past six seasons; it would be the first time with four such seasons in a six-year span since doing it four times from 1981-86. QB Manny Wilkins (2,918 yards, 17 TD passes), RB Demario Richard (977 yards, 12 TDs) and WR N’Keal Harry (73 receptions, 1,000 yards, seven TDs) lead the way for ASU. The Sun Devils’ defense is not good; ASU has surrendered at least 30 points nine times. NC State has one of the best defensive lines in the nation, led by senior E Bradley Chubb, a sure-fire 2018 NFL draft first-round pick. The big three offensively for NCSU are QB Ryan Finley (3,200 yards, 16 TD passes), RB Nyheim Hines (1,040 yards, nine TDs) and H-Back Jaylen Samuel (69 receptions, 551 yards, four TDs).
OFFICIATING CREW: from the Big Ten.
LINE: NC State by 6.5.
THE PICK: NC State 35-30.

Music City Bowl

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville.
TIME/TV: Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
BUZZ: Despite its gaudy record and a second-place finish in the Big Ten West, Northwestern fell down the conference’s bowl pecking order. Will that be a motivating factor? RB Justin Jackson is third in the Big Ten with 1,154 rushing yards, and he is the first running back in school history with four 1,000-yard seasons. Jackson is 12th in FBS history with 5,283 yards; he needs 17 to move into 11th place and 20 to move into 10th. Northwestern junior QB Clayton Thorson has thrown for 2,809 yards and 15 TDs, but inconsistency remains an issue; Thorsen has thrown 12 picks and often struggles with his accuracy. Northwestern’s run defense has been excellent and that is the key in this one. Northwestern should be able to move the ball on UK; will the opposite also hold true? Kentucky must run well to win, putting a ton of pressure on sophomore RB Benny Snell Jr. to produce. He has rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 TDs, and QB Stephen Johnson also has had his moments on the ground. Northwestern is going for just its fifth 10-win season in school history.
OFFICIATING CREW: from the Pac-12.
LINE: Northwestern by 7.5.
THE PICK: Northwestern 31-20.

RELATED: The complete 2017 College Football Playoff and bowl schedule

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