TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Date: Jan. 2, noon ET on ESPN
Location: Jacksonville, Florida | EverBank Field
Best moment: The 37-21 victory over San Diego State. This game really wasn’t appreciated until weeks after the Sept. 26 victory, when the Aztecs showed they’re the best team in the Mountain West with an 8-0 conference record. It's the only winning team the Nittany Lions defeated during the regular season. Christian Hackenberg had one of his best games of the season -- 296 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions -- and Carl Nassib finished with two sacks.
Lowest moment: The 27-10 loss to Temple. The season opener against the Owls was the worst loss of the James Franklin era. Penn State allowed 10 sacks and was absolutely dominated after its second offensive drive; it was one of the worst offensive performances ever by Penn State. It was Temple’s first victory in this series since 1941.
Key player: Running back Saquon Barkley. He’s only a freshman, but he has already earned comparisons to past Penn State All-Americans such as Curt Warner and Larry Johnson. He had 28 broken tackles on his first 66 carries and broke the Penn State record for must rushing yards by a freshman (1,007). Pro Football Focus already has him rated as the ninth-best running back in the nation.
Motivation level: Medium-high. Penn State is 0-7 against ranked teams the last two seasons and has yet to beat a winning Power 5 team this season. In other words, the Nittany Lions still have plenty to prove. The better the opponent, the more motivated they’ll be. -- Josh Moyer
Best moment: A 52-20 victory over South Carolina in Week 3 offered a glimpse of what Georgia could be on its best day. Quarterback Greyson Lambert set an NCAA record by completing 24 of 25 passes, and running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and receiver Malcolm Mitchell all had big games. This was the last outstanding performance by Lambert, and Chubb played just two more games before suffering a season-ending injury against Tennessee.
Lowest moment: Perhaps a 27-3 loss to Florida sealed Mark Richt’s fate as head coach, but that might not have been the lowest point. Unbeaten Georgia was ranked eighth and was a rare favorite when No. 13 Alabama visited Sanford Stadium in October. However, Alabama steamrolled the Bulldogs, leading 38-3 late in the third quarter when Nick Chubb finally put Georgia on the board with a meaningless touchdown run. It was another humiliating loss in a big game.
Key player: These days, it’s Michel. Chubb was one of the nation’s most dynamic backs before his injury, but the offense’s key performer since Chubb’s injury has been Michel. He’s a dangerous runner – Michel led the team in rushing in all seven games since Chubb went down – and he’s also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield or line up outside as a receiver. Georgia’s offense has struggled lately, which makes Michel’s production extremely important.
Motivation level: Moderate. Richt initially said he would coach in this game, which could have created one heck of a going-away party for the veteran coach. Instead, Richt accepted a job at Miami and receivers coach Bryan McClendon will take over as interim coach. It will probably be a weird December for all involved, so it's tough to know what we should expect from the Bulldogs when they kick off against the Nittany Lions. -- David Ching