Orange Bowl 2015: Predictions for Top Prospects in Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Orange Bowl 2015: Bowl season is the perfect time to scout prospects for your favorite NFL team in the upcoming draft, and the 2015 Orange Bowl will provide an opportunity to look at a number of top talents. Both the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners will be sending top prospects to the pros, and Thursday’s bowl game will showcase their talents with some high-profile matchups.

Orange Bowl 2015

With the College Football Playoff just days away, here’s a look at some of the top prospects who will be taking the field in the Orange Bowl and how they can influence the game and improve their draft stocks in the process.

Shaq Lawson

Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson is an elite NFL prospect who affects the game in many ways.

According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson earned a plus-20.6 grade this season as a pass-rusher and a plus-16.7 grade against the run, making him one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen in the nation.

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Against Oklahoma, Lawson can make the biggest impact by getting to Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield. However, pressuring Mayfield may not be enough. Lawson will need to finish off those pressures with sacks in order to disrupt the Sooners signal-caller.

Per PFF, Mayfield earned a plus-6.5 grade when facing pressure this season, which was among the best marks in the nation. With a strong showing against the Sooners, Lawson could help Clemson advance to the title game and solidify his status as a first-round prospect.

Mackensie Alexander vs. Sterling Shepard

Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander has already established himself as one of the elite cornerback prospects in this year’s draft class and a likely first-round pick. Though he’s only a redshirt sophomore, NFL Network’s Rand Getlin reported that Alexander is leaning toward turning pro.

In terms of NFL draft stocks, this matchup means more for Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard, who will have the opportunity to showcase his skills against one of the nation’s elite cornerbacks.

Playing in the Big 12, Shepard has not been tested against a secondary with the type of future pros that Clemson’s unit boasts. As a result, scouts will likely put more stock in his performance against the Tigers than many of his impressive performances earlier in the season.

According to NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, Shepard has “displayed precise route-running skills to get open against one-on-one coverage on the outside.”

If Shepard can use those skills to create separation against Alexander, the Sooners passing game should be able to find success against the Clemson defense. If he struggles, however, Oklahoma’s offense may sputter, and Shepard’s draft stock would take a hit.

Eric Striker

At 6’0″ and 222 pounds, linebacker Eric Striker is undersized by NFL standards. But what Striker lacks in size he makes up for with his explosiveness and his ability to anticipate the offense’s movement and put himself in position to make plays.

While Striker is effective as a pass-rusher, he will be valuable in this matchup if he can fight his way into the backfield to disrupt the Clemson rushing attack.

Striker has racked up 31.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Opposing defenses have rarely made those types of negative plays against Clemson, especially with starting running back Wayne Gallman carrying the football.

If Striker can make plays against Gallman, he may stall some Clemson drives and boost his draft stock in the process.

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Orange Bowl 2015: Factors That Will Decide Oklahoma vs. Clemson Playoff Matchup

Orange Bowl 2015: The Clemson Tigers are the No. 1 team in the nation. They’re quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, but the team is still a 3.5-point underdog against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve, per Odds Shark.

Why are the Tigers not getting the respect that a No. 1-ranked 13-0 team should receive? Part of the reason is that Oklahoma is really good. Since the Sooners’ egregious loss to the Texas Longhorns on October 10, the team has not only won seven games in a row, but only one opponent has managed to stay within 10 points of them on the final scoreboard.How can Clemson hand the Sooners their second defeat and march into the CFP National Championship? It’ll start in the trenches and end with ball protection. Here’s a look at the key factors for both teams heading into the Orange Bowl.

Orange Bowl 2015

Orange Bowl 2015

When Texas defeated Oklahoma, it did so with a dominant run game, as the Longhorns rushed for 313 yards on 58 carries. Oklahoma hand no answer for dual-threat quarterback Jerrod Heard. He ran for 115 yards on 21 carries by himself and threw for 53 more with a touchdown.

Watson must put on a similar performance. One look at this tweet from ESPN College Football proves he’s more than capable:Clemson’s ground threats go beyond Watson. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has been on a tear of late, and he needs to stay hot against the Sooners. In his last two games, Gallman has averaged 144.5 rushing yards per contest. If Clemson can get both Watson and Gallman going in the run game, the foundation will be laid for the upset.The path to an Oklahoma win lies in the turnover margin category. On the season, the Sooners have forced 26 turnovers and enjoyed a plus-10 turnover edge. In contrast, Clemson has somehow remained undefeated with a minus-two turnover margin.

The Tigers’ issues with ball security come almost equally from interceptions (13) and fumbles (12). Their inability to take care of the ball will cost them if the trend continues in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners are too good of a team for Clemson to beat if it loses the turnover battle.Sooners junior QB Baker Mayfield may come into the game with a chip on his shoulder. Despite a stellar 2015 season that saw him throw for 3,389 yards, 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions, Mayfield didn’t get an invite to the Heisman Trophy presentation.

Watson didn’t win, but finishing third and being invited to the ceremony is an honor for anyone—let alone a sophomore.

When he and Mayfield go head-to-head, we won’t just be watching two leaders attempting to make plays to put their teams in position to play for a national championship, we might be watching the precursor to an intense battle for the 2016 Heisman Trophy.

The QB who performs best will lead his team to the title game.

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Orange Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and More

Orange Bowl 2015: The final act is set to play out this weekend, and it will determine the four semifinalists who will battle in this year’s College Football Playoff. The Orange Bowl will feature the top-rated team, and if the Clemson Tigers remain unbeaten by defeating North Carolina when the two teams meet for the ACC title on Saturday night, they are likely to remain in the top spot.

orange bowl 2015

That would put them in a matchup with the No. 4-ranked team. The unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes are currently in that position, one spot ahead of No. 5 Michigan State. Those two teams will meet at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title on Saturday.

While we fully expect the Tigers to come out ahead of the Tar Heels to move to 13-0 on the season, it seems quite likely that battle-tested Michigan State will hand Iowa its first loss of the season and win the Big Ten title.

If the Spartans win that game to move to 12-1 on the season, they will almost certainly move into the No. 4 spot in the rankings and get the nod to play in the national semifinal against Clemson when the announcements are made on College Football Playoff Selection Day on Sunday.

The Orange Bowl will be played Dec. 31 at 4 or 8 p.m. ET. ESPN will televise the game, and the start time will be determined on CFP Selection Day.Game: Orange Bowl

Date: Thursday, Dec. 31

Kickoff Time (ET): 4 or 8 p.m.

Location: Sun Life Stadium; Miami Gardens, Florida

TV: ESPN

Michigan State has beaten Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State this season, and the victories over Michigan and Ohio State were both on the road. Iowa is 12-0 as it prepares for the Big Ten title game, and its most impressive win came on the road against Northwestern.

Michigan State has also been one of the elite teams in the nation for several seasons, while the Hawkeyes exceeded expectations to get to this point. The Spartans have been through more, and that’s why they are 3.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.The Spartans feature an explosive offensive team led by senior quarterback Connor Cook. While Cook did not play in the 17-14 upset victory over Ohio State on Nov. 21 due to a shoulder injury, he returned to the lineup in the regular-season finale against Penn State.

Cook has completed 194 of 337 passes for 2,730 yards with a 24-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Cook has a crew of impressive receivers in Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings and R.J. Shelton. Burbridge has 75 receptions for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns, while Kings and Shelton have combined for 912 receiving yards and nine TDs.

LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes lead the Michigan State rushing attack, and those two have combined for 1,139 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has been the key to the Tigers’ productive and at-times explosive offense all season. He has thrown for 3,223 yards and completed 70.4 percent of his passes while throwing 27 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.Running back Wayne Gallman has gotten the job done on the ground with 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns, while Artavis Scott is the Tigers’ leading receiver with 77 catches, 709 yards and four TDs.

Just as we like the Spartans to come out on top in the Big Ten title game, we also like them to come up with the victory over a well-rounded Clemson team.

The Tigers may look better on paper because Michigan State’s defense has been vulnerable at times this season, but MSU’s competition has steeled Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.

Look for the Spartans to make it to the national championship game.

Prediction: Michigan State 27, Clemson 24

Source: bleacherreport

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