On paper, these two teams look very similar to me. Great defenses, and two offenses that run the ball. I’ll give the slight nod to the Penn State defense, while the Utah offense is likely slightly better.
The biggest thing impacting this game will be opt outs. For the Lions, so far only cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and wide receiver Parker Washington have decided to sit out the bowl game. While Washington will definitely be felt, the Lions actually played with out JPJ for the majority of November, and fared well (granted, he missed the Maryland and Rutgers games, but Maryland is at least a competent passing team).
For Utah, however, opt outs will be felt a bit more. Cornerback Clark Phillips III and tight end Dalton Kincaid will be skipping the bowl. At first glance, these losses seem comparable, but a deeper look shows a bit more.
While Porter was first-team All-Big Ten, Phillips was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. While Washington was the top receiver for the Lions, Kincaid recorded 24 more catches over the season, accounting for 279 more yards, and pulling in 6 more touchdowns.
Overall, the majority of the two teams will be playing in the bowl game, but I think the minor differences that the opt outs have will push this matchup toward Penn State’s favor. The Lions’ defense continues to do its thing, while the offense leans on the run game. The offensive line puts together its best performance yet this season, and the Lions get the win.
Penn State 28, Utah 24
BONUS CONTENT: Regardless of the score, Franklin decides to give Drew Allar some run in the game, getting the true freshman experience at one of the most storied venues in college football.
These are two teams that matchup very well. Both have great defenses, an offense that will want to throw the ball, and a quarterback that is typically great or bad with no in between. One major factor in this game could be injuries/opt outs. While it appears that the Nittany Lions will be healthiest they have been since late October and that Joey Porter Jr. will be the lone opt out from the bowl, between injuries and opt outs Utah will be without multiple key pieces. This includes arguably their two best players in tight end Dalton Kincaid and cornerback Clark Phillips III.
Utah is a very physical team, but they’re not as physical as they have been in recent seasons. Assuming old Fashanu and Caedan Wallace are back, which it appears they will be, Penn State’s offensive line should have an advantage over the interior of Utah’s defensive line. This could lead to a big day between the tackles for Kaytron Allen. Nick Singleton also has the speed and play making ability to bust off a big run or two against a Utah defense that, while very physical and scheme sound, Penn State’s offense should have an athleticism advantage.
One thing that has hurt the Utah defense this year is a quarterback who can use their legs. Bo Nix and Anthony Richardson hurt them that way, so did Caleb Williams in the PAC-12 Championship Game before he got injured. As critical as I have been of Sean Clifford, I have no doubts he wants to go out in a big way to help cement his Penn State legacy. Using his legs can help him do this. Clifford’s legs help lead the Nittany Lions to victory, sending Penn State into the offseason with more buzz and momentum than just about any other program in the country.
Penn State 31, Utah 27
I’ll go out on a limb and say this game will not be nearly as high-scoring as Penn State’s last Rose Bowl appearance (which to this day, remains the highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever). That being said, expect some fireworks from both teams, as Sean Clifford and Utah’s Cam Rising are both capable dual-threat QB’s who have their good and bad moments, the two-headed backfield monsters of Nick Singleton/Kaytron Allen and Utah’s Micah Bernard/Ja’Quinden Jackson should come up with some big plays, and both teams boast athletic and physical defenses.
In a game where the two teams appear evenly matched on paper, I take a look at the intangibles: Who’s opted out? How much does this Rose Bowl mean for both teams? Who is playing their final game in their team’s respective uniform? Utah seems to have the more impactful opt-outs as their top cornerback Clark Philips II and top receiver in tight end Dalton Kincaid will not be playing, while PSU has already seemed to have grown accustomed to life without Joey Porter Jr. and Parker Washington and don’t expect any other opt-outs. While Utah is playing in their second straight Rose Bowl, they will surely be seeking to finish the job after blowing a double-digit lead late against Ohio State last year. Meanwhile, PSU is seeking their first Rose Bowl dub since 1995 and for James Franklin, he’d love nothing more than second time to be the charm.
Last but certainly not least, we know for a fact that this will be Sean Clifford’s final game in a Penn State uniform and he’s absolutely hell-bent on going out with a signature win in the Grandaddy of them all. Bet against that at your own risk.
Penn State 34, Utah 24
The hype train is off the station! Remember when Squon Barkley became “Saquon Barkley” after his performance in the Rose Bowl? Expect the same kind of coming out party for Nicholas Singleton, Kaytron Allen, Adbul Carter, and the rest of the freshmen who Penn State fans are intimate familiar with. Then, of course, the man of the hour, Drew Allar, will put the final spin on the “Penn State top 5 hype 2023” soundtrack, and for the next nine months, all we’re going to talk about is 15-0 or GTFO, and for maybe the second time in Franklin’s tenure, it won’t be joke.
Penn State 56, Utah 17
With Utah losing two key players and Penn State only missing Parker Washington and Joey Porter, the Nittany Lions have a small edge in terms of available talent. Initially, the physicality of the Utah lines worried me, but I believe the tandem of Singleton and Allen could be the difference in this one. Sean Clifford goes out a winner in Pasadena.
Penn State 35, Utah 27