Orange Bowl 2021: Underrated Stars to Watch and Picks in Georgia vs. Michigan
The Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines earned praise for their respective defenses throughout the college football season.
Georgia has the best scoring defense, gave up the second-fewest total yards per game and ranked fifth in the FBS in sacks.
Michigan produced a Heisman Trophy finalist in Aidan Hutchinson, who tore apart the Ohio State Buckeyes offensive line to set the Wolverines up for a College Football Playoff berth.
Both defenses received plenty of attention in the spotlight ahead of the Orange Bowl, but the real difference-makers on New Year's Eve could be offensive role players who step up to make a big play or two inside Hard Rock Stadium.
The two squads have some underrated pass-catchers who could be vital to their team's success in what could be a low-scoring affair.
Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia
The focus on Georgia's offense typically shifts to its three-headed rushing attack and tight end Brock Bowers.
The Bulldogs need more than a dominant rushing attack, or a strong performance from their top pass-catcher, to advance to the national championship game.
Ladd McConkey had more than two receptions once in the last seven games, but his catches have been vital to Georgia's offensive success.
The freshman wide receiver caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two contests. Two of his five scoring catches came in matchups with ranked opponents.
McConkey could be vital to the Georgia offense in the red zone. One catch from him could be the difference between settling for a field goal and scoring a touchdown.
He may not be targeted as much as Bowers, Jermaine Burton or George Pickens, but McConkey will be relied upon to make one or two big catches that could flip the game in Georgia's favor.
Erick All, TE, Michigan
Michigan tight end Erick All could feature in a similar role as McConkey.
All caught a touchdown pass in the Big Ten Championship Game and in the November 13 win over the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The junior tight end showed up in some of Michigan's most important games. He had season highs of 10 receptions and 98 yards against the Michigan State Spartans.
He could end up as a safety valve for Cade McNamara and a potential player who can find a way through Georgia's linebackers in the passing game.
All should also serve as one of McNamara's top red-zone targets with so much focus on running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum.
If Georgia loads up the box to stop the run, All could sneak behind the defense to get open for a touchdown, or for a drive-extending play.
Like McConkey, All will not be Michigan's primary passing-game target, but he could be one of the most important offensive pieces.
Georgia 20, Michigan 17
The Orange Bowl could end up as one of the lowest-scoring contests in College Football Playoff history.
Georgia gives up 9.5 points per game, and Michigan is not too far behind at 16.1 points allowed per contest.
Both teams boast a fantastic front seven that could cause fits to the opposing rushing attack.
That is why players like McConkey and All may end up as difference-makers. One touchdown off a drive that looked like it would produce a field goal could create enough separation to win.
Georgia should be motivated to earn a potential rematch with the Alabama Crimson Tide after it fell in the SEC Championship Game.
Kirby Smart's team gave up more than 20 points once, and that was against Alabama. As long as UGA's defense returns to its regular form, it should advance to the title game.