Orange Bowl 2021: Predictions for Top Prospects in Georgia vs. Michigan

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 29, 2021

Orange Bowl 2021: Predictions for Top Prospects in Georgia vs. Michigan

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Georgia's defense was dominant for much of the 2021 season. Michigan has also been strong on the defensive side of the ball, as its unit was powered by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson,who could end up getting selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

    So it wouldn't be a surprise if Friday's Orange Bowl matchup between the Bulldogs and Wolverines ends up being a low-scoring affair that features some impressive defense being played on both sides. And that's because both units are loaded up with future NFL talent.

    This is a high-stakes matchup, as the Orange Bowl is one of the two games serving as a College Football Playoff semifinal this year. The winner will advance to the CFP National Championship Game on Jan. 10. So the top draft prospects in Friday's game will be looking to extend their college career by another game before turning pro.

    Here's a look at several top draft prospects who will be playing in this year's Orange Bowl, along with predictions for how they'll fare in the matchup.

Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    It may depend on which NFL team ends up with the No. 1 pick in the draft, but Hutchinson could be the first player selected in late April. The senior defensive end has been so impressive this season that he was one of the four players named as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, a rare recognition for a defensive player.

    In 13 games this season, Hutchinson has 58 tackles (15.5 for a loss) and 14 sacks. He's also stepped up when the stakes have been highest for the Wolverines. He had seven tackles and three sacks in Michigan's win over Ohio State in the regular-season finale, then he had four tackles and a sack in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa.

    Now, Michigan will face its biggest challenge yet in a CFP semifinal matchup against Georgia. However, Hutchinson appears confident in himself and the rest of the Wolverines' defense.

    "Come Friday we're rolling, and nothing is going to stop me," Hutchinson said, per Brooks Austin of Sports Illustrated.

    Even if Georgia's offense has some success against Michigan's defense, Hutchinson should make his presence felt. So don't be surprised if he's creating pressure and gets to Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett a couple times.

    Prediction: Six tackles, two sacks

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Nakobe Dean has been a major reason why Georgia's defense has been so dominant this season. The junior has been a leader for the Bulldogs, and he became only the second player in program history to win the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation's top linebacker (joining Roquan Smith in 2017).

    Over his first two seasons at Georgia, Dean was a solid contributor. But he's taken his game to another level in 2021, as he has 61 tackles (8.5 for a loss), five sacks and two interceptions in 13 games this season. He's been an anchor for a Bulldogs defense allowing only 9.54 points (best in the country) and 254.4 total yards (second in the nation) per game.

    And although Dean and the rest of head coach Kirby Smart's Bulldogs didn't have their best showing in their SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama earlier this month, they're focused on bouncing back and playing their way into the CFP National Championship Game.

    "I feel like we've just got to work," Dean said, per Ryan Kerley of Dawg Post. "We've just got to trust Coach's game plan and we've got to execute. We've got to execute at a high level."

    Dean should put up some solid numbers against Michigan's offense while helping Georgia have a bounce-back defensive showing.

    Prediction: Seven tackles and one sack

Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    At 6'6" and 340 pounds, Jordan Davis is a huge presence on Georgia's defensive line. Although the senior hasn't put up big numbers this season, he's been a major factor in the Bulldogs' defensive success, as he often does things that don't show up on the stat sheet.

    Davis, who has 28 tackles and two sacks in 12 games, will be trying to help Georgia's defensive front stop a Michigan rushing attack that is averaging 223.8 yards on the ground per game (10th most in the country). But Davis and the Bulldogs are ready for that opportunity.

    "Each team is different. But we're excited to play them," Davis said, per Dean Legge of Dawg Post. "We're excited for the challenge. We're just ready to get out there."

    Georgia is allowing only 81.7 rushing yards per game, the third-fewest in the nation. So while Michigan has had success on the ground, it may have trouble doing so in the Orange Bowl. Davis should help the Bulldogs shut down the Wolverines' rushing attack, which could help determine the outcome of the game.

    Prediction: Davis helps Georgia hold Michigan to less than 100 rushing yards