Valero Alamo Bowl - Washington v Texas
Getty Images

College football fans will be treated to their first traditional New Year's Day slate of bowl games since 2021 on Monday, including both of the College Football Playoff semifinals. After No. 4 Alabama meets No. 1 Michigan in the first semifinal in the Rose Bowl, the second semifinal will take place at the Sugar Bowl between No. 3 Texas and No. 2 Washington in a game that has the potential to be an absolute barn burner. The Huskies are returning to the College Football Playoff for the second time after making a previous appearance in 2016, while the Longhorns are set to make their CFP debut in pursuit of their first national title since 2005. 

The College Football Playoff semifinals return to New Year's Day for the first time since January 2021 with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl serving as this season's hosts. The latter between  has the makings of an absolute barn burner. The Huskies are back in the College Football Playoff for the second time after making a previous appearance in 2016, while the Longhorns are set to make their CFP debut in pursuit of their first national title since 2005. 

From high-powered offenses to upcoming conference moves in 2024, plenty of similarities are to be had between Texas and Washington as they head to New Orleans. Anchored by the nation's top passing attack, the Huskies sit unblemished after winning a Pac-12 title race that looked as if it could be anyone's crown to claim before 10 of the league's 12 members depart for other conferences; Washington is one of four headed to the Big Ten. The Huskies beat three ranked opponents along the way, including No. 8 Oregon twice. It leaves coach Kalen DeBoer, now 24-2 overall in just his second season as Washington coach, looking like that much more of a home-run hire. 

For Texas, one of college football's most iconic brands appears back to its winning ways at last, and just in time for a grand entrance into the SEC ahead of the 2024 season. The Longhorns have already broken through for both their first Big 12 championship and 12-win season since 2009 in Steve Sarkisian's third year on the Forty Acres, signaling what will be at least a four-win improvement from last year's 8-5 finish. But like Washington, the eyes of Texas are set on an even bigger prize -- one that will first require handling business in the Big Easy. 

Follow along with LIVE UPDATES as Texas faces Washington in the Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal. 

How to watch Sugar Bowl live

Date: Monday, Jan. 1 | Time: 8:45 p.m. ET
Location: Caesars Superdome -- New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
For a limited time, new subscribers can save $20 on Fubo's Pro, Elite and Premier plans.

Three players to watch in Sugar Bowl

Texas QB Quinn Ewers: The Longhorns offense is loaded with skilled pass-catchers, but that only matters if Ewers brings his A-game to New Orleans. So far this season, the second-year Texas signal-caller has delivered. Ewers' most recent outing in the Big 12 Championship Game saw him pass for a career-high 452 yards with four touchdowns en route to capturing game MVP honors. Add in five rushing touchdowns this season, and Ewers has made leaps and bounds from a 2022 Longhorns debut that was full of growing pains. Facing a shorthanded rushing attack after leading rusher Jonathon Brooks went down with an ACL injury, Ewers needs to be on point and capitalize against a Washington defense that ranks outside the top 100 nationally against the pass.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.: Much like Texas, Washington prides itself on offense. And while its Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line and plethora of skill players -- wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan among them -- deserve high praise, Penix is ultimately the unit's guiding force. He ended the regular season atop the nation with 4,218 yards passing, finishing as the Hesiman runner-up behind LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. Penix is no one-hit wonder, either, as the Indiana transfer previously passed for 4,641 yards during his Huskies debut in 2022. If the offensive line does its job, watch for Penix to put up big numbers against a Texas team whose biggest vulnerability by far this season has been defending the pass. 

Texas DL T'Vondre Sweat: When it comes to freak athletes, there isn't another player in this game that comes close to Sweat. The 6-foot-4, 362-pound senior has been an imposing force along the defensive line for Texas all season en route to winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and being named a unanimous All-American. As far as this matchup is concerned, Sweat's size might just be golden ticket to breaking through a Washington offensive line that nobody has been able to solve in 2023. If that dam breaks and Texas is able to routinely pressure Penix -- watch for defensive lineman Byron Murphy as well here -- the Longhorns will be in prime shape to punch their ticket to the CFP National Championship in Houston. 

Sugar Bowl prediction, pick

Odds via Sportsline Consensus 

With the offensive firepower that both teams bring to the table, the potential is there for an instant-classic to unfold in New Orleans. But at the end of the day, this game may very well be won or lost in the trenches. If Texas' pass rush wins the day and puts Washington in an uncomfortable position, the only thing stopping the Longhorns from advancing to Houston is themselves. If both offensive lines win their respective battles, we could be in store for a shootout that is truly a coin flip between two teams who have overcome plenty of adversity up to this point. In the end, Texas has the better athletes, and that might just be enough for the Longhorns to win the day. Pick: Texas -4

Which college football picks can you make with confidence during bowl season? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned well over $2,000 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons -- and find out.