It’s December, which means it’s college football bowl season; a time where the nation’s best meet on the gridiron and go head to head for everything from a national championship to a trophy presented by Cheez-Itz. It’s also a time to visit the local sports book and make some extra money during the holiday season, but to make sure you place the proper wager, I have broken down every game with the reasons why you should tune in to every bowl match-up, as well as how to play the spread.
So good luck, happy holidays and merry winnings!
CFP Semifinals: Goodyear Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX)
#2 Clemson (-11) vs #3 Notre Dame
Reason to watch: Clemson’s defense was highly touted all season, and for good reason, but they did get torched by both Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Jake Bentley (South Carolina) for over 500 yards passing. Now, they face an even better quarterback in Ian Book who is an excellent decision maker and throws probably the best sideline ball in the country. He may not stretch the field like some of the other well-known quarterbacks, but he does go sideline to sideline better than anyone. His Irish also won all 12 games.
Clemson has one major advantage over Notre Dame and that is experience. This is the fourth year in a row that they have been in the CFP and you could see throughout the season how they kept getting better and building up to the 4-team tournament. Their current offense has been unstoppable, scoring over 40 points 8 times this season. Travis Etienne is close to 1,500 yards but more importantly has been a touchdown machine with 21 scores. They haven’t missed Kelly Bryant much as Trevor Lawrence has put together a very good freshman season.
Pat’s Pick: Notre Dame will need to be patient and allow running back Dexter Williams to find a path through that monstrous defensive front of Clemson. The challenge will come if Notre Dame gets in a hole on the scoreboard while doing so. I think Notre Dame keeps this close, damn close up until the end. Clemson coach Dabo Sweeny is 7-1 against the spread in bowl games with the Tigers, but this Irish team has something special. They don’t win, but I can’t give away 11 points either. Notre Dame gets the cover here +11.
CFP Semifinals: Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami, FL)
#1 Alabama (-14) vs #4 Oklahoma
Reason to watch: Kyler Murray vs Tua Tagovailoa. One won the Heisman, the other had the most votes ever for a runner-up. Add on all the other storylines, and this is the top game of the Bowl season.
Alabama cruised through the regular season and didn’t hit a real hurdle until the SEC championship game when Jalen Hurts came off the bench and scripted a story that seemed so unbelievable that it felt like you were watching a movie. Throughout the season Tagovailoa tormented opponents, and their defense was a huge benefactor of that. Always playing with a lead, this unit held opponents to 14 points per game and just 178 passing yards. They kept big-stat quarterbacks like Kellon Mond, Drew Lock, Nick Fitzgerald and Jarret Stidham all to under 200-yards.
Oklahoma had a historic offense this season and Murray put together a run even more impressive than his predecessor Baker Mayfield did a year prior. The country’s #1 offense totals 580 yards per game while scoring near 50 points. Their defense however gives up 450 yards and 32 points per contest. Aside from Kyler Murray, keep an eye on Antonio Brown’s cousin, nicknamed “Hollywood.” He hurled in 75 catches for 1,300 yards and has big play potential on every route.
Pat’s Pick: Oklahoma’s defense is bad. Very bad. With small cornerbacks who get picked on, and a defensive front that will get pushed around by Alabama’s line, expect Bama to be physical early. With a defense that plays aggressive even with a lead, this is a recipe for a long night for Sooners fans. Bama wins handedly. Oklahoma will score for sure, but not nearly enough. Alabama wins this one by more than 14.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta, GA)
#10 Florida vs #7 Michigan (-7.5)
Reason to watch: Michigan is 4-0 all time against Florida, and twice Jim Haurbaugh was the coach. Coming off an embarrassing 62-39 loss to Ohio State in their finale, Haurbaugh will have to tighten up his khakis and kick ass this month to get the Wolverines motivated. He won’t have one of the best defensive tackles in the country in Rashan Gary who has declared for the draft, so the nation’s top defensive will need to fill in some holes. On offense Karan Hidgon was a pleasant surprise, rushing for almost 1,200 yards, and Shea Patterson controlled the tempo well up until the trip to Columbus.
Florida has a chance for a 10-win season and a top-10 finish in Dan Mullen’s first year in Gainesville. He did all this with a roster that was coming off a losing season and unstable quarterback play. Feleipe Franks put up decent numbers statistically (2,284 yards, 23 touchdowns), but did not play well in the team’s three losses. Defensively they allow just 20 points per game and are a pest in the air. Their secondary is one of the best in the nation and will force Patterson to make some tough throws.
Pat’s Pick: You can’t give a good defensive team like the Gators over a touchdown head start. Not against a Haurbaugh-led team that can’t win a big game. This is as confident as I will be all bowl season, give me the Gators and the 7.5.
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, NC)
South Carolina (-4) vs Virginia
Reason to watch: In all honesty, you aren’t going to watch this game. It is a noon kickoff, same time as Florida/Michigan and right before the CFP semi-finals. But, for the sake of predicting the full slate of bowl games, I will say that Virginia will be looking for their first bowl win under Bronco Mendenhall. Keep an eye on Olamide Zaccheaus, a senior wide out playing in his last game for Cavaliers and riding an 81-catch, 958-yard season. He has never hit 1,000-yards in a season, so look for this to be a storyline here. As for the Gamecocks, they finished 7-5 with an even 4-4 record in the SEC East. Just a few weeks ago they lost to Clemson by 21-points, but quarterback Jake Bentley reminded everyone he can ball by throwing for 510 yards and 5 touchdowns. 210 of those yards were to stud receiver Deebo Samuel.
Pat’s Pick: Samuel will be skipping the Belk Bowl to prepare for the draft, and the Gamecocks will miss his production. Even without him however they will still win this game, and I have no problem giving up 4 points either.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl (Tucson, AZ)
Arkansas State (-1) vs Nevada
Reason to watch: How did this game sneak onto the schedule today? If you aren’t watching the Belk Bowl, you damn sure aren’t watching this one either. I guess if you do happen to lose the remote and are stuck on this game, you should be entertained in a shootout featuring two exciting senior quarterbacks. Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen plays in his last game as the leader of the Red Wolves and caps of a career that is just 142-yards shy of 10,000. Across the field Ty Gangi suits up for the Wolf Pack one more time looking to improve on a 3,131-yard season. Both teams put up about 32 points per game and allow in the neighborhood of 27.
Pat’s Pick: Gangi is more likely to commit turnovers down the stretch, and turnovers will lose bowl games. Give me the Red Wolves of AK State to take down the Wolf Pack.
Military Bowl (Annapolis, MD)
Cincinnati (-5.5) vs Virginia Tech
Reason to watch: Playing on New Year’s Eve is a great way to finish a successful season for the Bearcats as head coach Luke Fickell took Cincinnati from 4-8 last year to their current 10-2 status. He turned the program around with a top-10 defense (16 points per game) that is incredibly stingy against the run. Offensively, half back Michael Warren II was a monster with the ball, scoring 17 times throughout the season. Virginia Tech had started to gain some momentum under quarterback Ryan Willis, but whatever mojo they found in the middle of the season had disappeared during a 3-game losing streak. This game has potential to be a good one, but the Hookies needed back-to-back wins to make it to the bowl season and was forced to add a week 13 game against Marshall to secure that 6th win. This isn’t the Virginia Tech team we all have known this decade, in fact it’s more of the brand that gives them the notoriety that the team doesn’t deserve right now.
Pat’s Pick: Cincy picks up a win here by a touchdown or more. Easy bet and win with the Bearcats -5.5.
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX)
Stanford (-7) vs Pittsburgh
Reason to watch: This was supposed to be Bryce Love’s season. Not Tua’s, not Kyler’s and not Dwayne’s. Bryce Love’s.
But it never played out like that. The senior from Stanford was the favorite to win the Heisman coming off a junior campaign where he rushed for over 2,100 yards, but between missing time due to injury and a one-dimensional offense he struggled to pack on the stats like previous years and enters the Sun Bowl as his once last time to shine. The Panthers from Pitt had a good year. They won the ACC Coastal and represented in the ACC title game. They finished just one game over .500, but it was enough to get them here. Make no mistake about it, there offense is all about Quadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, a pair of running backs who each eclipsed 1,000 yards and combined for 20 touchdowns.
Pat’s Pick: I like Pitt, but they lost their last two games by a combined 66-13. They just aren’t playing well right now, and I like Love to show up one more time for those Sunday scouts. Give me Stanford for a double-digit win.
Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, CA)
Michigan State vs Oregon (-1.5)
Reason to watch: 5 years ago, Michigan State and Oregon were each in the CFP. Now they meet in the Redbox Bowl.
Justin Herbert has yet to announce his draft plans or whether he will go back to Eugene for another run at the Pac-12, but in the meantime he is just 15 yards shy of his first 3,000-yard season and his half back CJ Verdell needs just 25 for his first 1,000-yard campaign. Michigan State’s head coach Mark D’Antonio has won 5 of his 6 bowl games with the Spartans and will be leaning on his defense to get him another. With the quarterback situation still murky and a questionable run game, he will need the 14th ranked Spartans defense to cause damage at the line of scrimmage. In their last 7 games, which includes contests against Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, the Spartans gave up an average of just 17 points per game.
Pat’s Pick: Oregon’s defense can cause some trouble, and Michigan State doesn’t have the offensive weapons to keep up on the scoreboard. I’ll take the Ducks giving a point and a half.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN)
#23 Missouri (-8) vs Oklahoma State
Reason to watch: Oklahoma State’s All-American running back Justice Hill will be skipping the Liberty Bowl to get ready for the NFL draft. He leaves behind a Cowboys team that went 6-6 on the season but did beat Texas in October and took West Virginia to the wire in late November. QB Taylor Cornelius had a solid season in the box score with over 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns. His counterpart in this match up will be Missouri’s Drew Lock, a 4-year starter who is more of a Big-12 quarterback in a SEC uniform. He completed 252 passes for 3,125 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has 96 career touchdown passes, so now you know why he isn’t skipping this bowl game. Hitting the century mark in scores is a damn good accomplishment.
Pat’s Pick: This has firework potential from the first whistle, and I can imagine a game where Cornelius and Lock trade score, after score, after score. It’s tough to give up more than a touchdown in this one, so I’ll take the 8-points and roll with OK State.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (San Diego, CA)
#22 Northwestern vs #17 Utah (-7.5)
Reason to watch: Pat Fitzgerald and Kyle Whittingham each took their teams to a surprise conference championship game and although they didn’t win, both head coaches have something to hang their hat on: A New Year’s Eve Bowl game. Who cares if it’s the Holiday Bowl, this still should be a fun game to watch. 22nd ranked Northwestern is led by school leader in all passing categories, Clayton Thorson, who will look to get a bowl win in his last time putting on the purple jersey. Fitzgerald has leaned heavy on Thorson’s arm this year and while Isaiah Bowser has finally started to pick things up in the back field, the offense only goes as far as Clayton brings them. Whittingham’s Utes are monsters defensively. Ranked 15th in the country on that side of the ball, Utah only gives up 18 points per game and are stingy against the pass. In the Pac-12 title game they limited Jake Browning of Washington to just 187 yards and kept him out of the end zone.
Pat’s Pick: Utah is the better team, but they have some injury concerns going into this one. That extra half point is big in the spread, and I think NW keeps it close enough to cover. I’ll take the Wildcats +7.5.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL)
NC State vs #19 Texas A&M (-4.5)
Reason to watch: The quarterback match-up between A&M’s Kellon Mond and NC State’s Ryan Finley make this game worth watching. In Jimbo Fisher’s first year as head coach of the Aggies, he helped improve Mond into a better decision maker. Last year he was forcing passes and scrambling out of the pocket too early, but under Fisher’s guidance he corrected those mistakes become a more complete passer. He will surpass the 3,000-yard mark in this game, but the quarterback on the other sidelines will climb a higher mountain and pass the 4,000-yard mark. Finley has completed 68% of his 452 passes and notched 24 touchdowns.
Pat’s Pick: The Wolfpack and Aggies match up well against each-other, so this should be a fun game to watch. I like NC State to pull off the upset but taking 4.5 points never hurts either!
Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL)
#18 Mississippi State (-5) vs Iowa
Reason to watch: The word good doesn’t describe these defenses. They are great. Mississippi State is ranked 3rd in the nation, while Iowa is 7th. There is one big difference however, as Mississippi State has only allowed 12 touchdowns on the season while Iowa has surrendered 26. The Bulldogs lost 4 games this year, all to SEC opponents, and in those match ups dual threat Nick Fitzgerald, who led the team in both passing and rushing, was constantly in uncomfortable positions. In those loses they scored a total of 16 points. Iowa has the potential to recreate that pressure on Fitzgerald and then when they get the ball back, quarterback Nate Stanley will to work. The junior signal caller has had some great games, like his 320 yard and 6 touchdown performance against Indiana, but also seemed to disappear at times, like his 11-completion, 86-yard day against Maryland.
Pat’s Pick: Mississippi State struggled offensively within SEC play, but their defense never backed up. I like them to take it to Iowa here and win this game by a touchdown or so.
VRBO Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL)
#14 Kentucky vs # 12Penn State (-4)
Reason to watch: Trace McSorley is already having nightmares of Josh Allen, but fans at home will dreaming of this game, the best match up of the day. The Nittany Lions finished 9-3 on the season with a 1-point loss to Ohio State, a 4-point loss to Michigan State and an embarrassing blow out to the Wolverines. Still, they could be the most underrated 3-loss team in the country and you can believe Jason Franklin will have his team ready to showcase in this contest. Kentucky was a cinderella story back in October, starting 7-1 with a top-ten ranking, but they stumbled down the stretch finishing just 2-2 the rest of the way. Offensively Benny Snell Jr is always fun to watch. One of the top half backs in the country, he rushed for 1,300 yards and is coming off back-to-back one hundred-yard performances. But make no mistake about it, linebacker Josh Allen is the star of the Wildcats. The top defensive player in the country has recorded 14 sacks and 84 tackles.
Pat’s Pick: This is the hardest game to predict and it should come down to the final few possessions. In the end, I think Kentucky is just too one-dimensional on offense, and that spells trouble on the scoreboard. Take the Nittany Lions, give 4, and sit back and watch a hell of a game.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ)
#11 LSU (-7.5) vs #8 UCF
Reason to watch: UCF has a 25-game winning streak and for the second time in as many seasons will be playing against a SEC team in a big bowl game. Last season they ran right through Auburn and declared themselves national champions. The could happen here if LSU isn’t careful, but something tells me Ed Orgeron is not going to let his team sleepwalk into this game like Gus Malzahn did last year. While Joe Burrow doesn’t strike fear as a quarterback who can run up the score, he does find ways to get it done and has led a Tigers offense that averaged 32 points per game. They also ran for an average of 276 per contest, which goes right into the strength of the UCF defense. The Golden Knights allow just 138 yards per game on the ground, but that could also be because they were always so far up on the scoreboard that opposing teams would have to air it out just to keep up. UCF averaged 44 points and 545 yards per game on offense and their passing attack was one of the tops around, however superstar quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a season ending leg injury and left back up Darriel Mack Jr to start in the American Athletic Championship. Mack put up 350 yards in the win and will have a full month to practice with the first team. It’s worth noting that LSU will be without Greedy Williams, the top lockdown cornerback in football, as he is preparing for the draft.
Pat’s Pick: LSU will win this game by getting an early lead and forcing UCF to play keep up. LSU is not a defense you can try to score in a hurry against. Expect them to make some mistakes that cost points and Ed O will be celebrating a bowl win in the Bayou. LSU wins by 10 or more.
Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual (Pasadena, CA)
#9 Washington vs #6 Ohio State (-6)
Reason to watch: Dwayne Haskins, Urban Myer and Jake Browning will all end their college football careers in style at the Rose Bowl. Browning is graduating, Meyer is retiring, and all accounts lead to Haskins turning pro after this game.
The Washington Huskies offense isn’t explosive, but their defense is. Look at how they dominated that Washington State passing attack in the Apple Cup, or how they forced turnovers to win the Pac-12 title against Utah. Now they face Heisman finalist Haskins who just set all the Big-10 records and could complete the best season a Buckeye quarterback has ever had. On the other side of the line, Washington’s 4-year starter Jake Browning, who owns every record in Husky passing history, will take on a defense in Ohio State that has been getting tortured all season by Big-10 opponents. Browning will have fun passing against this secondary.
Pat’s Pick: Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches that college football has ever had, and if you give him 5 weeks with a Heisman contending quarterback, he is going to find a way to beat anyone. Oh, and let’s not forget, it’s the last game that he will ever coach (maybe). So, expect him to put decades of fire and passion into this game plan. Buckeyes win by double digits and Meyer walks off smelling the Roses.
AllState Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)
#15 Texas vs #5 Georgia (-11)
Reason to watch: The runner up in the Big-12 against the runner up in the SEC.
Texas was a fun team to watch this season. They beat Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, lost to West Virginia on a 2-point conversion and had a shoot-out against Oklahoma State. Sam Ehlinger led an offense that often times was forced to run up the scoreboard just to keep pace with the opposition. He did so in style with 3,100 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. This is a big spot for a Texas team in year two of the Tom Herman rebuilding process and they appear well ahead of schedule. Georgia meanwhile came within seconds, or yards, or a fake punt (however you want to look at it) of being in the CFP. Kirby Smart is going to have a pissed off group of Bulldogs who feel slighted for not being in the final four, and I expect them to come out and play as if it were the national championship. They will use a run heavy game plan against Texas’s 41st ranked run defense.
Pat’s Pick: Tom Herman is 12-2-1 at Texas an underdog and giving him 11 points is almost like free money. Texas has a shot to win this outright but spare yourself some anxiety and take the 11 points to the bank.
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