New Years Day brings us plenty of intriguing bowl matchups and this year is no exception.
Will Georgia show up in the Sugar Bowl? Will Central Florida be able to win the Fiesta Bowl and keep its unbeaten streak alive against a very good LSU team?
Will Urban Meyer get a successful sendoff from Ohio State in the Rose Bowl? Can Mississippi State and Kentucky give the Southeastern Conference a Happy New Year in their bowl games.
The Bowl season has gone by so quickly. Fortunately, we’ve been on the right side of the majority of the games that were selected in Gaming Today. Going into Monday, we were 10-4-1 with our bowl picks.
Six games remain in the college football season – five on New Year’s Day, and the big one, the national championship game on Monday, Jan. 7 between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson. I will weigh in on the national title game along with my colleagues Rich Saber and Joe D’Amico in a separate article in this week’s Gaming Today. Here, I’ll offer my opinion on the New Year’s Day bowls:
Outback Bowl – Iowa (+7) vs. Mississippi State: I’m not sure how the Hawkeyes will move the football in this game against a fantastic Mississippi State defense that allowed 268.4 yards per game, ranking them 3rd in the country in total defense. Iowa has a very plodding offense as QB Nathan Stanley is decent but not great at that position and they rely on running the football. But that will be a tall order against the Bulldogs who allow just 3 yards per carry and 104 rushing yards per game.
The Bulldogs’ offense struggled early in the season but QB Nick Fitzgerald and that unit got better down the stretch, scoring 28+ points in four of their last five games against everyone not named Alabama. Iowa is 0-3 SU, 1-2 ATS in their last three bowl games against SEC competition. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Citrus Bowl – Kentucky (+6.5) vs. Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a disappointing season considering there were expectations of them winning the Big Ten. Butt they did finish the season strong, going 3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS in their last three games.
Kentucky had a surprising 9-3 season bolstered by a solid defense and a run-heavy offense that allowed them to hang in a lot of games throughout the season. The Wildcats should have plenty of excitement and motivation for playing a bowl game on New Years Day which is something not many people would have anticipated prior to the season.
On paper, Kentucky has the profile of a team that is run-first and plays very slow tempo-wise which could frustrate Penn State. The Nittany Lions had some trouble against physical teams that liked to slow the game down. Penn State was also a worse defending the run defense than they did against the pass and I think that gives Kentucky a chance to hang in this game from start to finish. KENTUCKY
Fiesta Bowl – LSU (-7) vs. Central Florida: The Knights will be looking to pull off another dazzling performance on New Years Day just like they did a season ago when they knocked off Auburn 34-27 as 10.5 point underdogs. However, this time the task will have to be accomplished without the services of McKenzie Milton at QB who was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Darriel Mack has taken over for the Knights at QB and he has guided the team to two straight wins to end the season against South Florida and Memphis including the massive comeback in the AAC title game. There are 22 seniors on UCF’s team this season and finishing with back-to-back unbeaten seasons is something that I expect will motivate them a lot.
The question is can their offense move the ball against the best defense they’ve faced this season with LSU allowing just 20 points per game. LSU’s offense isn’t explosive though and the Tigers have had trouble as chalk this season, going 2-5 ATS as favorites. UCF
Rose Bowl – Washington (+6.5) vs. Ohio State: This is the swan song (we think) for Urban Meyer as he coaches his final game with the Buckeyes.
I was never impressed by Washington QB Jake Browning this season as he was very erratic throwing the football and in many games Washington relied heavily on their defense to win. The defense will be put to the test here by an Ohio State offense that really started to come together late in the season as QB Dwayne Haskins played his best football late in the year and they started to run the football a bit better as well.
Ohio State finished the season with two commanding blowout wins against Michigan and Northwestern and I’d be remiss not to mention Meyer’s track record in bowl games 11-3 SU as a head coach in bowl games including 4-1 SU and ATS in his last five bowl games at Ohio State. I expect a big effort from the Buckeyes here as they send their coach off with a win for the Roses. OHIO STATE
Sugar Bowl – Texas (+13) vs. Georgia: I’ve repeatedly backed Texas head coach Tom Herman as an underdog and for the most part, it’s worked out very well. Herman-coached teams are 12-2-1 ATS as an underdog at Houston and Texas combined.
That all by itself means I am not interested in betting against the Longhorns here catching nearly 2 TDs against the Bulldogs. However, I’m much more lukewarm on my opinion that Texas can hang in this game. It’s difficult to ignore that Texas doesn’t have many physical, speed or talent edges and they are outmanned in all those categories on both sides of the ball.
Georgia’s two losses this season came against LSU and Alabama and the Bulldogs pushed the Crimson Tide more than any other team has this season in narrowly coming up short against them in the SEC Championship game.
But will Georgia come to play? That’s a big if. If Georgia’s heads and hearts are in this game, they can run away with it. But that is a risky proposition in my mind. I know I will get a massive effort from Texas and Herman is a coach I trust in bowl games. He won and covered in his first bowl game as Texas head coach last season. TEXAS
Last week: 3-3