Happy bowl season, readers. In this column, we'll be rolling through our bowl confidence picks, starting at 1 (least confident) and rolling up to 40 (most confident). Strap in and enjoy!
1. Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 21 -- SMU (10-2) vs. FAU (10-3)
Just how much will the Owls end up missing Lane Kiffin, we’re curious. Because this is a team which lost one game after Week 2 -- OSU and UCF started them out 0-2. The offense, in particular, has been clicking, topping 30 points in every game since Oct. 12 and dropping at least 40 points in four of their final five games, including their 49-6 disintegration of UAB in the C-USA title game. SMU is being coached by an established Power Five mind in Sonny Dykes, has not lost a game by more than seven points this year and notched an upset of TCU during the regular season. That the Mustangs couldn’t quite parlay their early season success into a conference title showing, we like Shane Buechele and the boys to finish things off against an Owls team of uncertain mindset.
The pick: SMU
2. Walk-ons Independence Bowl: Thursday, Dec. 26 -- Louisiana Tech (9-3) vs. Miami (6-6)
Once again, we have had a false call of The U being back, with the optimism around Manny Diaz’s offseason taking over for the retired Mark Richt quickly running aground after the season got underway. The Hurricanes stumbled through the season with multiple faceplants, including an overtime loss to a rebuilding -- like from the ground up -- Georgia Tech team. And when Miami finally had an encouraging showing with a 52-27 win over Louisville (QB Jarren Williams threw a school-best six touchdown passes in that game), they followed it up with back-to-back losses to FIU and Duke to close out the regular season. As Kevin McCallister would say, woof.
Miami can’t run -- last in the ACC on the ground -- and, here’s a shocker, their offensive line is bad. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, has a back who could top 1,000 yards rushing for the season in Justin Henderson, a receiver who went over 1,000 yards in 2018 in Adrian Hardy (who, granted, will come into the Independence Bowl with just 525 receiving yards for 2019) and a quarterback in J’Mar Smith who is playing at the best level of his full-time-starting career in terms of completion percentage (65.8) and YPA (8.3). He’s also cut back on interceptions from a year ago, when he tossed 10. Just four in 2019. Miami has more theoretical talent. But we’ll take actuality over theory, here. One last parting fact -- Louisiana Tech has won five straight bowls, tied with Wisconsin for the longest current FBS win streak.
The pick: Louisiana Tech
3. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Saturday, Dec. 28 -- Penn State (10-2) vs. Memphis (12-1)
When first running through the matchup slate, this one stuck out to us as a sticky spot. The Nittany Lions’ season deflated like a balloon with down-the-stretch losses to Minnesota and Ohio State. Their November finale against Rutgers ended with a shrug of a 27-6 home win. The Nits could be without KJ Hamler depending on his draft decision. Memphis, meanwhile, might have lost Mike Norvell to Florida State, but their promotion of Ryan Silverfield should help keep team stability for a crew which just won the AAC. A motivated Penn State team probably wins this game. We don’t know if we’re getting that.
The pick: Memphis
4. Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Friday, Dec. 20 -- Utah State (7-5) vs. Kent State (6-6)
This will be Aggies QB Jordan Love’s final chance to impress scouts after turning in an ultra-disappointing 2019 in which his both his completion percentage and YPA dropped off considerably. One aspect of his game did spike, though. His turnovers. He owns just a 17/16 TD/INT ratio on the year. This will be just Kent State’s fourth bowl in school history and first in seven years. Golden Flashes QB Dustin Crum is anathema to Love in that he almost never turns it over -- just two picks this season -- and that he plays with pick-you-apart deficiency. Kent State is simply sturdier, even if they lack the name brand quarterback.
The pick: Kent State
5. New Mexico Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 21 -- Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
We’re all about a good football redemption story and you’ve got that with CMU HC Jim McElwain, who flailed about like a grounded shark at Florida, spent one year with Michigan’s go-nowhere offense in 2018 then resurfaced to bring the 1-11 team which he inherited at Central Michigan all the way to the MAC title game. They didn’t win that title game, alas for the narrative. As much as we love what McElwain has done in Year 1 with the Chippewas, Rocky Long’s defensive unit at San Diego State plays like a muggy midsummer day, enveloping the opposition with a humid oppression. SDSU’s defense allowed more than 20 points twice, all season. Utah State got ‘em for 23 on Sept. 7 and Wyoming nicked ‘em for 22 on Oct. 12. That’s it. That San Diego State has a 9-3 record despite ranking 119th in the country in scoring tells you just how dominant that defense has been this fall.
The pick: San Diego State
6. CFP National Championship: Monday, Jan. 13 -- Clemson (theoretically 14-0) vs. LSU (theoretically 14-0)
Get ready for the Trevor Lawrence repeat.
The pick: Clemson
7. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Saturday, Jan. 4 -- Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Tulane (6-6)
A good ol’ strength-on-strength matchup, here, as Tulane boasts a top-15 rushing offense nationally led by QB Justin McMillan, who has accounted for 26 total touchdowns, with 704 rushing yards to his credit. Southern Miss, though? Kinda awesome against the run, ranking 18th nationally on a per-game average. We think Southern Miss frustrates what the Green Wave do best. Look for them to coax an interception or two out of McMillan if they can gunk up the works -- McMillan threw 10 picks during the regular season.
The pick: Southern Miss
8. Camellia Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 21 -- FIU (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
We understand that making picks with our hearts, rather than our minds, can be problematic. But you have to believe in something, and we choose to believe that an Arkansas State season which began with Georgia fans wearing pink in tribute to the late Wendy Anderson is going to end with Anderson pointing to the sky after his kids take out Florida International. Is that a rational explanation? No. FIU got its signature win, against Miami on Nov. 23, before losing to Marshall in overtime to close the regular season.
The pick: Arkansas State
9. Capital One Orange Bowl: Monday, Dec. 30 -- Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
There are limitations a-plenty in Florida’s offense, but boy howdy, that defense is death’s pale white horse. The only team to put up more than 30 on Florida was LSU, which, well, you know. We love ourselves UVA QB Bryce Perkins, but in the two games this season in which Virginia has played a top-caliber defense -- Notre Dame and Clemson -- the Cavaliers scored a combined 37 points. We’ll boil this down to a simple equation, one which we think bears out: If the Gators score more than 24 points they win. 21 might be the rubicon, here. Blackjack, baby.
The pick: Florida
10. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Monday, Dec. 23 -- UCF (9-3) vs. Marshall (8-4)
The Knights will be without OC Jeff Lebby -- heading to Florida State -- in this one, but we don’t think that matters. UCF’s offense is a level above even without Lebby. While this isn’t quite the quasi-Playoff contender version of the Knights that we saw the last two seasons -- vulnerable enough to lose to Tulsa, for instance -- the offense remains hot lava when it’s clicking, capable of scoring in a heartbeat thanks to a menagerie of options at running back, the stylings of future NFL wideout Gabriel Davis and wunderkid QB Dillon Gabriel.
The pick: UCF
11. Redbox Bowl: Monday, Dec. 30 -- Cal (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
The Illini brought us some of the most joyous moments of the 2019 season notably in their upset of Wisconsin and their massive comeback against whatever Michigan State was supposed to be this season. The fun stops here, alas, as we expect a professional Cal defense to control this one. Our only real trepidation with the Golden Bears comes with their offense. Same story as since the dawn of the universe. But we do expect Illinois to struggle, jokes aside.
The pick: Cal
12. SoFi Hawaii Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 24 -- Hawaii (9-5) vs. BYU (7-5)
Ah yes, the traditional escape-from-family holiday game. Sorry, guess I can’t catch THE POLAR EXPRESS with y’all, we’ve got contrasting styles going on over here! That kind of thing. Unfortunately, you might not actually want to watch this one. We just saw Hawaii get beaten up by Boise State’s defense. Give a defensively-minded team like BYU a month to prepare for the run-and-shoot at your own peril.
The pick: BYU
13. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Friday, Jan. 3 -- Ohio (6-6) vs. Nevada (7-5)
By Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings on ESPN, this is a game between a putrid Bobcats defense (No. 102) and a lost Nevada offense (No. 115). That should give a little hope for the Wolfpack, that maybe they can do a little shake/bake with their limited firepower against an opposing defense which shouldn’t offer much resistance. Unfortunately for Nevada, Ohio is really, really good on offense (No. 24), with an experienced quarterback in Nathan Rourke and a multi-faceted rushing attack between Rourke, O’Shaan Allison and De’Montre Tuggle.
The pick: Ohio
14. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Monday, Dec. 30 -- Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Louisville (7-5)
Do yourself a favor and weight Louisville in double-digits in your pools. These aren’t Uncle Bobby’s Cardinals. New HC Scott Satterfield has turned around what had been a shambles of a team in 2018 and crafted into a fun little outfit, one stocked with offensive performers in QB Micale Cunningham, RB Javian Hawkins and WR Tutu Atwell. One saving grace for the Bulldogs is that star RB Kylin Hill -- off to the draft upcoming -- is opting to play in this contest. He’s just about the only cog we truly trust on that offense. But not enough to override our confidence in the Cardinal.
The pick: Louisville
15. Cheez-it Bowl: Friday, Dec. 27 -- Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6)
This game is going to be played in the sixth dimension or something. You could not draw up a sharper contrast of styles. Air Raid vs. Triple Option, let’s go. Washington State could easily just drop 45 and make this one a nightmare for the Falcons, but what’s more interesting is that Air Force could just anaconda the clock with the run game, only giving WSU a limited number of possessions on which to take possession. We ultimately think that Air Force’s style wins out.
The pick: Air Force
16. PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 28 -- Ohio State (13-0) vs. Clemson (13-0)
What a gem this one should be. We think that these are two teams quietly trending in different directions, though. Two of Ohio State’s final three games were, well, games, with the Buckeyes nipping Penn State 28-17 and two weeks later overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit against Wisconsin to win 34-21 for the Big Ten title. They did blow out Michigan in-between those contests, but nobody blinked an eye at that now-annual victory.
And Clemson has put up at least 45 points in seven of their last eight games, scoring at least 50 points of five of those seven contests (including a 62-17 drubbing of Virginia in the ACC Championship Game). The lone outlier to this 45-point stat came against South Carolina, when the Tigers slacked off for a 38-3 win. We’ll give you that Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin are all better teams than anybody Clemson faced down the stretch, but while both teams are capable of hitting an extra offensive gear, OSU was not finding that gear in late November, whereas Clemson has been cruising on it since their near-loss to UNC at the end of September. We honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Clemson beat OSU comfortably, here. “Championship DNA” is a silly sports cliche, but if anybody has it, it’s Dabo Swinney and crew.
The pick: Clemson
17. Quick Lane Bowl: Thursday, Dec. 26 -- Pitt (7-5) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-6)
If your loved ones catch you watching this one on the little television in the guest room while everybody else is playing Monopoly, lie. They’ll throw an intervention for you if they discover the truth. This is not a game which should be watched by human beings. Pitt’s offense is that bad. EMU’s defense is that bad. By SP+? 117th and 118th in the FBS, respectively. Root for the asteroid. We guess (guess?) we’ll take the Panthers, here, simply due to their experience (?). Maybe Kenny Pickett runs into a heater. Take our advice, though. Don’t weight this one high in your bowl pools. It would be unfortunate if you crashed and burned because you put faith in Pitt. Or EMU.
The pick: Pitt (ewwww)
18. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Wednesday, Jan. 1 -- Baylor (11-2) vs. Georgia (11-2)
It’s going to depend on who will even be playing in this game, for one thing. The Bulldogs have multiple name pieces who are draft-eligible. If D’Andre Swift sits out what is UGA’s offense? We saw the Bulldogs have motivation issues last winter against Texas. It’s difficult to shake that. Georgia and Michigan have this trait in common. You can almost feel the game wearing thin on them after yet another good-but-ultimately-unsuccessful season. This is a sharper Baylor team than last year’s Longhorns outfit, so long as they aren’t forced to rely on backup quarterbacks as they did for most of the Big 12 Championship Game (Charlie Brewer has some time to get right after his concussion concerns sustained against OU). And for as much as we respect UGA’s defense, we can’t help but wonder what on earth they get going on offense. Jake Fromm might be Twitter’s favorite punching bag -- undeserved at the beginning of the season -- but is starting to earn the jabs, now, after a puzzling, muted year.
The pick: Baylor
19. Military Bowl By Northrop Grumman: Friday, Dec. 27 -- Temple (8-4) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
While Temple boasts a top-25 caliber defense, the Tar Heels come into this one with a considerably more dynamic offense, led by star freshman QB Sam Howell, who has showed moxie beyond his years in 2019. We bet this one will flabbergast you, because as much as we’re encouraged by Howell, the statistic we’re about to roll out is a huge one -- this season, Howell owns a 35/7 TD/INT ratio. Those are budding Heisman contender kind of numbers. Howell has thrown for multiple touchdown passes in every game this season. We think he slices and dices one more time upcoming.
The pick: North Carolina
20. LendingTree Bowl: Monday, Jan. 6 -- Louisiana (10-3) vs. Miami (OH) (8-5)
What we have here is a matchup between a conference title winner in Miami (OH) and a conference title loser in Louisiana. Don’t care. The Ragin’ Cajuns are, definitively, the better team in our book, especially on offense. You can see the disparity most evidently on SP+, where Trey Ragas and the boys rank No. 33 overall and No. 16 on offense. Compare that to the Redhawks at No. 106 overall and No. 114 on offense. We view it this way. Louisiana is a conference championship-caliber team. Miami (OH) just happened to actually pull off the feat.
The pick: Louisiana
21. San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Friday, Dec. 27) -- USC (8-4) vs. Iowa (9-3)
Forget GAME OF THRONES, the real meeting of ice and fire comes right here. Iowa has held every one of its opponents to under 25 points scored in 2019. Every. One. USC, meanwhile, after a herky-jerky start, put up at least 35 points in four of their final six, including a combined 93 against Cal and UCLA to close out the regular season. So what gives? Our thought, here, is that Iowa -- No. 11 in the country against the pass on a per-game average -- does what it does every game: Turns it into an Iowa game. USC is the sizzle, Iowa is the steak. This one’s going to have far fewer points than you think it will on the Trojans side.
The pick: Iowa
22. Servpro First Responder Bowl: Monday, Dec. 30 -- Western Kentucky (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
When Western Kentucky dropped its opener to Central Arkansas, it looked like the Hilltoppers were in for a rocky season. To the credit of first-year head coach Tyson Helton, that loss was not thematic for the campaign. We think WMU’s offensive firepower, particularly with RB LeVante Bellamy charging into his final collegiate game, ends up too much to bear, but this is a low-key fun matchup worth your eyes.
The pick: Western Michigan
23. Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Friday, Dec. 20 -- Buffalo (7-5) vs. Charlotte (7-5)
Get your bowl season started on Friday with a clash of two run-dominant teams -- we’ll be fascinated to see whether its Buffalo’s Jarrett Patterson (1,626 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns) or Charlotte’s Benny LeMay (1,027 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) comes out ahead, here. Ultimately, as much as we love the 49ers for the motivation factor, here, in what will be the team’s first-ever bowl game, Buffalo’s defense boasted the top run-stopping defense in the MAC during the regular season and we think that Charlotte’s ball-control, run-down-the-clock offense has issues gaining traction. Bulls in a tight, low-scoring contest.
The pick: Buffalo
24. Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 21 -- Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (12-1)
If you just look at records (or the public consensus), the Broncos have the Huskies outmatched 12-1 to 7-5. Excuse us while we put those records in a shredder. This will be Chris Petersen’s last game with Washington. The motivation is going to be off the charts for his team. If Washington was just playing out the string, maybe we’d feel different about this game. They aren’t playing out the string, though. They’re playing for the honor of being able to carry Coach Pete off the field a victor. Don't forget, for all of their listless-ness this season, the Huskies boast an NFL-caliber quarterback in Jacob Eason.
The pick: Washington
25. FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 21 -- Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
Liberty and Georgia Southern might have the same records, but the former’s resume is build out of sawdust, the latter’s out of oak. Georgia Southern very nearly ended Minnesota’s fairy tale before it had begun, falling to the Gophs 35-32 on Sept. 19 and knocking off eventual Sun Belt champion App State on Halloween. Liberty, meanwhile, cleaned up on the barnacles, including wins over Hampton and Maine in the FCS, plus FBS nobodies like New Mexico State, New Mexico and UMass. And they lost to Rutgers. Chew on that.
The pick: Georgia Southern
26. Camping World Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 28 -- Iowa State (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (10-2)
After the Irish lost to Georgia midseason and was essentially eliminated from Playoff contention, the team kinda sorta dropped out of the national consciousness, with a brief blip back onto the radar for a showdown with Michigan which ended up in a good ol’ fashioned dismantling by the Wolverines. Don’t look now, but HC Brian Kelly’s bunch has been playing dominant ball to close out the year, scoring 175 points over their final four games (against Duke, Navy, Boston College and Stanford).
On the other side, Iowa State has played as erratically as any team in the country. A sampling of their final five games: Seven-point loss to Oklahoma State, one-point loss to Oklahoma, two-point win over Texas, 10-point win over Kansas, 10-point loss to Kansas State. So Iowa State plays teams close and has a little friskiness in them, but inconsistent. We think this one comes out close -- that’s just what Iowa State does -- but we’ll put our faith in Notre Dame’s consistency. When we look back at this decade of football in South Bend, 2019 is going to end up one of their unheralded great years.
The pick: Notre Dame
27. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 28 -- LSU (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
We really really wish that we could vouch for this one as a competitive game, but we can’t. OU lost that benefit of a doubt. It lost it a long time ago, honestly. The Sooners are a peanut butter cup filled with peanut shells. Discounting their regular-season finale against Oklahoma State -- and you should discount it, as the Cowboys were playing without their starting quarterback -- Oklahoma’s last double-digits win came against West Virginia on Oct. 19. We’re guessing we don’t even need to give you LSU’s bonafides. They have been the story of the entire season and rightfully so.
Now, OU does have a very good offense. OU can put up points. We just don’t think Jalen Hurts and crew can do it at LSU’s clip. We think they’ll make mistakes if they try. LSU in a rout. We’re talking about the difference between a good Oklahoma team and an all-time LSU team. Don’t overthink this one.
The pick: LSU
28. R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 31 -- Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4)
The Mountaineers losing a head coach at the start of bowl season? Old hat by now. They went through the drill when Scott Satterfield left. Once more and with considerably less feeling with Eliah Drinkwitz -- who barely had time to learn the street names -- off to Missouri after one year. This is an experienced, senior-laden group. They do exactly as they did a year ago sans Satterfield -- kick ass in their bowl.
The pick: Appalachian State
29. Rose Bowl Game by Northwestern Mutual: Wednesday, Jan. 1 -- Wisconsin (10-3) vs. Oregon (11-2)
Like another Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in USC v Iowa, this one’s a little difficult for us to parse. And it’s more on the Oregon side that we’re searching our feelings, rather than the Wisconsin one. Wisconsin is one of the easiest teams to assess in the country, because they know who they are. Who is Oregon, we ask? Is it the team we saw in the first half against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the one with a ferocious defensive line and a quarterback peppering dimes all over the field? Or is it the team which we saw for much of the second half of that game, the one that stalls out on repeat offensively, which immediately lets a dominated foe back off the mat? The answer, of course, is that it’s both. And that’s problematic for our purposes. We feel more comfortable with Wisconsin, in the end.
The pick: Wisconsin
30. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Thursday, Jan. 2): Indiana (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5)
Hey, for everybody who laughed off the Vols during their beginning-of-the-year struggles (your author included), here they are, somehow in a bowl game and ready to take account of the doubters. Winners of five consecutive games, Tennessee isn’t particularly exciting on offense, 96th in the FBS on a per-game scoring average. Their defense, though, right on at 29th in the country.
Indiana’s generally game to play with anybody -- ask Penn State, whom they gave a fight to earlier this season -- but Tennessee is running hot right now and we think HC Jeremy Pruitt is starting to get this thing figured out.
The pick: Tennessee
31. Belk Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
As much as we love Kentucky’s do-everything star Lynn Bowden, we see the Hokies as the more well-rounded team, here. Virginia Tech pushed Notre Dame to the brink down the stretch and while a season-ending loss to Virginia (it finally happened) stings, this will be DC Bud Foster’s final game on the sideline. He goes out a winner, here.
The pick: Virginia Tech
32. Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Florida State (6-6) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
We’re still not sure if draft-bound ASU RB Eno Benjamin will play in this one, but his opposite number, Cam Akers (also draft-bound), is out. FSU will also be without Alex Hornibrook -- prepping for the draft, of course, he can hear your snickers -- and LB Dontavious Jackson. But laughs aside, FSU, as an entity, already feels like it’s looking to 2020. Wednesday’s signing day is more important for the program than this game. This game will be an afterthought.
Herm Edwards doesn’t believe in afterthoughts. He believes he’s playing to win the game. And he will win this one. Arizona State is the reason Oregon isn’t in the Playoff right now. They aren’t going to drop the ball like they’re in Times Square, here.
The pick: Arizona State
33. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Navy (10-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4)
The reason Navy could win this game was self-evident in Saturday’s dominant win over Army. Malcolm Perry can absolutely drop you with one juke, with one sliver of a lane. If Perry rushes for 304 yards, as he did against Army, yeah, Navy probably wins this one.
Just give Chris Klieman a month to prepare for Malcolm Perry, though. Klieman isn’t used to the pressure of an FBS bowl -- he’s used to championship game pressure. We saw how Klieman prepares his team in their upset of Oklahoma this fall. We think K-State comes out ready for what Navy throws at them.
The pick: Kansas State
34. Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Wyoming (7-5) vs. Georgia State (7-5)
While Wyoming’s offense generally isn’t anything to look at -- much as we’re fans of RB Xavian Valladay -- Georgia State’s defense is something to behold in a kind of train-wrecky way. They rank No. 122 in defense on SP+, allowing at least 38 points scored in three of their final four games. Wyoming should be able to move the ball and put up points, even with their limitations. This is a Panthers team which surrendered 45 points to also-ran Louisiana-Monroe at the beginning of November.
The pick: Wyoming
35. Valero Alamo Bowl: Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5)
We love Utes HC Kyle Whittingham around these parts, but unless Whit is well-versed in therapy, we worry about his team’s psychology after an absolutely brutal finish to the regular season. Beware the end crash. As we saw with Georgia last winter, when you come within a breath from the Playoff, it’s difficult to care about one more game. Utah’s hopes took one quarter to come crashing down. It’s difficult to care about one more game.
Texas, meanwhile, actually (in a weird way) needs this game. Needs something positive to come from this lost season. We don’t think Tom Herman’s job is on the line in 2020. Another mediocre year, though, all bets are off. We think Herman has his guys ready to go. We worry that Utah’s guys are floating in the abyss of memory.
The pick: Texas
36. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Friday, Dec. 27 -- Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
Sparty has been a disaster this year. They have won two games since the end of September, 27-0 against Rutgers and 19-16 against Maryland to finish out the regular season. If Michigan State was a food, it would be a microwavable burrito which has sat in the back of the freezer for four months before being cooked. And then consumed.
Wake Forest? A delightful outfit led by a delightful quarterback in Jamie Newman, who accounted for 29 touchdowns to lead an offense which averaged a touch under 33 points per game. That’s factoring in a 52-3 throttling by Clemson on Nov. 16, but hey, that’ll happen. The Demon Deacons are a casual fast burrito from Chipotle, in our prolonged, warped food metaphor. Moving on.
The pick: Wake Forest
37. Outback Bowl: Wednesday, Jan. 1 -- Minnesota (10-2) vs. Auburn (9-3)
We still don’t really know what to make of Auburn, even after they won the Iron Bowl. But that’s a defense we trust (disregarding Jaylen Waddle's torching of them). Minnesota’s two losses of the season -- against Iowa and Wisconsin -- came against defensive-oriented outfits. Teams that can control the tempo and play lockdown. That’s Auburn’s game. We don’t expect the Tigers to score like they did in the Iron Bowl, but we expect far better defense from them. That’s problematic for the Gophers.
The pick: Auburn
38. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Friday, Dec. 27 -- Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (8-4)
Ignore the records, here. Ignore the fact that Oklahoma State is ranked and Texas A&M is not. There's context a-plenty to fold in, here. Starting on the Oklahoma State side. The Cowboys are without their starting quarterback, as Spencer Sanders was knocked out by thumb surgery in November. Meanwhile, the Aggies might have five losses, but that's not a reflection of talent. It's a reflection of a murderous schedule. By the advanced metrics of Bill Connelly's SP+, Texas A&M ranks No. 21. Oklahoma State, No. 30. And again, that's an Oklahoma State team that is now having to turn to Dru Brown at signal-caller. The Aggies show that they are better than their record, here, and win comfortably.
The pick: Texas A&M
39. TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Thursday, Jan. 2 -- Boston College (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (10-3)
This one’s a little trickier than it might outwardly look. Outwardly, it’s a BC team that fired its coach, whose best player is not playing in this game (AJ Dillon, draft-bound) and who is starting Dennis Grosel (fine but boring) at quarterback. While the lack of Dillon hurts, not as much as you might think, thanks to David Bailey, who has Robin-ed his way to 811 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Bailey topped 170 rushing yards in two games and could frolic, here. Cincinnati has its own dude in RB Michael Warren II, a reliable quarterback, and a rock-solid coach. Give us the Bearcats.
The pick: Cincinnati
40. Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Wednesday, Jan. 1 -- Alabama (10-2) vs. Michigan (9-3)
You know, we really believed in the Michigan hype coming into the season, sad as that seems now. And maybe we should have expected that it would take a little while to get rolling. Ohio State simply outclassed them to end the season, though, and frankly, we think it happens again, here. Alabama might have missed the Playoff, but there are tidings of good joy in Tuscaloosa, though. Devonta Smith is coming back for 2020. Fellow wideout Jerry Jeudy has already said he’ll play in this game (regardless of a likely upcoming draft declaration). We think Alabama absolutely rolls in this one. Pity they missed the Playoff. They’d give LSU a better game than Oklahoma.
Instead, the committee drops them to No. 13 for the final rankings. Which makes no sense, whatsoever. Just imagine Nick Saban reminding his team, every day, for a month that they’re ranked No. 13.
The pick: Alabama