Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Verne Lundquist Forever” T-shirts sold separately):
EVERY BOWL GAME, PARSED AND PERSONIFIED AND PREDICTED, GUARANTEEING YOU VICTORY IN YOUR OFFICE POOL
There are 40 bowl games, which means the sport has achieved harmonic convergence with this column. This is the way it was meant to be.
On the down side, that’s also way too many games, as we all know. Yet enough people will watch that ESPN will make a buck by carpet-bombing us with Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads, because nobody ever went broke overestimating the American public’s thirst for mediocre football.
(Apologies to H.L. Mencken for co-opting the famous paraphrase of his quote.)
Thus the games will be played from Albuquerque to Tampa, spread out over 23 days, with enough special-teams penalties and replay reviews and extended halftimes to drive us all stark-raving mad before 2017 even gets here. But, again, we will tune in. We will calm jangling holiday nerves with a tall Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a Bahamas Bowl chaser. Because watching Eastern Michigan-Old Dominion is still better than listening to uncle Bob rehash the presidential election, am I right?
On to the picks:
New Mexico Bowl (1): New Mexico vs. UTSA
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Watchability: If you don’t watch the first one, you can’t watch them all. Beyond that, however, it would take a rapt interest in 6-6 UTSA’s first-ever bowl appearance to be excited about this one. Only about 12 people fit that description.
Line: New Mexico by 7.
If the New Mexico Bowl were a person: It would be the first family in the neighborhood to put up Christmas decorations. Every year.
The pick: New Mexico 41, UTSA 31. The Roadrunners’ rush defense improved as the season went on, but it will face a severe test against the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense. In its final game of the regular season, New Mexico ran for 568 yards and seven touchdowns against a Wyoming team that won its division of the Mountain West.
Conference records: Mountain West 1-0, Conference USA 0-1.
Las Vegas Bowl (2): San Diego State vs. Houston
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Las Vegas, surprisingly enough.
Watchability: Do not get talked into Christmas shopping while this game is on. You get to see San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey try to break the FBS career rushing record – he has 6,290 yards, just 108 short of Ron Dayne’s mark. You also get to see the team that beat Oklahoma and Louisville behind dynamic quarterback Greg Ward and the best freshman in the country, defensive lineman Ed Oliver.
Line: Houston by 3.
If the Las Vegas Bowl were a person: It would be Vince Neil.
The pick: San Diego State 32, Houston 31. The Cougars might have calmed the transition waters by naming offensive coordinator Major Applewhite the head coach, but there still will be no Tom Herman. And that doesn’t figure to help. The Cougars’ rush defense led the American Athletic Conference but was creased by Navy, SMU and Memphis; can they reasonably expect to slow down Pumphrey?
Conference records: Mountain West 2-0, American 0-1.
Camellia Bowl (3): Toledo vs. Appalachian State
When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Montgomery, Ala.
Watchability: The Allstate Mayhem commercials playing on a four-hour loop might be more watchable.
Line: Toledo by 1.
If the Camellia Bowl were a person: It would be the hash brown cook at Waffle House.
The pick: Appalachian State 27, Toledo 24. Proficient offense of the Rockets vs. stout defense of the Mountaineers. Toledo QB Logan Woodside has had an outstanding season, ranking second nationally in pass efficiency to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. But he’s been a little loose with the football down the stretch, throwing four interceptions in his last 87 passes, and App State has 20 picks on the year.
Sun Belt 1-0, Mid-American 0-1.
Cure Bowl (4): Central Florida vs. Arkansas State
When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Line: UCF by 5.
If the Cure Bowl were a person: It would be the person who lists “entrepreneur” in his Twitter and LinkedIn bios, with no evidence of working in any capacity.
The pick: UCF 27, Arkansas State 20. In a game packing all the pageantry imaginable for teams with a combined 13-11 record, go with the squad whose coach was loony enough to say his team “outhit” Michigan in a 36-point loss.
Conference records: American 1-1, Sun Belt 1-1.
New Orleans Bowl (5): Southern Mississippi vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
When: Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where: New Orleans.
Watchability: You’ve been watching football at 9 on Saturday nights since Labor Day weekend. No need to stop now. Don’t question the quality; just do it out of habit.
Line: Southern Miss by 3½.
If the New Orleans Bowl were a person: It would be the bearded hipster who plays accordion in a zydeco band while waiting for a cable channel to discover him and make him a reality star.
The pick: Southern Mississippi 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 34. The immutable law of bowl predictions is that you do not pick against the Ragin’ Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl, which they won four straight years from 2011-14. But The Dash is doing it anyway. The Golden Eagles have been spectacularly sloppy with the ball, committing 30 turnovers on the season, but quarterback Nick Mullens returned from injury for the regular-season finale and USM got its act together for a big win over Louisiana Tech. Time to break the UL-L stranglehold on this bowl.
Conference records: C-USA 1-1, Sun Belt 1-2.
Miami Beach Bowl (6) Tulsa vs. Central Michigan
When: Monday, 2:30 p.m.
Watchability: A random Monday afternoon game is immediately elevated several levels on the watchability scale, simply for the work/school hooky dynamic. Beyond that, the Golden Hurricane isn’t bad and you never know when the Chippewas are going to pull off a Hail Mary-lateral combo touchdown.
Line: Tulsa by 11½.
If the Miami Beach Bowl were a person: It would be a bartender at The Clevelander who charges you for only two drinks instead of four so you can scratch his back with an extra-large tip.
The pick: Tulsa 47, Central Michigan 28. The Chips are down, having lost four of their final five games to stagger into the postseason at 6-6. Tulsa, on the other hand, has won five of its past six and brings the nation’s No. 6 offense to the party. This could escalate quickly enough that the Golden Hurricane has a chance to get receiver Josh Atkinson 73 yards, which would make Tulsa the first team ever with a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers.
Conference records: American 2-1, Mid-American 0-2.
Boca Raton Bowl (7): Memphis vs. Western Kentucky
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Boca Raton, Fla.
Watchability: On paper these are two teams with entertaining offenses playing on a night when they have the stage to themselves. We’ll see how much WKU coach Jeff Brohm’s departure for Purdue lessens the entertainment value of the Hilltoppers’ offense, and the focus of the entire team.
Line: Western Kentucky by 4½.
If the Boca Raton Bowl were a person: It would be someone who has no idea how he’s making the next payment on that leased Mercedes S-Class Coupe.
The pick: Memphis 44, Western Kentucky 41. Tigers receiver Anthony Miller shows up for big games: 15 catches for 169 yards in an upset of Houston; 10 for 153 against South Florida; 12 for 250 against Tulsa; 9 for 134 against Navy; 10 for 132 against Mississippi. WKU gave up 502 passing yards to Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship game. Look out.
Conference records: American 3-1, C-USA 1-2.
Poinsettia Bowl (8): BYU vs. Wyoming
When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Where: San Diego.
Watchability: If you’re into throwback WAC/Mountain West rivalry games – the two have met 77 times previously – this is a classic. But even beyond that, we have two teams that are addicted to drama – they’ve each played seven games decided by eight points or less. Worth staying up to watch.
Line: BYU by 8½.
If the Poinsettia Bowl were a person: It would be the slightly boring woman who brings the same dish every year to the holiday party. But it’s a good dish, so everyone is happy to see her.
The pick: BYU 42, Wyoming 35. The Cowboys will be fired up for their first bowl appearance in five years, but their porous run defense will be vulnerable against the Cougars’ productive ground game. BYU beats Wyoming for the eighth straight time.
Conference records: Independents 1-0, MWC 2-1.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (8): Idaho vs. Colorado State
When: Dec. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Boise, Idaho.
Watchability: Blue turf. Vandals. Rams. What more do you need? OK, probably a lot more – maybe a snowstorm will materialize for added entertainment value.
Line: Colorado State by 13½.
If the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl were a person: It would be Yukon Cornelius.
The pick: Colorado State 35, Idaho 29. This is Idaho’s biggest game in years – its first bowl game since 2009, and it’s a virtual home game, and it might be the Vandals’ last FBS hurrah with a drop to FCS scheduled for 2018. Unfortunately for them, it comes against a CSU team that is on a rampage, having blown out Mountain West Conference divisional champions San Diego State and Wyoming in its past two games. If the Rams don’t turn the ball over – they have just three times in their past seven games – they should hold off a theoretically inspired Idaho team.
Conference records: MWC 3-1, Sun Belt 1-3.
Bahamas Bowl (9): Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion
When: Dec. 23, 1 p.m.
Where: Nassau, Bahamas.
Watchability: If you have transitioned out of the office and into holiday slack mode, an afternoon kickoff is always welcome. As for the game itself, hope for a lot of cutaways to beach scenes.
Line: Old Dominion by 3½.
If the Bahamas Bowl were a person: It would be the Wall Street burnout who moved to the tropics, opened a tackle shop and lives in mellow poverty.
The pick: Old Dominion 34, Eastern Michigan 28. First, pause to appreciate the accomplishments by both teams: EMU hasn’t been to a bowl since 1987, and football newbie ODU (which started its program in 2007) has never been to a bowl. Combine that with the dreamy locale and you should have the two happiest teams in all of bowldom. The Monarchs are more careful with the ball (just nine turnovers all year), which could make the difference.
Conference records: C-USA 2-2, Mid-American 0-3.
Armed Forces Bowl (10): Navy vs. Louisiana Tech
When: Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Worth, Texas.
Watchability: Suitable diversion to lessen the mundane drudgery of wrapping presents.
Line: Navy by 1½.
If the Armed Forces Bowl were a person: It would be the sketchy dude who keeps it more real than his phony cousin over in Dallas.
The pick: Navy 51, Louisiana Tech 45. The Dash is scared to think of how many rushing yards the Midshipmen option game will put on Tech, which was steamrolled for 253 on the ground by Western Kentucky in the C-USA championship game. On the other hand, Tech can and will chuck it all over the yard to some talented receivers. Expect points.
Conference records: American 4-1, C-USA 2-3.
Dollar General Bowl (11): Troy vs. Ohio
When: Dec. 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Watchability: The Dash suggests watching “Elf” instead.
Line: Troy by 3½.
If the Dollar General Bowl were a person: It would be a Dollar General assistant manager tasked with curtailing holiday shoplifting.
The pick: Troy 28, Ohio 24. Virtual home game for the Trojans, who stumbled late in the season and lost two of their past three but should be fired up to still have their coach, up-and-coming Neal Brown. Ten of the Bobcats’ 13 games have been decided by 10 points or less, and you can expect this one to be the same way.
Conference records: Sun Belt 2-3, Mid-American 0-4.
Hawaii Bowl (12): Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee
When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m.
Watchability: Your family is well within its rights to shoot yuletide death glares at you if you pick up the remote and put this game on. Maybe you can sell them on just a quick peek to see if there’s still confetti and trash constantly blowing across the field at Aloha Stadium like it used to do back in the day.
If the Hawaii Bowl were a person: It would be that one friend who tries to get you to go out in search of an open bar on Christmas Eve.
The pick: Middle Tennessee 37, Hawaii 35. Kudos to the Warriors for their first bowl bid in six years. But unlike some previous Hawaii teams, this year’s edition is not appreciably better at home than on the road. If Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill returns after breaking his collarbone in early November, it’s definitely advantage Middle Tennessee.
Conference records: C-USA 3-3, MWC 3-2.
St. Petersburg Bowl (13): Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State
When: Dec. 26, 11 a.m.
Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Watchability: It’s the morning after Christmas and you’ve about had enough of the family bonding. Reach for the remote. But temper your enthusiasm with the knowledge that you’re watching a 6-6 team take on a 5-7 team, the start of a day-long mediocrity binge.
Line: Mississippi State by 12½.
If the St. Petersburg Bowl were a person: It would be James Caan. Angry, down-on-his-luck James Caan.
The pick: Mississippi State 40, Miami (Ohio) 31. RedHawks quarterback Gus Ragland has been one of the best stories of 2016, returning from a spring ACL tear to save Miami’s season with six straight victories after an 0-6 start without him. But this is Mississippi State, not Ball State. And even a 5-7 Southeastern Conference team is tougher than anyone Miami has faced in months. Nick Fitzgerald runs wild again for the Bulldogs.
Conference records: SEC 1-0, Mid-American 0-5.
Quick Lane Bowl (14): Maryland vs. Boston College
When: Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m.
Watchability: It’s the first Power Five matchup of bowl season, but it’s also a matchup of 6-6 teams. The real reason to tune in is to see whether either apathetic fan base schlepped halfway across the country to Detroit for a game played the afternoon after Christmas. Like, anyone other than direct relatives of the players.
Line: Maryland by 2.
If the Quick Lane Bowl were a person: It would be the mom who spends 16 hours a day either on Facebook or talking about what her friends posted on Facebook.
The pick: Maryland 20, Boston College 16. Here’s the thing about the Eagles’ top-10 defense: Its statistical prowess is built upon suffocating four bad non-conference opponents. Against ACC teams? They gave up 414 yards per game. Maryland, while not exactly a powerhouse, is at least a Power Five opponent. The Terrapins will move the ball enough.
Conference records: Big Ten 1-0, ACC 0-1.
Independence Bowl (15): North Carolina State vs. Vanderbilt
When: Dec. 26, 5 p.m.
Where: Shreveport, La.
Watchability: If you’re hungering for a 6-6 pillow fight right at the conclusion of the previous 6-6 pillow fight, you’re in luck.
Line: N.C. State by 4.
If the Independence Bowl were a person: It would be the guy who won the booster-club raffle at halftime of the local high school game for a free shotgun.
The pick: Vanderbilt 21, North Carolina State 20. Both teams come in off exhilarating, bowl-berth-clinching upsets of archrivals, so they should arrive feeling good about themselves. In a game that seems like a legit tossup, go with the team that has the plus-nine turnover margin (Commodores) over the team that is even on the season (Wolfpack).
Conference records: SEC 2-0, ACC 0-2.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (16): Army vs. North Texas
When: Dec. 27, noon.
Watchability: If you like option football, revel in the Cadets’ glorious return to bowl action after a six-year hiatus. The Mean Green are 5-7 and don’t bring much entertainment value to the party.
Line: Army by 9.
If the Heart of Dallas Bowl were a person: It would be the sales exec who subsists on high-end steaks, scotch and cigars and swears that next week is when he starts getting in shape.
The pick: Army 42, North Texas 30. The Mean Green actually beat Army by 17 points on the road Oct. 22, but that had a flukish quality to it – the Cadets were a disastrous minus-six in turnovers in the game. It’s been downhill ever since for UNT: four losses in the past five games, including a 52-24 embarrassment at UTEP. Army, meanwhile, is riding high after finally turning the tables on nemesis rival Navy.
Conference records: Independents 2-0, C-USA 3-4.
Military Bowl (17): Temple vs. Wake Forest
When: Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Annapolis, Md.
Watchability: Worth checking out just to see if alleged WakeyLeaks culprit Tommy Elrod shows up on the Temple sideline.
Line: Temple by 13.
If the Military Bowl were a person: It would be someone with sufficient security clearance to order a wiretap of your cell phone. Or, in the case of this year’s matchup, steal your gameplan.
The pick: Temple 24, Wake Forest 13. The only X-factor is whether the Owls are sulking or unfocused after the departure of coach Matt Rhule to Baylor. Otherwise, they are the better team and playing very well down the stretch – Temple is on a seven-game winning streak, the past six of them by 16 or more points. Wake, meanwhile, lost its past three games and didn’t score more than 14 in any of them.
Conference records: American 5-1, ACC 0-3.
Holiday Bowl (18): Washington State vs. Minnesota
When: Dec. 27, 7 p.m.
Where: San Diego.
Watchability: Almost always an aesthetically pleasing game on the green grass of Jack Murphy Stadium, and it’s not every day you can flip on the TV and see these two teams match up in a warm-weather locale (last of five meetings was in 1988, and all five meetings were in Minneapolis). Plus, there is the whole question of how many Gophers are eligible.
Line: Washington State by 6½.
If the Holiday Bowl were a person: It would be the person who shows up at the 25-year class reunion still looking 30 years old. Without forcing it.
The pick: Washington State 31, Minnesota 20. The Gophers’ defense has allowed 21 touchdown passes and made eight interceptions, tied with Rutgers for the worst ratio in the Big Ten. The Cougars (39 TD passes, 11 interceptions) throw it better than anyone Minnesota has faced. That’s a bad combination.
Conference records: Pac-12 1-0, Big Ten 1-1.
Cactus Bowl (19): Boise State vs. Baylor
When: Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m.
Watchability: Worth starting. Could be hard to finish. If you’re on East Coast time and make it to the end, you’re either a true football fanatic or an insomniac.
Line: Boise State by 7½.
If the Cactus Bowl were a person: It would be the person who never is ready to go out before 10 p.m. and always wants pizza at 2 a.m.
The pick: Boise State 37, Baylor 28. The Bears have quit on the season, having lost six straight. But a Boise team that is a minus-seven turnover margin has had a tendency to give the opposition excessive opportunities. If the Broncos hang on to the ball and give it to Jeremy McNichols, he should have a big night against Baylor’s flimsy run defense.
Conference records: MWC 4-2, Big 12 0-1.
Pinstripe Bowl (20): Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
When: Dec. 28, 2 p.m.
Where: The Bronx, N.Y.
Watchability: Inspirational Pitt running back James Conner will play his final college game before entering the NFL draft, and the Panthers have averaged 58 points over their past three games. Northwestern is just kind of along for the ride, but bringing the purple to the Pinstripe is kind of cool.
Line: Pitt by 4½.
If the Pinstripe Bowl were a person: It would be George Costanza.
The pick: Pittsburgh 38, Northwestern 31. The 6-6 Wildcats haven’t beaten a bowl team since Oct. 22, and are just 2-5 against bowl teams on the year. The Panthers are 3-4 but have a couple of quality skins on the wall in Clemson and Penn State. The Pat Bowl goes to Narduzzi.
Conference records: ACC 1-3, Big Ten 1-2.
Russell Athletic Bowl (21): West Virginia vs. Miami
When: Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m.
Watchability: Worth your time. Hurricanes come in on a roll, Mountaineers have been good all season against everyone who isn’t from the state of Oklahoma.
Line: Miami by 3.
If the Russell Athletic Bowl were a person: It would be the fast-talking car salesman now working at his fifth different dealership in town.
The pick: Miami 31, West Virginia 27. The Hurricanes are the streakiest team in the country: won their first four, lost their next four, won their last four. In the current-four game streak, they’ve won every game by at least two touchdowns. West Virginia has performed a makeover from the early Dana Holgorsen days, implementing more power running and increasingly better defense. Give Miami QB Brad Kaaya time and he can do some damage.
Conference records: ACC 2-3, Big 12 0-2.
Foster Farms Bowl (22): Utah vs. Indiana
When: Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Santa Clara, Calif.
Watchability: Even Indiana fans might not tune in; the basketball Hoosiers open Big Ten play at home that night against Nebraska. Utah fans will fill most of the seats and provide most of the viewership.
Line: Utah by 8.
If the Foster Farms Bowl were a person: It would be the world-weary barista with a philosophy PhD and an attitude.
The pick: Utah 28, Indiana 17. How do the Hoosiers handle the abrupt dismissal of successful Kevin Wilson? Replacing him with popular defensive coordinator Tom Allen looks like a good short-term fix – and for purposes of this column, the short term is all that matters. But the Utes are Team Automatic in bowl games, having won eight out of nine under Kyle Whittingham.
Conference records: Pac-12 2-0, Big Ten 1-3.
Texas Bowl (23): Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m.
Watchability: There is no guarantee how much longer K-State coach Bill Snyder’s drab brilliance will be on display, so check it out while you still can. And it’s always good to get a look at the 2017 potential No. 1 NFL draft pick, Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett.
Line: Texas A&M by 2.
If the Texas Bowl were a person: It would be Vince McMahon.
The pick: Kansas State 28, Texas A&M 26. The Aggies enter bowl season on yet another tailspin, having lost to everyone not named UTSA and New Mexico State since Oct. 8. The Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak and have established themselves as the best defensive team in the Big 12. If A&M quarterback Trevor Knight isn’t 100 percent, Kevin Sumlin’s team could struggle to score.
Conference records: Big 12 1-2, SEC 2-1.
Birmingham Bowl (24): South Florida vs. South Carolina
When: Dec. 29, 2 p.m.
Where: Birmingham, Ala.
Watchability: You have gifts to return. This is an acceptable time to do so.
Line: USF by 10½
If the Birmingham Bowl were a person: It would be sending wistful late-night texts to the VP of corporate sponsorship at BBVA Compass, asking them to please come back.
The pick: South Florida 27, South Carolina 14. One of the under-reported stories of the year was the progression of USF quarterback Quinton Flowers. He improved his passing dramatically as a sophomore and then added a great running dynamic this season as a junior, making him the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the country behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Unless Flowers backslides in the aftermath of coach Willie Taggart’s departure for Oregon, South Carolina doesn’t have the offensive weaponry to keep pace.
Conference records: American 6-1, SEC 2-2.
Belk Bowl (25): Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas
When: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.
Watchability: Any opportunity to see Big Sexy Bret Bielema should be seized.
Line: Virginia Tech by 7.
If the Belk Bowl were a person: It would be the rich kid with Bama Bangs, Vineyard Vines shirt, cranberry pants and saddle shoes who you want to hate, but turns out to be pretty cool.
The pick: Virginia Tech 38, Arkansas 28. If the Razorbacks’ 10-game streak of win one-lose one-win one continues, this is an Arkansas victory. But their porous defense might struggle against underrated Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans and a quality receiving corps.
Conference records: ACC 3-3, SEC 2-3.
Alamo Bowl (26): Oklahoma State vs. Colorado
When: Dec. 29, 9 p.m.
Where: San Antonio.
Watchability: Competitive game between two quality teams that were in the same conference from 1960-2010 and have met 46 previous times. There’s a lot worse on the schedule.
Line: Colorado by 3.
If the Alamo Bowl were a person: It would be the family that never minds when a bunch of friends invite themselves over to sit around their fire pit.
The pick: Colorado 24, Oklahoma State 19. Among Big 12 teams, only Texas Tech and Kansas gained a higher percentage of their yards through the air than the Cowboys’ 66 percent. That’s a bad plan against the nation’s No. 3 pass defense. Unless defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s reported move to Oregon messes with the Buffaloes’ preparation, Oklahoma State will struggle to throw with its usual productivity.
Conference records: Pac-12 3-0, Big 12 1-3.
Liberty Bowl (27): Georgia vs. TCU
When: Dec. 30, 12 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Watchability: It’s noon on a Friday. Start the weekend and the New Year’s celebration early with Dogs vs. Frogs. Also a chance to see two of the top sideline stress cases in action in Gary Patterson and Kirby Smart.
Line: Georgia by 1.
If the Liberty Bowl were a person: It would be Betty White.
The pick: Georgia 22, TCU 17. The Bulldogs haven’t had a great season by any means, but they’ve certainly been tested more and achieved more than the Horned Frogs. Georgia’s record against 2016 bowl teams: 5-4. TCU’s record against 2016 bowl teams: 1-5. In a Big 12 that lacked distinction, the Frogs lacked more distinction than most.
Conference records: SEC 3-3, Big 12 1-4.
Sun Bowl (28): Stanford vs. North Carolina
When: Dec. 30, 2 p.m.
Where: El Paso, Texas.
Watchability: Last chance to see Christian McCaffrey in a college uniform, and a first chance for some NFL draftniks to see highly regarded North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Line: Stanford by 3½.
If the Sun Bowl were a person: It would be the guy who owns the best barber shop in town but won’t raise his rates because he doesn’t want to tick off the old clientele.
The pick: Stanford 35, North Carolina 24. The Cardinal has averaged 323 rushing yards per game during its five-game winning streak. The Tar Heels are last in the ACC in rushing defense. How do you think this will turn out? Maybe not as bad as Baylor’s 645-rushing-yard emasculation of UNC last year, but it won’t be pretty.
Conference records: Pac-12 4-0; ACC 3-4.
Music City Bowl (29): Tennessee vs. Nebraska
When: Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
Watchability: You’ll want to tune in to see which team is farther in the tank after being embarrassed by its rival to end the regular season – the Volunteers (who gave up 45 points to Vanderbilt) or the Cornhuskers (who lost by 30 to Iowa)?
Line: Tennessee by 3.
If the Music City Bowl were a person: It would be Vince Gill.
The pick: Nebraska 31, Tennessee 30. Volunteer juniors Derek Barnett, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone are weighing NFL decisions; will that affect their focus on and interest in this game? The Cornhuskers likely have far less concerns in that area. If Nebraska can contain Josh Dobbs and not get burned on first-down passes – Dobbs threw more often and more successfully on that down than any other – it can win the game.
Conference records: Big Ten 2-3, SEC 3-4.
Arizona Bowl (30): Air Force vs. South Alabama
When: Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
Watchability: This would be an opportune time to go out shopping for New Year’s Eve party supplies.
Line: Air Force by 12½.
If the Arizona Bowl were a person: It would be the guy who practices his golf swing while he’s talking to you.
The pick: Air Force 45, South Alabama 31. The nation’s No. 3 rushing offense takes on the nation’s No. 98 rushing defense. Do the math. The only caveat is USA coach Joey Jones’ uncanny knack for hitting the high notes, with major upsets of San Diego State (twice) and Mississippi State in the past two seasons.
Conference records: MWC 5-2, Sun Belt 2-4.
Orange Bowl (31) Michigan vs. Florida State
When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m.
Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Watchability: Oodles. A Heisman finalist in Jabrill Peppers. Another sure-fire first-round draft pick in Dalvin Cook. Two coaches who were fined and reprimanded after their past losses for losing their minds on the refs. Considerable tradition and fan ego on both sides. This will be fun.
Line: Michigan by 6½.
If the Orange Bowl were a person: It would be the maître d’ at Joe’s Stone Crab.
The pick: Michigan 24, Florida State 17. The Seminoles lead the nation in sacks with 47. The Wolverines are fourth with 44. Which already battered quarterback can stand up to what figures to be a game-long assault? The Dash is going with the junior over the freshman.
Conference records: Big Ten 3-3, ACC 3-5.
Citrus Bowl (32): Louisville vs. LSU
When: Dec. 31, 11 a.m.
Watchability: You’ve got the Heisman Trophy winner, who is one of the most electrifying college players in years. You’ve got Leonard Fournette, a first-round pick and owner of the most savage stiff-arm in college football. You’ve got Coach O and Coach Oh No We Did Not Cheat Against Wake Forest. That’ll do.
Line: LSU by 3½.
If the Citrus Bowl were a person: It would be the underappreciated standup comedian you can’t quite convince your friends to go see.
The pick: LSU 35, Louisville 34. The Cardinals’ sloppy skid to end the season – seven turnovers in upset losses to Houston and Kentucky – can be corrected with several weeks of sharp bowl prep. But Lamar Jackson won’t get a new offensive line to play behind or better receivers to throw to in that time. And if Fournette is healthy after missing his fourth game of the year in the regular-season finale, he and Derrius Guice will be a massive challenge for the Louisville defense.
Conference records: SEC 4-4, ACC 3-6.
TaxSlayer Bowl (33): Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
When: Dec. 31, 11 a.m.
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
Watchability: The simultaneous action from Orlando will be more interesting, but the smart fan has two TVs going and is watching this one at the same time.
Line: Georgia Tech by 3½
If the TaxSlayer Bowl were a person: It would be Spencer Hall in a crushed velvet tuxedo stoically juggling lit torches.
The pick: Georgia Tech 35, Kentucky 31. Both teams felt much better about their seasons after upsetting their rivals – the Yellow Jackets over Georgia and the Wildcats over Louisville. Now Tech gets to send senior quarterback Justin Thomas out a winner when he dices Kentucky’s soft run defense.
Conference records: ACC 4-6, SEC 4-5.
Peach Bowl (34): Alabama vs. Washington
When: Dec. 31, 3 p.m.
Line: Alabama by 16.
If the Peach Bowl were a person: It would be the hedge-fund manager who made one great stock call and now owns vacation homes in Vail and St. Kitts.
The pick: Alabama 24, Washington 10. Here’s the Huskies’ hope – they lead the nation in turnover margin, and maybe they get freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts (nine interceptions thrown, five fumbles lost) to make multiple mistakes. Here’s the Huskies’ fear – their offensive line can’t handle the best unit in college football, Alabama’s front seven. Unable to run the ball, Washington’s offense might be overwhelmed – think of QB Jake Browning looking like a frazzled mess against USC, a team ‘Bama beat by 46 points. The only way this is close is if Alabama gives away possessions.
Conference records: SEC 5-5, Pac-12 4-1.
Fiesta Bowl (35): Clemson vs. Ohio State
When: Dec. 31, 7 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Ohio State by 3½.
If the Fiesta Bowl were a person: It would be Martha Stewart.
The pick: Clemson 27, Ohio State 24. Both teams have flirted with playoff-ruining disaster multiple times. The Buckeyes won their past two games thanks to a failed two-point conversion try by a 3-9 team and a matter of inches on a fourth-down spot. The Tigers tried to give away a game to North Carolina State (the Wolfpack refused the largesse) and had to hold on for dear life in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. So there are warts aplenty in this matchup – but also great players and great coaches and great confidence on both sides. The Dash is going with the more experienced playoff team over the very young Buckeyes, most of whom had little to do with the 2014 national title.
Conference records: ACC 5-6, Big Ten 3-4.
Outback Bowl (36): Florida vs. Iowa
When: Jan. 2, 1 p.m.
Watchability: Of course you’ll watch. This is the last big day of games for the year. Think how guilty you’d feel by June if you didn’t.
Line: Florida by 2½
If the Outback Bowl were a person: It would be the person at the tailgate who goads everyone into Bloody Marys the morning after a hard party.
The pick: Florida 19, Iowa 16. The Hawkeyes are confounding: capable of losing to North Dakota State and beating Michigan on the same field; of surrendering 505 yards to Purdue but just 217 to Nebraska; of wheezing past Rutgers but knocking the Wolverines from the playoff. The Gators are simply what they are: a fabulous defensive team with major offensive issues. The X-factor here is the relocation of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to Temple and whether it affects the Gators’ preparation on that side of the ball.
Conference records: SEC 6-5, Big Ten 3-5.
Cotton Bowl (37): Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan
When: Jan. 2, 1 p.m.
Where: Arlington, Texas.
Watchability: See above. Although there is a concern that this game inevitably will become unwatchable.
Line: Wisconsin by 7½.
If the Cotton Bowl were a person: It would be a fried Twinkie vendor relocated from the State Fair to JerryWorld.
The pick: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 17. The Dash watched Ball State gash the Broncos between the tackles for 298 rushing yards. What do you think Corey Clement and Co. might do? Western Michigan has good enough talent and sufficient experience to hang with the Badgers elsewhere, but this looks like the day when the row boat runs into reality and sinks.
Conference records: Big Ten 4-5, Mid-American 0-6.
Rose Bowl (38): USC vs. Penn State
When: Jan. 2, 5 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Watchability: For a non-playoff game it gets no better. Red-hot blueblood programs meeting in football’s prettiest setting.
Line: USC by 7.
If the Rose Bowl were a person: It would be George Clooney.
The pick: USC 34, Penn State 24. The Trojans haven’t just won eight in a row; only one of them was even close (21-17 over Pac-12 South champion Colorado). And while the Nittany Lions have been equally impressive in winning nine straight, they haven’t faced an offense with the balance USC possesses – especially outside of Happy Valley. Fight on.
Conference records: Pac-12 5-1, Big Ten 4-6.
Sugar Bowl (39): Oklahoma vs. Auburn
When: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Watchability: What else do you have to do? A crossword puzzle?
Line: Oklahoma by 4.
If the Sugar Bowl were a person: It would be Huey Long.
The pick: Auburn 34, Oklahoma 31. This is the Sooners’ chance to prove they can beat someone from outside the Big 12. With Baker Mayfield getting the ball in space to Oklahoma’s tandem of playmakers, it will present a big challenge for a good Auburn defense. The Tigers aren’t much built for an aerial shootout and will have to control the ball on the ground – which, against Oklahoma’s defense, isn’t the hardest thing to do.
Conference records: SEC 7-5, Big 12 1-5.
College Football Playoff Championship Game (40)
When: Jan. 9, 8 p.m.
Where: Tampa, Fla.
Watchability: If you don’t know, you haven’t been paying attention.
If the College Football Playoff championship game were a person: It would be Vince Lombardi.
The pick: Alabama 35, Clemson 30. The Crimson Tide unearths O.J. Howard, executes daring onside kick, withstands aerial assault from Deshaun Watson … oh wait, that was last year. Well, maybe the same formula will apply this time around, too. Regardless, make it an unprecedented five national titles in eight years for Nick Saban, as he continues to extinguish hopes and crush dreams from coast to coast.
Conference records: SEC 8-5, ACC 5-7.