It's officially bowl season. Chalk's college football Vegas experts "Stanford Steve" Coughlin, Chris Fallica and Will Harris offer picks on their favorite bowl games, while Phil Steele provides insights for each and every game. Collectively, they are here to provide analysis to navigate you through the next month of games, from the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 15 through New Year's Day.
This file was continuously updated throughout bowl season with fresh information, providing a thorough one-stop destination for all of your bowl-game-betting advice.
Note: The College Football Playoff national championship will be addressed in a separate file. All game times listed are Eastern. Lines are from Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl
North Carolina A&T Aggies (-7.5) vs. Alcorn State Braves
Dec. 15, 12 p.m. ET (ABC)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Steele: This is the fourth Celebration Bowl, which pits the champions of the MEAC and SWAC, and it will be played in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. North Carolina A&T beat Alcorn State here in 2015, 41-34, and last year the Aggies beat Grambling 21-14 -- delivering the MEAC both of their wins thus far in the series. Last year, A&T was undefeated at 12-0, and this year it beat East Carolina on the road, 28-23. The Aggies did lose to a pair of teams with losing records, but the losses came by a combined four points.
Alcorn State has the edge on offense, with quarterback Noah Johnson rushing for 960 yards at 7.4 yards per carry. The Braves average 282 yards per game rushing and 6.1 yards per carry with an additional 193 yards per game through the air. North Carolina A&T is led by its defense, which has allowed just 158 yards per game over its past four games and leads the FCS in allowing only 73 yards per game rushing and 2.4 yards per carry. Aggies defensive end Darryl Johnson has 18.5 tackles for loss. Alcorn State also fields a good defense, allowing just 278 yards per game, including only 94 yards per game rushing, and the Braves have accounted for 50 sacks to A&T's 23.
My projection calls for North Carolina A&T to win 28-20, but with only a 378-348 yard edge. I will side with A&T for my pick in the Capital One Bowl Mania confidence contest, but Alcorn State is a formidable opponent.
Bowl Mania selection: North Carolina A&T
Predicted score: North Carolina A&T 27, Alcorn State 20
Final score: North Carolina A&T 24, Alcorn State 22 (Alcorn State covered, total went under)
AutoNation Cure Bowl
Tulane Green Wave (-3.5) vs. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns
Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
FPI line: Tulane -5.7
PickCenter consensus: 60 percent picking Tulane
Coughlin: After finishing the season ranked 93rd in the country in scoring (25.7 points per game), Tulane head coach Willie Fritz decided to make a move and get rid of offensive coordinator Doug Ruse. The Ragin' Cajuns will have plenty of film on the Green Wave offense, but I like the notion of a new guy calling plays in this spot. Justin McMillan took over at quarterback midway through the season for Tulane and accounted for 10 TDs in the team's final five games.
This should be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season, so I expect a good amount of points, but in the end I think the favorite wins and covers. Louisiana runs the ball well, as it averaged more than 220 yards per game on the ground, but I think Tulane can slow them down enough.
ATS pick: Tulane -3.5
Predicted score: Tulane 34, Louisiana 24
Steele: Both teams are excited to be here and come in hoping to end their season above .500. Louisiana is 7-6 after winning the Sun Belt's West Division, while Tulane enters at 6-6. Tulane plays in the stronger American Conference, and thus took on the tougher schedule this season. Louisiana has the edge in the offensive backfield and on the offensive line, as it rushed for 5.7 yards per carry this year and allowed 21 sacks, while Tulane is at 4.7 yards per carry with 33 sacks allowed.
Tulane has the edge on all three layers of the defense, as it held opponents to 38 yards per game below their season averages this year. Louisiana allowed opponents to gain 41 yards per game above what they averaged over the course of the rest of the season. Tulane will have the edge on special teams and also has the matchup advantage, as it likes to run the ball and Louisiana is yielding 209 yards per game on the ground (and 5 yards per carry). I will go with the stronger team to win by a touchdown.
Lean: Tulane -3.5
Predicted score: Tulane 34, Louisiana 27
Final score: Tulane 41, Louisiana 24 (Tulane covered, total went over)
New Mexico Bowl
Utah State Aggies (-9) vs. North Texas Mean Green
Dec. 15, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
FPI line: Utah State -8.2
PickCenter consensus: 55 percent picking Utah State
Steele: This bowl game features two top-notch quarterbacks and two explosive offenses. Mason Fine for North Texas has thrown for 3,734 yards with a 27-5 TD-INT ratio, while Jordan Love for Utah State has thrown for 3,208 yards with an equally impressive 28-5 ratio. Utah State has the edge at running back and on the offensive line, where it has paved the way for 5.6 yards per carry and allowed just nine sacks all year. North Texas has a slight edge on defense, as it has allowed only 3.3 yards per carry and registered 37 sacks this season; it is No. 18 in my pass efficiency defensive rankings.
The site favors Utah State, a team that's used to the altitude and plays here every other year, and the Aggies have also taken on the tougher schedule. Utah State will not have Matt Wells, as he has taken the head coaching job at Texas Tech, and while Seth Littrell was listed as a candidate at Kansas State, he told his team he was staying, so his players should be fired up. I side with the underdog here.
ATS pick: North Texas +9
Predicted score: Utah State 38, North Texas 35
Final score: Utah State 52, North Texas 13 (Utah State covered, total went under)
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
No. 21 Fresno State Bulldogs (-4.5) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
FPI line: Fresno State -2.9
PickCenter consensus: 59 percent picking Fresno State
Steele: Both teams have solid quarterbacks, with Arizona State's Manny Wilkins throwing for 2,896 with a 19-4 TD-INT ratio and Fresno State's Marcus McMaryion throwing for 3,453 yards and a 25-3 ratio. Arizona State will have a significant edge at running back with Eno Benjamin, who rushed for 1,524 yards (5.5), and its offensive line was one of 10 semi-finalists for the coveted Joe Moore Award. With receiver N'Keal Harry sitting this one out for the Sun Devils, the Bulldogs will have the edge at receiver with KeeSean Johnson (1,307, 14.1).
Arizona State has taken on the much tougher schedule, facing 10 Power 5 teams, while Fresno faced only two. While that makes Arizona State better than its numbers indicate on defense, I still give the edge to Fresno in the back seven on defense -- a unit led by linebacker Jeff Allison (121 tackles) and cornerback Tank Kelly, who is No. 2 in the country with 20 passes defended. Jeff Tedford will have the edge at coach as he is 6-3 in bowl games and 19-6-2 ATS with Fresno overall, while this is Herm Edwards' first bowl game. Fresno is 11-2 and Arizona State is just 7-5, but the Sun Devils' losses were all by seven points or less while facing a tougher schedule. Arizona State has a slight edge in talent and will be motivated by being the underdog.
ATS pick: Arizona State +4.5
Predicted score: Arizona State 26, Fresno State 23
Final score: Fresno State 31, Arizona State 20 (Fresno State covered, total went under)
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Georgia Southern Eagles (-2.5) vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles
Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
FPI line: Georgia Southern -1.5
PickCenter consensus: 63 percent picking Eastern Michigan
Fallica: There is no question that Eastern Michigan will show up for this game, in an effort to win its first bowl since 1987. The Eagles have been in every game this season and won five of their last six to become bowl-eligible. True, the EMU Eagles' last loss came against an option-based team (Army), but now Eastern Michigan has time to prepare for the Georgia Southern attack and the experience of facing such a unit this season. It has been a great turnaround this season for Georgia Southern as well, but I favor EMU, which came so close to getting a bowl win two years ago. Chris Creighton's team gets its bowl win this year.
ATS pick: Eastern Michigan +2.5
Predicted score: Eastern Michigan 28, Georgia Southern 24
Steele: The battle of the Eagles is upon us. Georgia Southern is 9-3, but its losses are by a combined 74 points. Eastern Michigan is just 7-5, but its losses are by a combined 31 points, with three games decided by three points. Eastern Michigan took on the tougher schedule as well, facing seven bowl teams to Georgia Southern's five. Georgia Southern does have the edge at running back with Wesley Fields (959 yards, 4.4 YPC), as well as the better special teams unit. Eastern holds a slight edge at QB with Iowa transfer Tyler Wiegers, who was instrumental in its upset of Purdue, and naturally has a considerable edge at receiver with its opponent running the option.
I rate Eastern Michigan as superior on all three levels of defense, and Eagles head coach Chris Creighton has bowl experience. The site does favor Georgia Southern, which is 509 miles closer to home. The most significant edge in this bowl game, to me, is the fact that Eastern Michigan has already faced the option this year when it took on Army -- and it has extra time to prepare for Georgia Southern's option, which gains 66 yards per game less than what opponents usually allow.
Lean: Eastern Michigan +2.5
Predicted score: Eastern Michigan 24, Georgia Southern 20
Final score: Georgia Southern 23, Eastern Michigan 21 (Eastern Michigan covered, total went under)
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
FPI line: Appalachian State -5.4
PickCenter consensus: 65 percent picking Appalachian State
Steele: Appalachian State is 11-1 and stands as the 2018 Sun Belt champion, while Middle Tennessee is 8-5 and the C-USA runner-up. Middle Tennessee is about a seven-hour drive away from New Orleans, which is about four hours closer than Appalachian State, so the Blue Raiders could have a slight crowd edge. The Blue Raiders play in the tougher conference, took on two more bowl teams and they faced three SEC teams along the way, so they clearly took on the tougher schedule. Appalachian State has the edge at running back and offensive line, as it averaged 5.7 yards per carry and allowed just 18 sacks. Middle Tennessee has the advantage at quarterback with underrated Brent Stockstill, who hit 71 percent of his passes with a 28-8 TD-INT ratio.
I give a slight edge on offense to the Blue Raiders. Appalachian State has my No. 25-rated pass defense and holds foes to 107 yards per game less than they average throughout the rest of the season, so it has the edge on defense, but the front sevens are even. Appalachian State also has the special teams edge. Mountaineers head coach Scott Satterfield has taken the Louisville job, so with this being Rick Stockstill's eighth bowl, the Blue Raiders will have a significant coaching edge. Add it all up and these teams are relatively close, so I like the touchdown underdog in a possible upset.
ATS pick: Middle Tennessee State +7
Predicted score: Appalachian State 24, Middle Tennessee State 23
Fallica: Last year, teams playing in pre-New Year's Eve bowls while undergoing coaching changes went just 1-5. Appalachian State, the Sun Belt champs, fall into that category this year. The Mountaineers have ripped off five straight double-digit wins since their loss at Georgia Southern, but face a team playing its best football of the season. Middle Tennessee has won five of seven, with its only losses coming at Kentucky and in the C-USA championship game to UAB, by only two. Expect Brett Stockstill and the Blue Raiders to give the Mountaineers all they can handle inside the Superdome.
ATS pick: Middle Tennessee State +7
Predicted score: Appalachian State 31, Middle Tennessee 27
Final score: Appalachian State 45, Middle Tennessee State 13 (Appalachian State covered, total went over)
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
UAB Blazers (-2.5) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
FPI line: UAB -1.7
PickCenter consensus: 79 percent picking Northern Illinois
Steele: Only three bowl games feature a battle of conference champions, and this one falls directly into that category as the MAC champion takes on the C-USA champion. UAB comes in far superior statistically, having outgained their opponents by 100 yards per game, while NIU was outgained by 23 yards per game. The Huskies faced the much tougher schedule, with games against Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU outside of conference play and 10 total games against bowl teams this season. Talent wise, I give a slight edge at quarterback to NIU with Marcus Childers having a 15-10 TD-INT ratio while UAB's quarterbacks have combined for a 14-15 ratio.
Northern Illinois also rates at an edge on defensive line, led by All-American Sutton Smith, who had 15 sacks. UAB does have the advantage at running back, receiver, offensive line, linebacker and defensive back, as well as special teams. UAB is also a lot closer to the venue and should have the crowd edge. The Blazers were just happy to get to a bowl last year, but this year their goal is to win one; on the opposite side, NIU head coach Rod Carey is 0-5 in bowl games, losing by 25 points per game. While the total is low, this game involves two top-40 defenses and two below average offenses, so the under could be worth a look as well.
Lean: UAB -2.5
Predicted score: UAB 21, Northern Illinois 16
Coughlin: The thought here is pretty biased, but I am rooting for the Huskies in this game because I cannot stand that their head coach, Rod Carey, gets criticism for the bowl record he has, which is 0-5. A lot of factors go into bowl games, and therefore I don't think it's fair to pick apart things like that. This will not be a pretty game to watch, as UAB gives up 21 points a game on average and the Huskies from DeKalb allow 17 PPG -- so points will be at a premium.
I look at the teams NIU played and lost to, such as Florida State, Utah and Iowa. The feeling here is that the Huskies are more battle-tested and can pull this game out. UAB is probably the best story in the sport over the past two years, but I feel like the Huskies are due. I'll take to underdog to win on the field.
ATS pick: Northern Illinois +2.5
Predicted score: Northern Illinois 17, UAB 16
Fallica: NIU had faced the better schedule, and after an embarrassingly bad performance in last year's bowl game, I would expect the upset winner of the MAC championship game to make a better showing this year. Both offenses are subpar, and each faces a solid defense, so this one should be tight throughout. I'll side with Marcus Childers to make one more play on offense and Sutton Smith, Josh Corcoran and the NIU defense to win a close game.
ATS pick: Northern Illinois +2.5
Predicted score: Northern Illinois 24, UAB 23
Final score: UAB 37, Northern Illinois 13 (UAB covered, total went over)
DXL Frisco Bowl
Ohio Bobcats (-3) vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
FPI line: Ohio -5.2
PickCenter consensus: 59 percent picking San Diego State
Harris: It's the first meeting between these two schools, but there are similarities these programs share. The matchup pits two of the most consistent Group of 5 powers, led by two of the sport's three oldest coaches -- both of whom carry impressive defensive backgrounds and potential Hall of Fame credentials. Rocky Long has had eight winning seasons in eight years at San Diego State, while Frank Solich hasn't had a losing season at Ohio in more than a decade. Yet despite their success, both have struggled in bowls -- Long with a 4-8 record, and Solich clocking in at 5-9.
This year Solich has the advantage, mainly because his Bobcats are a more mature team with much better leadership and chemistry. San Diego State ended the season by losing four of its last five games straight up and six of its last seven games against the spread. The Aztecs lost their identity in the process, and reestablishing themselves as a tough, physical running team is priority one in bowl practices. San Diego State barely averaged four yards per carry this season, failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2009 and generally lacked firepower on an offense that ranks as Long's worst yet.
That's in contrast to the Ohio offense, which is an upperclassman-dominated unit that's the best one Solich has had in 14 years in Athens. This is a run-first attack, as usual, but quarterback Nathan Rourke's rushing production and the rare explosiveness Papi White brings at wideout help this group make big plays and finish drives. That's two things the SDSU offense has struggled with, and the respective national ranks of 13th and 11th in red zone touchdown percentage and third and 67th in rushes over 10 yards really highlight the difference in firepower between the Bobcats and Aztecs. The cold weather expected for this one also helps the favorite.
ATS pick: Ohio -3
Predicted score: Ohio 28, San Diego State 17
Fallica: San Diego State has completely fallen flat over the last half of the year, dropping four of its final five games of the season with the only win via comeback at a bad New Mexico team. Injuries have derailed the Aztecs' offense and a normally reliable defense will face an experienced Ohio offense led by QB Nathan Rourke, two solid RB in A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons and a threat at WR in Papi White. Maybe the month off will do the Aztecs some good, but they have looked nothing like the team that ripped off consecutive wins against Arizona State, Eastern Michigan and Boise State. Outside of the Bobcats, the MAC was terrible in bowl games last year, and I expect this Ohio senior class to go out on a positive note.
ATS pick: Ohio -3
Predicted score: Ohio 37, San Diego State 30
Coughlin: There's plenty of experience between these two head coaches, as SDSU's Rocky Long is 69 years old and Ohio's Frank Solich is 74. The Aztecs have both QB Christian Chapman and RB Juwan Washington back after missing significant time over the course of the season. It was a weird year for the Aztecs, as they come in losing four of their last five games, while the Bobcats come in winning four of their last five.
It just feels like no one is picking SDSU in this game because of how bad they have looked, but I like the idea of Coach Long getting some work done and slowing down this Ohio offense, which has had a good year. I just like to fade the public in bowl games, and I feel like the public will be on Ohio. I'll take the dog, and I think they can pull off the upset.
ATS pick: San Diego State +3
Predicted score: San Diego State 21, Ohio 20
Steele: This game will be a battle of offense versus defense. Ohio has a dynamic quarterback in Nathan Rourke, who rushed for 816 yards and threw for 2,225 yards with a 24-7 TD-INT ratio. The Aztecs' offense features the tailback, and their quarterbacks combined to hit 54 percent of passes with a 14-6 ratio and 103 yards rushing this season. The Aztecs' streak of back-to-back 2,000-yard rushers ended this season, as they were led by Juwan Washington, who had 870 rush yards but missed four games with an injury.
The Bobcats have the clear edge on offense, as they averaged 71 yards per game more than what their opponents typically allow; the Aztecs offense was held to 64 yards per game less than their opponents typically allowed. The Aztecs have the edge at all three layers of defense and allow just 2.7 yards per carry, while holding foes to 74 yards per game below their season average.
The Aztecs' season ended badly, as they lost four of their past five games, while Ohio won five of its past six games. While my projection calls for Ohio to win by 10 points, San Diego State is a team that plays to the level of its opponent -- and the underdog is 11-1 ATS in its games this year. San Diego State did take on the tougher schedule, and it will be motivated as an underdog.
Lean: San Diego State +3
Predicted score: Ohio 27, San Diego State 26
Final score: Ohio 27, San Diego State 0 (Ohio covered, total went under)
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
Marshall Thundering Herd (-2.5) vs. South Florida Bulls
Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
FPI line: USF -0.2
PickCenter consensus: 55 percent picking Marshall
Steele: South Florida has the clear home-field edge, as this game takes place in its home stadium in Tampa Bay. The Bulls also have the advantage in the offensive backfield with Alabama transfer quarterback Blake Barnett (although he only has an 11-11 TD-INT ratio this season) and Florida transfer running back Jordan Cronkrite. While USF will have a small edge on offense, the Herd have a significant advantage on defense. Marshall allows just 104 yards per game rushing and 2.9 yards per carry, while USF checks in at 245 yards per game rushing and 5 yards per carry.
Marshall allows just 336 total yards per game while USF allows more than a hundred yards more, at 442 yards per game. Marshall is a legitimate 8-4 while USF, which enters this game at 7-5, could easily be 5-7 or 4-8. The Bulls trailed by two scores in the fourth quarter against both Illinois and Tulsa, had a 24-9 first-quarter deficit in a win over East Carolina and were outgained by 172 yards but still managed to beat Georgia Tech.
Doc Holliday is 5-0 straight up and against the spread in bowl games, covering by 10.4 points per game, and Marshall has the stronger team.
ATS pick: Marshall -2.5
Predicted score: Marshall 27, South Florida 20
Final score: Marshall 38, South Florida 20 (Marshall covered, total went over)
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
Toledo Rockets (-6) vs. FIU Golden Panthers
Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
FPI line: Toledo -2.8
PickCenter consensus: 68 percent picking FIU
Steele: The weather figures to favor the team from Florida, as Toledo will leave chilly Ohio on Dec. 17 with four days to get acclimated to the heat. Toledo did face the tougher schedule, taking on seven bowl teams this season while FIU faced only three -- the fewest of all bowl teams. Toledo was just 2-5 ATS against bowl teams, while FIU was 3-0 ATS this year.
Toledo has a pair of All-MAC wide receivers, Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson. They'll be up against an FIU pass defense that I have rated as No. 45 in the country, with 17 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns allowed. FIU quarterback James Morgan hit 65 percent of his passes this year, with a 26-7 TD-INT ratio, and faced Toledo in 2016 when he was the quarterback at Bowling Green; in that game, he threw for 335 yards with five touchdowns.
Toledo has slight edges at running back, wide receiver and offensive line. FIU has slight edges at quarterback, linebacker and defensive back. FIU head coach Butch Davis has seen his team overachieve in each of the past two years, and he is 5-3 in bowl games. The Panthers were a perfect 3-0 ATS as an underdog this year. Add it all up, and these teams are close in talent, so I will go with the underdog here.
Lean: FIU +6
Predicted score: Toledo 38, FIU 37
Coughlin: I just don't understand this line. FIU has a nice short flight over to the Bahamas, which has to feel like a business trip.
Toledo is a team I feel has been a little overrated this year, because I think its defense is a bit limited.
The Rockets might have too much fun on the island before the game, so I'll take the underdog and the points.
ATS pick: FIU +6
Predicted score: FIU 34, Toledo 29
Final score: FIU 35, Toledo 32 (FIU covered, total went over)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
BYU Cougars (-13) vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Dec. 21, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Lyle Smith Field at Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
FPI line: BYU -7.3
PickCenter consensus: 60 percent picking BYU
Steele: Both teams went to backup quarterbacks at the end of the season, but for different reasons and with different levels of success. BYU put backup quarterback Zach Wilson in as the starter for its last six games and went 3-3 (5-1 ATS) in that stretch -- with their losses coming by a combined 14 points. Western Michigan lost starting quarterback Jon Wassink to injury against Toledo and went 1-3 down the stretch, with their losses coming by a combined 73 points. True freshman Kaleb Eleby did hit 65 percent of his passes for the Broncos, and was my No. 55-rated quarterback out of high school and has a strong arm, so he should fare better with added bowl practices.
Western Michigan has a dynamic running back duo of LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan, who combined to rush for 1,871 yards and 21 rushing TDs. The Broncos also have the edge at wide receiver and on the offensive line. BYU has my No. 25-rated defense, allowing just 326 yards per game, while Western Michigan is at No. 101 in my rankings -- allowing foes 13 yards above their season averages. BYU also has the special-teams edge and took on the tougher schedule, facing five Power 5 teams in the process.
BYU is used to the altitude, and the Cougars will have the crowd edge and figure to win the game. However, my system calls for BYU to have only a 48-yard edge, and that has me taking the double-digit underdog here.
Lean: Western Michigan +13
Predicted score: BYU 28, Western Michigan 24
Harris: BYU was hoping for a better bowl in a warmer climate, but the Cougars will have to settle for a return visit to the blue turf, where they dropped a 21-16 decision to Boise State back in the first week of November. This is a young team, in poor overall health, with some key players out. Other players are getting married during the break, while some will have to take exams at the bowl site due to the timing of the game relative to the academic calendar. Given those distractions, and the disappointment of both the bowl assignment and the blown three-touchdown lead in the finale versus rival Utah, it's hard to see this outfit turning in its best game of the season.
However, that's what we expect from a Western Michigan squad that closed the regular season strong with a win over MAC champ Northern Illinois, which beat BYU 7-6 in Provo in October. The Broncos missed the postseason last year despite a 6-6 record, and are a very bowl-grateful team this time around. Western fired its defensive coordinator after the season's penultimate game, and the defense responded with its best effort of the year against Northern Illinois. We like the late-season growth of both the defense and overall team chemistry, as well as the team's mentality heading into the bowl.
The underdog also has a speed edge at the skill positions, and it would be awfully tough to lay double digits with a plodding BYU team that doesn't look quite full tilt heading into this one.
ATS pick: Western Michigan +13
Predicted score: Western Michigan 24, BYU 20
Final score: BYU 49, Western Michigan 18 (BYU covered, total went over)
Jared Birmingham Bowl
Memphis Tigers (-3.5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Dec. 22, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
FPI line: Memphis -3.4
PickCenter consensus: 53 percent picking Wake Forest
Harris: Memphis' first-ever consensus All-American has quit the team, three assistants have left for more prestigious jobs and the whole program is reeling from the 35-3 second-half beatdown at UCF in the American Athletic Conference championship game. It's hard to find good vibes anywhere around this program right now. Memphis is a favorite here largely on the strength of the mismatch between its third-ranked rush offense and Wake's 91st-ranked rush defense, but the Tigers are now without Darrell Henderson and the improving Deacs have allowed just 307 combined rushing yards on 2.8 yards per carry in their past three outings, all versus bowl teams.
ATS pick: Wake Forest +3.5
Predicted score: Wake Forest 45, Memphis 31
Steele: Memphis lost both of their coordinators for this game as they moved on to new jobs. Memphis had a first-year offensive coordinator anyway, and that is Mike Norvell's background, so they should have no trouble adjusting on that side of the ball. Memphis is the much stronger team statistically, as they outgained foes by 114 yards per game while Wake got outgained by 21 yards per game, but the Demon Deacons took on the much tougher schedule, which included Notre Dame and Clemson.
I am going to focus on the total in this one. Memphis has an explosive offense, as running back Darrell Henderson averaged an incredible 8.9 yards per carry; he won't be playing in this game, though, as he declared for the NFL draft and opted to sit out this bowl game. The Tigers still have Patrick Taylor and Tony Pollard, who combine for 1,455 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. Memphis quarterback Brady White threw for 3,125 yards with a 25-8 TD-INT ratio. On the opposite side of the ball, though, Memphis has my No. 108-rated defense. Wake has an explosive offense that topped 500 yards five times this year, including dynamic slot receiver Greg Dortch.
The Demon Deacon defense allowed foes 64 yards per game more than they averaged the rest of the season, which is No. 114 in the country. Last year Wake won their bowl against Texas A&M 55-52, and that was in regulation. Even without Henderson, this one should be a high-scoring affair
Lean: Over 74
Predicted score: Memphis 45, Wake Forest 42
Final score: Wake Forest 37, Memphis 34 (Wake Forest covered, total went under)
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Army Black Knights (-3) vs. Houston Cougars
Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
FPI line: Houston -3.3
PickCenter consensus: 71 percent picking Army
Coughlin: There's a trust factor here, alongside a bunch of unknown on one side. It doesn't get much better than taking Army -- it's pretty simple, because you know what you're getting. On the other side, Houston has their best player in recent history not playing (by the way, he's a defensive lineman), plus they lost their QB late in the season, who was at a conference-player-of-the-year level.
Houston allows just about 200 yards on the ground per game -- 197 yards, to be exact. That is just not a good stat when you get ready to line up and face the Black Knights, who average 296 yards per game on the ground. If the way Houston defended Navy is any kind of tell about how this game will go (the Midshipmen ran for 396 yards and scored 36 points), I'll take the Cadets and give the points.
ATS pick: Army -3
Predicted score: Army 38, Houston 28
Steele: This game is in Houston's home state, but the majority of Army's players come from Texas, so I think the crowd will be at least split. I like Army in this game, but I do want to point out a stat that blew my mind. Army allows just 294 yards per game and Houston's defense allows 489 yards per game. Army faced only 615 offensive plays, so they allowed 5.72 yards per play. Houston's defense faced 1,025 plays -- and allowed 5.71 yards per play.
I still like the Black Knights here, as Houston is not only without their most electrifying playmakers, quarterback D'Eriq King (out with an injury) and defensive lineman Ed Oliver (sitting out to prep for the NFL draft), but the Cougars will also be without two other starters on the defensive line. Most teams have a little rust after sitting out weeks before their bowl game, but Army played just 14 days ago while Houston has been off for 28 days. A banged up and thin Houston defensive line will have a tough time getting Army's offense off the field. It may also be worth noting that Army head coach Jeff Monken is 2-0 in bowl games.
ATS pick: Army -3
Predicted score: Army 30, Houston 23
Final score: Army 70, Houston 14 (Army covered, total went over)
Dollar General Bowl
Buffalo Bulls (-2) vs. Troy Trojans
Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
FPI line: Buffalo -0.8
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Buffalo
Steele: While Buffalo will be excited about being in a bowl, it is traveling 1,152 miles while Troy is traveling just 167 miles -- essentially making this a Troy home game in Alabama. Buffalo has the big names in this game, with NFL-caliber quarterback Tyree Jackson and NFL-caliber receiver Anthony Johnson. The Bulls have the edge at running back and on the offensive line, which gives them the clear advantage on offense. But Troy is stronger on the defensive line, led by Trevon Sanders and linebacker Hunter Reese, who were both first-team All-Sun Belt.
Troy has a top-five special-teams unit, while Buffalo comes in at No. 95 in my rankings. Troy head coach Neal Brown is 2-0 in bowl games. With the crowd edge accounted for, I have Troy as four points better despite them being the betting underdog in this one.
Lean: Troy +2
Predicted score: Troy 28, Buffalo 24
Harris: Buffalo hasn't been bowling since 2013, which means this trip offers up a lot of firsts for fourth-year coach Lance Leipold and his players. Leipold (and much of his staff) came from Division III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater, so these coaches have plenty of experience preparing for the postseason playoffs, but none for a bowl game.
One thing that is familiar is the travel, as the Bulls will be playing their fourth straight game away from home. That has taken a toll, as has the sting of blowing a 29-10 third-quarter lead en route to losing the MAC title game to Northern Illinois. This team is finally beginning to heal and show some enthusiasm for the bowl game, but it certainly hasn't been dialed in on beating Troy the past two weeks.
The Trojans are on familiar ground: back in a bowl they won in 2016, at a stadium barely two hours' drive from campus. Neal Brown's team has a good mental approach to this clash, and gets a big boost from the return of top senior wideouts Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis, who were felled by November injuries but now are healthy and ready to play.
ATS pick: Troy +2
Predicted score: Troy 31, Buffalo 27
Final score: Troy 42, Buffalo 32 (Troy covered, total went over)
Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (-1.5) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
FPI line: Louisiana Tech -0.7
PickCenter consensus: 51 percent picking Hawai'i
Steele: While most bowl games have a split home crowd, Hawai'i has a full home-field edge here as it's playing in its home stadium; Ruston, Louisiana, is 4,030 miles away, the farthest any bowl team has to travel. I feel Hawai'i head coach Nick Rolovich deserves mention in the Mountain West coach of the year discussion, as he took a team that was very inexperienced, switched to the run-and-shoot offense and got his team to eight wins. There was not much expectation for quarterback Cole McDonald coming into the season, but he threw for 3,790 yards with a 35-8 TD-INT ratio and gets to throw to one of the nation's best receivers in John Ursua, who had 1,343 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech has slight edges at running back and on the offensive line, and a significant advantage on defense. The star of this game is defensive end Jaylon Furguson, who had 15 sacks and 8.5 more tackles for loss. Hawai'i lost their No. 1 tackler, Jahlani Tavai, for the season in November, while Louisiana Tech has significant edges on the defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary, with Hawai'i allowing 5.0 yards per rush; the Rainbow Warriors also rank No 119 in my pass defense rankings.
Rolovich is 1-0 in his lone bowl game, but Skip Holtz is a perfect 4-0 in bowl games at Louisiana Tech -- winning those four games by an average of 20.5 points. I will side with the much stronger defensive team in this game.
Lean: Louisiana Tech +1.5
Predicted score: Louisiana Tech 31, Hawai'i 28
Final score: Louisiana Tech 31, Hawai'i 14 (Louisiana Tech covered, total went under)
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
No. 25 Boise State Broncos (-3) vs. Boston College Eagles
Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Cotton Bowl, Dallas
FPI line: Boise State -1.9
PickCenter consensus: 51 percent picking Boston College
Steele: These teams are both more than 1,500 miles away from home in this bowl game, so the crowd will likely be split. Boston College finished the season with a thud and, much like the FPI rankings that favor Boise, my ratings have Boise as the stronger team. Boise State outgained its opponents by 105 yards per game this season, while Boston College outgained their opponents by just 5 yards per game. When I broke down the individual units, Boise had the edge at quarterback, with Brett Rypien throwing for 3,705 yards and completing 67 percent of his passes with a 30-7 TD-INT ratio.
All the other advantages were in favor of Boston College, though. AJ Dillon is one of the nation's top running backs, and after 32 days off should finally be close to 100 percent. Boston College has one of the top offensive lines in the country and, on the defensive side, has the edge at linebacker. Led by cornerback Hamp Cheevers (an All-American), Boston College is my No. 12-rated pass defense, while Boise State checks in at No. 100.
While the Eagles numbers are not as strong, they faced a much tougher schedule that featured nine Power Five foes, versus just one for Boise State. When I line up the talent, I rate Boston College as the stronger team despite them being the underdog in this matchup.
ATS pick: Boston College +3
Predicted score: Boston College 27, Boise State 23
Coughlin: If the Eagles loses this one, head coach Steve Addazio will finish with a 7-6 record for the fifth time in his six seasons in Chestnut Hill. With that being said, he just signed a two-year extension after the regular season, so the administration is in his corner ... at least for the time being. But you've got to feel his team has had a sense of urgency during bowl practice, as Boston College is 1-6 in their last seven bowl games.
This game should be fun to watch, as it features two of my favorite running backs in college football. AJ Dillon from BC has fought through injuries this season (missed two games) after busting onto the national scene as a freshman, but he still managed to rush for over 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the other side, junior Alexander Mattison went for 1,415 yards and 17 TDs this season, including 400 yards over his last two games. Boise State's defense is ranked higher statistically against the run, but I think BC has more talent on their defense, with guys like Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen. I think the underdog wins a close game.
ATS pick: Boston College +3
Predicted score: Boston College 28, Boise State 27
Final score: GAME CANCELLED
Quick Lane Bowl
Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ford Field, Detroit
FPI line: Georgia Tech -3.7
PickCenter consensus: 79 percent picking Georgia Tech
Steele: Paul Johnson has opted to retire and this will be his final game, so it is his team's job to send him out a winner -- and I think they will. Minnesota does have a few edges on paper, at wide receiver with Tyler Johnson as well as on special team. The Golden Gophers should also have a slight home edge, with this bowl game in Big Ten country. Georgia Tech has much larger edges at quarterback, with both TaQuon Marshall and Tobias Oliver serving as capable signal-callers. The Yellow Jackets also have the edge at running back and offensive line
Those edges are reflected in the numbers; Minnesota allowed 278 yards per game rushing, including a mindboggling 7.8 yards per carry, on the road. Add in that the Golden Gophers have not faced an option team in a long time, and Georgia Tech appears to have what it takes to send Paul Johnson out a winner.
ATS pick: Georgia Tech -4.5
Predicted score: Georgia Tech 38, Minnesota 27
Final score: Minnesota 34, Georgia Tech 10 (Minnesota covered, total went under)
California Golden Bears (PK) vs. TCU Horned Frogs
Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Chase Field, Phoenix
FPI line: TCU -1.2
PickCenter consensus: 62 percent picking Cal
Steele: TCU came into the season ranked No. 16, but through 10 games the Horned Frogs stood at 4-6 needing to win their final two games to get to 6-6 and make a bowl. California was hoping to get to a bowl game this year and did, going 7-5 to earn just its second bowl berth in eight years. TCU had an injury-plagued year and should be healthier for this game. Cal may be a little more excited to be here, and the Golden Bears have slight edges at linebacker and defensive back. How slight? I rank Cal's pass defense No. 3 and TCU at No. 9.
TCU does have the edge at running back, receiver and on both the offensive and defensive lines. TCU has taken on nine bowl teams while Cal has faced just five bowl teams. TCU rates as the stronger team, as the stats are relatively even despite TCU facing the tougher slate. Two other factors that go in the Frogs' favor: Head coach Gary Patterson is 9-7 in bowl games, while this is the first bowl game for Golden Bears coach Justin Wilcox. A loss would deal the Frogs a losing season, which feels like it would derail some of the momentum built up over three double-digit-win seasons the past four years.
ATS pick: TCU (PK)
Predicted score: TCU 20, Cal 13
Fallica: In a league full of bad defenses, the TCU offense really struggled, finishing 102nd nationally in offensive EPA. Cal was actually worse against a mediocre Pac-12 (115th), but its defense has been great all season, allowing just 25 touchdowns -- the same number as Michigan, and one fewer than Alabama has allowed all year. Gary Patterson teams don't typically have losing seasons, but given all of the offensive struggles the Horned Frogs have been through this year, I don't see it getting better against the best defense they will face all season. It's not that Cal will light it up offensively, but I don't think TCU will score much at all and the Bears' D has shown it can score and carry its team to a win -- and I think Justin Wilcox's team will do just that.
ATS pick: Cal (PK)
Predicted score: Cal 20, TCU 17
Final score: TCU 10, Cal 7 (TCU covered, total went under)
Walk-On's Independence Bowl
Temple Owls (-4) vs. Duke Blue Devils
Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
FPI line: Duke -1.6
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Temple
Steele: Temple head coach Geoff Collins has taken the job at Georgia Tech, so for the second time in three years, Ed Foley will serve as the interim head coach for the Owls. In the Military Bowl in 2016, Collins coached Temple as a 12-point favorite but lost outright. Duke has the clear edge at head coach, with David Cutcliffe guiding them to four straight bowl covers. Duke had one of the top defenses in the ACC but got banged up midseason; the Blue Devils allowed 341 yards per game over the first seven games, but then allowed 529 yards per game over their last five.
With many of those injured players still out, Temple has the edge on defense. Duke has the edge at quarterback with Daniel Jones, as he and Quentin Harris have combined for a 24-7 TD-INT ratio while Temple's top two quarterbacks have a 17-18 ratio. Temple has the stronger return game and kicker, giving them the overall edge on special teams. Temple is plus-14 yards per game on the year against bowl teams, and Duke is minus-86 yards per game, but Duke has faced the tougher schedule. I will call for Cutliffe to get his fifth straight bowl cover.
Lean: Duke +4
Predicted score: Temple 24, Duke 23
Final score: Duke 56, Temple 27 (Duke covered, total went over)
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Miami Hurricanes (-3.5) vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Yankee Stadium, New York
FPI line: Miami -2.2
PickCenter consensus: 77 percent picking Wisconsin
Coughlin: We all know these two teams played in the Orange Bowl last year and the Badgers overcame a double digit deficit to came back to win by 10 (as a favorite of around a touchdown, no less). Now, I'm not sure that game has anything to do with this game, but when I look at these teams, the only thing I feel confident in happening on the offensive side of the ball is that Jonathan Taylor will have a good day rushing.
QB play on both sides has been suspect all season, and the defenses have been way below what these schools expect on an annual basis. In fact, these two programs are my most disappointing teams of 2018 after they were both ranked in the top 10 before the season. I trust the Wisconsin offensive line brings it in this game. Cold weather could be a factor in this game, as it will be played at Yankee Stadium. We'll take the underdog to win on the field
ATS pick: Wisconsin +3.5
Score: Wisconsin 21, Miami 20
Steele: Last year these two teams met in Miami, and this year the meeting will be in much colder conditions, which should favor Wisconsin. The Badgers have an offensive line that was a semifinalist for the coveted Joe Moore Award, along with Jonathan Taylor, arguably the top running back in college football -- giving them the edge in both of those spots. Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook had perhaps the best game of his career against Miami a season ago, hitting 23 of 34 passes with four touchdowns. That raised expectations for Hornibrook in 2018, but he has thrown for just 1,532 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
In Wisconsin's five losses they were held to 187 yards per game rushing, and in their seven wins, they averaged 336 rushing yards. Miami has my No. 5-rated defense, which held foes to 130 yards per game less than they otherwise averaged over the course of the season. Defensive tackle Gerald Willis is a beast, the Hurricanes have my No. 11 rated pass defense and Miami has one of the most experienced linebacker units in the country. Wisconsin historically has had a top-10 defense most years, but their defense is just slightly above average this time around.
My system calls for Wisconsin to rush for only 175 yards, and that would signal a Miami win.
Lean: Miami -3.5
Predicted score: Miami 24, Wisconsin 16
Final score: Wisconsin 35, Miami 3 (Wisconsin covered, total went under)
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
Vanderbilt Commodores (-4) vs. Baylor Bears
Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
NRG Stadium, Houston
FPI line: Vanderbilt -2
PickCenter consensus: 50 percent picking each team
Steele: When I talked to Baylor head coach Matt Rhule in the spring, his parting words were that he thought the Bears would get to a bowl. I doubted him, but I guess he was right. Baylor outgained their foes by 28 yards per game, while Vanderbilt was pipped by 22 yards per game. Vanderbilt faced the tougher schedule, which included both Notre Dame and Georgia. Vanderbilt has the edge on offense with quarterback Kyle Shurmur, running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn and receiver Kelija Lipscomb.
Baylor will be without top receiver Jalen Hurd and kicker Drew Galitz, who are both injured. Baylor has the edge on defense and this game is in Texas, so they figure to have the crowd edge. Both teams are 6-6 and will fight hard to avoid a losing season. With the game essentially looking like a toss-up, I will lean with the underdog.
Lean: Baylor +4
Predicted score: Vanderbilt 26, Baylor 24
Final score: Baylor 45, Vanderbilt 38 (Baylor covered, total went over)
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Auburn Tigers (-4) vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
FPI line: Auburn -3.3
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Auburn
Steele: Auburn was a top-10 team at the start of the year and it has to be disappointed to be here, while Purdue was just hoping to make a bowl and beat rival Indiana in their last game to get here. The Boilermakers figure to be riding a wave of momentum, with head coach Jeff Brohm turning down the job at his alma mater Louisville and opting to stay at Purdue -- and he is 3-0 in bowl games. It would have shocked you at the start of the year to say this, but Purdue has a slight edge at quarterback with David Blough throwing for 1,000 yards more than Jarrett Stidham and having a 28-to-13 advantage in passing touchdowns.
Purdue also has the most electrifying player on the field in true freshman Rondale Moore, who is a threat to score any time he has the ball and will get the ball receiving, rushing and on kick returns. While those factors make a good case for Purdue, all of the other positions favor Auburn. The Tigers have a good-sized edge on all three layers of defense and held foes to 46 yards below their season averages, while Purdue allowed opponents 29 yards per game above their season averages. I give Auburn slim edges at running back and on the offensive line, as well as a solid edge on special teams. Gus Malzahn is 1-4 in bowl games, and his team is just 7-7 since they beat Alabama last year to rise to No. 4 in the AP poll. In the preseason Auburn would have been a double-digit favorite, and they need to show their talent edge here.
Lean: Auburn -4
Predicted score: Auburn 29, Purdue 23
Fallica: I guess Auburn is favored on name and conference recognition, because if you look at the teams that Auburn and Purdue have beaten, I think the Boilermakers have a better collection of wins. And certainly have the better offense. And Purdue should certainly be the more inspired team, after the Boilermakers' coach chose them over returning to his hometown and alma mater. Yes, the Boilers have thrown up some eyebrow-raising performances this year as well, but Jeff Brohm's team won last year as an underdog against Arizona in the Alamo Bowl and Brohm is 8-2 ATS with five outright wins as an underdog at Purdue.
Unless we see the kind of offensive performance from Auburn against a Power 5 opponent that we haven't seen all year, it's hard for me to think Purdue isn't the right side here.
ATS pick: Purdue +4
Predicted score: Purdue 31, Auburn 27
Harris: Malzahn has vowed to fix Auburn's offense, and his first move was to retake the reins as playcaller, starting with the Music City Bowl. There is a lot of urgency about this game coming from the Auburn coaching staff, and the players can feel the difference in this year's demanding bowl practices. Purdue is short-handed along the defensive line, and this is a defense against which the struggling Tigers can finally make some hay on the ground. Auburn also has a big speed advantage on the outside, and the Purdue secondary will have a tough time covering this wideout group, especially in the one-on-one situations created by play-action if the Tigers get their running game cranked up.
The Boilers counter with an elite playcaller in head coach Jeff Brohm, an excellent quarterback in Blough and a superstar wideout in Moore . This Boilers -- especially Moore -- are going to get theirs on offense, even against a tough SEC defense. We're playing the over in this one, with a lean toward Auburn as well.
ATS pick: Over 55.5 (lean Auburn -3.5)
Predicted score: Auburn 38, Purdue 28
Final score: Auburn 63, Purdue 14 (Auburn covered, total went over)
Camping World Bowl
No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers (-1.5) vs. No. 20 Syracuse Orange
Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
FPI line: West Virginia -5.7
PickCenter consensus: 73 percent picking West Virginia
Coughlin: All the talk surrounding this game since the matchup was announced has been about who isn't playing for the favored Mountaineers, as starting LT Yodney Cajuste and QB Will Grier have elected not to partake in the bowl game. I just find it very odd that with all the hype Will Grier had coming out of high school, he will finish his career not having played in one bowl game in his career at Florida and West Virginia.
The other element I look at with these teams is where their expectations stood before the season began. West Virginia was talked about as a possible conference champ that could potentially vie for a spot in the CFB Playoff, while 'Cuse was just trying to make a bowl for the first time under Dino Babers. The feeling here is that the Orange will come in more focused, led by their do-everything QB Eric Dungey, who has thrown for over 2.500 yards and 17 TDs this season, while rushing for over 700 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. We'll take the small underdog to win the game.
ATS pick: Syracuse +1.5
Predicted score: Syracuse 38, West Virginia 24
Steele: Last year West Virginia was without quarterback Will Grier for their bowl game due to an injury, and a 6-foot-1, lightly recruited backup hit 9-of-28 for 129 yards and took a pair of sacks in a 16-point loss to Utah. Grier, who is not a lock as a first-round pick in the NFL draft, opted to sit out this year's bowl due to the fact his left tackle Yodny Cajuste is also sitting out. The new quarterback is 6-foot-6 Jack Allison, who was my No. 11-rated quarterback coming out of high school and has a cannon for an arm. To this point, however, Allison has just 10 career pass attempts for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia opened as a seven-point favorite, but the line dropped to West Virginia by 1.5 when Grier announced he would not play. Syracuse has a potent offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey and wide receiver Jamal Custis. The Orange defense has 38 sacks and rates No. 44 in my pass defense rankings, while the Mountaineers had only 24 sacks and are No. 77 in my pass defense rankings. West Virginia has played the tougher schedule, but Syracuse has the edge on special teams -- led by First-team All American kicker Andre Szmyt. I had West Virginia as a field goal favorite with Grier, so I like Syracuse to win this game outright.
Lean: Syracuse +1.5
Predicted score: Syracuse 37, West Virginia 31
Final score: Syracuse 34, West Virginia 18 (Syracuse covered, total went under)
Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 13 Washington State Cougars (-3.5) vs. No. 24 Iowa State Cyclones
Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Alamodome, San Antonio
FPI line: Washington State -4.8
PickCenter consensus: 54 percent picking Washington State
Fallica: This could be my favorite of all the bowl games. These are two teams that will be excited about being here, with two great fan bases, but I like the Cyclones on the field. I think Matt Campbell's team can refer back to its game plan for West Virginia, in which the defense pressured Will Grier all night and David Montgomery and Brock Purdy controlled the clock with the run game and an efficient passing attack.
Interestingly, Washington State has had a couple of very puzzling bowl performances in the past two years; the Cougars got blown out 42-17 by Michigan State last year, and scored just 12 points in a loss to a depleted Minnesota team in 2016. Maybe the Cougars will bounce back this year, but keep in mind that Mike Leach-coached teams are 1-7 ATS in their past eight bowl games (1-3 at Washington State). Leach's teams have been favored 11 times in bowl games and are 3-8 ATS with six outright losses. The only outright win Leach's teams have had in their past five bowl trips was in the 2015 Sun Bowl vs. Miami, which had fired Al Golden and was in the midst of a coaching change. Maybe the added prep time helps the opponent prep for Leach's offense?
ATS pick: Iowa State +3.5
Predicted score: Iowa State 31, Washington State 30
Steele: Washington State deserved a New Year's Day Six Bowl game, but instead, the committee relegated them here. Will the Cougars come out angry and with something to prove, or will they be disappointed? That may be the key to this game. The Cougars have this game's box office player in quarterback Gardner Minshew, who is known as much for his mustache as for his 4,477 passing yards, 71 percent completion rate, and 36-9 TD-INT ratio. Washington State gains 52 yards per game above what their opponents typically allow, and Iowa State gains 36 yards per game less than their foes usually allow.
Iowa State has a solid defense, which allows 351 yards per game playing in the offensive-minded Big 12, but Washington State is also solid on defense, so only a slight edge to Iowa State on that side of the ball. Iowa State performs well as an underdog, with a 15-8-1 ATS record in that role under Matt Campbell, and his teams are also 3-1 straight up in bowl games. Iowa State figures to have a slight crowd edge, and has small special-teams and strength-of-schedule edges.
I am going to bank on Washington State coming in with something to prove. While their last game was a battle in a blizzard, the Cougars get to play this bowl game in perfect indoor conditions.
Lean: Washington State -3.5
Predicted score: Washington State 31, Iowa State 23
Harris: The Cougars feel jilted by the selection process and aren't nearly as thrilled to be in San Antonio as they would if they were playing in the New Years' Six instead of Florida or LSU. For the Cyclones, who nabbed the Big 12's top bowl slot after the committee bowls, it's the most prestigious postseason berth in years, and the fan base has reacted accordingly. While the Cyclones are dialed in on what they see as a historic opportunity, Wazzu coaches heavily emphasized recruiting efforts in the first two weeks after the Apple Cup, and that has come with a cost to bowl prep.
The Washington State Air Raid structurally resembles the Big 12 offenses that Iowa State sees on a weekly basis, while the Cyclones' innovative three-man "tite front" defense became de rigueur in the Big 12 only after Mike Leach left the league.
The price of 3.5 has been long gone from the sharper offshore books, and as of Christmas Day the Westgate is one of the few shops left anywhere still offering more than a field goal. This number was close to a touchdown back on Dec. 3, and you shouldn't be surprised if it's nearly a pick-em by kickoff.
ATS pick: Iowa State +3.5
Predicted score: Iowa State 31, Washington State 28
Final score: Washington State 28, Iowa State 26 (Iowa State covered, total went under)
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (-7.5) vs. No. 10 Florida Gators
Dec. 29, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
FPI line: Michigan -5.1
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Florida
Steele: Michigan figures to come into this game a very determined team. The Wolverines blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in last year's bowl and lost, and they are coming off a blowout loss to rival Ohio State that cost them a chance to play for a national championship. Defensive coordinator Don Brown has the nation's best defense, but the Wolverines just gave up an embarrassing 567 yards and 62 points to Ohio State, so bowl practices figure to be intense on that side of the ball. Michigan is a perfect 4-0 against Florida all-time, including a 41-7 bowl win in 2015 and 33-17 regular-season win last year.
Florida has three losses this year, and they were by 11, 19 and 21 points. I could make a good case for Michigan, but Florida head coach Dan Mullen is 5-2 in bowl games and the Gators field what may be the fastest defense in the SEC. I am going to look at the total here, which is 51.5. Michigan took on only two defenses that I ranked in my top 25 and totaled just 17 and 21 points in those games -- and I rate the Gators' defense at No. 21. Florida took on four of my top 25-rated defenses this year and totaled just 18.3 points per game. The final score of that Ohio State-Michigan game pushed this total up into the fifties, and I will take advantage.
ATS pick: Under 51.5
Predicted score: Michigan 23, Florida 16
Final score: Florida 41, Michigan 15 (Florida covered, total went over)
South Carolina Gamecocks (-5.5) vs. Virginia Cavaliers
Dec. 29, 12 p.m. ET (ABC)
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
FPI line: South Carolina -4.3
PickCenter consensus: 64 percent picking South Carolina
Steele: Virginia was picked to finish last in the Coastal division by the ACC media in the preseason, but opened the year 6-2 before dropping their last three ACC games. Virginia allowed just 114 yards per game rushing over the first eight games, but that number ballooned to 245 yards per game on the ground over its final four games. South Carolina held foes to 41 yards per game below their season averages over its first seven games, but in the Gamecocks' last three against Power 5 teams, they gave up 629 yards per game -- 153 yards per game more than Ole Miss, Florida and Clemson averaged during the year.
Virginia has the edge on defense, led by a top-notch secondary that finished No. 17 in my pass defense rankings. South Carolina has the advantage on offense and put up an incredible 600 yards on Clemson's superior defense. South Carolina will be missing their most explosive player in receiver/kick returner Deebo Samuel, who is sitting out this game, but quarterback Jake Bentley still has a solid group of running backs and receivers at his disposal.
Virginia's offense revolves around Arizona State transfer QB Bryce Perkins, who has a solid 22-9 TD-INT ratio and is also the number two rusher for the Cavaliers with 838 yards. South Carolina is just 92 miles away from home in this game, so they will have the crowd edge, and the Gamecocks faced the much tougher schedule with teams like Georgia, Clemson, Texas A&M and Florida; Virginia's toughest foe was Miami.
I will take the SEC team over the ACC squad here.
Lean: South Carolina -5.5
Predicted score: South Carolina 30, Virginia 23
Final score: Virginia 28, South Carolina 0 (Virginia covered, total went under)
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Arkansas State Red Wolves (-1.5) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack
Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
FPI line: Nevada -0.7
PickCenter consensus: 53 percent picking Nevada
Steele: Nevada is 854 miles away from the site of the Arizona Bowl, while Arkansas State is 1,400 miles away, so neither team should have much of a crowd edge. Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi has been very steady over the past two years, hitting 61 percent of his passes with TD-INT ratios of 25-11 and 23-11. Justice Hansen is an Oklahoma transfer who last year completed 63 percent with a 37-16 ratio. While Hansen threw for 800 fewer yards this season for Arkansas State, he improved to a 67 percent completion rate with a 27-6 ratio.
I give the edge at running back and receiver to the Red Wolves, and they have the stronger offense. Arkansas State has two All-Sun Belt players on defense -- defensive linemen Ronheen Bingham, who had nine sacks, as well as nickelback Justin Clifton. I was surprised Arkansas State allowed 5 yards per carry this year. Linebacker Malik Reed, who had eight sacks in each of the past two years, leads Nevada's defense. Nevada also allows just 3.5 yards per carry. I give Arkansas State the slight talent edge, and head coach Blake Anderson is in his fifth bowl while this is the first for Jay Norvell, so I will lean with the Red Wolves here.
Lean: Arkansas State -1.5
Predicted score: Arkansas State 35, Nevada 31
Final score: Nevada 16, Arkansas State 13 (OT; Nevada covered, total went under)
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
Cincinnati Bearcats (-6) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
Dec. 31, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Jack Stephens Field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
FPI line: Cincinnati -2.3
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Virginia Tech
Steele: This spring, when I went over the defense with Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, I commented to him afterward that it was one of the youngest defenses in the country and I hoped he did not lose any of his key starters, as the unit was thin. The Hokies then lost three projected starters, including both starting CBs, over the summer, and then two more starters during the season. After holding foes to 86 yards per game below their season averages last year, the Hokies allowed opponents 55 yards per game above their season averages this year, which is No. 108 in that category.
Despite those numbers, and given the youth and inexperience, I feel coach Foster did a solid job. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has a veteran defense that is holding foes 125 yards per game below their season averages, which is the sixth-best mark in the country. Those numbers would usually have me siding with the much better defense, but I like the underdog here. Justin Fuente is 2-1 in bowl games, and Virginia Tech fans travel well; the Hokies are 225 miles closer to this game, so they will have the fan edge. The Hokies have faced the tougher schedule and will have motivation, as they are almost a touchdown underdog despite being a Power Five team taking on a Group of Five opponent.
The final factor is that coach Foster kept telling me how talented his young players were, and they now not only have a full season of experience, but should also make a significant jump with the benefit of bowl practices. Virginia Tech played well in their final two games, as they had to win both to get to a bowl game, and now they need to win this game in order to avoid a losing season.
ATS pick: Virginia Tech +6
Predicted score: Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24
Fallica: The Bearcats have lost twice this season -- at Temple, in a game they easily could have won, and at undefeated UCF. Sure, maybe they haven't beaten a bunch of really good teams, but neither has Virginia Tech. And you know what VT did this year? Lost to quite a few teams, including Old Dominion, as well as blowout losses to Miami, Pitt and Georgia Tech. Yeah, the Hokies beat Virginia and Marshall to keep that bowl streak alive, but now that they are here? This is a team that hasn't stopped anyone on the ground over its past eight games and now has to deal with a 1,100-yard back in Michael Warren II and a QB who has the potential to run in Desmond Ridder. The Hokies also have to deal with a top-10 team in terms of defensive efficiency.
About the only reason one could give for liking Virginia Tech in this game is the fact the game is in Annapolis and could be home to a good-sized, friendly crowd. But I don't know ... on the field, Cincinnati has simply illustrated it's a much better team this year.
ATS pick: Cincinnati -6
Predicted score: Cincinnati 30, Virginia Tech 17
Final score: Cincinnati 35, Virginia Tech 31 (Virginia Tech covered, total went over)
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Stanford Cardinal (-6) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
FPI line: Stanford -7.9
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking Stanford
Steele: At one point this year Stanford lost four out of five games, falling to Notre Dame, Utah, Washington State, and Washington along the way. At 5-4, hopes of the Pac-12 title were gone, but the Cardinal did win their final three games and look to continue that momentum with a look toward next year. Coach David Shaw took Stanford to the Sun Bowl in 2016 and likes the site as well as the organizers, and is happy to be here. Pitt opened the year just 3-4, including 45- and 31-point losses, but then won four in a row to clinch the weak ACC Coastal division. Pitt proceeded to lose their final two games by 21 and 32 points.
Stanford has two large edges, at quarterback and receiver. K.J. Costello hit 66.4 percent of his passes with a 29-11 TD-INT ratio, and the Cardinal average 287 yards per game through the air. Stanford has one of the tallest groups of receivers, led by JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett topped 200 yards passing just once this season. While Pitt averages 122 yards per game more on the ground than Stanford, the latter still has Bryce Love at running back, and he will want to put on a show in his final college game. The defenses are close statistically, but I favor the Stanford personnel at all three layers of the defense -- led by second-team All-American cornerback Paulson Adebo, who has 23 passes defended.
Stanford allowed just 3.9 yards per carry on the ground, a full yard better than Pitt, and ranks 27 spots higher in my pass defense rankings. Add in the coaching as well as the special-teams edge, and I believe Stanford wins this game by double digits.
Lean: Stanford -6
Predicted score: Stanford 34, Pittsburgh 23
Final score: Stanford 14, Pittsburgh 13 (Pittsburgh covered, total went under)
Oregon Ducks (-2.5) vs. Michigan State Spartans
Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET (FOX)
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
FPI line: Oregon -1.7
PickCenter consensus: 58 percent picking Oregon
Steele: This year has been status quo for Michigan State, as their offense gained 48 yards per game less than what their opponents usually allowed (which is No. 107 in the country), but their defense held foes to 106 yards per game below their season averages (which is No. 10). The Spartans averaged just 3.5 yards per rush and completed 51 percent of their passes, with quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi combining for an 11-13 TD-INT ratio.
Oregon QB Justin Herbert could be the top quarterback taken in the draft, and the Ducks' top three running backs combined for 2,002 yards rushing, versus the Spartans' top three rushers, who had just 775 yards on the ground. Oregon has large edges at receiver and on the offensive line as well. Michigan State has one of the nation's stingiest rush defenses, allowing just 81 yards per game on the ground and 2.7 yards per carry, but Oregon allows only 3.8 yards per carry.
The game is on the West Coast with Oregon almost 2,000 miles closer, but Michigan State has faced the tougher schedule. I have the Ducks ranked in the top 35 on both sides of the ball, so their offensive edge is stronger than their defensive deficit; they have the special-teams edge as well. I will take the stronger team laying less than a field goal.
ATS pick: Oregon -2.5
Predicted score: Oregon 24, Michigan State 16
Fallica: The Spartans' offense is an eyesore. This much is true. But their defense has done really well against some potent offenses this season, including Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Arizona State and Nebraska. In their past five games, Michigan State has allowed four offensive touchdowns -- and that includes games with Ohio State, Purdue and Nebraska (granted, they were played in some cold weather). The Spartans have also allowed just 4.62 yards per play (12th in the FBS).
Since its upset win over Washington, Oregon has not been the same team, losing by double digits away from home to Washington State and Arizona. The Ducks also allowed 32 points to Utah, a team that has struggled mightily on offense a good part of the year. Maybe last season's bowl embarrassment will spur the Ducks to a better performance this time, and maybe the Pac-12 will get its act together at some point, but I like MSU here.
The Spartans are 5-1 both ATS and SU in their past six bowl games and the only loss in that span was to Alabama in the 2015 CFP semifinal. In his seven bowl games in which the spread was less than seven points, Mark Dantonio's teams are 7-0 ATS and 6-1 SU (5-0 ATS with four outright wins as an underdog). Included in that figure is a 25-point blowout of an offensive-minded Washington State in last season's Rose Bowl.
ATS pick: Michigan State +2.5
Predicted score: Michigan State 26, Oregon 24
Coughlin: This is just about a trust level.
Michigan State underperformed this season, but they did make Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes offense look as bad as anyone did all season. If Sparty can do that, I think they can have their way with the Ducks.
Dantonio will figure out just enough offense.
Sparty wins on the field.
ATS pick: Michigan State +2.5
Predicted score: Michigan State 24, Oregon 21
Final score: Oregon 7, Michigan State 6 (Michigan State covered, total went under)
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
No. 23 Missouri Tigers (-9.5) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
FPI line: Missouri -5.4
PickCenter consensus: 63 percent picking Oklahoma State
Steele: Mike Gundy is a solid 8-4 in bowl games, while Barry Odom is 0-1 with an Oklahoma State squad that has some incentive at 6-6 and needs a win to avoid a losing season. The Cowboys have been a wildly erratic team all year. Oklahoma State lost as a favorite against Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and TCU, but upset Boise State, Texas and West Virginia; the Cowboys' home crowd fueled all three of those wins. Missouri has four losses, but the Tigers did not have a bad loss all season. They outplayed Georgia at the line of scrimmage, lost on a field goal with two seconds left in the rain at South Carolina, lost by one point after allowing a touchdown on an untimed down, blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against Kentucky and held Alabama to nine points below their season average.
Missouri QB Drew Lock has feasted on weaker teams, and in the final game of his college career faces a pass defense that sits at No. 89 in my rankings, allowing 24 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has to adapt with running back Justice Hill sitting this game out. Missouri has a significant edge on both the offensive and defensive line, and has impressed me this year.
Lean: Missouri -9.5
Predicted score: Missouri 42, Oklahoma State 28
Final score: Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 33 (Oklahoma State covered, total went under)
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
No. 17 Utah Utes (-6.5) vs. No. 22 Northwestern Wildcats
Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
SDCCU Stadium, San Diego
FPI line: Utah -7.1
PickCenter consensus: 62 percent picking Northwestern
Steele: This game is essentially the Rose Bowl runner-up bowl, after both of these teams lost in their conference title games. Utah got to the Pac-12 title game despite losing quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss for the final three games of the regular season, and then the Utes lost top receiver Britain Covey in that Pac-12 title game. Huntley could return here but probably will not start, while Moss and Covey remain out. Northwestern has Clayton Thorson at quarterback, and while he threw for nearly 3,000 yards, he averaged just 169.5 yards per game passing over the Wildcats' final seven games. Isaiah Bowser emerged during that stretch for Northwestern with 113 yards per game rushing, after the Wildcats had only 50.6 yards per game rushing in their previous five games.
Utah has the edge on the offensive line, and while Northwestern has a good defense, Utah has the advantage at every layer on defense -- led by defensive end Bradlee Anae, who has eight sacks, and linebacker Chase Hansen, who has 114 tackles and 22 tackles for loss to go with three interceptions. The Utes also have a significant edge on special teams, with my No. 2-rated unit versus my No. 113-rated group.
Last year the Pac-12 won just a single bowl game, but that win was delivered by Mr. Automatic Kyle Whittingham, who is now a fantastic 11-1 outright in bowl games while Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is 3-5. I have established the fact that I feel Utah will win the game, but Northwestern has taken on the tougher schedule, and the underdog is 11-1-1 in Wildcat games this year. It's tough to pick a side ATS, so with two below-average offenses and two quality defenses, I will go with the under in this one.
Lean: Under 46
Predicted score: Utah 23, Northwestern 16
Final score: Northwestern 31, Utah 20 (Northwestern covered, total went over)
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
No. 19 Texas A&M Aggies (-6.5) vs. NC State Wolfpack
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
FPI line: Texas A&M -1.6
PickCenter consensus: 84 percent picking Texas A&M
Steele: All the talk coming into this game is about NC State quarterback Ryan Finley working against a porous Texas A&M pass defense, which I rate No. 110 in the country; the Aggies allowed 61 percent of passes to be completed on the year, with a 25-5 TD-INT ratio. While that matchup is a concern, all the other matchups favor the Aggies. Texas A&M plays in the tougher conference and took on nine bowl-eligible teams including Clemson, Alabama and LSU, while the Wolfpack have faced just six bowl teams, giving A&M a considerable edge in strength of schedule.
Jimbo Fisher has prepped for NC State in each of the last eight years, so he knows their personnel. Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond has a 23-8 TD-INT ratio, and he's a dangerous runner. He matches up against a secondary that I rate at No. 70 in the country. A&M's Trayveon Williams is one of the top running backs in the game, and the Wolfpack's top receiver Kelvin Harmon is out for this game, giving A&M the edge at receiver as well. The Aggies have considerable advantages on the defensive front seven and have one of the best special-teams units in the country, while the Wolfpack are middle of the road.
My average game grades also rate Texas A&M the No. 12 team in the country. Texas A&M had a problem finishing teams off during the regular season, and that figures to be one of Jimbo's priorities for next year. The first lesson starts here.
ATS pick: Texas A&M -6.5
Predicted score: Texas A&M 38, North Carolina State 24
Coughlin: This has to do with the direction these two programs are headed. NC State will be without two top prospects in WR Kelvin Harmon and LB Germaine Pratt (who led the team in tackles). Both are projected to be high draft picks. Wolfpack offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz was hired to be the new head coach of the Appalachian State program, so who knows where the mindset of the offense will be, even with long time vet Ryan Finley under center.
On the other side, you have Jimbo Fisher, who will be looking to cap off his first season in College Station with a win to start the offseason with a lot of momentum, which they have created through some great recruiting. The youth of the Aggies is the difference in this game. I think the Aggies win and cover.
ATS pick: Texas A&M -6.5
Predicted score: Texas A&M 34, NC State 17
Harris: We've seen no reason to revise our original prediction that Fisher will win a bunch of games but zero championships of any kind in a long but ultimately disappointing tenure in College Station, but this staff's immediate impact on this program has been obvious. Fisher demanded and has received tougher practices, more physical play in all three phases and a better commitment to finishing. He's also an outstanding bowl coach, and in his first turn in that role in Aggieland he draws an opponent with weaker personnel at nearly every position.
The defections of Harmon and Pratt aren't helping the cause for a Wolfpack team that is outmanned in the trenches on both sides and won't be able to muster a rushing attack in this matchup.
ATS pick: Texas A&M -7
Predicted score: Texas A&M 35, NC State 24
Final score: Texas A&M 52, NC State 13 (Texas A&M covered, total went over)
No. 18 Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Tuesday, noon ET (ESPN2)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
FPI line: Mississippi State -3.6
PickCenter consensus: 59 percent picking Iowa
Steele: Mississippi State has one of the nation's top defensive lines, led by NFL-caliber players such as Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons. They will get all of the hype heading into this game and have earned it, with the defensive line accounting for 19.5 sacks. Iowa has a defensive line that is also top notch, though not as well known. The Iowa defensive front recorded 28.5 sacks and may be playing with a chip on their shoulder as they get overlooked in this game. Mississippi State has the edge in the back seven and has my No. 2-rated defense overall, but Iowa has my No. 10-ranked defense.
Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald is a dangerous runner, but Nate Stanley has a significant edge throwing the ball, as the Iowa QB tossed 23 touchdown passes. Iowa tight end Noah Fant will miss this game, but the Hawkeyes still have the advantage at receiver -- and even more importantly, I give them a slight edge on the offensive line. Kirk Ferentz was 5-2 in bowls from 2003 to 2010, but he's only 1-6 in his previous seven bowl games. He still rates out to have the edge as this is his 14th bowl game, while this is Joe Moorehead's first as a head coach. Iowa has my No. 13-rated special teams while Mississippi State checks in at just No. 88. This should be a low-scoring game, and I am taking the underdog in a possible upset.
ATS pick: Iowa +7
Predicted score: Iowa 17, Mississippi State 16
Final score: Iowa 27, Mississippi State 22 (Iowa covered, total went over)
VRBO Citrus Bowl
No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions (-6.5) vs. No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats
Tuesday, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
FPI line: Penn State -6.1
PickCenter consensus: 72 percent picking Penn State
Fallica: Kentucky's offense has struggled for much of the season, but the defense has been very good and Josh Allen & Co. could give Penn State fits offensively. Kentucky has played its best games all season as an underdog with a chip on its shoulder, and I think the Wildcats will play that way here. Penn State has been well prepped for each of its bowl games under James Franklin, and I expect that will continue here, but I think the Lions get a four-quarter fight from Kentucky, a team that's been doubted all season.
Big SEC underdogs have also fared very well in bowl games; in the past 20 bowl games in which an SEC team has been at least a 6-point 'dog (dating back to 1999), the SEC team is 16-4 ATS with 11 outright wins.
ATS pick: Kentucky +6.5
Predicted score: Penn State 31, Kentucky 27
Steele: Penn State was expected to contend for the Big Ten title but ultimately fell short after two close late losses to Ohio State and Michigan State and a blowout 35-point loss to Michigan. This is the final game for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, and while McSorley's numbers are down from last year, he still has a considerable edge over Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, who has had an up-and-down year passing the ball. Kentucky opened SEC play with three impressive wins, only to be outscored by 32 points in their final five SEC games, though they managed two close wins.
Kentucky's rugged rush defense allowed 109 yards per game rushing and 3.3 yards per carry over the Wildcats' first eight games, but 236 yards per game and 6 yards per carry over their final four games. Four times over the previous seven games, Benny Snell Jr. and Kentucky were held below 100 yards rushing as a team. Penn State's defensive line accounted for 27.5 sacks, and Kentucky's defensive line totaled just seven sacks. Penn State has the stronger team and sends McSorley out a winner.
Lean: Penn State -6.5
Predicted score: Penn State 24, Kentucky 13
Final score: Kentucky 27, Penn State 24 (Kentucky covered, total went over)
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
No. 11 LSU Tigers (-7) vs. No. 8 UCF Knights
Tuesday, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
FPI line: LSU -2.3
PickCenter consensus: 52 percent picking UCF
Steele: Over the past five years, the Group of Five teams are not only 4-1 ATS in New Years' Day Six bowl games, but also have four outright upsets. UCF beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl in 2013 and Auburn in the Peach Bowl last year, both as double-digit dogs. If UCF pulls the upset again here, the playoff committee would have to consider them for a spot in the College Football Playoff next year if they go unbeaten again. The SEC heard enough about UCF and their win over Auburn last year, and the conference is pinning its hopes on LSU to quiet the noise.
LSU will be without their top two corners, Greedy Williams and Kristian Fulton. UCF is down to backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr., but he is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and accounted for six touchdowns in the AAC title game against Memphis -- and now he has the extra bowl practices to get more up to speed. While UCF averages 545 yards per game on offense, they took on only one defense that ranks in my top 35. LSU took on seven top-25 defenses.
Even without their cornerbacks, LSU will have a significant edge on defense with my No. 8-rated unit, while UCF is No. 72 in my rankings. LSU also has a solid edge on special teams. LSU took on the explosive offense of Ole Miss and won 45-16, beat Georgia by 20, led the Miami Hurricanes 33-3 and beat Mississippi State by 16 points, so they are capable of covering the seven-point spread -- and the Tigers should come in motivated, unlike most Power Five teams in this situation.
ATS pick: LSU -7
Predicted score: LSU 41, UCF 27
Final score: LSU 40, UCF 32 (LSU covered, total went over)
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (-7) vs. No. 9 Washington Huskies
Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
FPI line: Ohio State -2.1
PickCenter consensus: 82 percent picking Ohio State
Fallica: Ohio State might very well win, and win easily, and if the Buckeyes do breeze past the Huskies, it will be because Ohio State is simply better than Washington -- not because of the "no way Ohio State is going to lose Urban Meyer's final game" narrative. I doubt the Huskies will be a willing participant in an arrangement to send Urban out a Rose Bowl winner. Dwayne Haskins has had a great year and could put up a historic 5,000-yard/50-TD pass season, but I don't think he will find the going very easy against Washington's D, as only three FBS teams allowed fewer offensive TDs this season. This is also a different style of defense than the Michigan unit that the Buckeyes shredded in Columbus, Ohio.
The Pac-12 has collectively had a dismal couple of years. Wouldn't it be fitting for Chris Petersen and his Washington Huskies to throw a scare into Ohio State as a big underdog -- especially because it seemed to be a lost season but ended with another conference title and Rose Bowl berth?
ATS pick: Washington +7
Predicted score: Ohio State 30, Washington 27
Steele: Washington was basically three plays away from being unbeaten and in the College Football Playoff, as their losses came by five, three and two points this year. The Huskies have a substantial edge on defense, as they held foes to 102 yards per game below their season averages, while Ohio State allowed its opponents to gain 11 yards per game above their season averages. Ohio State has given up big plays all year, and Washington has two explosive running backs, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who could both have long touchdown runs in this game.
Washington also has a top-notch secondary to slow down Dwayne Haskins. While I could make an excellent case for taking the Huskies with the inflated points, Ohio State has the much more potent offense. The Buckeyes averaged 170 yards per game more than what their opponents typically allowed, and Dwayne Haskins had a 46-8 TD-INT ratio, while Washington quarterback Jake Browning had just a 16-10 ratio.
It was once the yearly goal of Ohio State to reach the Rose Bowl, but they have not played in the "Grandaddy of them all" this decade, so they will be excited despite missing out on the College Football Playoff. Finally, this is Urban Meyer's last game as Ohio State's head coach, and his team will want to send Meyer out a winner.
Lean: Ohio State -7
Predicted score: Ohio State 34, Washington 24
Final score: Ohio State 28, Washington 23 (Washington covered, total went under)
Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (-11) vs. No. 15 Texas Longhorns
Tuesday, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
FPI line: Georgia -10.6
PickCenter consensus: 70 percent picking Georgia
Steele: The Bulldogs played their best ball at the end of the year and led Alabama 28-14 late in the third quarter in the SEC title game. Many felt Georgia was one of the top four teams and should have been in the College Football Playoff. Georgia's offensive line was one of the three finalists for the coveted Joe Moore Award, and their top four running backs all average 6 yards per carry or better. Quarterback Jake Fromm has a solid 27-5 TD-INT ratio.
Texas has the edge at