Welcome back for Part 4 of the Bowl picks. This article will cover the last three games for Friday, December 27th, through Saturday’s games (including the CFB Playoff).
All lines come courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook
The Texas Bowl
#25 Oklahoma State (8-4) vs Texas A&M (7-5)
Oklahoma State finished the season a strong 8-4. Their only losses were to Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Baylor. Unlike the Mike Gundy teams of the past, this one is predicated on their ability to run the ball. The Cowboys rush for an average of 236 yards per game at a 5.3 YPC clip. Leading rusher, Chuba Hubbard, has rushed for 1,936 yards and 21 touchdowns on a 6.3 YPC average.
This team can run the ball and run it well. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is a decent dual-threat quarterback who has struggled turning the ball over (11 INTs) but offers a threat on the ground that’s invaluable to this offense and its production. Defensively, the Cowboys are sub-par, allowing 151 rushing yards and 267 passing yards per game. The big issue for this team is their turnovers (1.7 on offense & 1.4 defensive turnovers per game).
The Texas A&M Aggies seem to fluctuate at random on a week to week basis. Some weeks, the defense shows up. Most weeks, they perform about how you expect they would perform, to an exaggerated degree. Kellen Mond is the veteran starting quarterback for the Aggies, who can make plays both through the air and on the ground. Though the Aggies lean heavier on the pass, the efficiency and potency hasn’t been there this season as Mond has just 19 TDs to 9 INTs on the year.
Running back Isaiah Spiller leads the backfield with a 5.6 YPC average and 9 rushing touchdowns. Defensively, the Aggies are relatively good, though their rush defense is their weakness, allowing 4 YPC on the season. Just like the Cowboys, the Aggies struggle in turnover differential (1.5 offensive to 1.2 defensive turnovers per game).
On paper, this has been the most difficult game to determine a clear winner. A&M is down to just one running back, Isaiah Spiller, but the Cowboys can’t seem to stop anyone running the ball so I’m not sure it will matter much. I like the Oklahoma State rushing attack, but the Aggies are a better defensive team than most of the opponents the Cowboys have faced this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can find holes in the Aggies tough red zone defense. I like the team with the better defense and the better matchups at the line, so I’m going A&M to win and cover.
Texas A&M -6.5
The Holiday Bowl
#22 USC (8-4) vs #16 Iowa (9-3)
Clay Helton’s squad has won five of their final six games to end the season. The offense appears to be finally clicking and the team appears to be settling in as a prolific passing offense. Quarterback Kedon Slovis has 12 TDs and just one INT over the past three games (28 TDs & 9 INT on the season). The Trojans average 336 yards passing per game this season and 126 on the ground.
This team knows its identity on offense, but the defense is still lost in many games, particularly on the ground. The Trojans surrender 166 yards on the ground this season per game and a whopping 4.6 YPC. The turnovers have also been a big issue with the Trojans averaging 1.9 per game on offense and just 1.3 on defense.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are the definition of a “Ball Control & Defense” team this season. They average a ridiculous 13.2 points per game on defense (5th in the country). Though their rushing game isn’t impressive by the numbers, that is skewed by quarterback Nate Stanley’s 68 rushing attempts for .2 YPC. Tyler Goodson, a freshman running back, has assumed the main role in the backfield, rushing at a 5.1 YPC clip on the season. Iowa’s strength is their defense, and they’re also + .5 per game on turnover differential.
The Trojans currently have 19 players listed on their injury report. That’s a lot to overcome for one team but the Trojans have been hot down the stretch, so it’s probably not going to be as big of an issue as people think. I tend to go with the team with the advantage in the trenches.
If that team features a better running game and defense, it’s even more of a reason for me to pick them and that’s where I’m currently at with the Hawkeyes. I like Iowa -2.5 in this game. As exciting as the Trojan passing game vs Iowa secondary looks, Iowa’s major advantage here will be the rushing attack against a bottom team rush defense in USC.
The Cheez-It Bowl
Air Force (10-2) vs Washington State (6-6)
The Air Force Falcons are flying high with a 10-2 record and two high-quality losses (Navy & Boise State). The Falcons are 23rd in offensive scoring and 20th on points allowed. Air Force runs variations of the triple option but also incorporates more pass plays than one would typically see from a triple-option offense. The Falcons average 293 yards rushing on 5.1 YPC.
The Falcons defense has been solid against the run this year (3.5 YPC) and serviceable against the pass (208 YPG), but they’re going up against a passing offense that’s unlike anything they’ve seen this season.
Washington State has a top 10 offense nationally in scoring (9th at 39.2 PPG). They average a whopping 444 yards passing per game. Though they don’t rush the ball often, they are effective when they do. Running back Max Borghi averages 6.5 YPC and has 11 rushing touchdowns on the season. Defensively, the Cougars are one of the worst rushing defenses around (170 yards at 4.9 YPC). They also only average 1.5 takeaways per game, which is a half-point worse than their giveaways per game (2).
Washington State can’t stop the run and Air Force rushes for 293 yards per game on the ground at 5.1 YPC. This is a pretty simple one for me. It would be one thing if the Falcons had a bad defense or if Washington State didn’t turn the ball over so much on offense, but taking that into consideration, Air Force seems like the logical pick here.
Pick: Air Force -2.5
The Cotton Bowl Classic
#10 Penn State (10-2) vs #17 Memphis (12-1)
Penn State began the season with high hopes until the loss at Minnesota and later loss of Sean Clifford derailed any hopes the Nittany Lions had of going to the college football playoff. Though Penn State struggled down the stretch, they were a team with a strong foundation from the coaching staff down. The Nittany Lions rank 22nd on offense and 7th on defense.
With Sean Clifford (22 TDs & 6 INTs on 8.4 YPA) expected to be ready to go at quarterback, the Nittany Lions have a decent shot to end the season on a high note. The Nittany Lions defense showed up in all but a few games this season but they’ll have their hands full against a prolific offense in Memphis.
Memphis will be without their head coach, Mike Norvell, as he’s moved on to Florida State following a historic season for the Tigers. The Tigers thrive on scheming players into space and utilize space on vertical routes. The amount of attention that has to be paid to the secondary opens up a lot of lanes for rushes as well.
Memphis is so proficient offensively, teams often get too focused on stopping either the run or the pass and get burned by the other. Memphis averages 196 yards rushing to 284 yards passing. Memphis rushes the ball 40 times per game, compared to passing it just 30, but as I stated earlier, the routes and schemes of the passing game open up the run and vice versa.
It takes a disciplined defense to slow down the Tigers and the Nittany Lions have displayed that ability at times this season. The big question is, will Penn State be up for this game? I think there will be plenty of times in this game where the Tigers catch the Penn State defense off guard, but ultimately, Sean Clifford’s playmaking ability, combined with Penn State’s stout defense should be the difference.
I also like the advantage Penn State will have on the ground. Journey Brown and Noah Cain will get to go up against a defense that gives up 4.2 YPC and 171 yards on the ground per game.
Pick: Penn State -7
Camping World Bowl
#15 Notre Dame (10-2) vs Iowa State (7-5)
Notre Dame is coming in winners of their last five games, including a big win over Navy. The Fighting Irish have the 13th ranked scoring offense and the 14th ranked scoring defense. It’s rare to see a team who rushes the ball more than they pass but manage to double their touchdown output from air to ground, but that’s what happens when you have a team who passes the ball well in the red zone.
The Fighting Irish average 178 yards per game on the ground and three touchdowns through the air. Ian Book, aside from the Michigan game in bad weather, has had a tremendous season (33 TDs & 6 INTs).
Iowa State has lost a total of five games by just 21 total points. This is a solid team who can put up points on offense (34.1 PPG) and has a very average defense (46th nationally). Quarterback Brock Purdy is a nice dual-threat quarterback who can carry the team through the air (27 TDs to 9 INTs) and on the ground (3.1 YPC and 8 TDs)
I’m a little shocked at this line (3.5) as it seems abundantly clear to me Notre Dame will have no problem with the Cyclones. As it is standard practice, when looking at the battle in the trenches, Notre Dame only has a slight advantage, but where I like the Irish most is in the turnover department.
Iowa State is only forcing 1.1 turnovers per game and Notre Dame only turns over the ball .9 times a game. Conversely, the Irish force 2.2 turnovers per game. I think this will come into play in a big way in this game as I expect Notre Dame to swing momentum in this one a few times.
Pick: Notre Dame -3.5
CFB Playoff: The Peach Bowl
#4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #1 LSU (13-0)
Oklahoma is a juggernaut on offense and a Lilliputian on defense. They should also never be 13 point underdogs, given their history this season with big comebacks. Oklahoma made a massive comeback and defeated Baylor this season and nearly overcame a 25 point deficit against Kansas State in their only loss of the season. Kennedy Brooks may be the only good back they have this game with one likely suspended and the other out with a knee injury, but Brooks’ 6.7 YPC is both a reflection of his own talent and the talent around him.
Jalen Hurts is so dangerous both in and out of the pocket, it really helps open up the running game. Hurts’ 32 TDs and 7 INTs at an incredible 11.8 YPA headlines this dynamic offense. One big issue for the Sooners this season has been committing turnovers on offense and not forcing enough on defense. The Sooners average 1.4 turnovers per game and just .8 takeaways on defense.
What is there to say about LSU that hasn’t been said? This definitely isn’t their best defensive team of all time but it’s easily their best offensive team ever. Joe Burrow won the Heisman on the resume of 48 TDs to just 6 INTs and added three more touchdowns on the ground. LSU’s offense is ranked 3rd in the nation and the defense is 25th. Though it’s true the LSU defense hasn’t been consistent this season, they have been dominant the past two games, versus good offenses at that.
I don’t think Oklahoma should be 13.5-point underdogs in any game, but it’s hard to turn a blind eye to what the Tigers have done offensively and at times, defensively. I think, because of all the time to prepare in this game, Lincoln Riley should fare better than the odds indicate. I could be way off here, but I think this game will be a shootout and LSU will win, but I like Oklahoma to cover.
Pick: Oklahoma -13
CFB Playoff: The Fiesta Bowl
#3 Clemson (13-0) vs #2 Ohio State (13-0)
Clemson may be the sleeping giant of the four playoff teams. For most of the season, they’ve been practically sleepwalking through games en route to the playoffs. Following an early-season scare at home against North Carolina, Clemson has rebounded to finish the season strong, scoring an average of 51.8 points per game over that 8 game stretch.
Their offense is ranked 3rd nationally and the defense is ranked #1, averaging just 10.6 PPG. Clemson is the best conventional rushing team in the nation, averaging 253 yards per game on 6.5 YPC. Defensively, Clemson averages 1.3 interceptions per game and only allows an average of 138 yards through the air.
Ohio State looked like the best team in the country for stretches this season. They may have the most talented roster in all of college football. Ohio State features the nation’s number one overall offense and ranks 3rd nationally on defense. Like Clemson, Ohio State averages a healthy amount of interceptions per game on defense (1.2).
Justin Fields has 40 TDs passing and just one interception on the year. He also has 10 rushing touchdowns on the season. Ohio State is a complete team from top to bottom and though Justin Fields is nursing a sprained MCL heading int the game, expect him to bring all he has and then some. Fields is a gamer.
I think anyone who has a beat on this game is either lying or knows some inside information about something and won’t say what it is. I think this game is a coin flip and Clemson is getting the nod from the way they played down the stretch and Ohio State is getting knocked for how they struggled in their conference title game.
I don’t think Clemson has been truly tested this season so far, so I’ve got to go with the team who has demonstrated so much more under pressure and features the best overall player in this game (Chase Young, DE). I think the Buckeyes win by a field goal in a classic.
Pick: Ohio State +2