Bowl Season always seems to move quickly, but this season even more so since it started later than usual. I mean, I feel like I’ve barely had time to settle down on the couch and get comfortable, and we’re already approaching the end of it.
The one time I want 2020 to slow down, it speeds up. So much so that I’m writing this column and I don’t even know all the results of last week’s Six Pack yet! I do know I’m off to a good start, though, and I plan to keep it going through the final week of games.
So, let’s get right down to it as some of the biggest games on the 2020 college football Bowl Season slate loom ahead.
Games of the Week
No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Georgia
Peach Bowl — Friday, Jan. 1: My biggest concern here is that by making this pick, people will think I’m saying that Cincinnati is overrated and the College Football Playoff was always correct in the way it treated Georgia. That’s not entirely true! I believe that if the playoff was based on merit — and it is not! — then Cincinnati had a legitimate argument to be in the final four teams. If the CFP Rankings are based more on who you think the better teams are with merit being a tie-breaker of sorts, then the committee got things right, for the most part.
Cincinnati is a good team. It was undoubtedly the best team in the Group of Five, and it’s better than a lot of Power Five teams. I just don’t know if it’s on the same level as the upper tier of Power Five teams, and that’s what I consider this Georgia team to be. None of this is to say that I believe the Bulldogs will blow the Bearcats out, but I think they’ll win this game comfortably. It’s important to note that Georgia’s two losses — which came to Alabama and Florida — came before it made the switch to JT Daniels at quarterback. Since being named the starter, Daniels has thrown for 839 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception in three starts as Georgia has averaged 41.7 points per game. Now, this Cincinnati defense will be the toughest one Daniels and the Dawgs have faced since he took over, but that works both ways. This Georgia defense — particularly the defensive line — will be the toughest Cincinnati has faced by miles. That will prove to be the difference. Georgia 31, Cincinnati 20 | Georgia -7
No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 North Carolina
Texas A&M Aggies
Orange Bowl — Saturday, Jan. 2: One of the trickier aspects of picking bowl games these days is keeping track of which players are opting out and then determining how much of an impact that will have on the game. You want to find the balance between taking it seriously while not overreacting. It’s not easy, and in this column, you will see both sides of it. In this matchup, we have a North Carolina team that is entirely dependent on its offense to win games. That’s not to say that the defense is bad (it’s more above average than good, though), just that its offense is prolific. Unfortunately, a lot of that offense will be missing for this contest. The Heels will be without leading receiver Dyami Brown as well as leading rushers Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Between the three of them, that’s 4,056 yards of offense and 41 touchdowns. That’s a lot! The Tar Heels will also be without leading tackler Chazz Surratt on defense to make matters worse.
Texas A&M hasn’t had anybody of note opt out of the game yet. Now, against a lesser opponent, maybe I’d trust Sam Howell and the North Carolina offense to persevere without so many top players. But against this Texas A&M team? With a defense ranked 20th in SP+? This isn’t an overreaction — it’s just common sense. Lay the points. Texas A&M 38, North Carolina 24 | Texas A&M -7.5
Lock of the Week
West Virginia vs. Army
West Virginia Mountaineers
Liberty Bowl — Thursday, Dec. 31: First of all, let me say I’m thrilled that Army could replace Tennessee and get a bowl game. The fact Army had been left out of a bowl game at 8-2 while a 2-8 team received a bid was a travesty. Now, having said that, I don’t think this is a great matchup for Army. Despite its overall record, Army’s offense has struggled in 2020. The Knights offense ranks 46th in points per drive, which is decent enough, but it ranks only 43rd nationally in rushing success rate. That’s not a great place to be when you’re an option offense reliant on the run. In this spot, Army is facing a West Virginia team that has been terrific against the run. It’s 12th nationally in defensive success rate against the run and 27th in yards per carry. It will also have had a week and a half to prepare for Army, which helps any defense against an option offense. I’s hard for me to believe the Army offense will have enough consistent success to cover this spread. West Virginia 27, Army 14 | West Virginia -7
Contrarian Play of the Week
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Florida
Cotton Bowl — Wednesday, Dec. 30: All right, I’ve taken three favorites so far. It’s time to go against the grain, and what better way to do it than by taking the Florida team the entire world has abandoned? Remember earlier when I talked about finding the balance between taking opt-outs seriously and overreacting to them? Well, we’ve seen the overreaction here. Florida will be without Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Kadarious Toney, the three of whom led the team in receiving. That’s not good! Florida is certainly not a better team without them! But the line in this game moved from Florida being a three-point favorite to Florida being a three-point dog. That’s a touchdown worth of movement, and I’m going to buy back on some of it. This Florida team has depth at the receiver spot, and it’s one of the most prolific offenses in the sport. It put up points on everybody, scoring at least 31 points in every game it played. Oklahoma will be without one of its top corners in Tre Brown, too, which hurts the secondary against a passing team. There’s still enough left in the cupboard for the Gators to get a cover here. Oklahoma 38, Florida 37 | Florida +3
SWC Reunion of the Week
Arkansas vs. TCU
TCU Horned Frogs
Texas Bowl — Thursday, Dec. 31: A lot of this is based on not knowing exactly what to make of TCU this year. The Frogs got off to a slow start, going 1-3 with losses to Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma surrounding a win over Texas. They’ve gone on to win five of their last six since. One of those wins was against Oklahoma State, but the other four have come against teams that went a combined 11-27 this season. Then there’s Arkansas, which is only 3-7 itself with wins against Mississippi State (3-7), Ole Miss (4-5) and Tennessee (3-7). Despite that, I’ve been more impressed by what I’ve seen from Arkansas this season. So this is more of a gut play than anything. TCU is probably the better team, but I’m calling the Hogs here. TCU 27, Arkansas 24 | Arkansas +4.5
Wildcats of the Week
No. 14 Northwestern vs. Auburn
Citrus Bowl — Friday, Jan. 1: This is simply one of those times when you look at a team’s motivation for playing in a game. Auburn has fired Gus Malzahn after what it considers a disappointing 6-4 season. None of the six wins came against a team that finished the season with a winning record (LSU went 5-5). You have to wonder if Auburn isn’t at a point where it just wants the season to be over. On the other hand, Northwestern won the Big Ten West and was competitive with Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. It also has a history of playing well in bowl games. This will be Pat Fitzgerald’s 10th bowl game with Northwestern, and while they’re only 4-5 overall in his first nine, they’ve won four of the last five. They’re also 6-3 ATS in those nine games. I expect this to be a pretty dull, low-scoring affair, but the total is too low to feel safe playing the under. Instead, I’ll just go with what I believe to be the better team in a better place right now. Northwestern 21, Auburn 17 | Northwestern -3.5
Results of last week will be updated following the conclusion of Tuesday’s games
Games of the Week
Lock of the Week
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