And just like that, we have made it to the final leg of the 2022-23 Bowl Season in College Football.
The four-day span from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2 will include a whopping 13 games, including the two playoff semifinals, with destinations ranging from Atlanta to Pasadena and plenty in between. As was the case when we kicked off bowl season, traditional games and matchups will be rekindled this week, while new chapters will also be written.
Our College Football staff at NBC Sports EDGE continue to offer insight on each of the 42 bowl games being played, offering their favorite plays on everything from sides and totals to player props. The group includes Eric Froton (@CFFroton), Vaughn Dalzell (@VMoneySports), Brad Thomas (@MrBradThomas) and Zachary Krueger (@ZK_FFB). This is the third installment and it includes the games from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2, with each segment covering about a quarter of the bowl season (you can view plays and writeups from the first three segments here, here and here). And yes, we are keeping score - so tail (or fade) as you see fit.
Current Bowl Season (ATS) Records:
Zach Krueger: 19-18
Eric Froton: 16-21
Vaughn Dalzell: 17-20-1
Brad Thomas: 13-24
Mississippi State Bulldogs (-1) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (Over/Under 46)
Kickoff: January 2 at 12:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida
Bowl Histories: Mississippi State 14-11, Illinois 8-11
Series History: The series is tied 1-1, with Illinois winning in 1923 and Mississippi State winning in 1980.
Note: This is each team's second all-time appearance in Tampa. Mississippi State lost to Iowa in 2019, while Illinois lost to Clemson in 1991.
Vaughn Dalzell: Game Total UNDER 46
When Illinois plays, we are normally on the Under and we will run it back here. In Illinois' four games as an underdog this season, the Illini's game scores were 36, 40, 43 and 44 points.
Overall, Illinois is 7-4-1 to the Under this season and is without Chase Brown and Josh McCray at running back, the Illini offense should struggle for points and the defense will be the only way this game remains close.
Brad Thomas: Mississippi State -1
This game was a play on the Illini only if Illinois' Chase Brown was playing. Well, he has opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. As good as Illinois' defense is, Will Rogers and company are playing for their late coach, Mike Leach. I expect a massive effort from every Bulldog on that field.
Eric Froton: Game Total UNDER 46
The Illini started the season on a heater, opening 7-1 before dropping their next three games against Michigan State, Purdue, and a very competitive loss to Michigan where they had a 46%-win expectancy. Illinois is the top-rated defense nationally in EPA/Play and yards per pass (5.5), while ranking top-10 in both pass and rush defense. Their defensive line in particular has been elite, posting a 22% stuff rate and a 23% havoc rate. DC Ryan Walters left to become new HC of Purdue after Jeff Brohm left to become HC of his alma mater Louisville, while First-Team All-Big Ten defensive backs CB Devon Witherspoon and S Sydney Brown have opted out. In traditional “Brett Bielema-fashion” Illinois has relied on a ball control, run-oriented offense. HC Bielema's trench warfare style of play has resulted in the Under going 7-3-1 over their last 11 games. In fact, the 46 points O/U mark is the highest line Illinois has faced in the last 10 games, with the lone exception being their 26-9 snoozer against Nebraska which had a 50.5 O/U and went comfortably Under.
The Bulldogs enter the game with heavy hearts following the death of HC Mike Leach. DC Zach Arnett has been handed the head coaching reins and will take over play calling duties. Starting wideout Rara Thomas and co-starting RB Dillon Johnson both hit the transfer portal and will not play. Their defense checks in at 21st in EPA/Play with a 38.5% success rate (26th) while the Bulldogs' pass defense rates as the 22nd best unit nationally. The air-raid offense moves the ball steadily down the field with short passes, posting a 49% success rate (36th) and 6.4 yards per pass (108th). While their rushing attack has been better than in recent years, it will be interesting to see what kind of an identity the offense will undertake in the game since HC Leach was his own OC. I will be paying close attention to the player props lines on this game since I think Will Rogers could be handing the ball off more than he has been accustomed to doing.
With Illinois experiencing their second highest O/U line of the season despite being a definitively Under-heavy program, and Mississippi State likely to be searching for an offensive identity under DC/HC Zach Arnett, I am backing the Under 46 points scored.
Zach Krueger: Mississippi State -1
Unfortunately, Mississippi State will enter this game without head coach Mike Leach, who unexpectedly passed away just weeks leading up to the game. Playing this one with heavy hearts, the Bulldogs will need all hands on deck if they hope to breach an Illinois defense that's allowed the fewest points in the nation (12.2). Mississippi State's defense allowed just over 24 points per game this season while also allowing 143.6 rushing yards per game – which is a key number to focus on here, but not for the reason we'd think. If Chase Brown (328-1643-10) was playing in this one, Illinois probably enters this one as a slight favorite. Instead, Brown has already opted out for the NFL Draft. Two other running backs behind him are expected to be out due to injury and another has already entered the transfer portal. The Illini will also be without two key members of its secondary, with cornerback Devon Witherspoon and safety Sydney Brown also opting out for draft prep. It's possible Illinois' best offensive approach in this one could be its passing attack, which was utilized at less than a 45% rate. Mississippi State allowed just 206.8 passing yards per game this season, and should have no trouble keeping Tommy DeVito (2397-15-4) at bay.
If Illinois wins this one, it will likely be on the back of Reggie Love III, who was second on the team in rushing this season (59-276-2) but saw a light workload. Everyone outside of Illinois will likely be rooting for Mississippi State to win this one for The Pirate, which makes them feel like a tough team to bet against.
Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
LSU Tigers (-14.5) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (Over/Under 56)
Kickoff: January 2 at 1:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
Site: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Florida
Bowl Histories: LSU 28-24-1, Purdue 11-9
Series History: This is the first-ever matchup between these two schools.
Note: This is Purdue's second appearance in Orlando, having lost to Georgia in 2004. LSU is 2-3 in five prior trips, beating Louisville in 2016 and losing 366 days later to Notre Dame.
Vaughn Dalzell: Purdue Team Total UNDER 20.5
Aidan O'Connell, Charlie Jones and Payne Durham are out for Purdue and this spread jumped from LSU -7 to LSU -14.5, passing a ton of key numbers.
As an alternative to playing LSU -14.5, I like the Team Total Under 20.5 for Purdue. The Boilermakers went from a top 40 offense to bottom 25 by switching quarterbacks and losing a few playmakers on offense. The Tigers' defense will have an advantage and they return three key wide receivers that could make noise, including Kayshon Boutte.
Brad Thomas: LSU -14.5
When I saw the laundry list of names opt-out for this bowl game for Purdue, I ran to the window to bet LSU. With Jayden Daniels back in the fold, LSU has the definite upper hand here. Even with a few opt-outs along the defensive front, I believe the Tigers will give Purdue issues. Just too much LSU in this one as HC Brian Kelly keeps building on the momentum gained during the regular season.
Eric Froton: LSU -14.5
Purdue's chances at Citrus Bowl victory have taken a massive hit with HC Jeff Brohm leaving to return to Louisville and the core of their passing offense - QB Aidan O'Connell, WR Charlie Jones and TE Payne Durham - opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. According to CFB Winning Edge analytics, Purdue's offensive roster strength fell from 40th to 111th in the aftermath of their departures, which also includes starting guard Spencer Holstege who entered the transfer portal. They will be forced to rely upon former UCLA backup QB Austin Burton, who has had a completely unremarkable collegiate career to this point. His insertion into the lineup will assuredly crater Purdue's 69th-rated passing offense. Defensively they are missing valuable starting CB Cory Trice from a secondary that already ranks 65th against the pass. The Boilermakers do a good job of stifling opponents to the tune of ranking 25th in EPA/Play with a 39% success rate (29th).
HC Brian Kelly orchestrated a first year run that surpassed even the wildest expectations with LSU taking home the SEC West championship. Arizona State transfer QB Jayden Daniels has been the catalyst of the Tigers' 14th-rated offense. He has been battling an ankle injury that he re-aggravated in the SEC title game, but with Daniels announcing he will return in 2023 he is expected to play. Wide receiver Kayshon Boutte has opted out as has Edge defender B.J. Ojulari. The latter's absence will have an effect on their front seven on defense which was responsible for a 10% havoc rate and a 20% stuff rate this year. Despite finishing the season on a two-game losing streak at the hands of Texas A&M and Georgia, LSU is vastly more talented than the neutered roster Purdue is slated to put on the field. I am laying the points and taking the Tigers to easily handle the spread.
Zach Krueger: LSU -14.5
This is a bit of a developing story, as LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (48-538-2) recently announced he will not be playing in the team's bowl game and instead declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft. Now down Boutte, along with six other players due to opt outs, LSU is looking awfully light heading into this one. In total, the Tigers could be without 20 or more players from it's 2022 roster thanks in part to injury, opt out or transfer. Quarterback Jayden Daniels (2774-16-3) is dealing with an ankle injury that may or may not hold him out, but Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell (3490-22-13) has already opted out for the draft. So has their lead receiver Charlie Jones (110-1361-12) and No. 1 tight end Payne Durham (56-560-8). Purdue also won't have head coach Jeff Brohm, who took the vacant job at Louisville.
If Jayden Daniels is able to play despite his ankle injury – which he will be almost a month removed from – LSU should have a chance at covering this one. Purdue's offense has been decimated. Although, admittedly, I hate the prospects of betting this game.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
USC Trojans (-2.5) vs. Tulane Green Wave (Over/Under 62)
Kickoff: January 2 at 1:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas
Bowl Histories: USC 35-20, Tulane 6-8
Series History: This is the fourth all-time matchup but first since 1946, when USC won 20-13.
Note: This is Tulane's Cotton Bowl debut. USC has made two prior appearances, beating Texas Tech in 1995 and losing to Ohio State in 2017.
Vaughn Dalzell: USC ML
Tulane has been a monster ATS this season, going an NCAA-best 11-2 ATS in addition to 11-2 on the ML. USC's two losses came to Utah this season and I like the chances things stay that way.
Tulane's two wins as an underdog this year came versus Kansas State and Houston by three and seven points. USC is better than both teams and that's why this spread is growing toward the Trojans. Give me USC.
Brad Thomas: Tulane +2.5
USC had a fantastic turnaround under Lincoln Riley. However, they are already down Travis Dye. Now Caleb Williams (hamstring) is questionable, and Jordan Addison (NFL Draft) is out. They will also miss a couple starters on the offensive line. Tulane, on the other hand, is intact and motivated for this bowl game. Even if he plays (doubtful he will be at 100%) but especially if the Heisman Trophy winner Williams remains on the sidelines, I imagine many college football teams including Tulane could beat this Trojans' team primarily because of how terrible they are on the defensive side of the ball.
Eric Froton: Game Total Over 62
There is plenty of reason to question USC's motivation here, as the Trojans are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship where an injury hobbled Caleb Williams derailed their chance at the CFP Playoff. Jordan Addison and two starters on the OL will miss the game from USC's top-3 rated offense, but Williams is expected to suit up. Their defense has been a sieve at times, rating 125th in success rate (49%) and 111th in yards per play (6.2) and could be a real problem if not sufficiently invested against the Green Wave.
Tulane will be at full strength with HC Willie Fritz completing one of the most impressive turnarounds of the year, going from 2-10 to AAC Champions! QB Michael Pratt was allegedly courted by numerous Power Five programs but has elected to stay and will lead the Green Wave's very efficient 37th ranked offense that ranks 20th in points per drive (2.9) and 15th in net yards per pass attempt. Their pass defense was superb, ranking 13th nationally in overall performance while allowing just 6.1 yards per pass (11th in FBS).
Ideally USC being down two starting linemen will help even things out for Tulane's 46th-ranked rush defense. Few teams score points like the Trojans, who average 40 PPG and have covered the Over in the last seven straight games. With USC also fielding a defense that still has major flaws, and a very motivated Tulane squad on the other side, I am taking the Over at 62 points.
Zach Krueger: Game Total OVER 62
The last time we saw Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams (4075-37-4), he was struggling to get things going against a Utah defense that held the Trojans to just 24 points in the Pac-12 Championship game. A hamstring injury could sideline Williams for this game, but for now, it appears he'll suit up for this one. Wide receiver Jordan Addison (59-875-8) is not expected to play due to an ankle injury. USC's only two losses on the season both came at the hands of Utah, and largely fell on a Trojans defenese that allowed 40+ points in each of those losses. Now, USC gets a matchup against a Tulane offense that's averaging over 35 points per game, thanks in part to quarterback Michael Pratt (2775-25-5) and the play of running back Tyjae Spears (212-1376-15). Tulane doesn't appear to be missing any key players in this one.
Most of USC's key losses – which include two players along the offensive line – are due to injury, not opt outs. As long as Williams plays, I think this one has the chance to be a shootout. I expect Tulane's offense, led by a legit NFL talent in Pratt, to give USC's defense a run for their money, while 40 points never feels out of reach for Williams and company. The Trojans scored 40+ in nine of their 13 games this season. The over is a combined 17-8 between these two teams. Why not once more?
Utah Utes (-2.5) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (Over/Under 52.5)
Kickoff: January 2 at 5:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California
Bowl Histories: Utah 17-7, Penn State 30-19-2
Series History: This is the first-ever matchup between these two schools.
Note: Utah lost its Rose Bowl debut, 48-45, last year to Ohio State. Penn State has made three prior trips to Pasadena, beating Oregon in 1995 and losing to USC in both 2009 and 2017.
Vaughn Dalzell: Penn State +2.5
Everyone will look at Utah's outing versus Ohio State last year, but we likely will not see that time of performance here. The only blemishes on Penn State's resume are versus Michigan and Ohio State, so they may be better than we think.
Penn State has the second-best passing defense and are top 15 in yards and scoring defense, so they could limit Utah's offense.
The Utes are 2-3 on the ML and 0-5 ATS when the spread is below -7 this season for Utah, so let's fade them one last time.
Brad Thomas: Penn State +2.5
I am shocked to see Penn State as a dog in this situation. They have been outstanding defensively this season, ranking 18th in defensive success rate and 10th in net points per drive. Keyvone Lee is out, but it's all about the two talented freshmen, Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton. I like Penn State in this spot.
Eric Froton: Penn State +2.5
The Nittany Lions narrowly survived an opening week scare to Purdue before proceeding to run roughshod over every opponent in their schedule, with the exception of the Big Ten's two CFP Playoff representatives - Ohio State and Michigan. Their defense was one of the nations best as PSU's secondary allowed just 5.9 yards per pass (6th in FBS) while ranking 11th in EPA/Play. Unfortunately their star cornerback Joey Porter is opting out, as is their top wide receiver, Parker Washington. OC Mike Yurcich has employed a more balanced offense this season that ranks 34th overall in team performance and 29th in points per drive. Expect a steady dose of freshman phenom RBs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen to try and loosen up Utah's suspect defense that ranks 81st in yards per play allowed (5.8) and 49th in EPA/Play.
The Utes are fresh off their Pac-12 Championship victory over USC, but will have to deal with both TE Dalton Kincaid and CB Clark Phillips opting out of the contest. Kincaid has been the most consistent weapon at QB Cam Rising's disposal this season, while Phillips is a first round caliber corner. Utah utilized a running back-by-committee approach to devastating effect, rating 11th overall in team rushing performance with a dominant 52.4% success rate. QB Cam Rising has been banged up in the second half of the season which has clearly affected his performance, as he had just one game with a PFF Passing grade below 70.0 over the first six games, and just one game above a 70.0 Passing grade in his last five contests. Their defense has been taken advantage of on the ground by Oregon (12th rush offense in FBS) and UCLA (#1 rush offense in FBS) and are now missing one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.
I think Penn State has been the more consistent team from bell-to-bell so i'm picking the Nittany Lions to cover.
Zach Krueger: Penn State +2.5
Utah will be without two key players on offense in running back Tavion Thomas (142-687-7) and tight end Dalton Kincaid (70-890-8), who was the team's leading receiver and one of (if not the best) tight ends in the nation. Interestingly, Utah loved targeting it's tight ends this year, with Thomas Yassmin (12-300-5) and Brant Kuithe (19-206-3) finishing fifth and seventh on the team in receiving yards.The Utes won't outright replace Kincaid, but the impact of his loss could be mitigated if either Yassmin or Kuithe are able to step up. I'm also a firm believer in Cam Rising (2939-25-7), whose gutsy performances over the last two seasons have led Utah to two-straight Pac-12 championships. Utah won't have top cornerback Clark Phillips, who opted out to prepare for the draft, but Penn State isn't without it's own losses.
The Nittany Lions will be without wide receiver Parker Washington (46-611-2) on offense and shutdown corner Joey Porter Junior, who allowed just 15 receptions for 143 yards and no touchdowns this season. Still, Penn State should have it's two leading rushers in Nicholas Singleton (149-941-10) and Kaytron Allen (156-830-9), and quarterback Sean Clifford (2543-22-7) is finally playing in his final game. Penn State opened as 1.5 point favorites and now sit as 2.5 point underdogs. It's a significant swing for a team I feel lost fewer significant pieces than Utah. I'll take the Lions to cover in this one, but wouldn't be surprised by an outright win over the Utes.
Enjoy the Bowls and enjoy the sweat.
Duke's Mayo Bowl
Maryland Terrapins vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (-1) (Over/Under 46.5)
Kickoff: December 30 at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, North Carolina
Bowl Histories: NC State 17-15-1, Maryland 12-14-2
Series History: The all-time series sits at 33-33-4 between the former conference rivals, with Maryland winning the most recent edition (41-21) in 2013.
Note: This is Maryland's first Mayo Bowl appearance. NC State is making its fourth appearance, with wins in 2005 over USF and 2011 over Louisville and a loss in 2015 to Mississippi State.
Vaughn Dalzell: NC State ML
Maryland is without a ton of offensive players in this matchup and that is not ideal versus an NC State defense that even in its losses, held its opponents within striking distance.
The Wolfpack scored at least 20 points in four out of six games without Devin Leary this season and the Terps allowed 23 or more points in every loss and 30 or more in all but one of those losses. NC State should have a slight edge here, so give me the Wolfpack with a lean on the Team Total Over.
Brad Thomas: NC State -1
I am backing North Carolina State, hoping the talented MJ Morris suits up and starts under center. Assuming Morris plays, Devin Carter will be the only impact player from NC State's offense not suiting up for this game. On the other side of the ball, despite underwhelming at times the Wolfpack defense should give Taulia Tagovailoa issues, especially since Tagovailoa will be without two of his top wide receivers (Rakim Jarrett and Jacob Copeland) after they opted out of this game for the NFL draft.
Eric Froton: NC State ML
The Terps opened the season on a hot streak, going 6-2 through the first eight games with those two losses coming at the hands of Big Ten champion Michigan and B10 West Champ Purdue a close 31-29 loss to B10 West Champ Purdue. Taulia Tagovailoa suffered an injury against Indiana which set them back in their games against Wisconsin (7% win expectancy) and Penn State (0%). Tagovailoa returned to health against Ohio State and Maryland put a scare into the powerful Buckeyes, offering a glimpse of what was to come for OSU against Michigan the following week. Maryland's offense regressed a bit from their lofty performance in 2021 when they averaged 306 passing yards per game, dropping to 280 passing YPG while allowing the most sacks in the Big Ten with 39. They fielded a very underrated pass defense that ranks 19th against the pass, 26th in yards per play and 30th in EPA/Play allowed. The thing that concerns me is Maryland lacks a signature win over a proven Power Five opponent with Michigan State probably qualifying as the best team they have beaten.
NC State OC Tim Beck failed upwards by taking the Coastal Carolina head coaching vacancy, a departure Wolfpack fans were happy to accommodate. Former Virginia and Syracuse OC Robert Anae takes over the offense but will not be calling plays in the Bowl. The Wolfpack offense took a noticeable step back this year, going from 33 points per game in 2021 to just 25 PPG this year as the offense ranked 115th in rushing performance and 103rd in passing respectively. Three quarterbacks have started since QB Devin Leary was injured for the year in early October against Florida State. Freshman QB MJ Morris is the future under center, but he went down with a lower leg injury against Boston College on November 12 causing NC State to lose 22-21 despite having a 91% win expectancy. The Pack dumped the next game against Louisville with Ben Finley under center but rallied to beat UNC in their season finale (78% win exp). Their defense is what makes this team dangerous, ranking 14th overall, 20th vs. the run and 12th in success rate (35%). Parsing words, it sounds like Morris is in line to play but HC Doeren is doing what all college coaches do since there is no injury report.
Zach Krueger: NC State -1
Maryland is dealing with a multitude of opt outs for this one, including wide receivers Dontay Demus, Rakim Jarrett and Jacob Copeland. Together, Demus, Jarrett and Copeland accounted for 88 receptions, 1,080 yards and six touchdowns. That's 34.6% of Maryland's receiving yards on the season. Luckily for the Terps, they will have lead receiver Jeshaun Jones (40-478-4), and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (2787-17-6), but they'll be matching up against an NC State defense that ranked 14th in the nation in points allowed per game (19.4) and allowed the 20th-fewest yards per game (325.7). If that doesn't sound bad enough for the Terps, as of right now, NC State doesn't appear to be down any significant starters on the defensive side of the ball.
A stout defense against an offense that's down several key players sounds like a major mismatch. Even without Devin Leary, I like the Wolfpack to cover this one by a bit more than the single point they're currently laying.
Final Result: Maryland 16, NC State 12
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl
UCLA Bruins (-5.5) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (Over/Under 53.5)
Kickoff: December 30 at 2:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
Site: Sun Bowl – El Paso, Texas
Bowl Histories: UCLA 16-19-1, Kansas 14-22
Series History: UCLA holds a 9-5 edge in the all-time series, although the teams have not faced off since a 38-28 Bruin win in 1972.
Note: This is the fifth Sun Bowl appearance for both teams, with UCLA going 3-1 (most recent appearance 2013) and Pitt going 2-2 (most recent appearance 2018).
Vaughn Dalzell: UCLA -5.5
Kedon Slovis, Israel Abanikanda and Calijah Kancey are out for Pittsburgh and those are three of the best five players on the team.
For UCLA, they are hopeful to have their star QB-RB-WR trio that has torched opponents all season. Pitt won't have enough offense to hang with UCLA, so take the Bruins -5.5 out to -7, where this line will likely land by kickoff.
Brad Thomas: UCLA -5.5
Kedon Slovis and Izzy Abanikanda both are out of the Sun Bowl for Pitt. Both will be huge losses, and I imagine as a result the Panthers will need help if they are to achieve any offensive continuity. In addition to the offense opt-outs, their defense suffered the same fate. Now, up against a potent UCLA offense, I cannot imagine they produce enough to keep up with the high-octane offense of UCLA.
Eric Froton: UCLA -5.5
The Over/Under opened at 60.5 points before getting smashed downwards to 53.5 following the news that QB Kedon Slovis and RB Israel Abanikanda would not be suiting up from their offense that averages 31 PPG. The Panthers currently have seven announced core rotation players out, including All-American DT Calijah Kancey from Pitt's 11th ranked defense that ranked seventh nationally in EPA/Play and 13th in success rate. They are on a four-game winning streak to close out the year and had an 80%-win expectancy or better in all but three of those decisions.
UCLA ranks number one in the country in rushing performance behind their backfield duo of RB Zach Charbonnet and QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. DTR will play but Charbonnet could still back out given his projected Day 2 NFL Draft capital. Otherwise, the Bruins should have the majority of their regular season roster available. Roster continuity is a welcomed advantage for a beleaguered UCLA defense that ranks 98th against the pass and 63rd vs. the run.
Despite Pitt being a very good team during the regular season, their roster turnover coupled with UCLA seemingly wanting to rally behind their seniors and run it back one more time has me taking the Bruins and laying 5.5 points.
Zach Krueger: UCLA -5.5
Pitt will be without quarterback Kedon Slovis (transfer portal), running back Israel Abanikanda, and six other players who have opted out to declare for the NFL Draft. UCLA, on the other hand, hasn't announced any significant opt outs, although quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (2883-25-7), running back Zach Charbonnet (195-1359-14) and wide receiver Jake Bobo (54-789-7) are all risks to opt out. With all players reportedly practicing as of now, we can only go with what we know, which is that a mostly intact UCLA team is a mere 5.5-point favorite over a decimated Pittsburgh team.
With Pitt down so many key players, there's no reason to think the Bruins can't run through a team half-consisting of backups. Of course, DTR, Charbonnet and Bobo opting out could switch this up a bit, but I'll confidently take UCLA in this one.
Final Result: Pitt 37, UCLA 35
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-2.5) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Over/Under 51.5)
Kickoff: December 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: TIAA Bank Field – Jacksonville, Florida
Bowl Histories: Notre Dame 19-21, South Carolina 10-14
Series History: Notre Dame holds a 3-1 series advantage, but South Carolina won the most recent meeting in 1984.
Note: This is Notre Dame's fourth Gator Bowl appearance, winning in 1976 but losing in 1999 and 2003. South Carolina has lost each of its four prior appearances, most recently to LSU in 1987.
Vaughn Dalzell: Notre Dame ML
South Carolina is down a ton on offense and could only have 1-2 tight ends, which will affect how they run the ball and what packages they can run in the red zone and overall.
Spencer Rattler might be forced to air it out, which seems good on paper after the Clemson and Tennessee upsets, but that was over a month ago. Notre Dame is looking to avenge its Bowl loss last season in Marcus Freeman's first-ever coaching start. Give me the Fighting Irish outright.
Brad Thomas: Game Total UNDER 51.5
Drew Pyne has hit the transfer portal, and Tyler Buchner is out due to an injury. South Carolina's Spencer Rattler is playing but will be without as many as five of his primary weapons on offense. Notre Dame is 31st in defensive success rate and should be able to bully the South Carolina offense. Points will be hard to come by. As a result, I am backing the Under in this game.
Eric Froton: Game Total UNDER 51.5
Notre Dame will be in some trouble personnel-wise with QB Drew Pyne entering the transfer portal and opening day starting QB Tyler Buchner highly questionable to return from an early-season shoulder injury. Star TE Michael Mayer and Edge Isaiah Foskey have opted out, so the Irish are going to have to make drastic adjustments. ND rebounded after starting the season 0-2 to rattle off eight wins over the next 10 games. Their defense ranks 25th in success rate (39%) and 35th in EPA/Play while pitching the 24th best secondary in the country, though starting CB Cam Hart is expected to miss the game with injury.
South Carolina has been reborn under second-year HC Shane Beamer, going 7-2 down the stretch and ending the regular season with huge upset victories over Clemson and Tennessee. Their pass defense was exceptional, ranking 27th in FBS, but they will be missing three starters from their secondary due to opt-outs. Their offense is besieged by departures as well with most of their key pass catchers unavailable. Yes, QB Spencer Rattler will be starting under center but who will he be throwing to?
You guessed it. I question how much continuity either offense will have and thus am taking the Under.
Zach Krueger: Game Total UNDER 51.5
In what came as a bit of a surprise, Notre Dame will start Tyler Buchner at quarterback after Drew Pyne hit the transfer portal. Buchner played in just two games this season before being ruled out for the year with an injury, throwing for 378 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions before going down. Through his first two seasons on campus, Buchner has yet to attempt 100 passes for his career and will be without tight end Michael Mayer (67-809-9) who led the team in receiving, but is opting out to prepare for the draft. On the other side of this, South Carolina will have starting quarterback Spencer Rattler (2766-16-11), but will be without it's two leading rushers in MarShawn Lloyd (11-573-9) and Jaheim Bell (73-261-3).
With so many key players on offense being out for this game, the under feels like the way to go here. Rattler will face a stout Notre Dame defense that is down one key EDGE rusher in Isaiah Foskey, but Notre Dames' offense could be limited with Buchner back under center.
Final Result: Notre Dame 45, South Carolina 38
Ohio Bobcats (-1) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (Over/Under 41)
Kickoff: December 30 at 4:30 p.m. ET (Barstool)
Site: Arizona Stadium – Tucson, Arizona
Bowl Histories: Ohio 5-8, Wyoming 9-8
Series History: This is the third all-time meeting between these two schools. Wyoming won each of the first two in 2007 and 2008.
Note: This is Ohio's first Arizona Bowl appearance, while Wyoming is making their second appearance after defeating Georgia State in 2019.
Vaughn Dalzell: Game Total UNDER 42.5
I named my snoozer of last week Bowling Green and New Mexico State and it paid to watch that Under hit. Let's make Ohio versus Wyoming this week's snoozer.
Wyoming has hit in five-straight Unders and Ohio has hit three-straight Unders. Ohio is a top-20 passing defense and Wyoming is a top-50 scoring defense, so let's keep riding that train with these two teams.
Brad Thomas: Game Total UNDER 41
This game feels gross to me. I am not sure I am excited about betting a total this low, but this game reeks of slow and a bit of boredom. Wyoming loves to pound the rock, but I do not see them having much success with four running backs set to miss the bowl game. Ohio will also be without quarterback Kurtis Rourke, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year. This is an Under game to me.
Eric Froton: Game Total UNDER 41
Though Ohio does not have many portal entries or opt outs to contend with, they will once again be without MAC Offensive Player of the Year, QB Kurtis Rourke, due to injury. Ohio had been riding a seven-game win streak before gaining just 262 total yards and scoring just seven points in the MAC Championship game against Toledo with backup QB CJ Harris at the helm. On the other side Wyoming is dealing with a mass exodus from their running backs room, as starting RB Titus Swen has declared for the NFL Draft while three other rotation backs followed him to the transfer portal. That is a major problem for a Cowboys' offense that leans heavily on their 38th-ranked run game to supplement a woeful passing attack that was the 2nd worst in the country. With each offense missing vital contributors who were instrumental in their team's success, I think this game could end up being bowling-shoe ugly.
Zach Krueger: Game Total UNDER 41
There's a lot i don't like about this game. For starters, Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke suffered a torn ACL earlier this year and will be out. He was the highest-graded quarterback on PFF this season, and threw for 3257-25-4 before going down. Backup CJ Harris has completed just 50% of his passes this season, throwing for 393-1-1 on 64 attempts. On the other side, Wyoming will be down its top-four running backs this season, with Titus Swen (207-1039-8) declaring for the NFL Draft and his backups all transferring out. They'll also be without their lead receiver, leading quarterback Andrew Peasley (1388-9-8) few offensive weapons to work with. Wyoming's strength all season has been its rushing attack.
Now, it's possible the rushing attack is Wyoming's biggest weakness. With so many unknowns, I'd prefer to stay away from this game if at all possible. But offensively, both teams look dead in the water. The under is a combined 11-12 between these two teams this season. With so many key offensive players out, points could be hard to come by here.
Final Result: Ohio 30, Wyoming 27 (OT)
Capital One Orange Bowl
Tennessee Volunteers vs. Clemson Tigers (-5.5) (Over/Under 63.5)
Kickoff: December 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, Florida
Bowl Histories: Tennessee 29-25, Clemson 26-22
Series History: Tennessee holds an 11-6 all-time lead, with Clemson winning the most recent matchup in 2004.
Note: This is Clemson's seventh Orange Bowl appearance, going 4-2 previously including a win over Oklahoma in a 2015 Playoff Semifinal. Tennessee is 1-3 in four prior appearances, including a loss to Nebraska in 1998.
Vaughn Dalzell: Clemson -5.5
This will be the Cade Klubnik show! I think we see a breakout game for the freshman against a Tennessee defense that allowed 24 or more points in 7 out of 12 games this season.
Clemson's offense was held back the past two seasons by D.J. Uiagalelei, but sparks will fly in this one. The Vols will start Joe Milton, who will struggle against that Clemson front seven. Give me Clemson -5 and in moneyline parlays.
Brad Thomas: Clemson -5.5
Tennessee had a great season. Unfortunately, Hendon Hooker is out for the season and their two top pass catchers, Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt have opted out in preparation for the NFL Draft. Clemson's Myles Murphy will be out, but the Tigers have a lot of dogs on the defensive line to make up for his absence. Joe Milton is starting at quarterback and will not be able to lean on Tillman and Hyatt. Tennessee's 127th-ranked pass defense will have its hands full with Cade Klubnik.
Eric Froton: Clemson -5.5
Tennessee had a prolonged run at the CFP Playoffs until their Cinderella run was halted by Georgia in early November. Unfortunately, their offensive leader QB Hendon Hooker got injured late in the season, so we will see Michigan transfer Joe Milton under center, a significant downgrade. He will be without Biletnikoff winning WR Jalin Hyatt and fellow future NFL Draftee WR Cedric Tillman, so the Vols' vaunted fifth-rated passing attack will likely be a shell of its former self. UT's front-seven is a stout group that is tough to run on, but their secondary ranks 86th nationally and has been a problem all season.
Clemson is averaging 35 PPG despite the omnipresent struggles of former starting QB D.J. Uiagalelei (transfer portal) who was replaced late in the season by Cade Klubnik. Cade should be able to lift their 101st-ranked passing attack from their season-long slumber. On the other side of the ball Trenton Simpson and Myles Murphy have opted out, but the Tigers' D ranked 10th overall this year and will still field a solid defensive unit. I am confident the Tigers have enough talent remaining from the regular season to handle a depleted Tennessee team.
Zach Krueger: Clemson -5.5
Tennessee will be without quarterback Hendon Hooker and lead receivers Jalin Hyatt (67-1267-15) and Cedric Tillman (37-417-3). Quarterback Joe Milton is expected to start in place of Hooker, and excelled in limited duty this season, throwing for 720-7-0. However, it's worth noting nearly all of Milton's work came in mop up duty. His lone start on the season came against a Vanderbilt team. In that game he completed 52.4% of his passes while throwing for 147 yards and one touchdown. Milton lost his job to Hooker early in 2021. If you've ever watched Milton throw a football, it's easy to see why. Now, he'll look to throw through a Clemson defense that's expected to be without a handful of starters, but several key players, like DL Bryan Bresee, appear ready to go.
Adding to Clemson's good fortunes is quarterback Cade Klubnik, who should provide a boost to an offense that was bogged down by D.J. Uiagalelei for most of the season. Clemson laying just 4.5 points to a Tennessee team that's without its QB1, WR1 and WR2 feels like an easy one to smash. As a believer in Klubnik and non-believer in Milton, I'll pick the Tigers to win by a bit more than the five points they need to cover here.
Final Result: Tennessee 31, Clemson 14
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Alabama Crimson Tide (-6.5) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (Over/Under 56)
Kickoff: December 31 at 12:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Caesars Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana
Bowl Histories: Alabama 45-27-3, Kansas State 10-13
Series History: This is the first matchup between these two schools.
Note: This is Kansas State's first Sugar Bowl appearance. It's No. 17 for Alabama, the most of any school. The Crimson Tide are 9-7 including a win over Clemson in a 2018 Playoff Semifinal.
Vaughn Dalzell: Alabama -6.5
Now that Bryce Young and Will Anderson are in for Bama, the Tide have become the side I would rather back.
Alabama was hit hard by the transfer portal but will be ready for Will Howard, or Adrian Martinez, who would very rusty if he made an appearance.
Nick Saban is 21-7 on the ML in the postseason with Alabama and 20-5 as a favorite. Bama has won seven of the last eight as a favorite in the postseason and covered three of the past four.
Brad Thomas: Kansas State +6.5
As a diehard Bama guy, I want to take the Tide. It's hard, but backing K-State is the right thing to do. Even though guys like Bryce Young and Jamir Gibbs will be starting the game, I'd be shocked to see them play more than one quarter which will leave Alabama very thin everywhere on the field. Kansas State wants to finish its season strong and will play the second half against second and third-teamers. Take the points here.
Eric Froton: Alabama -6.5
It was quite a surprise when HC Nick Saban said none of his NFL Draftees will be opting out of the Bowl, which is a major boost for a Tide team that ranks 11th in offensive performance and 9th in defense. Though Bama won 10 games, they posted a sub 55% win expectancy four times this season, meaning they could have easily dropped four decisions despite losing just two in the always tough SEC.
The Wildcats overcame a mid-season injury to transfer starter QB Adrian Martinez thanks to backup QB Will Howard. Howard is one of the most experienced understudies in FBS, as he took over the offense when QB Skylar Thompson went down for the year in 2020. They are fresh off an emotional Big 12 Championship Game victory where Kansas State vanquished the undefeated TCU Horned Frogs to secure the title. Currently riding a four-game win streak, KSU is a very balanced team ranking 24th on offense, 29th in defensive performance and plays with the 98th slowest pace nationally.
Bama is still expected to play a good portion of their impact contributors, so I am going take a spurned Nick Saban who is out to prove that the Crimson Tide got screwed out of the last CFP Playoff spot.
Zach Krueger: Alabama -6.5
Alabama lost several players to the transfer portal, but quarterback Bryce Young (3007-27-5), running back Jahmyr Gibbs (136-850-7) and linebacker Will Anderson (17 TFLS, 10 sacks) are all expected to play. This is huge for the Tide, as both Young and Anderson could go in the top-three picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Shoot, they could go first and second overall. Alabama will face a battle-tested Kansas State squad that went 8-3-1 ATS while face the third-toughest schedule in the nation per Sports-Reference.com's SOS rating. Quarterback Will Howard (1423-15-2) has filled in admirably for the injured Adrian Martinez (1261-6-1), while running back Deuce Vaughn (271-1425-8) has been a true three-down back all season. In addition to his stellar rushing line, Vaughn has also caught 42 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
Kansas State's defense has held opponents to just 20.1 points per game on the year but will need to slow an Alabama defense that's ranked fourth in points per game at 40.8. The Tide were favored by as few as three points earlier this month but saw that line jump after it was announced Young, Gibbs and Anderson would play. While K-State's 9-3 record and 8-3-1 record ATS is impressive, I do not think they have faced a team quite like Bama, who likely also believes they were snubbed from a spot in the college football playoffs. I would not put it past Saban and company to coach/play with some added motivation in what will be the final game for several elite players. Give me the Tide.
Final Result: Alabama 45, Kansas State 20
Transperfect Music City Bowl
Iowa Hawkeyes (-2.5) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (Over/Under 31)
Kickoff: December 31 at 12:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
Site: Nissan Stadium – Nashville, Tennessee
Bowl Histories: Iowa 17-16-1, Kentucky 12-9
Series History: The first-ever matchup between these two teams came last year in the Citrus Bowl, which Kentucky won 20-17.
Note: This is Iowa's Music City Bowl debut. Kentucky has made five prior appearances, the most of any team, going 2-3 including a 2017 loss to Northwestern.
Vaughn Dalzell: Game Total UNDER 31.5
Only real men and women are playing the Under in Iowa versus Kentucky and I am a real one, unlike Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla, our two fade factories this season.
The Iowa offense is as bad as it gets in Power-5 College Football with 17.9 points per game (122nd) and the 122nd passing efficiency.
Both defenses rank 6th and 11th in the country in points per game, allowing 14.4 and 19.0. It's hard to see Iowa scoring enough points to win this game, but without Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez, I don't know how Kentucky scores points either. Take the Under 31.5 or 31.
Brad Thomas: Kentucky 1st Half Team Total UNDER 6.9
Quarterback Will Levis is out for Kentucky. Possibly more impactful for the Wildcats will be the absence of Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. I do not see how Kentucky will have much offensive success against this elite Iowa defense. Bowl games have gotten wild in the fourth quarter, so I am playing this one safe and taking Kentucky's team total in the first half.
Eric Froton: Kentucky ML
Starting quarterback Spencer Petras is injured and aiming for a spring return while his primary challenger Alex Padilla is in the portal, leaving QB Joey Labas to run the offense. Unfortunately, Labas will be without starting WRs Arland Bruce and Keagan Johnson, who are both in the portal. The issues with Iowa's offense are well documented, as they rank 125th in yards per play and 4th worst in overall offensive performance. No such issues on D however, as Iowa smother opponents to the tune of 1.2 points per drive (4th in FBS) while ranking tops nationally against the pass. Multiple key Hawkeye defenders who are draft eligible are still expected to play.
Kentucky HC Mark Stoops jettisoned OC Rick Scangarello after one listless season and brought back former OC Liam Cohen to try and recreate the magic he worked on QB Will Levis and the rest of the Wildcats offense in 2021. Levis has opted out so four-star freshman QB Destin Wade and QB Kaiya Sheron will both see action in his absence. RB Chris Rodriguez is opting-out while Kavosiey Smoke is in the portal, leaving Justin McClain to tote the rock. That could be a major problem for the 108th-rated UK rushing offense that struggled massively when CRod was suspended in the beginning of the year, failing to average 3.0 yards per carry in any of their first 5 games.
Both teams have suffered massive losses since the season ended. I feel like Kentucky has significantly more skill talent, Dane Key and Barion Brown in particular, to help their neophytes at quarterback make explosive plays. I will avoid that 31 point “service academy” O/U and take Kentucky ML.
Zach Krueger: Game Total UNDER 31
The total for this one is just so ridiculously low, but understandably so. Kentucky will be without quarterback Will Levis (2406-19-10) and running backs Chris Rodriguez (175-904-5) and Kavosiey Smoke. They'll face a stout Iowa defense that appears to have lost just one key player on defense, but they'll have to player with their third-string quarterback Joey Labas after losing Alex Padilla (transfer portal) and Spencer Petras (injury).
It's hard to imagine this game going below the 31-point total we're seeing here, but Iowa has played in six games this season that failed to crack 30 points. Iowa doesn't play offense. Kentucky would if they could, but they've lost every key player they'd need to have a chance against Iowa's defense. The under hitting in this one isn't as absurd as one would think.
Final Result: Iowa 21, Kentucky 0
Vrbo Fiesta Bowl
Michigan Wolverines (-7.5) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (Over/Under 58.5)
Kickoff: December 31 at 4:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: State Farm Stadium – Glendale, Arizona
Bowl Histories: Michigan 21-28, TCU 17-16-1
Series History: This is the first-ever matchup between these two schools.
Note: This is each team's second Fiesta Bowl appearance. Michigan beat Nebraska in 1986, while TCU lost to Boise State in 2010.
Vaughn Dalzell: Michigan Team Total OVER 33.5
TCU's defense allowed 31 or more points in five out of 13 games this season and Michigan's offense is one of the best units the Horned Frogs will see.
J.J. McCarthy had impressive outings over his past three starts (691 total yards, 7 TDs) to keep Michigan undefeated. With the Wolverines' running game, I can see five-plus touchdowns for Michigan with a chance at a National Championship appearance looming.
Brad Thomas: Michigan -7.5
TCU had a great season, and they deserve every accolade. However, they are up against a formidable opponent in this game. Despite losing Blake Corum, Michigan still has Donovan Edwards and the best offensive line in the country. Michigan is a team you do not want to find yourself down against. If TCU comes out flat, this could get out of hand early. I mean, come on. Michigan is first in net points per drive. They score when they have the ball, and their defense knows how to get off the field. I am okay with laying the 7.5 with Michigan.
Eric Froton: Michigan -7.5
Their resume is unassailable as the Wolverines beat every opponent on their schedule with a 96% or greater win expectancy in each, except for one game…Illinois. The Illini's top-ranked scoring defense is allowing just 12.3 points per game and was the one unit all season that was able to stand up to Michigan's vaunted offensive line that won it's second consecutive Joe Moore Award.
TCU has done a pretty incredible tightrope walk through the Big 12 this season, managing to somehow win three of their four games where they had a sub-50% win expectancy. The teams that gave them problems were not the highest caliber of opponent either, with barely bowl-eligible teams Kansas and Baylor giving them problems in addition to being outplayed by Kansas State in both of their meetings. The Baylor and Kansas State games in particular concern me, since HC Chris Klieman has the Wildcats playing a punishing, trench warfare-style of offense that wears opponents down. Michigan represents the apex of this philosophy. Can TCU's D that ranks 52nd in rush defense and 53rd in EPA/Play bow-up and trade blows with the Wolverines dominant offensive line in a way similar to Illinois?
Michigan is a brutal matchup for the Horned Frogs with UM having more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to maul them up front, which would spell certain doom for TCU. I do not think TCU can create enough explosive plays to challenge the Wolverines, so I am laying the points and Hailing to the Victors.
Zach Krueger: Michigan -7.5
TCU has been one of the more exciting stories of the season. Although a 31-28 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game nearly knocked them from their spot in the college football playoffs. Nevertheless, they're here now and looking to take down a Michigan team that has run the table to a 13-0 season while averaging over 40 points per game and surrendering just over 13 points per game. Michigan is down a handful of players in this one, with none more meaningful that Blake Corum (247-1463-18), who suffered a knee injury late in the season. Still, Michigan walked into Ohio State earlier this season, and with Corum sidelined, ripped off a dominant 45-23 to hand the Buckeyes their only loss of the regular season.
TCU has a talented roster, with quarterback Max Duggan (3321-30-4) leading the way. Running back Kendre Miller (216-1342-17) and wide receiver Quentin Johnston (53-903-5) will need to be at the top of their game if they hope to pull off the upset, but we've already seen them choke in their biggest game of the season. The Wolverines had a few close calls early in the season, but showed up big in the final month. For as fun as TCU has been, a powerhouse Big 10 team that repeatedly established its dominance within its own conference is hard to fade here. Still chasing his first appearance in a national championship game, I like Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines to end TCU's Cinderella story and cover in this one.
Final Result: TCU 51, Michigan 45
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
Georgia Bulldogs (-6.5) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (Over/Under 62.5)
Kickoff: December 31 at 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, Georgia
Bowl Histories: Memphis 5-8, Utah State 6-8
Series History: The lone prior matchup came in the 1993 Citrus Bowl, where Georgia won 21-14.
Note: This is Ohio State's Peach Bowl debut. Georgia has made six prior appearances, going 4-2 including a win over Cincinnati two years ago.
Vaughn Dalzell: Game Total UNDER 62.5
This is one of, if not, the toughest game to handicap, but everyone will say Georgia -6.5 is the easy bet. I'll settle for the Bulldogs in ML parlays, but I like the Under for my best bet in this game.
Georgia is ranked top 10 in scoring defense and yards allowed per game, while Ohio State is top 15 in both. I see one, if not, both defenses stepping up in this game, so I will take the Under 62.5.
Brad Thomas: Ohio State +6.5
This was a difficult handicap for me. Georgia has held every opponent this season to 22 points or less. They are known for their great defense and seem to be unbeatable. Yet, the Bulldogs do not get much pressure on the quarterback. They could have issues if they allow CJ Stroud time to sit back and find their talented receivers. Ohio State keeps this close with a massive game from Marvin Harrison Jr.; take his receiving yardage Over too. He is going for over 100.
Eric Froton: Game Total OVER 62.5
HC Kirby Smart has deftly restocked the starting roster after losing the majority of their legendary 2021 defense to the NFL, ranking number one against the rush and fifth against the pass. Their offense is nothing to write off either, as their 7.0 yards per play (4th in FBS) and 3.6 points per drive (7th) averages will attest. In fact, Georgia ranks first overall in net yards per play, net success rate and EPA Margin, showing why they are considered the top overall seed in the CFP Playoff. The Bulldogs were relatively untested all year long, scoring a 98%+ win expectancy in every game except for their rivalry game against Auburn (80%) where they still won 42-10 after pulling away late in the game. It's hard to poke many holes in the way Georgia has played over the past two years, which is why they are the favorites to win the National Championship again.
OSU was cruising along at 8-0 before getting hell from Northwestern in a 21-7 bad weather slog where NU held the Buckeyes' lethal offense to just 283 total yards and 2.9 yards per pass attempt. While that lackluster showing could be explained away as an anomaly, two weeks later Maryland traded shots with Ohio State until they finally pulled away in the fourth quarter after getting quite a scare from the Terps. Those too-close-for-comfort wins proved to be harbingers for the beating Michigan laid on OSU in The Game shortly thereafter.
Can DC Jim Knowles keep QB Stetson Bennett from gashing them with explosive plays like Michigan did? Ohio State is 9-1 to the Over in their last 10 games, while Georgia's defense allowed 20+ points to the far less capable offenses of Kent State, Missouri, Florida and LSU. I think this game clears the current O/U of 62.5 points.
Zach Krueger: Game Total UNDER 62
Ohio State will be without running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams in this one, but true freshman running back Dallan Hayden (102-510-5) filled in admirably down the stretch, rushing for back-to-back 100-yard games when featured as the lead back. As long as Ohio State has C.J. Stroud (they do), they have a chance. A 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist, Stroud threw for 3340-37-6 in what's expected to be his final season with the Buckeyes. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. (72-1157-12) and Emeka Egbuka (66-1039-9) stepped right in for the absent Jaxon Smith-Njigba, to help lead the Buckeyes to the second-most points per game, while OSU's defense allowed the 13th-fewest points per game (19.2).
For Georgia, the Bulldogs will run back their title defense with a nearly all of its key players from the 2022 season available. Stetson Bennett (3425-20-6), who was somehow a Heisman Trophy finalist as well, but could be taking the field without No. 1 receiver Ladd McConkey, who was injured in the SEC championship game and not spotted at the team's practice on December 28th. Fortunately for Bennett, he should have tight ends Brock Bowers (52-726-6) and Darnell Washington (26-417-2), along with their trio of running backs who have each rushed for 500+ yards. Georgia drew the short straw getting Ohio State in this matchup rather than TCU, making this one a bit trickier to decide. Georgia's defense remains one of the best in the nation, allowing just 12.8 points per game, and have shut down a handful of high-powered offenses this season. While their offense may not go for 40+ against Ohio State, I think they can also limit the Buckeyes' offense, giving the under a chance to hit in this one.
Final Result: Georgia 42, Ohio State 41