It’s time for another bowl season — and that means filling out picks sheets to show off your college-football knowledge. To give you an edge, we’ve assembled our college-expert picks for each of the games from Thursday into the New Year’s weekend.
In this installment, Jim Fuller ranks his picks from most to least confident:
#1 – Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Utah Utes
Utah knows something about taking down a team with national championship aspirations with two convincing wins over Oregon. Yes, Oregon did beat Ohio State and in Columbus, but with all the offensive firepower on the team, the Buckeyes should be able to shake off the frustration of not playing for the national championship with a win over a very good and battle-tested Utah team.
Winner: Ohio State
#2 – Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati didn’t always earn style points in running the table, but 130 FBS teams started this season and the Bearcats are the lone undefeated team.
If this was a contest picking against the spread, it would be tempting to go with the American Athletic Conference championship since Alabama failed to cover in three of its last four games when listed by the Las Vegas odds as a double-digit favorite. Since this is simply picking the winning team, Alabama looks hard to beat in this one even with the loss of top receiver John Metchie.
The only question is if Alabama will look more like the team that steamrolled previously undefeated Georgia in the SEC Championship Game or the one that needed to rally late in the fourth quarter before winning in overtime against a mediocre Auburn team.
#3 – Georgia Bulldogs vs. Michigan Wolverines
Alabama came up with the blueprint to beat the mighty Georgia Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide, one of the rare times the Las Vegas odds listed them as an underdog, exploited a secondary that lost most of its key players from the 2020 team to the NFL and took an early lead to force Georgia to get away from its usual ball-control offense.
Michigan does not have Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young at quarterback and can they make enough plays in the passing game to stay in the game? The Wolverines rank seventh in the Big Ten in passing offense and ran more than 60 percent of the time. Although Michigan has a top-level offensive line, the Wolverines could have their hands full with the ferocious Georgia front seven that is loaded with top NFL prospects.
#4 – Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State ranks last among 130 FBS teams in passing defense, allowing 4,052 yards in 12 games. Although Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett won’t be Pittsburgh’s quarterback in this one, the struggling Michigan State secondary still has to contend with All-American receiver Jordan Addison.
The Panthers led the ACC in rushing defense, and Michigan State leading rusher Kenneth Walker also opted out of the Peach Bowl. The Panthers also rank second nationally in sacks and fourth in tackles to loss, so they can wreak havoc if the Spartans look to move the ball through the air.
Pittsburgh had the fifth-best odds to win the ACC Coastal Division title and obviously proved those naysayers wrong.
#5 – North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
These two teams should be playing more frequently but this could be a treat. It figures to come down to style of play. If North Carolina’s potent offense gets rolling, the Gamecocks will likely have a hard time matching touchdown for touchdown. If South Carolina’s defense can lean on the Tar Heels and it is a close game down the stretch, perhaps the Gamecocks will be able to pull off the upset.
Highly touted North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell’s passing numbers have regressed in each of the last three seasons, but he has run for more than 800 yards so his dual-threat capabilities could make life difficult for the South Carolina defense.
This is the first time in the last five meetings that the college football spreads list North Carolina as a favorite over South Carolina.
Winner: North Carolina
#6 – Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This is more about the quality of the opposition down the stretch than the personnel.
Since Notre Dame suffered its lone loss of the season against Cincinnati, the Fighting Irish played seven games and none of those opponents finished the regular season with a winning record.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State rallied past rival Oklahoma to secure the program’s first Big 12 Championship Game appearance where one shoestring tackle kept the Cowboys from beating Baylor and potentially being one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff field.
Oklahoma State leads the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, and the ability to disrupt the Notre Dame offense could be the difference. The Cowboys will be without running back Dezmon Jackson, who has entered the transfer portal.
— NCAA Transfer Portal (@RivalsPortal) December 21, 2021
Winner: Oklahoma State
#7 – Wisconsin Badgers vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State had better have its passing game ready to roll because trying to run the ball against Wisconsin is a losing proposition. The Badgers could join the 2016 Alabama team as the only FBS defenses to allow less than 70 rushing yards per game. The Badgers figure to get dynamic freshman Braelon Allen the ball early and often against an Arizona State team that struggled to stop the run in its four losses.
#8 – Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
It isn’t often you can say that a Big Ten team is more battle-tested than one against the SEC, but this is one such case. Penn State owns one win against the SEC with a 28-20 victory over Auburn, although the college football odds listed the Nittany Lions as a four-point favorite. The second half of the season was one brutal test after another with losses to Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions could easily have gone 4-0 in those games.
Arkansas has an amazing balance on offense with 2,608 rushing yards and 2,683 passing yards, but Penn State is due to win a close game against a quality opponent.
Winner: Penn State
#9 – Purdue Boilermakers vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Another Big Ten/SEC matchup. Tennessee has allowed more sacks than any other SEC team. Although future NFL defensive end George Karlaftis joins Purdue leading receiver David Bell as key players opting out of the Music City Bowl, the Boilermakers could still make life difficult for whoever is at quarterback for Tennessee, as Hendon Hooker is questionable for this game. The combined record of the five FBS teams that Tennessee defeated to become bowl eligible is 23-37, so will be playing close to home be enough to end the season on a winning note?
#10 – Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Boise State Broncos
Central Michigan was tough to beat at home but that was not the case when it hit the road. Boise State is the top-scoring defense in the Mountain West. The Broncos lost by one point to Big 12 finalist Oklahoma State and beat nationally ranked BYU on the road. Will the physical Boise State front seven take control of this one and slow down Central Michigan’s Lew Nichols, the nation’s leading rusher?
Winner: Boise State
#11 – Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Kentucky Wildcats
NFL legend Al Davis would have loved this Iowa team that follows his motto “Just Win Baby” perfectly. Other than the ball-hawking skills in the secondary, there isn’t much about Iowa that blows people away, but the Hawkeyes did enough winning to secure a spot in the Big Ten title game. Veteran coach Kirk Ferentz has led Iowa to four straight bowl games, and even though they are one of two Big Ten teams to average less than 300 yards per game, the defense should be able to slow down a Kentucky team that stumbled down the stretch after a strong start.
#12 – Miami Hurricanes vs. Washington State Cougars
There have been some departures since Manny Diaz was let go and Mario Cristobal was hired as the Miami head coach. Still, with the way freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was throwing the ball around late in the season, this could be a chance for Miami to end a disappointing season on a high note. Washington State won’t make it easy, as the Cougars are one of the best teams in the Pac-12 at defending the pass.
#13 – Ole Miss Rebels vs. Baylor Bears
The best advice for this one is to flip a coin, then flip it again and then a third time. This could be the most closely matched game of the ones we are picking.
Baylor is the newly crowned Big 12 champions and the Bears did that by being physical on both sides of the ball. Former linebacker Abram Smith is an absolute battering ram as Baylor’s top rusher. The defense, led by a pair of hard-hitting safeties helped, Baylor complete a remarkable turnaround. Ole Miss is tied for ninth in FBS with 40 sacks while Matt Corral is an elite quarterback who should have benefited from having more than a month between games after he was slowed by injuries late in the season.
Baylor already rewarded those who bet online and went with the Bears to win the Big 12 title with the eighth-best odds coming into the season. Can the Bears wrap up their remarkable 2021 season with a bowl win?