By Brad Carroll
Finally, we've reached the point where the bowl games take on a whole new meaning. Finally, a new year is upon us, which in college football, represents the beginning of an epic conclusion to the season. But before we get to the championship battle between Florida State and Auburn next Monday night, we have the traditional New Year's Day bowl lineup to enjoy first. Here we preview and our college football experts pick against the spread the Gator Bowl between No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska, the Heart of Dallas Bowl between UNLV and North Texas, the Outback Bowl between No. 16 LSU and Iowa and the Capital One Bowl between No. 9 South Carolina and No. 19 Wisconsin.
Nebraska vs. No. 22 Georgia, 12 p.m., ESPN2
The Spread: Nebraska +8.5; Georgia -8.5
Brad's Breakdown: Nebraska and Georgia meet for the second straight time in a New Year's Day bowl game, but the circumstances surrounding the two meetings couldn't be more different. Last year, Georgia came into the game ranked seventh in the nation after losing the SEC title game to Alabama, coming just a few feet away from playing for a national championship. Nebraska came into the game ranked 16th after losing in the Big Ten championship game to unranked Wisconsin. Georgia ending up winning the Capital One Bowl, 45-31, over Nebraska. Both thought bigger things were on the horizon, but this season hasn't played out nearly that way. Georgia was one of the few national title favorites coming into the season but injuries and four losses later, the Bulldogs took a major step back. On top of that, quarterback Aaron Murray was lost for the season to a torn ACL in late November. Georgia's low point came in a loss to Vanderbilt. Nebraska lost four games as well this season and many were calling for coach Bo Pelini to be fired. But Pelini remains even though the Cornhuskers had bad losses to Minnesota and Iowa. It's been a horrible season for the Huskers, even though they won eight games. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez likely won't play either, making this year's version a battle of backups. Both teams are heading in opposite directions here, with Georgia still having a shot to beat anyone (it lost on a desperation, 74-yard touchdown pass against No. 2 Auburn and beat rival Georgia Tech in the regular season finale). Nebraska is limping into this game and should be in worse shape afterward.
Brad's Pick: Georgia 38, Nebraska 24
Craig's Pick: Georgia 38, Nebraska 24
Glenn's Pick: Georgia 24, Nebraska 17
Heart of Dallas Bowl
UNLV vs. North Texas, 12 p.m., ESPNU
The Spread: UNLV +7; North Texas -7
Brad's Breakdown: I hate to put down any team playing a bowl game, as it's always much-deserved, but why in the world is the Heart of Dallas Bowl being played on New Year's Day? There was a time when New Year's Day football was as big as it got in college football. That has changed since the BCS came into existence, but it's still special. Having UNLV and North Texas playing on New Year's just doesn't belong. Put it in the days leading up to New Year's and there's no problem. It most likely would get to play on a real station as well, instead of ESPNU, which is better for all players and fans of the schools. Both UNLV and North Texas are more than happy to be part of any bowl, as both have experienced long droughts. UNLV hasn't played in a bowl since 2000, while North Texas hasn't played a bowl games since 2004. Both teams are pretty close offensively, averaging right around 31 points per game, with UNLV gaining 423.8 yards per game and North Texas 411.6. The big difference is defense, as North Texas allows just 18.1 points per game and is 27th in the nation in yards allowed. UNLV's defense allows 31.5 points per game. The Mean Green's defense makes all the difference in Dallas.
Brad's Pick: North Texas 31, UNLV 21
Craig's Pick: North Texas 27, UNLV 21
Glenn's Pick: UNLV 31, North Texas 24
Iowa vs. No. 16 LSU, 1 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Iowa +8; LSU -8
Brad's Breakdown: LSU won't be at full strength in the Outback Bowl, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger is out for the season with a knee injury. The Tigers will start true freshman Anthony Jennings against a very good Iowa defense. It'll be a baptism under fire for sure for the young quarterback. Jennings completed just 10 passes this season, but he did have one impressive drive, taking the Tigers 99 yards for a go-ahead touchdown against Arkansas. Jennings threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to finish the drive. Against Iowa, Jennings should have plenty of help, as he'll be throwing to the only pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers in school history, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The Tigers also have running back Jeremy Hill to take the pressure off the passing game. Hill had 184 rushing yards in LSU's victory over Auburn in September, Auburn's only loss this season. LSU averages 37 points per game on offense and 22.7 points on defense. Iowa is all about defense and comes into this game with a three-game win streak, allowing just over 17 points per game in that span. On the season, the Hawkeyes allow 18.7 points per game, 11th best in the nation, and 303.2 yards per game, seventh best. Iowa averages 27.3 points per game on offense. This game will come down to how well Jennings handles the big stage. Jennings, however, should have plenty of motivation to prove himself as the future starter with the Tigers and will lead LSU to a big win over Iowa.
Brad's Pick: LSU 30, Iowa 20
Craig's Pick: LSU 31, Iowa 13
Glenn's Pick: LSU 27, Iowa 10
Capital One Bowl
No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 19 Wisconsin, 1 p.m., ABC
The Spread: South Carolina +1; Wisconsin -1
Brad's Breakdown: This game will feature some old-school football Wednesday afternoon, as both teams are built on the running game and defense. South Carolina rushes for 205.3 yards per game and allows 20 points per game on defense. The Gamecocks also have Jadeveon Clowney, who arrived on the national stage in last year's Outback Bowl, when he made the tackle heard around the world. Clowney will enter the NFL draft after this game and will be a likely top five pick. Wisconsin rushes for 283 yards per game and allows 14.8 points per game on defense. Badgers linebacker Chris Borland was the Big Ten defensive player of the year and an All-American pick. South Carolina has signature victories this season over Central Florida, Missouri and Clemson. The Gamecocks lost to Georgia early and Tennessee in overtime in mid-season. Wisconsin won nine games but comes into this matchup off a loss to Penn State. The Badgers also lost to Arizona State and Ohio State. Wisconsin's best wins came against Iowa, BYU and Minnesota in the final month of the season. These two teams are extremely even, but the difference could come down to a couple of big plays by the quarterback, and South Carolina's Connor Shaw has the better chance to do that.
Brad's Pick: South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 21
Craig's Pick: Wisconsin 27, South Carolina 20
Glenn's Pick: South Carolina 31, Wisconsin 24
Brad's Bowl Record: 10-13 (spread); 13-10 (straight-up); 2-5 (upset picks)
Brad's Season: 100-94-2 (spread); 144-52 (straight-up); 9-17 (upset picks)
Craig's Bowl Record: 13-10 (spread); 14-9 (straight-up); 2-4 (upset picks)
Craig's Season: 97-97-2 (spread); 145-51 (straight-up); 9-17 (upset picks)
Glenn's Bowl Record: 18-5 (spread); 17-6 (straight-up); 3-2 (upset picks)
Glenn's Season: 102-92-2 (spread); 143-53 (straight-up); 13-23 (upset picks)