By Brad Carroll
Finally, New Year's Day college football is here, and the historic College Football Playoff will take place Thursday night with a pair of national semifinal games. While everyone can't wait for those two games to kick off, there is a threesome of bowl games leading up to it that feature huge matchups with big-time programs. The Outback Bowl has No. 19 Auburn and No. 18 Wisconsin, the Cotton Bowl Classic features No. 8 Michigan State and No. 5 Baylor and the Citrus Bowl has No. 16 Missouri and No. 25 Minnesota.
We preview and our college football experts pick those games against the spread. Follow us on Twitter for all of our college football bowl picks and more.
Tampa, 12 p.m., ESPN2
No. 19 Auburn (8-4) vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (10-3)
The Spread: Auburn -6.5; Wisconsin +6.5
Brad's Breakdown: Auburn plays this game with heavy hearts after wide receiver Jakell Mitchell was shot and killed just two weeks ago at an apartment complex near campus. He was the fourth Auburn player to have died in the past two and a half years. That could have an effect on the Tigers players as they take on Wisconsin. Auburn will wear Mitchell's No. 31 on their helmets, so he could also be a source of motivation. The Tigers lost three of their final four games of the regular season, to Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, with the win coming against Samford. Wisconsin will have Barry Alvarez coaching the team after Gary Andersen surprisingly left the Badgers for Oregon State, something that shocked everyone from inside and outside of the program. Wisconsin had won seven games in a row to close out the regular season and qualify for the Big Ten title game. But Ohio State, with a third-string quarterback, put a hurting on the Badgers, winning 59-0. This game will feature a whole lot of running, as Auburn is 12th in the nation averaging 258.5 yard per game on the ground, while Wisconsin is fourth overall, averaging 314 per game. Wisconsin has two more victories than the Tigers, but Auburn is far and away the better team and will win handily.
Brad's Score: Auburn 38, Wisconsin 24
Craig's Score: Auburn 31, Wisconsin 20
Glenn's Score: Auburn 35, Wisconsin 28
Matt's Score: Auburn 38, Wisconsin 20
Cotton Bowl Classic
Arlington, Tex., 12:30 p.m., ESPN
No. 8 Michigan State (10-2) vs. No. 5 Baylor (11-1)
The Spread: Michigan State +3; Baylor -3
Brad's Breakdown: Baylor should be one angry team against Michigan State, as it was the first team left out of the College Football Playoff's final four. The Bears, who lost just once this season, to West Virginia, and defeated TCU for one of the best victories of the year, will have to settle for a Cotton Bowl invite against a team that faltered down the stretch, ruining their own Playoff aspirations. Michigan State lost the season opener at Oregon, but remained in contention by winning six straight games. Those hopes were destroyed when the Spartans were beaten 49-37 by Ohio State in early November. They won their final three games of the regular season. For the Bears, they would love nothing more than to beat a Big Ten representative badly on the national stage, that is if they aren't already defeated by not playing in the bowl game they preferred. Baylor has the nation's best scoring offense, averaging 48.8 points per game. Michigan State is seventh in scoring, at 43.1 points per game, and has one of the nation's best defenses, allowing 19.9 points per game, 15th overall. But in its two biggest games, against Oregon and Ohio State, Michigan State allowed 46 and 49 points, respectively. Baylor needs to make a statement to set up its future chances at making the College Football Playoff and will get the job done against a tough Spartans team.
Brad's Score: Baylor 49, Michigan State 35
Craig's Score: Baylor 38, Michigan State 31
Glenn's Score: Baylor 35, Michigan State 30
Matt's Score: Baylor 56, Michigan State 24
Orlando, 1 p.m., ABC
No. 16 Missouri (10-3) vs. No. 25 Minnesota (8-4)
The Spread: Missouri -5; Minnesota +5
Brad's Breakdown: Minnesota is playing in its first New Year's Day bowl game in 53 years and goes for its first nine-win season since 2003 and just second in 110 years. It's been a obvious resurgent season for the Golden Gophers under Big Ten coach of the year Jerry Kill. Minnesota started the year 7-2, including a bad loss to Illinois and another to TCU. After coming close against then-No. 8 Ohio State, losing by seven, Minnesota upset Nebraska on the road. But the Gophers finished the regular season with a road loss to Wisconsin. Missouri surprised many on its own, making it back to the SEC title game after given little chance to do so even late in the season. The Tigers did lose to No. 1 Alabama, 42-13, in that game, but had a solid season nonetheless. Missouri finished with six straight victories before the conference title game, beating Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas along the way. Neither team scores much and both defenses are solid, but the edge goes to Missouri on the defensive side, which is the difference in a Tigers victory.
Brad's Score: Missouri 28, Minnesota 21
Craig's Score: Missouri 28, Minnesota 24
Glenn's Score: Missouri 27, Minnesota 24
Matt's Score: Minnesota 38, Missouri 30 (upset pick)
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