By Brad Carroll
Before we get to the main events of the college football bowl season, which of course is the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year's Eve, there are four more games that should catch your interest Wednesday afternoon and night.
We preview, analyze and our four college football experts pick against the spread the Birmingham Bowl, Belk Bowl, Music City Bowl and Holiday Bowl below. You can check out our past, present and future bowl game previews and picks here. And follow us on Twitter here for all of the updates and links you could want from college football.
Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3), Birmingham, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Auburn -3; Memphis +3
Analysis: This game is a tale of what might have been. Early on in the season, Auburn was a trendy national championship pick, but struggled to beat Jacksonville State in its second game, then lost two straight, to LSU and Mississippi State, to watch those lofty expectations crash. The Tigers finished the season 2-4 as well, so there was no rebound. Auburn actually allows more points on defense (27.3) than it scores on offense (27.2), which is unheard of from a major SEC program. Memphis smashed onto the national scene when it defeated then-No. 13 Ole Miss 37-24 to improve to 6-0 and had everyone talking about a possible Playoff buster. The Tigers won two more games after that, but a 45-20 loss to Navy, and then losses to Houston and Temple, destroyed any hope the Tigers had at playing in a major bowl. Memphis did beat SMU 63-0 in the regular season finale. Memphis averages 42.7 points per game on offense and allows 27 points on defense. It would be a nice season for the Tigers to win 10 games, but Auburn should have too much talent not to win this game.
Brad's Score: Auburn 31, Memphis 27
Craig's Score: Memphis 24, Auburn 21 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Auburn 17, Memphis 13
Matt's Score: Memphis 42, Auburn 29 (upset pick)
NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4), Charlotte, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Mississippi State -6; NC State +6
Analysis: Mississippi State was 8-0 against unranked teams and 0-4 against ranked teams. NC State won its first four games against sub-par competition, then lost five of its final eight, with the defeats all coming against strong teams. So the similarities are there for both programs in this matchup. Mississippi State averages 33 points per game on offense, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who has 35 total touchdowns with just three interceptions. The defense allows 22.8 points per game. NC State averages 33.7 points per game on offense and allows 23.8 on defense. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has 19 touchdown passes against just four interceptions. Both teams will be looking to end rough seasons on a high note, but the better talent is on the Mississippi State sideline, with Prescott being the biggest advantage.
Brad's Score: Mississippi State 45, NC State 35
Craig's Score: Mississippi State 28, NC State 21
Glenn's Score: Mississippi State 42, NC State 28
Matt's Score: Mississippi State 56, NC State 21
Music City Bowl
Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Louisville (7-5), Nashville, 7 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Texas A&M +4.5; Louisville -4.5
Analysis: As is the case with so many of these early bowls, the two teams playing had big expectations coming into the season, only to fail to live up to that hype. Texas A&M started the season 5-0 and reached No. 9 in the rankings, but lost its biggest game of the young season, 41-23 to Alabama. The Aggies next game was even worse, managing just a field goal in a 23-3 loss to Ole Miss. A&M would end up losing four of its last seven games overall, with no quality victories in the bunch. Texas A&M, with quarterback Kyle Allen, averages 28.3 points per game. Allen, however, left the program on Dec. 10, and freshman quarterback Kyle Murray, who was considered the next great A&M passer, left the program a week later. So, the Aggies are forced to start junior college transfer Jake Hubenak, the only scholarship quarterback left on the roster. Luckily the A&M defense is better than in year's past, allowing 21.6 points per game. Louisville could never fully get started this season, losing its first three games, to Auburn, Houston and Clemson. But the Cardinals played better after that tough stretch, winning four in a row at one point and finished with victories in five of their last six games. Lamar Jackson took over the quarterback duties as the season went along, and he ended up leading the team in passing and rushing, scoring 19 total touchdowns. The freshman quarterback is only going to get better. Louisville averages 28.8 points per game on offense and allows 24.3 on defense. The Aggies are in disarray and Louisville has its future ahead of itself, so the Cardinals win.
Brad's Score: Louisville 30, Texas A&M 17
Craig's Score: Texas A&M 30, Louisville 28 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Louisville 38, Texas A&M 35
Matt's Score: Texas A&M 49, Louisville 30 (upset pick)
No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3), San Diego, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: USC -3.5; Wisconsin +3.5
Analysis: This will have a Rose Bowl-type feel in the Holiday Bowl, as the Pac-12 and Big Ten battle in the postseason. Southern Cal has had so many ups and downs this season, it's difficult to believe it all happened in one year. There was the firing of coach Steve Sarkisian, which had more to do with alcohol than results on the field. Athletic Director Pat Hayden collapsed on the sideline prior to a game against Notre Dame, having to be rushed to the hospital. The Trojans lost three of four early in the season, then upset then-No. 3 Utah to start a four-game win streak. USC then lost two of its last three, with the win coming against rival UCLA. Finally, interim coach Clay Helton was made the permanent head coach, for now at least. It's been quite the year for a team that averages 34.9 points per game on offense and allows 25.9 on defense. Wisconsin is seeking a 10-win season, although it has done so quietly. The Badgers had a favorable schedule, however, and lost to the three best teams they played, to Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern. Wisconsin averaged 27.1 points on offense and has a shut-down defense, allowing just 13.1 points per game. Still, with a new coach and new start, the Trojans should be plenty motivated to beat the Badgers.
Brad's Score: USC 28, Wisconsin 21
Craig's Score: USC 24, Wisconsin 21
Glenn's Score: USC 28, Wisconsin 20
Matt's Score: USC 63, Wisconsin 21