By Brad Carroll
Unlike the failed experiment of playing college football’s two semifinal games on New Year’s Eve, where the pool of potential viewers drops dramatically, as people leave behind their televisions to celebrate wherever they choose, the College Football Playoff will have their rightful place as the two main events on New Year’s Day, which is simply college football’s day.
In addition to what should be a pair of great games to determine who will play for a national title, with Georgia and Oklahoma up first in the Rose Bowl, followed by Alabama and Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, there are three other games to keep you interested in the lead-in, the Outback Bowl, Peach Bowl and Citrus Bowl.
Our college football experts preview and pick against the point spread those five games below. Make sure to check out all of our past, present and future college football bowl previews and picks here. Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with all of our content.
Monday, Jan. 1
Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4), 12, ESPN2
Spread: Michigan -7.5
Brad’s Breakdown: Michigan was playing real well until running into Wisconsin and Ohio State to end the regular season, both of which ended in losses. The Wolverines managed to stay with the rival Buckeyes for a while before losing by 11, so that can be seen as a positive if they so choose. Michigan’s MO hasn’t changed at all this season, as its defense is great while its offense leaves a lot to be desired. The Wolverines average 25.8 points on offense, while allowing just 18.3 on defense. South Carolina lost two of its last five regular season games, but those defeats came against Georgia and Clemson, two teams in the College Football Playoff. The Gamecocks, however, might have an even worse offense than Michigan, averaging 24.1 points per game. South Carolina’s solid on defense, allowing a couple ticks under 21 per game, but allowed rival Clemson to score 34 in a 24-point loss. The touchdown-plus point spread is scary, but there’s no reason for Michigan to not win this game by double-digits.
Brad’s Final: Michigan 31, South Carolina 21 (Michigan)
Craig’s Final: Michigan 38, South Carolina 28 (Michigan)
Glenn’s Final: South Carolina 24, Michigan 21 (South Carolina)
Matt’s Final: Michigan 28, South Carolina 20 (Michigan)
No. 12 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 7 Auburn (10-3), 12:30, ESPN
Spread: Auburn -10
Brad’s Breakdown: This game could be the most anticipated matchup of the bowl season not including the College Football Playoff semifinals. Everyone wants to see exactly how good UCF is and if it was indeed unfairly left out of the Playoff, and really not even considered in the first place. The Knights are undefeated, cementing that with a pair of wild victories to close the regular season, against South Florida and Memphis. But UCF is still a huge underdog to the SEC’s Auburn, which lost to Georgia in the SEC championship game that kept it out of the Playoff. Before that loss, the Tigers were on fire, beating Georgia and Alabama before crashing back to earth with a blowout loss in the rematch against the Bulldogs. The biggest question in this game is if the high-powered UCF offense can continue to put up points against an Auburn defense that allows just 17.3 points per game.There is also the motivation factor that plays into many of these bowl games. On one hand, UCF is out to prove it belongs among the nation’s elite, and beating Auburn is a first step toward making that happen. On the other, Auburn watched its national title dreams go up in smoke in the SEC title game and will have to find a way to get motivated to play in a lesser bowl against a team it’s favored to beat by 10 points. Give me the team with something to prove pulling off the big upset.
Brad’s Final: UCF 35, Auburn 34 (UCF)
Craig’s Final: Auburn 31, UCF 24 (UCF)
Glenn’s Final: UCF 31, Auburn 28 (UCF)
Matt’s Final: UCF 38, Auburn 35 (UCF)
No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-3), 1, ABC
Spread: LSU -3
Brad’s Breakdown: Notre Dame and LSU finished the regular seasons in completely different ways. Notre Dame was blown out by Miami, ruining its College Football Playoff dreams in the process, then barely survived against Navy before losing easily to Stanford in the finale. LSU had a rough start but finished strong, beating Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M easily, which followed a 14-point loss to Alabama. Both defenses are strong, as expected, and Notre Dame averages a touchdown better than LSU on offense, giving the Irish the edge there. But LSU is rolling and its defense should keep the Irish in check, leading to a win in the Citrus Bowl.
Brad’s Final: LSU 28, Notre Dame 21 (LSU)
Craig’s Final: LSU 20, Notre Dame 14 (LSU)
Glenn’s Final: Notre Dame 24, LSU 21 (Notre Dame)
Matt’s Final: Notre Dame 20, LSU 19 (Notre Dame)
No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1), 5, ESPN
Spread: Georgia -2
Brad’s Breakdown: Many believe Georgia is the best team in college football, and it would be hard to argue against that point. But for me, the Bulldogs aren’t even going to make it out of this game. Oklahoma is going to win and here’s why. Baker Mayfield, while he has his issues character wise, is a pure winner on the field. The quarterback still has doubters to prove wrong, after all he started his career as a walk-on, and even though a Heisman trophy win is nice, winning this game against an SEC powerhouse will be everything he needs to validate his already illustrious career. He might even improve his NFL draft stock in the process. Georgia’s defense allows just 13.2 points per game, but Mayfield is the guy to take that unit to the limit. Oklahoma allows a ton of points on defense, and if the Sooners offense struggles it’s over, but if this game turns into a shootout, it favors the Sooners. While I don’t see this game completely going in the shootout direction, there is just no way the Bulldogs defense will be able to hold Mayfield and company in check like they’ve done to so many teams before them. It won’t be easy, but Mayfield and Oklahoma will get the job done against a talented LSU defense. Oklahoma might not win a national title, but they will get to play for one.
Brad’s Final: Oklahoma 38, Georgia 31 (Oklahoma)
Craig’s Final: Georgia 34, Oklahoma 28 (Georgia)
Glenn’s Final: Oklahoma 42, Georgia 31 (Oklahoma)
Matt’s Final: Georgia 24, Oklahoma 21 (Georgia)
No. 4 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (12-1), 8:45, ESPN
Spread: Alabama -3
Brad’s Breakdown: The first thing I thought when No. 1 Clemson was paired with No. 4 Alabama was how unfair it was to the Tigers. Clemson would likely be favored against either Oklahoma or Georgia, but against Alabama, it’s a three-point underdog. But that spread is OK with me, as it makes this game the easiest to pick perhaps of the entire bowl season. Clemson is going to win this game and play for another national championship. Both teams are similar stat-wise across the board, with Alabama’s defense allowing 11.5 points per game to Clemson’s 12.8, and Alabama’s offense scoring 39.1 points per game to Clemson’s 35.4. But the difference has been proven on the field over the last month of the season. Clemson was great, beating three ranked teams (NC State, South Carolina and Miami), and totally dismantling the Hurricanes in the ACC championship game, 38-3. Yes, the Tigers are ready to go. For Alabama, it got into the College Football Playoff with a lot of help, passing over Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, in the process. (Although no real argument could have been made to put the Buckeyes over the Tide). The Crimson Tide got past LSU and Mississippi State in close games, with the latter being a game Bama easily could and should have lost, before getting a beat down from Auburn in the Iron Bowl, 26-14. For once, Alabama and Nick Saban come into a Playoff game wounded. Clemson will take advantage from not only a momentum standpoint, but from a talent one as well. It should be another close game, but Clemson will play for a national championship again.
Brad’s Final: Clemson 27, Alabama 23 (Clemson)
Craig’s Final: Clemson 27, Alabama 24 (Clemson)
Glenn’s Final: Alabama 24, Clemson 20 (Alabama)
Matt’s Final: Alabama 30, Clemson 28 (Clemson)