Updated: Dec 28, 2021
It's Monday, and you know what that means... time to make some college football bowl game and playoff picks?
Ok, not gonna lie, that one sounded weird, but at the same time, after a three-week lay-off following the conference championship games, it only felt right that I swing back for one last dance in the 2021 college football season by making some bowl picks and predictions. And of course, throwing down my bets on the two College Football Playoff games on Friday.
With that said, this article comes with one, extra stern warning: Be very, very wary betting bowl games. By now anyone reading an article like this knows that bowl games are a total crap shoot - you never know which teams are excited to be at their bowl games, which aren't, and in a twist new the last 3-4 years, who will opt out of even minor games. Heck, even as we go to print here, we still don't have a full list of opt outs, as stars like Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave haven't officially announced if they'll be playing.
Oh, and on top of everything else, we now have Covid concerns after several games have been cancelled, some just hours before kickoff.
Still, the show must go on - here are all our bowl betting picks, with odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook - which has a great deal for first time users.
Also, for more bowl coverage listen to today's Aaron Torres Pod above.
Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs. NC State (-2), Tuesday, December 28th, 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
If you've read the picks all season long or listened to "College Football Betting with Aaron Torres" you know that we've harped on one big thing with UCLA: They do two things extremely well, and two things extremely poorly. The Bruins run the ball and defend the run at an elite level (in the Top 20 nationally in both categories) and are abysmal passing the ball and defending the pass. They actually rank 110th nationally in pass defense.
So essentially the way to beat UCLA - something that everyone who had success against UCLA did this season - is to be able to stop the run and pass the ball.
If you can stop the run and pass the ball you can beat UCLA.
Well, NC State ranked No. 19 in the country in pass offense, with Devin Leary throwing for at least 300 yards in four of their last five games, and they also rank No. 20 nationally in run defense.
Put simply this is a bad matchup for UCLA.
NC State is the Wolfpack I want to be in on this one.
Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma (TBA) vs. Oregon, Wednesday, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
So right as I was prepping this article DraftKings pulled this line off the board - so maybe they know something here that the public doesn't yet.
Or maybe they just see the writing on the wall, as Oregon will be missing close to 30 players from their opening day roster for this game, between opt outs, transfers and injuries.
Which is one of the reasons I'm rolling with the Sooners here.
The other: I just believe Oklahoma is more motivated. Yes, this is the "interim" bowl, with both teams losing their head coaches. But I genuinely feel like there are two different emotions at play here.
It feels to me like Oklahoma players were blindsided by Lincoln Riley's departure. Everyone could've bailed on the program, and some did - but many stuck around too, notably Caleb Williams. If he didn't believe in this team and program, you don't think he would've looked for a better option for himself? And most everyone seems to believe in him as well, with top receiver Marvin Mims electing to stay in Norman, and Theo Wease - another elite receiver - pulling his name out of the transfer portal.
Then there is Oregon, which seemed mostly just sad and disappointed with the departure of Mario Cristobal. Yes, he left for his dream job, but that one seemed like a more emotional good-bye, and I'm guessing that this team has a little bit harder time getting excited for this game, especially with so many guys missing.
Again, there's no line, but I'd play this game up to Oklahoma at -7.5. Also, because Oklahoma has a few key opt outs on defense, I'd take the over up to about 60 or so.
Music City Bowl: Tennessee (-5.5) vs. Purdue, Thursday, 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
While I do think that the whole "who's excited to be there and who's not" element of bowl season can be a bit overrated, I do think it's appropriate here. Especially for Tennessee.
A year ago, the Vols program was a complete mess, going through a coaching change and no one was sure what the future held. I go on radio in Knoxville every week, and coming into the season any bowl game would be considered a major success - if Tennessee was even allowed to participate.
Now, coming off a seven-win season, with one of the most dynamic offenses in college football, this fan-base is fired up. And that's on top of the fact that this game is being played in the Vols home-state. With Hendon Hooker announcing his return, I genuinely believe that the Vols are looking at this game as one to build momentum for the 2022 season.
Then there's the motivation factor for Purdue. And it's not to say that they *aren't* motivated, per see. But when so much of your offense comes from one dude (David Bell, who had 93 catches this year) and that one dude has opted out and won't be available, I just don't see how they move the ball.
As Lane Kiffin once said, Tennessee will be "Singing Rocky Top all night long" after this one.
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Wisconsin (-6), Thursday, 10:30 ET, ESPN
So, anyone who knows me knows that I love Vegas. Some guys blow off steam golfing, some ski, some smoke cigars, some hang out with women who aren't their wives.
But me? I'm a simple man. When I need to blow off steam it's usually with a cold beer in hand in a sportsbook making reckless wagers on teams I know nothing about.
I bring that up to say I was in Vegas on an NFL Sunday about 3-4 years ago, and I noticed just an absurd number of Packers fans in the bar that I was at. At first I assumed I must be in a Packers bar, but then I spoke to someone working there and she told me something interesting: "People from Wisconsin love Vegas. Outside of California, we get more visitors from Wisconsin than any other state in the country."
I have no idea if that fact was true, but it sounds real, and dammit, you know what that means? Wisconsin red will be flowing along with cold Miller Lite's in the aisles of Allegiant Stadium this Thursday night.
Beyond that, I also just think this is a great matchup for Wisconsin.
For all the hype that Georgia's defense got this year (and deservedly so), Wisconsin finished ahead of the Dawgs in most statistical categories and are now going up against a limited Arizona State offense. On top of that, the Sun Devils best skill position guy, running back Rachaad White, opted out of this game.
Wisconsin games are never pretty. But the Badgers win and cover here.
Rose Bowl: Utah (+6.5) vs. Ohio State, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
First off, and this is important - we still haven't gotten official word on whether a couple key Ohio State players will play in this game or not. Namely wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. So keep an eye on that.
Then again, if you believe in Utah like I do, you should probably just grab the Utes as close to a touchdown underdog while you can.
The thing is though, to me this isn't a "motivation" thing for Ohio State - I truly believe they'll be ready to play.
It's more of a "terrible matchup" thing for the Buckeyes.
Remember when we last saw Ohio State against Michigan, and Michigan literally ran the ball right at them, and the Buckeyes had no answers? Ah yeah, that's exactly what Utah does. In their last six games of the regular season (including the Pac-12 title game) the Utes rushed for 200 yards in four of them. One of the games that they didn't rush for 200 they hit 191 against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
And while I know I said that motivation won't be a factor for the Buckeyes it is worth noting the ticket discrepancy: Ohio State sold under 70 percent of their ticket allotment and had to send some back, while Utah blew through their ticket allotment and had to ask for more. There will be a sea of Utah red in Pasadena this week.
Oh, and did I mention Kyle Whittingham is 11-1 as a head coach in bowl games?
Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Baylor (UNDER 55.5), Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
I get a lot of stuff wrong in life, but if you listen to the "College Football Betting" show or read this article you know that we made a killing on Ole Miss this year. While everyone still thought of the Rebels as having an insane, explosive offense, injuries slowed them down and the defense carried them late in the season - and we rode unders the entire second half of the season.
Incredibly, the last seven games of the season went UNDER for Ole Miss, and here's a crazy stat: The last time that the Rebels would've hit the over in this game of 55.5 was all the way back when they played Tennessee in Knoxville back on October 16th.
Point being, the Rebels have been led by their defense, and now are now going up against an equally adept defense from the Baylor point of view.
I know it's Christmas Day and I know we want points. But the under is the way to go here.
College Football Playoff: Cincinnati (+7 - first half and UNDER 29.5 - first half) vs. Alabama, Friday, 3:30 ET, ESPN
While these national semifinals will be played on before the Rose and Sugar Bowls, we decided to save the best for last and discuss the playoff.
And with it comes the single most fascinating question of the College Football Playoff: Will the real Alabama please stand up? In other words, who is the real Alabama? The one that limped to the finish line in close wins over LSU, Arkansas and Auburn? Or the one that steamrolled Georgia to win the SEC?
To me, it's probably the former, not latter.
The bottom line with that Georgia game was that it was the perfect storm for the Tide. They came into that game fighting for their playoff lives, as a true underdog, against a Georgia team that knew they were in the playoff. So yes, I still think Alabama is elite. But no, I don't think they're quite as good as they looked in that Georgia win either.
Now they go from "expected to lose" to "expected to win and dominate" against a tough Cincinnati team that isn't scared of the moment, and truly believes they can play with Bama. Remember, this same Cincinnati team took Georgia down to the wire in the Peach Bowl last year.
Ultimately, I'm not sure that Cincinnati has enough depth or physicality to hold on for four full quarters, but do believe the Bearcats can give Alabama fits for a good long while.
I expect the halftime score to be something in the 14-10 Alabama range, meaning both Cincinnati +7 in the first half, and the first half under of 29.5 hits.
College Football Playoff: Michigan (+7.5) vs. Georgia, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's Rockin' New Year's Eve with Kirby and Harbaugh, and really, what better way would you want to end the year?
I can't think of one, and I will readily admit this: Taking Michigan +7.5 points is a total square move. That number is just Vegas screaming at you: "Take Harbaugh. You know you want to. They could lose by a touchdown, and you'd STILL WIN!! IT'S FREE MONEY!"
So again, I'm a total square, and I don't care (I also didn't intend to rhyme there, but whatdya gonna do?).
The bottom line is that I think somehow, even after beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten, Michigan is still underrated. This is a team that went through a gauntlet of a schedule, tougher than Georgia's if we're being honest. It's a team that - I believe - has the best offensive line Georgia has seen all year, and I'd argue as good of a defensive line as they've seen as well.
Clemson and Alabama's defensive fronts are probably on par with Michigan's, and umm, last time I checked, Georgia scored 10 points (and zero offensive touchdowns) against Clemson, and 17 points through three quarters against Alabama.
In the end, I could go on and on. But this is the most complete defense that Georgia will have seen since Week 1 against Clemson, and I'm just not sure they can move the ball enough to justify the 7.5 points they're getting.
I may even throw a little on the money line here, but I'm rolling with Michigan to keep it close.
Enjoy the games, and happy bowl season - we'll be back for the national championship game.
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