It's Friday and you know what that means - it's time to make some College Football Playoff and bowl betting picks!
That's right, the picks have been off since the conference championship games for obvious reasons: While I love the early part of bowl season (don't buy the BS narrative there are "too many bowl games") there is no real way to handicap the lesser games. Players are coming and going via transfer portal and the draft, motivation is always a factor, and you just never really know what you're going to get from anyone.
However, now that we've inched closer to the New Year, and to the bigger games, it feels like a great time to dust off the picks to get you ready for all the big bowl games.
Oh, and if you're in the Ohio area on New Year's Day - Betfred is throwing a launch party you do NOT want to miss.
Now, to the picks:
Orange Bowl: Tennessee vs. Clemson (-6) - Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Like all non-playoff bowl games, motivation is always a factor, yet weirdly, I don't think it will be for either of these teams.
Tennessee of course is playing in its biggest bowl game in decades.
And if Clemson was going to have a letdown, it feels like it would've been in the ACC title game, a week after they cost themselves a playoff spot with a loss to North Carolina. Instead, they rolled, with Cade Klubnik (finally) inserted at quarterback.
Really, that last part is why Clemson is the pick for me: Klubnik is in at quarterback. One, I simply think he's the better option for Clemson than the now-departed DJ Uiagalelei and has been since the start of the season. And two, I think the players know it. There definitely seemed to be an extra pep in their step in that ACC title game romp over North Carolina.
Then there's Tennessee, which is essentially the exact opposite. They had their quarterback all season long (Hendon Hooker) only to lose him to a late season injury, making way for the erratic Joe Milton.
Well now, Milton (a career 57 percent completion percentage passer) will be without Tennessee's two best receivers (Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt who opted out of this game) and the run game will be going against a solid front seven for Clemson all year.
Styles make fights, and most of the stylistic advantages go to Clemson here.
Sugar Bowl: Kansas State vs. Alabama (-6.5) - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
To be clear, Alabama is only in this game, because they just completed the single most disappointing season of the Nick Saban era. Yes, a 10-2 season is in fact disappointing when you have this kind of talent.
And to also be clear, I've lost roughly half the GDP of most small island nations betting on Alabama over the last two years, always assuming that because of the talent they were ready to turn things around.
So, after losing on this team week after week after week the last two years, what am I going to do here: Well, bet on Bama of course, silly!
The bottom line is that while this particular group has been underachieving, I do think it's noteworthy that both Bryce Young and Will Anderson chose to play in this game. What that says to me is that while their run as the faces of Alabama has been largely disappointing (not necessarily through their fault) they want to end their run and go out in style.
Well, what better way than crushing a really good, but limited (especially at quarterback) Kansas State team, to send the seniors (and draft eligible juniors) out in style, setting up what is hopefully a bounce back year for the Crimson Tide in 2023.
College Football Playoff Semifinal/Fiesta Bowl: TCU vs. Michigan (-7.5) - Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's get to the two semifinal games, starting with TCU and Michigan, and let's not beat around the bush: I, frankly, see this one, going down the same way that pretty much everyone else does.
Now look, I understand that I'm the same guy that in this same space before the conference championship games said to never bet TCU games, because you just never know what you're going to get.
Here is what I wrote in the lead-up to the Big 12 title game:
So I always try to be transparent with you guys and girls, and I want to continue to do so here: Of every game this weekend, this is the one that I have by far the least confidence in.
Then again, isn't that kind of the TCU mantra this season: Basically, no game goes the way you expect.
Sometimes, they just flat out blow teams out - like they did Oklahoma early.
Sometimes, they fall down early and rally - like they did in the first game against Kansas State.
Sometimes, we expect a shootout - and the game ends up being a close, low-scoring slugfest like against Texas.
And sometimes, it's just pure insanity, like against Baylor a few weeks ago.
At the same time, this game just feels different, and it just feels like every advantage goes to Michigan.
One, what TCU did better than (almost anyone) in college football this season was to take advantage of big plays, hitting on 44 plays of 30 yards or more. Well, Michigan ranked in the Top 15 nationally in allowing the fewest big plays. They were especially effective, against a similarly explosive Ohio State team in their final regular season game.
Two, I'm just not sure how that TCU defensive front will hold up against Michigan. The Horned Frogs ranked in the bottom half of college football in run defense, and the last time we saw them, they gave up 235 yards rushing to Kansas State.
Three, and I think this is an important part that no one is talking about: The month off between games has actually allowed a relatively banged up Michigan team to get healthy. Their best defensive lineman Mike Morris didn't even play in the Big Ten title game and was limited against Ohio State. But he's fully ready to go here. Donovan Edwards, who played the final few games of the season with a cast on, doesn't appear that he'll need it either.
In the end, I think TCU keeps things close for a half, and maybe more.
But like everyone else they played this year, Michigan is too big, too powerful and will eventually run them over.
Michigan to the title game.
College Football Playoff Semifinal/Peach Bowl: Ohio State vs. Georgia (-6.5), Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
So my big, bold prediction the day the College Football Playoff bracket was released, was this: That the Michigan-TCU game would be closer than Ohio State-Georgia
Now three weeks later I'm sticking to that. And as you can see above, I don't think that TCU-Michigan will be particularly close.
The bottom line is, as I think about this game, one thing comes to mind: I keep hearing about how "upbeat" Ohio State's practices have been coming into this game. How they feel like they got a second lease on life by being here, and want to take advantage of the opportunity.
Just one question though: Umm, shouldn't that, like, have been their mindset going into the Michigan game?
Only it wasn't, and that's my beef with this Ohio State program right now: They talk a big talk, and never back it up. Like Alabama, all year long we've waited for them to flip a switch, to show what they're capable of. And in their biggest games, they lost to Michigan, trailed Penn State after three quarters, and trailed Notre Dame at the half.
Ohio State just isn't a big-game program right now.
I could go on and on, but in their last six games against Top 15 opponents, Ohio State is 3-3 overall, with two of those wins coming when they trailed at the half.
The Buckeyes can ring in the New Year by proving me wrong.
I'll believe it when I see it.
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Utah (-2.5), Monday, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Finally, let's wrap with "The Granddaddy of Them All," and I'll be quick on this one.
After six years, do you trust Sean Clifford as your quarterback in a game game?