It’s a degenerate's type of Saturday. We have the opening weekend of bowl season, a loaded slate of college hoops and three NFL games on the slate. It’s simply glorious.
While we have done NFL columns all year, we are going to mix and match this Saturday. We will preview three of the more prominent bowl games, have two NFL picks, and preview the top college basketball games. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Now, to the picks:
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon State vs Florida
Spread: Oregon State -9
Billy Napier is trying to avoid a losing season in his first year at the helm in Gainesville. This game is unique in the fact most of the players that will suit up for the Gators are actually in the transfer portal. Quarterback Anothony Richardson is sitting this game out and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller will take over. Miller is more of a pocket passer so it will be interesting to see the new kinks and adjustments this Florida offense makes. Florida will also miss SEC first team lineman O'Cyrus Torrence.
Then, there's the other side, where Oregon State's defense isn’t really getting enough love. They rank 17th in scoring defense and 21st in yards per play. They have one of the best secondaries in the nation and they rank in the top 25 in defensive line yards. It’s the type of balanced defense that helped propel them to their first nine-win season in more than a decade.
In the big picture, Oregon State is simple yet effective. The Gator defense is plain bad. They rank near the bottom of the country in defensive line yards. The Beavers have Freshman All American running back Daniel Martinez who is averaging 3.5 yards after contact. The Florida defense is giving up 4.9 yards per carry. I can see Oregon State running all over this team. The Beavers should have a lot of motivation in this bowl game after dropping last year’s LA Bowl as a 7.5 point favorite.
The line is shockingly high. But I see a route where Oregon State wins by double figures. Give me the Beavs.
The pick: Oregon State (-9)
Jimmy Kimmel Los Angeles Bowl: Fresno State vs Washington State
Spread: Fresno State -4
What are the odds Jimmy Kimmel has watched either of these teams play? Despite the bowl game being named after a talk show host, these games should be prominent.
The Fresno State Bulldogs have had a Hollywood turnaround. They started the season 1-4- that included losses to USC and Boise State by 48 combined points. But they rebounded to win eight consecutive games down the stretch, including a 28-16 victory over Boise State in the Mountain West Conference title game. Jake Haerner has thrown for 8,000 career yards and he has a chance to close his career in explosive fashion.
Washington State ranks 117th in the nation in passing defense. The Cougars have turnover issues on the offensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs have a big alumni base in Southern California. Fresno State is a team that travels. Give me the Bulldogs to win this game on the road.
The pick: Fresno State (-4)
New Mexico Bowl: SMU vs. BYU
Spread: SMU (-4.5)
These two teams met back in the 1980 Holiday Bowl where BYU made one of the most epic comebacks in bowl history.
Sadly, we won’t get that type of excitement Saturday. Both teams have their most explosive star players out. Starting BYU quarterback Jaren Hall is out nursing an ankle injury. SMU star wide receiver Rashee Rice is skipping the game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Because of it, I’m going to keep this one simple. Both defenses are bad, their weapons are limited. This game lines up better for BYU. SMU ranks 122nd in the country in yards per rush allowed. BYU running back Christopher Brooks ranks 11th in the country in yards per carry (6.57). They are going to pound the rock and impose their physicality on the Mustangs.
On offense, SMU is missing two of their top three receivers. Explosive running back Cam Wheaton is out for the year with an injury. They still have top passer Tanner Mordecai, but he will struggle with the players around him.
Additionally, SMU will be playing in elevation. A major advantage for the BYU players who are used to the conditions, playing regular season games in Provo. You know how flat Dallas is?
This game is tough. BYU laid an egg in their bowl game last year against UAB. I don’t think that will happen this year.
BYU physically beats SMU down cruising to a win.
Give me the Cougs.
The pick: BYU +4.5
Baltimore at Cleveland
Spread: Cleveland -3
Deshaun Watson’s debut in Cleveland has not posted positive returns. The Browns offense averaged just 5.0 yards per play against the Texans and 4.9 against Cincinnati. The Ravens have a top run defense. It may be rusty, but I don’t think Watson has it.
Baltimore will be without Lamar Jackson. but Tyler Huntley has shown he is a serviceable backup. JK Dobbins is back in the lineup for Baltimore. Cleveland gives up 4.6 yards per carry-26th in the NFL. This is an area where Baltimore can control the line of scrimmage. John Harbaugh has dominated the Browns throughout his career.
Love the Ravens in this spot and I feel they should cover easily.
The Pick: Baltimore (+3)
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Spread: Buffalo -7
Story time, I was at this very game one year ago. Miami lost by 11 but they played tough. The game was tied at half time. Miami had opportunities to win that game.
This year’s Miami team is a lot better.
Yes, there will be snow. The game will be cold. And Tua looked horrible on Sunday Night Football. Of course, you can’t leave out the narrative the Bills are going to want revenge on Miami after losing to the Dolphins in Week 3.
I like Miami to keep it close here. Both of Miami's touchdowns on Sunday — the 60-yard pass from Tagovailoa and a fumble recovered on a Jeff Wilson Jr. carry — came via the speed and playmaking ability of Tyreek Hill. The key for Miami will be developing the ground game with Mostert.
Overall, Buffalo is the best team in the NFL. They rank fourth in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. Josh Allen has looked human recently, yet he is still posting very efficient numbers. However, the Bills current four-game winning streak includes three wins by one score or less.
The Dolphins are by far the most talented team in that stretch run of games. I like Miami’s defense to show up. They are capable of forcing turnovers and they have been especially good at defending the run game. This is going to be a defensive struggle on both sides. It may come down to whoever wins the field position battle. Buffalo comes out with a win, but Miami gives them everything they can handle.
The pick: Dolphins +7
Indiana at Kansas
Spread: Kansas -5.5
The college basketball slate starts with a bang as the Hoosiers travel to Allen Fieldhouse. This is the best Indiana team we have had in a while. Now they have their second consecutive test. The Hoosiers lost 89-75 to Arizona in Vegas.
Indiana came back after being down nearly 20 early to make it a competitive game, even in a loss. This Hoosiers team has shown grit.
Meanwhile, Kansas has played their part as defending champs in back-to-back blowout wins against Seton Hall and Missouri respectively. Freshman Gradey Dick has averaged 15 points per game for the Jayhawks. You can argue Kansas has one of the most balanced teams in the country.
I like Indiana to keep it close. It really comes down to if Jalen Hood-Schifino plays. The 6-6 freshmen gives the Hoosiers another effective ball handler besides Xavier Johnson. He is also a great defensive rebounder and can play on Gradey Dick/ Jalen Wilson. Picking against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse is always scary. But I’ll take the Hoosiers if Hood Schifino plays.
The pick: Indiana +5.5
Alabama vs Gonzaga (In Birmingham)
Spread: Alabama (-1)
Alabama was Torres’s team of the week. They got a huge road win against top ranked Houston. Brandon Miller looks like a future NBA star. Nate Oats has this team rolling into this matchup with Gonzaga. On the other side Gonzaga has lost all three games to the Top 25 teams they have played this season. Very uncharacteristic for Mark Few. It seems like all of Gonzaga’s hopes for a top 3-4 seed rest on beating Alabama Sunday afternoon.
This game is going to be played at a frantic pace. Both teams love to get the ball out and run. Gonzaga has really struggled on the defensive side. Teams have excelled driving down hill and getting Drew Timme to defend in space. That’s all that Bama does. Both teams have struggled with turnovers. But Alabama doesn’t turn teams over.
The winner of this game is who wins the rebounding battle. Bama loves to crash the boards. They rank 7th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Physically they should dominate Gonzaga’s bigs here. But when they don’t get the offensive board, look for Gonzaga to get the ball up court to their guards and score on easy lay-ins. This is going to be a major theme in this game.
Both teams rank in the top 20 in offensive efficiency. While this is a high number, I’m going to back it up. Gonzaga’s defense has been too bad to back them against an explosive Alabama offense. Gonzaga’s offense is going to keep them in this game. Points, points, and more points.
The pick: Over 160
Pac-12 over SEC parlay
UCLA vs Kentucky (CBS Sports Classic)
Spead: UCLA (-2)
Our SEC following isn’t going to like this, but the Pac-12 is going to spank the SEC this weekend in basketball. You got the Pac-12’s top two teams playing in marquee games. Let’s talk about UCLA. The Bruins are coming in with momentum beating Maryland on the road. Adem Bona is going to be a presence that Oscar Tshiebwe has to deal with. When you take out Tshiebwe, UCLA is simply better everywhere on the floor than Kentucky. They have more experience; they are deeper off the bench. I know Tyger Campbell is not going to make a turnover in a key minute. Give me the Bruins to win there.
Tennessee at Arizona
Spread: Arizona (-3.5)
As for Tennessee and Arizona this is pretty easy. Arizona is a three-point favorite. In my opinion, they are the best team I have seen in college basketball. The Volunteers are admirable. Tennessee is traveling across the country, they are banged up, and have to play in front of one of the toughest crowds in the sport. If Arizona gets up early, they don’t have the type of team that comes back. Arizona wins big here.
The pick: Arizona ML/UCLA ML