Happy Bowl Season! While the ‘Cats aren’t bowling this time around, that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Sports gambling is now legal in Illinois (and several other states across the U.S.), so you can easily have some skin in the game if you choose to.
While all of the bowls to this point have been, to be blunt, glorified exhibition contests (hello Cheez-It Bowl), some of the games in this slate have more significant implications. In particular, New Year’s Eve will see Alabama face off against Cincinnati and Michigan take on Georgia, with each team vying for a spot in the national championship. The stakes are high for the team, and they remain high for our handicappers, who look to close out their four-year stretch of bowl betting on a high note. Follow their advice at your own peril, and, as always, if you choose to, please bet responsibly!
Please note that all picks were submitted before kickoff of any contests.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
North Carolina (-10.5) vs. South Carolina
Zimmerman: This is as about an interesting a matchup that you can derive from two 6-6 teams that are both simply very average. It’s going to be interesting to see how heavily-favored North Carolina attacks a South Carolina squad that put up zero points in its regular season-ending game against Clemson. However, the sizable amount of points that are being given to South Carolina is probably too much to pass up considering UNC has only won three games by two scores or more this season, and those came against Wofford, Georgia State and Duke. Fade the Tar Heels.
Pick: South Carolina +10.5
Albert: Among the perennial favorites for best bowl sponsor is the Duke’s Mayo. The big ESPN promotion this year is the opportunity to dump mayo on the winning coach, which is admittedly an enthralling concept that I look forward to seeing play out in real life. Back to the football, though. I don’t see this game being close whatsoever. I am taking UNC in a decisive win to cover this spread. Yes, 11 points is a lot, but not as much as the talent discrepancy between these teams.
Pick: North Carolina -10.5
Music City Bowl
Tennessee (-6) vs. Purdue
Zimmerman: After fading the Big Ten up to this point in the bowl season, it’s time I reverse course. I was punished by Minnesota and Maryland, so while I’ll likely now miss here and get even more frustrated, I like Purdue’s chances at winning this game. The Boilermakers’ offense will have its way with a Tennessee defense that conceded over 300 yards per game and just under 30 points per game, and that’s enough reason to scare me away from the ‘Vols.
Pick: Purdue +6
Albert: While on Twitter yesterday, I was browsing through Hammer and Rails’ predictions for this bowl game. None of the authors at the Purdue-focused site picked the Boilers. While I don’t know everything, I know when to outsource and trust others, and Purdue without star George Karlaftis just isn’t the same. I’m taking Tennessee here, and am once again reminding everyone of the time that Kevin Trahan once roasted the Volunteers’ program into oblivion on this site and Vols fans collectively lost their minds in the comments. They’re still my pick today, though.
Pick: Tennessee -6
Michigan State (-3) vs. Pittsburgh
Zimmerman: This is a really difficult game to handicap, considering the best player on each team’s offense won’t be playing. For Pitt that’s quarterback Kenny Pickett, and for Michigan State that’s running back Kenneth Walker. Nevertheless, Pitt is 10th in SP+ while MSU is 35th. That’s enough for me to go with the Panthers even without their star QB.
Pick: Pitt +3
Albert: This game lost my interest once both of its star players — Kenneth Walker III and Kenny Pickett — opted out of it. That being said, a pick still needs to get made here. I’m going to take Michigan State in the hopes that they are still motivated to play and that Pitt without its star quarterback isn’t the same team.
Pick: Michigan State -3
Las Vegas Bowl
Wisconsin (-6) vs. Arizona State
Zimmerman: I sincerely don’t like this contest from a betting perspective at all, but passing on a game would be a violation of the code of conduct that this series has and perhaps an e even greater offense given the event’s location and name. Without Rachaad White at running back for the Sun Devils, it’ll be even tougher to move the ball than it already would have been, and I have concerns that Wisconsin’s physicality may hinder any progress ASU could otherwise make. Ranked as the second-best defense in the country by the SP+ metric, I simply can’t rationalize going against Wisco. I’ll take with the Badgers and their 6-1 record over their past seven bowl games.
Pick: Wisconsin -6
Albert: Simple. Wisconsin wins by 10. No explanation needed.
Pick: Wisconsin -6 (or 9.5, for that matter)
Wake Forest (-15) vs. Rutgers
Zimmerman: Oh, baby, what a game we have here. Replacement team Rutgers is hard to judge given the uncertainty surrounding the situation (and the general wackiness of bowl season), but 15 points is a friggin’ lot. The Scarlet Knights have endured an up and down season that has seen some shockingly bad performances (and aren’t we grateful for that, NU fans) and some surprisingly good ones, and I get the feeling that the squad will be to go in the postseason, or at least enough so to cover that giant spread.
Pick: Rutgers +15
Albert: I’ll use this as my explanation. Point of view: you are a rutger (intentionally lowercase and left without an s, by the way) football player after a long season during which you underwhelmed and barely missed a bowl game. You go home and start to decompress, and then, when you least expect it, you get thrown into the ring as a replacement team against the ACC runners-up. I just can’t see a way in which rutger can compete, fitness-wise.
Pick: Wake Forest -15
Washington State (-7.5) vs. Central Michigan
Zimmerman: Due to the COVID madness that has plagued bowl season, the ‘Chips (who were supposed to face off with Boise State in the Arizona Bowl) are replacing Miami in this game. The Cougars are about 25 spots higher in SP+ than the Chippewas, but with some notable opt-outs for Wazzu, I think the second-best squad from the MAC will be able to compete and keep this game within a touchdown.
Pick: Central Michigan +7.5
Albert: Yet another bowl game that was never intended to happen. Congrats to Central Michigan for making it here; the payout and rewards are huge. I am taking Washington State, howeve, off the back of their really strong showing in the Apple Cup. I was really impressed with this team then, and am looking forward to this game.
Pick: Washington State -7
Alabama (-13.5) vs. Cincinnati
Zimmerman: There is a good chance that I would have absolutely hammered this spread for Alabama throughout the season, but after watching Cincinnati down the stretch of the regular season, I really feel as though the Bearcats are going to make this a battle. There’s too much talent and solid football being played by Cincy for the team to just roll over and get killed. I know ‘Bama looked unreal in its conference championship game with Georgia, but I believe in Luke Fickell and his squad.
Pick: Cincinnati +13.5
Albert: Finally, where things get interesting... or really just relevant! I really do want Cincinnati to win, but I also don’t know how much I can expect them to compete on an even playing field. However, Alabama has looked vulnerable at times, and 14 points is a lot to win by. I think I’m going for the Cincinnati covers, Alabama wins route.
Pick: Cincinnati +13.5
Georgia (-7.5) vs. Michigan
Zimmerman: While I’m slightly hesitant to go with Georgia due to the COVID issues within its program, I’m going to stick with the Bulldogs. They should capable of handling Michigan’s daunting defensive line, and their defense should be relatively dominant against an offense that doesn’t have the type of explosiveness that Alabama’s does.
Pick: Georgia -7.5
Albert: No question. Bring on the boos, I feed off the hatred. I am taking Michigan, saying thank you for the points, and doubling my money on the money line. This team has had a mixed season, but they’ll turn it on when they need to most and then come up short in the National Championship (because why let Michigan have nice things?).
Pick: Michigan +7.5 (and money line)