New Year’s Day College Football Bowl Picks Against the Spread
Aaron Bruce

New Year’s Day has always been a very important part of the college football schedule. While none of the four teams vying for a national championship are playing that day, 10 of the very best outside of the top four are all in action, with the Peach Bowl taking place a couple days before.

Who will win these big games during bowl season? Will any play well enough to make people think that they should have been in the college football playoff over someone else? These are the best picks for all six contests.

(Peach Bowl) Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State

Michigan State -2.5

It’s a bit of a shame that both Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker are out for this one. These are two of the best players in all of college football this year, and they would have made the average fan tune in to see what all the hype is about. However, the game remains a good matchup overall.

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Michigan State has a superb pass defense, which will cause fits for Pittsburgh. Even with Pittsburgh’s offense, they’ll still be slowed down a bit because they don’t have Pickett or their offensive coordinator.

If Pittsburgh has any chance in this one, they need to come up with creative ways to score enough. It’s not like Michigan State has a super potent offense, but it just seems unlikely that they will be held to fewer than four or five touchdowns. This makes Michigan State the favorite to win and cover.

Pick: Michigan State -2.5

(Outback Bowl) Penn State vs. Arkansas

Arkansas -2.5

It’s not a traditional big bowl game, but since it takes place on New Year’s Day, it makes the cut in this article. It also featured too pretty big programs vying to end their season on a high note. For Penn State to have a chance in this one, they are going to need to rely heavily on quarterback Sean Clifford. They have not been able to get any type of rushing attack going all year long, and they looked terrible when Clifford was injured. He’ll be going up against a decent defense in Arkansas, but there are holes available for him to exploit.

With Clifford scoring some points, the defense will have to stop Arkansas as well. They were one of the top 40 teams on offense this year, showing that they can put up points against some pretty good defenses in the SEC. Their confidence against a Big Ten team that struggled at times should be there.

This doesn’t seem to be the easiest of games to pick, simply because they are both teams with some flaws. However, there are more Arkansas weapons, and they could force Clifford to make some mistakes early on that sway the game. If that’s the case, they could not only pick up the win, but cruise to a pretty easy victory. They’ll definitely be hoping for some picks early, as cornerback Montaric Brown led the SEC with five interceptions himself.

Expect a few lead changes, but Arkansas finds a way to pull away late. With an impressive win, they could jump a few spots to finish within the top 15 for the year.

Pick: Arkansas Razorbacks -2.5

(Citrus Bowl) Iowa vs. Kentucky

Kentucky -2.5

This might not be the most aesthetically-pleasing game, but these are two teams that are very tough and run game-oriented. They will be trying to control the ball all game long and pick up a marquee victory for their college on Saturday.

Iowa was one of the best teams in all of college football this year with a +13 turnover margin. They get after it on defense, and they take great care of the ball so that they are always in control. It’s going to be a matter of seeing if anyone actually makes any mistakes.

Out of the two teams, Kentucky seems the most likely to crack under pressure. It helps Iowa’s defense that they finished the year with 24 interceptions, so if Kentucky has to pass thanks to an early deficit, they always have that in the back of their mind. Of course, if Chris Rodriguez Jr. does a great job running the football and doesn’t force them to air it out too much, they’ll be fine.

Expect a close game throughout, and not much scoring. It just seems safe to go with the underdog so that even if it does end up as a close loss for Iowa, the pick still pays out.

Pick: Iowa +2.5

(Fiesta Bowl) Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame -2.5

It’s time for the Marcus Freeman era to officially begin at Notre Dame and the Fiesta Bowl this year. After Brian Kelly left for LSU, the Fighting Irish get a look at what he will bring to the table. Expect a lot of defense in this one, as he’ll try to slow down one of the most potent offenses out there.

Oklahoma State will be without a couple of their players who helped them get to where they are. Kyren Williams and Kyle Hamilton are both missing this game, but it’s not like the Cowboys will be missing all of their talent. They’ll have a little more trouble moving the football consistently, but that could be the difference in the game.

Notre Dame is going into the game as a slight favorite. Spencer Sanders for Oklahoma State just has not been consistent enough to fully buy-in as a quarterback who can make big decisions with some missing personnel. Freeman gets off on the right foot with a big win as the new official head coach of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Pick: Notre Dame -2.5

(Rose Bowl) Ohio State vs. Utah

Ohio State -4.5

Most people are favoring Ohio State in this one, and it’s not that a pick like that is unjustified. However, not that many people are familiar with how good Utah has been this year. They are a very physical team that will try to beat up Ohio State and turn it into a sloppier one than the Buckeyes are used to.

In the two losses that Ohio State has suffered this year, it’s been to physical teams. Even though they have the running game to win uglier games, they don’t click on all cylinders like some would think.

The hard part for Utah is that they don’t have the offense that Oregon or Michigan Has. That could mean that it’s a low-scoring game, but Utah still doesn’t find a way to win because they can’t put up the points.

Ohio State being more than a field goal favorite is just too much for a team that could be showing some signs of disinterest after failing to make the playoffs. In Columbus, a New Year’s Day bowl is a letdown. There’s already been an announcement that four top players will opt to prepare for the draft instead of play in the bowl game. The motivation for some of the players heading out might not be there. Utah might not take home the first-ever Rose Bowl, but they keep it close enough with the point spread. They have too much pride to let this become a blowout.

Pick: Utah +4.5

(Sugar Bowl) Ole Miss vs. Baylor

Ole Miss -1.5

There might not be a more motivated team in college football right now than Ole Miss. They have had a surprise season that has led them to the Sugar Bowl, and now they have a chance to cap it off with a victory over Baylor. In a matchup that has two teams that look similar on paper, that extra motivation could be the edge.

It’s pretty easy to see in this one that Ole Miss has the best player in the game in Matt Corral. He’s had an outstanding career for this point, and would love to finish it off with a bowl victory. He’ll be carrying the offense, but the defense will look to slow down Baylor as much as possible. In the past, Baylor’s been known for their offense, but they don’t match up well with Ole Miss‘s defense this year.

It’s not a lock for Ole Miss, as Baylor will be a formidable opponent to say the least. Not only did they win the Big 12 Championship game, but they have a stable coaching staff compared to Ole Miss. Jeff Lebby has left for Oklahoma, so they might not be clicking on all cylinders against a Baylor defense that’s better than most people realize.

Since this is such a close point spread, the safe pick is to go with Ole Miss right now. They are just the better overall team, and they have the best overall talent on offense. Expect a close one, but Lane Kiffin get it done in his second year.

Pick: Ole Miss -1.5

 

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