Listen to Dillon and Ross discuss bowl matchups and gambling lines on the latest episode of Back Door Cover below. Also subscribe on iTunes.
Games that don’t actually matter (no matter what Harbaugh says):
Game: Orange Bowl
Matchup: Michigan vs. Florida State
Pick: Michigan 34 Florida State 20
Michigan, the Hillary Clinton of college football (whining incessantly about howthey didn’t actually lose), returns to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 2000, when some random backup QB rallied the Wolverines from a three score 4th quarter deficit to beat Alabama. Tom Brady, however, no longer dons the maize and blue. Current wolverine signal caller Wilton Speight, coming off the worst three-game stretch of his career that was punctuated with a three turnover debacle in Columbus against arch rival Ohio State, looks to shake off a supposed broken collar bone and Jim Harbaugh’s broken heart against a Seminoles front 7 that leads the nation in sacks.
These are two of the three teams that comprise the list of “teams that should have Washington’s playoff spot,” with more NFL talent littering both rosters than any bowl game not featuring the Crimson Tide. Florida State, notorious for their slow starts under Coach Jimbo Fisher, falls behind early as Harbaugh & Co. finally open up what had become a largely stale offense since losing in Iowa City. The Michigan defense exposes freshman QB Deondre Francois to double digit hits as the Seminoles play catchup from the opening whistle. Dalvin Cook is neutralized.
Wolverines win in a game of evenly matched teams, with one not really giving a fuck.
Game: Cotton Bowl
Matchup: Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan
Pick: Wisconsin 35 Western Michigan 17
As tempted as I was to pick the Broncos to see Jared’s reaction, P.J. Fleck and his rowing MAC squad are simply overmatched by one of the biggest and most physical teams in the nation, sporting an average size differential of more than 40 lbs up front against the MAC Champions. Fleck, who, in my opinion will be rowing his boat up the river to East Lansing in 2017/2018, lobbied for the undefeated Broncos to garner a playoff bid, even with their best win of the season being a turnover-plagued monstrosity against Northwestern almost three full months ago.
Wisconsin is bigger, faster, and more physical, and no matter how much Paul Chryst sabotages his offense by playing musical chairs with the quarterback position, a focused Wisconsin team beats Western Michigan 99 times out of 100. The question here for Chryst is can he motivate a football team that held a three score lead in the second half of the Big Ten title game against a MAC team in a bowl game without any practical significance?
Wisconsin seemingly sleep walks to a 300+ yard day on the ground.
Game: Rose Bowl
Matchup: Penn State vs. USC
Pick: USC 38 Penn State 13
USC might be the best team in America outside of Tuscaloosa, amassing a staggering 9 consecutive wins by an average margin greater than any other Power 5 team following a disastrous start under first year coach Clay Helton. USC, the only school to have recruited on par with Nick Saban over the last 4 seasons (by average star rating), completely transformed after the move to Sam Darnold at quarterback — who is now the highest rated passer in all of college football since Week 5 of the regular season. Adoree’ Jackson, you know, the guy people claim Jabrill Peppers is/could/should/would be, is the nation’s most dangerous three way player, electric with the ball in his hands and a pure cover corner on defense.
Penn State, frankly, is not good. Beneficiaries of bizarre scheduling and seemingly impossible upsets (hello, Iowa), the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State with a combination of turnovers, horrific special teams, and good old fashioned luck after losing to supposed “rival” Michigan by 39 points just two weeks prior. Saquan Barkley is a star and Trace McSorley has progressed (though from unwatchable to below average), but USC possesses both more talent and considerable depth, outclassing the Big Ten champions in all three facets of the game.
USC’s offense scores at will as the front 7 overwhelms a porous Penn State line.
Game: Sugar Bowl
Matchup: Oklahoma vs. Auburn
Pick: Oklahoma 41 Auburn 30
I would love to see what the Oklahoma program could become if Bob Stoops renounced his obsession with his brother, Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops, who is more effective in his theatrics than actual on-field results. Again, the Sooner defense is bad. Disguised in a conference of defenses ranging from “worst of all time” (hey, Texas Tech) to Kansas (enough said), Oklahoma’s soft front 7 and poor tackling safeties have me a bit concerned about Auburn’s rushing attack, especially if John Franklin III supplants Sean White in the Tigers’ backfield.
Oklahoma is, however, perhaps the most explosive offense in the nation, with both quarterback Baker Mayfield and star wide receiver Dede Westbrook finishing in the top 5 of the Heisman voting, and Samaje Perine forming the best running back duo in all of college football with Joe Mixon. Yes, that Joe Mixon.
Auburn has improved as the season has progressed, finally settling on White to take the majority of the snaps at quarterback and further building off of a defense that had progressed to respectability under since-departed coordinator Will Muschamp. The offense, though, is still a bit of a mess, with the passing game compiling completion percentage, touchdowns, and turnover ratios towards the bottom of the already offensively challenged SEC West (again, besides Bama).
Auburn’s defense keeps it close early, but Mayfield and the Sooner offense break their spirits with big plays and tempo by midway through the third quarter.
Game: Peach Bowl
Matchup: Alabama vs. Washington
Pick: Alabama 41 Washington 13.
If I hadn’t invested the GDP of a small country in the Crimson Tide winning it all, I’d love to see an offensive debacle from the immortal Lane Kiffin with both feet already out the door on the way to Boca Raton. However, the only truly “elite” team Coach Chris Peterson and the Huskies played this season, USC, dominated them on their home field in a game that was even worse than the score indicated.
Now, the Huskies face what I believe is the most talented team in the history of college football, with, by my untrained count, 18 likely NFL draft picks in just the starting offense and defense. Nick Saban, closing in on his 6th national title and the saddening end to his rocky relationship with Joey Freshwater, has assembled the most physically intimidating defense of our generation, a combination of size and speed that still has me thinking they must have HGH in the water down in Tuscaloosa.
Peterson has done an incredible job cleaning up Steve Sarkisian’s mess in Seattle, and will surely throw a bevy of his signature trick plays at the Alabama defense, but Alabama will dominate the line of scrimmage, and poor Lane lives for another week of sideline tongue lashings.
Game: Fiesta Bowl
Matchup: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Pick: Clemson 38 Ohio State 33
The most interesting matchup of bowl season, the Buckeyes are the lone member of the playoff four not to win their own conference, sneaking into championship contention with the “immaculate spot” that gifted coach Urban Meyer his fourth consecutive 11-win season and QB J.T. Barrett Buckeye immortality.
But the Michigan game did more to worry me as a gambler than it did to provide confidence in my OSU championship prop bet placed last summer. Michigan sacked Barrett a staggering 10 times, knocking him down 17 — that was more than half of his total drop backs. The Buckeye offense looked largely lifeless, unable to stretch the field to the tune of just one completion to a wide receiver longer than 15 yards, a common problem this season in Columbus with Ohio State’s #1 receiver, Noah Brown, finishing the year just 5th overall in total receptions and yards.
Clemson’s front 7 is Michigan’s on steroids (probably both literally and figuratively). Finishing in the national top 10 in all of sacks, pressures, QB knockdowns, and “chaos plays,” the sideline to sideline speed of Clemson’s linebackers present a unique challenge to an Ohio state attack largely dependent on edge rushes.
Clemson is clearly the better team, but never pick Urban Meyer to be blown out by anything but a cheerleader — that man is a genius. Meyer and his schematic advantage keep it close..
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