Tennessee is a four-point favorite against Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The Volunteers are a young team with shaky offensive line. They probably wouldn’t be a favorite against Iowa on a neutral field in the regular season. However, this is a bowl game and Tennessee has to be thrilled to be in this situation. The Volunteers haven’t been in a bowl game since 2010, and earned six wins this season with a tough schedule.
Iowa had high expectations this season and had a shot to win their division with a very favorable schedule. They finished 7-5 and ended the year with a very disappointing loss to Nebraska at home.
Tennessee’s young offensive stars will show up and the rest of the team will be motivated. I like Butch Jones over Kirk Ferentz in this situation, and the mediocre SEC team over the underachieving Big Ten squad.
Pick: Tennessee (-4) over Iowa
It’s not often that an undefeated team is more than a touchdown underdog. Well that’s the case in the Rose Bowl where Florida State puts their 29-game win streak on the line against Oregon. Anyone who watched college football the last two season knows that the 2013 version of Florida State was significantly better than the 2014 Seminoles. Florida State had close calls against Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami, Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech but the only thing that matters is they won each of the games.
Oregon had one slip up back in October against Arizona but showed why they are one of the best teams in the country the rest of the way. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota was especially strong this season. They are getting a lot of respect in the point spread because they played a Pac-12 schedule. But are they getting too much respect?
I think the spread is too high and will take Florida State plus the points. The Seminoles will have used the break before the Rose Bowl to get healthier and clear their minds of any off the field issues. I still think Oregon will win this game but Florida State will keep it close.
Pick: Florida State (+8.5) over Oregon
Auburn and Wisconsin play in the first New Year’s Day game. Auburn didn’t meet their season expectations and finished their brutal schedule with a 8-4 record. Wisconsin won the weak Big Ten West, and were embarrassed by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Auburn may have not met their season goals but I still think there will be motivation and effort from the Tigers. Winning this game would get the program back on the right path after losing three games in November. Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has already been named the defensive coordinator for 2015. There will be a lot of preseason hype about Auburn and I think they will use this bowl as a way to get momentum before the spring. Auburn still has a quick strike offense and they probably enjoyed watching Wisconsin’s defense on film against Ohio State.
Since the nightmare against Ohio State, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen shockingly left for Oregon State. Former coach and current Athletic Director Barry Alvarez will be on the sideline just like he was for the 2013 Rose Bowl. The focus might not be there for the Badgers after Andersen departed out of nowhere. Auburn has a very weak passing defense but Wisconsin’s pass offense might be even worse. If the Badgers can’t get running back Melvin Gordon going, then Auburn should contain the Wisconsin offense and score plenty of points of their own.
Pick: Auburn (-6.5) over Wisconsin
Boise State gets the opportunity to play in a big name bowl game after being the highest ranked team from outside the power five conferences. The Broncos play the Arizona Wildcats who won the Pac-12 South.
The handicap for this game is similar to the Utah-Colorado State bowl game. Arizona is the Pac-12 team who played very tough schedule and have impressive wins at Oregon, at Utah and against Arizona State. Boise State played in the Mountain West, a conference struggling this bowl season. The Broncos opened the season with a loss to Ole Miss and also lost at Air Force in conference play before ending the season on a eight-game win streak.
This line has dropped since it opened, which makes me like Arizona even more. Some would argue that they ended their season in disappointment by losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. However, there was no shame in losing that game and Arizona will still be motivated to finish the season strong close to home.
Pick: Arizona (-3) over Boise State
The storyline of the Belk Bowl between Georgia and Louisville is Cardinal Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham, who held the same role at Georgia from 2010-13. Grantham joined Bobby Petrino’s staff at Louisville and he has improved the Cardinal defense.
The Grantham factor might be the only motivation that Georgia has in this game. The Bulldogs had a golden chance to win the SEC East this season but lost to South Carolina and Florida. They had aspirations of playing in the SEC Championship Game, and that goal wasn’t met.
Louisville finished 9-3 in Petrino’s first season. They aren’t as talented as Georgia but there is motivation here to beat a SEC team. Petrino is familiar with the SEC from his days in Arkansas so he will make sure his team is ready to play in Charlotte.
Pick: Louisville (+7) over Georgia
Packers (-7.5) over Lions: I don’t think the Lions are a good team. They were on the right side of every close game and their only impressive win was back in Week 3 against the Packers. Since then Green Bay’s offense has clicked and they have become a force at Lambeau Field. They have scored 37 or more points in five of their last six homes games. The Lions strength is their defense but I still think the Packers can put up big numbers on Sunday. The Lions offense has struggled greatly with Matthew Stafford and center Dominic Raiola is suspended for the game. The NFC North and a first round is on the line, and Green Bay always seems to step up when some they need to. I think the Packers win in blowout fashion.
Under 48 in Raiders vs Broncos: The Raiders are coming off a win. The last two games following a win they scored a combined 13 points in the two contests. I don’t think they will score a lot in Denver, and the Broncos just want to win to clinch a first round bye. There isn’t an incentive for Denver to score a lot of points. They just need to take care of business and stay healthy.
Steelers (-3.5) over Bengals: Pittsburgh has won three straight games and clinched a playoff berth last week. Now they are playing in a primetime slot with the division on the line against Cincinnati. The Bengals also clinched a playoff berth last week after an hard fought win on Monday night against Denver. Now the Bengals have to come back on a short week to play the Steelers. I don’t think Cincinnati has much in them after defeating the Broncos. Andy Dalton had his best primetime game of his career and I wouldn’t count on him to have another strong national TV outing.
USC and Nebraska play Saturday night in the Holiday Bowl. It’s a short trip for the Trojans to San Diego, while the Cornhuskers have to do some traveling. Nebraska will be without head coach Bo Pelini who was fired after his per usual nine-win season in Lincoln. Apparently that doesn’t cut it at Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers surprisingly hired Oregon State coach Mike Riley to take over the program. Riley won’t be on the sideline yet and I don’t see Nebraska having any motivation in this game.
USC has been to better bowl games before but this program has been quickly rebuilt after facing sanctions and scholarship losses. This bowl game is important for the Trojans to gain momentum into 2015. The USC offense led by quarterback Cody Kessler might be able to score at will against a Nebraska defense that really fell off towards the end of the season.
Another reason to pick USC is to pick against a Big Ten school. Nebraska’s best win was probably out of conference against Miami. They did beat Iowa but it took an epic Hawkeyes collapse for the Cornhuskers to win the game. USC had the better schedule and should have a slight home field advantage.
Pick: USC (-7) over Nebraska
*Note my Week 17 NFL picks will be posted on the website after 11 pm central time on Saturday night.
Pelicans (-1) over Pacers: Indiana returns home after a three-game road trip where they finished 1-2. Their lone win was against lowly Minnesota. Their victory against the Timberwolves was their second win of December with the other coming against the Lakers at home. New Orleans is coming off a big win against Oklahoma City but I think they will remain focused. The Pelicans have to win these game against Eastern Conference foes to stay in the playoff race. The Pacers show up flat, and the Pelicans will get a relatively easy win.
Hornets (+5.5) over Bucks: Milwaukee is also back home after a long West Coast road trip. They had more success on the stand with a 2-2 record and close loses against the Trail Blazers and Clippers. I believe this line is giving Milwaukee too much respect after their impressive stretch of games. Meanwhile, the Hornets are on a three-game win streak and have played much better without guard Lance Stephenson on the court. I like the Hornets because of the unfavorable situation for Milwaukee, and would take Charlotte to win straight up if Stephenson remains out with an injury.
Hawks (+4.5) over Mavericks: The Hawks have had three impressive wins against Chicago, Cleveland and Houston. No reason to think they are can’t keep up their streak, or at least cover. The Mavericks are still getting used to Rajon Rondo. Dallas struggled agains a short-handed San Antonio team on Saturday, and I expect more of the same as the point guard gets acclimated to a new roster.
Suns (+6) over Wizards: Washington is a bit overvalued and the Suns are having a nice road trip to keep themselves in the competitive Western Conference. The Wizards had a tough game on Friday against Miami, and have a look ahead game against the Bulls on Tuesday. Don’t be surprised if Phoenix wins straight up.