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Clemson-Ohio State and Oklahoma-LSU highlight Saturday, Monday bowl games

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Business is about to pick up in the college football world, as the College Football Playoff semifinals are finally upon us. Plus, two other New Year’s Six bowls are on tap between now and Monday night.

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Bowls ATS: 10-7 (8-7 National, 2-0 B1G)

Season ATS: 112-96-4 (59-46-3 National, 53-50-1 B1G)


12/28 and 12/30 bowl games:

Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 17 Memphis v. No. 10 Penn State (-7) - Saturday 12/28 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

What a season Memphis had. The Tigers not only won the AAC after losing to UCF the last two years in the conference championship game, but they also were able to stay ahead of Boise State and Appalachian State for the Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl bid. The extra attention did hurt the Tigers though, as they lost head coach Mike Norvell to Florida State. Offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield has already been tabbed to replace Norvell, and will coach the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl.

Penn State has a coaching change of their own to deal with. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has taken the head coaching position at Old Dominion, leaving tight ends coach to take over the play-calling duties for this game. Quarterback Sean Clifford has had nearly a month to recover from injuries he suffered late in the season, so we should see the Penn State offense run a little smoother than it did to close out the regular season.

The Group of 5 team in the New Year’s Six bowls always have something to prove, but it’s hard to feel confident in Memphis in this game. Despite beating Cincinnati twice, Memphis did have some trouble with the defense of the Bearcats. Penn State’s defense is even better. I think Brady White and Kenneth Gainwell are going to have trouble getting much going against the Nittany Lions. Penn State wins by at least 10 points.

Penn State 31, Memphis 20


Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame (-3.5) v. Iowa State - Saturday 12/28 12:00 PM EST - ABC

Could Notre Dame be getting a look at their future head coach here? Not that Brian Kelly is in danger of getting fired anytime soon, but at some point Kelly is going to want to scratch that NFL itch, and I feel like that’ll come sooner rather than later. If the Notre Dame job comes open in the next few years, you have to figure Matt Campbell’s name will be on the list of possible replacements.

Notre Dame got demolished by Michigan in late October, but to Notre Dame’s credit, they reeled off five straight wins after the loss to the Wolverines. Ian Book did some of his best work during the five-game winning streak, tossing 18 touchdowns during that span. The Fighting Irish should be in good shape if they can move the ball through the air, since they have struggled at times to run the ball this year.

Of course it would be fun to root against Notre Dame in this game. Iowa State has an exciting quarterback in Brock Purdy, and Breece Hall is a fun name to say. Having said all that, I think the Cyclones have trouble keeping this game close. Since it’s not an important bowl game, Notre Dame won’t lay an egg like they did last year. I see the Fighting Irish winning by two scores.

Notre Dame 37, Iowa State 23


First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky (-3.5) v. Western Michigan - Monday 12/30 12:30 PM EST - ESPN

It’s the battle for all of the Westerns! Hopefully we can actually get a First Responder Bowl this year after last year’s game was ruled a no-contest due to some wild weather in the Dallas area. Western Michigan will be looking for a rare bowl win, as the Broncos enter this game just 1-8 in nine previous bowl games.

The quarterback battle in this game is weirdly sort of interesting. Western Kentucky will have Arkansas graduate transfer Ty Storey taking the snaps, while Western Michigan will be quarterbacked by Jon Wassink, who it feels like has been starting for the Broncos for about 15 years even though he is just a junior.

This game is a toss-up for me, so I’ll gladly take the points. I feel like the difference is going to be running back LeVante Bellamy, who rushed for 1,412 yards and 23 touchdowns for Western Michigan this year. The Broncos push their bowl winning percentage to 20%!

Western Michigan 28, Western Kentucky 24


Music City Bowl: Mississippi State (-4.5) v. Louisville - Monday 12/30 4:00 PM EST - ESPN

Mississippi State should probably feel lucky to even be bowl eligible. The Bulldogs were able to win the Egg Bowl because an Ole Miss player pretended to pee like a dog after scoring a touchdown to make it 21-20. The Rebels missed the extra point which gave Mississippi State their sixth victory of the season. The Bulldogs will be missing quarterback Garrett Shrader in this game, but Tommy Stevens does have some familiarity with head coach Joe Moorhead after their time together at Penn State.

Louisville will be looking for a little revenge after they lost to Mississippi State back in the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl, which was the last time the Cardinals were bowl eligible. Scott Satterfield brings a 3-0 bowl record to Louisville, and while they have tremendous pieces on offense with running back Javian Hawkins and quarterback Micale Cunningham, the Cardinals have pretty much no defense.

I don’t feel all that great backing Mississippi State in this game, but I think Tommy Stevens will keep things clean enough while running back Kylin Hill has a huge day against a suspect Louisville defense. It won’t be pretty, but the Bulldogs make it two bowl wins in three years over the Cardinals.

Mississippi State 30, Louisville 23


Redbox Bowl: California (-6.5) v. Illinois - Monday 12/30 4:00 PM EST - FOX

California had such a promising start to the season, winning their first four games before their season was sent in a tailspin when quarterback Chase Garbers was injured against Arizona State. The Golden Bears would go on to lose to the Sun Devils, which would be the start of a four-game losing streak. Cal did clean things up in the last few games to head into this game with a little momentum.

Unlike Cal, Illinois struggled at the end of the year, losing to Iowa and Northwestern to close out the regular season. Still, the Fighting Illini have to feel like they are playing with house money since there can’t be many out there who thought they were going to be bowl eligible this season. Quarterback Brandon Peters is steady, and he’ll have to be able to take care of the football against a very tough California defense.

Remember how awful last year’s Redbox Bowl between Michigan State and Oregon was? This year’s edition won’t be so bad, but it’s not going to be pretty. In a game where we might not see a lot of scoring, I’m definitely taking the points. The most entertaining part of this game might be seeing who will have more tackles, California’s Evan Weaver or Illinois’ Dele Harding.

California 23, Illinois 20


Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida (-14.5) v. No. 24 Virginia - Monday 12/30 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

I’m still trying to figure out how Virginia earned a New Year’s Six bowl spot. Was it because they beat Virginia Tech for the first time in 306 years? There was really nobody better to take on Florida in this game? They should have let Florida play someone like Appalachian State. That game probably would have had more intrigue than watching Virginia get mashed by the Gators.

Since we already know my feelings about Virginia, I won’t extend this much longer. Florida being uninterested in this game does worry me a little, but the crowd should be decidedly pro-Gator, which should help give Florida a bit of a boost once the game starts. Dan Mullen pushes the right buttons to lead his team to an easy win.

Florida 38, Virginia 17


Peach Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma v. No. 1 LSU (-14) - Saturday 12/28 4:00 PM EST - ESPN

Words can’t describe how good Joe Burrow and LSU were this year. Heading into this season I viewed Ed Orgeron as essentially Clay Helton of the south, but I have proven to be wrong with that assessment. Coach O knows exactly what buttons to push to get the most out of his players, and seems to be having a blast while doing it. Although it can’t be too hard to have fun when you have a quarterback like Joe Burrow.

The Tigers did receive a bit of unsettling news heading up to this game when it was announced that running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is dealing with a hamstring injury. Coach Orgeron says he expects the running back to play, but unless it’s totally necessary, I could see LSU trying to use him sparingly ahead of the national title game.

Oklahoma has a lot more to deal with when it comes to injuries and suspensions. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell will miss the game due to a fractured collarbone, while defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson are suspended for the game. Going up against LSU is already tough enough at full strength, missing these key players only makes things tougher.

Death, taxes, and Oklahoma losing in the CFP semifinals. Are there any other certainties in life? Maybe this turns out to be like Oklahoma-Alabama from last year, but I don’t think the Tigers will play around with the Sooners like the Crimson Tide did. Coach Orgeron and his staff are familiar with quarterback Jalen Hurts already from when he played at Alabama, so it’s not like anything Hurts does will catch them by surprise. LSU wins rather easily in Saturday’s appetizer.

LSU 41, Oklahoma 24


Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Clemson (-2) v. No. 2 Ohio State - Saturday 12/28 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

The lucky ones watching this game will be those who aren’t fans of either team and just tuned in to watch a great football game. Those who are fans of either Ohio State or Clemson are likely going to have chewed their fingers down to the knuckles by the end of the game. Unlike 2016 when the Buckeyes were shutout by Clemson, this has the feelings of a game that is going to come down to the wire.

Clemson enters the playoff as the defending national champion, but they have to feel disrespected because people have been taking shots at their schedule all year long. Aside from an inexplicable close win over North Carolina, the Tigers have dominated their opponents since, winning each of their last eight games by at least 31 points. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception since the first quarter of the Louisville game, while running back Travis Etienne was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

The Tigers have an outstanding defense, but this year’s edition doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the unit Ohio State faced in 2016, or even what Clemson fielded last season. It’s hard to imagine a Clemson defensive line that lost five players from last year’s squad putting much pressure on quarterback Justin Fields. I was hoping Justin Fields would say he was a little closer to 100% heading into this game, but the knee injury doesn’t concern me too much since he was able to play at a high level against Michigan and in the second half against Wisconsin.

J.K. Dobbins has a shot at not only setting Ohio State’s single-season rushing record, but reaching 2,000 rushing yards on the season. The junior running back is going to be the difference in this game. Dobbins shines brightest when he is challenged, as evidenced by his 175 yard per game average against the five top-15 defenses he went up against this year. If Dobbins is able to get to 100 yards on the ground, it’ll go a long way in tilting the game in favor of the Buckeyes, with Ohio State posting an 18-0 record when Dobbins hits the century mark.

Fourth time is a charm, right? I think it is. This Buckeye team is wired so much differently than the 2016 team. Ryan Day has shown the ability to make in-game adjustments when things aren’t working for Ohio State, which is an area where Urban Meyer struggled while at Ohio State. Clemson has had a great season, but their 28-game winning streak is ended in a thrilling contest that comes down to the wire by the team with the second-longest active winning streak in the country.

Ohio State 34, Clemson 31