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Picks for the College Football Playoff, New Year’s Six bowls, and more

We ring in 2021 with plenty left to be settled in this college football season. Who moves on to the title game, which New Year’s Six bowl teams show up? Picks for those games and more.

Big Ten Championship Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Bowls ATS: 9-4 (4 New Year’s Eve bowls pending)

Season ATS: 84-78-4 (60-54-2 National, 24-24-2 B1G)

The final MC&J of the season is here. While the results have been a bit of a mixed bag, it has been a season unlike any other. Hopefully next year we have more of a normal college football season. Happy New Year to all and GO BUCKS!

1/1 - 1/2 bowl games:

Citrus Bowl: Auburn v. No. 14 Northwestern (-3.5) - Friday 1/1 1:00 PM EST - ABC

Defense and running the football. That’s how Northwestern wants to win games. The Wildcats will be down a couple running backs for this game, as Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser have entered the transfer portal, leaving Cam Porter to handle most of the carries. Sure, Peyton Ramsey can make throws when he has to, but it’s not like the Wildcats are going to scare anyone with their passing attack.

This is going to be a really weird game for Auburn. The Tigers fired Gus Malzahn a few weeks ago, which means defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will be the interim coach in this game before Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin takes over. Paddy Fisher and the Northwestern defense will have their hands full trying to slow down running back Tank Bigsby, who has to be licking his chops after seeing what Trey Sermon was able to do on the ground against the Wildcats in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Even though Northwestern was able to hang with Ohio State a few weeks ago in Indianapolis, I’m still not terribly impressed with the Wildcats. The Buckeyes were down a lot of key players, and still found a way to win, and really should have won by more. Auburn isn’t quite as good as Ohio State, but the Tigers still have a lot of athletes who will cause problems for Northwestern. Plus, Auburn will play hard for Steele in this game. The Tigers win straight up.

Auburn 24, Northwestern 17

Gator Bowl: No. 23 NC State v. Kentucky (-2.5) - Saturday 1/2 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

North Carolina State comes into this game having won four straight games. While the competition for the Wolfpack hasn’t been great for the most part during those games, NC State can say they handed Liberty their only loss of the season. The defense of the Wolfpack can be leaky at times, but it’s not like they are going to face a huge challenge against a Kentucky offense that has struggled to move the football most of the year.

What Kentucky does really well is create chaos on defense. The Wildcats have forced a lot of turnovers this year, which is something that NC State has had issues with. The problem is if Kentucky does get some of those turnovers, are they going to be able to do anything with the football? I’m skeptical. I feel like the wrong team is favored in this one.

NC State 31, Kentucky 20

Outback Bowl: Ole Miss v. No. 11 Indiana (-8.5) - Saturday 1/2 12:30 PM EST - ABC

This game is going to be wild. Ole Miss is all offense and no defense, while Tom and Allen and Indiana pride themselves on their defense. The season of the Hoosiers took a hit when they lost to Ohio State, and then lost quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Jack Tuttle certainly isn’t Penix. The backup quarterback has just 27 attempts this year, which has me concerned if the Hoosiers get into a shootout with the Rebels.

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral has been really good at times, and he has been really bad at times. Corral threw five interceptions last time out in a loss to LSU, and on the season has 14 interceptions. The Hoosiers have shown how good they can be at causing turnovers. Just ask Justin Fields. The Rebels won’t have wide receiver Elijah Moore, tight end Kenny Yeboah in this game after both opted out of the rest of the season, and it sounds like running back Jerrion Ealy might not play because of injury.

Indiana gets their first bowl since 1991, but in true Indiana fashion it doesn’t come easy. Remember last year’s bowl against Tennessee when the Hoosiers were cruising to a bowl win before a late collapse? The Hoosiers are a little mentally tougher this season, which allows them to avoid the crushing defeat.

Indiana 45, Ole Miss 41

New Year’s Six Bowls:

Peach Bowl: No. 9 Georgia (-7) v. No. 8 Cincinnati - Friday 1/1 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

Georgia has found some life on offense with USC transfer J.T. Daniels at quarterback. After struggling to find offense early in the season, the Bulldogs have put 94 points on the board in their last two games. As if having to deal with a rejuvenated Georgia offense wasn’t going to be tough enough, the Bulldogs have a nasty defense.

After smooth sailing for most of the year, Cincinnati has been pushed to the limit in their last two games. This almost reminds of Coastal Carolina and how they went into their bowl game. Undefeated with a few close losses late in the year, only to see their perfect season erased in the bowl game. This will undoubtedly be quarterback Desmond Ridder’s toughest test of the season, and I’m not sure he is quite up to the task.

Georgia will benefit from not having to leave the state for their bowl game. I’m not saying this is going to be like the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Florida took it to the Bearcats, but I’m also not saying they keep this game within a touchdown. I love Luke Fickell and what he has done at Cincinnati, the Bulldogs are just a little too much to handle here.

Georgia 41, Cincinnati 24

Fiesta Bowl: No. 25 Oregon v. No. 10 Iowa State (-4) - Saturday 1/2 4:00 PM EST - ESPN

I don’t know if anyone has had a stranger season than Oregon. The Ducks started off the season 4-0 before losing to Cal and Oregon State. Then Washington couldn’t play in the PAC-12 Championship Game, which allowed Oregon to take on an undefeated USC team, who they go on to beat in Los Angeles. Now the Ducks are in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Of course Iowa State is having one of their best seasons in school history during a pandemic. The Cyclones started off the season with a loss to Louisiana before beating Oklahoma. Matt Campbell is one of the hottest names in the coaching carousel, but he is still in Ames. Even though the Cyclones weren’t able to take down the Sooners a second time to win the Big 12 Championship, expect strong performances from Brock Purdy and Breece Hall.

If these teams played last year, I’d be siding with Oregon. This year I like the Cyclones a little more. Oregon hasn’t played up to their potential, especially on defense. Campbell is going to have some tricks up his sleeve to help Iowa State close out the season with a New Year’s Six bowl win.

Iowa State 38, Oregon 28

Orange Bowl: No. 13 North Carolina v. No. 5 Texas A&M (-7.5) - Saturday 1/2 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

As much as I want to take North Carolina here to win, especially after the egg that Florida laid in the Cotton Bowl, the Tar Heels are going to be missing a lot of key players in this game. Running backs Javontae Williams and Michael Carter have opted out, which leaves North Carolina with no running backs who have more than 12 carries this year. Wide receiver Dyami Brown and linebacker Chaz Surratt will also not be playing in the Orange Bowl.

Texas A&M sure did a lot of talking for a team that isn’t actually as impressive as their record might lead you to believe. The Aggies got housed by Alabama, barely beat Vanderbilt and LSU, and saw their best win of the season get blown up by Oklahoma. Kellen Mond and Isaiah Spiller are steadying forces for Texas A&M, the Aggies just aren’t one of the best four teams in the country like they think they are.

Even with all the key losses in this game, North Carolina still has Sam Howell to keep them in this game. Like I said earlier, as much as I want to side with Mack Brown’s team to pull the upset, I don’t see it happening. The Tar Heels do keep it close though, and give Texas A&M all they can handle.

Texas A&M 38, North Carolina 31

College Football Playoff:

Rose Bowl: No. 4 Notre Dame v. No. 1 Alabama (-20) - Friday 1/1 4:00 PM EST - ESPN

This has the feel of the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, which Alabama won 42-14 over Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish want to believe they belong in the top echelon of college football teams, but they don’t. I mean just to beat Clemson earlier in the year, Notre Dame needed Trevor Lawrence to get COVID-19, and the Tigers to be missing a number of other key players. We saw the true Notre Dame in the rematch with Clemson.

What more can we say about Alabama? Mac Jones and Devonta Smith are the most lethal QB/WR combination in the country right now. Key on stopping Smith and the Crimson Tide hurt you with Najee Harris on the ground. It just seems like whenever you think you have a handle on what Alabama is trying to do, Saban hits you from another angle. The only thing you really could criticize the Crimson Tide for is some of their defense play this year.

Who is going to make plays for the Fighting Irish in this game? Ian Book is a nice story for Notre Dame, he just doesn’t have the horses alongside him to keep pace with Alabama. When was the last time that Notre Dame has won or been competitive in a bowl that mattered? I’m not talking about the Citrus Bowl or anything like that. A BCS or New Year’s Six bowl. You probably have to go back to the 1995 Orange Bowl when they lost to Florida State by five. The Fighting Irish don’t show up for big games, while Alabama could win a game like this in their sleep.

Alabama 45, Notre Dame 17

Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State v. No. 2 Clemson (-7.5) - Friday 1/1 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

This is becoming one of the most heated non-conference rivalries in college football. Clemson has won all four of the previous meetings with Ohio State, including last year’s controversial thriller at the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State really should have won that game, but an awful targeting call, and an even worse ruling on what looked like a Buckeye fumble return for a touchdown in the second half gave Clemson the win.

Ohio State wasn’t able to get into much of a rhythm this year, and it showed. The Buckeyes did a lot of damage in the first half of games, only to sleepwalk in the second half. The best performance for Ohio State probably came in the blowout of Michigan State, where the Buckeyes were missing a number of players due to COVID-19 protocols.

The number of missing players got even worse in the Big Ten Championship Game, where Northwestern went into halftime leading the Buckeyes before Ryan Day decided giving the football to Trey Sermon on nearly every play was a really good idea. Sermon set Ohio State records by rushing for 271 yards in the second half, and 331 yards in the game. Ohio State is going to need the same type of production out of Sermon on Friday night that they saw from J.K. Dobbins against the Tigers last year.

The only blemish on Clemson’s record this year came against Notre Dame, and we know that was only because quarterback Trevor Lawrence missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols. Even without Lawrence, the Tigers almost beat Notre Dame in South Bend, which tells you just how good Clemson is. Lawrence needs just three touchdown passes to move ahead of Deshuan Watson for most in school history.

The x-factor in this game for Clemson is going to be Travis Etienne, who is the only FBS player with more than 850 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards this year. The Buckeyes had a tough time getting a handle on Etienne last year, and you have to figure the versatile running back will be called on even more since the Tigers suffered some losses in the offseason at wide receiver, as Tee Higgins is in the NFL now, and Justyn Ross is out for the season with a spinal injury.

Most of the time I try to bet with my head and not my heart. This isn’t the case. While I think Clemson is a little bit better team in this matchup, I just can’t back Dabo Swinney. The smartest play is to take Ohio State getting the points here, since I think this is going to be another classic contest between these two schools that comes down to the wire. I’m going to go one step further and pick Ohio State to win here. History isn’t on the side of Ohio State against Clemson, but it isn’t like the Buckeyes haven’t already toppled a college football giant in a College Football Playoff semifinal when their backs have been against the wall. The first day of 2021 provides more joy for Buckeye Nation than all of 2020 did.

Ohio State 35, Clemson 31