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MC&J: The Big Ten finally gets on the field this bowl season

After watching the first week-plus of bowl season, the Big Ten finally gets in the mix with five games between Tuesday and Thursday

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Nebraska at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bowl games ATS: 6-9 (Western Michigan -6 pending)

Season ATS: 114-92-5 (58-54-2 National, 56-37-3 B1G)

Not a whole lot positive to say about the most recent set of games. Maybe we start a little run after covering the last two games, and with Western Michigan pending. Army was close to covering, but couldn’t close the deal against Missouri. We also lost a couple possible wins after the Hawai’i and Military Bowls got canceled. Hopefully the bigger bowl games of the year are able to be played without any issue.


Bowl games 12/28-12/30

(All lines courtesy of DraftKings sportsbook.)

Birmingham Bowl: No. 20 Houston v. Auburn (-2.5) - Tuesday 12/28 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

Is Auburn favored here just because the game is being played in Alabama? Because they are from the SEC and because of that have to be the better team? The Tigers will be without quarterback Bo Nix, who is transferring to Oregon, as well as defenders Zakoby McClain and Roger McCreary, with both sitting out the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Houston might have not quite played the competition that Auburn did this year, but they’ll definitely be ready to cap off an outstanding season with a win over a power conference team. The Cougars have a stout rush defense, which should keep Tank Bigsby in check. I just see Houston having more motivation in this game, which will lead them to victory.

Houston 31, Auburn 24


First Responder Bowl: Air Force v. Louisville (-1.5) - Tuesday 12/28 3:15 PM EST - ESPN

Congrats Louisville, you went 6-6 this year and get a bowl game against one of the hardest teams to game plan for! I’m sure you are super excited to be headed to Dallas for this game! The Cardinals are coming off a 52-21 loss to rival Kentucky that saw the Wildcats rush for 362 yards in the victory. Not exactly the performance you want to be coming off of when heading into a game against Air Force.

With a win on Tuesday, Air Force will secure their fourth 10-win season under Troy Calhoun. Even in their losses this year the Falcons were really competitive, as all three of their losses came by seven points or less. Air Force is averaging 341 yards per game rushing this year, and even though Louisville hasn’t been terrible this season against the run, I see the Falcons eventually wearing down the defense of the Cardinals to earn the victory.

Air Force 30 Louisville 23


Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State (-9.5) v. Texas Tech - Tuesday 12/28 6:45 PM EST - ESPN

Mike Leach will be trying to lock his old school in the closet on Tuesday night in Memphis. The former Texas Tech head coach put together a solid second season with the Bulldogs, adding a little bit of defense to his high-powered passing attack. Quarterback Will Rogers passed for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns this year, so expect to see Mississippi State throw it early and often in this game.

I just don’t see how Texas Tech is going to keep pace. The Red Raiders have to be delighted to even get to a bowl game after firing Matt Wells eight games into the season. It’s not like the Red Raiders have been great under interim head coach Sonny Cumbie, winning just one of four games. As if things weren’t odd enough in waiting for Joey McGuire to take over, Cumbie will be heading to Louisiana Tech after the game. This feels like a recipe for a big Mississippi State win.

Mississippi State 45, Texas Tech 20


Holiday Bowl: UCLA v. No. 18 NC State (-1) - Tuesday 12/28 8:00 PM EST - FOX

This should be a really fun bowl game. UCLA enters this game on a three-game win streak, while NC State has won four of their last five games, with the only loss during that span being a 45-42 setback against Wake Forest. After it sounded like Chip Kelly was flirting with Oregon, now the UCLA head coach will try and set the tone for 2022 by leading the Bruins to their first bowl win since 2013.

As much as I am trying to talk myself into picking UCLA here, especially since this game is in California, I like the Wolfpack a little bit more. Even though NC State might not be able to run the football quite as well as UCLA, I do see Devin Leary making a bunch of plays in this game. The Wolfpack quarterback passed for 3,433 yards and 35 touchdowns this year. The defense of NC State is the difference, as they make a couple more plays to secure the victory for Dave Doeren.

NC State 38, UCLA 31


Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia v. Minnesota (-5) - Tuesday 12/28 10:15 PM EST - ESPN

West Virgina will be without Leddie Brown, as the running back has opted out of this game. You won’t see Minnesota feeling bad for the Mountaineers, since the Golden Gophers have lost 423 running backs this year due to injury. These teams feel like mirror images of each other, preferring to run the football and control the clock.

Even though I think West Virginia might have a little more talent, I like Minnesota more in this game. The Mountaineers have seen teams run on them this year at times, and I think Minnesota could do the same, especially in the second half with their massive offensive line wearing on the West Virginia defense. Even though Tanner Morgan leaves a lot to be desired at quarterback most of the time, I think he plays safe enough here to lead Minnesota to a win by at least a touchdown.

Minnesota 27, West Virginia 17


Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland (-3.5) v. Virginia Tech - Wednesday 12/29 2:15 PM EST - ESPN

The Virginia Tech offense was tough to watch at times this year. Luckily, they should be a little easier on the eyes Wednesday afternoon since they’ll get to play a pretty awful Maryland defense. Then again, it might be tough to bank on that, since they’ll be without leading wide receiver Tre Turner, who opted out of this game. Expect the Terrapins to get a heavy dose of running back Raheem Blackshear.

The best quarterback in this game will definitely be Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa. Even though Tua’s younger brother threw 24 touchdowns this year, he was prone to mistakes, tossing 11 interceptions. It also doesn’t help that a couple of Maryland’s top receivers were injured earlier in the season. I just keep picturing a tough Virginia Tech defense grabbing a couple picks and keeping this game within a field goal, and possibly winning at Yankee Stadium.

Virginia Tech 28, Maryland 24


Cheez-It Bowl: No. 19 Clemson (-1) v. Iowa State - Wednesday 12/29 5:45 PM EST - ESPN

Both Clemson and Iowa State had dreams of a bigger bowl game heading into the regular season, as both teams entered the year ranked in the top-10. Unfortunately, Clemson struggled to score for most of the year, while Iowa State lost five games by a combined 29 points. The Tigers will be without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who took head coaching jobs as the coaching carousel turned.

The biggest loss in the game might be Iowa State running back Breece Hall. Clemson didn’t give up much on the ground this year, but Hall would have been counted on to take some attention away from Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy. Even though I see both teams having trouble putting points on the board, I like Clemson a little more here since they won’t have to deal with Hall.

Clemson 24, Iowa State 20


Alamo Bowl: No. 14 Oregon v. No. 16 Oklahoma (-4.5) - Wednesday 12/29 9:00 PM EST - ESPN

This is yet another game that the coaching carousel has decimated. Oregon’s Mario Cristobal is off to Miami, while Lincoln Riley is setting up shop at USC. At least Oklahoma has a fun interim head coach, as Bob Stoops is doing his best Barry Alvarez impersonation and returning to coach the Sooners for one more game.

The good news for Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams is he won’t have to worry about defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who is headed to the NFL. Oregon looked pretty terrible in a couple losses to Utah at the end of the season. While losing to the Utes is nothing to be embarrassed about, I didn’t see anything from the Ducks that makes me think they’ll be able to keep up with the Sooners, especially without Thibodeaux.

Oklahoma 41, Oregon 28


Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (-9.5) v. South Carolina - Thursday 12/30 11:30 AM EST - ESPN

Brighter days are definitely on the horizon for South Carolina after the Gamecocks were able to poach Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler in the transfer portal. Unfortunately for Shane Beamer, he won’t have Rattler for this game. In fact, South Carolina will be without Jason Brown, who started the last four games of the regular season, after Brown entered the transfer portal. Enter Zeb Noland. While Noland threw six touchdowns this year, four of those came against Eastern Illinois.

Normally I would think Sam Howell would pass all over South Carolina in this game, but the Gamecocks did have a decent pass defense this year. Also, Howell wasn’t nearly as good as we saw last season. This feels like two teams that are going to be headed in opposite directions, so I’ll take the points with the Gamecocks, as they’ll be amped up to play their neighbor.

North Carolina 31, South Carolina 27


Music City Bowl: Tennessee (-4.5) v. Purdue - Thursday 12/30 3:00 PM EST - ESPN

Tennessee got a gift this bowl season, as they’ll get to play less than three hours from Knoxville. What I’d rather see is Tennessee having to go play this game in West Lafayette or in some other podunk Indiana city. Imagine the hilarity that would come out of Vols fans anywhere in the Hoosier state.

As for the game, I’m not convinced that Tennessee is a better team than Purdue. Hendon Hooker is definitely an exciting quarterback, but Aidan O’Connell is no slouch. O’Connell and David Bell should have fun against a Volunteer pass defense that allowed over 250 yards per game. I think the Big Ten underdog wins straight up here.

Purdue 34, Tennessee 27


Peach Bowl: No. 12 Pittsburgh v. No. 10 Michigan State (-2.5) - Thursday 12/30 7:00 PM EST - ESPN

The first of this year’s New Year’s Six bowls lost a lot of its luster when Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III announced they were opting of the Peach Bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. This will give Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison an even bigger chance to shine. The Biletnikoff Award winner should have a field day against one of the worst pass defenses in the country, even without Pickett throwing passes to him.

Even though Michigan State finished 10-2 this year, I don’t think they were as good as their record was. Top to bottom I like the Panthers a lot more. I feel like Pitt’s offense without Pickett can function better than Michigan State’s offense without Walker. The wrong team is favored here, and it will show on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Pittsburgh 38, Michigan State 28


Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin (-6.5) v. Arizona State - Thursday 12/30 10:00 PM EST - ESPN

Wisconsin has to be kicking themselves for blowing their regular season finale against Minnesota. Even though the Badgers probably wouldn’t have beaten Michigan in Indianapolis, they would have at least given the Wolverines a better game than Iowa did. This feels like a bit of a lost year for the Badgers, but at least they did find a star in running back Braelon Allen. The freshman has rushed for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.

Arizona State isn’t going to let the Badgers run all over them, though. The Sun Devils have a veteran quarterback in Jayden Daniels, who I can see moving the football a little against a tough Wisconsin defense. Arizona State’s defense isn’t too shabby, either. I wonder how disappointed the Badgers will be they aren’t in a bigger bowl, as well as a later start time, and if that might favor the Sun Devils. Wisconsin pulls out a close, low-scoring game in Las Vegas.

Wisconsin 20, Arizona State 17

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.