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MC&J: Picks for the College Football Playoff semifinals and what’s left of bowl season

The Buckeyes have had a month to stew over the loss to Michigan and prepare for Georgia.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan at Ohio State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Season ATS: 107-123-6 (58-72-3 National, 49-51-3 B1G) - With a few Friday games still pending

Bowls ATS: 11-18-1 (10-16-1 National, 1-2 B1G)

After not a bad start to bowl season, things really went off the rails over the last few days. Arkansas blew a big lead, Syracuse scored a late touchdown, and a number of other teams I picked had terrible performances. While we can’t even up our season record, hopefully we can still have some fun with these last games of bowl season. Who knows, maybe these picks for bowl games on January 2nd can help you win a little coin since sports betting will be legal in Ohio then!

Bowl games 12/31/22 - 1/2/23

(All lines courtesy of Draftkings Sportsbook.)

Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Alabama (-6.5) v. No. 9 Kansas State - Saturday 12/31 12:00 p.m. - ESPN

Will Alabama care about this bowl game? There was a few instances when the BCS where the Crimson Tide laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl. In 2009 Alabama lost to Utah, and in 2014 they were beaten in New Orleans by Oklahoma. Even though this is only the second time the Crimson Tide hasn’t played in the College Football Playoff, it sounds like Nick Saban’s team will be ready for this game. Both Bryce Young and Will Anderson will play even though nobody would have blamed them if they wanted to sit out and protect themselves for the upcoming NFL Draft.

Kansas State doesn’t quite have the athletes that Alabama has. One thing you can’t take away from the Wildcats is the fundamentals and attention to detail that they play with. Deuce Vaughn is a tremendous running back and Will Howard has found some comfort at quarterback after taking over for Adrian Martinez. Working in their favor is the Alabama defense doesn’t quite squeeze the life out of their opponents as we have seen in the past.

Having said that, I still think Alabama is the right side in this game. Even though he might have not quite lived up to the expectations coming into the year, I think Anderson has a big game to put a little more juice behind his name ahead of the draft. Jahmyr Gibbs is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches that ball, and I think he goes for over 100 yards and a couple of scores as the Crimson Tide win by double digits.

Alabama 38, Kansas State 24

Music City Bowl: Iowa (-2) v. Kentucky - Saturday 12/31 12:00 p.m. - ABC

After the Titans had to use their third-string quarterback on Thursday night against the Cowboys, neither starting quarterback from either team will play in this game. We know Iowa will start third-string quarterback Joe Labas since Spencer Petras won’t be playing in this game and Alex Padilla is in the transfer portal. Kentucky’s Will Levis has already opted out of this game, leaving either a couple of freshmen or an Iowa transfer to take the snaps. As if that wasn’t enough, running backs Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke won’t play for the Wildcats.

These teams met in the Citrus Bowl with Kentucky beating the Hawkeyes 20-17 on the first day of 2022. Now they’ll close out the year with another defensive slugfest. This time I think Iowa wins a low-scoring affair. It sounds like there is a bit of excitement amongst Hawkeyes fans since Labas will play. Then again, the bar is low when it comes to quarterback play in Iowa City.

Iowa 20, Kentucky 13

ReliaQuest Bowl: No. 22 Mississippi State (-1.5) v. Illinois - Monday 1/2 12:00 p.m. - ESPN2

Are you picking against a Mississippi State team that will put forth a spirited effort after the death of Mike Leach? I’m certainly not. The Bulldogs will certainly want to honor their coach with a great performance to close out the year. Also, Mississippi State won’t have to worry about trying to stop Illinois running back Chase Brown, who opted out of this game. Without Brown, Illinois has a hard time getting much going on offense.

Mississippi State 31, Illinois 20

Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 16 Tulane v. No. 10 USC (-2) - Monday 1/2 1:00 p.m. - ESPN

Tulane feels a bit like Utah light. They have some pop on offense and a really tough defense. The Green Wave did have a bit of trouble stopping the run, averaging 153 yards per game on the ground this year, but the Trojans lost a key part of their running game earlier this year when Travis Dye was injured.

USC obviously had bigger aspirations at the end of the year. Had the Trojans not laid an egg against the Utes in Las Vegas, they would be playing in the College Football Playoff. Now USC will be without wide receiver Jordan Addison for this game after he opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams will play in this game but the last time we saw him he was obviously dealing with some injuries. Plus, we have seen how Heisman winners sometimes come out flat after hitting the banquet circuit.

Tulane is going to throw everything they have at USC in this game. I’m not convinced the Trojans have the mental toughness to handle it. Alex Grinch is such a bad defensive coordinator that it feels like the Green Wave can do whatever they want because they are so sound on offense. I’ll take Willie Fritz’s team to cap off an incredible turnaround after going 2-10 in 2021 with one of the biggest wins in school history.

Tulane 34, USC 27

Citrus Bowl: No. 17 LSU (-14.5) v. Purdue - Monday 1/2 1:00 p.m. - ABC

At first, this feels like a lot of points to be laying, especially with the way LSU played in their last two games, losing at Texas A&M and in the SEC Championship Game to Georgia. Then you look at what Purdue will have available in this game. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell, wide receiver Charlie Jones, and tight end Payne Durham have all opted out of this game. As if that wasn’t enough, head coach Jeff Brohm took the Louisville job, which leaves Drew Brees as the interim head coach in this game.

I just don’t feel good about backing Purdue in this game since they’ll be without their three best guys on offense. Jayden Daniels has had some time to get healthy and he should be able to throw the Boilermakers for some loops with his ability to throw and run. If the Tigers get up by a couple of touchdowns it’s hard to see Purdue having the horses to be able to keep LSU from running away with this game.

LSU 41, Purdue 21

Rose Bowl: No. 11 Penn State v. No. 8 Utah (-2) - Monday 1/2 5:00 p.m. - ESPN

Penn State isn’t getting the respect they deserve ahead of this game. The two losses the Nittany Lions suffered this year came to Michigan and Ohio State, with both of those teams playing in the College Football Playoff. Now the Nittany Lions will try and end quarterback Sean Clifford’s 61-year career at Penn State with a victory.

Utah does have some recent experience in Pasadena, taking Ohio State to the limit on the first day of 2022. This isn’t quite the same Utah team we saw in last year’s Rose Bowl. The Utes will be without running back Tavion Thomas and tight end Dalton Kincaid, putting even more pressure on quarterback Cam Rising. The Utah defense has to be breathing just a little easier since Penn State wide receiver Parker Washington won’t be playing in this game.

Unlike USC, Penn State does have some toughness. The Utes were able to run over the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship Game because USC is soft. The Nittany Lions have been through some wars in the Big Ten, so they won’t be scared to not only take some hits but also dish them out. For the second year in a row, Utah comes up short in the “Granddaddy of Them All” against a Big Ten team in Pasadena.

Penn State 35, Utah 31

Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 TCU v. No. 2 Michigan (-7.5) - Saturday 12/31 4:00 p.m. - ESPN

Just a few years ago who would have thought Jim Harbaugh would lead the Wolverines to back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances? I know I certainly didn’t. For a while, it looked like Harbaugh was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole but he has really gotten things to work in Ann Arbor. I thought the Wolverines might take a step back this year after how many players they lost to the NFL. Luckily for Michigan fans, I’ve made quite a habit of being wrong about their program.

TCU played with a lot of fire late in the season, and it burned them in the Big 12 Championship Game when they lost to Kansas State in overtime. Luckily for the Horned Frogs, the loss didn’t keep them out of the College Football Playoff. Max Duggan had a great season, throwing 30 touchdowns while running back Kendre Miller ran for 1,342 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Where TCU is a bit lacking is with their defense. Even though Michigan is going to be without Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards has proven he can handle the workload at running back. Just look at what he did in the fourth quarter in Columbus last month where he uncorked a couple of long touchdown runs to seal the victory for the Wolverines. The Horned Frogs feel a bit more like a finesse team, and we all saw how that worked out for Ohio State against Michigan. TCU might hit a couple of shots early, I just don’t think it’ll be enough as the Wolverines wear down Sonny Dykes’ team.

Michigan 37, TCU 23

Peach Bowl: No. 4 Ohio State v. No. 1 Georgia (-6.5) - Saturday 12/31 8:00 p.m. - ESPN

We have finally made it to this game! I’m already having PTSD from Ohio State playing on New Year’s Eve and getting shutout against Clemson in Arizona in a semifinal and hoping we aren’t in for something similar in Atlanta to close out 2022. This has been such a strange season for the Buckeyes. After watching years of terrible Buffalo Bills football, I’m still trying to wrap my head around feeling so miserable about a team that has only lost one game.

Of course, that one loss came in the biggest game of the season (so far) when Michigan ran away from the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter last month. Before The Game, I was thinking some of the criticisms of Ryan Day were a little unfair. I can’t say as much anymore. Luckily for Day, he has a chance to redeem himself. Ohio State’s head coach and the rest of the coaching staff better have been locked inside their offices for the last month just eating tape and coming up with the perfect game plan for Georgia.

The Bulldogs are certainly a scary team, but I think they are able to be beaten, though. There are a few things Ohio State must do to upset the defending national champs. Miyan Williams has to be a big part of Saturday night’s game plan. The Buckeyes need to get some sort of running game going to keep Georgia guessing. I’m begging Day and Kevin Wilson to mix in some Dallan Hayden on the ground. Hayden is a great compliment to Williams, as he brings some speed and elusiveness while Williams is a bruising back.

Can J.T. Tuimoloau please repeat his performance against Penn State? Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Zach Harrison, and the rest of the defensive line have to get in Stetson Bennett’s face early. I know Bennett is 27-3 as a starter and has seen pretty much everything on the football field, but Ohio State has to make him uncomfortable and hurry his throws. There has to be a bit of a fine line though since the Buckeyes have to create pressure without sacrificing their coverage, which we saw Michigan exploit.

Even though the players and coaches are different, we’ve seen this play out before. Ohio State was an underdog against Alabama in the first College Football Playoff and went out and shocked the world. The Buckeyes are going to have to work insanely hard to keep Jalen Carter and the rest of the Georgia defense off C.J. Stroud, but it’s not impossible. I think Ohio State uses the chip on its shoulder to its advantage and sets up a rematch with Michigan. Day gives himself and his team a chance for revenge.

Ohio State 31, Georgia 27

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