Last Week: 4-2 (.667)
Total: 68-56-1 (.548)
*Note- some of these games don’t take place on Saturday
Sun Bowl: North Carolina (+2.5) over #18 Stanford
The main reason I’m discussing this game is because there is great value on the Tar Heels. For starters, it’s common knowledge that Christian McCaffrey–a.k.a. Stanford’s offense–will not play in order to avoid risking injury before the NFL Draft. Moreover, Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric (known as FEI) has the Tar Heels rated as the 27th best team in the nation. Not only is Stanford rated just 35th overall, but they rank 75th in offensive FEI. Without McCaffrey, I don’t see Stanford taking advantage of North Carolina’s average defense. Take the Tar Heels with the points.
Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan (-7) over #11 Florida State
After their heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, will Michigan show up? If they do, they’ll be able to take advantage of a Florida State offense centered around running back Dalvin Cook. If the Wolverines can slow down Cook, that will put too much pressure on Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois to move the ball through the air against Michigan’s number one ranked pass defense. I’ll put my faith in Jim Harbaugh’s squad.
*Saturday Picks (excluding College Football Playoff games)
Citrus Bowl: #13 Louisville (+3.5) over #20 LSU
Louisville ended the regular season on a sour note (aside from Lamar Jackson claiming the Heisman trophy) by losing their final two games. They’ve been so good all season, though, that I bet they come out motivated to end the season similar to how it started. I’ll take the points here, especially since LSU will be without Leonard Fournette.
Cotton Bowl: #8 Wisconsin (-8) over #15 Western Michigan
Western Michigan enters this game undefeated. How could they not, though? They played the nation’s 101st toughest schedule! They won’t keep up with Wisconsin for four quarters. I like the Badgers by at least two touchdowns.
Rose Bowl: #5 Penn State (+7) over #9 USC
After a 1-3 start, USC has been one of the hottest teams in the nation. But you know who has been even hotter? Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won nine in a row and boast a terrific +3.3 net yards per play differential over their past four games. USC’s differential, on the other hand, is only +0.9; and they rank lower than the Nittany Lions in FEI over the course of this entire season. So how is Penn State a one-touchdown underdog? I’m not sure. I’ll take the Nittany Lions to win straight up.
Sugar Bowl: #14 Auburn (+3) over #7 Oklahoma
Despite receiving over 70% of bets from the public, the spread has moved in favor of Auburn by three points. Simply put, the sharp bettors who do this for a living love the Tigers, mainly because teams receiving less than 33% of bets in bowl games are 70-35 (.667) against the spread over the past ten years. With explosive running back Kamryn Pettaway back healthy, look for Auburn to pull the upset over an Oklahoma team with a below-average defense.
*College Football Playoff
#1 Alabama (-13.5) over #4 Washington
Believe it or not, the numbers actually point to Washington as the smart pick with the spread. The Huskies rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide may rank first in defense, but they’re only 16th in offense. Moreover, if we look at yards per play, these teams appear to be even more evenly matched. Alabama and Washington’s net yards per play differentials are separated by only 0.2 units (+2.7 vs +2.5). And you really can’t point to Alabama having the more difficult schedule: According to Football Outsiders, Washington (18th toughest schedule) has actually had a tougher road than ‘Bama (22nd).
However, my gut says go with Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense is clearly the most dominant unit in the nation, and I think they’ll give Washington quarterback Jake Browning fits. Small sample size, but I’ve seen Browning struggle against the two toughest defenses he’s played this year: He posted just a 43% completion percentage against USC and Colorado. So if the Huskies want to have a shot, they’ll need their defense to step up. But given the many weapons ‘Bama has on the outside (e.g. Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart), I just don’t see Washington making this much of a game.
#3 Ohio State (-3) over #2 Clemson
Flip a coin. That’s how tight I project this game to be. Ohio State and Clemson are basically identical to one another. Both have high profile quarterbacks in J.T. Barrett and Deshaun Watson as well as elite defenses. But each have also failed to play up to their potential at various points this season. To be perfectly candid, I have no particular insight pertaining to this game. These teams are two of the most talented teams in the country, but have been erratic all season long. I genuinely have no idea who will win.
However, I’m ultimately going to pick Ohio State. Wait, that doesn’t make sense: Since I, along with what I’m sure are many other pundits, think this game is a toss-up, shouldn’t I just take the points with Clemson? Well, it’s actually a flawed course of action to “just take the points” in bowl games where the underdog is considered to be just as strong as the favorite. In these situations, underdogs like Clemson tend to receive a majority of public bets. And that’s exactly the case we have here, as the Tigers are receiving over 60% of the public’s support. The irony, though, is that underdogs in these situations have only covered the spread 43% of the time over the past ten years. That’s obviously not profitable. So for that reason, I’m going to ride this trend and take the Buckeyes.