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The Big E College Football Picks: December 31 Through January 1

Now we’re starting to pick up some steam and see a lot more college football!

Of course, that means we’re that much closer to a world without games for the next eight months, so that’s pretty depressing.

Still, we have some very solid bowl games coming up including Notre Dame’s appearance in the Sun Bowl, and a very nice little New Year’s Day set up.

As always, before we take a look ahead at the games coming up, let’s take a look back at the last few days of bowl mania.

*Georgia Tech lost four turnovers and was ever-so-slowly suffocated by a gritty Air Force team in the Independence Bowl.

This caps off a pretty dismal year for Georgia Tech and a major knock on head coach Paul Jonhson’s resume. The Yellow Jackets go from a BCS bowl to 6-7…that’s about as bad Notre Dame going to the Sugar Bowl and then 3-9 the following year.

Damn it.

Meanwhile, Air Force finished a very solid 9-4.

Bet: Air Force -3 (Win)

*West Virginia put in a rather lackluster performance in a loss to NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Are bowl executives rethinking their passing on Notre Dame now?

Maybe a better question is, has anyone fallen off the face of the earth more than Mountaineer running back Noel Devine? This kid was a sensational freshman and had two huge sophomore and junior seasons. In 2010, just 936 yards and under 5 yards per rush.

A 9-4 finish is pretty good for NC State, although I bet they wished they could have taken a shot at Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. Don’t go losing to Maryland next time!

Bet: NC State +2.5 (Win)

*Tuesday’s late-night game featured a quality matchup between Missouri and Iowa. Big props to the Hawkeyes for coming out swinging and playing hard despite all of the off the field issues and suspensions.

Iowa was running all over the Tigers, but Missouri settled down and got one heck of a performance out of quarterback Blaine Gabbert (41 completions!), but an untimely pick six was the eventual difference maker.

Sometimes life just goes that way.

The bowl win is a bit of consolation for Iowa whose season really imploded (some we’re calling for a Rose Bowl appearance, and they lost to Minnesota), but once again Kirk Ferentz had his team ready as can be.

This is a tough loss for Missouri who could have been looking at a top ten finish (I’m going to say that’s pretty rare for them) and building more momentum in a weakened Big 12 next year.

Bet: Missouri -3 (Loss)

*Maryland sent head coach Ralph Friedgen off in style with a glorious thumping of East Carolina on Wednesday. The Terps grinded out almost 300 rushing yards against that seriously, seriously pathetic Pirate defense, and Maryland might find themselves being coached by a pirate soon.

That’s a tough year for East Carolina who finishes the season below .500, but quite an amazing season for the Terrapins. Maryland finishes 9-4 and it is a joke that Friedgen is being pushed out the door after winning ACC coach of the year.

Bet: East Carolina +7.5 (Loss)

*Illinois went down into Texas amid a swarm of Baylor supporters and embarrassed the Bears 38-14. Like Maryland, the Illini simply pounded the ball on the ground for nearly 300 yards and Baylor had no answer for it.

Bear quarterback Robert Griffin III ended up with 350 yards of total offense, and let me just say that this was one of the worst performances for someone who ended up finishing the game with surprisingly good statistics. I’m shocked really, because Griffin just looked out of it all night long.

Both teams finished the season 7-6 and will retreat to their respective campuses and we won’t hear anything about them until they play a top team in September or October of next year.

Bet: Baylor -1.5 (Loss)

*Oklahoma State came up guns ‘a blazing against Arizona and toppled the Wildcats with relative ease.

Arizona turned the ball over too many times and just could not match the fast-paced intensity of the Cowboys. Although, curiously Oklahoma State only totaled 312 yards, their lowest output of the entire season.

Not really the best of finishes for Arizona, who started out 4-0, climbed as high as No. 9 in the AP Poll, and then proceeded to lose five out of their last eight games.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State finishes with a superb 11 wins and could make some serious noise next year if they improve their defense and return wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Bet: Oklahoma State -5 (Win)

*Army raced out to a 16-0 lead over SMU and hung on to defeat the Mustangs 16-14.

Tough loss for SMU, who nearly outgained Army by 200 yards, limited the Black Knights to just 229 total yards, and lost three turnovers (including a fumble lost and taken back for a TD).

This was the best season in a long, long time for Army, while SMU finishes 7-7 and one of the best teams in the Conference-USA.

Bet: SMU -7 (Loss)

*In a back and forth game with Kansas State, the Syracuse Orange carved out plenty of yards on the ground, built an eight point lead in the fourth quarter and eventually held off the Wildcats after stopping a two-point conversion with just over a minute left.

Check out the controversial unsportsmanlike penalty on Kansas States’ last touchdown that caused the long two-point attempt. You’ve gotta love referees!

This was a wild game and a pretty big win for a Syracuse program that has been in the basement for so many years. An 8-5 season and 4-3 in the Big East isn’t too shabby for the Orange.

Kansas State finishes 7-6 and would probably like to have this game back. Come on, losing to Big Least teams!!

Bet: Kansas State -1 (Loss)

*In one of the craziest endings I have ever seen, North Carolina came from behind in ridiculous fashion and beat Tennessee in overtime. The poor Volunteers had to endure the horror show at LSU earlier this year and now this.

This was a pretty good season for the Tar Heels giving all the crap that went on with their team. Does a bomb explode in the offseason and do they start over now?

Tennessee showed a ton of grit down the stretch this year and although this loss was heartbreaking, you have to respect what Dooley is doing in Knoxville. I think Tennessee is going to be back for real in two or three years.

Bet: North Carolina -2 (Win)

*The Holiday Bowl is currently being played. Washington leads Nebraska 10-7 late in the first half. We’ll have the results in part four of the bowl picks.

Bowl Record: 6-10

Overall Record: 94-100

Meineke Care Car Bowl

Friday, December 31st

12:00 PM ET

Charlotte, North Carolina

Bank of America Stadium

South Florida (+5.5) vs. Clemson

Pick: South Florida

I’m sitting here looking at some stats, pouring over each team’s schedules and trying to justify picking Clemson here to win by almost a touchdown…and I can’t do it.

Is it because Clemson hung in there with Auburn and played well in most of their losses? Maybe, but I heard from a reliable source that I should take South Florida in this one.

Just kidding, I’m pretty much getting desperate here and am taking a flyer on the Bulls to keep this game close. In depth analysis, I know.

Clemson 24

South Florida 20

Watchability: 2.5

Clemson has some notoriety, but having USF as an opponent drags this rating down. Yeah I’ll probably tune in to this while cracking open a beer and getting ready for Notre Dame to play, but this matchup isn’t going to stop me from channel surfing and forgetting that it is even on.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Friday, December 31st

3:30 PM ET

Memphis, Tennessee

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

UCF (+6.5) vs. Georgia

Pick: Georgia

Should this game be that tough to pick? Maybe, since Georgia is one of the more underachieving teams in the country and the Bulldogs aren’t exactly the cream of the SEC right now.

But, I’d consider it an extremely risky pick to go against Georgia here because their defensive talent alone should shut down UCF. Also, Georgia was really starting to gain some confidence down the stretch to end the regular season and benefited greatly from getting star receiver A.J. Green back.

Even in a down year Georgia can hang with the best in the SEC. I don’t think they’ll have many problems with the fourth best team in Florida.

Georgia 38

UCF 17

Watchability: 3

This one gets a three because Georgia has drawing power and UCF had a really good season this year. Plus, there’s always the possibility that this is the last game for Mike Richt at Georgia. Unlikely sure…but you never know!

Jim Harbaugh to Georgia…what??

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Friday, December 31st

7:30 PM ET

Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia Dome

South Carolina (-3) vs. Florida State

Pick: Florida State

Two main things here: First, I was never a believer in South Carolina being one of the best teams in the country this year. Making the SEC championship this year would seem to qualify a team for that title, but the SEC East was a pile of doody this year.

Second, South Carolina can’t help but have terrible flashbacks to their beat down at the hands of Auburn in the Georgia Dome a few weeks ago.

I also don’t trust Gamecock quarterback Stephen Garcia and I expect a couple heinous turnovers. These teams are pretty close to even in my book, and although South Carolina has more star power I think bright days are ahead for Florida State and that success starts with an upset over Steve Spurrier in Atlanta.

Florida State 33

South Carolina 31

Watchability: 4

This is the best game of the bowl season so far, and to think in the past that this would have been considered one of the lower-tier bowl games. Anyway, this is a game that most college football fans have to watch, so tune in.

TicketCity Bowl

Saturday, January 1st

12:00 PM ET

Dallas, Texas

Cotton Bowl

Northwestern (+9.5) vs. Texas Tech

Pick: Northwestern

Northwestern is a totally different team without quarterback Dan Persa, and in a bad way. Still, I’m not convinced Texas Tech is this good to beat a gritty Wildcat team by almost 10 points.

So far the Big 12 hasn’t done too well against the Big Ten and although the Red Raiders should be able to pull out a victory, they shouldn’t cover.

Texas Tech 27

Northwestern 20

Watchability: 2

For a game between two BCS schools, this is a pretty lousy matchup. Two teams not a whole heck of a lot of people care about and zero star power. Add it up and it equals bad ratings.

Outback Bowl

Saturday, January 1st

1:00 PM ET

Tampa, Florida

Raymond James Stadium

Florida (-7) vs. Penn State

Pick: Florida

Listen, both of these teams had down years, but Florida is still in such a higher class right now than Penn State. And is anyone going to bet against Urban Meyer in his last game after he’s had a month to prepare for a rather mediocre Nittany Lion team?

This has to be a tough situation for Penn State, with the game being in Florida and with the Meyer retirement surrounding everything. Maybe they hang around for a while, but the Gators should take control in the second half.

Then it’s on to the Will Muschamp Era in Gainesville.

Florida 34

Penn State 17

Watchability: 3.5

You thought I’d give a four didn’t you? I can’t do that when Penn State was really average this year and Florida was way, way down for their standards. Some bonus points for this being Meyer’s last game, but this isn’t in the must-see category.

Capital One Bowl

Saturday, January 1st

1:00 PM ET

Orlando, Florida

Citrus Bowl

Alabama (-10) vs. Michigan State

Pick: Alabama

This is such a difficult game to pick. On the one hand, Alabama is Alabama and Michigan State is just not on the Tide’s athletic level.

But, Alabama’s defense isn’t shut down nasty like it was last year and MSU has tremendous balance on offense and should be able to move the ball all game long.

I guess what it comes down to is the physical pounding the Spartans are going to endure and at some point a few big mistakes are going to happen. Like they always say, this will be closer than the experts think, but Alabama will take control in the fourth quarter.

Alabama 31

Michigan State 20

Watchability: 4

This is one of the top bowl games of the season, and it would really be something special to see Michigan State upset Alabama, even if Sparty has the better record and the higher ranking and all of that. Michigan State isn’t supposed to beat Saban-led Alabama and that’s that. You have to watch to see if it happens.

Progressive Gator Bowl

Saturday, January 1st

1:30 PM ET

Jacksonville, Florida

EverBank Field

Mississippi State (-4.5) vs. Michigan

Pick: Michigan

Let’s just call this "what’s going to happen to Rich Rod Bowl." Is Michigan going to fire him if they lose this game?

With that aside, this is a pretty interesting matchup with a better-than-you-expect Mississippi State team against the high-octane Michigan offense.

It’s too difficult to pick Michigan to win this game…I just can’t see a quality SEC team losing to a club with literally no defense, but I think this game is close until the final seconds. The Bulldogs will kick a late field goal and win this, or hold off Michigan because as anyone who has watched them this year knows, the Wolverines can’t get field goals.

Mississippi State 42

Michigan 40

Watchability: 4

From a national perspective, this is probably under a four, but for Irish fans this is must-see-TV early on New Year’s Day. Odds are Rich Rod comes back to Michigan if the Wolverines at least put up a fight.

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Vizio

Saturday, January 1st

4:30 PM ET

Pasadena, California

Rose Bowl

Wisconsin (+3) vs. TCU

Pick: Wisconsin

Finally, the second most important bowl game of the season!

Any college football fan should be excited beyond all belief to watch this one. I think Wisconsin has been getting just a little bit too much love late in the season. Not to say that they aren’t a great team right now, but do you think they’ve faced a defense like TCU’s this season?

Everyone loves teams that pound the ball on the ground, but I’ll bet Wisconsin has a hard time moving the ball and picking up key third downs all night long.

In the end I’m kind of expecting TCU to shock the world here with a big win (okay I’m hoping it), but this should be a great game and very close.

TCU 26

Wisconsin 24

Watchability: 5

There’s the title game, there’s this game, and there’s whatever game your favorite team is playing in. That’s what the 2010 bowl season really boils down to.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Saturday, January 1st

8:30 PM ET

Glendale, Arizona

University of Phoenix Stadium

Connecticut (+17) vs. Oklahoma

Pick: Oklahoma

Lately there have been a lot of people picking Connecticut to make this a game and at least prevent the Sooners from covering this rather large spread. Is the Oklahoma defense really good enough to pull off something like a three touchdown victory against a somewhat quality opponent?

The big thing for me is that the Huskies really stink at throwing the ball and Oklahoma really only has to shut down Todman on the ground and they should cruise. On the other side of the ball, the Sooners are going to score points on an average Husky unit.

Oklahoma 38

Connecticut 17

Watchability: 3

Lowest-rated BCS bowl ever? Is anyone going to bother tuning in after what should be an epic Rose Bowl just hours before? There is some small David vs. Goliath effect here that makes it worth watching, but sometimes Sportscenter highlights can suffice.

Enjoy the next batch of games!