Rick’s Picks: Holiday bowl games special

Rick Patrick
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Here we are, in that “limbo” sort of week between Christmas day and New Year's Day. The one great thing about this week is that it's possible to watch a college football game in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. Who cares if it's Central Kansas State versus Southern Oregon Tech playing in the “Visit Tallahassee Bowl” on Dec. 27? Just for fun, let's take a look at some of the interesting games this bowl season.

Saturday, Dec. 29

Peach Bowl
Florida vs Michigan
The Florida Gators have, on some Saturdays, exceeded expectations. On most Saturdays, they have shown that even though they are improving, they have a long way to go before they return to the “glory days” of Florida football. For some reason, it seems the Michigan Wolverines have had the Gators' number. I think this game will show that, while the Gators are getting better, they aren't quite there yet. Inconsistency on offense, especially in the quarterback position, keeps me from giving the nod to the Swamp Lizards.
Rick's Pick: Michigan

Belk Bowl
South Carolina vs. Virginia
The Gamecocks have had an up and down season this year, but they have done well enough for Coach Will Muschamp to get a nice contract extension through the next five years. The Gamecocks star receiver, Deebo Samuel has chosen to forgo his junior season and will skip the bowl game in the hopes of playing football on Sundays. I really can't say I blame players for opting for the draft early, but I'm not crazy about them skipping the bowl game. But that's a debate for another day. Even without Samuel, I'll give a slight edge to the Gamecocks.
Rick's Pick: South Carolina

Cotton Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Clemson
This game will be the first of the college playoff games. If any team has a good chance of pulling off an upset, I think it would be the Irish in this game. Perhaps I shouldn't say a “good” chance, but simply a chance. This will likely be a pretty good game, but in the end, I think the Tigers will come out on top.
Rick's Pick: Clemson

Orange Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Alabama
The other college playoff game will be a good game, but I don't look for this one to be as close as the Clemson vs. Notre Dame game. The Sooners may challenge the Tide early in the game, but later, it will be the Crimson Tide that will once again roll.
Rick's Pick: Alabama

Monday, Dec. 31

Gator Bowl
North Carolina State vs. Texas A&M
From all the indications I've seen, this should be a pretty close game. The over/under in this game is 59 points, which suggests it could be a high-scoring affair. Both teams have averaged over 30 points per game this season, but I think the Aggie defense is a little bit better. I think that will be the difference in the game.
Rick's Pick: Texas A&M

Tuesday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Iowa
This game, which pits two mid-level teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big-10 Conference each year is usually a good game. I expect this game to live up to that standard. Both teams have really good defensive units, which could keep this a low-scoring game. Look for the Bulldogs to challenge the Hawkeyes at the line of scrimmage with their rushing attack. The Hawkeyes have been pretty good at stopping the run, giving up just 102.8 yards per game on the ground. In the end, I think it will be the Bulldogs who will win a tough, old-fashioned, smash-mouth football game.
Rick's Pick: Mississippi State

Fiesta Bowl
LSU vs. UCF
I do regret that this game will be played without the Golden Knight's starting quarterback, McKenzie Milton, who suffered a devastating knee injury at the end of the season. Even with Milton, I would have given the edge to the Bayou Bengals. The Golden Knights turned to backup quarterback Darriel Mack, Jr. to lead them to a American Athletic Conference championship over the Memphis Tigers. Mack had a good game, but he put the ball on the ground four times. You can bet the LSU defense will have that in mind when the two teams meet in Tempe. This game could have been closer had the Golden Knights been at full-strength with Milton. The way the two teams match up now, I think LSU has a clear advantage.
Rick's Pick: LSU

Rose Bowl
Washington vs. Ohio State
The “Grandaddy of them all” bowl game in Pasadena should be a good game this year. The game, which usually features the Big-10 Champion vs. the Pac-10 Champion, is always entertaining to watch. This year should be no different. During the early part of the season, many felt Ohio State would be making a challenge in the playoffs. However, a mid-season upset loss to Purdue pretty much knocked the Buckeyes out of the national championship conversation. Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer made the decision to retire from coaching, again, and will now be the Assistant Athletic Director at Ohio State. How long that stint will last is anyone's guess. The Buckeyes are a 6.5-point favorite, but looking at the two teams, I like the Huskies' defensive unit to play a major factor in the game. The Huskies have only allowed 15.5 points per game this season and I believe they will be able to hold the Buckeyes in check. I'm looking for Washington to pull an upset over the Buckeyes.
Rick's Pick: Washington

Sugar Bowl
Texas vs. Georgia
There are some who say the Georgia Bulldogs should be playing in the college football playoffs, despite losing the conference championship game to Alabama. The Bulldogs did pose a challenge to the Crimson Tide in that game, but in the end, the Tide rolled again. Had the Bulldogs not lost earlier to the LSU Tigers, that argument may be a little more valid. But the fact of the matter is that Georgia did lose to LSU and that paved the way for other, undefeated teams to lay claim to the playoff spots. The Bulldogs' consolation prize is a trip to the “Big Easy” for a game with the Texas Longhorns. I look for the Bulldogs to win big in New Orleans. The Bulldogs are a near two touchdown favorite and I look for them to cover that without much problem.
Rick's Pick: Georgia

Monday, Jan. 7

National Championship Game
Clemson vs. Alabama
Of course, this match-up is contingent upon the accuracy of my predictions for Saturday, Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. I actually feel pretty confident in those predictions, so I'll go ahead and give my prediction for the championship game. I have learned to focus on defense in these evenly-matched games. I think the defensive unit for the Tide has an edge in this game. By that I mean, the Alabama defense will have more success at stopping the Clemson offense than Clemson will have in stopping the Alabama offense. This is one I will certainly be watching, and should be an entertaining way to finish off a very entertaining college football season.
Rick's Pick: Alabama

Well, there you have it. Get that bowl of chips and snacks ready, save me a spot at the end of the sofa and let's have some fun with some great football. Happy New Year, everyone!