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Dec. 29 Bowl Game open thread, viewing guide, and why-to-watch: Sam Darnold vs. JT Barrett? Sold.

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Four-day weekend, anyone?

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin
Hashtag “don’t lose to Iowa by 31 points while giving up 55 points along the way.” No, I’m never dropping it.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Call it the ole’ Christian McCaffrey syndrome, but it’s catching: First, we had the school benching Josh Rosen for an injury he didn’t have (way to buy your guy cover there, Bruins!) And today it’s Texas A&M’s best defender, All-American DB (and lone[star] bright spot) Armani Watts. Watts, like Rosen, is missing today due to the terrifyingly enigmatic “injury undisclosed.” Mysterious boo-boos to these draft-bound superstars are suddenly legion. Be careful in the bathtub, Calvin Ridley!

Wake Forest at Texas A&M - Belk Bowl

1:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

There’s no line on this game due to ole’ Injury Undisclosed Armani and QB Jake Hubenak’s lingering shoulder issue. To that, add an A&M targeting penalty that will cost their best corner a half. It shouldn’t really matter, to be honest. If Jimbo Fisher can avoid being cute, the A&M running game should line up and wear down a Wake Forest defense that has been stout all year. Don’t expect many fireworks here, but do anticipate that Fisher gets A&M to its annual 8th win. Solid victory for the SEC over an undervalued Demon Deacon team that just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up.

#24 NC State at Arizona State (+6.5/69) - Sun Bowl

3:00 PM ET CBS

I could write 1000 words detailing the gobsmackingly-awful Sun Devils’ decision to tap Herm Edwards as their new coach. And, frankly, every one of those thousand words would be more interesting than this game. Now that Dave Doeren is in Raleigh for the long-ish haul, this game is about developing for next year: how to take a second-tier NCSU team and move the Wolfpack into contender status. They are close. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, are just a mess. Plenty of talent at individual spots, but no real unit that scares you or that can carry the day against a balanced opponent. That’s especially been the book on them away from Tempe. NC State has seen, and beaten, better teams than this. They’ll get the W, even if the Sun Devils passing game is able to find rhythm at times.

North Carolina State v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

Kentucky at #21 Northwestern (-7.5/51) - Music City Bowl

4:30 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

If Missouri was the worst seven-win bowl team in the country, then I feel confident saying Kentucky is the second-worst seven-win bowl team in the country. Northwestern is more physical, better coached, and -- I hate to say it, as an SEC partisan -- Nerd U has better talent than the Lexington Wildcats. NU should have fun exploiting a UK secondary that has veered from bad-to-laughable at times this season. NU has been really close to beating some excellent teams this season. They get the win over a not-excellent one. Let the Mark Stoops 2018 firing watch begin. The Jeff Brohm bidding war they lose to Louisville next season will be hilarious.

New Mexico State at Utah State (+4, 61) - Arizona Bowl

5:30 PM ET CBS-Sports

I am in the #TooManyBowls camp. Or, at least I am usually. Then you get feel-good stories like woe-begotten Eastern Michigan getting a junket to the Bahamas last season. And, then this season gives us the miserable New Mexico State Aggies making a bowl. How improbable is this, given their history?

  • They’ve been ranked once — 57 years ago when they finished 17th (19th).
  • They’ve been to three bowls, all at the Sun Bowl, and none in the last 56 years. They beat luminaries North Texas and Utah State, and tied Hardin-Simmons in their bowl career.
  • They have won 42% of their games, and have hit just 455 wins in a century+ of play.
  • And, despite playing in the Border Intercollegiate and Missouri Valley Conferences for the greater part of their history, they’ve won ten games just one time, in 1960.

Say what you will about Duke, Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa State, the Kansas schools -- at least they have historically stunk it up in major conference play.

All of that aside, Utah State is the more battle-tested team, and aled by its defense and All-American corner Jalen Davis, probably more talented. Their problem has been finding points, something that NMSU has done in spades. The Desert Aggies’ high-flying offense may get smothered by the Utahan Aggies, but it would be nice to see Doug Martin and company complete the upset and have a Cinderella moment. Vegas thinks it happens. I’m dubious. Give me the bowl-tested USU Ags.

#8 USC at #5 Ohio State (-7.5, 65) - Cotton Bowl

8:30 PM ET ABC/WatchESPN

Want some points? Points you’ll get tonight. Two great running games. Two All-American quarterbacks. Two secondaries that have been downright awful at times. And, at their core, two teams with two flaky coaches that you never really know what they’ll give you from week-to-week. Anyone that says they know what will happen when Urban Meyer tees it up is frankly guessing. Sam Darnold and J.T. Barrett are going to put on one helluva show; those are competitors. And Dobbins vs. RJII will be worth the price of admission alone. But, while I don’t trust USC’s defense, I trust Ohio State’s secondary even less...especially after the Buckeyes’ razor-thin relegation to the Cotton Bowl instead of the playoffs. OSU has the physicality along the lines to make this a mismatch and win handily: but, will they have the heart and motivation? That’s always worth asking about OSU. I don’t think they do tonight.