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December 29 Bowl games schedule, picks, and why-to-watch

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Playoffs and a buncha’ important other games. Whoot!

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">Notre Dame v Syracuse

Did you know the playoffs start today? Cuz they do.

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Season: 82-52-2

Bowls: 11-4 (3-0 yesterday, including that sweet half-point on Iowa State +2.5!)

Everyone excited? Got a full tank of Gump fuel? Irked about the Heisman? Peeved about 2013? Pissed about OU running a negative campaign for a Heisman (that really happened, FFS)?

Then tonight shall bring vindication.

But first, let us you and I watch some choice games, including the first College Football Playoffs Semifinal. All times Eastern

Peach Bowl:
11:00 A.M., ESPN
No. 10 Florida (9-3) vs. No. 7 Michigan (10-2) -6.0

Okay, I lied in the paragraph above. There are some fairly terrible bowl games today, including this one: the third meeting between UM and UF in just over 2 calendar years. Michigan bookended an otherwise undefeated season with losses to its two most bitter rivals. But, hey! They won two quality road games under Harbaugh, and that’s new. Too bad they’re down four starters in this one, including their three best defenders and their feature back. Will that matter? Will rumors of Harbaugh’s departure matter? Will their bad OL matter? Maybe not. Florida is one of the worst Top 10 teams you’ll see. There have been a lot of them this year too. The Gators can’t throw the ball. The offensive line gets mauled at the point of attack. And the running game is pedestrian. For all that, they do play really sound defense.

This one should be a rock fight, and both teams really have grown accustomed to those this season. I don’t like Michigan giving up 6 in a de facto road game. I’ll take the Gators’ superior athleticism getting six points in an SEC-friendly venue, even if I’m iffy on UF getting the S/U win. Mittens vs Dad in a battle of wits — and neither can win a road game. Haven’t we suffered enough, 2018?

Belk Bowl
11:00 ABC
South Carolina (7-5) -5.5 vs. Virginia (7-5)

Pals, if you thought Michigan-Florida was such a stinker that you’d best turn the channel, then the Belk Bowl affords you no relief. The Peach Bowl will look like Citizen Kane in contrast. Virginia has been rebuilt in Bronco Mendenhall’s preferred image: defense first, 21-24 tasteful points, run the ball, don’t recall a single snap much less who won. And this team almost won the Coastal (shudder.)
South Carolina would like to play that way too. Unfortunately, they have a senior QB and one of the more dynamic WRs and return men in the country. So, Will Muschamp has no choice but to accidentally score. You get the feeling this terrible game will probably be close until late in the 3rd or so, when Deebo Samuels breaks a long return or the Gamecocks passing attack gets it figured out. The Cavaliers aren’t anything special — nor is USC for that matter — but Sakerlina has just enough playmakers to pick up the W in what should be a neutral venue for both squads.

Arizona Bowl
12:15 CBSSN
Arkansas State (8-4) vs. Nevada (7-5) -1.5

Wouldn’t you know it? The battle of the vicious puppies may be one of the best games of the day is on CBS Sports Network, therefore only 13,000 people will get to see it. The Red Wolves had a solid season in the Sun Beast, though did not play for a conference title as anticipated. The sAu was also a bit shaky away from Jonesboro. Still, it has a fair amount of talent on-hand. The Nevada Wolf Pack are finally back in a bowl after several coaching changes and almost a decade after the dynamic Kaepernick teams graduated and/or went pro.
The line is razor thin on this one because the teams are so similiar: Iffy defenses, strong offenses (though ASU’s running game is better, its rushing defense is far worse), both force a goodly amount of turnovers, young coaches, teams overshadowed by dynastic powers in their mid-majors. Looking to the venue, Arizona is certainly closer than Northeast Arkansas, so you figure it’ll be a pro-Wolf Pack crowd. The motivation is probably greater for the team from Reno as well, it having been 7 years since UN went to a bowl. I really want to take the Wolf Pack here, but they’ve been so cavalier with ball control this season — an unreal 26 lost turnovers — that I just can’t. If you could guarantee me that the ‘Pack doesn’t turn it over, I’d play Nevada. The MWC has also been lights out in Bowls this year against teams it shouldn't beat. But the odds of a turnover, and ASU’s better running game, leads me to the take the Red Wolves on the road.

This should be a good game though, no matter what.

On second thought, never mind all of that. Go with the gut here; take Nevada.

Cotton Bowl/ CFP Semifinal
3:00 PM ESPN
No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-0) -12

Vegas sees a huge number here: The Tigers by 12 or 13 points. It’s easy to see why, on paper: It has the most playoff-experienced roster of the quartet of contenders; Travis Ettienne has had a great season; the talent on the defensive front is all NFL-bound; the presence of two excellent wideouts including the acrobatic Tee Higgins; and Trevor Lawrence competently survived being named a mid-season starter as a true freshman.
But, you may want to take a look at a few things here before pulling the trigger. The first is the Tigers’ SOS — presently 69th. Clemson hasn’t really played anyone. And, in the three games against semi-competent teams it faced (Boston College, Texas A&M, Syracuse), CU struggled — and two of those were on the road. Lest we forget, that in two of those games, it was Kelly Bryant who had to bail out the Tigers, not Trevor Lawrence. Safe to say, flawed as the Irish are, this is the best team the Juicin’ Dabos have played all year. And Trevor Lawrence hasn’t had to win a game yet. There’s a reason to be bearish on the Tigers if you wish.
Their counterpart on the other sideline is a veteran team, though one lacking in playoff experience. Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been the more battle-tested bunch: their SOS is presently 34th, and they absolutely demolished Syracuse on the road in the last month of the season if you want a decent point of reference. In fact, since Ian Book got the nod at QB, the Irish have been almost as balanced a team as the Tigers. Their identity is to spread it out horizontally to the athletic ends and wideouts and then power the football behind an outstanding offensive line. The passing numbers are almost identitical between the two, as well. The rushing yard advantage belongs to CU, but again, Clemson has played in more blowouts against a weaker schedule: You’d expect that. And, both teams have turned it over (and forced turnovers) at about the same clip.
The defensive stats are likewise impressive for both teams. You’d expect the Tigers to excel with that DL, and it has greatly helped the back-end, which isn’t as good as you’d want to see for a title contender. Still, ND isn’t too shabby. Its defensive line has been up and down this season, but the secondary has been better in individual matchups against better talent. In fact, the ‘Domers are in the Top 18 in every statistical defensive category.
While it may be too much to ask ND to pressure Lawrence and stop the potent Tigers’ running game and still cobble together enough drives to win, there’s no reason to think this game will be the double-digit affair that Vegas tempts you with. You can also see a bit more offense than the defensive numbers suggest at a glance. The Tigers’ linebackers can be had, just as the ND defensive front can wear down. So, I’ll take Clemson to advance to the Finals, but it should be close and ugly. Notre Dame covers. Call it 27-21.

Poll

Who ya’ got?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Clemson
    (199 votes)
  • 41%
    Notre Dame
    (140 votes)
339 votes total Vote Now