New Years Day Bowl Previews
HAPPY NEW YEAR! NOW HERE'S THE JAN. 1 COLLEGE BOWL GAMES
OUTBACK BOWL - at Tampa, FL
IOWA (8-4) vs. #18 MISS STATE (8-4) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
The totals price on this clash of Big 10 vs. SEC has steadily been comin' down in recent days - it opened at 44.5 points and has dropped to 40.5 points - and no wonder: Miss State sports the country's #1-ranked scoring defense (#2 in total defense) while Iowa is #11 in scoring "D" and 7th in total defense. Still, don't be shocked if there's a few high-tech aerial plays here with MSU's Nick Fitzgerald - yes, the SEC's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks - lobbing some deep balls while Iowa QB Nate Stanley loves to hook up with TEs T.J. Hockenson (the Mackey Award winner) and Noah Fant as they combined for 84 receptions and 13 TDs this season. Note that TD underdog Iowa is a nifty 5-2 spreadwise when playing non-Big 10 foes since the start of last season and that includes last year's chilly 27-20 win/cover against 2-point underdog Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City while the M-State Bulldogs are 8-4 ATS (against the spread) in Year One under head coach Joe Moorhead.
CITRUS BOWL - at Orlando, FL
#14 KENTUCKY (9-3) vs. #12 PENN STATE (9-3) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
As you see, victor here gets to the magical 10-win mark and that's special stuff: Okay, so Penn State did start off the 2018 season ranked #10 in the land and suffered losses to high-profile opponents Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan but veteran slinger Trace McSorley (9,653 career passing yards) has a shot to throw TDs in four consecutive bowl games ... now evading LB Josh Allen (28.5 career sacks and a possible #1 NFL Draft pick this spring) might well be McSorley's stiffest challenge here. The Nittany Lions are 24-14-1 spreadwise the past three years under yappy head coach James Franklin while -- believe it or not -- Kentucky's a crummy 28-41 ATS overall under sixth-year boss Mark Stoops but the 'Cats did slip under the 7.5-point price tag last year in that 24-23 loss to Northwestern (Music City Bowl). If RB Benny Snell (1,305 yards rushing with 14 TDs this year) can find some creases in the Penn State D-Line here, it could be a rare bowl win for UK.
FIESTA BOWL - at Glendale, AZ
#11 LSU (9-3) vs. #8 UCF (12-0) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The UCF Knights' winning streak stands at 25 in a row ... but for a second straight year the kids from Orlando were denied an invite to the College Football Playoffs and so that remains the major storyline here. Truth of the matter is UCF has strung together consecutive 9-and-3 spread seasons and one ATS win was last year's stunning 34-27 triumph against 10.5-point fav Auburn (Peach Bowl). The David vs. Goliath type buildup continues here -- LSU's "only" a 7-point favorite (opened at LSU minus 8) - and no big deal for LSU to be in the chalk role: The Bayou Bengals have been betting favorites some 44 times the past five years and they've churned out a decent 24-19-1 ATS mark during this time as chalk-eaters. If UCF is gonna get the cash or perhaps even snag a second straight bowl upset win, then backup-turned-starting QB Darriel Mack, Jr. must strut his stuff the way he did in the second half of last month's American Athletic Conference Championship Game win/cover against Memphis (see three 4th-quarter touchdown runs).
ROSE BOWL - at Pasadena, CA
#9 WASHINGTON (10-3) vs. #6 OHIO STATE (12-1)-5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's put a little perspective into this "Granddaddy of Them All" bowl game: When the '18 season started, there was Ohio State ranked at #5 and Washington at #6 ... and yet somehow this feels like a consolation prize game for both squads. The Ohio State Buckeyes really/truly had any national championship hopes dashed with that 49-20 loss at 12.5-point underdog Purdue back on Oct. 20th - one of the great Jim Hurley Network Winners this year! - as even a Big 10 Championship Game win against Northwestern couldn't catapult outgoing head coach Urban Meyer's team into the "final four". Now, Buckeyes' QB Dwayne Haskins (4,580 yards passing with 47 TDs) will look to give Meyer one last bowl win - he's 11-3 SU (straight-up) in bowls in his storied but now somewhat-scarred career - while the 6.5-point underdog UW Huskies need that stepped-up defense that's held seven foes to 15 points or less to rise up behind Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year LB Ben Burr-Kirven. One thing about this Washington crew: The Dawgs didn't "spit the big" after dropping to 6-3 SU in late October as they rolled through three bowl teams in November to get here. P.S., Washington ranks 11th nationally in total defense this year.
SUGAR BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
#15 TEXAS (9-4) vs. #5 GEORGIA (11-2) - 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's cut straight to the all-important numbers here: Georgia's now 19-8 ATS overall under second-year head coach Kirby Smart and take note that the Dawgs are 5-0 ATS in all bowl/playoff games since the 2014 season. On the proverbial flip side, Texas followed up coach Tom Herman's first year on the job (a 9-4 ATS season) with an underachieving 5-7-1 ATS campaign and note the Longhorns have been a twin-figure pup just once under Herman ... a gritty 27-24 loss-but-cover at 16.5-point fav USC early on in the 2017 season. Now, Texas is a 12.5-point dog here despite the fact the Big 12 crew has played in a whopping nine one-possession games and beaten four different nationally ranked squads. If Texas can't get a grip on ever-improving Georgia QB Jake Fromm (2,537 yards passing with 27 TDs and only 5 INTs) then the Bulldogs could hang 40-plus points on 'em here as Smart's team has scored 41-or-more points on seven different occasions this season. Egads!