In this space, we're giving out our confidence picks for every bowl prior to the National Championship Game. These picks are being made straight-up, rather than against the spread.
39. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Tuesday, January 1 -- Georgia (11-2) over Texas (9-3)
We saw both of these teams during Championship Weekend. Both lost to future Playoff combatants in Alabama and Oklahoma. We view UGA as one of the four best teams in the country regardless of the final rankings, and at a different level than Texas. If the Longhorns had a more impactful running game (S&P+ No. 93) they might be able to dig in against Georgia’s relative weakness (S&P+ No. 57 run defense), but as is, they lack the horses in the backfield and if forced to throw, will be doing so into the teeth of Georgia’s strength.
38. Bakers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Friday, December 21 -- Toledo (7-5) over Florida International (8-4)
This one is more a pretty place than anything else, but it’s also going to be the place where the general viewer -- or those just looking to watch cameras exist in the Bahamas for two hours -- will be introduced in earnest to Toledo frosh RB Bryant Koback. Koback rushed for 316 yards and four touchdowns in the Rockets’ last two games. He figures to have plenty of fun in the sun against an FIU defense ranked an S&P+ No. 114 against the run. Toledo’s ground game, as a whole, sits at a hearty No. 12 by those same advanced metrics.
37. Camping World Bowl: Friday, December 28 -- Syracuse (9-3) over West Virginia (8-3)
While we were on WVU when the bowl announcements were announced, two major changes have worked to change our minds. Specifically, Mountaineers star QB Will Grier and T Yodny Cajuste are both opting to sit out this game in order to begin their prep for the NFL Draft. Without Grier, without Cajuste, we feel very comfortable in looping around to the Orange. We saw West Virginia’s offense sans Grier a year ago, when Chris Chuganov took over for the quarterback after he suffered a finger injury late in the campaign. Utah handled them 30-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl sans Grier. It won’t be Chuganov this time around, but rather redshirt sophomore Jack Allison. Though Allison has the presumed talent to succeed in the future -- he was a four-star recruit in the 2016 class -- he has just 10 career pass attempts under his belt.
36. Outback Bowl: Tuesday, January 1 -- Iowa (8-4) over Mississippi State (8-4)
The vast majority of confidence pool players are on the Bulldogs in this one, but we will spurn the majority in this spot. The Hawkeyes boast one of the best run defenses in the country (S&P+ No. 23) against a Mississippi State team whose clear strength comes in the run game (S&P+ No. 6). We’ve seen Iowa defenses blasted in bowl action in the recent past -- remember Christian McCaffrey running wild in the Rose Bowl two years back -- but there will be no otherworldly talent opposing the boys from Iowa City in this one. Are you going to trust the Bulldogs to win putting the ball in the air? Something they’ve rarely shown the ability to do this season? Against S&P+’s No. 29 pass defense? We see Mississippi State having issue achieving any serious offensive push in this one.
35. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Friday, December 28 -- Auburn (7-5) over Purdue (6-6)
This is one that could swing back to hurt us in the standings, as these are two programs that are outwardly on very different tracks. Auburn went from national title contender to also-ran this year, while the Boilermakers are going to be coming into the game on the exhilarating high of the fact that HC Jeff Brohm chose them over Louisville. For all of their flaws, though, Auburn still possesses the best unit on the field, here, in their defense, coming into this one with S&P+’s No. 18 overall defense. Of course, biting the bullet with Auburn means biting the bullet with their offense, so we’d understand if you slotted this one a little lower than us.
34. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Saturday, December 15 -- Appalachian State (10-2) over Middle Tennessee (8-5)
App State enters bowl action riding on a five-game winning streak, albeit no longer with a coach. That’s our main cause for pause, here, as while we know what App State was with Scott Satterfield -- a rock-solid, always-prepared outfit -- we don’t know what it will look like one month after Satterfield’s accepted the Louisville job. Still, the Mountaineers are our pick, here. We like them -- they hold a clear edge by the advanced metrics, ranked as the No. 13 overall team on S&P+, to MTSU’s No. 61-- even with the knowledge that Appalachian State’s players might have their minds elsewhere. We would like them a fair bit more if Satterfield was still in town, but still feel confident, here.
33. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Friday, December 21 -- BYU (6-6) over Western Michigan (7-5)
Is it the coolest of matchups? No, not really. Thus befitting of a bowl game represented by a potato. In all seriousness, we love the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and not just because we spent our childhood splashing through irrigation ditches in the Boise Valley. No bowl better symbolizes the weird absurdist pointlessness of bowl season. If weird absurdist pointlessness is not the very essence of sport, then what is, we ask, what is? Anyway, we like BYU, who possesses a dependable enough defense (S&P+ No. 30) and played both Boise State and Utah tough in the final month of the season.
32. VRBO Citrus Bowl: Tuesday, January 1 -- Penn State (9-3) over Kentucky (9-3)
While both teams finished with 9-3 records during the regular season, those records can be perceived in very different ways. The Nittany Lions expected Playoff contention (maybe unrealistically) and ended up eliminated for all intents and purposes in October. Kentucky, meanwhile, had never won more than seven game in a season under Mark Stoops prior to their nine-win showing this year. The Wildcats bring to the fore a staunch defense (No. 21 S&P+) but are less-than-unstoppable against opposing running games (No. 36 S&P+) and Penn State is among the better rushing teams in the country with Miles Sanders (1,223 yards) turning in a respectable showing on the year and QB Trace McSorley (723) augmenting the attack further. And should this thing be decided by a quarterback, we have far more trust in McSorley than we do opposite number Terry Wilson.
31. Belk Bowl: Saturday, December 29 -- South Carolina (7-5) over Virginia (7-5)
We just can’t quit the Gamecocks, who we’ve felt undue and unwarranted affection for throughout the Jake Bentley era. They’ve had an interesting -- if ultimately just OK -- year, one in which they played across all spectrums of good and bad football, hanging as tough as mere mortals can against Clemson (they scored 35 points on the Tigers) while doing silly things like blowing big leads against Florida. While the unevenness of their play can be frustrating, the offense has consistently shown the ability to put up points regardless of opponent. They are averaging 32.6 points per game while boasting S&P+’s No. 29 overall offense. Virginia, meanwhile, ended the season dropping three of their last four, with only a win over Liberty breaking the spell.
30. Capital One Orange Bowl: Saturday, December 29 -- Alabama (13-0) over Oklahoma (12-1)
Ooo baby, let’s go. We’re super-stoked to watch this one -- a fair bit more excited than for Clemson-Notre Dame in the other Playoff semifinal -- even as we feel confident that Alabama will come out victorious. There is a fragile edge for the Tide, though, which would come if Tua Tagovailoa -- who underwent ankle surgery after the SEC Championship Game -- was less than ready for the showdown. That’s not expected to be the case, but just for hypothetical’s sake, let’s say that Tua sits, or has to leave early. As much as we enjoyed Jalen Hurts late-season cameo against UGA, the idea of Hurts keeping up in a shootout with Kyler Murray is not a comfortable one. That is, if Oklahoma can muster the points for a shootout to begin with. And that’s where we start to feel a little more safe. Alabama has the athletes to keep up with OU’s offense and they have Nick Saban. Give Saban a month to prepare and we think he’ll figure out a way to crack Murray’s code.
29. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Saturday, December 29 -- Clemson (13-0) over Notre Dame (12-0)
This one felt over the minute it was announced. We’ve seen, time and again, the Irish play around with subpar opponents, ranging from Navy to Pitt to USC. If they take two quarters to find themselves against Clemson, they’re going to be down 24-6 heading into halftime. This is a very good Notre Dame team, facing off against a top-tier Clemson team. We’re going to see that disparity play out on the field. Shutting down Dexter Williams will be the first step -- Clemson possesses arguably the best run defense in the country -- and as a result, Ian Book will struggle.
28. Rose Bowl Game: Tuesday, January 1 -- Ohio State (12-1) over Washington (10-3)
At first blush, we liked the Huskies and their loaded secondary -- S&P+ No. 19 pass defense -- but no longer, no more. While Myles Gaskin should be able to manage a strong performance against OSU’s S&P+ 79 ranked run defense -- we’ve seen the Buckeyes gouged time and again on the ground -- Ohio State has already proven concept against one of the best pass defenses in the country when they put up 62 points on Michigan over the Thanksgiving weekend. Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns in The Game. We know OSU has an extra offensive level they can go to. Washington doesn’t have that. What really puts this game over the top is Urban Meyer’s impending (presumably final) retirement. We foresee an A+ game from Meyer’s gang to send him into retirement with a rose clenched between his teeth.
27. Servpro First Responder Bowl: Wednesday, December 26 -- Boise State (10-3) over Boston College (7-5)
The Broncos came oh so close to a Mountain West title this year, falling in a snowy overtime to Fresno State over Championship Weekend. They’ll brush it off for this post-Christmas contest. BSU is no stranger to slaying Power 5 competition in bowl action. Look no further than a year ago, when they handled Oregon 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl. All told, Brett Rypien’s come out victorious in two of his three career bowl games. Boston College will head into the First Responder Bowl on a delayed three-game losing streak. What the Eagles most have going for them, here, and what prevents us from assigning this a weightier confidence number, is that star RB A.J. Dillon will have had a full month to rest up from ankle injuries which prevented him from the truly magical season we were hoping for coming into the campaign. Dillon should be in his healthiest form since September. And that’s scary.
26. Military Bowl: Monday, December 31 -- Cincinnati (10-2) over Virginia Tech (6-6)
The Hokies barely even qualified for bowl action, needing an overtime win against hapless baby brother UVA to trigger their Dec. 1 game against Marshall, which they won without major issue. Props to Virginia Tech for rising to the moment (albeit belatedly), but we’re going to be taking the better team, here. And that’s Cincinnati, pretty decisively. S&P+ ranks the Bearcats as the No. 32 team in the country to Tech’s No. 69. An overtime loss to Temple and a decisive loss to UCF were all that kept Cincinnati from a spotless regular-season record. If you’re wondering if they might have a hangover after coming up short for a berth in the conference title game, Cincy soundly defeated ECU 56-6 the game after that loss to the Knights. That’s an East Carolina team which just fired its head coach -- a hearty welcome to new HC Mike Houston -- but the basic idea stands. No hangover, here, and we think Cincinnati caps off an 11-win season with a victory over the Hokies. Look for Bearcats RB Michael Warren to have a big game against the Hokies’ S&P+ No. 110 run defense.