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Weekly Picks

New Year's Eve CFB Predictions

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

TCU (-3) vs. Ole Miss




Straight Up:



TCU Horned Frogs logo


Against the Spread:


TCU Horned Frogs logo



Analysis: This line baffles me. Can it be explained by SEC bias? An assumption that TCU will come out flat after being shut out of the College Football Playoff? The belief that the Big 12 is subpar?


I can’t make sense of why the Horned Frogs are only three-point favorites, a scenario that always makes me dig deeper into the matchup: In sports betting, when a spot looks too good to be true, it always is. Without exception.


It’s just that closer investigation made me like TCU even more. Mississippi has beaten only one FBS team since October 19. That is not a typo. The Rebels are dinged up. I'd list each injury individually, but I'd run out of column space. TCU, on the other hand, might have been the No. 1 seed in the inaugural playoffs had their defense not imploded in the fourth quarter of a harrowing 61-58 loss to Baylor. The Horned Frogs blew out a slew of bowl teams -- Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas -- and beat West Virginia and Oklahoma by more reasonable scores.


All that being said, a real case can be made for backing the underdog Rebels. Prior to the onslaught of injuries, the Rebels were arguably the best team in the country. They have had time to heal and will now basically host TCU in Atlanta. HC Hugh Freeze loves this time of year: His Rebels have won and covered each bowl game he’s directed, and they figure to give him their best again after he rejected overtures from Florida’s administration.


Ole Miss surrendered only seven touchdowns to Power 5 opponents in the regular season, and they ranked No. 3 in opponent QBR. TCU QB Trevone Boykin must solve that riddle, and TCU’s receivers will have to manufacture space against a physical secondary that doesn’t miss tackles. The Horned Frogs struggled offensively in two games against top 25 efficiency defenses versus Power 5 teams, gaining less than 400 yards and turning the ball over four times against Texas and West Virginia.


At the end of the day, however, I don’t trust QB Bo Wallace and a WRs Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders-less offense to keep pace on the scoreboard. At full strength, the Rebels could have potentially put away the powerful Frogs, but this woozy heavyweight is a few overhand rights away from dropping unconscious to the Georgia Dome canvas.




VIZIO Fiesta Bowl

Arizona (-3) vs. Boise State           



Straight Up:


Arizona Wildcats logo


Against the Spread:


Arizona Wildcats logo



Analysis: Another line that appears light.


You might look at 11-2 Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl and remember the 43-42 overtime upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 rendition of the game, or the less-famous but still wildly impressive 17-10 win over TCU to close out the 2009 season. It’s a cute storyline, but don’t make the mistake of grouping this Broncos’ outfit with giant-slaying BSU squads of the recent past: This version is something of a paper tiger, winning 11 games against a kitten-soft schedule.


The Broncos do have momentum on their side. In September, the prospect of BSU making the Fiesta Bowl would have unthinkable. Boise State limped out of that month 3-2, having been thrashed by Ole Miss and soundly beaten by Air Force. The typically stellar Broncos’ offense had turned into a one-man show, with star RB Jay Ajayi asked to single-handedly move the chains. The defense was awful, surrendering 450 yards or more in four of their eight games.


Both units improved greatly when conference play began, leading to an eight-game winning streak. Closer inspection of that stretch, however, buffs off some of its shine. Of the bowl teams BSU faced in those eight games, they beat mediocre Nevada by five points, failed to cover in two different victories over 6-8 Fresno State, whipped BYU during the Cougars’ 0-4 October swoon immediately after star QB Taysom Hill was lost for the season, failed to cover against San Diego State, and annihilated Utah State 50-19. Those teams went 1-4 in bowl season, with Utah State's unimpressive 21-6 win over UTEP, the worst team to play in the postseason if it wasn't Fresno State, counting as the only triumph. Against non-bowl teams during BSU's eight-game winning streak? The bottom half of the Mountain West is less appetizing than the selection at a Boise bar at closing time, but I’ll point this out: BSU gave up 627 yards and 49 points to 4-8 New Mexico, which, despite that performance, finished No. 126 in the FBS in passing yards and No. 72 in points scored per game.


The Broncos can score at will on bad defenses—they are the nation’s No. 9 offense at 39.8 points per game—but the going gets a bit tougher against units with NFL skill. The defense? It’s plain bad: BSU ranked No. 65 in the country, surrendering 26.5 points per game against a very weak slate. BSU didn’t beat a ranked team all season and only played one total, a non-competitive 35-13 shellacking at Ole Miss' hands.


Consider Arizona the anti-BSU. They played quality teams, and they beat quality teams. The Wildcats, briefly a playoff contender, played a top 10 schedule and beat Oregon, Arizona State and Utah, with two of those victories coming on the road. In addition, the Wildcats would have beaten USC were it not for a couple of missed field goals in a 28-26 setback.


This is a star-studded team: QB Anu Solomon is a future star, RB Nick Wilson has run for 1,289 yards as a true freshman, the receiving corps might have up to four future pros, and the defense is led by one of the country’s most disruptive defenders, LB Scooby Wright.


While Ajayi should be able to get his yards against a shaky run defense (see: the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon), Arizona should have no problem whatsoever scoring 30-plus points against this deplorable defense. If Boise State couldn’t impede Mountain West flotsam from flinging the ball around the yard, I shudder to think what Rich Rod's Wildcats will do to them.


This game is being played in Arizona’s backyard. Expect the Wildcats to atone for a poor showing in the Pac-12 Championship Game by drilling Boise State.




Capital One Orange Bowl

Mississippi State (-7) vs. Georgia Tech



Straight Up:


Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets logo

Against the Spread:


Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets logo



Analysis: The Ramblin' Wreck come into this game on a roll, winning five straight prior to narrowly losing to undefeated Florida State in the ACC Championship Game 37-35. All three of Georgia Tech’s losses this season were by one possession, and the school is 9-4 against the spread.


While the Yellow Jackets surge into this meeting, Mississippi State’s momentum was long ago stymied. Remember when the Bulldogs upset Auburn to earn the No. 1 ranking in all the land? Since that time, Mississippi State has beaten three FBS teams: Kentucky, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs only beat three squads all season that went into bowl season with a winning record. They’ve dropped two of their past three games.


Mississippi State ranks No. 9 in the country in scoring defense, giving up 19.4 points per game. But can they stop Georgia Tech’s powerful triple-option attack that churns out 333.6 rushing yards per game—the third-best mark in the nation—and ranks No. 18 in the country with 37 points per game scored?


Don’t be so sure they can: The Bulldogs caused only six turnovers in their last six games, and three of those came versus Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech’s blocking scheme gets into defenders knees and ankles, and, as I noted in the Bowl Confidence Primer, MSU’s defense features several players about to leave for the NFL. Might those defenders be a little concerned about 300-pounders hurtling into their moneymakers? Ask yourself: With millions of dollars months away, would you be? A defense tentative about filling gaps violently against Georgia Tech is a defense getting lit up.


HC Paul Johnson has curiously performed poorly in bowl games at Georgia Tech, which perhaps speaks to the value of having one month to prepare for his triple option. But this rendition of the Yellow Jackets will be especially difficult to contain, as well as they’ve been playing. In its last four games, opponents have stopped Georgia Tech from converting a first down on only four of 39 drives. QB Justin Thomas is already one of the best quarterbacks Johnson has ever produced. Only a sophomore, Thomas enters the game having rushed for 965 yards and five touchdowns, and passed for 1,594 yards with a 17/5 TD/INT ratio.


I think the underrated Yellow Jackets stun the No. 7 Bulldogs.



Regular Season Record: Straight-Up: 98-53 (64.9%); Against the Spread: 82-68-1 (54.7%)

Bowl Record: Straight-Up: 13-8 (61.9%); Against the Spread: 13-8 (61.9%)


*Note: Record doesn't include bowl games played on Tuesday.

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!