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Weekly Picks

Tuesday CFB Bowl Predictions

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

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

LSU (-7.5) vs. Notre Dame



Straight Up:



LSU Tigers logo


Against the Spread:


Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo


Analysis: Not so long ago, it appeared Notre Dame would be playing in the inaugural College Football Playoff and QB Everett Golson would be a Day 2 pick. The Fighting Irish started the season 6-0 and draft analysts touted Golson as the second-coming of Russell Wilson.


Two months later, the Irish are 7-5 and Golson will begin this game on the bench. In explaining his decision to go with Malik Zaire, Irish HC Brian Kelly said his primary concern was winning this game. If Kelly thinks Zaire is the better quarterback today, you have to believe Golson's days on campus are numbered. Will he jump to the NFL? I have a hard time believing he will; Golson played like an undrafted free agent from mid-October on, and now he's been benched for a freshman who's only collegiate experience involved going 9-for-20 against USC in garbage time of a blowout. I think it's probably more likely that Golson bolts to a school with a QB vacancy as a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility, a move that would allow him to rehabilitate his trifling draft stock.


But I digress. Zaire, a prodigious prospect, is an athletic lefty who will give the Irish additional opportunities to move the ball on zone reads, designed runs, and scrambles. He isn't at Golson's level as a passer at the moment. Though maybe I'm being too generous to Golson out of September nostalgia: The senior has thrown at least one interception in nine straight games, tossing 14 picks total during that stretch. Perhaps discretion alone would make Zaire a passing upgrade.


The Irish have essentially gone as Golson has gone. The school's last four games?: Blown out at Arizona State 55-31, upset at home by Northwestern 43-40, home 31-28 loss to Louisville, and the aforementioned scorched-earth 49-14 embarrassment at the hands of USC in the regular season finale.


I’d love to turn my back on them in the postseason, but this matchup—and specifically this line—won’t allow me to do it.


LSU is one year away from dominating flawed teams like the Irish. This season, with a non-existent passing game—Anthony Jennings completes less than 49-percent of his passes and LSU ranks near the bottom of the country with 163.9 passing yards per game—the Tigers have had to play keep away on offense and rely on the defense to keep games close.


They’ve mostly succeeded with that recipe, ranking No. 27 in the country in rushing offense, No. 4 in time of possession, and No. 3 in scoring defense. The Tigers don’t take the chances necessary to run away with games. They want to keep things close and pull it out in the end. Let me list for you the teams LSU has beaten by more than six points this season: Sam Houston State, UL-Monroe, New Mexico State, and Kentucky. That’s it.


If Brian Kelly can scheme his team into three touchdowns, it’s going to be almost impossible for LSU to cover this number. The Tigers shouldn’t be laying a touchdown to any decent team on a neutral site.



Belk Bowl

Georgia (-6.5) vs. Louisville



Straight Up:



Georgia Bulldogs logo


Against the Spread:


Louisville Cardinals logo


Analysis: If there’s a pre-New Year’s Day Bowl that you can guarantee both teams show up for, it’s this one: These coaching staffs don’t like one another, and both programs would love to end the season with a high-profile win to improve placement in the 2015 preseason rankings. Both schools should be playing in more prestigious bowls next winter.


Former Bulldogs' DC Todd Grantham, now running the Cardinals’ defense, criticized his former buddies on the Georgia coaching staff on his way out of town. You probably already know that Georgia -- as a state -- isn’t a big fan of former Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino. Petrino himself would like nothing more than to upset an SEC school to cap off a 10-win year in his first season back at Louisville. His team is better than you think: The Cards’ three losses were a two-point setback against Virginia in September, a six-point near-miss at Clemson the next month, and one of the season’s most painful losses when UL allowed Florida State to storm back in the second half and win the day before Halloweeen.


Grantham leads a unit that ranks amongst the national leaders in run defense, pass defense, and total defense. This isn’t your older brother’s Teddy Bridgewater-Charlie Strong Cardinals. The current rendition still features an offensive star—WR DeVante Parker (35 catches for 735 yards and five touchdowns in six games) will go in the middle of Round 1 this spring—but it’s the attacking 3-4 defense that makes Louisville so dangerous. S Gerod Holliman leads the nation in interceptions, while Lorenzo Mauldin has successfully transitioned from DE to OLB and should make life difficult for UGA QB Hutson Mason if the Bulldogs are forced to pass.


You know that the Bulldogs will play without the services of stud RB Todd Gurley. They’re also going to be without their most gifted defender, potential 2016 first-rounder OLB Leonard Floyd, who recently underwent shoulder surgery. The defense, and specifically the pass rush, will suffer a bit in his absence, but an 11th-ranked pass defense wasn’t the product of one player’s impact alone.


I see a low-scoring game and a potential upset.


Foster Farms Bowl

Stanford (-14) vs. Maryland



Straight Up:


Stanford Cardinal logo

Against the Spread:


Maryland Terrapins logo



Analysis: Stanford HC David Shaw, in a pre-game media conference, claimed that he respects Maryland’s offense so much that he’s considered stealing from their playbook. Perhaps Terps' HC Randy Edsall can swap recipes on the condition Shaw teaches him how to construct a serviceable defense.


Stanford allows only 16 points per game, though Stanford’s secondary has proven susceptible this season and Maryland's passing attack is dangerous. I think WR Stefon Diggs could be in for a big game. The Terps star, who hasn't played since suffering a lacerated kidney against Penn State on Nov. 1, is considering a jump to the NFL. Currently graded as a mid-round prospect, a huge game on a big stage would really help Diggs' draft stock, especially after he missed so much time due to injury.


The Terps desperately need Diggs' long-awaited star turn, as the team can't move the ball on the ground, ranking No. 12 in the Big 10 in rushing offense. Maryland QB C.J. Brown (a dual threat who led the team in rushing and also threw for 2,603 yards and 17 TDs) runs hot and cold. Maryland’s chances of hanging around in this game depend on the offensive line’s ability to provide Brown with a clean pocket.


The Cardinal, which has played in two straight Rose Bowls, will once again stay in-state in the postseason. This time, a 7-5 finish (each loss came against a top-25 squad, to be fair) dropped them into the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara. Will they be motivated to put a hurting on an unheralded 7-5 East Coast school traveling across the country? Even if they are, will the offense move the ball consistently enough to allow them to beat a decent team by more than two touchdowns? This is significant chalk: Stanford is the biggest favorite of bowl season.


I don't think that's deserved, especially after it was announced over the weekend that Day 2 prospect WR Ty Montgomery would miss this game with a shoulder injury. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout, who had 61 catches for 604 yards and three touchdowns this season, was by far Stanford's most dangerous offensive weapon. His absence really hurts the passing game, and it also neuters the school's kick and punt return units. Montgomery had a pair of punt return scores this season and has a career 27.4 yard kick return average.


I think the line is a big overreaction to Stanford’s last two games, blowout wins over Cal and UCLA. Prior to those contests, the Cardinal offense was so stagnant that a large percentage of its plays called for QB Kevin Hogan draws, read options, and other such plunge-the-QB-into-the-line-and-hope-for-the-best shenanigans reserved for teams with no offensive talent. In a vacuum -- and all other household appliances -- Stanford isn’t two touchdowns better than Maryland, and that’s before we even start talking about motivation (how excited would you be to play in the Foster Farms Bowl after consecutive Rose Bowl berths? -- Foster, Australian for afterthought), or the unavailability of its only consistent source of offense. Stanford would be perfectly happy to squeak out a low-scoring affair. Take the points.



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

Bowl Record: Straight-Up: 11-7; Against the Spread: 11-7


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

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!