This article is part of our College Football Picks series.
College Capper: Bowl Season Week 3 Expert Picks
Bowl season is in full swing and this weekend features the College Football Playoff Semifinals along with a number of other big-time matchups to help ring in the new year. Ohio will launch sports betting over the weekend and those in the Buckeye State can get in on the action at BetMGM with the BetMGM Ohio Bonus Code.
What a difference a week makes. After a terrible 1-4 start to the bowl season, I turned in my first perfect week thanks to the miracle cover that was Kansas against Arkansas. What a roller coaster this season has been. Fingers crossed momentum carries over and we close the year strong!
I'm not touching the playoff games. I think Georgia is far and away the best team in the country, but I give Ohio State a puncher's chance. I doubt Michigan as much as anyone, and think TCU is a live underdog. But can also argue they'll get pushed around something fierce and not be competitive. I'm backing the two favorites, but not with tremendous confidence.
UCLA (-5.5) vs. Pittsburgh
Something seems too obvious here, but I'll still roll with it. UCLA is likely at full strength, and their offense ranked ninth in scoring at 39.6 ppg. Pittsburgh won't have QB Kedon Slovis, which some could argue isn't a detriment, but they also won't have all-world RB Israel Abanikanda, who scored a nation-high 20 touchdowns. I expect Pitt will play hard and their defense will be ready, but I just don't see how they can score enough to remain competitive assuming UCLA is telling the truth, and we get a full final game from Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet.
Notre Dame (-2.5) vs. South Carolina
As the picks evolved in this column, a trend emerged where I was fading a strong conference. That isn't the play with this pick however, I just find this to be a terrible matchup for the Gamecocks. They are down their top two rushers, and have just one tight end available. They're also missing a few on both lines. I really feel their offense is Spencer Rattler chucking it deep and hoping. Notre Dame should have no issue handing the ball off to Logan Diggs and Audric Estime, as the Gamecock defense ranked 112th against the run even at full strength, allowing 4.9 ypc and 192.4 ypg. Lost in the Gamecocks' late-season success is they allowed 68 points to Tennessee and Clemson. If Notre Dame gets towards that average, USC won't be able to trade points. Even more so if the Irish are running the ball, and the clock, successfully.
Clemson (-5.5) vs. Tennessee
This just feels like teams going in different directions. Clemson seemingly is upgrading at quarterback with Cade Klubnik taking over, and they've got Will Shipley and a power run game to fall back on. Tennessee won't have Jalin Hyatt to chase down deep balls from Joe Milton. The SEC has struggled in bowl season, seemingly disinterested by not playing for bigger prizes, and I think that trend continues throughout the final week of bowl action. Clemson will use this as a springboard into next year, while Tennessee is heading back to the drawing board for 2023.
Iowa (-2) vs. Kentucky
It may be crazy to take a favorite in a game where no one is going to score, but here I am. Kentucky doesn't have QB Will Levis, or RBs Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Iowa does have emerging freshman RB Kaleb Johnson. Kentucky allowed 146.8 ypg on the ground during the year, a number that rose to 175.5 ypg in their six defeats. It won't be pretty, but the Hawkeyes will get the job done thanks to Johnson, and Kentucky simply not scoring.
Kansas State (+6.5) vs. Alabama
Yikes, a fourth SEC team I'm going against. Alabama is talented and deep enough to simply show up and win this, but it's pretty easy to question their motives given the number of opt-outs. I personally can't believe Bryce Young and Will Anderson are slated to play, but they're down a slew of receivers and linemen. I loved what I saw from KSU in the Big 12 Championship game; they clearly want to be playing in this game. QB Will Howard has a brilliant 15:2 TD:INT ratio, and I'll trust him to make some timely downfield throws to keep this close enough to cover, if not win.
Last week: 5-0; Season: 44-41
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I guess we'll chalk this up to saving the best for last? It wasn't a horrible regular season, I finished just below sea level, but however disappointed I was about the regular season, I've more than recovered in the bowl season as I nailed a second consecutive 4-1 record this past week. I can't quite put a finger on why the games are going this well, perhaps I'm reading the player movement correctly, or maybe it's just dumb luck. Whatever the case, hopefully I've got one week left in me. Before we get to this week's picks, a quick look back at this past week.
The lone loss was on Houston and that was just by a half point! Okay, so the Cougars were trailing most of the game and they were extremely fortunate to win by seven, but in the books, it's a narrow loss.
The first win was on Wake Forest, which controlled its game against a short-handed Missouri team that was never really in the game. The second win was on Memphis, which easily handled Utah State. Wisconsin was the third win in a somewhat entertaining matchup that saw the Badgers go up big and hold on for a seven-point win. The final win was on Duke, which also controlled the game against UCF.
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UCLA (-5.5) vs Pittsburgh
It wasn't that long ago that motivation was the biggest factor in which team would win a particular bowl game, and while it's still a large factor, nothing has impacted the outcome of these bowls more this year than player movement. There are some unknowns about UCLA, particularly the starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and starting RB Zach Charbonnet, but if even one of those guys are a go, then UCLA enters with a team that will closely resemble the one from the regular season. Pittsburgh meanwhile is coming into this game with the "B" squad, and that's not really a joke. Pitt has been decimated by player movement, including its starting QB, two starting OTs, seven players on defense that either opted out or entered the portal. It feels like this is the line if the UCLA stars are out, so if any of them decide to play, then the line will skyrocket. If it's Pitt's "B" team vs. a scaled down version of UCLA's "A" team, I'll lay the points.
Notre Dame (-2.5) vs South Carolina
I've gone back and forth on this game a number of times, but unfortunately, I made all of my bowl pool picks when I was leaning towards South Carolina. I say unfortunately because the Gamecocks were destroyed by opt-outs and the portal. Both sides of the ball were hit hard, and it seems like the only man standing was Spencer Rattler, which is a big piece, but he hasn't exactly been Mr. Reliable over the years. Notre Dame was hit hard as well as the 'Irish lost their best player, TE Michael Myers to the portal, along with starting QB Drew Pyne, but the 'Irish still have their RBs and their O-line in place and I expect them to run all over a South Carolina team that allowed over 192 yards per game on the ground this year.
Clemson (-5.5) vs Tennessee
One team overperformed this year and the other underperformed. As you can see, I'm siding with the underperforming team and here's why. Tennessee is in trouble on offense. It lost its all-everything QB Hendon Hooker and while backup Joe Milton is serviceable, he won't have his two top targets in this one. The defense is pretty much intact, but is that a good thing? Clemson lost a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the Tigers still have enough left over to slow down a Tennessee team missing its top weapons. On offense, the Tigers get an upgrade as QB DJ Uiagalelei has left town and Cole Klubnik takes over. I actually see this game as a fresh start for Clemson and with that, I'm expecting the Tigers to be energized for this game. The Vol's meanwhile might still be wondering what might have been if a couple more breaks had gone their way this season.
Under (31.5) Iowa vs Kentucky
I still can't believe I am going this route as I've always warned anyone that would listen that taking an under in the 40s is too risky and here I am going under a number in the low-30s. Am I insane? If I am then I'm not alone as this number opened at 31.5 and it hasn't moved. So what's up with this line? Both teams have solid Ds and poor offenses, but that alone would not require a total this low, no there's much more going on here. Let's start with the fact that both starting QBs are out, a big deal for Kentucky as Will Levis is likely a 1st-round pick in the NFL and also a big deal for Iowa as the Hawkeyes are down to a 3rd-stringer that's never thrown a pass at this level. Both teams are losing a lot on offense and not as much on defense. With two new QBs in the mix, I can't imagine the ball will be in the air much and with that, the game will speed up and be over before you know it.
Georgia (-6.5) vs Ohio State
Every so often a team will rise up during the playoffs and shock the world. I'm hoping that Ohio State is not that team this year because on paper, these teams are not equal. Georgia looks like a machine and though it might not be as strong as the team that coasted through the playoff last year, there's a chance that the Bulldogs step up their game, just like they did last year. Complacency was the 'Dogs number one enemy this season and they managed to fight through what could be considered a boring regular season for a team coming off a national championship, but now it's showtime once again and I have a feeling we see Georgia up its game while Ohio State just does what it can to stay in this one. The Buckeyes had one stiff test this season and it failed, I'm not sure how we can expect them to play better against Georgia that they did against Michigan and even if they do, I'm still not sure this game stays within one score. Again, the only worry here is the unforeseen bounce that happens every now and then to a playoff team.
Last Week: 4-1-0, Bowl Season: 8-2, Overall: 44-39-0