Published Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 | 10:05 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 | 10:58 a.m.
Alabama was the only team priced as more likely to win the national championship than Ohio State and USC at the onset of the season.
The odds would have been astronomical that both the Buckeyes, 3-to-1 in August at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, and the Trojans, 7-to-1, would win their conferences but get left out of the College Football Playoff. But that’s how the season played out, much to the Cotton Bowl’s benefit.
The two power programs will square off Friday evening in Arlington, Texas, in the first major bowl game of the year. The Trojans and the Buckeyes taking the same field will feel like a signal that the preliminaries are over; it’s time for the major games.
They’ll usher in a three-day weekend where not only the national semifinals will play out, but also the other two New Year’s Six showdowns.
Talking Points will pick all of it, looking to continue streaking after going 14-7 against the spread in the early portion of bowl season. The blog’s record picking all the biggest games on the year now stands at 120-107-7. Read below to find picks for Thursday’s and Friday’s action, and come back shortly to catch Saturday’s games.
Military Bowl: Virginia plus-2 vs. Navy, over/under: 51
10:30 a.m. Thursday, Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. on ESPN
Can’t get much more even than this pair of 6-6 teams, with Navy about a yard per play better on offense and Virginia about a yard per play better on defense. By S&P ratings, Virginia is the 77th best team in the nation and Navy is 78th. They’re so closely contested that the pick partially comes down motivation, where it seems the Cavaliers would have an edge in reaching their first bowl game in six years.
Pick: Virginia plus-2
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech plus-6 vs. Oklahoma State, over/under: 62
2:15 p.m. Thursday, Camping World Stadium in Orlando,Fla. on ESPN
The Hokies have a pair of defensive backs with NFL potential — Brandon Facyson and Adonis Alexander — to go with one of the best pass-rushing middle linebackers in the nation — Tremaine Edmunds. That makes for a defense ranked sixth in the nation by S&P, and should be more than enough to limit Mason Rudolph’s high-scoring Cowboys.
Pick: Virginia Tech plus-6
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford plus-3 vs. TCU, over/under: 48.5
6 p.m. Thursday, Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on ESPN
Another perfect line that doesn’t appear too offer any value, but it’s usually advisable to take points in those situations. Stanford improved dramatically as the season went on, after it settled with sophomore K.J. Costello at quarterback. TCU stagnated in losing three of its final six, including a 24-point beatdown in the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma whereas Stanford narrowly fell by three points in the Pac-12 Championship Game to USC.
Pick: Stanford plus-3
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Washington State plus-2.5 vs. Michigan State, over/under: 47.5
6 p.m. Thursday, SDCUU Stadium in San Diego on Fox Sports 1
There are rumblings of an injury to Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, but no indications he won’t play. Falk is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in college football as the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer, so it’s a surprise that Michigan State is one of the most popular bets on the board. If worse comes to worst, backup Tyler Hilinski is at least capable and has logged significant experience.
Pick: Washington State plus-2.5
Belk Bowl: Wake Forest minus-3 vs. Texas A&M, over/under: 65.5
10 a.m. Friday, Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte on ESPN
The Demon Deacons were already more efficient than the Aggies on both sides of the ball, and now they’ve also added an edge in stability. There’s no telling how Texas A&M responds to a one-off game under interim coach in Jeff Banks.
Pick: Wake Forest minus-3
Hyundai Sun Bowl: North Carolina State minus-7 vs. Arizona State, over/under: 59.5
Noon Friday, Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on CBS
The Wolf Pack were reliable as underdogs this season. Not so much as favorites, as they went 1-6 against the spread when giving points. Trends like that are ultimately close to meaningless, but in a game like this where the number seems to be right, it’s startling to see 80 percent of the action come in on an undependable team.
Pick: Arizona State plus-7
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky plus-8 vs. Northwestern, over/under: 51
1:30 p.m. Friday, Nissan Stadium in Nashville on ESPN
Northwestern laid more than a field goal on only three occasions this season — against UNR, Bowling Green and Illinois. Kentucky has its flaws — mostly on defense — but it’s a lot better than those three teams. Having more than a month to prepare should help an offense that sputtered down the stretch, but soared at times earlier in the season behind quarterback Stephen Johnson.
Pick: Kentucky plus-8
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State plus-4 vs. Utah State, over/under: 63
2:30 p.m. Friday, Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on CBS Sports Network
Do bettors side with the excitement that comes out of New Mexico State’s first bowl appearance in 57 years or the experience that comes out of Utah State’s sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years? The likely answer is neither, as most gamblers will be distracted by the higher-profile games taking place Friday to even notice this one, where the spread has stayed reasonably deflated.
Pick: Utah State minus-4
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: USC plus-7.5 vs. Ohio State, over/under: 64.5
5:30 p.m. Friday, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on ESPN
Based on preseason projections, both USC and Ohio State were disappointments with two-loss seasons. Based on power ratings, Ohio State were the team that really underachieved. Most oddsmakers would still rate the Buckeyes as the second-best team in the nation, with the Trojans significantly farther down. Ohio State’s 31-0 blowout loss to Clemson in last year’s Fiest Bowl remains the exception, not the rule. Coach Urban Meyer’s teams typically play much better with extended preparation time. The Buckeyes have significant advantages in both coaching and talent.
Pick: Ohio State minus-7.5
Taxslayer Bowl: Louisville minus-7 vs. Mississippi State, over/under: 63.5
9 a.m. Saturday, EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. on ESPN
Louisville finished stronger than Mississippi State — going 3-0 straight-up and against the spread versus the Bulldogs’ 1-2 in both categories — but on the season as a whole, these teams shape up incredibly evenly. Mississippi State is playing under an interim coach in Greg Knox, but Louisville has seen its own staff shake-up in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham departing to take the same position at Florida.
Pick: Mississippi State plus-7
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State plus-3.5 vs. Memphis, over/under: 66
9:30 a.m. Saturday, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. on ABC
The Cyclones were a great story this season, but were unquestionably aided by good fortune. They lead the nation in recovering 72.2 percent of fumbles, including not losing one of their own the entire year. Having to battle with quarterback Riley Feguson and Memphis at home, where the Tigers went 4-2-1 against the spread this season, seems worth a couple extra points that aren’t reflected on the spread.
Pick: Memphis minus-3.5
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Washington plus-2.5 vs. Penn State, over/under: 55
1 p.m. Saturday, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on ESPN
Penn State was the higher-profile team this season; Washington might have very well been the better team this season. The Huskies’ gained 2.2 more yards per play than they surrendered, above the Nittany Lions’ net of 1.9 yards per play. The Nittany Lions excelled in creating big plays with Heisman fourth-place finisher Saquon Barkley, but the Huskies were fifth in the nation defensively in limiting explosiveness by S&P. The line should be pick’em at minimum, with public perception the only reason it’s not.
Pick: Washington plus-2.5
Capital One Orange Bowl: Wisconsin minus-4.5 vs. Miami, over/under: 45
5 p.m. Saturday, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on ESPN
Point spread has trimmed more than any other major bowl game after opening as high as minus-7. The shift has made what would have a tough decision a bit easier, as Wisconsin is clearly the more efficient team and now has value on its side. The Hurricanes were mediocre against the run the season — ranking No. 42 in rush defense by S&P — and now must take on an offense that calls running plays on 62 percent of its snaps. Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was one of the most underrated players in the nation this season, gaining nearly 7 yards per carry.
Pick: Wisconsin minus-4.5