Two College Powerhouses Meet In Cotton Bowl
College football bowl season picks up steam as the final four prepare for the national playoffs on New Year’s Day.
The highlight of this week’s 20 games is the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, where the No. 5 Buckeyes from Ohio State square off against the No. 8 USC Trojans.
VGB takes a look at all 20 matchups against the spread (odds provided by bovada.lv).
Utah vs. West Virginia — There are question marks on both sides of the ball heading into this game. Will Grier is a doubtful starter with a broken finger for the Mountaineers (7-5). Tyler Huntley is battling an undisclosed injury for the Utes (6-6). But when it comes to bowl games, Utah is just about unbeatable. The Utes have won 13 of their last 14 bowls dating back to 1996.
VGB’s pick — Utah (-7)
Northern Illinois vs. Duke — After winning four straight to start the season, the Blue Devils (6-6) lost six in a row. They finished the season off with two big wins and were 6-5-1 against the spread (ATS). The Huskies (8-4) lost their final regular season game and were 1-4 ATS in their last five. Northern Illinois relies heavily on the run, which may be a problem against a speedy Duke defense.
VGB’s pick — Duke (-5.5)
Kansas State vs. UCLA — This is likely Josh Rosen’s last game for the Bruins (6-6) before the young star departs for the NFL. As good as their quarterback is, there are two stats that can’t be overlooked for his team. The Bruins are 4-8 ATS and winless (0-6) on the road. Redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson led K-State to its final two wins of the season, including a victory over Oklahoma State.
VGB’s pick — Kansas State (-2.5)
Southern Miss vs. Florida State — Sure, the Seminoles (6-6) had a lackluster season this year, but two of those losses were against Alabama and Clemson. Willie Taggart takes over this program next season and he has some firepower to work with, including Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick. The Golden Eagles (8-4) won their last three games. Their talented defense will keep them in the game.
VGB’s pick — Southern Miss (+17)
Missouri vs. Texas — The Tigers (7-5) have been on a roll since a loss at Georgia in October. Missouri has won six in a row and averaged more than 50 points a game in the streak. The Longhorns (6-6) have a hard time scoring 30, never mind 50. They will also be missing some key players getting ready for the NFL. Still, the Texas defense should keep this one in reach.
VGB’s pick — Missouri (-3)
Boston College vs. Iowa — The Eagles (7-5) started the season off 2-4, but they won five of their last six to earn a bowl bid. Boston College was even more impressive in its last two games, winning them by a combined 53 points. The Hawkeyes (7-5) had some big wins this year, but they failed to score more than 20 points in six of 12 games. The Hawkeyes are 5-6-1 ATS, while the Eagles are 8-3-1.
VGB’s pick — Boston College (+3)
Purdue vs. Arizona — This game could turn into the Khalil Tate show. The sophomore quarterback is the leading passer and rusher for the Wildcats (7-5). But he is also on the hook for eight interceptions. Arizona averaged almost 42 points a game, so the Boilermakers (6-6) will face a huge test in shutting down Tate and the Wildcats. Purdue, which is 8-4 ATS, won three of its last four.
VGB’s pick — Arizona (-3)
Virginia vs. Navy — The Midshipmen (6-6), who host this bowl in Annapolis, play much better at home than on the road. That may just be the edge here as both teams stumbled to the finish line — Navy lost six of its last seven, while the Cavaliers (6-6) lost five of their last six. Virginia QB Kurt Benkert threw for 25 TDs and 3,000 yards this season. The senior needs to have a big game.
VGB’s pick — Virginia (+1)
No. 22 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State — The Cowboys (9-3) scored almost 50 points a game in their last four starts of the season, so finding the end zone shouldn’t be a problem for Mason Rudolph and the OSU offense. The Hokies (9-3) have only given up 92 points in their last six — an average of under 16 points a game, but they haven’t seen as much firepower as this. Both teams have average records against the spread.
VGB’s pick — Oklahoma State (-4)
No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU — The Frogs (10-3) won seven straight to start the season, then lost three of their final six — including a pair of games to Oklahoma — to cap off the year. TCU also has the run defense to slow down Heisman runner-up Bryce Love and the Cardinal (9-4). Stanford won eight of its last 10 games and it’s 6-2 against the spread in its past eight bowl games.
VGB’s pick — Stanford (+3)
No. 16 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Washington State — The Cougars (9-3) were unbeatable to start the year, but they won only three of their last six and finished with a 27-point loss at Washington. The Spartans (9-3) won seven of their last nine, but that included a 45-point loss at Ohio State. This is Luke Falk’s final game at WSU. The senior has thrown for at least 30 touchdowns in each of his last three seasons.
VGB’s pick — Michigan State (+1)
Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest — The Aggies (7-5) lost four of their final seven games of the season, including a 24-point loss to LSU to complete their schedule. The Demon Deacons lost five of their last eight, but John Wolford had a big year for Wake. The senior threw for almost 2,800 yards with 25 touchdowns and six picks. The Demon Deacons are 9-3 ATS, while the Aggies are 6-4-2.
VGB’s pick — Wake Forest (-3)
No. 24 North Carolina State vs. Arizona State — The Sun Devils (7-5) must account for Bradley Chubb on every play. But will the star defensive end even play for the Wolfpack (8-4)? He’s a huge force on the NC State front. However, he may opt to skip the game for the NFL draft. ASU won three of its final four games, including a 12-point win over state rival Arizona. The Wolfpack dropped three of their last five.
VGB’s pick — North Carolina State (-6.5)
Kentucky vs. No. 21 Northwestern — Northwestern (9-3) won its last seven games — including victories over Michigan State and Iowa — to roll into bowl season. The Wildcats will rely on Justin Jackson and the running game to beat Kentucky, which lost four of its last six. A win here would lock up Northwestern’s third 10-win season since 2012. Northwestern is 9-3 ATS, while Kentucky is 3-9.
VGB’s pick — Northwestern (-7.5)
Utah State vs. New Mexico State — New Mexico State (6-6) is in a bowl game for the first time since 1960. The Aggies averaged around 30 points a game this season and scored at least 17 points in every outing. Utah State (6-6) also averaged about 30 points a game, but they scored more than 50 points three times. This is just the fourth time this year that Utah State has been favored.
VGB’s pick — Utah State (-4)
No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State — The Big Ten champs were snubbed by the selection committee, who instead chose Alabama as the No. 4 seed. The Buckeyes (11-2) will want to show the nation they deserved that spot against the Pac-12 champs. The Trojans (11-2) — who lost to Notre Dame and Washington State — won their last five in impressive fashion, but were 3-9-1 ATS. The Buckeyes won their last four.
VGB’s pick — Ohio State (-7)
Louisville vs. No. 23 Mississippi State — The Bulldogs (8-4) will have to beat Louisville without their starting quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, who is out with a leg injury. On the other side for the Cardinals (8-4) is Heisman runner-up Lamar Jackson. He threw for almost 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. This gives Louisville a huge edge, even though the Mississippi State defense has faced three elite teams this season in Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
VGB’s pick — Louisville (-7)
Iowa State vs. No. 20 Memphis — The Cyclones (7-5) lost three of their last four games of the season, and now they must the Tigers (10-2) in their home stadium. Memphis is undefeated against every team this year except Central Florida, who knocked them off twice. The Tigers went a perfect 7-0 at home, outscoring their opponents 351-216. Iowa State finished the year 9-3 ATS and won on the road at Oklahoma.
VGB’s pick — Iowa State (+3.5)
No. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn State — The Nittany Lions (10-2) lost two games this year by a total of four points. Other than that, they ran the table in their other 10. Saquon Barkley, one of the best running backs in all of college football, leads Penn State against their foes from the Pac-12. The Huskies (10-2) suffered one of their two losses to another team with a great running back in Bryce Love and Stanford.
VGB’s pick — Penn State (-3)
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami (Fla.) — Two teams that were at one time in the national playoff hunt meet here in what amounts to a home game for the Hurricanes (10-2). The Badgers (12-1) suffered their first and only loss of the season in the Big Ten championship, knocking them into the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes started the year 10-0 before losing their last two to Clemson and Pittsburgh, but a seven-point spread at home?
VGB’s pick — Miami (+7)