New Year’s Day doesn’t bring an end to the college football season and settle a national champion the way it used to, but in terms of raw volume, January 1 still brings the biggest feast of the college bowl season. Four games will set the table in the early afternoon, with three Big Ten-SEC matchups.
We’ll look at how the early TV window breaks down. The pointspread and the total are listed in parentheses, and at the end of this post, TheSportsNotebook makes it picks.
Gator Bowl: Nebraska-Georgia (-8.5, 60) (Noon, ESPN2)—If this were the early 1980s, when Herschel Walker had Georgia in national championship race, and Tom Osborne was chasing his first ring at Nebraska, this game might have been interesting. Instead, it’s just a rematch from last year between two teams coming off disappointing years and playing with backup quarterbacks.
Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has missed every game but once since September. The Cornhuskers have caught some magic and won close games over Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State. The Nebraska losses were decisive, to Iowa, Michigan State and Minnesota.
The biggest surprise is that Bo Pellini survived to coach this game. The Cornhusker coach seemed to seal his fate when a rant criticizing the fan base was made public, and the fact his team continues to fall short of winning the Big Ten provided reasons for the fan base to be annoyed. Pellini still being employed is a bigger upset than Rex Ryan keeping his job with the New York Jets.
Georgia finished 8-4 in a year that began with national title hopes, and injuries have marked this season from the outset. Todd Gurley has missed a lot of time in the backfield and the Bulldogs have dipped into the third string at the running back spot. The year finally ended with the Dawgs losing on a desperation pass to Auburn, and then seeing quarterback Aaron Murray tear his ACL.
Heart Of Dallas Bowl: UNLV-North Texas (-7, 54.5) (Noon, ESPNU)—Two programs got themselves turned around and get to celebrate in Dallas. UNLV closed strong and hammered San Diego State 45-19 in the regular season finale. The Rebels run the ball well with Tim Cornett, they have a 1,000-yard receiver in DeVante Davis and they play smart, intelligent football. Quarterback Caleb Herring works short passes efficiently and doesn’t make mistakes.
Dan McCarney has put North Texas on the map in Conference USA, and the Mean Green won six of their last seven, including wins over bowl teams in Middle Tennessee and Rice. A 1,000-yard rusher in Brandin Byrd leads the offense.
I will see I don’t quite get this point spread. North Texas will have a home crowd edge, but the Mountain West is considerably better than C-USA, so I’m not sure how anyone gets to making UNLV a touchdown underdog.
Outback Bowl: Iowa-LSU (-7, 49.5) (1 PM ET, ESPN)—A quarterback injury looms over this game as well. LSU’s Zach Mettenberg is out with a torn ACL. The Tigers have tremendous talent at the skill positions, with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at wideout and Jeremy Hill in the backfield. But with the Mettenberg injury coming at the end of the year, we have no read on whether they have anyone else who can get the ball in the hands of these players.
LSU did finish the year strong on defense after a year that was less than vintage on that side of the ball. The Tigers shut down Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a 34-10 win in November.
Iowa enjoyed a comeback year for Kirk Ferentz and their only losses in Big Ten play were to Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the power elite of the conference, and the Hawkeyes were competitive in each game. They won’t wow you offensively, but Iowa has played good defense all season long.
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin (-2, 51) South Carolina (1 PM ET, ABC)—One of the best non-BCS bowl games goes from Orlando. The Badgers have their usual potent running attack, with Melvin Gordon and James White each exceeding 1,300 yards on the ground. Wisconsin played good defense throughout the year, and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis can get open against most anyone.
Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave is very inconsistent though. His 12 interceptions are a problem, and that doesn’t account for the countless poorly thrown passes, a problem that hit its apex in a season-ending loss to Penn State. Stave has to loosen up the South Carolina defense for the running game to have a chance.
We know the Gamecocks can play defense and they’ve got a 1,000-yard back of their own in Mike Davis. There are no problems at quarterback with this team. Connor Shaw gets the ball downfield well, at 8.24 yards per pass, and has a dazzling 21-1 TD/INT ratio.
Shaw missed some time this year with a shoulder injury, but he led a big rally for a win at Missouri. The win over the Tigers was part of a strong finish that saw South Carolina win their last five games.
Gator: Nebraska (+8.5), Under 60…Georgia wins outright
Heart of Dallas: UNLV (+7), Under 54.5
Outback: LSU (-7), Under 49.5
Capital One: I’m a Wisconsin fan and am not picking this game.
Handicapping Record (through games of Saturday, December 28)
Outright Winners: 6-7
The late afternoon of January 1 is when the major bowls begin, and TheSportsNotebook will have separate posts to break down the Rose Bowl, as well as the Fiesta Bowl, which goes on New Year’s Night.