We've reached the home stretch of the college football season.
The College Football Playoff semifinals are on tap for New Year's Eve and there are also five fun games on the schedule for Friday, including the Orange Bowl — the first New Year's Six bowl of the year.
And after semifinal Saturday, bowl season is capped off by four more games on Monday, Jan. 2. That group of games includes an excellent matchup in the Rose Bowl between Utah and Penn State.
We have in-depth breakdowns and picks for each of the major bowl games (see above). Below are our favorite plays from the 13 games played between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.
(All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
Mayo Bowl: Maryland vs. No. 23 NC State
Date: Dec. 30 (Noon) | TV: ESPN | Line: NC State -1 | Total: 46.5
Sam Cooper: The best unit on the field in this game is NC State’s defense. The defense carried the Wolfpack to eight wins even with the team playing its fourth-string quarterback late in the season. There are a lot of seniors playing their last game for NC State, and this group didn’t get a chance to play a bowl game last year because UCLA canceled due to COVID issues. Maryland has had a bunch of roster attrition and will be without its top three receivers and top tight end. I liked NC State more as an underdog, but I’ll stick with the play.
Pick: NC State -1
Sun Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. No. 18 UCLA
Date: Dec. 30 (2 p.m.) | TV: CBS | Line: UCLA -5.5 | Total: 53.5
Sam Cooper: I don't really think Pitt going from Kedon Slovis to Nick Patti is much of a downgrade, but the absence of Izzy Abanikanda at running back and so many key players on defense makes it tough to think Pitt can keep up with UCLA. All signs point to Dorian Thompson-Robinson playing in what will be his final game in a UCLA uniform. After five seasons starting, I see him going out with a fairly comfortable win.
Pick: UCLA -5.5
Nick Bromberg: Pitt is missing both QB Kedon Slovis and RB Izzy Abanikanda on offense while four of the Panthers’ best defensive players are missing the game through injury or NFL draft prep. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks set to play the game and while WR Kazmeir Allen is prepping for the draft, UCLA should have more than enough to cover a spread that’s less than a TD.
Pick: UCLA -5.5
Gator Bowl: No. 21 Notre Dame vs. No. 19 South Carolina
Date: Dec. 30 (3:30 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: ND -2.5 | Total: 51.5
Sam Cooper: I know South Carolina closed out the season with wins over Tennessee and Clemson, but I’m still a bit skeptical of the Gamecocks. This program has had a lot of opt outs and transfers since the regular season ended with running back Marshawn Lloyd among the departures. Still, Shane Beamer is the kind of coach who will have some tricks up his sleeve and I don’t want to back a Notre Dame team starting quarterback Tyler Buchner after a long layoff when he won’t have star tight end Michael Mayer. I envision Notre Dame leaning on its running game and trying to control the clock while South Carolina is going to have to rely on Spencer Rattler with so many of his top offensive weapons unavailable.
Pick: Under 51.5
Arizona Bowl: Ohio vs. Wyoming
Date: Dec. 30 (4:30 p.m.) | TV: Barstool | Line: Ohio -1 | Total: 42.5
Sam Cooper: Wyoming’s top four running backs are gone. That’s not a good recipe for a team that runs the ball more than 60% of the time and has a quarterback that completes only 51.4% of his attempts. At the same time, I don’t trust Ohio without starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke. Wyoming has a good, physical defense that played well against some of the best teams in the Mountain West. I’m expecting an ugly, low-scoring game.
Pick: Under 42.5
Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Iowa
Date: Dec. 31 (Noon) | TV: ABC | Line: Iowa -2.5 | Total: 31
Nick Bromberg: I’m not going to overthink this one. Both teams have good defenses. Both teams have bad offenses missing key pieces. Iowa is down to its third-string quarterback after an injury to Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla’s transfer. Kentucky is missing QB Will Levis and RB Chris Rodriguez as they skip the game to prep for the NFL draft. Punting to win will be imperative here and I’ve gotta go low in the lowest total of bowl season.
Pick: Under 31
Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Date: Dec. 31 (Noon) | TV: ESPN | Line: Alabama -6.5 | Total: 56
Sam Cooper: With Bryce Young playing, Alabama is going to find a way to put up plenty of points on the fast track at the Superdome. At the same time, Kansas State is going to be really fired up to play in this game. K-State’s offense has been playing at a high level with Will Howard and can beat you with the downfield passing game or with Deuce Vaughn out of the backfield. I think this could turn into a shootout. I’ll go with the over.
Pick: Over 56
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Date: Dec. 31 (8 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Georgia -6.5 | Total: 62.5
Nick Bromberg: I don’t like this matchup at all for Ohio State after seeing what Michigan did to the Buckeyes. It’s clear that Ohio State won’t attempt to play man coverage against Georgia’s receiving threats after the disaster that it was against Michigan. Georgia is also well-equipped to run the ball against Ohio State just as well as Michigan did. Sure, the Buckeyes have great receiving threats in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, but Georgia shut down Tennessee’s pass game. It can do the same to Ohio State’s. This is easy now that the spread is under a TD.
Pick: Georgia -6.5
ReliaQuest Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Illinois
Date: Jan. 2 (Noon) | TV: ABC | Line: MSU -1 | Total: 46
Nick Bromberg: I can’t pretend to understand what Mississippi State has dealt with since the death of Mike Leach. But the team made it clear in the days after Leach’s passing that it wanted to play this game. It’s easy to see how Mississippi State will be a motivated bunch and Illinois is missing star RB Chase Brown and its top two defensive backs as they prep for the draft. With the line so close here, I’ve gotta go with the Bulldogs.
Pick: Mississippi State -1
Rose Bowl: No. 11 Penn State vs. No. 8 Utah
Date: Jan. 2 (5 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Utah -2.5 | Total: 52.5
Sam Cooper: There are some really impressive athletes on Penn State’s defense and I think that’s going to pose a tough matchup for the Utah offense — especially without Dalton Kincaid. Cam Rising’s ability to run is going to be a key for the Utes, who really want to win a Rose Bowl after losing a heartbreaker to Ohio State last fall. But I think PSU is the better team overall. I don’t think Utah’s defense is as good as it has been in recent seasons and Penn State’s offensive line is much healthier after the layoff and has two star freshmen at running back and a deep group of tight ends. PSU’s receiver group isn’t great without Parker Washington, but I’m siding with the Nittany Lions getting a few points.
Pick: Penn State +2.5