by Jim Feist
Happy New Year! After recovering from the weekend's New Year festivities, we glide through the end of the bowl season. A few more bowls are appetizers for the tune-up that is first Final Four for all the marbles.
Music City Bowl (Wed., Dec. 31st): The SEC meets the ACC to close out the year as No. 7 Mississippi State battles No.12 Georgia Tech. Mississippi State (10-2) was thinking national title much of the year until going 1-2 in the last three games, losing to Alabama (25-20) and rival Ole Miss (31-17). So is this a letdown spot? QB Dak Prescott (24 TDs, 10 INTs) is a two-way threat who ran for 939 yards and the defense was ferocious allowing 19.4 ppg (9th). The Bulldogs are 4-0 ATS after a loss and on a 12-5ATS run.
Georgia Tech (10-3) is tough to defend averaging 37 points and 333.6 yards rushing (3rd in the nation). Sophomore QB Justin Thomas (17 TDs, 5 INTs) leads the team with 965 yards rushing. The Yellow Jackets are on a 6-0 ATS run, though 1-6 ATS in bowl games. If you like totals, G-Tech is 5-1 under in bowl games while MSU is 11-5 under against non-conference foes.
Cotton Bowl (Thurs., Jan 1): Michigan State brings a fierce defense to Texas, while Baylor has the lightening-fast, unstoppable offense. Something has to give! No. 8 Michigan State (10-2) is 5-0 ATS at neutral sites and powered its away to another great season ranked 11th in the country in points allowed (19.9 ppg). The offense was even better than last season behind junior QB Connor Cook (22 TDs, 6 INTs) and senior RB Jeremy Langford (1,360 yds, 5.5 ypc). The offense averages 261.6 yards passing, 234.9 yards rushing. They had two bad games, giving up 46 points to Oregon and 49 to Ohio State. MSU is on an 11-3 run over the total.
Last year Baylor was accused of playing a soft schedule then went belly-up in the bowl, losing 52-42 to Central Florida as -17 chalk. No. 5 Baylor (11-1) is tops in the nation in scoring (48.8 ppg) with speed to burn behind senior Bryce Petty (26 TDs, 6 INTS), soph RB Shock Linwood and WRs soph Corey Coleman (969 yds) and freshman K.D. Cannon (833). But how good is this defense? They allowed 456 yards in a 41-27 loss at West Virginia. Baylor is on a 22-8-1 ATS run, as well as 40-16-2 over the total.
Rose Bowl (Thurs., Jan. 1): No. 2 Oregon will try to be the latest team to end No. 3 Florida State’s 29-game win streak. Oregon averages 46.5 points (3rd) with incredible balance, 308.9 yards passing (11th) and 237.3 yards rushing (22nd) behind junior QB Marcus Mariota (38 TDs, 2 INTS), the kid with the shiny new Heisman. They beat four Top 20 teams in Michigan State (46-27), UCLA (42-30), Utah (51-27) and Arizona (51-13). The Ducks are on an 8-0 ATS run, 5-1 under in bowl games.
Florida State (13-0) hasn’t lost a game since October 6, 2012 (17-16 at NC State) but is a big dog. Why? They lost key talent from last year’s title team, can’t run the football (104th in rushing) and have been more lucky than great. FSU beat Clemson by 6 in OT, Oklahoma State by 6, Florida by 5, Notre Dame and Miami by 4, BC by 3, and Georgia Tech by 2!
Talented-knucklehead sophomore QB Jameis Winston (24 TDs, 17 INTs) forces too many bad passes and was a turnover machine on the field, a train wreck off it. The Seminoles are 8-1-1 ATS in bowl games and will need to step up to keep their streak alive, which is tied for 13th all-time in college football.
Sugar Bowl (Thurs., Jan. 1): Ohio State (12-1) has won 11 in a row since that September shocker, losing at home to Virginia Tech. The defense has been improved from a year ago after Urban Meyer shook up the defensive coaching staff. They are on their third-string QB in sophomore Cardelle Jones (5 TDs, 0 picks), whose first start was the last game, a stunning 59-0 rout of No. 13 Wisconsin. The Buckeyes are 5-2 ATS against a team with a winning record.
Alabama looked shaky a few times, losing at Ole Miss (23-17) in Week 5, then dealing with a tough stretch in midseason playing 4 of 5 on the road. That last road game, a 20-13 OT win at LSU, was the turning point, a game they probably should have lost but got a gift from the Tigers. Bama has been more uptempo on offense behind first-year OC Lane Kiffin, averaging 37 points, 281 yards passing and 209.5 yards rushing.
Senior QB Blake Sims (26 TDs, 7 INTs) has help with future NFL players RB T.J. Yeldon and WR Amari Cooper (1,656 yds). And the defense is fourth in the nation in points allowed (16.6 ppg). Bama is on a 5-11-1 ATS run, plus 12-3-1 over the total at neutral sites.