What a difference a week makes. After a terrible 1-4 start to the bowl season, I turned in my first perfect week thanks to the miracle cover that was Kansas against Arkansas. What a roller coaster this season has been. Fingers crossed momentum carries over and we close the year strong!
I'm not touching the playoff games. I think Georgia is far and away the best team in the country, but I give Ohio State a puncher's chance. I doubt Michigan as much as anyone thinks TCU is a live underdog. But can also argue they'll get pushed around something fierce and not be competitive. I'm backing the two favorites, but not with tremendous confidence.
UCLA (-5.5) vs. Pittsburgh
Something seems too obvious here, but I'll still roll with it. UCLA is likely at full strength, and their offense ranked ninth in scoring at 39.6 ppg. Pittsburgh won't have QB Kedon Slovis, which some could argue isn't a detriment, but they also won't have all-world RB Israel Abanikanda, who scored a nation-high 20 touchdowns. I expect Pitt will play hard and their defense will be ready, but I just don't see how they can score enough to remain competitive assuming UCLA is telling the truth, and we get a full final game from Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet.
Notre Dame (-2.5) vs. South Carolina
As the picks evolved in this column, a trend emerged where I was fading a strong conference. That isn't the play with this pick however, I just find this to be a terrible matchup for the Gamecocks. They are down their top two rushers, and have just one tight end available. They're also missing a few on both lines. I really feel their offense is Spencer Rattler chucking it deep and hoping. Notre Dame should have no issue handing the ball off to Logan Diggs and Audric Estime, as the Gamecock defense ranked 112th against the run even at full strength, allowing 4.9 ypc and 192.4 ypg. Lost in the Gamecocks' late-season success is they allowed 68 points to Tennessee and Clemson. If Notre Dame gets towards that average, USC won't be able to trade points. Even more so if the Irish are running the ball, and the clock, successfully.
Clemson (-5.5) vs. Tennessee
This just feels like teams going in different directions. Clemson seemingly is upgrading at quarterback with Cade Klubnik taking over, and they've got Will Shipley and a power run game to fall back on. Tennessee won't have Jalin Hyatt to chase down deep balls from Joe Milton. The SEC has struggled in bowl season, seemingly disinterested by not playing for bigger prizes, and I think that trend continues throughout the final week of bowl action. Clemson will use this as a springboard into next year, while Tennessee is heading back to the drawing board for 2023.
Iowa (-2) vs. Kentucky
It may be crazy to take a favorite in a game where no one is going to score, but here I am. Kentucky doesn't have QB Will Levis, or RBs Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Iowa does have emerging freshman RB Kaleb Johnson. Kentucky allowed 146.8 ypg on the ground during the year, a number that rose to 175.5 ypg in their six defeats. It won't be pretty, but the Hawkeyes will get the job done thanks to Johnson, and Kentucky simply not scoring.
Kansas State (+6.5) vs. Alabama
Yikes, a fourth SEC team I'm going against. Alabama is talented and deep enough to simply show up and win this, but it's pretty easy to question their motives given the number of opt-outs. I personally can't believe Bryce Young and Will Anderson are slated to play, but they're down a slew of receivers and linemen. I loved what I saw from KSU in the Big 12 Championship game; they clearly want to be playing in this game. QB Will Howard has a brilliant 15:2 TD:INT ratio, and I'll trust him to make some timely downfield throws to keep this close enough to cover, if not win.