So much can change between time of submission and games kicking off ('Rona, opt-outs, etc.) that I can take losing with a grain of salt. Let's end the year on a bang.
I think Alabama is overvalued based on their SEC championship showing, but also think Nick Saban with this much time to prepare is almost unbeatable.
Wisconsin (-6) vs. Arizona State
Contrasting styles, as the Badgers want to ground and pound while Arizona State goes as far as QB Jayden Daniels takes it. The ASU run defense was feast or famine, holding three of its final four opponents to less than 100 yards. But Oregon State got it for 237 and Utah went for 208, and I think the Badgers find similar success, and in turn, allow QB Graham Mertz to manage the game. Getting ahead early further allows them to lean on the run and will force Daniels into mistakes, creating separation on the scoreboard.
Washington State (-7) vs. Central Michigan
When in doubt, fade the MAC! It's fair to question Washington State's motivation with a lesser opponent, but it's won three of four and six of eight after opening 1-3. The Cougars are also 7-1 ATS in this current hot streak. It's strength on relative strength, as CMU wants to pass, and the Cougs have shown they can stop it, holding seven of their last nine opponents to 206 yards or less while posting a nice 15:14 TD:INT ratio. The Chippewas faced two Power 5 schools in September, and lost by a combined 84-45. A similar outcome seems likely here.
Arkansas (-2) vs. Penn State
Penn State went 2-5 SU down the stretch, beating only Maryland and Rutgers. Now, the Nitany Lions are without wideout Jahan Dotson, four starters on defense and their defensive coordinator, who's now the head man at Virginia Tech. Yes, Arkansas will miss star wideout Treylon Burks, which could hurt offensive balance, but the Hawgs boast the nation's 12th best rushing attack, led by Trelon Smith, mobile QB KJ Jefferson and Raheim Sanders. I like them to take advantage of Penn State's missing pieces.
Utah (+4.5) vs. Ohio State
This figures to be the ultimate test in motivation being the sole factor in picking games. Rumors have Utah fans snatching up tickets in droves, while Ohio State might be returning some of its allocation? Pair that with four Buckeyes opting out, and it's clear who wants to play and who expected more from the season. It's not like Ohio State lacks talent to replace its opt-outs, just experience. And I'm not sure Utah is that good just because it smacked Oregon twice. Further, I wish we'd gotten in earlier when you could have forecasted the Buckeyes to be without their NFL-eligible talent. But I'm taking the bait. The Utes bring max effort and keep it close enough.
Kansas State (-3.5) vs. LSU
Throughout the bowl season, we've seen depleted teams wilt as games go on. There my be none more depleted than the Tigers, who apparently have only 63 scholarship players on their current roster, with more than a handful of those not available here. They have no idea who will play quarterback, Max Johnson has transferred, Myles Brennan did too, returned, but won't play. And freshman Garrett Nussmeier is in need of a waiver to play and not burn his redshirt. They could be forced to use WR Jontre Kirklin under center. I don't love KSU, and would even less if Nussmeier is free to play. But as is, I can't see LSU competing for four quarters. Give me RB Deuce Vaughn to find success and lead the Wildcats to a win.
Wake Forest (-14.5) vs. Rutgers
This is the rare game where I'm siding with the favorite even though the underdog will be highly motivated. Rutgers wasn't expecting to play this postseason, but with the withdrawal of Texas A&M, the 5-7 Scarlett Knights are suddenly back in the mix. I'm sure Wake Forest will be motivated, but not nearly as much as it would have been against Texas A&M. That right there would normally be enough for me to side with Rutgers, but the problem is Wake is so much better than Rutgers that I could see this game getting out of hand from the start. Rutgers was blown out in three of its final four games, and while Wake generally had a tough time getting separation this season because of its defense, Rutgers simply doesn't have enough on offense to keep up.
Cincinnati (+13.5) vs. Alabama
It's amazing how one game can completely change the perception of a team. Leading up to the Georgia game, there weren't many people giving Alabama a chance to win, but after that game, the (pardon my pun) tide has shifted and suddenly the perception is that this team is like the dominant Alabama teams of the past decade. The Tide enter as nearly two-touchdown favorites against an undefeated Cincinnati team. Cincy definitely deserves to be here, but there is still plenty of doubt about whether they belong with the other three teams. It's hard to gauge how good this team is, but one thing the Bearcats have going for them is they played well on a big stage last year. They'll have to play their best to hang around in this game, but that's what I expect. As for Bama, it will be tough to come down from its SEC championship while not looking past Cincinnati.
Wisconsin (-6) vs. Arizona State
Judging by the bowl pools I'm in, the Badgers are a popular play, which is of concern. But as I mentioned at the top, teams most decimated by opt-outs are struggling this bowl season, and ASU is missing several key players. The biggest problem is the ASU secondary is without several pieces, so if the Sun Devils sell out to stop the run, as expected, they are going to be extremely vulnerable on the back end. Can Graham Mertz take advantage? Two months ago I would have said no, but he picked up his game over the final month of the season. Additionally, Wisconsin was a much better team with Braelon Allen as the lead back.
Michigan State (-3) vs. Pittsburgh
This one seems pretty obvious, right? I'm not sure how Pittsburgh can lose Kenny Pickett and keep up. In almost every situation like this in the postseason, we've seen the team with the replacement player struggle. Perhaps Pittsburgh is set up better to replace Pickett than other teams that have lost a major piece, but I just don't see it. Pickett was everything for this Panther team, and it's not like they've got an easy opponent. MSU struggled down the stretch, but has plenty of talent and will be hungry to close out this season in style after a rough few seasons prior to this one.
Georgia (-7.5) vs. Michigan
This was not an easy pick, and unlike the last time when I picked against Michigan, this has nothing to do with focus or lack thereof. This pick is all about Michigan's strength on offense and what Georgia will do against that strength. Alabama exposed issues in the Bulldogs' secondary, but it did so with perhaps the best passing attack in the country. Michigan, while competent through the air, likely won't take advantage of that weakness. The other side of the ball is what interests me the most. Can Georgia move the ball against a good Michigan defense? I don't think it will be easy, but I think the Bulldogs will get enough done on offense to cover this number.