Wednesday, January 19, 2022

College football picks, bowl games: Michigan State vs. Pitt, Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt among best bets

The good news is last week’s special Four Pack edition of The Six Pack had a winning week. The bad news is that only three of the four games were played. The Hawaii Bowl was canceled on the eve of the game — which would be Christmas Eve Eve? — and more have gone down since.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise considering what’s happening in every other major American sport. Still, college football was lucky enough this season to largely avoid the postponements and cancelations that were rampant in 2020. Here’s hoping we don’t lose too many more games in the coming week and that all six of the games in this week’s column get played.

Unless the picks are doomed to be incorrect. Any pick likely to be wrong should be postponed. Odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.

Games of the Week

No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Pitt 

Featured Game | Michigan State Spartans vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

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Peach Bowl: — Thursday, Dec. 30: The biggest story of this game is who isn’t playing. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who finished third in Heisman voting this season, opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker, fifth in the Heisman voting, has done the same. That undeniably takes some of the appeal out of a New Year’s Six game, but at least everybody who wants the College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams has more ammo for their argument.

As if they’re being held hostage and forced to watch.

Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent. Obviously, they’re two significant absences that make the game a little more difficult to handicap, but while Pickett’s the headliner, he’s not the only noticeable absence for Pitt. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple left to become the OC at Nebraska, so the Panthers will have a new play-caller and a new QB. Nick Patti should start for the Panthers, and the redshirt senior has thrown 62 passes in his college career. Meanwhile, Jordon Simmons is filling in for Kenneth Walker. It’s not an exact science, but I’m of the mind that a running back is much easier to replace than both your QB and OC — even one as good as Kenneth Walker. I’ll be taking the Spartans. Michigan State 31, Pitt 27 | Michigan State -2.5

No. 14 Oregon vs. No. 16 Oklahoma 

Alamo Bowl — Wednesday, Dec. 29: How did two teams ranked so highly end up in the Alamo Bowl? Well, first of all, the Alamo Bowl is a lovely game that’s featured a lot of good matchups over the years. Secondly, it’s because nobody is left on these teams. Seriously. Oklahoma lost coach Lincoln Riley to USC, and he took a large chunk of the coaching staff with him. The Sooners have also seen a lot of players either enter the transfer portal or declare for the NFL Draft since as well, including names like QB Spencer Rattler, DL Perrion Winfrey, LBs Nik Bonitto and Brian Asamoah, and WR Jadon Haselwood.

This would all be great news for Oregon if it wasn’t going through the same thing. Coach Mario Cristobal left to take the Miami job and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was hired as the head coach Akron. The Ducks also had a lot of players enter the portal or start preparing for the draft, so there will be a lot of new faces in important roles for this one. That means we have two possible outcomes, regardless of the victor. Things either get stupid fun and 100 points are scored as nobody knows how to stop anyone, or it’s an ugly mess and nobody can score. I’d bet on the latter before the former. Oklahoma 24, Oregon 16 | Under 60.5

Lock of the Week

Tennessee vs. Purdue 

Featured Game | Purdue Boilermakers vs. Tennessee Volunteers

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Music City Bowl: — Thursday, Dec. 30: Opt-outs impact some teams more than others. For the top teams in the country that have hoarded top recruiting classes, it’s a lot easier to replace key players. Well, Purdue has lost its biggest weapon on offense in receiver David Bell (93 receptions, 1,275 yards, 6 TD) and its most impactful player on defense in George Karlaftis (54 pressures, five sacks). Those are not players the Boilermakers can replace without issue.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is as close to full strength as any team can be at this point of the season. Tiyon Evans has transferred to Louisville, and while the running back had a role in the offense, he isn’t irreplaceable. I don’t know how this Purdue defense gets enough stops without Karlaftis, nor do I know how the Purdue offense can keep up without Bell. Tennessee 34, Purdue 20 | Tennessee -5

Option Team of the Week

Air Force vs. Louisville 

Featured Game | Louisville Cardinals vs. Air Force Falcons

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First Responder Bowl — Tuesday, Dec. 28: I have long been a champion of Service Academy unders when they play during the regular season, but there’s another trend involving the academies I haven’t mentioned much: they crush it in bowl games. Since 2005, service academies have gone 20-9 ATS in bowls. They’re 0-1 this season, but while Army didn’t cover against Missouri, it did win outright. Much like that game, this is a matchup Air Force can exploit.

Air Force ranks seventh in the nation in offensive success rate and 21st in points per possession. Its offense will be up against a Louisville defense that ranks 87th in defensive rush EPA and 105th in success rate against the run. The Cardinals will have success on offense against this Falcons defense, but I don’t trust them to get as many stops as they’re going to need to win. Take the points, but don’t be surprised if Air Force wins outright. Air Force 28, Louisville 24 | Air Force +1.5

Revenge Game of the Week

Minnesota vs. West Virginia 

Featured Game | Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

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Guaranteed Rate Bowl — Tuesday, December 28: When Minnesota went 11-2 in 2019, its offensive coordinator was Kirk Ciarocca. Ciarocca left after the season for the same job at Penn State, but he lasted only a season there before being replaced. For the past year, he’s been an offensive analyst with West Virginia. However, he won’t be with the Mountaineers for the bowl game. 

Instead, he’ll be calling plays for Minnesota! 

Ciarocca recently returned to the Gophers, replacing Mike Sanford. This means Minnesota will have the same person calling plays from that great 2019 season, and that person also has an intimate knowledge of everything the Mountaineers offense does.

Oh, and West Virginia will be without RB Leddie Brown (1,065 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns, 217 yards receiving) and WR Isaiah Esdale (29 receptions, 362 yards). If all that isn’t enough, Minnesota has won both of its previous bowl games under P.J. Fleck. Considering Fleck is a living can of Red Bull, we can safely assume his team will be showing up ready to play. Minnesota 28, West Virginia 21 | Minnesota -5

Turtles of the Week

Maryland vs. Virginia Tech 

Featured Game | Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Maryland Terrapins

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Pinstripe Bowl — Wednesday, Dec. 29: I try not to make a habit of betting on Maryland, especially when it’s favored, but I can’t help doing it here. I’m not even sure the parents of Virginia Tech’s players will recognize the team taking the field at Yankee Stadium for this one. Justin Fuente was fired and replaced by Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry, so it has a new coaching staff. On the player front, the Hokies will be without starting QB Braxton Burmeister (portal) and two leading receivers in Tre Turner (NFL Draft) and Tayvion Robinson (portal). The Hokies will miss starting offensive lineman Lecitus Smith, too. On the defensive side of the ball, they’re without defensive linemen Amare Barno and Jordan Williams, who combined for 57 QB pressures, 9.5 TFL and 6 sacks and are now off to the NFL. Oh, and Jermaine Waller, who led the team with four interceptions, is off to the NFL, too.

So, yeah, the Hokies are missing a lot of key players. While the Terps have been dealing with injuries all season, they don’t have any known opt-outs of which to speak. They’ll be as close to full-strength as can be expected, so it’s hard to imagine them not winning this game comfortably. Maryland 31, Virginia Tech 23 | Maryland -3.5

Games of the Week

2-1

18-15

Lock of the Week

0-0

9-6

Overall

2-1

53-40

Which college football picks can you make with confidence during bowl season, and which underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.

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