Hello, and welcome to a special Thursday edition of Football Friday. There will not be an afternoon edition of this newsletter tomorrow, but I love you all too much to send you into 2022 without New Year’s Eve picks. So today, I’ve got two bowl picks for your Thursday night, as well as picks for both of Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinals.
It’s a lot better than betting on the NBA right now. I watched the Bulls crush the Atlanta Hawks last night, and while I enjoyed it, it also felt like I was watching an NBA team face a very good college team. The Hawks were so short-handed that a part of me can’t help but wonder why the NBA is even bothering with these games. It’s not fair to anybody involved, and games like this one could decide home-court advantage in a playoff series this spring.
I know it’s an impossible situation, but it feels like every decision the NBA has made in recent seasons has been designed to make its regular-season matter less. Anyway, let’s check in on all the latest news and stories from around this wide world of sports.
- Speaking of my beloved Bulls, guess who is climbing up our latest NBA power rankings.
- Ben Roethlisberger drops his biggest hint about a possible retirement yet.
- If Big Ben does retire, might he be replaced by Aaron Rodgers?
- Not a great sign when the coach’s son enters the transfer portal.
All right, let’s end 2021 with some winners. And as a reminder, if you want this newsletter delivered right to your inbox every weekday (except tomorrow), sign up for it right here.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
The Pick: Over 55.5 (-110): Most of the focus on this game has been on who isn’t playing, and deservedly so. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett re-wrote a lot of the school’s record books, breaking records set by Hall of Famer Dan Marino. He isn’t playing tonight, as he’s decided to begin preparing for his NFL future. The same is true of Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker, who rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
Those are two of your top five Heisman vote-getters missing the game, which sucks from the perspective of a fan and viewer, but also provides some opportunity.
The total for this game opened at 64 and has since fallen more than a touchdown. While I understand why I also think it’s an overreaction. Pickett is awesome, but his replacement Nick Patti has played in 16 games over the last three seasons, including eight this year. He’s not some green freshman. Also, Jordan Addison is still playing for the Panthers, and they’ll be going against a Michigan State secondary that’s been a weak spot for the Spartans all season long. While Pitt’s offense isn’t at full-strength, that’s an area it can exploit.
And while Walker is incredible, it’s always easier to replace a running back than a QB, so I’m not sure the Spartans offense will drop off nearly as much as this new total suggests. So let’s go against the grain here and take the over.
Key Trend: The over is 15-6 in Pitt’s last 21 games.
Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: I’m a simple human. The SportsLine Projection Model is an advanced machine, incapable of experiencing human emotion that could taint its results. Find out what it thinks of tonight’s Peach Bowl.
🏈 College Football
Arizona State vs. Wisconsin, 10:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN
The Pick: Wisconsin -7 (-110) — In bowls, it’s crucial to keep track of which teams are missing players due to opt-outs. Arizona State is the team dealing with most of them tonight. The Sun Devils will be without leading rusher Rachaad White (1,006 yards, 15 TD) and No. 2 RB DeaMonte Trayanum (401 yards, six TD). On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona State will miss both of its starting corners in Chase Lucas (34 tackles, six passes defended) and Jack Jones (three INT, 42 tackles, a sack and six passes defended). They’ll also be without starting linebacker Darien Butler (68 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three interceptions).
For a team that relies on its run game and defense, missing your top two running backs and three senior starters on defense is a pretty big deal! Yes, Wisconsin’s offense has been hit-or-miss for most of the season, but the Badgers have had an elite defense all season long. I don’t know how successful we can reasonably expect the Sun Devils offense to be against this Badgers defense without White and Trayanum. Wisconsin won’t have to score much to cover this spread.
Key Trend: Arizona State is 2-7 ATS in its last nine non-conference games.
🏆 College Football Playoff
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, Friday, 3:30 p.m | TV: ESPN
The Pick: Alabama -13.5 (-110) — If there’s a blowout in the CFP semifinals, this is the game most likely to provide it. The spread suggests as much, as does the fact that it’s Alabama going against Cincinnati, the first Group of Five team to ever play for a national championship since the start of the BCS. We’ve seen this story a few times already. This is Alabama’s seventh playoff appearance, and it has gone 5-1 in its first six semifinals, with its lone loss coming to Ohio State in 2014. Its five wins have come by an average of 20.2 points with the closest game being a 45-34 win over Oklahoma in the 2018 Orange Bowl that Bama led 28-0 before OU joined the party.
Will that happen again? There’s a good chance! Cincinnati has featured an excellent pass-rush all season, which will come in handy against this Bama offense. If you allow Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to sit in the pocket and allow his receivers to come open, he will pick you apart. You need to make him uncomfortable and have him moving to have a chance. I’m not sure Cincinnati can accomplish that feat as this Crimson Tide offensive line will be better than any line the Bearcats have seen this season.
On the back end, Cincinnati has top-tier defensive backs in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant to slow Alabama’s receivers, but nobody can cover Jameson Williams for 60 minutes. On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats will need Desmond Ridder to have one of the best games of his life to keep pace with the Alabama offense, and I don’t see it happening. My heart is hoping for a close, exciting game, but my head tells me there won’t be much drama left in this one in the fourth quarter.
Key Trend: Alabama is 5-2 ATS in its last seven neutral site games
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia, Friday, 7:30 p.m | TV: ESPN
The Pick: Michigan +7.5 (-115) — These teams are so similar that it’s hard to imagine either side pulling away. Both offenses are built on running behind an excellent offensive line that can wear down an opposing defense and break them in the second half. Both have overlooked passing attacks led by “game manager”-type quarterbacks. Then there are the defenses. Georgia has an elite front seven that’s proven impenetrable to nearly everybody it has faced this year. Michigan has an elite pass-rush led by Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
I believe the back end of those defenses could be the difference. Georgia’s secondary is its defense’s weak point — though it’s still quite good! — and was exposed by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. There is some concern about Michigan safety Daxton Hill, who is questionable for the game. Hill has been enormous for the Michigan defense, even if he doesn’t receive the same level of attention as his teammates. He’s a player who helps against the run and can cover receivers and tight ends like Georgia’s Brock Bowers. If he’s unable to play, my level of confidence in this pick drops a bit, but not enough to scare me off entirely. With or without Hill, I don’t trust Georgia’s ability to pull away from the Wolverines. So as I stare at that hook on the seven in the spread, I can’t help but go with the Wolverines. If the spread somehow crawls below seven before kickoff, I’d take Georgia. That’s how razor-thin this margin appears to be.
Key Trend: Michigan has covered in five straight.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The SportsLine Projection Model has been simulating the College Football Playoff games too. Find out what it has to say about the Orange Bowl between Michigan and Georgia.
🏀 Tonight’s Parlay
A simple three-leg college basketball parlay for Thursday night. It pays +132.
- Northern Kentucky (-420) to beat Green Bay
- Maryland (-800) to beat Brown
- Michigan (-150) to beat UCF
Get picks for those games and many more at SportsLine.