The Falcons will beat the Cardinals on Sunday, but won’t cover the 9 1/2-point spread. With that out of the way, Weekend Predictions can move on to more important matters.
It’s college football bowl season!
There are 40 FBS bowl games this season, including the College Football Playoff national championship game. Forget those lame people who say that’s too many. I’ll be wishing for the Awkward Sponsorship Name Bowl during that summer stretch when there’s nothing but baseball, and NFL training camp hasn’t opened.
I’m picking against the spread in the 39 bowl games. It’s hard to figure out the motivation levels of the non-CFP teams that aren’t just happy to be wherever they end up. That’s my excuse if picking all these bowl games ruins what’s still a strong season record ATS (56 percent) after two consecutive losing weeks.
Locals in the bowls
Georgia Southern (minus-2 1/2) vs. Eastern Michigan, Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.)
The Camellia is native to Asia so naturally it’s ... the state flower of Alabama? The betting public moved the line significantly in Georgia Southern’s favor, but I’m taking the other side.
Minnesota (plus-5 1/2) vs. Georgia Tech, Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit)
The Yellow Jackets weren’t happy about being picked for this bowl, but they also want to send out Paul Johnson with a victory. I’ll split the difference and pick Tech to win, but take Minnesota to cover.
Texas (plus-11 1/2) vs. Georgia, Sugar Bowl (New Orleans)
This is the biggest game for the Longhorns since they lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship game, way back when people still thought Mack Brown was a good coach. The Bulldogs are bummed to be here, but they’ve played one bad game all season and will cover against Texas even if they’re a little off.
The big games
Notre Dame (plus-11 1/2) vs. Clemson, Cotton Bowl Classic CFP semifinal (Arlington, Texas)
I think Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was trying to cast his Fighting Irish as plucky underdogs when he said they are “the new kids on the block” in the CFP. Really, it just serves as a reminder of how, despite limitless resources, the Irish haven’t played for a national title since Alabama smashed them in the 2012 BCS Championship game. I like Notre Dame to cover.
Oklahoma (plus-14) vs. Alabama, Orange Bowl CFP semifinal (Miami)
Supposedly Alabama has extra motivation because Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy over Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa. It’s always funny when college football’s cold, merciless machine pretends it needs human emotions to methodically crush its opponents. I’m taking Bama and giving the points.
The other games
Tulane (minus-3 1/2) vs. Louisiana, Cure Bowl (Orlando)
Louisiana-Lafayette seems to be violating a state law prohibiting any UL system school from calling itself "University of Louisiana" or using the acronym "UL" and all that sounds about right for Louisiana. I'll take the Ragin' Cajuns and the points.
Utah State (minus-7 1/2) vs. North Texas, New Mexico Bowl
It was announced that Utah State coach Matt Wells would be on the sideline for this game after he took the job at Texas Tech, but unfortunately that awkward situation won't be happening now. Give me North Texas with the points.
Arizona State (plus-4 1/2) vs. Fresno State, Las Vegas Bowl
I’m taking Fresno State and giving the points despite my worries that the Bulldogs are more likely to overdo it in Vegas after escaping Fresno.
Middle Tennessee (plus-6 1/2) vs. Appalachian State, New Orleans Bowl
SI.com laments the fact that no Louisiana team is in this bowl, something I'm sure Louisiana Tech feels really bad about as it heads to the Hawaii Bowl next week. I like App State to cover.
Northern Illinois (plus 2 1/2) vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Boca Raton Bowl
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said a trip "down to sunny Florida is never a bad thing in the middle of winter when you live in Illinois" which normally is true, but I'm thinking the sand and sun will soften up the Huskies, so give me UAB.
San Diego State (plus-3) vs. Ohio, Frisco (Texas) Bowl
Imagine the disappointment for San Diego State when it heard it was going to the Frisco Bowl and then realized it’s in Texas. I still like the Aztecs to cover.
Marshall (minus-2 1/2) vs. South Florida, Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa)
While coaching at Louisville, USF’s Charlie Strong would let his offense loose for bowl games to trick his next potential employer into thinking that’s how he always does it, so USF covers here.
Toledo (minus-5 1/2) vs. Florida International, Bahamas Bowl
Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is sponsoring this game with its business slogan "Makers Wanted" which I'm sure will work as a marketing ploy just as soon as everyone figures out what the heck is going on with the name. I like FIU with the points.
BYU (minus-12) vs. Western Michigan, Idaho Potato Bowl
This just the eighth all-time bowl game for Western Michigan, so the Broncos will be genuinely happy to be in Idaho and will cover the spread.
Wake Forest (plus-3 1/2) vs. Memphis, Birmingham Bowl
Memphis running back Darrell Henderson may skip this game after declaring for the NFL draft, but I still like the Tigers to cover because Wake’s season-long good/bad pattern is due for bad.
Houston (plus-3) vs. Army, Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth, Texas)
Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver is sitting out to get ready for the NFL draft, selfishly denying the school another game of his underpaid labor. Cougars still cover.
Buffalo (minus-2 1/2) vs. Troy, Dollar General Bowl (Mobile, Ala.)
Troy lost to Appalachian State to miss out on the Sun Belt championship game, after which Troy coach Neal Brown said: "I don't need a trophy to tell me that we're champions." You do need a championship, however. Troy covers.
Louisiana Tech (plus-1) vs. Hawaii, Hawaii Bowl
Louisiana Tech stumbled to losses in three of its last four games, but surely will regain focus with a trip to Hawaii. Hawaii covers.
Boston College (plus-3) vs. Boise State, Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
This game is not to be confused with the bowl of a similar name that serves as a CFP semifinal. It’s probably still a big deal for Boise State, which always is eager to beat Power 5 foes, so I’ll take the Broncos and give the points.
Cal (pick) vs. TCU, Cheez-It Bowl (Phoenix)
No jokes from me about the bowl name because Cheez-Its are delicious. It could be worse, and it was when Motel 6 sponsored this game. I’ll take TCU.
Duke (plus-3 1/2) vs. Temple, Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.)
Geoff Collins left Temple for Georgia Tech, but interim Owls coach Ed Foley is fired up for this game, which makes him the only one. I like Duke with the points.
Miami (minus-4) vs. Wisconsin, Pinstripe Bowl (New York)
The Hurricanes didn’t beat a good team all season and looked listless for much of it. A trip to New York won’t help, so give me the Badgers and the points.
Baylor (plus-4) vs. Vanderbilt, Texas Bowl
These are two mediocre 6-6 teams, one playing down the road from its campus and the other happy to be in any bowl, so I’ll go with geography and take Baylor and the points.
Purdue (plus-3 1/2) vs. Auburn, Music City Bowl (Nashville)
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hired a new offensive coordinator and will call plays again, moves that helpfully let Tigers fans know that he has no one else to blame now. Auburn covers.
West Virginia (minus-1 1/2) vs. Syracuse, Camping World Bowl (Orlando)
West Virginia QB Will Grier is skipping this one to get ready for the draft when he really should play for those loyal West Virginia fans who instantly turned on him for his decision. ’Cuse covers.
Iowa State (plus-3 ½) vs. Washington State, Alamo Bowl (San Antonio)
Coach Mike Leach is 1-3 in bowl games at Washington State, and Cougars fans aren’t snapping up tickets, so give me Iowa State and the points.
Florida (plus-7 ½) vs. Michigan, Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
Neither team seems excited about this matchup, and Michigan’s top NFL prospect, defensive end Rashan Gary, won’t play. I honestly have no idea in this one, but I’ll take the ’dog because favorites are boring.
South Carolina (minus-4) vs. Virginia, Belk Bowl (Charlotte)
Virginia's web site has a lengthy article about the Cavaliers taking happy memories to this game after they won it in 2002 and '03. Sure, I guess. Gamecocks cover.
Arkansas State (minus-1 1/2) vs. Nevada, Arizona Bowl
This is a game between two evenly matched teams that likely are happy to be in a bowl, so check it out if you have nothing else to do before the CFP semifinal games. I’ll take Nevada to cover.
Cincinnati (minus-5) vs. Virginia Tech, Military Bowl (Annapolis, Md.)
The Hokies were plagued by suspensions and injuries, so they did well to qualify for a bowl for the 26th consecutive year, the longest active NCAA streak. I like them with the points.
Pittsburgh (plus-6 1/2) vs. Stanford, Sun Bowl (El Paso)
After taking Stanford to the Rose Bowl in three of his first four seasons, coach David Shaw has the Cardinal back in the Sun Bowl for the second time in three years. Pitt hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2013 season, but covers the spread in this one.
Michigan State (plus-3) vs. Oregon, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif.)
If you think Michigan State is disappointed to end up in a bowl game named for a DVD kiosk company, coach Mark Dantonio reminds you his team once played in a game named for a chicken-wings chain. I like the Spartans with the points.
Missouri (minus-8) vs. Oklahoma State, Liberty Bowl (Memphis)
This one figures to be a shootout, so New Year’s Eve day drinkers (you know who you are) should be entertained. Oklahoma State covers.
Northwestern (plus-7) vs. Utah, Holiday Bowl (San Diego)
Pause during your first cocktail and note that the weather for this game almost certainly is better than wherever you are. Utah covers.
NC State (plus-6) vs. Texas A&M, Gator Bowl (Jacksonville)
N.C. State’s top two NFL prospects won’t play, improving Jimbo Fisher’s chance of finishing with the best 9-4 season that $7.5 million can buy. Aggies cover.
Iowa (plus-7) vs. Mississippi State, Outback Bowl (Tampa)
After a late night of New Year’s revelry tune in for this noon game and make sure you turn the volume way up to get the full ambiance of cowbells incessantly ringing. I’ll take Iowa and the points.
LSU (minus-7 1/2) vs. Central Florida, Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.)
It’s up to LSU to do what Auburn couldn’t last season: beat the Knights so they’ll shut up already about being left out of the playoffs. UCF covers.
Kentucky (plus-6 1/2) vs. Penn State, Citrus Bowl (Orlando)
After Kentucky loses to Louisville in basketball the previous weekend, Wildcats fans can settle in to watch their football team lose to Penn State. Nittany Lions cover.
Ohio State (minus-6 1/2) vs. Washington, Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
Urban Meyer is retiring after this game, but not to worry, Buckeyes junior Robert Landers assures us that Meyer is the same because his "morals, his character, his personality, it's not going to change." Washington covers.
Against the spread: 5-8 (113-90-5 season)