Weekend Predictions: Georgia wins Peach, Alabama and Clemson advance

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs' game with Arkansas Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. (Walt Beazley/UGA Sports)
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs' game with Arkansas Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. (Walt Beazley/UGA Sports)

Credit: UGA Sports

Credit: UGA Sports

The College Football Playoff is set to begin Friday, and the national championship game is scheduled for 10 days later. There will be a CFP champion after dozens of canceled games, several played with depleted rosters and hundreds of unpaid athletes infected by a disease with unknown long-term effects. I bet the naysayers feel silly now for thinking this season wouldn’t be a success!

Weekend Predictions staggers into 2021 with two consecutive losing weeks on picks against the spread. My season record still is above .500, but I’m in danger of pulling a Falcons and blowing a big advantage by the end. I did end my ATS losing streak on Falcons picks at 10. Now I can be wrong about them again this week with no worries about carrying the shame into the offseason.

Falcons (+6½) at Buccaneers

The Bucs have clinched a playoff spot, but have a strong incentive to win and thus earn the NFC’s top wild card. That would mean an opening game against the East champion, which will be no better than 7-9. If the Bucs lose, they’ll face the Packers (12-3), Saints (11-3) or Seahawks (11-4). The Bucs still would get the top wild card with a loss if the Cardinals also defeat the Rams, but why leave it to chance when they can just beat the Falcons again?

The Falcons have a disincentive to win in the big picture. They’d pick no later that fourth in the draft with a loss, but if they win, they could slide down as far as No. 9 (depending on tiebreakers). Self-interest and professional pride will motivate Falcons players and coaches will give their best effort, but that won’t be enough to cover the spread.

College bowl games of interest

Peach Bowl (Mercedes-Benz Stadium): No. 9 Georgia (-7) vs. No. 8 Cincinnati

It appears fewer Bulldogs players will skip this game than last year’s Sugar Bowl. Coach Kirby Smart said players who aren’t projected to be picked early in the draft have more to gain than lose by suiting up. I’m not sure about that, but Smart certainly has more to gain if they play because he gets a $200,000 bonus if Georgia finishes in the top five of the final AP or coaches’ poll.

Cincinnati has flourished with coach Luke Fickell, who guided Ohio State in 2011 after Jim Tressel resigned. The Bearcats won 11 games in each of the past two seasons and are in position for their highest-even ranking to finish a season. The Bulldogs will be tested before winning by less than seven points.

Rose (College Football Playoff semifinal; Arlington, Texas): No. 4 Notre Dame (+20) vs. No. 1 Alabama

Notre Dame is a quality team getting a lot of points. That’s hard for me to pass up even though I know Alabama often beats big spreads with ease. Yes, Clemson crushed Notre Dame in the CFP two years ago and in the ACC Championship game two weeks ago. But the Fighting Irish play good defense, and did I mention all those points they are getting?

It’s hard for me to resist a good ‘dog, so I went looking for a reason not to pick the Irish to cover. ESPN’s Bill Connelly came through. He notes that, over the past 10 years, teams favored by 19 to 20 points won by 40 or more points more often than they lost. Bama is that kind of team. Crimson Tide are the pick.

Sugar (CFP semifinal; New Orleans): No. 3 Ohio State (+7½) vs. No. 2 Clemson

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney obviously had a conflict of interest when he said Ohio State didn’t deserve a CFP berth after playing only six games. That doesn’t mean he was wrong. But now that the Tigers are in the CFP and relatively injury-free, playing five more games than the Buckeyes could be an advantage in terms of team development.

Ohio State wants revenge after its controversial loss to Clemson in last season’s semifinals. That’s an overstated storyline for a game like this. No extra motivation is necessary for a team aiming for a national championship. I’d back the Buckeyes if not for QB Justin Fields’ thumb injury. Clemson covers.

Orange (Miami Gardens, Fla.): No. 5 Texas A&M (+7½) vs. No. 13 North Carolina

I was set to pick UNC to cover until I heard the bad news. Per a TV station in Raleigh-Durham, Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell claims that chicken is the only meat he’s eaten since he was a kid, and not for reasons that have anything to do with health. Now I can’t back the Heels. Also, four of their best players decided they are done playing for no salary. Aggies cover.

Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.): No. 25 Oregon (+4) vs. No. 10 Iowa State

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News opines that an Oregon victory in this game would “qualify as the highlight of the season” for the Pac-12. Bless its heart. Iowa State has never played in a bowl game this big and can win nine games for just the third time in program history. I’ll take the Cyclones with the points.

Citrus (Orlando): Auburn (+3½) vs. No. 14 Northwestern

Auburn interim coach Kevin Steele told reporters he’s taking “more of an NFL approach” by not disclosing which players won’t play because of injuries or COVID-19. Steele was a Carolina Panthers assistant, but I guess he forgot that pro teams are required to be transparent about player availability. Maybe Kansas gave Steele too much injury info when his Baylor team beat the Jayhawks for its only Big 12 victory in his four seasons as coach. Northwestern is the pick.

Last week against the spread: 3-4 (84-72-3 season)

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