Weekend Predictions: Victories for Bulldogs and Bama, defeat for Falcons

Weekend Predictions followed a bad performance picking games against the spread with a good one. Now I have a bit of breathing room for my bid to avoid finishing with a losing record for the first time in four seasons. I worried my ledger wouldn’t even be good enough to blow it at this point, so I’m happy for the chance to do so in the most crushing way possible.

My luck has been about 50/50 on picking bowl games days in advance with no idea who’s going to play. Sometimes it’s worked out in my favor. Other time it’s resulted in picks that have no chance to before kickoff. My winning percentage is about the same whether I have a lot of information or a little. Maybe I should just save time and guess.

Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.): No. 3 Georgia (-7½) vs. No. 2 Michigan (College Football Playoff semifinal)

Michigan is in the CFP as an underdog story, which tells you something about the state of its storied program in recent years. The Wolverines lost at least three games in every season from 2015-20 (including last season’s six-game slate) and began this season unranked. Michigan last won a national championship in 1997 and hasn’t played for one since. Coach Jim Harbaugh had to take a steep cut in guaranteed pay to keep his job after last season.

About that, Harbaugh said Thursday: “It didn’t really mean anything to me. It’s just money. Big deal.” If Harbaugh really feels that way, he should quit and give the money to the unpaid Michigan players who’ve made him richer.

The Bulldogs haven’t faced a defense this good since playing Clemson in the opener. Quarterback JT Daniels didn’t need to pass much in that game. Clemson never came close to scoring a TD, and the Bulldogs ran the ball at winning time. They’ve since played two games in which Stetson Bennett had to throw the ball to win. He did it against Tennessee, but didn’t do it against Alabama.

I say Bennett will play much better against Michigan. I believed that even before Harbaugh said Thursday that star defensive back Daxton Hill (undisclosed) is questionable to play. Bennett (or Daniels) won’t have to come to the rescue because Georgia’s defense will regain its dominant form. The Wolverines don’t have an elite quarterback or pass-catcher like Alabama. That’s why they won’t cover.

Falcons (+14½) at Bills

By now, we know who the Falcons are. They’re good enough to win close games against bad teams and bad enough to get blown out by good teams. The Bills are a very good team, and they have no players on the COVID-19 list for the first time since Nov. 1. The Falcons are a slightly-better-than-bad team with some key contributors on the COVID-19 list as of Thursday afternoon. It all adds up to the Bills covering the spread.

Other bowl games of interest

Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas): No. 4 Cincinnati (+13½) vs. No. 1 Alabama (CFP semifinal)

I was happy to be wrong about my belief that a Group of 5 team would never make the four-team CFP. Cincinnati did it by being the only undefeated FBS team after the league title games in a season when only two Power 5 teams lost less than two games. And the Bearcats won at Notre Dame, which otherwise would have taken their spot. This formula can easily be replicated by other Group of 5 teams, so please, no more talk about how the CFP is a cartel that restricts competition.

There’s a chance Alabama wins big. Then we’ll hear endless takes about how Cincinnati didn’t belong. But Georgia knows Cincy can play with the big boys. The Bulldogs were favored by more than a touchdown over the Bearcats in the last Peach Bowl. They needed a 53-yard field goal in the final seconds to win. Cincinnati gave the Bulldogs problems with a physical defense and quarterback Desmond Ridder.

Cincinnati’s defense lost a lot of production from that team, but didn’t slip much. Ridder is even better. But I doubt the Bearcats will score enough against Alabama. Down-and-distance will be a constant problem for Ridder because the Crimson Tide yield little on the ground. Alabama is vulnerable to deep pass plays, but the Bearcats don’t generate those often. I’m backing Bama to cover on a late score.

Fiesta Bowl (Glendale Ariz.): No. 9 Oklahoma State (+2) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame

Former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly went to LSU for the chance to embarrass himself doing a fake Southern/Cajun/something accent for Tigers fans. Continuity shouldn’t be a problem: Marcus Freeman was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach. Oklahoma State’s tepid offense also shouldn’t be an issue for the Fighting Irish, whose defense got better late in the season. Notre Dame is the pick.

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.): No. 11 Utah (+4½) vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Before the CFP era, you never had to wonder how much Ohio State cares about playing in the Rose Bowl. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, OSU’s terrific wide receiver duo, wisely decided they didn’t care enough to risk their NFL future by playing another game for no paycheck. The Buckeyes likely would be in the CFP if not for their loss to Michigan. The Wolverines pushed them around, and Utah, another physical foe, will do the same while covering the spread.

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans): No. 7 Baylor (+1½) vs. No. 8 Mississippi

It’s possible Ole Miss will be missing players for this game because of COVID-19 infections. Coach Lane Kiffin told reporters that some players sat out practice this week, but wouldn’t say who or how many. Maybe it’s an important starter, or maybe it’s a walk-on for the scout team. Who knows? I’m taking Ole Miss to cover while fully expecting the betting line to swing wildly the other way because the Rebels are missing half of their starters.

Last week: 6-3 (80-77-1 season)