College football bowl picks today: Dec. 29

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We’re in the home stretch of college football bowl season. TGIF is TG the big games are here! The first of our New Year’s Six bowls are today.

Overall, it’s a fun group of games today with a home game for a huge underdog and the finale our fist big game of the college football bowl season.

Bad news for the picks. One day after going 4-0, we came back to earth with a 1-3 mark. That brings our college football bowl record to 14-14-1.

Taxslayer Gator Bowl

Clemson 8-4 vs. Kentucky 7-5

  • Friday, Noon ET, ESPN
  • EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Line: Clemson -5.5; Over/Under 46.5

This is one of the more interesting matchups of all the before New Year’s Six/CFP games. Why? Curiosity. What to make of these programs?

Clemson was the next Alabama. Since 2015, it was rolling over everyone, on its way to being a national championship contender every year. Then last year, it slipped a little. Still really good, but something wasn’t the same. This year, it was never really in the ACC race.

Then there’s Kentucky. It’s a much better program since Mark Stoops took over, but it’s never really a factor in the big picture. It seems like every season, the Wildcats jump out to a something-0 start, only to fizzle at the end.

Is Clemson fading? Can Kentucky become a prime-time player? Will we find out in this bowl game? OK, no. But we might get enough to forecast the future, or the 2024 season.

Clemson will be without some players on its defensive front, giving Kentucky a chance at offensive success. Wildcats running back Ray Davis, who had 20 touchdowns this season, has said he’s going to the NFL but opted to play in this game. Clemson has Phil Mafah and Will Shipley as running backs, and they had 1,692 total yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

With that said, we think Clemson still has enough in the tank to take care of the Wildcats. We’ll take the Tigers to cover.

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

Oregon State 8-4 vs. Notre Dame 9-3

  • Friday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
  • Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
  • Line: Notre Dame -6.5; Over/Under 41.5

In the next episode of The Last Man Standing, Oregon State will try to give the Pac-12 a send-off to remember.

The Beavers are the only team that’s still in the Pac-12 to make a bowl game. OK, there are only two teams remaining, but you get the point.

Oregon State was 6-1 before losing three of its last five games, but those losses were to Arizona, Washington and Oregon. That instate game against the Ducks was the only one that wasn’t close.

It appeared that DJ Uiagalelei, a former starter at Clemson, found a home in Corvallis, throwing for 2,638 yards and 21 touchdowns. Then, he entered the transfer portal. Ben Gulbranson will start. He started eight games last season and went 7-1.

Notre Dame will be without quarterback Sam Hartman, All-Amerian tackle Joe Alt, other tackle Blake Fisher, running back Audric Estime and linebacker Marist Liufau. Its offensive coordinator left to be the head coach at Troy. Redshirt freshman Steve Angeli will start at quarterback and he is 19 of 24 for 274 yards and four touchdowns.

The Irish appear to have been hit harder by the exodus than Oregon State and for that reason, we’ll take the Beavers and the points.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Memphis 9-3 vs. Iowa State 7-5

  • Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Liberty Bowl, Memphis
  • Line: Iowa State -9.5; Over/Under 57.5

This is strength against strength. Memphis has one of the best offensive teams in the country. Iowa State has one of the best defenses.

So, are we to believe the old adage that defense wins championships? Or bowl games? The bookmakers think so as the Cyclones are huge favorite at the Tigers’ home stadium.

Memphis is the seventh-highest-scoring team in the nation, averaging 39.7 points per game. Quarterback Seth Henigan threw for 3,519 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Iowa State runs a 3-3-5 defense and has made 16 interceptions and a +8 turnover margin.

The Tigers have 55 wins at home since 2014. Only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia have more. Sheesh, what a list. And, they’re a 9.5 underdog?

We’re not confident here, but we’ll take Memphis and the points.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Missouri 10-2 vs. Ohio State 11-1

  • Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
  • Line: Ohio State -3.5; Over/Under 49

About the only question heading into the first of our New Year’s Six bowls is will Marvin Harrison, Jr. play for Ohio State.

Harrison is there in Texas, with the team and on the practice field sideline. When practice was opened for reporters, it appeared Harrison hadn’t participated. Now we really want to know. Harrison has 155 catches for 2,613 yards and 31 touchdowns for his OSU career. Those are big numbers to not have on the field.

The Buckeyes won’t have quarterback Kyle McCord, who has entered the transfer portal, and will start Devin Brown. Brown has completed 12 passes for 197 yards, two touchdowns and he has an interception.

Whether Harrison plays, this game could be won by the defenses. Ohio State gives up 259.9 yards per game, which ranks third nationally. It allows 147 yards per game passing, which leads the nation, and gives up only 11 points a game.

Missouri’s defense has had 35 sacks and leads the SEC with its plus-9 turnover margin (18 takeaways, nine giveaways).

Tigers quarterback Brady Cook will put the Buckeyes defense to the test. Cook has thrown for 3,189 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for 253 yards and eight touchdowns. He has recorded at least one scoring pass in 16 straight games.

With all of the issues for Ohio State, it looks good for Missouri in this game. But we think the Buckeyes defense will be too much and we’ll take OSU to cover.

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