Watching football on New Year’s Day is a family tradition I always look forward to. 2014 couldn’t come soon enough. On each of the last two days of 2013, I started 2-0, only to lose both night games and fail to make progress. If you were out and about last night and didn’t watch the Duke Texas A&M game, you missed an incredible second half. It was truly a pleasure watching Johnny Manziel for the past two seasons. My bowl record is 10-13 and I’m just 3-6 on Golden Picks in the postseason. Today is my last real chance to make a statement and earn respectability. I picked all six games and will rely on the weakness of the Big Ten. The SEC faces off with the Big Ten in three afternoon matchups and I expect LSU, South Carolina, and Georgia to handle their opponents from the Midwest.
GEORGIA -8.5 vs Nebraska 12pm – ESPN2
Both teams will be missing their starting quarterbacks today. Nebraska will go with QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. and lean on talented RB Ameer Abdullah as much as possible. Georgia will start QB Hutson Mason, who played very well in an overtime win over Georgia Tech to finish the season. Nebraska hasn’t played well under Bo Pelini in bowl games and will struggle in the passing game with Armstrong lacking the confidence to throw downfield. UGA RB Todd Gurley should have a huge afternoon against a Nebraska defense that struggled down the stretch. I’m curious to see how Bo Pelini reacts if his team falls behind early. Georgia has too much speed and pulls away in Jacksonville.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
NORTH TEXAS -6.5 vs Unlv 12pm – ESPNU
Both teams can score and are excited to be making rare bowl appearances. North Texas will have home field advantage with the game being held in nearby Dallas. UNLV QB Caleb Herring had a standout season and RB Tim Cornett is a solid player. North Texas QB Derek Thompson has a big arm and WR Brelan Chancellor is a playmaker for the Mean Green. The biggest difference in the game today will be the strength of the North Texas defense. The Mean Green haven’t given up more than 24 points since a September game against Georgia. UNLV’s defense is more vulnerable to big plays and will struggle to slow down North Texas. Dan McCarney’s team gets a two-touchdown win and earns a nine win season.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
SOUTH CAROLINA +2 vs Wisconsin 1pm – ABC
Jadeveon Clowney will play well in his final college game. Wisconsin’s dominant running game, led by RB’s Melvin Gordon and James White, won’t be as effective against a strong front-seven for the Gamecocks. I trust South Carolina QB Connor Shaw to will his team to victory. The senior had a tremendous career in the SEC and didn’t receive enough credit for his team’s success. Shaw threw 21 TDs and just one interception this season. Steve Spurrier will have his team ready and will be aggressive with his play-calling. USC RB Mike Davis is being overlooked by the media in the lead up to this matchup, overshadowed by Gordon and White. Expect him to play with a chip on his shoulder and display NFL-caliber talent this afternoon. South Carolina wins by a touchdown in one of day’s most competitive games.
LSU -7 vs Iowa 1pm – ESPN
LSU’s backup QB Anthony Jennings gets the start today and has an opportunity to show why people in Baton Rouge are so excited about his future. He has a group of very impressive wideouts to throw to in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. LSU’s running game can have success against Iowa’s defense due to an edge in overall team speed. The last time these two teams met in the Outback Bowl, Drew Tate threw a touchdown pass for the ages to beat LSU as time expired. I don’t think today’s game will be as thrilling. Iowa QB Jake Rudock is accurate in play-action situations, but isn’t the player you want leading a comeback in the second half. Iowa’s RB Mark Weisman won’t have many holes to run through against a talented group of defensive linemen for LSU. Les Miles is my guy and I have faith in the Tigers. Jennings will impress the nation today.
STANFORD -6.5 vs Michigan State 5pm – ESPN
This is a classic Rose Bowl matchup. Both teams have elite defenses and play run-dependent offenses, trying to impose their will on the opponent. The loss of Michigan State LB Max Bullough due to suspension will be too much for the Spartans to overcome. He was the leader on defense and can’t be replaced. Stanford’s offensive line is dominant and will be able to create holes for RB Tyler Gaffney. The Cardinal won the Rose Bowl last season and won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere in Pasadena. Michigan State QB Connor Cook has improved throughout the year, but won’t be able to bring his team back in the fourth quarter. Stanford’s blitz packages will get to him and create a few turnovers. Look for Stanford WR Ty Montgomery to have a least one long touchdown.
CENTRAL FLORIDA +17 vs Baylor 830pm – ESPN
Blake Bortles vs Bryce Petty. Not enough people have seen these guys play this season, but both are impressive quarterbacks. Both Baylor and UCF are thrilled to be playing in a BCS game and I expect an exciting shootout tonight. Baylor’s offense is nearly unstoppable and only struggled once this season against OKST. UCF has found a way to win close games after dealing with slow starts against inferior opponents. UCF has some playmakers in RB Storm Johnson and WR Breshad Perriman. Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk and WR Antwan Goodley are among the best in the nation at their respective positions. I expect Baylor to win, but think UCF will be able to hang around long enough to keep this game interesting. Baylor wins by 10-14 and both teams put up more than 30 points.
SOTU STAFF PICKS
Jerry Steinberg (12 - 11 record) – UNLV, UGA, South Carolina, LSU, Michigan State, UCF
Josh Maser (12 - 11 record) – UNLV, Nebraska, Wisconsin, LSU, Stanford, Baylor
Michael Grunewald (10 - 13 record) – UNLV, Nebraska, South Carolina, LSU, Stanford, Baylor