In a confidence pool, you assign confidence points to winners of each of the 39 bowl match-ups, with (1) representing least confident and (39) representing most confident. For context's sake, we're including the point spread along with each bowl, but picks in this space are being made straight-up. We will start from the bottom and work our way to the top.
(1). Rose Bowl Game Playoff Semifinal: Georgia (-2) over Oklahoma (Rose Bowl; Pasadena, California; Monday, Jan. 1)
In our darkest hours, we stare at this game and mumble curses. It’s a perfect match-up of defense versus offense. If Oklahoma can put up a few quick touchdowns and UGA has to throw, the Sooners may well coast. Our hunch is that doesn’t happen. And perhaps the more interesting question, here, is whether OU can win a rock ‘em, sock ‘em brawl after a season of gliding lightly over the Big 12 in shootout after shootout. Kirby Smart turns this into his kind of game.
(2). Bahamas Bowl: UAB (+7.5) over Ohio (Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium; Nassau, Bahamas; Friday, Dec. 22)
We would like Ohio if we knew whether Ohio RB A.J. Ouellette would play through his shoulder injury. If he sits, the Bobcats’ next leading rusher is QB Nathan Rourke. And granted, Rourke is a unique rushing threat in his own right (he’s gone off for 978 yards on the ground), but if you can make any team one-dimensional, you can start to key in on things. Make Rourke a passer and it’ll get dicey very fast. He’s hitting on just 54.4% of his tosses. UAB QB A.J. Erdely is likewise unremarkable as a thrower, but he’ll at least have a full complement of weapons, most notably in the form of RB Spencer Brown.
(3). Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: USC (+7.5) over Ohio State: (AT&T Stadium; Arlington Texas; Friday, Dec. 29)
We trust the Trojans more, especially if they can turn this thing into a shootout. We do not trust Ohio State, though their talent is enough to keep this one low on our docket. The Buckeyes have one titanic moment for the season -- their thrilling comeback over Penn State -- but they’ve been mostly underwhelming otherwise. That’s why they’re not in the Playoff. USC’s will be the best offense they face this year. We repeat: We are not comfortable with Ohio State in a shootout.
(4). Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State (+7.5) over Toledo (Ladd-Peebles Stadium; Mobile, Alabama; Saturday, Dec. 23)
As much as we love Logan Woodside and the rest of the Rockets’ offense, Appy State’s the better overall team, especially now that RB Jalin Moore has finally seemed to find his footing -- three straight 100-yard games to close the regular season -- after a rough start to the year. Throw in peak Taylor Lamb (27 touchdown passes, just one less than the more heralded Logan Woodside) and a defense ranked No. 36 overall by S&P+ (21 slots higher than Toledo) and Scott Satterfield moves to 3-0 in bowl games over the last three seasons.
(5). Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Southern Miss (+15.5) over FSU (Independence Stadium; Shreveport, Louisiana; Wednesday, Dec. 27)
Don’t let Florida State’s three-game winning streak to finish the season fool you. Those wins came against Delaware State, Florida and UL-Monroe. Then their coach split for several dump trucks full of money. That’s a gut punch, especially given just how high expectations have been for the Seminoles over their past two failed seasons. Big game for multi-faceted Golden Eagles back Ito Smith to put the final nail in the coffin of this era in Tallahassee.
(6). Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Missouri (-3) over Texas (NRG Stadium; Houston, Texas; Wednesday, Dec. 27)
In a battle of two teams whose clear strengths come on opposite sides of the ball, we like Tigers passing wizard Drew Lock to poke holes on a defense which has shown the tendency to surrender big plays even as they’ve played solidly on the whole. Missouri’s offense, when it’s working, can blitz the scoreboard. The Longhorns don’t have the horses to keep up on that front. We are at least a little weary of Texas’ ability to muddy up good offenses (they did so to USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, among others), though, hence why we don’t weight this one more heavily.
(7). GILDAN New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State (-5.5) over Marshall (Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Saturday, Dec. 16)
The Thundering Herd stumble into this one losers of four of their last five games. They should be able to neutralize RB Dalyn Dawkins with what’s been a respectably strong run defense, but the Rams aren’t a one-man show on offense. Nick Stevens and Michael Gallup will find each other a-plenty against S&P+’s No. 69 unit versus the pass. We’re not betting the house with our confidence points, here, if only because Marshall QB Chase Litton could easily keep up with Stevens on the scoreboard against what’s the No. 111 S&P+ pass defense offered forth by Colorado State.
(8). Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl: UCF (+9.5) over Auburn (Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia; Monday, Jan. 1)
In some sort of a perfect, expanded-Playoff world, this game might be worth something. We like the Knights to cap off their magic carpet ride with a victory. Auburn has considerably less to play for. Gus Malzahn is locked up with a new contract. Jarrett Stidham and Kerryon Johnson could potentially declare for the draft. They already beat Georgia and Alabama. In a season of botched coaching searches and botched coaching exits, Scott Frost hit it perfect and there’s no sour taste, here. Consider this a trailer for Playoff expansion.
(9). Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia (pick) over Navy (Jack Stephens Field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; Annapolis, Maryland; Thursday, Dec. 28)
In UVA’s lone test run against the triple-option this season, the Cavaliers knocked off Georgia Tech 40-36. While they’ve dropped five of their last six (that Tech game the exception), Navy will enter this affair equally cold, likewise failing in five of their last six games. That includes an excruciatingly narrow loss to Army in the snow to close out the regular season. UVA has just had time to sit back and plan. Four-plus weeks to prepare for the triple-option should be more than enough, especially given that the Cavs’ strength is against the run to begin with.
(10). Quick Lane Bowl: Northern Illinois (+4.5) over Duke (Ford Field; Detroit, Michigan; Tuesday, Dec. 26)
The Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to close the season and achieve bowl eligibility, but we’re not going to be reeled in, here. Northern Illinois ranks as a top-20 defense against both the run and the pass by S&P+ and Duke can’t really do either of those things to begin with. Blue Devils QB Daniel Jones is far, far too turnover prone a prospect against an opportunistic NIU secondary. It’s not going to be cleansing for the eye to watch, but the Huskies are going to put this on lockdown.
(11). NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State (+4) over Utah State (Arizona Stadium; Tucson, Arizona; Friday, Dec. 29)
New Mexico State’s offensive troika of QB Tyler Rogers, RB Larry Rose III and WR Jaleel Scott give the Aggies an edge that Utah State just can’t match. In particular, we expect Rose to bloom in this spot -- he’s put in a down year statistically, but Utah State’s run-stopping unit ranks No. 93 on S&P+ and this will be the final game of his collegiate career.
(12). Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State (+2.5) over Houston (Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union Field at Aloha Stadium; Honolulu, Hawaii; Sunday, Dec. 24)
Our favorite unit on the field in this one is Houston’s Ed Oliver led run stuffers up front. It doesn’t happen often, but they’ll be neutralized versus the Bulldogs. Fresno boasts one of the nation’s best offensive lines and can cycle through three 400-plus-yard running backs. Jeff Tedford’s squad has held nine of their 13 opponents this season under 25 points.
(13). Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: FIU (+7) over Temple (Tropicana Field; St. Petersburg, Florida; Thursday, Dec. 21)
All kinds of motivation for the Golden Panthers in this one. If they win, they’ll set a school record for victories in a season. Butch Davis has done an under-the-radar masterful job. There’s some danger that Owls’ QB Frank Nutile can take advantage of a horrendous pass defense (S&P+ 124), but Temple, itself, sits at a lowly No. 70 and FIU QB Alex McGough leads a more explosive receiving corp.
(14). New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (+3) over Iowa (Yankee Stadium; Bronx, New York; Wednesday, Dec. 27)
Iowa has a reputation as a killer defensive team, but in this battle of the birds, it’s the Eagles that hold a decided advantage on that front. Freshman running back sensation A.J. Dillon -- four performances of at least 190 yards rushing in his last six games -- should find plenty of avenues for slicing up Iowa’s S&P+ No. 56 run defense. The Hawkeyes, incidentally, are plenty staunch against the pass, which helps them little in this match-up.
(15). Cactus Bowl: Kansas State (-2.5) over UCLA (Chase Field; Phoenix, Arizona; Thursday, Dec. 26)
Make no mistake, Chip Kelly’s return to the collegiate ranks is not going to matter in Phoenix. UCLA was a mediocre team this year and that hasn’t changed. The Wildcats finished the regular season in emphatic fashion, with wins over good Oklahoma State and Iowa State teams and their methodical, old-school rushing attack is going to beat down UCLA’s S&P+ No. 91 run defense.
(16). San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Michigan State (+3) over Washington State (SDCCU Stadium; San Diego, California; Thursday, Dec. 28)
We struggle to understand Washington State, and mostly on offense. It’s an odd time to be alive. Cougs QB Luke Falk has been benched on several occasion this season. For a lack of focus, for health reasons, it’s just not clear. He struggled down the stretch with an 11/11 TD/INT ratio. None of those Pac-12 defenses he faced this season save Washington are as good as Michigan State’s. We’re envisioning something of a rock fight here.
(17). Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (-3.5) over Middle Tennessee (Cramton Bowl; Montgomery, Alabama; Saturday, Dec. 12)
Injuries to key offensive pieces for the Blue Raiders this season -- WR Richie James is out for the year, while QB Brent Stockstill missed over a month -- have made the headlines, but a poor pass defense (S&P+ No. 80) will be their undoing in this one. Red Wolves QB Justice Hansen comes in with back-to-back 400-yard passing showings. He’s thrown 15 picks this season, but that’s not going to be a problem against a Middle Tennessee defense which doesn’t force turnovers.
(18). Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan (+1) over Wyoming (Albertsons Stadium; Boise, Idaho; Friday, Dec. 22)
We’re examining this one as though Cowboys QB Josh Allen will play (he missed the final two games of the season with a shoulder injury). To be real, it might not really matter. Wyoming’s passing offense with Allen at the helm has been one of the worst in all the land. They win on their defense, not their offense. Chips QB Shane Morris has kept the train moving and CMU enters having won six of their last seven games. If Allen ended up sitting, we’d throw more points on this one.
(19). AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky (-6) over Georgia State (Camping World Stadium; Orlando, Florida; Saturday, Dec. 16)
The Hilltoppers’ almost complete lack of a running game -- D’Andre Ferby leads the way with 362 yards and is averaging 3.2 YPC -- won’t matter here, as Georgia State’s decent run defense will essentially be without a job. State’s soft defensive underbelly lies in its S&P+ No. 115 unit against the aerial firework. Enter WKU QB Mike White, who has put up at least 300 yards passing in seven straight games.
(20). Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue (+3.5) over Arizona (Levi’s Stadium; Santa Clara, California; Wednesday, Dec. 27)
We wish that we had a better idea of just how the Boilermakers might fare against a dual-threat quarterback like Khalil Tate, but alas, not so much. Our best case is Lamar Jackson in the opener. L-Jax went for 107 yards in that one, but the beginning of September holds little value at this point and it’s hard to use Jackson as a baseline for anything, anyway. Purdue’s proven strong against the run game regardless (S&P+ No. 6) and Tate’s dealing with a shoulder injury to boot. He’s rushed for just 60 yards in his last two games and Arizona enters having lost three of their last four.
(21). Allstate Sugar Bowl Playoff Semifinal: Alabama (-2.5) over Clemson (Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans, Louisiana; Monday, Jan. 1)
Beware the overreaction. Our last moment with Alabama came as they lost to Auburn. That’s fine. That defense still exists, as does Jalen Hurts -- who offers the kind of rushing ability that you need versus Clemson’s defensive front. Shut down Etienne and Feaster -- something Bama’s more than capable of doing -- make Bryant throw it, profit. This might not be last year’s Alabama team, but Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson, either.
(22). Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State (offline) over Army (Amon G. Carter Stadium; Fort Worth, Texas; Saturday, Dec. 23)
Rashaad Penny, meet the Black Knights’ run defense. You’re going to enjoy this short-lived relationship. Army offers up one of the best rushing offenses in the country by advanced metrics (understandable), but also one of the worst rushing defenses (not good here). The Aztecs can at least somewhat hold their own against the run -- No. 37 S&P+ ground defense -- and that’ll do the trick. Penny has rushed for at least 200 yards in four straight games.
(23). Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (+2.5) over TCU (Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas; Thursday Dec. 28)
Stanford shot their way to the Pac-12 Championship Game on the strength of a season wind-up which saw them win 10 of their last 12 games. With their newfound ability to at least kind of pass with QB K.J. Costello and a month for Bryce Love to rest up his balky ankle, the Cardinal offense should be at full tilt against the Horned Frogs. We don’t trust TCU’s offense as far as we can throw it. They can’t run and we’ve seen enough of the stylings of QB Kenny Hill that we’re reasonably comfortable in saying that he’s not going to carry the day, even with the improvements he’s made in terms of his decision-making this season.
(24). Hyundai Sun Bowl: NC State (-6) over Arizona State (Sun Bowl; El Paso, Texas; Friday, Dec. 29)
You play to win the game. You play. To win. The Game. OK, no more. But the Sun Devils figure to be in a murky place mentally following the hire of Herm Edwards. We honestly are still trying to figure out where we are at mentally following the hire of Herm Edwards. More tangibly, Arizona State offers up a mediocre run defense, one which Nyheim Hines should be able to roll through. We don’t actually dislike this ASU team. They’ve just been put in a lousy, uncertain spot. And NC State has been dependably decent all season, hanging tough against big boys Clemson and Notre Dame while taking outright wins over Louisville and Florida State.
(25). Birmingham Bowl: South Florida (-2.5) over Texas Tech (Legion Field; Birmingham, Alabama; Saturday, Dec. 23)
We have but small joys in this world. A bowl-eligible Red Raiders team is definitely one of them. Grand stories of defensive improvement are just narrative. They’re still a burning tire on that front. South Florida has the athletes to throw a bunch of gasoline on those flames. Tech should put up points in its own right in this inevitable shootout, but USF’s facing a treadmill. Quinton Flowers lights up the scoreboard.
(26). DXL Frisco Bowl: SMU (-5) over Louisiana Tech (Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas; Wednesday, Dec. 20)
The scoreboard had best be ready for a workout, because SMU’s top-10 offense is going to rain terrifying fire upon the Bulldogs in this one. Both teams are porous defensively, but at least the Mustangs balance that with the stellar work of QB Ben Hicks and prolific wideouts Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn. They’ve scored at least 40 points in seven games this season, including each of their last three. Louisiana Tech has been held under 30 points in eight contests.
(27). Belk Bowl: Wake Forest (-3) over Texas A&M (Bank of America Stadium; Charlotte, North Carolina; Friday, Dec. 29)
Unleash the Clawfence! Wake’s offensive surge behind QB John Wolford provides the Demon Deacons an element that Texas A&M just doesn’t have. That is, they can put the ball in the air and it lands in receivers’ waiting arms. The Aggies have failed to crack 30 points in every game save two -- against New Mexico and Ole Miss -- since September 23. One other factor to keep in mind: Kevin Sumlin’s firing. Motivation is a real question for the Aggies.
(28). Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Northwestern (-7) over Kentucky (Nissan Stadium; Nashville, Tennessee; Friday, Dec. 29)
The Wildcats (Northwestern species) come in hot hot hot, winners of seven in a row. Kentucky shambles in losers of three of their last four. Both trends will continue for one more game. UK’s brightest weapon is RB Benny Snell Jr., who is going to come right up into the thick of S&P+’s No. 20 defense against the run. That’ll leave it to QB Stephen Johnson to attempt to scrounge up some points and we’ll pass on that. By the by, Kentucky is horrendous against the ground game. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson has himself a bowl, here.
(29). Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton’s: LSU (-3) over Notre Dame (Camping World Stadium; Orlando, Florida; Monday, Jan. 1)
Star RB Derrius Guice will be playing in what will likely be his final collegiate game, here, and in a contest where both run defenses are top-20 units, Danny Etling will be the difference. No, really. He owns a 14/2 TD/INT ratio and LSU’s passing offense ranks as S&P+’s No. 24 unit. Notre Dame’s sits at No. 59. Brian Kelly’s crew flirted with the Playoff ever so briefly, but they’ve cratered out over their final three games. Miami smashed them in the mouth, they barely defeated Navy and Stanford beat them by 18 points to finish up. LSU, meanwhile, played metronomic ball from the end of September on. In their final seven games, their only loss came to Alabama.
(30). Playstation Fiesta Bowl: Washington (+2) over Penn State (University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Arizona; Saturday, Dec. 30)
Two teams with Playoff aspirations who largely finished out the season off stage, we like Washington for several reasons. Beyond the obvious -- they’re an awesome defensive team -- Penn State’s bellcow Saquon Barkley has faded hard down the stretch after a fantastic start, failing to hit 100 yards rushing in four of his last five games. That’s concerning, although a few weeks off could give fresh legs. More troubling to us is that the team is out its top offensive mind in Joe Morehead, who was instrumental in turning around a moribund unit over the last two seasons. Morehead’s loss hurts, especially against a defensive team as good as the Huskies.
(31). Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah (-7) over West Virginia (Cotton Bowl; Dallas, Texas; Tuesday, Dec. 26)
Want a stat to amaze and dazzle your holiday party guests? Utah HC Kyle Whittingham is 10-1 in bowl games. Just dominant. We’d like the Utes here even had Will Grier’s finger not gone in a direction fingers should not go near the end of November. As is, a Grier-less Mountaineers team (or a Grier-limited Mountaineers team) against a Whittingham squad is just begging for a blowout.
(32). AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Memphis (-3.5) over Iowa State (Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium; Memphis, Tennessee; Saturday Dec. 30)
The Cyclones possess the magical stylings of RB David Montgomery and WR Allen Lazard, but they just won’t have the horsepower to hang against an opponent that is almost guaranteed to put up at least 35 points. Iowa State offers a porous pass defense, too, a death trap given the psychic connection between Tigers QB Riley Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller. We’ve loved the way Iowa State toyed with the Big 12 this season, but the plucky underdog story stops here.
(33). Capital One Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (-6.5) over Miami (Hard Rock Stadium; Miami Gardens, Florida; Saturday, Dec. 30)
We’re questioning just how much Miami has left in the tank after they skidded out to end the season against Pitt and Clemson. Wisconsin offers exactly the kind of team that they’re ill-equipped to play against -- disciplined, tough enough to rip up the end zone turf and rocking a Jonathan Taylor-led rushing offense which should be plenty good enough to batter a Miami front which finished up lagging against the run (S&P+ No. 42 versus ground games). We wouldn’t be surprised if this one ends with a double-digit Badgers win.
(34). R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy (-6.5) over North Texas (Mercedes Benz Superdome; New Orleans, Louisiana; Saturday, Dec. 16)
Troy forwards a typically stout defense and may well have been the pick here even under normal circumstances, but they’ll have the fantastic luck of missing Jeffery Wilson, who will sit with a foot injury. The Trojans are not well equipped to handle a shootout, but bushels of points won’t be necessary. The Mean Green managed just 17 points in the Conference USA Championship Game against FAU and there’s no punch without Wilson.
(35). Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon (-7.5) over Boise State (Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, Nevada; Saturday, Dec. 16)
We like the Ducks to show up for HC Mario Cristobal, much like LSU did for Ed Orgeron after the Tigers lifted his interim tag in late November last year. Boise State’s lost just once since falling to Virginia on September 22, but they’ve faced a slew of teams with questionable aerial attacks since that game -- BYU, San Diego State, Wyoming, Air Force, Fresno State twice -- that haven’t been able to take advantage of a saggy pass defense (S&P+ 83). Justin Herbert is arguably the best quarterback they will face this year.
(36). Camping World Bowl: Oklahoma State (-5.5) over Virginia Tech (Camping World Stadium; Orlando, Florida; Thursday, Dec. 28)
As underwhelming as they come, Virginia Tech scored 62 points over their final four games of the season. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Oklahoma State is going to drop 62 in this one alone, but barring a spectacular effort from Bud Foster’s defense, it’s hard to see the Cowboys slowed enough that this will even be competitive by the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech’s leading rusher, Travon McMillian, will not be playing in Orlando, either, as he’s elected to transfer.
(37). TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville (-6.5) over Mississippi State (EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Florida; Saturday, Dec. 30)
This would be different if Nick Fitzgerald was playing and Dan Mullen was coaching but this isn’t some crazy fantasy world. Fitzgerald’s shelved with a dislocated ankle while Mullen is in a coaching bunker down in Gainesville. The quarterback essentially was the Mississippi State offense. Unlike a year ago, Louisville finished the regular season in fine fashion, with three consecutive, impressive, wins over Virginia, Syracuse and Kentucky. We would like the other side if Fitzgerald could suit up for this game -- Louisville is not a good defensive team. It’s not going to matter here.
(38). Outback Bowl: Michigan (-7.5) over South Carolina (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, Monday, Jan. 1)
Jim Harbaugh with one month to prepare for a mediocre offense. We saw that game two years ago, when the Wolverines shredded Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. The Gamecocks looked completely overmatched against Clemson’s defense in the regular-season finale this year and while UM isn’t quite at that level, they’re still elite. South Carolina is not ready to beat an elite defense.
(39). Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: FAU (-22.5) over Akron (Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium; Boca Raton, Florida; Tuesday, Dec. 19)
Somebody start buying ice packs to place on Devin Singletary, as he will be sore after this one. Singletary gets to face off with a bottom-feeder run defense. The line reflects the lopsided matchup. Sometimes it’s just not that complicated. We fully expect a double-digit win. FAU finishes out on a 10-game winning streak in Lane Kiffin’s first season.