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What You Need To Know About This Weekend’s Bowl Games: Dec 31-Jan 1

  • The Draft Network
  • December 31, 2021
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On Friday, Cincinnati will take on Alabama in the Cotton Bowl Classic and Georgia will play Michigan in the Orange Bowl to determine which two teams will face each other in this year’s College Football Playoffs Championship Game on January 10. Here are BetPrep’s key trends for the two semi-finals matchups, as well as the New Year’s Day bowl games on Saturday.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Cincinnati (+13.5) vs. Alabama 

3:30 p.m. ET, Friday (O/U: 57.5)

Alabama will be making its seventh College Football Playoff appearance on Friday afternoon when it takes on Georgia in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The seventh appearance is the most by any program and the Tide could become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since it accomplished the feat in 2011 and 2012.

Nick Saban will also be looking to win his eighth overall national title, including his seventh at Alabama. His Crimson Tide team has won seven straight neutral-site games, which is tied for the longest active streak in the FBS. They have been especially dominant in the CFP semifinal round, holding a 5-1 record and losing to only the eventual national champion Ohio State.

Meanwhile, the Bearcats made history this season by becoming the first Group of 5 team to reach the CFP. They’re also the first undefeated team to earn the No. 4 seed in the Playoff, with each of the first seven four seeds entering the CFP with a loss. Their 13-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the FBS, is the longest single-season streak in school history and is the second-longest winning streak in school history overall.

According to ESPN Stats & Informational Group, Cincinnati is the second team since the 1978 FBS/FCS split to be an underdog of at least 13 points despite entering the game with a 10-0 record or better. There have been five teams to be a double-digit underdog since 1993 that entered a game with a 10-0 record or better. Two of those teams (2002 Ohio State vs. Miami and 2000 Oklahoma vs. Florida State) won outright, while four of the five covered the spread. Ironically, only the 2009 Bearcats failed to cover as a 12-point underdog against No. 5 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Cincinnati Key Trends

  • The Bearcats are 5-0 ATS in their last five games as an underdog.
  • Cincinnati is 11-1 ATS in its last 12 games after allowing less than 100 yards rushing in its previous game.
  • The Under is 24-5-1 in the Bearcats’ last 30 games as an underdog.

Alabama Key Trends

  • The Crimson Tide is 4-1 ATS in its last five non-conference games.
  • Alabama is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games played at a neutral site.
  • The Under is 5-0 in the Tide’s last five bowl semifinal matchups.

Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia (-7.5) vs. Michigan

7:30 p.m. ET, Friday (O/U: 45.5)

Michigan will make its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance when it takes on Georgia in the Capital One Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve night. The Wolverines are also looking to win a national title for the first time since 1997 as well as win 13 games in a season for the first time in program history.

Before this season, Michigan flopped in the underdog role under coach Jim Harbaugh. Between 2015-20, the Wolverines were 0-11 straight up when listed as the betting underdog, finishing with a points per game differential of -18.8. That said, the Wolverines finished 2-0 straight up as underdog this season, all while posting a +18.0 PPG differential in those two contests.

As for Georgia, the Bulldogs are making their second College Football Playoff appearance, last making the postseason in 2017. They’re the fifth team to earn a Playoff bid without winning a conference title and the second to reach the Playoff after losing its conference championship game (Notre Dame lost its conference title game last season to Clemson). Three of the previous four teams in this spot lost in the semifinal, although Alabama won the national championship at the end of the 2017 season despite not reaching the SEC Championship Game.

The Dawgs allowed just 9.5 points per game in the regular season, which was the fewest in a regular season by any FBS team since Alabama in 2011 allowed 8.8 points per game. Ironically, the Crimson Tide’s defense was coordinated by now UGA head coach Kirby Smart and that team went on to win the national title.

Georgia Key Trends

  • The Bulldogs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight bowl games.
  • Georgia is 11-5 ATS in its last 16 neutral site games.
  • The Under is 7-2-2 in the Dawgs’ last 11 neutral site games.

Michigan Key Trends

  • The Wolverines are 5-0 ATS in their last five games overall.
  • Michigan is 1-4 ATS in its last five neutral site games as an underdog.
  • The Over is 13-3 in UM’s last 16 neutral site games.

Outback Bowl: Penn State (+1) vs. Arkansas

12:00 p.m. ET, Saturday (o/u 48)

Two teams that head into their bowl matchup in opposite ways will meet on New Year’s Day when Penn State takes on Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. The Razorbacks closed out their regular season by winning four of their final five games (losing by only a touchdown to then-No. 2 Alabama), while the Nittany Lions dropped five of their final seven games to tumble out of the Top 25.

Both teams will be without key players, as Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks and Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker and receiver Jahan Dotson opted out to focus on the 2022 NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions will also be without defensive lineman Derrick Tangelo, who started every game this season for PSU. He totaled 30 tackles, 14 quarterback pressures, and one sack.

At least the Nittany Lions are familiar with the Outback Bowl. This will be the team’s fifth trip to the bowl, with their most recent appearance coming in 2011 when they lost to Florida, 37-24.

Penn State Key Trends

  • The Nittany Lions are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games overall.
  • Penn State is 11-4-1 ATS in its last 16 non-conference games.
  • The Over is 4-0 in the Nittany Lions’ last four bowl games.

Arkansas Key Trends

  • The Razorbacks are 16-7-1 ATS in their last 24 games overall.
  • Arkansas is just 6-17-1 at the betting window in its last 24 games coming off a win.
  • The Under is 8-1 in the Hogs’ last nine bowl games.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Iowa (+3) vs. Kentucky

1:00 p.m. ET, Saturday (O/U: 44)

If you like up-tempo, fast-paced offenses that spread opponents out and run at breakneck speed, then the Vrbo Citrus Bowl isn’t for you. In fact, if you like offense, then the Hawkeyes specifically aren’t for you.

Tyler Goodson finished the regular season with 1,151 rushing yards for Iowa, but he’s skipping the Citrus Bowl after declaring for the NFL draft. As of this writing, it’s also unknown who will start under center for the Hawkeyes because Spencer Petras has been dealing with a shoulder injury and was ineffective over the final month-plus of the season. Backup Alex Padilla could start, although he has completed just 45 of his last 97 passes.

The Hawkeyes’ strength is their defense, which allowed just 19.2 points per game. Opponents rushed for only 113.8 yards per game against Iowa, which also picked off 24 passes this season. On Saturday, they’ll face a balanced Kentucky offense that averaged 206.1 yards per game on the ground and 225.0 through the air. The Wildcats ranked 22nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game and were 30th in scoring while averaging 33.3 PPG.

Iowa Key Trends

  • The Hawkeyes are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall.
  • Iowa is 2-5 ATS in its last seven games following a loss of more than 20 points.
  • The Over is 4-0 in the Hawkeyes’ last four games overall.

Kentucky Key Trends

  • The Wildcats are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 non-conference games.
  • Kentucky is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against the Big Ten.
  • The Over is 24-7 in the Wildcats’ last 31 non-conference games.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State (+2.5) vs. Notre Dame

1:00 p.m. ET, Saturday (O/U: 45.5)

Notre Dame will debut a new head coach on Saturday when the team takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl at 1:00 p.m. ET. Following the departure of Brian Kelly to LSU, Marcus Freeman will take over the coaching duties after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator this season. The Irish will be without leading rusher Kyren Williams, who opted to sit out in preparation for the NFL draft.

Meanwhile, the last time we saw the Cowboys they were being stopped at the goal line by Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. While Oklahoma State’s defense allowed the third-fest yards per game among all FBS programs, the Cowboys’ offense struggled for consistency. They did average 30.6 points per game, but finished 66th in total offense, 76th in passing, and 45th in rushing. They were held to only 16 points by Baylor in the aforementioned Big 12 title game.

Oklahoma State Key Trends

  • The Cowboys are 9-1-1 ATS in their last 11 games overall.
  • OK State is 5-1 ATS in its last six neutral site games as an underdog.
  • The Under is 16-5 in the Cowboys’ last 21 games as an underdog.

Notre Dame Key Trends

  • The Fighting Irish are 7-0 ATS in their last seven games overall.
  • Notre Dame is 7-2 ATS in its last nine neutral site games.
  • The Under is 4-0 in the Irish’s last four bowl games.

Rose Bowl: Utah (+4.5) vs. Ohio State

5:00 p.m. ET, Saturday (O/U: 64)

Pac-12 champion Utah will take on Ohio State in the 2022 Rose Bowl on Saturday and while a trip to Pasadena is still an honor for Big Ten programs, the Buckeyes expected to be playing in a playoff semi-final this weekend. 

Ohio State’s loss to Michigan in its regular-season finale prevented the team from playing in the Big Ten title game and also gave the Buckeyes two losses on the season. That essentially eliminated them from the College Football Playoff discussion and now a handful of players have opted out of playing in the Rose Bowl to focus on the NFL draft. Receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave won’t play and neither will offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive lineman Haskell Garrett.

Utah, meanwhile, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since joining the Pac-12 for the 2011 season. The Utes are one of the hottest teams in the nation, with six straight wins and victories in nine of their past 10 games. Two of those wins came against Oregon, which Utah defeated in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Under head coach Kyle Whittingham, the Utes are 11-3 in bowl games, although they did drop their last two bowl appearances. Whittingham became the school’s leader in all-time victories with 144 when the Utes knocked off the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game.

Utah Key Trends

  • The Utes are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games against Big Ten opponents.
  • Utah is 4-1 ATS in its last five bowl games.
  • The Utes are 14-5 ATS in their last 19 games following a win.

Ohio State Key Trends

  • The Buckeyes are 12-3-1 ATS in their last 16 games against Pac-12 opponents.
  • Ohio State is 5-1 ATS in its last six games played in January.
  • The Under is 4-1-1 in the Buckeyes’ last six bowl games.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Baylor (+1.5) vs. Ole Miss

8:45 p.m. ET, Saturday (O/U: 55.5)

The last time we saw Baylor, its defense was making a goal-line stand to beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Bears finished the regular season ranked 15th in FBS in scoring defense while allowing only 19.2 points per game. BU was particularly stout against the run, surrendering just 118.8 rushing yards per game.

The Bears also received good news this week, as redshirt junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon (hamstring) will play in this weekend’s Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss. He missed BU’s last couple of games due to a hamstring injury but he’ll be in uniform for the Bears on Saturday night.

The bigger news surrounding this game is the availability of Ole Miss signal-caller Matt Corral, who re-confirmed in a press conference on Monday that he intends to face Baylor. Corral is projected to be a top-10 pick in April’s NFL draft, so the news that he’ll play in the Sugar Bowl was met with some surprise. Ultimately, Corral said that he “wouldn’t be in this position without” his teammates. Thanks in large part to the play of Corral, Ole Miss finished with the No. 4 offense in the nation while averaging 506.6 yards per game and 35.9 PPG.

Baylor Key Trends

  • Baylor has covered in nine of its last 12 games overall.
  • The Bears are 4-1 ATS in their last five bowl games as an underdog.
  • The Under is a perfect 4-0 in the Bears’ last four games overall.

Ole Miss Key Trends

  • The Rebels are 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight bowl games.
  • Ole Miss is 10-2-1 ATS in its last 13 neutral site games.
  • The Under is a perfect 7-0 in the Rebels’ last seven games overall.

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