Bowl & College Football Playoff First Predictions & Lines

Bowl & College Football Playoff First Predictions & Lines


Bowl & College Football Playoff First Predictions & Lines


While the bowl and College Football Playoff matchups are still being digested, here’s the first look, quick predictions, and knee-jerk thoughts on each game.

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2017-2018 Bowl First Predictions & Lines

So here’s the annual exercise. I just look at the bowl matchups and don’t look at or know any of the lines to see just how far I’m off with the general public and the prevailing investment wisdom. I write this, and then look at the lines after.

After the bowl pairings and all the craziness has settled down, here are the knee-jerk reactions and predictions. However, these can and will change by the time all the bowl previews are done, depending on who sits out, further deep-dive analysis, etc.

Like they tell you in third grade, though, always go with your first answer.

*All times Eastern

Know Your Bowls: Quick Looks at Every Bowl & Team
Expansion Scenarios: 5, 6, 8, 12 & 16 Team Formats

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
ESPN, 1:00 pm
Troy vs. North Texas

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The Mean Green offense will have to crank it up against a Troy team with an okay offense and solid D. This might be more of a shootout than many will think – Troy will open it up.

First Thought Prediction: Troy 34, North Texas 20
First Thought Line Guess: Troy -6.5
Actual Initial Line: Troy -6
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AutoNation Cure Bowl

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL
CBS Sports Network, 2:30 pm
WKU vs. Georgia State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Neither team did much this year against anyone who’s any good, but WKU has a big-time passing offense, and Georgia State struggles to put points on the board. The Panthers will be fired up, but the Hilltoppers air show wins out.

First Thought Prediction: WKU 30, Georgia State 20
First Thought Line Guess: WKU -5.5
Actual Initial Line: WKU -4.5
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Las Vegas Bowl

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
ABC, 3:30 pm
Boise State vs. Oregon

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The Oregon offense vs. the Boise State defense? Fantastic. The Ducks can play a little bit of D, too, and when in doubt I always like the Power Five talent over the Group of Five skill, but the Bronco D keeps this close until late.

First Thought Prediction: Oregon 30, Boise State 17
First Thought Line Guess: Oregon -3.5
Actual Initial Line: Oregon -6.5
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Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
ESPN, 4:30 pm
Colorado State vs. Marshall

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Does Marshall have the offense to keep up? Herd games are generally low-scoring dogfights, but the Ram attack with QB Nick Stevens and Michael Gallup will bomb away from the start. But the Herd will fight back late to keep it close.

First Thought Prediction: Colorado State 30, Marshall 27
First Thought Line Guess: Colorado State -3.5
Actual Initial Line: Colorado State -5
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Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, AL
ESPN, 8:00 pm
Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Whatever the point total is, go over. Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill and Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen will put on a show. Both teams will generate a pass rush, but ASU’s is better.

First Thought Prediction: Arkansas State 45, Middle Tennessee 34
First Thought Line Guess: Arkansas State -4
Actual Initial Line: Arkansas State -3.5
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Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017
FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, FL
ESPN, 7:00 pm
Akron vs. Florida Atlantic

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The only way this isn’t one of the ugliest blowout bowls is if Lane Kiffin leaves to take another gig first. Akron might rise up in one of those no-one-believes-in-us sort of ways, but as long as FAU isn’t turning the ball over … yuck.

First Thought Prediction: Florida Atlantic 41, Akron 17
First Thought Line Guess: Florida Atlantic -13.5
Actual Initial Line: Florida Atlantic -17.5
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Frisco Bowl

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
SMU vs. Louisiana Tech

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Over, over, over. I don’t know what the point total is, but this is going to be a wild shootout because 1) SMU has a great offense, 2) SMU has no defense, and 3) Louisiana Tech will finally open it up.

First Thought Prediction: SMU 45, Louisiana Tech 40
First Thought Line Guess: SMU -7
Actual Initial Line: SMU -5
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Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

Thursday, December 21st
Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
ESPN, 8:00 pm
Temple vs. FIU

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Get ready for a more fun game than you might think. Temple has opened it up a bit lately, and FIU closed out the season with the offense starting to kick it in. However, the Owl defense is good enough to rise up and be a factor late. Guessing FIU will be favored because of the Florida angle.

First Thought Prediction: Temple 31, FIU 20
First Thought Line Guess: Temple -4
Actual Initial Line: Temple -8
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Bahamas Bowl

Friday, December 22nd, 2017
Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
ESPN, 12:30 pm
UAB vs. Ohio 

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: How totally jacked up will UAB be to be in this? The Blazers have shocked everyone and made all the naysayers look ridiculous, so can they do it again? Nope – not if Ohio decides to try. America, welcome to Bobcat QB Nathan Rourke.

First Thought Prediction: Ohio 37, UAB 23
First Thought Line Guess: Ohio -6.5
Actual Initial Line: Ohio -7
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Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Friday, December 22nd, 2017
Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, ID
ESPN, 4:00 pm
Central Michigan vs. Wyoming

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Will Josh Allen play or not? Will it matter? The Wyoming defense will have to carry the day against a sound, solid Central Michigan team that doesn’t seem to care about road games or adversity.

First Thought Prediction: Central Michigan 23, Wyoming 17
First Thought Line Guess: Wyoming -3
Actual Initial Line: No Line (because of Allen)
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Birmingham Bowl

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017
Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
ESPN, 12:00 pm
USF vs. Texas Tech

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Charlie Strong vs. Kliff Kingsbury going Big 12 style. The Texas Tech passing game hasn’t been its normal self for a while, but watch out for this to get into a wild shootout in a hurry. USF hasn’t beaten anyone, though – Big 12 talent wins out.

First Thought Prediction: Texas Tech 40, USF 34
First Thought Line Guess: Texas Tech -2.5
Actual Initial Line: USF -3
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Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
ESPN, 3:30 pm
Army vs. San Diego State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The over/under on pass attempts: 15? Both teams will run, run, and run some more, but the great San Diego State defense with time to prepare should be a big, big problem for the Army O.

First Thought Prediction: San Diego State 23, Army 13
First Thought Line Guess: San Diego State -7
Actual Initial Line: No Line (Army has to play Navy)
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Dollar General Bowl

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
ESPN, 7:00 pm
Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: One of only battles between conference champions this bowl season, Toledo will open it up on an Appalachian State team that’s been fine, but goes into strange funks. ASU will struggle to keep up.

First Thought Prediction: Toledo 38, Appalachian State 20
First Thought Line Guess: Toledo -8.5
Actual Initial Line: Toledo -7
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Hawai’i Bowl

Sunday, December 24th, 2017
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
ESPN, 8:30 pm
Houston vs. Fresno State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Low, low, low, low, low scoring. Fresno State doesn’t score and the D has been amazing, Houston sputters too much, and in this bowl more than any other, the teams just want to get back to the fun.

First Thought Prediction: Fresno State 20, Houston 16
First Thought Line Guess: Houston -2
Actual Initial Line: Houston -1.5
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Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, TX
ESPN, 1:30 pm
West Virginia vs. Utah

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Will Will Grier go for West Virignia? Probably not. Will Tyler Huntley go for Utah? Probably. Forget any analysis, under Kyle Whittingham, Utah just doesn’t lose bowl games, dropping just one since 1996.

First Thought Prediction: Utah 34, West Virginia 30
First Thought Line Guess: West Virginia -1
Actual Initial Line: No Line (QBs are still a question)
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Quick Lane Bowl

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
ESPN, 5:15 pm
Duke vs. Northern Illinois 

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Can Duke handle the Northern Illinois pass rush? Not really. Can Northern Illinois handle the aggressive and strong Duke run defense? Not really, assume the under – whatever it is – in a low scoring game. Always go with the P5 over Gof5 – except here.

First Thought Prediction: Northern Illinois 23, Duke 20
First Thought Line Guess: Duke -3.5
Actual Initial Line: Duke -2.5
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Cactus Bowl

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ
ESPN, 9:00 pm
UCLA vs. Kansas State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: There are way too many moving parts on UCLA – the line is a TOTAL guess (BTW, writing this after I looked, and shocked that I nailed it) – with Josh Rosen, the new coaching change, and a whole slew of other issues to deal with. Kansas State, though, doesn’t run like it normally does. It will here.

First Thought Prediction: Kansas State 37, UCLA 31
First Thought Line Guess: Kansas State -2.5
Actual Initial Line: Kansas State -2.5
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Walk-On’s Independence Bowl

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA
ESPN, 1:30 pm
Florida State vs. Southern Miss 

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Southern Miss is actually good enough to pull this off. However, if Florida State tried enough late in the year to get here, it’ll try enough to win this for interim head man Odell Haggans. However, be prepared for a slew of Noles to sit this out to get ready for the NFL.

First Thought Prediction: Florida State 34, Southern Miss 13
First Thought Line Guess: Florida State -10.5
Actual Initial Line: Florida State -14
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New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
ESPN, 5:15 pm
Boston College vs. Iowa

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: This might be one of the toughest games to pick this entire bowl season – who’s going to show up? Iowa is a bowl dud, but that run defense might just keep AJ Dillon in check. The Eagles, though, had a defense, too.

First Thought Prediction: Boston College 23, Iowa 20
First Thought Line Guess: Iowa -2.5
Actual Initial Line: Iowa -3
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Foster Farms Bowl

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
FOX, 8:30 pm
Arizona vs. Purdue

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Few players will benefit more from the layoff than Khalil Tate. America, get ready for him – he’ll play like he was shot out of a cannon. Losing to Arizona State will matter – the Wildcats will play with a purpose.

First Thought Prediction: Arizona 38, Purdue 34
First Thought Line Guess: Arizona -5.5
Actual Initial Line: Arizona -4
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Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
ESPN, 9:00 pm
Texas vs. Missouri

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Here’s the problem: Missouri hasn’t beaten anyone. It rolled up a ton of weak and sad SEC teams going through coaching problems. Texas, though, will be missing a slew of key parts sitting out to get ready for the NFL. That will make a difference.

First Thought Prediction: Missouri 26, Texas 20
First Thought Line Guess: Texas -3
Actual Initial Line: Missouri -2.5
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Military Bowl Presented By Northrup Grumman

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium, Annapolis, MD
ESPN, 1:30 pm
Virginia vs. Navy

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Give Bronco Mendenhall and this solid defense time to prepare for the Navy option, and it’ll hold it down. The Midshipmen will struggle on defense without the pass rush to bother QB Kurt Benkert.

First Thought Prediction: Virginia 27, Navy 20
First Thought Line Guess: Virginia -2
Actual Initial Line: No Line (Navy still has to play Army)
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Camping World Bowl

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
ESPN, 5:15 pm
Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: It all depends on if QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington choose to play for Oklahoma State. If they do, the Cowboys roll. If they don’t, Virginia Tech grinds this down. Speculation: Rudolph plays, Washington doesn’t.

First Thought Prediction: Oklahoma State 27, Virginia Tech 17
First Thought Line Guess: Oklahoma State -4.5
Actual Initial Line: Oklahoma State -6.5
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Valero Alamo Bowl

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
ESPN, 9:00 pm
TCU vs. Stanford

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Does Bryce Love play, or does he follow Christian McCaffrey’s lead and sit this out to get ready for the NFL? TCU gets up for bowl games, but can it handle the power and the toughness of the relentless Stanford big guys? Yeah. If Love doesn’t play, this is TCU in a walk.

First Thought Prediction: TCU 26, Stanford 17
First Thought Line Guess: TCU -3
Actual Initial Line: TCU -2
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San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
FS1, 9:00 pm
Michigan State vs. Washington State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: After clunking in last year’s Holiday Bowl vs. Minnesota, Wazzu is back at it – against a better Big Ten team. Expect a higher-scoring shootout than you might think. Both teams are going to bomb away. Mark Dantonio vs. Mike Leach with time to prepare?

First Thought Prediction: Michigan State 34, Washington State 26
First Thought Line Guess: Washington State -2
Actual Initial Line: Washington State -3
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Belk Bowl

Friday, December 29th, 2017
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
ESPN, 1:00 pm
Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Jimbo Fisher has arrived, but Jeff Banks will be the interim head coach against a Wake Forest offense that has the firepower to make this a blast, and the pass rush to get to the Aggie backfield from the start.

First Thought Prediction: Wake Forest 34, Texas A&M 20
First Thought Line Guess: Texas A&M -1
Actual Initial Line: Wake Forest -3
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Hyundai Sun Bowl

Friday, December 29th, 2017
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX
CBS, 2:00 pm
NC State vs. Arizona State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The Herm Edwards era hasn’t started quite yet, and the Dave Doeren regime is still in place at NC State, not Tennessee. Will some of the Wolfpack stars play in this or sit? Either way, the efficient State offense will be good enough to get by the rudderless Sun Devils waiting for their new leader to take over.

First Thought Prediction: NC State 27, Arizona State 20
First Thought Line Guess: NC State -6
Actual Initial Line: NC State -6
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Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Friday, December 29th, 2017
Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
ESPN, 4:30 pm
Northwestern vs. Kentucky

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Wildcat on Wildcat action. Northwestern doesn’t do anything all that pretty, but I still can’t figure out quite what Kentucky does at all. NU wins, but like everything with this team – until late – it’s a grind.

First Thought Prediction: Northwestern 26, Kentucky 20
First Thought Line Guess: Northwestern -3.5
Actual Initial Line: Northwestern -6.5
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NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Friday, December 29th, 2017
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
CBS Sports Network, 5:30 pm
New Mexico State vs. Utah State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: This should be fun. New Mexico State fans will show up, the team will be jacked to be here, and Utah State is just good enough to make this a ball game. The Sun Belt Aggie offense vs. the MW Aggie secondary? Fantastic.

First Thought Prediction: New Mexico State 34, Utah State 30
First Thought Line Guess: New Mexico State -4
Actual Initial Line: Utah State -3
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TaxSlayer Bowl

Saturday, December 30th, 2017
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
ESPN, 12:00
Mississippi State vs. Louisville

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The Joe Moorhead era isn’t starting yet, Nick Fitzgerald is out, and there’s no hope for Mississippi State, right? What if Lamar Jackson sits out? It doesn’t look like he’s going to, so …  

First Thought Prediction: Louisville 38, Mississippi State 27
First Thought Line Guess: 
Louisville -7.5
Actual Initial Line:
Louisville -5.5
More Bowl Info & Tickets

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Saturday, December 30th, 2017
Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN
ABC, 12:30 pm
Iowa State vs. Memphis

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Is Mike Norvell still going to be the Memphis head coach, or will he slide into one of the next-job-up openings? Either way, the Memphis passing game is always a blast, the lack of a Memphis defense is always a blast, and Iowa State will find a way to figure out both.

First Thought Prediction: Iowa State 37, Memphis 27
First Thought Line Guess: Iowa State -4
Actual Initial Line: Memphis-3.5
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Outback Bowl

Monday, January 1st, 2018
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
ESPN2, 12:00 pm
Michigan vs. South Carolina

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Oh yay … more Jadeveon Clowney highlights, please. South Carolina is fine, but with time to heal up, Michigan should be a far better, well-motivated team as it tries to get past the clunkers vs. Wisconsin and Ohio State to close strong. Jim Harbaugh can’t and won’t lose this.

First Thought Prediction: Michigan 23, South Carolina 17
First Thought Line Guess: Michigan -5
Actual Initial Line: Michigan -9.5
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Citrus Bowl

Monday, January 1st, 2018
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
ABC, 1:00 pm
Notre Dame vs. LSU

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: There’s no Malik Zaire this time around for the Irish vs. LSU. With a month to prepare and get ready LSU will rise up and rock against the run, and the Irish won’t have any answers. Who’s going to play, though? How many LSU NFL prospects will sit?

First Thought Prediction: LSU 27, Notre Dame 24
First Thought Line Guess: Notre Dame -2
Actual Initial Line: LSU -2.5
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New Year’s Six Bowls

College Football Playoff Rankings Prediction

Goodyear Cotton Bowl

Friday, December 29th, 2017
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
ESPN, 8:30 pm
Ohio State vs. USC

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Can Ohio State get up for this? USC knew it was going to a New Year’s Six bowl, but a Buckeye team that was thinking CFP – and hasn’t been all that great at keeping its foot on the gas – now has to focus on a grand exhibition. USC plays well as the Buckeyes struggle to wake up.

First Thought Prediction: USC 34, Ohio State 27
First Thought Line Guess: Ohio State -3
Actual Initial Line: Ohio State -6.5
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Capital One Orange Bowl

Saturday, December 30th, 2017
New Miami Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
ESPN, 8:00 pm
Wisconsin vs. Miami

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Miami supposedly has the athletes, the pass rush, the home-field advantage, and the fire to get past the ugly end of the regular season and make a statement. And the beaten up Badger defense – with a month off to heal up – will blow all of that up.

First Thought Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Miami 17
First Thought Line Guess: Wisconsin -3
Actual Initial Line: Wisconsin -6.5
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Fiesta Bowl

Saturday, December 30th, 2017
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
ESPN, 4:00 pm
Washington vs. Penn State

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Saquon Barkley isn’t sitting out – that’s a problem. Penn State is going to try, it’s going to come up with a hot start to the offense, and the Washington team that was way too inconsistent will struggle to keep up.

First Thought Prediction: Penn State 30, Washington 21
First Thought Line Guess: Penn State -4
Actual Initial Line: Penn State -3
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Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Monday, January 1st, 2018
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
ESPN, 12:30 pm
Auburn vs. UCF

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Scott Frost might be coaching this, but it won’t matter. Lost in all of the fun of the UCF season was how the defense got ripped to shreds by USF and Memphis. Auburn – with a month off, and playing in Atlanta – will try. Don’t expect the Tigers to be flat.

First Thought Prediction: Auburn 41, UCF 30
First Thought Line Guess: Auburn -7.5
Actual Initial Line: Auburn -10
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2017-2018 College Football Conference Bowl Tie-Ins

2018 College Football Playoff

Rose Bowl

Monday, January 1st, 2018
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
ABC, 5:00 pm
Georgia vs. Oklahoma

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The SEC Championship Georgia is the real Georgia. The Oklahoma offense might be balanced and amazing, the defense is better than you think, and Baker Mayfield is Baker Mayfield, but great defense vs. great offense? Go with the great defense. And the Bulldogs have a little bit of an O, too.

First Thought Prediction: Georgia 30, Oklahoma 24
First Thought Line Guess: Oklahoma -3
Actual Initial Line: Oklahoma -1
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Sugar Bowl

Monday, January 1st, 2018
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
ESPN, 8:45 pm
Clemson vs. Alabama 

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: Lost in all the Alabama vs. Ohio State discussion and hype is that – for all the “best team” thing – the Crimson Tide haven’t been nearly as go as they were last year, or the year before. And this Clemson defense might be better. The Tigers are humming at the right time, and while Kelly Bryant might not be Deshaun Watson, he won’t have to be.

First Thought Prediction: Clemson 24, Alabama 20
First Thought Line Guess: Alabama -2
Actual Initial Line: Alabama -1.5
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College Football Playoff National Championship

Monday, January 8th, 2018
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
ESPN, 8:00 pm
Clemson vs. Georgia 

Knee-Jerk Instant Analysis: The defenses are going to be amazing. The Clemson defensive line, the Georgia linebackers, and the skill-level on display will be special. As good as the Clemson team might be as it comes into the game on the road, in the home environment in Atlanta, and with the Bulldog backfield on fire, the SEC takes back the national championship.

First Thought Prediction: Georgia 23, Clemson 20
First Thought Line Guess: Clemson -4.5
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Bowl Tie-Ins & Affiliations

More Bowl Projections