College Football Picks for Every Game: CFB Playoff and New Year's Six
The main event is almost here.
As bowl season nears its completion, the 2021 College Football Playoff is set to begin. Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati all enter the championship tournament aiming for a national title. Those two CFP matchups are the featured attraction and will deservedly command a heavy majority of the headlines.
But wait, there's more! And it's not all so dramatic!
Along with one Group of Five clash, the final stretch of bowl season features eight more matchups between power-conference teams, including the remaining games of the New Year's Six contingent.
Get ready for a football-filled schedule on both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Note: All game predictions are based on projected availability as of publish. Opt-outs, injuries, suspensions and other notable absences may be reported prior to kickoff times.
Gator Bowl: Wake Forest (10-3) vs. Rutgers (5-7), Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ET
Initially slated for a showdown with Texas A&M, Wake Forest is instead taking on Rutgers in Jacksonville. It's certainly a lopsided matchup given Rutgers hasn't scored more than 20 points in nine of its games this season. Wake Forest, conversely, has racked up 35-plus points 11 times and never scored below 21.
Prediction: Wake Forest 41, Rutgers 24
Sun Bowl: Washington State (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-4), Dec. 31, noon ET
After the Sun Bowl lost Miami and Arizona Bowl lost Boise State, these programs made the matchup work in El Paso. The quick preparation could be advantage for CMU, which boasts the nation's leading rusher in Lew Nichols III. Wazzu ranks 102nd in yards allowed per carry. If the Chips can capitalize on there, they'll keep it close. But a suspect secondary that has ceded 8.3 yards per pass attempt, though more effective lately, is still too much to overlook.
Prediction: Washington State 31, Central Michigan 28
Outback Bowl: Penn State (7-5) vs. Arkansas (8-4), Jan. 1, noon ET
Arkansas will be without star receiver Treylon Burks, but Penn State's top tacklers—linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith—both opted out too. We'll take Arkansas in what should be a fun, tight matchup based on the strength of its running game and the key absences on Penn State's defense.
Prediction: Arkansas 28, Penn State 26
Citrus Bowl: Iowa (10-3) vs. Kentucky (9-3), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Iowa has a spectacular defense. The Hawkeyes beat underwhelming teams all season. But against the strongest competition, a very inefficient offense looked the part. And in the Citrus Bowl, Iowa won't have top running back Tyler Goodson. It's hard to see Iowa keeping up without a non-offensive score.
Prediction: Kentucky 27, Iowa 17
Texas Bowl: LSU (6-6) vs. Kansas State (7-5), Jan. 1, 9 p.m. ET
LSU has a major conundrum. If an NCAA waiver isn't granted, should the Tigers burn Garrett Nussmeier's redshirt? Quarterback Max Johnson's transfer to Texas A&M—and this is not a criticism of him—left them in a tough spot. Without knowing that answer, K-State is the safe choice.
Prediction: Kansas State 23, LSU 16
New Year's Day NY6 Games
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State (11-2) vs. Notre Dame (11-1), 1 p.m. ET
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams opted out, but Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs should fill in adequately. The defense ceded just 23 total points in the last four games, too. Oklahoma State's offense stumbled down the stretch, and now defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is off to Ohio State. This is a tough transition for OSU.
Prediction: Notre Dame 26, Oklahoma State 20
Rose Bowl: Utah (10-3) vs. Ohio State (10-2), 5 p.m. ET
Ohio State is favored, but key receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson both opted out along with left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. While the Buckeyes are never short on talent, that's a huge list of absences against a Utah defense that has surrendered just 5.6 yards per pass attempt in the last six games.
Prediction: Utah 34, Ohio State 30
Sugar Bowl: Baylor (11-2) vs. Ole Miss (10-2), 8:45 p.m. ET
Between the teams, 13 of their 25 games included an 11-point margin of victory or less. Odds are pretty strong this showdown won't be decided until a late score or defensive stop. But if Baylor dual-threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon is healthy—he missed two games with a hamstring injury—the Bears' rushing attack can find the winning edge on an Ole Miss defense that is tied for 78th in yards allowed per carry.
Prediction: Baylor 31, Ole Miss 27
For the Peach Bowl prediction, see Part 1.
College Football Playoff Semifinals
Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati (13-0) vs. Alabama (12-1), Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
The short answer is Alabama wins because of its defense. Cincinnati, however, should be very competitive early in the Cotton Bowl. This season, the Bearcats have consistently played well in the opening half before fading a little after the break. That trend will be magnified under the brightest lights as Alabama out-talents Cincinnati in the second half, but it won't be a breeze for the Crimson Tide.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Cincinnati 24
Orange Bowl: Georgia (12-1) vs. Michigan (12-1), Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
Both teams will be aiming to lean on the rushing attack, so the Orange Bowl should be a low-possession game. But can the Wolverines stay in third-and-manageable? The less pressure Michigan puts on quarterback Cade McNamara, the better. While that's been a critical piece of the Wolverines' success this year, Georgia's defense is built to create and take advantage of those moments. Michigan stays in it until the final whistle, but UGA sets up a rematch with Alabama for the national title.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Michigan 24