- The favorites in some of this season's highest-profile bowl games aren't giving enough points.
In their final Best Bets post of the season, our college football experts like a quartet of favorites to cover the spread in their bowl games.
Redbox Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks (-3)
Mon. 12/31, 3:00 p.m. ET in Santa Clara, CA
Pick: Oregon -3
Michigan State taught college football fans a valuable lesson this season: No matter how elite your defense is, you won't go far when your offense is truly, deeply horrible. The Spartans found success at times throughout the year, notching wins over Penn State and Purdue, but faltered down the stretch. In its final three games, MSU scored 26 total points and went 1-2, with the win being an incredibly underwhelming 14-10 defeat of Rutgers. Over the last 10 seasons, teams with winning percentages between .510 and .600 that have seen their last three games go under the total by at least 35 combined points are 6-26 against spreads between +3 and -3.
While Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke's season was an enormous disappointment (eight TDs, 10 INTs) in 2018, Oregon QB Justin Herbert (28 TDs, eight INTs) may have played himself into being a top-10 pick in the NFL draft if he chooses to leave school after the season. Oregon is 17th in the nation in scoring offense, and proved it can put up points on a top-flight defense in a 30-27 overtime win against Washington, its best victory of the season. Endless three-and-outs from the MSU offense should give the Ducks plenty of opportunities to score here, as well. — Scott Gramling
Gator Bowl: NC State Wolfpack vs. Texas A&M Aggies (-6)
Mon. 12/31, 7:30 p.m. in Jacksonville, FL
Pick: Texas A&M -6
Considering Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher spent eight seasons as the head coach at Florida State, he should be rather familiar with the way Dave Doeren and NC State like to do things. The key battle in this matchup is will be in the trenches. Texas A&M is a team that thrives in the running game, as Trayveon Williams is one of the more underappreciated backs in the nation and quarterback Kellen Mond is capable of beating teams with his legs as well. Meanwhile, NC State has the 12th-ranked rushing defense in FBS. The Wolfpack have been able to shut down most of its opponents on the ground this season, but it’s Mond’s ability to run that should make the difference. In most games, NC State can focus strictly on a running back beating them on the ground. But having to account for Mond’s mobility is going to add another wrinkle here. Mond has also improved significantly as a thrower this season, and he has plenty of weapons around him. If the Wolfpack load the box then he’ll make them pay through the air. It also doesn’t hurt that A&M was 8-0 straight up and 6-2 against the spread when playing as a favorite this season. The Aggies only lost to teams they were supposed to lose to. The same can’t be said for NC State, which played in a weak ACC this year. — Zachary Cohen
Rose Bowl: Washington Huskies vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (-6.5)
Tue. 1/1, 5:00 p.m. in Pasadena, CA
Pick: Ohio State -6.5
In non-playoff bowl games, the big question is motivation. Which team really wants the result in a game where the result really doesn’t matter? You can make a case for both the Buckeyes and the Huskies because of their coaches, each of whom is coaching in the Rose Bowl for the first time. But it will also be the last time for Urban Meyer—at least with Ohio State—and it's hard to imagine his talented crop of playmakers letting his farewell be anything but a resounding victory.
Beyond that driving factor, Ohio State is simply a much more talented team than Washington, and in a regular-season matchup would likely be favored by double digits. The Buckeyes stated their case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff with a dominant win over Michigan, a game in which quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw for 396 yards—his third-lowest passing output in his last eight games. Ohio State’s offense is humming, and the four playoff teams were happy to see it left outside the party. Washington, which outlasted Utah 10-3 in the Pac 12 title game, simply doesn’t have enough explosiveness on its roster to keep up. It showed that in the first week of the season against Auburn, in a non-conference matchup that foreshadowed the Pac 12’s weakness. It will show that in its last game of the year as well.
Ohio State has covered its last four postseason games, while Washington has failed to cover three of its last four. Both trends will continue in the Granddaddy of Them All. — Ed McGrogan
Sugar Bowl: Texas Longhorns vs. Georgia Bulldogs (-11.5)
Tue. 1/1, 8:45 p.m. in New Orleans, LA
Pick: Georgia -11.5
You watched the SEC Championship Game, right? Then it shouldn't take much explanation to convince you that Georgia is among the very best teams in the country—perhaps even the second-best squad. The numbers back it up: QB Jake Fromm averaged 9.3 yards per attempt (sixth in FBS), Georgia's rushers combined for 6.09 yards per carry (fifth), and the Bulldogs offense as a whole averaged 39.2 yards per game (12th). Plus, UGA ranked 16th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 18.5 points per game. Against a brutal SEC schedule, those numbers are all extremely impressive.
Texas had a great season, but the Longhorns don't really belong in a bowl game with the Bulldogs—this is one of only a handful of bowls with a double-digit spread. But even beyond the base-level talent disparity in this one, it's a bad matchup for UT. The Texas offense was most effective through the air this year, with quarterback Sam Ehlinger taking advantage of paper-thin Big 12 secondaries all season. Georgia, on the other hand, fields one of the best DB units in the country, a group that includes Jim Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker at cornerback. The Dawgs are 19-9 against the spread since Kirby Smart took over as head coach, and 4-0 ATS in the postseason in that span. There's little reason to believe they won't keep it up here. — Sam Chase