We've now reached the portion of bowl season where the casual college football fan begins to recognize the teams that are playing in the games. There are even those numbers between 1-25 showing up next to a few of their names. This also happens to be the time when people who might be home from work due to holidays are looking for ways to have fun while watching football games played between teams they're mildly familiar with.
Well, this column is for you, and I'm here to help you figure out the smartest ways to have fun. We'll start with the two biggest games, of course. Yes, it feels odd that the College Football Playoff is beginning this quickly, but I don't hear many people complaining about it, either. All times Eastern
Games of the Week
Peach Bowl semifinal -- No. 4 Oklahoma (+13.5) vs. No. 1 LSU -- Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN: Is it just me, or is the entire world dismissing Oklahoma way too easily? In my estimation, this is a byproduct of everybody assuming LSU, Clemson and Ohio State would be in the playoff and that the fourth team didn't matter. Well, Oklahoma is very good. It's not in this position by accident. This is an Oklahoma team that has reached the playoff four times in the last five seasons. Now, I think LSU is going to win this game, but Oklahoma has an offense that can keep pace with anybody.
The Sooners haven't lost a game by more than 13 points since falling at Ohio State 45-24 in 2016. Even in last year's Orange Bowl, after Alabama jumped out to 28-0 lead, Oklahoma was able to work its way back into the game and lose by 11. As long as Oklahoma takes care of the football, I believe it will be able to hand within this number against LSU. I know Oklahoma's Ronnie Perkins is suspended, but that doesn't worry me as much as the injury to safety Delarrin Turner-Yell. Still, I'm banking on the Sooners offense being good enough to stay within range, and Oklahoma is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games as an underdog. It's also 5-1 ATS in its previous six against SEC teams. LSU 41, Oklahoma 31
Fiesta Bowl semifinal -- No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson (Under 63.5) -- Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN: There are plenty of people who would tell you that these are the two best teams in the country, so to have them meeting in the semifinals is somewhat anticlimactic. While I'm prone to agree with the former sentiment, I'm fine with them meeting at any point because this is a game I want to watch. I have no idea what to do with the spread here. These two teams are so evenly matched that this game feels like a coin flip, as does betting the spread. There is value on the total, however.
While Ohio State and Clemson both have incredible offenses, they also have two of the best defenses in the country. Two defenses that are capable of slowing down even the elite offenses and this total is just a little too high by my estimation. This will be Clemson's fifth appearance in a CFP semifinal, and the under has gone 4-0 in the first four. The under has also gone 6-2 in Clemson's last eight games as a favorite. It's also been profitable in Ohio State bowl games as well (4-1 in the last five). The under is also 5-1 in the Buckeyes' last six games against teams with a winning record. This game won't be some low-scoring slugfest -- the offenses are too good -- but it won't go over this total. Clemson 31, Ohio State 30
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Lock of the Week
Military Bowl -- Temple (+4.5) vs. North Carolina -- Friday, noon, ESPN: The Tar Heels love playing in close games. The average final margin in their 11 games against FBS opponents this season was 7.5 points, and that is skewed by a 31-point win over NC State to finish the season. Of the other 10 games, only four were settled by more than five points. I suspect this game will be similar to those. Plus, I love Temple as an underdog. Since the 2010 season -- we're talking the entire decade here -- Temple has gone a remarkable 39-20 ATS as a dog. Temple's defense is good enough to slow down North Carolina's offense, and North Carolina's defense is friendly enough to allow a somewhat congested Temple offense to succeed. North Carolina 27, Temple 24
Under of the Week
Cotton Bowl -- No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis (Under 60.5) -- Saturday, noon, ESPN: It's always scary taking an under in a Memphis game, but I can't help but believe the total for this matchup was set too high. Memphis' offense is incredibly explosive, but it hasn't faced a defense like Penn State's yet this season. It's Penn State's front seven in particular that could prove to be problematic for the Memphis offensive line. On the other side, Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has left to take over at Old Dominion. That leaves tight ends coach Tyler Bowen as the team's primary playcaller. Bowen has been a playcaller before, doing so under former Penn State OC Joe Moorhead at Fordham. Still, this will be his first time calling plays with this roster, and Penn State's offense has been inconsistent all season long anyway. Penn State 31, Memphis 17
Aerial Attack of the Week
Cheez-It Bowl -- Washington State (+3) vs. Air Force -- Friday, 10:15 p.m., ESPN: It's somewhat ironic that the team called Air Force runs the ball all the time, while Washington State is the team that is allergic to the run game. This is the kind of matchup of conflicting styles that I love to watch in bowl games, and should Washington State show up motivated to play this game, and I think the Cougars win. Air Force will be able to run the ball on this Wazzu defense, but an option attack loses some of its punch when teams have all the time in the world to prepare for it. What concerns me is whether or not Air Force can stop Washington State's passing attack. The Air Force defense has a defensive pass efficiency rating of 138.85, which ranks 83rd nationally. Also, while it does a decent job of limiting big pass plays, Wazzu is content dinking and dunking down the field. Washington State has also done well as an underdog under Mike Leach, going 28-19 ATS since 2012. Washington State 38, Air Force 35
Homer Play of the Week
Redbox Bowl -- Illinois (+6.5) vs. Cal -- Monday, 4 p.m., Fox: OK, so I know I'm calling it a homer play, but that's just because I couldn't think of anything better. I'm making this pick because Illinois shouldn't be this large of an underdog against Cal. I know that this is a glorified home game for Cal since Santa Clara is an hour's drive away from campus, but I can't imagine Cal fans will turn out in droves for this game. Nor can I imagine a Cal offense that averaged 20.1 points per game this season covering nearly a touchdown. Illinois has the better offense in this matchup, and while Cal's defense is better than Illinois', the difference isn't as substantial as this spread suggests. Plus, Illinois is 6-1 ATS as an underdog this season. Cal is 2-4 ATS as a favorite. It seems obvious to me. Illinois 24, Cal 21
Games of the Week
Lock of the Week