Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM
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New Year's Day can be rough initially on the senses, so there is no need for loud noises or long introductions, as this is arguably the best day of bowl games in college football we've got this year. The fact that it comes on New Year's Day when lounging on couches is heavily promoted only adds to the festivities.
The New Year's Day games can often be my favorite throughout the entire bowl season, simply because you can make much better educated guesses on where the motivation or lack thereof with the teams involved in games on this day. You've always got the #5 ranked team who is never in a great scenario having been the first team to miss out on the playoffs, while similar pictures can be painted for the rest of those programs that fell inside the Top 10.
So don't grab too much hair off the dog's back in the morning, as there is at least one underdog I'm looking to be at (and looking) it's best. That's who starts the previews.
Outback Bowl (ESPN, 1:00 p.m. ET)
Minnesota vs. Auburn
Best Underdog to Bet: Minnesota +7
Auburn didn't end up inside the Top 10, but after ending the year by beating Alabama and knocking the Tide out of the Playoffs for the first time ever, the Outback Bowl doesn't get the competitive juices flowing at capacity. The Tigers know where they fell short this year, and after a grinding season navigating through the SEC West – with Georgia as a cross-over – there is a good chance this season was mentally shut down for the Tigers long ago.
On the flip side, Minnesota isn't ready to look at next year yet, as this season was a phenomenal one for the program. They ended up coming up short in the must-win game they had to have vs Wisconsin at the end, and it's the way they went out there that should serve as nice motivation for the Gophers in this spot.
The Outback Bowl may not have been a desired destination for Auburn, but a Bowl game in the New Year was definitely a goal for the Gophers. Yes, it may not be the Rose Bowl, but too much too fast for a team like Minnesota isn't always a good thing. This team was just 7-6 SU last year after their Bowl win and parlayed that into a 10-2 campaign this year. The natural progression of things does suggest that a Bowl win over a SEC program like Auburn is very much a possible next logical step, and this is just too many points to give a team in that situation.
Minnesota's defense should be able to contain Auburn plenty in this game, and force the Tigers to work until the final possession to get an outright win, if they get it at all.
Sugar Bowl (ESPN, 8:45 p.m. ET)
Baylor vs. Georgia
Best Favorite to Bet: Georgia -5.5
At the top I talked about how fading the 5th ranked team in their Bowl game during the Playoff era is something I've subscribed too often, because it's damn near impossible for that team to mentally get up for any other game. The #5 ranking always comes because of a loss in a big game the last time out, and they tend to get priced like a #5 team when the motivation is that of the #105th team. For the second year in a row the Georgia Bulldogs find themselves in this position, but they are actually the lesser of two evils in this case.
No doubt that Georgia coming in here as #5 off the loss in the SEC Title game is tough, and the Bulldogs could be quite flat too. But this is the second straight year for Georgia in this identical spot, and they got caught in it big time a year ago. You'd hope that the guys still around would have learned something from that experience and apply it this time around. And with the SEC team that Georgia lost too, beating up on the Big 12 team Baylor lost to in the CFB Playoff semi-final, the Bulldogs do have a big of conference pride to roll up their sleeves for.
Being #5 sucks without question, but can you not make a case that it's actually #7 Baylor who's got to feel much more like the usual #5 team does this year?
I mean, if the Bears have finally gotten over their regular season loss to Oklahoma when they choked away a 28-3 lead, there is this whole thing about the 30-23 OT loss they had to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game in early December that would have ultimately had them bound for the playoffs. That's about as disheartening as it gets, as at least Georgia knew they were down early on in their conference championship. Baylor was in it until the end when they couldn't get it done in OT. That's the negative scenario that usually makes the #5 team in the country a great bowl fade, but this year it actually applies to #7 Baylor.
As long as Georgia plays up to their standards, has learned from their flat effort in this game last year, and doesn't look like a typical #5 throughout this game, the SEC should walk away with another convincing win over a Big 12 school.
Rose Bowl (ESPN, 5:00 p.m. ET)
Wisconsin vs. Oregon
Best Total to Bet: Wisconsin/Oregon Over 51
It was a tale of two seasons for Wisconsin's defense this year, as they absolutely obliterated their early seasons schedule in allowing just 29 total points and posting four shutouts in their first six games. But once the middle of October came, the Badgers gave up at least 17 points in the rest of their final seven games, allowing an average of 25.7 points per contest.
The turning point for that slide by the Badgers came when Illinois absolutely crushed their confidence with a 24-23 win as huge home underdogs. Wisconsin closed at -28.5 that day, and the fact that they couldn't even get the outright win essentially killed the rest of their season. Sure, the Badgers went on to make another Big 10 Title game thanks to some key wins, but defensively this team went south on that Illinois loss and hasn't really recovered.
Yet, thanks to that start to the season, Wisconsin's defensive numbers are still quite gaudy. That presents a great opportunity for Oregon QB Justin Herbert to up his draft stock, as a good day against a Badgers defense with the stats they have is always going to help. And if that defensive unit is a bit fragile between the ears, Herbert and the Ducks should be able to make the most of their opportunities.
On the flip slide, Oregon's defense played great in winning the Pac-12 title, but the loss to Arizona State earlier in the year really derailed them there. Being physical with the rest of the Pac-12 is one thing, but the Ducks have lacked consistency on defense all year long, and in a bowl setting, I'm not sure they are all that thrilled about having to deal with the physicality Wisconsin brings.
This total has only moved upward since opening, despite relatively even action. The Rose Bowl game has had at least 51 points scored in it for five straight seasons, and back on Jan 1 2012 when these two met for a Rose Bowl, a then #6 ranked Oregon Ducks team won over #9 Wisconsin 45-38. A lot of similarities from the rankings of the teams on down to that past meeting, and it's one where the 'over' presents much more room for error then trying to pick an ATS winner.