The Wildcats (7-5) ranked 105th in the country in points per game (22.1) and the Hawkeyes (7-5) ranked 123rd (17.4), and neither will have their starting quarterback, which is why you’re seeing the lowest total of this bowl season or any bowl season or, for that matter, any regular season. That, and defenses that allowed 14.4 (Iowa) and 19.1 (Kentucky) points per game.
Key personnel losses: Iowa will start third-string quarterback Joey Labas after an injury to first-stringer Spencer Petras and second-stringer Alex Padilla’s transfer. Labas has not attempted a pass in his college career. Safety Kaevon Merriweather, a second-team all-American who had three interceptions, has opted out. Cornerback Cooper DeJean and tight end Sam LaPorta, who both were named first-team all-Big Ten, will play after suffering late-season injuries. Kentucky starting quarterback Will Levis (potentially the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft) has opted out, leaving either Kaiya Sheron, Destin Wade or Deuce Hogan to start for the Wildcats (all three were listed as the No. 1 quarterback on their depth chart, and only Sheron has thrown a pass this season). Running back Chris Rodriguez has opted out and Kavosiey Smoke, his backup, has transferred. They combined for more than half of the team’s rushing attempts. Carrington Valentine, a two-year starter at cornerback, has opted out. Kentucky also fired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello after the regular season.
Pick: Under 31. Two slow offenses (Iowa ranks 96th in seconds per play, and Kentucky ranks 129th). Two good defenses. Lots of personnel losses at skill positions. This game has 10-7 written all over it.
No. 5 Alabama (-6.5) vs. No. 9 Kansas State
The Crimson Tide (10-2) essentially was knocked out of College Football Playoff contention in early November after its loss to LSU, which is not something usually said about a Nick Saban team. Also abnormal is how sloppy Alabama was this season: It averages 8.5 penalties per game (only Syracuse averaged more). Kansas State (10-3) ended TCU’s hopes of an undefeated season with its upset in the Big 12 title game.
Key personnel losses: Alabama starting guard Javion Cohen and wide receivers Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle (37 combined catches, eight touchdowns) have transferred, but the expected spate of opt-outs from the Crimson Tide’s future NFL draft picks never materialized. Its stars, including quarterback and 2021 Heisman winner Bryce Young and edge rusher Will Anderson, will play. Will Howard probably will keep the starting quarterback job for Kansas State even if Adrian Martinez has returned to health (Martinez probably will get a few snaps as a change of pace). Otherwise, the Wildcats have not lost much production.
Pick: Alabama -6.5. Kansas State had a great season, but the Crimson Tide will field five likely first-round NFL draft picks in this game after none decided to opt out. The talent gap between the two teams is vast, and motivation does not seem to be an issue for Alabama, as it has been in the past when the Crimson Tide doesn’t make the College Football Playoff.
Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
No. 2 Michigan (-7.5) vs. No. 3 TCU
In the College Football Playoff for a second straight season, Michigan (13-0) had only two of its 13 wins decided by single digits (yes, the Wolverines’ schedule was not particularly difficult). The Horned Frogs (12-1), meanwhile, led a charmed season until their luck ran out in an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game. Three of TCU’s wins came after scores with less than two minutes remaining or in overtime.
Key personnel losses: Michigan running back Blake Corum, who finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting, will miss the game with a knee injury. Edge rusher Mike Morris missed most of the Wolverines’ final three games but still was named Big Ten defensive lineman of the year; his status for the semifinal is unknown. Michigan expects defensive tackle Mazi Smith, a first-team all-Big Ten selection, to play after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun-possession charge. TCU has not lost any players of note.
Pick: Under 58.5. Both teams run the ball more than teams usually do in average situations, and the Wolverines operate at one of the slowest paces in the nation (they rank 123rd in seconds per play and 118th in offensive snaps per game). The Horned Frogs feasted on lenient Big 12 defenses: Only three of TCU’s opponents ranked higher than 70th in terms of defensive SP+, a measure of overall efficiency; the Wolverines rank fourth.
Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
No. 1 Georgia (-6.5) vs. No. 4 Ohio State
After demolishing Oregon, 49-3, to begin the season, the Bulldogs (13-0) quietly went about their business, winning all but one game by double digits. Despite ranking only 18th in passing yards per game, Georgia led the nation in passing success rate, suggesting a very potent if methodical attack. The defense, meanwhile, allowed more than 22 points in a game only once this season, when LSU put up some garbage-time scoring in the SEC title game. The Buckeyes (11-1) back-doored their way into the semifinal after their season-ending loss to Michigan, and that wasn’t the only concerning performance late in the season: Ohio State labored to beat Northwestern, one of the worst Power Five teams in the country, on Nov. 5 and trailed Maryland at halftime before pulling away on Nov. 19.
Key personnel losses: Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson, second on the team in carries and rushing yards, will miss the game after undergoing season-ending foot surgery. He didn’t play in three of the Buckeyes’ final four regular season games. Leading rusher Miyan Williams, meanwhile, seems likely to play despite a late-season leg injury, as is starting guard Matt Jones, who suffered a late-season ankle injury. Georgia leading receiver Ladd McConkey and starting tackle Warren McClendon both missed the end of the SEC championship game with injuries, and it’s unclear whether either or both will play against the Buckeyes.
Pick: Ohio State +6.5. There’s very little statistically that separates these two teams, and what would this spread be if Ohio State didn’t play one bad half against Michigan? Certainly not nearly a touchdown. The underdog keeps it close enough.