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New Year’s Day college football bowl game predictions, ATS picks

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new year's day bowl game picks

New Year’s Day promises five fantastic college football games beginning with the Outback Bowl as Penn State and Arkansas kick things off.  The holiday slate wraps with Baylor and Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. With plenty of eyes expected to be on these games, plenty of betting action is also expected.

Let’s take a look at our top New Year’s Day college football bowl game predictions, completing with full betting analysis and ATS picks.

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New Year’s Day College Football Bowl Game Picks

Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Arkansas

Penn State bounced back from a 4-5 season in 2020 to go 7-5 this year, but that mark still fell short of what were once lofty expectations. Combine a so-so season with the team’s best receiver and five defensive starters opting out ahead of the NFL draft, and, well the Nittany Lions’ motivation could be questionable.

Playing without Jahan Dotson’s 91 catches, 1,182 yards, and 13 touchdowns will prove challenging for Penn State, as the team’s next two leading receivers don’t combine to match those numbers. Defensively, replacing five starters can’t be overlooked, even for a program as rich in talent like Penn State. 

PSU isn’t bumping into a team ready for its season to be over or missing a ton of star talent. Instead, it is getting a hungry Arkansas bunch that has already accomplished more than was expected of them this season. After a combined 7-27 record over its previous three seasons and no bowl appearances since 2016, head coach Sam Pittman guided the Razorbacks to eight wins this season.

Arkansas will be also without leading receiver Treylon Burks, but the passing game is not where this team’s bread gets buttered. The bulk of the offense’s good work comes via the run, as the Razorbacks average the nation’s 14th most rushing yards per game. Successful running here against a thin Penn State defense devoid of half of its best players could very well wear the Nittany Lions down in the second half. Penn State faced four other top 50 rushing teams this season, losing to three of those games.

The Hogs possess a consistent offense, having scored 20 points or less just three times all season, with two of those games coming in victories. That may be enough to get it done here against Penn State, which is 83rd in points per game and 118th in rushing yards per game. For good measure, Arkansas protects the football extremely well, too, committing the second fewest turnovers per game in the FBS, making it unlikely that the Razorbacks will beat themselves.

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ATS Trends to Know

  • Arkansas is 16-7-1 ATS in its last 24 games, including just two ATS losses in its last nine contests. The Razorbacks are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games with rest and won after the bye this year. They have a chance to earn a ninth victory in a season for the first time since 2011.
  • The favorite has won and covered each of Arkansas’ last five bowl games. Favorites of less than four points in the Outback Bowl are 7-4 SU and ATS since 1993.
  • Penn State has covered just one of its last five January games and just one of its last six against SEC opponents. The Nittany Lions have covered just six of their last 27 games after a SU loss and are just 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games as road underdogs of less than 20 points.

Penn State vs. Arkansas Prediction

The Nittany Lions never looked right after quarterback Sean Clifford went down against Iowa. They went  just2-5 the rest of the way and it’s difficult to imagine that improving without their only true offensive weapon on the field. This thin defense won’t be able to hold up all night against Arkansas’ relentless running attack.

ATS Pick: Arkansas -3

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame

After its lone loss of the season, a home defeat to Cincinnati, Notre Dame rattled off seven straight victories and had a chance to back into the CFP Semifinals going into championship weekend. But, the air was quickly taken from that balloon when head coach Brian Kelly jetted for LSU and Alabama throttled Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.

This could have been a fatal blow to Notre Dame’s motivation, but the university then chose to promote defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to replace Kelly. By all accounts, Freeman was the popular choice in the locker room. The impact of his arrival this season was immediately felt, too, improving the Fighting Irish’s defensive numbers from last season in many important categories including points allowed per game, total yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, and passing yards allowed per game. And Freeman won’t be blinded by the bright lights here, as he just experienced a close battle with Georgia a year ago in the Peach Bowl, while overseeing the Bearcats’ defense.

Freeman’s ability to slide right into the head coaching role without interruption should make Kelly’s departure of minimal importance in this game. Whatever the case, we expect a focused and hungry Fighting Irish team to take the field here, looking to prove they belonged in the CFP Semifinals.

On the other sideline, Oklahoma State has every reason to be crushed after the way things went down last month. The Cowboys suffered just one defeat all season, a 3-point loss at Iowa State, setting up a Big 12 Championship Game matchup against Baylor. A victory would likely have sent Oklahoma State to the CFP Semifinals. Instead, they drove the field in the final minutes with four chances to take the lead from inside the two-yard line, but were denied. Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders threw four interceptions without a touchdown in that crucial game, making us wonder what his frame of mind will be here against another staunch defense.

The two teams that defeated Oklahoma State this season were the two best defenses the Cowboys faced all season. It should be concerning to them then that Notre Dame ranks ahead of Iowa State and Baylor in points allowed per game, while landing between the two in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and rushing yards allowed per game.

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ATS Trends to Know

  • Of concern for Oklahoma State will be the absence of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who accepted the same position at Ohio State. That’s unlikely to help the Big 12’s 2-8 ATS run in its last 10 Fiesta Bowl appearances.
  • Notre Dame will play without its leading rusher, Kyren Williams, but that might prove irrelevant when the Fighting Irish offer a defense that has allowed just 5.8 points per game in its last four contests. In fact, the Irish have held opponents to 16 points or fewer in seven of their last 10 games.
  • Notre Dame has only lost seven of its last 26 games ATS against winning opposition and has rattled off 12 straight covers in the second of back-to-back road games against above .500 foes.

Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State Prediction

Given that favorites have won and covered each of the last four Fiesta Bowls, expect Notre Dame to continue that run and become the 15th favorite to cover in its last 19 bowl games.

ATS Pick: Notre Dame PK

Capitol One Rose Bowl: Utah vs. Ohio State

If you subscribe to motivation and momentum as major factors in picking bowl games, then this pick should be right in your wheelhouse. One side features the Ohio State Buckeyes, a seemingly unstoppable force that looked destined for the College Football Playoff. But the train was derailed at the worst time, as the Buckeyes fell to Michigan in their regular season finale, keeping them from both the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.

Now, this Ohio State group had to fly across the country and spend New Year’s Eve in California watching four other teams play in the semifinals instead, and then wake up to play a Pac-12 team that promises to bring a large fan component with it. This seems a lot to ask of a team that has covered just one of its last five games after a SU defeat.

And, to make matters worse, the Buckeyes will have to do it without four of its starters, all opting out in preparation for the NFL Draft. The team’s starting left tackle and sack leader are both gone as are two of its top three receivers, each likely first round draft picks who combined for nearly 2,000 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns this year.

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ATS Trends

  • On the other side, you find a Utah team that has found its stride at the right time with pockets stuffed full with motivation. The Utes won six straight to close things out, including a Pac-12 Championship Game victory over Oregon, the team’s second win over the Ducks in three weeks’ time. That ran Utah to 19-7-1 ATS over the last five seasons following a SU conference victory.
  • After losing the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2018 and 2019, this season’s victory earned Utah its first ever Rose Bowl bid. We can expect a spirited effort from the Utes as they certainly have more to gain with a win in this spot.
  • And while these important factors should ensure a level of focus and care from Utah in this game, they have plenty else working in their favor. After all, this is still a group that won nine of its final 10 games after making a quarterback switch from Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer to Cameron Rising. Utah allowed just 10, 13, and seven points to its last three opponents and its defense ranks fifth in the FBS in sacks and fourth in passes broken up.
  • This will be Utah’s first game listed as an underdog all season, but the Utes are 47-22-2 ATS in their last 71 games as underdogs, including a 4-1 ATS mark in their last five bowl games when spotted points. They have also covered six of their last eight against the Big Ten and five of their last six against winning opposition.
  • Utah is on an amazing 14-3 SU run in bowl games and has covered eight of its last 10 as bowl pups. Furthermore, the underdog has covered the spread in seven of Utah’s last 11 bowl appearances.

Utah vs. Ohio State Prediction

Despite playing just three schools in 2021 that had winning records last season, Ohio State still allowed 24 points or more in its first two games of the season, including the loss to Oregon, as well as three of its last five contests. Only one of those five teams produces more points per game than Utah, which averages the 19th most per game in the FBS. Utah has it all to play for here and we believe the Utes will prove their worth here, upending a disinterested Big Ten opponent.

ATS Pick: Utah +4.5 

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