Bowl Season is a full season again in 2021.
There are a total of 43 postseason games with 84 teams, starting with the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 17 and ending with the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 10.
This year’s CFP semifinals are on Dec. 31 with No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl Classic and No. 2 Michigan facing No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. The New Year’s Day Six slate is loaded, and there are more than enough bowl games to get through the holidays.
Each week, Sporting News made picks against the spread for games involving Top 25 teams. We finished 194-69 S/U and 117-123 ATS in an upset-filled regular season. Will Bowl Season be every bit as unpredictable and tough to pick? We’re going to pick all 43 games and find out.
A look at our picks for this year’s bowl games:
College football bowl picks, predictions
- Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs. Toledo (-9)
Dec. 17, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Rockets won their last three games by double digits, and running back Bryant Roback averaged 153 yards with eight rushing TDs in those games. The Rockets don’t turn the ball over much, which will pay off in the Bahamas.
Pick: Toledo wins 37-27 and COVERS the spread.
- Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina (-9.5) vs. Northern Illinois
Dec. 17, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Chanticleers struggled a little bit down the stretch, but Grayson McCall still has the opportunity to lead an 11-win team. They only covered once in their last six games, however, and Northern Illinois was 5-3 ATS as an underdog this season.
Pick: Coastal Carolina wins 34-26 and FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State (-3)
Dec. 18, 11 a.m., ESPN
The Mountaineers are 6-0 S/U in bowl games, and they will face a challenge in Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe, who has 56 TDs on the second-highest scoring team in the FBS. Chase Brice engages in a shootout that could flirt with the over (68.5)
Pick: Western Kentucky wins 38-34 in an UPSET.
- New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State (-13.5) vs. UTEP
Dec. 18, 2:15 p.m., ESPN
This line has bumped up, a nod to the Bulldogs. Here is the problem with picking this game, one that could become a thing: Quarterback Jake Haener is in the transfer portal and will not play in the bowl game. Coach Kalen DeBoer is gone to Washington. Who knows how the players react against the Miners, who haven’t won a bowl game since 1967? Be careful.
Pick: Fresno State wins 34-31 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Independence Bowl: No. 13 BYU (-8) vs. UAB
Dec. 18, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Cougars are 3-7 ATS as a favorite this season, but they have a chance to finish inside the top 10 with a bowl victory. Tyler Allgeier is a standout running back worth watching, and BYU holds off the Blazers in the second half for a close cover.
Pick: BYU wins 38-28 and COVERS the spread.
- Lending Tree Bowl: Liberty (-7) vs. Eastern Michigan
Dec. 18, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis will be on display for NFL scouts against an Eastern Michigan defense that played the pass well but allowed 196.9 rushing yards per game. The Flames closed the season on a three-game losing streak, but it’s a trend that does not matter here.
Pick: Liberty wins 31-23 and COVERS the spread.
- LA Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State (-7.5)
Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m., ABC
The Beavers are favorites in the first LA Bowl, but they are catching a tough Mountain West Conference champion in Utah State. Aggies linebacker Justin Rice is a two-time transfer who will make some plays, but Oregon State wins in dramatic fashion.
Pick: Oregon State wins 34-30 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- New Orleans Bowl: No. 23 Louisiana (-5.5) vs. Marshall
Dec. 18, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
Billy Napier will coach in his final game for the Ragin’ Cajuns against the Thundering Herd, a bowl regular. Louisiana was just 6-7 ATS this season, but it covered the only time it was a single-digit favorite. Napier goes out with a third straight bowl victory.
Pick: Louisiana wins 33-22 and COVERS the spread.
- Myrtle Beach Bowl: Tulsa (-7.5) vs. Old Dominion
Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
The Monarchs are in their second bowl game in school history, and they won their last five games to get there. It’s an impressive turnaround for Ricky Rahne. The Golden Hurricane closed the season with three straight victories, too. Both teams run the ball well, so it should be close.
Pick: Old Dominion wins 27-24 in an UPSET.
- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State vs. Wyoming (-3.5)
Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Golden Flashes were knocked out in the MAC championship game, and the Cowboys had to scratch out a six-win season after a 4-0 start. The betting trends don’t help either. Wyoming is 1-5 ATS as a favorite; Kent State is 0-5 ATS as an underdog. It’s a coin flip.
Pick: Wyoming wins 31-24 and COVERS the spread.
- Frisco Bowl: No. 24 San Diego State vs. UTSA (-2.5)
Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The Conference-USA champions are a short favorite against the Aztecs, who were blown out in the Mountain West championship game. San Diego State allows just 77.7 rushing yards per game, so Roadrunners star running back Sincere McCormick will have to earn it. There is some value with the Aztecs here.
Pick: San Diego State wins 31-30 in an UPSET.
- Armed Forces Bowl: Army (-2.5) vs. Missouri
Dec. 22, 8 p.m., ESPN
Missouri allows 229.3 rushing yards per game, and that can be a nightmare recipe against the Black Knights, who played Wisconsin tight in a slugfest and Wake Forest close in a shootout. Army finds the in-between in a victory against the Tigers. Army is 4-1 S/U in its past five bowl games.
Pick: Army wins 34-28 and COVERS the spread.
- Gasparilla Bowl: Florida (-7.5) vs. UCF
Dec. 23, 7 p.m., ESPN
When Florida and UCF were arguing about a 2-for-1 series, they had a matchup between Florida interim coach Greg Knox and former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn in mind, right? There will be some heat on this in-state matchup, and that might wake the Gators up with new coach Billy Napier watching.
Pick: Florida wins 41-27 and COVERS the spread.
- Frisco Football Classic: North Texas vs. Miami, Ohio (-3.5)
Dec. 23, TBD, TBD
They made a bowl just for the Mean Green and RedHawks. North Texas running back Deandre Torrey is an exciting player who showed out in a five-game winning streak to end the regular season. Miami is looking for its first bowl win since 2010.
Pick: North Texas wins 28-23 in an UPSET.
- Hawai’i Bowl: Hawai’i vs. Memphis (-3.5)
Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
The Tigers face the Warriors on Christmas Eve after a somewhat disappointing season. Memphis is 2-5 ATS as a favorite this season. Hawaii was 4-2 at home this season with a pair of one-score losses. This will be tight.
Pick: Memphis wins 31-28 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs. Georgia State (-3.5)
Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
The Panthers covered in six of their last seven games as part of a stretch that also included a near upset of Louisiana. Ball State lost two of its last three. Darren Grainger (16 TDs, 4 INTs) is an efficient QB who won’t make a lot of mistakes.
Pick: Georgia State wins 34-24 and COVERS the spread.
- Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nevada (-3)
Dec. 27, 11 a.m., ESPN
A lot of eyes will be on NFL prospect Carson Strong, the Wolfpack quarterback who had 36 TDs and eight INTs this season. Nevada coach Jay Norvell is leaving, however, and the Broncos are close to home. Running backs Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson slow the game down, and the Broncos pull out the upset.
Pick: Western Michigan wins 31-30 in an UPSET.
- Military Bowl: East Carolina vs. Boston College (-3.5)
Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
The Pirates are a dangerous underdog that won four of their last five games and were 5-3 ATS as an underdog. Boston College’s regular season ended with a whimper in back-to-back losses to Florida State and Wake Forest, but Jeff Hafley can build momentum toward Year 3 here.
Pick: Boston College wins 27-22 and COVERS the spread.
- Birmingham Bowl: No. 20 Houston vs. Auburn (-3)
Dec. 28, 12 p.m., ESPN
There is not a ton of confidence in Auburn in the local Birmingham Bowl, but T.J. Finley should be able to make enough plays in the passing game and the defense will create a few turnovers against the Cougars. Bryan Harsin ends a four-game losing streak to close out an erratic first season.
Pick: Auburn wins 34-21 and COVERS the spread.
- First Responder Bowl: Air Force vs. Louisville (-1)
Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
How will the Cardinals handle the Falcons’ triple-option attack? Air Force had three losses by a combined total of 17 points. Malik Cunningham will make a handful of explosive plays for the Cardinals, but the Falcons’ are just a nasty matchup. Troy Calhoun is 5-5 in bowl games.
Pick: Air Force wins 30-27 in an UPSET.
- Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State (-9)
Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
The Mike Leach Bowl should be fun. The Bulldogs have a passing attack that will look familiar to Red Raiders’ fans. It ranks third in the FBS at 385.7 yards per game. Texas Tech was 3-5 ATS as an underdog, but they were in shootouts with Iowa State and Baylor. This will be no different.
Pick: Mississippi State wins 38-31 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- SDCCU Holiday Bowl: No. 18 N.C. State (-1) vs. UCLA
Dec. 28, 8 p.m., FOX
Here is another virtual pickup and intriguing Alliance matchup. N.C. State had a pair of heart-breaking losses that kept them out of the ACC championship game. Both teams closed the season strong. The Bruins average 215.1 rushing yards per game, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson will keep that on schedule in a thriller.
Pick: UCLA wins 35-32 in an UPSET.
- Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota (-5)
Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
The Gophers closed the season with a victory against Wisconsin and would love to keep that momentum rolling against the Mountaineers, who were 3-3 ATS as an underdog. Mountaineers coach Neal Brown is 4-0 S/U in bowl games. It could be close.
Pick: Minnesota wins 26-22 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Fenway Bowl: SMU vs. Virginia (-0.5)
Dec. 29, 11 a.m., ESPN
What else would the line be? Both teams will have new coaches in 2022. It’s a matchup of top-25 scoring offenses, and SMU’s Tanner Mordecai and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong can put up big numbers. The Fenway Park setting will be cool, too.
Pick: Virginia wins 38-35 and COVERS the spread.
- Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia Tech (-3) vs. Maryland
Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m., ESPN
The Hokies fired Justin Fuente, and Maryland is back in a bowl game for the first time since 2016. Motivation could be a factor on both sides, but the Hokies are the better team (we think).
Pick: Virginia Tech wins 29-24 and COVERS the spread.
- Cheez-It Bowl: No. 19 Clemson vs. Iowa State (-1.5)
Dec. 29, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
Clemson in the Cheez-It Bowl? The Tigers can still make it to 10 wins, and Dabo Swinney surely will use the underdog card against the Cyclones, which are trying to send Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall out as winners.
Pick: Clemson wins 28-20 in an UPSET.
- Alamo Bowl: No. 14 Oregon vs. No. 16 Oklahoma (-3.5)
Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
Both schools saw their College Football Playoff runs disappear late in the season, and if Mario Cristobal takes the Miami job both schools will have new coaches in 2022. Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams had growing pains, but this game launches a legitimate Heisman campaign for 2022.
Pick: Oklahoma wins 32-25 and COVERS the spread.
- Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (-7.5) vs. South Carolina
Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m., ESPN
Hold the mayo, right? Mack Brown’s second stint at North Carolina began with a 24-20 victory against South Carolina in 2019. Now, first-year coach Shane Beamer has a chance to return the favor with an over-achieving Gamecocks team. Sam Howell will play in the bowl game, and that’s why we are favoring the Tar Heels.
Pick: North Carolina wins 33-27 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Music City Bowl: Tennessee (-3.5) vs. Purdue
Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Josh Heupel has a chance to cap off an encouraging first season with the Vols. Purdue ranks eighth in the FBS in pass offense, and that attack is led by standout receiver David Bell. The Boilermakers can finish a nine-win season. This should be one of the more entertaining high-scoring games of Bowl Season.
Pick: Tennessee wins 38-33 and COVERS the spread.
- Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin (-7.5) vs. Arizona State
Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
It’s a matchup of 8-4 teams that had disappointing seasons considering the preseason hype, and it’s an exciting running back matchup between 1,000-yard rushers Braelon Allen and Rachaad White. The Badgers are 5-1 S/U in bowl games under Paul Chyrst.
Pick: Wisconsin wins 28-18 and COVERS the spread.
- Gator Bowl: No. 17 Wake Forest vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (-6.5)
Dec. 31, 11 a.m., ESPN
It’s a rematch of the 2017 Belk Bowl, which Wake Forest won 55-52. The Aggies are 3-0 S/U in bowl games under Jimbo Fisher, however, and they are trying to avoid a five-loss season. The Demon Deacons will make it interesting with their high-flying offense, but the Aggies pull out the victory late.
Pick: Texas A&M wins 34-31 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Sun Bowl: Washington State vs. Miami, Fla. (-2.5)
Dec. 31, 12 p.m., CBS
Washington State and Miami meet in yet another matchup between Power 5 teams that will have a new coach in 2022. Senior running back Max Borghi led the Cougars to a victory in the Apple Cup, and he’ll double down here against the Hurricanes. Miami is 1-5 ATS as a favorite against FBS teams this season.
Pick: Washington State wins 24-21 in an UPSET.
- Outback Bowl: No. 21 Arkansas vs. Penn State (-2.5)
Jan. 1, 12 p.m., ESPN
Arkansas is back in a bowl game for the first time since 2016, and the Razorbacks have been reliable with a record of 4-1 ATS as an underdog. Penn State had a tough-luck 7-5 season. Both teams have three losses against teams that made the New Year’s Day Six.
Pick: Penn State wins 22-19 and COVERS the spread.
- Citrus Bowl: No. 15 Iowa vs. No. 22 Kentucky (-2.5)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC
A mirror-image matchup against hard-nosed teams that rely on the running game. The Hawkeyes led all Power 5 schools with a +13 turnover margin. Kentucky is shooting for a 10-win season under Mark Stoops, who signed an extension during the coaching carousel. Both teams have won their past three bowl games.
Pick: Kentucky wins 24-20 and COVERS the spread.
- Arizona Bowl: Boise State (-9.5) vs. Central Michigan
Jan. 1, 2 p.m., TBD
Boise State won four of its last five games under first-year coach Andy Avalos, and the Broncos can put a capper on that against the Chippewas. Central Michigan is 3-1 ATS as an underdog this season.
Pick: Boise State wins 28-24 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. LSU (-2.5)
Jan. 4, 9 p.m., ESPN
New LSU coach Brian Kelly likely will be watching from the luxury box as the Tigers try to finish a winning season. That means keeping Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn, who had 1,258 yards and 15 TDs, in check. LSU is 2-5 ATS in games with single-digit spreads. This is a tough call.
Pick: LSU wins 26-21 and COVERS the spread.
New Year’s Day Six picks, predictions
- Peach Bowl: No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Pitt (-4.5)
Dec. 30, 7 p.m., ESPN
Pat Narduzzi was a longtime Michigan State defensive coordinator before taking the Pitt job. Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III were two of the pleasant surprises of the 2021 season, and both will make big plays in this high-scoring matchup. The Panthers score one for the ACC in a thriller that sets the tone for the New Year’s Day Six.
Pick: Pitt wins 30-27 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- Fiesta Bowl: No. 5 Notre Dame (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN
Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman will make his debut in a New Year’s Day Six Bowl, and this promises to be a defensive battle given that the Irish and Cowboys ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense. Notre Dame’s Jack Coan throws a game-winning TD late to seal an exciting victory against Oklahoma State, which generates enthusiasm for next year’s opener at Ohio State.
Pick: Notre Dame wins 26-21 and COVERS the spread.
- Rose Bowl: No. 6 Ohio State (-6.5) vs. No. 11 Utah
Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN
Third-year coach Ryan Day won’t let the Buckeyes treat the Rose Bowl Game like a consolation prize. Utah allowed just 195.3 passing yards per game this season, and Tavion Thomas scored 20 rushing TDs. The Utes will try to use the same formula Michigan did against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes flex with their offensive machine.
Pick: Ohio State wins 35-23 and COVERS the spread.
- Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Baylor (-1.5) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN
Dave Aranda led the Bears to a Big 12 championship behind a no-nonsense running game and defense, and they will try to slow down Ole Miss’ wide-open offense. Matt Corral will play in the bowl game, too. That should lead to a fun matchup. Lane Kiffin leads the Rebels to an impressive 11-win season. How high will they be ranked to start next season?
Pick: Ole Miss wins 34-27 in an UPSET.
College Football Playoff picks, predictions
- Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 1 Alabama (-14) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati
Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Bearcats get to play the role of Cinderella, and Desmond Ridder and Jerome Ford will have to be perfect on offense against Alabama. How will Cincinnati cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant hold up against Bryce Young and an Alabama passing attack that will be without John Metchie III. You got the matchup, but the Crimson Tide won’t be taking anybody lightly here.
Pick: Alabama wins 40-20 and COVERS the spread.
- Orange Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia (-9)
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The line has moved 1.5 points from its open, and the Bulldogs are heavy favorites in a classic Big Ten-SEC matchup we haven’t seen since 1965. The Wolverines were 5-1 ATS in games with single-digits spread this season, but will they be able to sustain a running game against Georgia’s dominant defensive front for four quarters? This is a game Michigan can win, but we can’t pick against Georgia.
Pick: Georgia wins 29-21 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- CFP Championship: No. 1 Alabama (TBD) vs. No. 3 Georgia
Jan. 10, 8 p.m., ESPN
Another all-SEC championship game, right? What else is new? The Crimson Tide will have to make adjustments without John Metchie III, and Georgia will play better in the rematch. It’s going to be an instant classic in the mold of the 2018 CFP championship game, but Young will play the role of star again at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pick: Alabama wins 31-24.