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January 9, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Allstate BCS National Championship Game:

Allstate BCS National Championship Game

#1 LSU (13-0) vs. #2 Alabama (11-1)

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8:30 PM, ESPN, Monday, Jan. 9, New Orleans, LA

Every so often a game comes around with the feel of a heavyweight title fight. You can feel the tension, the magnitude and the intensity like no other game. That was the case on November 5 when the LSU Tigers traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers won, in overtime, in a touchdown less 9-6 bout, a testament as to how good these defenses really are. In a bowl season, and regular season, where offensive records were broken and set, where yards and points were placed on the scoreboard like high-score pinball numbers, it’s only fitting that defense and discipline will settle college football’s National Championship. On November 5, the intensity of the game and dedication put into it was on display in true definition. It’s time for the rematch.

Quarterback: Quarterback was a touchy subject heading into the season for both teams. The Tigers began the season with senior Jarrett Lee as their starter, after fellow senior Jordan Jefferson was suspended following a bar fight. Lee held the reins for the first eight games of the season, before turning them over to Jefferson. The two combined for 1,990 yards on the season with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Jefferson adds escape ability, as well, adding 248 yards and three scores on the ground. For the Crimson Tide, first year starter AJ McCarron has manned the position all season long. The sophomore passed for 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, with just five interceptions. McCarron has added a comfort level and consistency to the offense many didn’t think the Tide would have in 2011. Advantage: Alabama

Backfield: Each team goes about their own way of getting yards on the ground in a different way. In the case of Alabama, a workhorse is given the majority of the carries and let loose. For LSU, it’s a shared and open backfield, where the hot hand his rewarded. The Tide’s workhorse is none other than Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, who rushed for 1,583 yards this season and 23 total touchdowns. The Tide also give it off to sophomore Eddie Lacy, who accumulated 631 yards and seven scores this season. For LSU, four tailbacks brought in at least seven scores on the season. The Tigers top two carries, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, combined for 1,455 yards and 15 touchdowns. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard add to the mix, as well. The Tigers may not have the big name the Tide make use of, but they’re equally imposing come gameday. Advantage: LSU

Receivers: Neither team brings a deep rotation to the table, but each has a skilled wideout they can rely on in a pinch. For the Tigers, it’s 6’4’’ junior, Rueben Randle. The lone playmaker in the Tigers receiving core brought in 50 catches for 904 yards on the season and eight score. Randle accounted for nearly half of the Tigers receiving yards on the season. Wideouts Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard have proved to be reliable receivers, but they've failed to be consistent throughout the year. Alabama’s No. 1 wideout has been a key part to the offense for three years now. Senior Marquis Maze brought in 56 catches for 627 yards on the season, though he scored just one touchdown. It was the third straight year in which Maze brought in 500 or more yards. To go along with Maze, Alabama gets the ball to wideout Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley, who combined for 587 yards on the year. Advantage: LSU

Offensive Line: The Tide and Tigers may not be more evenly matched in any other position than along their offensive lines. Each team brings in All-SEC and All-American performers. For the Tide, their lead lineman is junior offensive tackle Barrett Jones. A unanimous All-American selection this season, Jones won the Outland Trophy, award to the nation’s best lineman. The Tiger’s top lineman this season goes to guard Will Blackwell. The senior garnered numerous All-American honors. Other All-SEC selections include Alabama center Will Vlachos, LSU tackle Chris Faulk and LSU tackle Alex Hurst, voted upon by the coaches. Each side is nearly dead equal in sacks given up and yards rushing on the ground this season, but the Tide have seemed to play with an edge along the line like no other team. Advantage: Alabama

Defensive Line:
Possibly college football’s most underrated unit, the LSU Tigers defensive front is half the reason its group of All-American defensive backs were able to do what they did this season. The unit contains three All-SEC performers, one of which isn’t even a starter. Defensive end Sam Montgomery even brought in All-American
recognition after bringing in 44 tackles, 13 for a loss and nine sacks. Sophomore end Barkevious Mingo started just three games on the season, but managed 41 stops, including 13.5 for a loss and eight sacks. The remainder of the group is made up of tackles Michael Brokers and Bennie Logan and end Kendrick Adams. The group has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher on the season. The Tide’s three man run stopping front is made up of three technique ends Jesse Williams and Damion Square; with nose Josh Chapman holding down the front. The three combined for just 2.5 sacks on the season, but did most of their work outside of the stat sheet. Advantage: LSU

While the Tigers may get most of their physical presence and defensive dominance from their front four, the Tide bring one of the best linebacker cores in the nation. The group is led by All-American middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower. As a junior, Hightower led the team in tackles with 81, finished with 9.5 stops behind the line and three
sacks. He sets the tone for the defense with his smarts and bone jarring hits. The Tide’s quarterback pressure comes from outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The 265-pound senior brought in 45 stops, including 17 behind the line and 8.5 sacks. Middle linebacker Nico Johnson and outside man Jerrell Harris round out the top four. They’ve help lead the nation’s No. 1 rush defense, giving up just 74 yards a game on the ground and three scores. For LSU, Ryan Baker and Kevin Minter have been the glue to a solid, yet unspectacular, core of linebackers. The two combined for 113 stops on the year. Advantage: Alabama

ary: No position may be harder to award to the other than the defensive backfields of each team. For the Tigers, their leading defender is freelance cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A Heisman finalist, Mathieu, AKA the “Honey Badger,” did a bit of everything for the Tigers, leading the team in tackles with 70, while bringing
in 6.5 stops behind the line and 1.5 sacks. He intercepted two passes and broke up another seven, forced six fumbles, recovering five and returned two for touchdowns. Leading the Tigers in interceptions was All-American corner on the other side, Morris Claiborne. As a junior, Claiborne brought in six takeaways for 173 yards, returning one for a score. The Tide is led by an All-American candidate of their own in safety Mark Barron. The 6’2’’ senior finished the year with 66 stops and two interceptions. Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick became a shutdown corner this season, bringing in nine pass breakups on the year, while often being avoided by opposing quarterbacks. Advantage: LSU

Special Teams: In a game that very well could come down to special teams, like the first meeting did, whichever team plays better here has the upper hand. In the first matchup, it was the LSU Tigers walking away with the better special teams on the day. That’s the way it’s been all season for the Tigers, though. Punter Brad Wing gained All-American honors with his 44.1 average, including 23 kicked inside the 20 yard line. Kicker Drew Alleman garnered All-SEC honors after connecting on 16-of-18 field goal attempts. Return specialist Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu combined for three scores on the year. For Alabama, it’s all about Marquis Maze. The kick and punt returner for the Tide, Maze combined for 726 yards and one touchdown on the year. Kicker Jeremy Shelley went 16-of-20 in field goals this season , with long distance kicker Cade Foster adding 2-of-9 on the year. In the first meeting, though, the two combined to go just 2-of-6. Advantage: LSU

Each coach brings a different mentality and style to the table. The Tide, led by Nick Saban, has bee
n one of the most prepared teams in college football over the last five years. From the gameplan, to the discipline the players bring to the table, Saban always has his team ready to play. For LSU and grass eating head man Les Miles, things feel a little more laid back on gameday. While Miles has a moxy and must win attitude on the sidelines like Saban, he doesn’t seem to be as intense. Miles is surrounded by strong coordinators, particularly defensive coordinator John Chavis. There’s something about giving Saban over a month to prepare for a game, though. Advantage: Alabama

And the winner is… It’s going to be a black-and-blue match any way you look at it. Another field goal filled shootout can be expected, although a touchdown or two should be expected as well. The defenses dominated the first meeting, with each team coming away with less than 300 yards of total offense. Turnovers are key in any game, but in a game where three field goals can win the game, they’re huge. The Tigers rank No. 1 in the country in turnover margin with 30 takeaways on the season, compared to just eight turnovers. While the Honey Badger and the LSU front will need to contain Richardson on the ground, Randall and the LSU passing game will need to make some plays in order to win the game. Special teams will go a long way, though. In a game of field position, a big punt return can be the difference between winning and losing. Les Miles, who is 4-0 in BCS games in Louisiana, gets the upper hand over Saban and gets his second national title. Pick: LSU 16 – Alabama 12

January 6, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - AT&T Cotton Bowl:

AT&T Cotton Bowl

#8 Kansas State (10-2) vs. #6 Arkansas (10-2)

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8:00 PM, FOX, Friday, Jan. 6, Arlington, TX

Why Watch: Haven’t been able to get enough of the offensive firepower this bowl season? Get ready for more. The Wildcats and Razorbacks both score over 30 points a game, and have played a couple of the toughest schedules in the country.

Who to Watch: For the Wildcats, it’s all about their run game. It’s not your typical lineup and hand-it-off style, though. It’s more like snap and go. K-State quarterback Collin Klein has been the motor that makes it run. Just a junior, Klein’s first year as the Wildcats starter was capped off by 1,099 yards rushing and 26 ground scores. He scored two plus touchdowns on the ground in seven games. Through the air, Klein passed for 1,745 yards, with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. When Klein does pass, he’ll need to be weary of Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette. As a senior, Bequette brought in eight sacks in just nine games played. He also brought in four forced fumbles. Against a team that has given up 36 sacks on the year, Bequette could have a huge night.

How it’s Going Down: Both teams are basically forgotten, overshadowed by other conference powers. The fact is, though, both are Top-10 teams, and both have played like it this season. The Wildcats turned around a 7-6 year last season, reeling in seven straight wins to begin the year. The Razorbacks made many forget Ryan Mallett left early for the NFL. Their two losses of the season came against Alabama and LSU, who will battle it out for the National Title. The quarterbacks are what make each team function as well as they have, because neither team really plays strong defense. The Wildcats will look to control the ball, running it with Klein, while adding in a few deep passes down field. The Razorbacks will go for the jugular early. They’ve scored over 40 points in seven games this year, thanks much in part to quarterback Tyler Wilson. Kansas State has been the better coached team this season, ranking No. 5 in the country in turnover margin and No. 7 in penalty yards per game. Because of their ability to control the ball, and their emotions, the Wildcats walk away with the Cotton Bowl. Pick: Kansas State 46 – Arkansas 38

January 4, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Discover Orange Bowl:

Discover Orange Bowl

Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3)

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8:30 PM, ESPN, Wednesday, Jan. 4, Miami, FL

Why Watch: The ACC and Big East champs, the Tigers reeled in eight straight wins to begin the season, but have won just two in their last five. Both offenses can put up some points. The tigers have gone over 30 points on the season in eight games. The Mountaineers, led by former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, were one of two teams to score over 20 points on the No. 1 LSU Tigers defense.

Who to Watch: With the offensive mind of Holgorsen and behind the arm of quarterback Geno Smith, the strength of the Mountaineers this season was the passing game, which ranked No. 7 in the country. Their specialty on defense this season, not surprisingly, was rushing the passer. Senior defensive end Bruce Irvin led the Mountaineers in sacks for the second straight season. A junior college transfer, Irvin, who brought in 7.5 sacks this year, has 21.5 sacks in two years at West Virginia. The Tigers were known as a big-play offense this season, mostly for one reason; they have wideout Sammy Watkins. Just a true freshman, Watkins led the Tigers in receptions (77), yards (1,153) and touchdown receptions (11). He also led the team in all-purpose yards per game with 173.1 yards.

How it’s Going Down: Essentially a trip home for the Mountaineers, who have 20 players from the Sunshine state, including Smith and four other key starters from Miramar High just down the road. Neither the Mountaineers, nor Tigers, play a whole lot of defense, with each giving up over 26 points a game. The good part is that they both score over 30 a game. Without a quality win outside the Big East, and just a 5-2 conference record, some question whether or not the Mountaineers should even be playing in a BCS Bowl. Led by the big arm of Geno Smith, though, the Mountaineers can score with anyone. With a shaky ending to the season on their resume, and first ever BCS trip, the Tigers head into the game with far more questions. It’ll be a game of keeping up with the other offense, where the Mountaineers will come out on top. Pick: West Virginia 42 – Clemson 35

January 3, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Allstate Sugar Bowl:

Allstate Sugar Bowl

#13 Michigan (10-2) vs. #11 Virginia Tech (11-2)

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8:30 PM, ESPN, Tuesday, Jan. 3, New Orleans, LA

Why Watch: It’s Michigan’s first trip to a BCS Bowl since the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC. The Wolverines turned the program around in just one year under head coach Brady Hoke. It’s the Hokies fourth BCS game in the last five years under head coach Frank Beamer, but the Hokies are just 9-15 all-time in bowl games.

Who to Watch: Both teams have electric playmakers on the offensive side of the ball; in Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Tech running back David Wilson. It’s the defensive stars that will be counted upon the most, however. Senior Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin is a disruptor who often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. With 54 tackles on the season and three sacks, half of Martin’s production lies outside the stat sheet. Robinson has thrown 25 interceptions over the last two season, many of them momentum changing plays. Hokies cornerback Jayron Hosley has made a name for himself on momentum changing plays, especially interceptions. The junior has 12 in his career, with three this season and nine last year.

How it’s Going Down: The Hokies have lost just twice on the season, but both came against ACC Champ Clemson. In those games, Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was harassed by the Tigers front four. Thomas combined for one touchdown and three interceptions in those contest, but most importantly was held to just 10 yards on 24 rushing attempts. Michigan’s front will need to pressure, and contain, Thomas to have a chance. Robinson has been one of college football’s biggest playmakers for two years now, and it’s not often he’s completely shut down in a game. The Hokies haven’t played consistent football on offense throughout the season, as a near loss to Duke is proof to that. With Greg Mattison leading the defense now for the Wolverines, Michigan’s No. 7 ranked scoring defense should be able to hold Tech out of the endzone enough for Robinson and the offense to pull off their usual big plays. Pick: Michigan 30 – Virginia Tech 23

January 2, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl:

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-1)

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8:30 PM, ESPN, Monday, Jan. 2, Glendale, AZ

Why Watch: Two of the best offenses in the country, the Cowboys and Cardinal are led by two of the top quarterbacks in all the land. Expect a shootout as OK State averages a near 50 points a game, while Stanford checks in with 43 points an outing.

Who to Watch: One of college football’s best quarterbacks in a decade, Stanford’s Andrew Luck plays his final collegiate game before moving onto the NFL Draft. Your eyes shouldn’t be anywhere else besides on Luck. The senior from Houston finished off his final year with 3,170 yards, 35 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He’s finished the last two seasons with a 70 % completion percentage. If you’re watching Luck for Stanford, don’t forget about Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 28-year old senior completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,328 yards and 34 scores, his second season in a row with 34 passing touchdowns.

How it’s Going Down: It’s reasonable to expect a whole lot of yards and scores through the air in this one. Both teams, who happen to be a couple of the top passing teams in the country, are also a couple of the worst pass defense teams. The Cowboys rank No. 103 in the nation at stopping the pass, while the Cardinal sit at No. 79 nationally. With both quarterbacks throwing out of the stadium, this one will come down to the playmakers that surround both quarterbacks. For Luck, it’s been all about the running game of Stepfan Taylor and pass catching tight end Coby Fleener. The Cowboys, however, pose a bigger threat with wideout Justin Blackmon deep and running back Joseph Randle steadying the game. Blackmon, a Belitnikof f Award winner, brought in 113 catches with 15 touchdowns on the season, while Randle contributed 23 scores on the ground. Because of the weapons around him, and a defense known for turnovers, the Cowboys will send Luck out with a loss. Pick: Oklahoma State 44 - Stanford 37

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO:

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO

#5 Oregon (11-2) vs. #10 Wisconsin (11-2)

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5 PM, ESPN, Monday, Jan. 2, Pasadena, CA

Why Watch: Two of the best rushing teams in the country, the Ducks get it done on the ground with speed, the Badgers with power. The Rose Bowl has always been one of college football’s most anticipated bowls and this year the Ducks and Badgers are both looking for bowl redemption after their close losses in the postseason last year.

Who to Watch: There’s no doubting the talent of Oregon running back LaMichael James. The junior brought in over 1,500 yards rushing for the third straight year, and once again etched himself among the nation’s best. The Ducks, however, have a freshman playmaker in De’Anthony Thomas who has the potential to be just as good, if not better. Thomas brought in 440 rush yards, led the team in receiving with 571 yards and added 910 return yards. In all, Thomas scored 16 touchdowns on the season. The charge to stop the Ducks ground game will be headed by Badgers linebacker Chris Borland. The sophomore finished the season with 131 tackles, including 18 behind the line.

How it’s Going Down: It doesn’t get much more exciting than these two offenses. Badgers running back Montee Ball, a Heisman finalist, is just two touchdowns away from holding college football’s single season touchdown record. Ball currently sits with 38 on the season. As good as both running game's are, the game could come down to whichever quarterback plays better. Oregon’s Darron Thomas has been flawless once again this season, while the Badgers have been led by Russell Wilson, possibly their best quarterback in a decade. In a speed versus power game, like this should be, the speed, and most importantly the conditioning of Oregon, will be too much for the Badgers to handle in the Pasadena heat. The three headed attack of James, Thomas and Kenjon Barner won’t disappoint. Pick: Oregon 39 – Wisconsin 31

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Gator Bowl: Gator Bowl

Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6)

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1 PM, ESPN 2, Monday, Jan. 2, Jacksonville, FL

Why Watch: How quick does the tide turn in major college football? Just five years ago, these two were fighting it out for a National Championship. This season, they’re both just fighting for a winning record. The Charlie Weis experiment at Florida lasted just one season, as the Gators will have to rely on an interim offensive coordinator against the Buckeyes. Newly hired OSU coach Urban Meyer will look on as his one year removed Gator’s team faces off against his future Buckeye team.

Who to Watch: Neither side has a whole lot of offensive playmakers, that’s why the two are where they’re at today. They do however have defensive players that can takeover games. A former No.1 recruit, Florida safety Matt Elam finished second on the team with 72 stops on the season. Elam also led the team in tackles for a loss from his safety position and brought in two interceptions and seven pass breakups. Buckeye’s defensive end John Simon turned out to be one of the lone bright spots of this OSU team. The junior from Youngstown registered 50 tackles and 15 tackles for a loss, to go along with his seven sacks on the season.

How it’s Going Down: Losing Charlie Weis could turn out to be a good thing for a Gators team that averaged just 13 points a game against FBS teams in their last seven games of the season. The Gators have had a shuffling of quarterbacks through the position, where John Brantley and Jacoby Brissett have manned the duties as of late. The Buckeye’s haven’t been much better offensively. They lost their last three to end the season, including an overtime loss to Purdue. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller has played good football at times this season, but he has been asked to do too much down the stretch. Still, Miller poses a bigger threat to the Gators than anything UF has to offer at this point. If running back Boom Herron can help Miller move the ball on the ground, the Bucks will get out of a miserable season with a winning record. Pick: Ohio State 20 – Florida 14

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Capital One Bowl:

Capital One Bowl

#20 Nebraska (9-3) vs. #9 South Carolina (10-2)

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1 PM, ESPN, Monday, Jan. 2, Orlando, FL

Why Watch: The Cornhuskers look to finish off their first year in a Big Ten with a 10 win season and a bowl win over an SEC opponent. One of the hotter teams in the country, Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks became a new team with quarterback Connor Shaw at the helm.

Who to Watch: All-American’s suit up for both defenses and whichever plays better will help their team to a win. For the second straight season, linebacker Lavonte David led the Huskers in tackles. The senior out of Miami became a Butkus finalist after bringing in 122 stops, including 11 behind the line and 3.5 sacks. A two-star recruit out of high school and junior college transfer, David ranks fifth all-time in tackles at Nebraska after just two seasons. For USC, defensive end Melvin Ingram broke out of the shadows this season, becoming an All-American with 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. An athletic marvel, Ingram also intercepted two passes on the season, scored on two fumble returns and brought in another score on a 68 yard fake punt.

How it’s Going Down: Like they did last season, the Huskers fell apart as the season wore on. Their physical style of play seemed to again catch up with themselves, more so than their opponents. The Gamecocks became a complete team when Shaw stepped into the quarterback duties. In the last game of the season against ACC champ Clemson, Shaw passed for a 70% completion percentage and three scores, and then rushed for 107 yards and another score. In their last three games of the year, the Gamecocks gave up an average of just 15 points a game. The Huskers averaged 40 points a game in their first eight with a 7-1 record. In their last four, however, where they went 2-2, Nebraska averaged just 19 points a game. Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez never threw for better than a 54 % completion percentage in their last three games. Led by Shaw and a disruptive defensive front, the Gamecocks will get to their first 11 win season under Spurrier. Pick: South Carolina 29 – Nebraska 17

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Outback Bowl:

Outback Bowl

#17 Michigan State (10-3) vs. #16 Georgia (10-3)

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1 PM, ABC, Monday, Jan. 2, Tampa, FL

Why Watch: Watch as both the Spartans and Bulldogs look to slap the nasty taste of embarrassing bowl losses from last season out of their mouths. The Spartans are chasing back-to-back 11 win seasons, while the Bulldogs go after their first 11 win season since 2007. MSU and Georgia hold two top five nationally ranked defenses.

Who to Watch: The Bulldogs were able to rip off 10 straight wins before meeting LSU in the SEC title game, thanks much in part to the maturing and stellar play of quarterback Aaron Murray. The sophomore single caller has been helped along by the maturation of another Bulldog, junior tight end Orson Charles. A top recruit out of high school, Charles hit his stride this season, bringing in 44 catches for 572 yards and five scores. After the loss of linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, linebacker wasn’t supposed to be a strong point of this Spartans team. Denicos Allen changed that notion, though. The 5-foot-10 sophomore finished second on the team with 78 stops, including 17 behind the line. Allen also led the team with 10 sacks.

How it’s Going Down: Expect a lot of fire and passion out of each team early, and possibly some mistakes because of it. When things settle down, the nation will get a chance to see two of the best defenses in the country. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 3 in total defense, have shut opponents down to 268 yards a game. The Spartans, who hold the No. 5 ranked total defense nationally, surrender just 17 points an outing. Neither team will really give the other an inch to breath offensively. When it comes down to it, however, the Spartans have been able to put up points against some top defensive units, including 30 plus twice against Wisconsin, 37 against Iowa and 28 against Michigan. Led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, MSU will find a way to piece things together in a gritty, and unglamorous, game. Pick: Michigan State 23 – Georgia 19

All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.