It’s hard to believe bowl season is almost over. There are just two college football picks to be made Thursday. We’ve become so accustomed to making multiple bowl predictions on a daily basis, but Thursday is the last day of the bowl season with more than one game. Let’s make these count while we still can.
College football picks
Birmingham Bowl predictions: Boston College Eagles vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (-7.5, 54.5 over/under), Thursday at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game played at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL
Weather is going to play a major factor Thursday in the Birmingham Bowl. Up to two inches of rain is expected Thursday. The city of Birmingham is under a river flood warning until Saturday.
Throw winds of up to 20 miles per hour into the mix and that means we should see more of a focus from both teams on the ground.
Boston College is hoping for a better weather outcome than last season, when their game against Boise State in the First Responder bowl was canceled due to lightning.
Boston College (6-6) will be without junior running back AJ Dillon, who has declared for the NFL Draft. Dillon has decided to skip the Birmingham Bowl to focus on his draft preparation. He is no small loss for Boston College. Dillon is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,382), rushing touchdowns (38), total touchdowns (40), and all-purpose yards (4,618). The junior running back also fell just 227 yards short of the ACC career rushing record.
Sophomore David Bailey will get the bulk of the carries Thursday, but he is more than capable of handling the role. In limited action this season, Bailey rushed for 816 yards and seven touchdowns in just 140 carries.
Cincinnati allowed just 3.7 yards per rush this season, so Bailey will have his hands full.
The Eagles will also be without former head coach Steve Addazio, who Boston College fired after the regular season. Addazio has since been named the head coach at Colorado State.
Multiple former players took to Twitter to criticize Addazio, so the loss may not matter much at all.
While former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has been named the new head coach at Boston College, wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell will serve as the interim head coach in the Birmingham Bowl.
No. 21 Cincinnati (10-3) enters the Birmingham Bowl with a solid rushing attack of their own. While Boston College ranked sixth in rushing yards per game (267.8), Cincinnati was a respectable 33rd (197.6).
Cincinnati should be able to make up much of that difference with Dillon not playing and while also going up against a dreadful Boston College rush defense. The Eagles ranked 89th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards allowed per game (180.8).
The one saving grace for Boston College is that their pass defense, which ranked 126th, shouldn’t come into play here given the bad weather. Cincinnati wasn’t much better, ranking 80th.
Similarly, neither team was successful throwing the ball this season. Cincinnati ranked 105th in passing offense and Boston College ranked 107th.
Cincinnati is the more proven side here, seeking their fourth 11-win season in program history. However, it’s fair to wonder just how motivated the Bearcats will be. Cincinnati went from toying with a New Year’s Six bowl berth all the way down to playing in the Birmingham Bowl.
Laying more than a touchdown here is also of some concern. Cincinnati should emerge victorious Thursday, but I think Boston College can keep it close given the nasty conditions. Anything 7.5 or above, and Boston College is the pick. At 7 or lower, I think some consideration has to be given to Cincinnati.
Pick: Boston College +7.5
Gator Bowl predictions: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Tennessee Volunteers (-3, 55 over/under), Thursday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game played at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL
Tennessee (7-5) pulled off a miracle to get here, winning their final five games after starting the season 2-5. The Volunteers will need to keep that miracle alive without leading receiver Jauan Jennings for the first half of Thursday’s Gator Bowl. Jennings was suspended by the SEC as a result of stepping on the head of a Vanderbilt player in Tennessee’s final game of the regular season. He will be eligible to play in the second half.
Jennings led Tennessee in receptions (57) and receiving yards (942) – and it wasn’t even close. Marquez Callaway was second on Tennessee in receptions and receiving yards, trailing Jennings by 28 receptions and 326 yards. That’s a lot of production to be missing for an entire half.
The last thing Tennessee wants to do is fall behind and get into a throwing contest with Indiana.
It’s strange to associate a high-powered offense with the Indiana Hoosiers, but Indiana (7-5) ranked 13th in the nation in passing yards per game (308.7).
Oddly enough, Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey is named after former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. Ramsey did Manning proud once taking over the starting role, ranking ninth in completion percentage (69.2) and 21st in pass efficiency (152.62).
Tennessee was solid against the passing game, allowing 6.7 yards per pass attempt, but will have a hard time stopping Indiana receiver Whop Philyor. Philyor was second in the Big Ten with 6.3 receptions per game (tied for 21st nationally) and third in the Big Ten with 91.0 yards per game (22nd nationally).
One of the keys to Tennessee turning their season around was limiting turnovers. The Volunteers committed 14 turnovers in their first seven games, while committing just four turnovers during the course of their five-game winning streak. Indiana has recorded at least one takeaway in 28 of its last 30 games.
The Gator Bowl will be Indiana’s first-ever bowl game in the state of Florida. So, this game is a very big deal for the Hoosiers. Plus, Indiana has not won a bowl game since the Copper Bowl in 1991. The Copper Bowl has been renamed five times since then. It is currently known as the Cheez-It Bowl.
This point spread here has swung wildly. The line opened up as either a pick ‘em or Indiana as a slight favorite. As of Thursday, Tennessee was giving three points.
I don’t see much separation between these two teams. The temporary loss of Jennings could be too much to overcome for Tennessee. I’d lock in at Indiana +3 as one of my Thursday college football picks before the point spread shifts down to 2.5 or lower.
Pick: Indiana +3