Ryan Mayer

The college football bowl season is upon us. With 39 games spread out over the next two and a half weeks there is plenty of opportunity to add a little bonus to your holiday gift pile. Our bowl picks series will let you know who we think will come out on top against the spread. All lines and totals courtesy of Sportsline. Find all our picks here. All lines are as of the date of publication.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Louisville (8-4) vs. #23 Mississippi State (8-4)

Spread: Louisville -6.5

Total: 63

Spread: Lamar Jackson was once again a human highlight reel, but didn’t get as much national focus because the team around him took a few steps back this year. Jackson threw for over 3,400 yards, ran for over 1,400 and recorded a combined 42 touchdowns with just six interceptions, but Louisville went 8-4. That’s largely because the defense didn’t exactly hold up its end of the bargain giving up 27 points and 386 yards per game. Those numbers don’t look as bad as they did prior to the final three weeks when they held Virginia, Syracuse and Kentucky to 21, 10 and 17 respectively. Prior to that, the only games in which they had given up fewer than 28 points came against Murray State and Kent State.

Jackson’s top targets in the passing game were Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins, and that trio combined for 139 catches, 2,176 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, he didn’t have a ton of help in the run game with Reggie Bonnafon (446 yards) and Malik Williams (518 yards) being the next two leading rushers behind Jackson. That’s what makes the 39 points and 560 yards per game averages so impressive. Jackson was providing a lot of that all year long.

He’ll face a Mississippi State defense that was pretty tough throughout most of the year, outside of their biggest games. In their eight wins, the Bulldogs allowed 12.8 points per game. Only four of those wins came against bowl teams (La. Tech, LSU, A&M, UMass) and LSU was by far the most impressive, a 37-7 domination of the Tigers. The four losses? The Bulldogs were outscored 142-65, and allowed 35.5 points per game, no fewer than 31 in any one game.

Two other big things to consider. One, Dan Mullen left to take the head job at Florida. The Bulldogs made a solid hire bringing in Penn State OC Joe Moorhead, but he won’t coach the bowl game, special teams coordinator Greg Knox will. Number two, star QB Nick Fitzgerald broke his ankle in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss to end the season and will not play in this game. Fitzgerald accounted for 2,766 yards of offense this year (1,782 passing 984 rushing) and 29 touchdowns. That’s a big chunk of the offense now missing. RB Aeris Williams will be able to pick up some slack as he surpassed 1,000 yards on the season with five touchdowns, but replacement QB Keytaon Thompson will have to blossom quickly if the Bulldogs are to win here.

It’s tough to look at Mississippi State’s against the spread record because that all came with Fitzgerald at QB, but Louisville was just 5-7 on the year and 4-6 as the favorites. However, despite the defensive struggles, with the Bulldogs using an interim coach, new defensive coordinator, and new QB, it’s hard to pick against the Cardinals here. Louisville -6.5

Total: While I think the Cardinals win, that doesn’t mean we won’t get a track meet here. As mentioned before, the Cardinals defense wasn’t exactly good at shutting opponents down this season, and Aeris Williams should find room to run. On the other side, Lamar Jackson will likely be looking to improve on last year’s bowl performance and potentially end his college career on a high note with a big showing. Over 63.

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