Halfway home and the overriding theme to this point has been points, points and more points.
Virginia Tech and Tulsa combined for more than 100, and 12 teams have scored more than 40 points in their bowl games.
With higher-quality teams in play the next 10 days, that trend is likely to fall by the wayside, but that doesn't mean that we won't have a shootout or two, just nothing like that Hokie game.
As in year's past, the format of the Bowl Preview will be a little different from the regular season as I am picking a side or total in every bowl game. Games are listed in chronological order, but each will be noted as "Cream of the Crop" (CC), "Best of the Rest" (BR) or "Passing Thoughts" (PT).
As always, I'll tweet any insights I come up with post-article each week. You can follow me at @gregvara.
Houston vs. Florida State
Houston brings a high-powered offense into this game, but most, if not all of the numbers that Greg Ward put up this year came against weak competition. We've seen this scenario play out both ways, sometimes the big-named team is too much for the little guy to handle; sometimes the little guy surprises the giant. FSU is a team that appears to be building for the future, so I don't expect the Noles to mail it in. As long as the line stays at seven, the Noles are the play.
Side: FSU -7 (BR)
Orange Bowl - College Football Playoff Semifinal
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Clemson
The first of two playoff games on New Year's Eve, and this one should be a classic. When the matchups were released, I thought Clemson was the side, but after thinking about it more, I leaned toward Oklahoma. What I'm worried about, though, is all the steam on the side of Oklahoma, not only to win this game, but the entire playoff. Clemson has met every challenge to this point and Oklahoma has not. The Sooners were blasted by a bad Texas team, and while that loss can be chalked-up to one bad day, how do you explain the near loss against a TCU without Trevone Boykin? Speaking of that, the Sooners managed to avoid the two best QBs in their conference due to injury, so we really don't know how that defense will hold up against a top-notch QB. My guess is they'll struggle; heck, they surrendered 29 points to TCU's backup and 34 to Baylor's backup. I like Clemson to cover this number and win the game, but the over is probably the best play.
Side: Clemson +4 (BR)
Total: Over 64.5 (CC)
Cotton Bowl - College Football Playoff Semifinal
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama
Michigan State is obviously fortunate to be here, but that doesn't mean the Spartans don't deserve to be here. Every team needs some luck along its way to a championship, but what happened at "The Big House" was beyond lucky. That said, the Spartans suffered some bad luck at Nebraska, but were able to overcome that thanks to some good play down the stretch. Alabama suffered an early season loss, but outside of that game, the Tide have played as good as any team out there.
Alabama will benefit from the experience of going through the playoff and losing last year. The Tide obviously knows there is no letting up in this situation, and while they simply got beat by a hotter team last season, that won't be the case this year. The question is, can they cover a big number against a team that's solid in every facet of the game? They've done it before and they'll do it again here. For as well as they've played the last couple months, the Spartans have had plenty of trouble scoring points and this will be the toughest defense they've seen all year. I'm going to stay away from the total because it only takes a couple crazy plays to push a total over such a low number.
Side: Alabama -10 (BR)
Northwestern vs. Tennessee
Tennessee entered this season expecting to play on New Year's Day, but the road has been a little more frustrating than anyone anticipated. Northwestern did not have such grand plans, but after an opening-week win over Stanford, expectations shifted. The Wildcats has a solid season, but just like the Vols, they left a bit to be desired. Both teams should be excited to be in this game, so motivation should not be an issue. While Tennessee is building toward the future, the Vols are still very young and as such, they make plenty of mistakes, most notably, not finishing off opponents when they should.
Side: Northwestern +8.5 (CC)
Michigan vs. Florida
Is it just me, or have we seen this matchup, in this bowl game, maybe several times? Whatever the case, both of these teams outplayed preseason expectations, yet both are disappointed at how they finished. Florida, at one point, has the SEC title in its grasp, but failed to capitalize, while Michigan had all the momentum in the world until a last-second disaster against Michigan State sent the Wolverines into non-relevant status ... at least concerning the national title was concerned. Michigan appears to have a more complete team at this point, though, and unless there is a huge unseen talent disparity between these two teams from the Big Ten and the SEC, then Michigan should win.
Side: Michigan -4 (CC)
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
This game revolves entirely around the state of mind of the Buckeyes. This is a team that had everything in front of it prior to a home game against the Spartans, but somehow failed to put any kind of offense together that day. A week later, the Buckeyes got up for a rivalry game against Michigan and throttled the Wolverines. If the Buckeyes can bring that intensity to this game, they'll win, and likely win easily, but you have to remember, these are kids and it's been a month since that game against Michigan. Time to think is rarely a good thing for a team that came into the season with national title expectations, only to lose them ... at home, no less. Notre Dame is a solid team and while I think the Irish has been a bit overrated all season, I think they have enough to hang with the Buckeyes, especially if OSU doesn't show up.
Side: Notre Dame +6.5 (PT)
Stanford vs. Iowa
One team played above expectations all season, while the other played just below. An early season loss at Northwestern wasn't enough to derail the Cardinal's national title hopes, but a late-season loss to Oregon ended any thought off a playoff berth. Iowa, meanwhile, was in the playoff hunt to the very end. In what turned out to be a classic game, the Hawkeyes lost a heartbreaker to Michigan State and the rest is history. That said, neither team should be disappointed to be in the Rose Bowl. Iowa will probably be more excited, but Stanford isn't going to sleepwalk though this game. This game has really given me trouble because Stanford looks like the pick on paper, yet I've seen the fight in this Hawkeye team and I know it won't go away in this game. With that in mind, I'm going to take the points and hope that Iowa turns this game into a slugfest.
Side: Iowa +6.5 (PT)
Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Oklahoma State had a very strange season. The Cowboys were under the radar for much of the season, but after a 10-0 start, they were thrust into the national spotlight as a playoff contender. It was at that point that their season imploded. A hard-fought loss to Baylor was followed by a thumping at the hands of rival Oklahoma, and everyone, including myself, was left wondering, just how good was this team to being with? Ole Miss' season wasn't that clear cut, however. The Rebels' season was filled with peaks and valleys. At the peak were wins against Alabama and LSU, in the valleys were home losses to Memphis and Arkansas. I'm not overly fond of either of these teams, but I think Mississippi has a higher upside and likely comes into this game in better shape mentally.
Side: Ole Miss -7 (BR)
Penn State vs. Georgia
If this game were played in the 80s, it would be quite the site. As such, it's 2016, and it's probably not going to be very entertaining. I hate going under totals in the 40s, but I'm left with no option as neither team brings much to the table offensively.
Total: Under 42.5 (PT)
Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Arkansas has been a tough team to figure out this season. The Razorbacks played so poorly early in the season that their coach was under major heat, but during the second half of the season, they looked like a top-tier team. If they hold that form into this game, the Razorbacks will cruise, but as is the case in all of these games, you never know how the long layoff will affect these kids. But the talent disparity is overwhelming, and Arkansas should cruise.
Side: Arkansas -12 (CC)
Oregon vs. TCU
It's unfortunate that Josh Doctson will be unavailable for this game because TCU is a different team without him. They still have all-everything QB Trevone Boykin, but without Doctson, he isn't quite as effective. If Doctson were in play, I'd be looking at the over, but I just can't trust TCU to keep up with Oregon without him. Oregon struggled early in the season, but once the Ducks got their QB situation under control, they really took off. I expect the Ducks to keep rolling here and for TCU to hang for a bit, but not for 60 minutes.
Side: Oregon -1 (CC)
West Virginia vs. Arizona State
West Virginia lost five games this season, but four came at the hands of ranked teams. While none of those losses can be classified as a bad loss, the Mountaineers also didn't have a statement-type win either. ASU had a statement win against a top-10 team (at the time) in UCLA, but the Sun Devils never managed to build on that win. The bottom line is no one knows what to expect from either of these teams. This game could be an instant classic, or it could be a blowout and no one will be surprised either way. It's essentially a home game for ASU, and in a game where you can't find much of an advantage; I'll side with the pseudo home-field advantage.
Side: ASU +1.5 (PT)