Friday’s slate includes the first of the New Year’s Six: the Capital One Orange Bowl between Tennessee and Clemson. It’s fitting that the two most orange teams (besides Syracuse, of course) were selected. Tennessee’s offense has taken some hits; quarterback Hendon Hooker was a Heisman contender until he tore his ACL, thereby ending his season, and his top weapon at wide receiver, Jalin Hyatt, has opted out of the Orange Bowl.
That means Joe Milton will get the start for the Volunteers against the vaunted Clemson defense. However, the Tigers will be without two of their best defenders -- defensive end Myles Murphy and linebacker Trenton Simpson both opted out. Earlier in the year, this Orange Bowl matchup might’ve seemed like an offensive juggernaut versus a defensive one, but the opt-outs and injuries have scaled back the magnitude.
There are four other bowls on Friday, including a ranked matchup in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl between South Carolina and Notre Dame. There are plenty of games that offer betting value, according to our model, but these two have the best value. Let’s get into the matchups.
Note: All college football odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook. Lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. All ratings are out of five stars. Please check numberFire's model to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.
Tennessee +5.5: 4 Stars
Both of these teams will be without the quarterbacks that started for them for most of the season. The aforementioned Hooker is rehabbing a torn ACL, and D.J. Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State after losing the starting job to Cade Klubnik.
Klubnik finally received the majority of snaps in the ACC Championship against North Carolina, and he led the Tigers to a 39-10 victory as he completed 20 of 24 passes (Uiagalelei completed 2 of his 5 passes). Joe Milton completed 11 of 21 passes in his lone start of the season against lowly Vanderbilt as the Volunteers won 56-0.
Clemson has the better quarterback situation at this point in the season. Since Tennessee was the number-one offense -- per ESPN’s SP+ -- during the regular season behind a healthy Hooker, it now seems as though their strength is greatly diminished. That may be true, but the Volunteers’ defense shouldn’t be overlooked; they ranked 38th in SP+ and finished second in the SEC in rushing yards allowed (behind only Georgia).
The key for the Volunteers should be to stop running back Will Shipley and force Klubnik to beat them through the air. If they can do that and appropriately tweak their offense to fit Milton’s strengths rather than Hooker’s, they should have a chance to win the game.
Tennessee is capable of stopping Shipley; their defensive line, buoyed by all-SEC selection Byron Young, ranks 12th in average line yards and 13th in opportunity rate nationally, according to Football Outsiders. A bet on the Volunteers to cover receives a four-star rating from our model as we project Tennessee to cover 69.4% of the time.
Under 51.5: 4 Stars
The Irish had a rough start under first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. After losing a hard-fought game to Ohio State, they dropped two of their next five to Marshall and Stanford, with neither of those teams inspiring fear in many other opponents (although Marshall qualified for a bowl game).
Notre Dame rallied, especially defensively, to win eight games to qualify for the Gator Bowl. The Irish finished the regular season ranked 10th nationally in sack rate, and All-American D lineman Isaiah Foskey was a major part with 11 sacks. The other consensus All-American for the Irish was tight end Michael Mayer, who proved to be a reliable target for quarterback Drew Pyne.
Unfortunately, none of those players will suit up for Notre Dame. Foskey and Mayer opted out, and Pyne entered the transfer portal.
South Carolina has some key opt-outs, too, like cornerback Cam Smith, but they’re riding a hot streak in which they beat both Orange Bowl participants to finish their regular season.
Notre Dame could have their original starting quarterback, Tyler Buchner, healthy for the Gator Bowl, but he played poorly in the two games he started earlier this season. The lackluster quarterback situation for the Irish could ultimately be their downfall in this game and why the score stays under the total.
Our model projects the under to cash with 71.1% probability, which is good enough for a four-star rating.