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Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for January Bowl Games

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Once you cross into January, college football bowl season takes a drastically different look. A lot of the games in December featured motivation issues while these are filled mostly with teams who want to be where they are and want to make a good impression on their way to 2016.

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Outback Bowl: Tennessee (8-4) vs. Northwestern (10-2)

Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET

Northwestern has been a great story going 10-2 on the year. The Wildcats did so with a very good defense and just enough offense to win. This is a squad that averages 139.3 yards per game through the air, which is rare in college football. Tennessee has the more potent offense although consistency was an issue. You will see me mention the layoff in a lot of these writeups, but it's because these two teams have not played meaningful football since Nov. 28. The Wildcats have gone under in 22 of their last 36 games overall including 17 of their last 25 on grass fields. SELECTION: Under 47

Rose Bowl: Iowa (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET

Iowa was so close to the College Football Playoff. If only the Hawkeyes could have gotten off the field during that long Michigan State drive. Now they are in the Rose Bowl taking on Stanford. Despite being so close to the final four, I think the Hawkeyes are excited for this. They get to play essentially their mirror image in Stanford, which also could be saying “what if?” The Cardinal lost week one at Northwestern in a tough game, but played some great football to end the year. Christian McCaffrey will be playing for those who didn't vote for him for the Heisman. Problem is that more motivation is with the squad out of the Big Ten. SELECTION: Iowa +7

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TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)

Jan. 2, 12 p.m. ET

Well this one is going to lack the typical offensive fireworks of other bowl games. Both offenses have had their struggles, as Penn State averages just 344 yards per game while the Bulldogs check in with 381.4. The good thing for both is that their defenses are on point and should be able to keep the other side in check. Of course, Georgia is without former head coach Mark Richt for this game while James Franklin is trying to keep the Nittany Lions motivated. These two teams have combined for 16 unders in 24 total games. SELECTION: Under 42.5

Liberty Bowl: Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)

Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m. ET

Let's just put this out there... I'm pretty sure Bret Bielema is a wizard or has some sort of magical powers. The Razorbacks pulled out some incredible games this season and enter with some momentum having won three of their last four. They are doing so with a balanced offense and just enough defense to win. This is a defensive unit that held LSU to 14 points at home and Missouri to three to close out the regular season. Kansas State enters this one scoring points, but is it that the Wildcats’ offense is any good or is it that Big 12 defenses are that bad? They don't throw it very well, but Arkansas is vulnerable to the pass. Both of these teams should be motivated to be there. SELECTION: Over 55

Alamo Bowl: Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)

Jan. 2, 6:45 p.m. ET

This one is going to be fun as both offenses can crank it up and should be able to put some points on the board. Ever since Oct. 29, the Ducks have scored 243 points and have been steamrolling opponents. Vernon Adams is healthy now, which has made a big difference. Trevone Boykin also is healthy, but the problem for him is that top target Josh Doctson is not. TCU's offense will be able to move the ball, as Oregon couldn't really stop anyone down the stretch. There is a worry that the layoff will hurt the timing of the offense. OU has covered all four games as an underdog and will do so again in this one. SELECTION: Oregon +1

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Notes:

— I really wanted to take Notre Dame plus the points in the Fiesta Bowl. The problem is that the Buckeyes are the better team, but will they play like it? We saw Ohio State pretty much sleepwalk all season long outside of the Michigan game to close the season. The Buckeyes coasted by beating teams because they were more talented. One could see them being angry and crushing the Irish, but they could also let a plucky Notre Dame team hang around. The Irish are getting healthier and the time off is helping them out a lot. There are so many question marks that I couldn't make it an official selection, but I lean to the Fighting Irish in this one.

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.