Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday Jan. 2, Noon ET
The TaxSlayer Bowl will always live in my mind as what it should forever be known as - the Gator Bowl. I hate nothing more than when bowl names are taken over by a sponsor - especially a sponsor with a name as painful as this one. It's the Gator Bowl and, as a Michigan fan this is a bowl I'll always remember fondly. It's not because of anything the Wolverines have done in the game. It's because in 1978 this was the game in which Woody Hayes ended his coaching career at Ohio State by hitting a Clemson player. He was fired before he even left Jacksonville the next day. It doesn't make you a good person, but deep down you never mind seeing bad things happen to teams you don't exactly love.
TaxSlayer Bowl Betting Storylines
Coaches have often been the story in this game, and leading into this one there certainly is no shortage of coaching storylines to ponder the impact of. In fact, there is one huge story on each sideline to consider.
First, Georgia. For the first time since 2001 the Bulldogs are going through a coaching change. It will be very odd not seeing Mark Richt on the sideline. He's one of those guys who was so deeply ingrained with his program that it seemed like the program didn't exist without him. He's sitting in Miami getting ready for next year in his new surroundings, though, and serious change is afoot. Kirby Smart, the new head coach, is around the program but not involved directly yet. That means Bryan McClendon, a 31 year old who started as a grad assistant for Richt and has never worked anywhere else, is the interim coach - but one who is the lamest of lame ducks. He obviously won't be head coach past this game, and it is quite possible, and perhaps even probable, that he and most of the staff won't be employed by Georgia at all after this week. The only thing harder to trust than an interim staff in a bowl game is an interim staff that has no future.
And then there is Penn State. Despite having heavily-hyped quarterback Christian Hackenberg running this offense, the team has been a total disaster when they have had the ball the last two years. They were a dismal 106th in the country in total yards this year, and that was actually an improvement from the 114th they were last year. Something had to be done, and that something was obvious - offensive coordinator John Donovan was shown the door. Joe Moorhead, who has been the head coach at Fordham the last four seasons, has been hired to take over, but he doesn't start until after this game. That means that the responsibility for preparing the offense and developing the game plan falls to head coach James Franklin and QB coach Ricky Rahne. So, that raises a big question for bettors - is it better to have a bad offensive coordinator who is doomed doing his job or two guys with other jobs trying to do the OC job as well? In other words, is the removal of Donovan addition by subtraction? It isn't going to be easy - The Nittany Lions are pretty brutal through the air, and the Bulldogs are the top passing defense by yardage in the country, so the matchup isn't exactly favorable.
If there is a matchup that could define the outcome of the game it is the Georgia passing game and their ability to find their way. While I have been critical of Penn State's passing game, the fact is that Georgia's has been worse - they rank 102nd in the country in passing yards compared to 82nd for the Nittany Lions. Led by Big Ten defensive player of the year Carl Nassib, there isn't a defense in the country any better than pressuring the defense. If the Bulldogs can't pull off a miracle then their offense will be forced to be very one-dimensional, and they aren't good enough on the ground to thrive if that happens.
TaxSlayer Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Georgia favored by 7.5 points. It has since moved through the key number of seven and sits at 6.5. Action is split evenly between the two teams, so the movement suggests that sharp money has hit Penn State. The total sits at 42.5.
The Nittany Lions are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 nonconference games but are just 1-5 ATS in their last six games overall, and 1-4 ATS against teams with a winning record. The Bulldogs are 1-5 ATS in their last six against teams with a winning record.
Penn State vs. Georgia TaxSlayer Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I don't like either of these teams very much right now, and I hate both of their offenses. I am not in the mood to trust either team right now. There is only one play to make in this one - take the under. These are two really bad offenses, and neither are positioned to be at their best here. The two defenses are pretty solid, and match up well in this one. It certainly shouldn't be a shootout. The total is on the low side, but not as low as it would need to be to be unattractive.
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