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Bowl picks: Short-handed Auburn can’t wait to end season

The last time Auburn took the field, the Tigers blew a late lead to Alabama and lost in four overtimes in the Iron Bowl.

At least Auburn fans won’t have to travel far to see what should be a much inferior college football game against Houston in Tuesday’s Birmingham Bowl — and potentially an embarrassing loss to enter the offseason on a five-game losing streak.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix transferred to Oregon. Backup TJ Finley is nursing an ankle injury, but he should play.

The Tigers also will be without Roger McCreary, one of the best cover corners in the country; Zakoby McClain, their highest-graded defensive player against the run, according to Pro Football Focus; three offensive linemen that started against Alabama; and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Houston’s best defensive player, cornerback Marcus Jones, also will sit out. Still, the Cougars’ defense is ninth in expected points added per snap and is strong against the run and the pass. Add in an 11 a.m. local kickoff in Alabama and the potential for some wind, and the under (51½) might be worth a look, too.

But I’ll bet against an Auburn team that can’t wait to get to the offseason. Take Houston +2½.

Four more plays:

Mississippi State (-9½) over Texas Tech: Mike Leach hasn’t been a great bowl game coach, going 6-10 ATS. But it’s no secret that Leach remains bitter at the way his time with the Red Raiders ended. Also, the Bulldogs finished the season 5-1 ATS. Quarterback Will Rogers might finish his career as one of the best to play in the Leach system. He’s first nationally in completion percentage and second in passing yards. Even without starting left tackle Charles Cross, Mississippi State is taking on a Texas Tech team in Tuesday’s Liberty Bowl that ranks No. 122 in sack rate and is playing with its third quarterback of the season.

Maryland (-3½) over Virginia Tech: The Hokies are in the middle of a coaching transition. It has caused some personnel upheaval. The upshot: Virginia Tech might be without its top two quarterbacks, top two receivers, a starting offensive lineman and three defensive starters for Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl. Maryland had a brutal schedule, losing to Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota. Perhaps the Terps aren’t getting enough market respect.

Clemson (Pick) over Iowa State: The Tigers field the No. 3 defense, according to SP+, and the No. 8 defense in EPA per snap. Now Clemson faces a depleted Cyclones squad in Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl that’s missing running back Breece Hall, who accounted for 23 total touchdowns, and several other starters. Clemson, on a 4-1 ATS run, just lost both coordinators and should be eager to show recruits that it’s still a top program.

Tennessee (-5) over Purdue: The Boilermakers will be without receiver David Bell (93 catches for 1,286 yards) and defensive end George Karlaftis (43 quarterback pressures) in Thursday’s Music City Bowl. The Vols rank 19th in the 247Sports team talent composite vs. 48th for Purdue. Losing their best players on both sides of the ball is a major concern for the Boilermakers. Especially against an offense that features quarterback Hendon Hooker, third in the country in passer rating, and a fast tempo that Purdue isn’t used to seeing, especially after a long layoff.

Last week: 2-2

Season: 37-36-1

Christopher Smith of AL.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @CFBlocksmith on Twitter.

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