CITRUS BOWL: LSU TIGERS VS. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (+3.5, O/U 59), Sat., 11 a.m. ET
LSU was a popular pre-season choice to perhaps unseat Alabama in the SEC and reach the four-team playoff in the process.
Its opponent in the Citrus Bowl, Louisville, became a trendy choice with its blistering start behind eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, but the Cardinals also came up short.
The consolation prize for both is a bowl game that could wildly entertaining despite the absence of LSU star Leonard Fournette, who is skipping the contest to prepare for the NFL draft.
The Tigers (7-4) were one of the most heavily bet teams in future markets to win the national title, but their hopes were all but dashed on opening day with a loss to Wisconsin.
Their fate was sealed with losses to Auburn and Alabama, and former coach Les Miles lost his job mid-season amid the sky-high expectations.
Miles was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, who has since been named the permanent head coach.
Louisville (9-3), under noted offensive guru Bobby Petrino, put up huge numbers behind the production of Jackson, who accounted for 51 total touchdowns.
The Cardinals likely could have survived a close mid-season loss to Clemson, but their 36-10 defeat to Houston in a prime-time game knocked them out of contention, and they finished the season with a 41-38 upset at the hands of rival Kentucky.
JOSH NAGEL'S TAKE
Lost amid the practically nonstop headlines surrounding Fournette is the emergence of his heir apparent, sophomore Derrius Guice.
The 212-pounder ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns in the season finale against Texas A&M, and now has 1,249 yards and 14 TDs for the season.
Moreover, LSU's offense as a whole showed late improvement as it averaged nearly 44 points per game while winning four of its last six.
But the Tigers were held to just 10 points in each of their two losses in that stretch, and have just 47 points combined in their four defeats on the season.
LSU's defense wasn't the fearsome unit most observers anticipated before the season, but still ended up in the top 15 in most categories and was No. 6 in scoring defense (16.4 ppg).
Although Louisville's offense understandably got most of the headlines, its defense is equally loaded with lethal speed and talent, led by former Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields, a TCU transfer, and a secondary full of next-level players.
However, the Cardinals were soft when it mattered most, allowing 40 points per game in their losses to Clemson, Houston and Kentucky.
Most shops opened at LSU -2.5 or -3, and most found their way to -3.5 within a week or so. However, on the news of Fournette's absence, many outlets were soon back down to the key number of 3.
As of Thursday afternoon, sportsbooks appear to be split between those two spreads, so it will pay dividends to shop for the best number on either side.
Totals that opened as high as 61 were bet down to 59, the universal number as of Thursday afternoon.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh's projection model has a selection on the total in this game. Get this and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.
Given the current form of both clubs, I am backing the Tigers here. They showed improvement toward season?s end and seem to be rallying around the colorful Orgeron, who appears to inspire support among players.
Louisville was listless in its biggest game of the year, against Houston, and turned around to lose the season finale against Kentucky even though the Wildcats appeared determined to give it away.
An inspired LSU club will be tough to beat in this spot, so I'd be willing to find the best price and lay a field goal here.