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Tulane vs. USC picks and best bets for Cotton Bowl

The Green Wave aren’t as much of an underdog to the Trojans as you might think.

Tulane v USF Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The No. 16 Tulane Green Wave and No. 10 USC Trojans meet up in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 2 in Arlington, TX. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET, and will air on ESPN.

Tulane (11-2) experienced one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history, going from 2-10 the season prior to cracking double-digit wins and securing the AAC championship. The Green Wave were powered by dynamic running back Tyjae Spears as well quarterback Michael Pratt this season, stumbling just twice en route to claiming the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid. This will be the program’s first appearance in a major bowl game since the 1940 Sugar Bowl.

USC (11-2) roared back into national relevancy in year one of the Lincoln Riley era, making the Pac-12 Championship Game and falling just short of a spot in the College Football Playoff. The team was powered by transfer quarterback Caleb Williams, who secured the Heisman Trophy with over 4,000 passing yards and 47 total touchdowns. Edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu secured Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors with 12.5 sacks for the season.

Current lines at DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: USC -2.5
Total: 62.5
Moneyline: USC -135, Tulane +115

Opening line: USC -2.5
Opening total: 63.5

Key players that have opted-out, injuries for Cotton Bowl


RB Cameron Carroll (injury)
QB Justin Ibieta (injury)
WR Dea Dea McDougle (transfer portal)


WR Jordan Addison (Injury)
RB Travis Dye (Injury)
LB Ralen Goforth (Transfer portal)
WR Michael Jackson III (Injury)
C Brett Neilon (Injury)
DT Kobe Pepe (Transfer portal)
EDGE Romello Height (Injury)
LB Julien Simon (Transfer portal)
OG Andrew Vorhees (Injury)
QB Caleb Williams (Injury)

The Pick

Tulane ML

There’s a big-time motivation factor to be considered when picking this year’s Cotton Bowl. Tulane will be fired up after experiencing the magical season that it just had and is playing in its first major bowl in 83 years. The Green Wave offense moved the ball pretty well all year long and is capable of picking apart a talented but suspect Trojan defense.

On the other end, USC may play the role of the Power Five team that sleepwalks through its bowl game this year. The Trojans were blasted in the Pac-12 title game by Utah and that blew up their hopes of getting into the playoff. While Caleb Williams is playing in this one, there’s a question if he’ll be 100% after the hamstring injury he suffered in the league title game a month ago.

I’m going with Tulane straight up on the moneyline. Expect head coach Willie Fritz and company to cap off this excellent season with an NY6 victory.