The regular season is coming to a close, and bowl game match-ups are soon to be decided. With one week left of primarily conference championship games, people are beginning to piece together what the playoff committee is likely to do. Currently, Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Iowa hold the four playoff spots, but that does not mean they are locked in.
It’s time to break down the big six bowl games (Cotton, Orange, Peach, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar). First, the top four teams need to be decided. Right now, Big 12 conference winner Oklahoma is (likely) the only sure lock. This weekend #1 Clemson will take on #10 North Carolina in the Dr Pepper ACC Championship game. If Clemson were to lose, they are currently favored by 5, the playoff committee will have to have an interesting conversation; do they move the one loss Tarheels into the playoff as the ACC champion or do they consider another team like the PAC-12 Champion (if Stanford wins against USC in the championship game) or do they take a second Big Ten team (loser of #5 Michigan State vs #4 Iowa or #6 Ohio State)?
The SEC Championship game is also this weekend. The SEC West representative is #2 Alabama and the SEC East representative is #18 Florida. Alabama is favored to win the game by 17, so there isn’t too much speculation about if Alabama will remain in the playoff; however, if they were to lose, the scenarios above come in play here as well. The playoff committee could feel a one loss Big Ten team or a two loss PAC-12 champion is more deserving of the playoff spot. The only thing that wouldn’t be likely is Florida to jump into the playoffs from the #18 spot, but crazier things have happened. Also, Iowa is holding the coveted No. 4 spot. It’s pretty cut and dry, the winner of the Big Ten Championship game will be in the playoff. So if Iowa wants their playoff spot to be concrete, they need to beat Michigan State this weekend (and visa-versa).
The top four teams get the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl for their playoff games this year, so that leaves the Peach, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar for the other teams to fight over. In these four games three of the eight teams will be at-large (highest ranked teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings) teams and one will be a Group of 5 (the other five conferences that are not in the Power 5) team. Right now the three at-large teams are likely to be Florida State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, and the Group of 5 team would be Houston (in order to be the Group of 5 final team, one must win the conference championship and be ranked the highest in the College Football Playoff Rankings)
The Peach Bowl will take at least one at-large team and possibly the Group of 5 team. It’s looking like the bowl will end up hosting Florida State and Houston. If the Peach Bowl takes the Group of 5 team, that leaves the Fiesta Bowl with the two other at-large teams. Assuming Notre Dame and Ohio State are the two other at-large teams, the Fiesta Bowl is set to be a Big Ten vs Independent match-up.
Both the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl have required conferences they must take. The Sugar Bowl is to take the Big 12 and SEC champion if they are not in the playoffs. Currently, Alabama (the favored SEC champion) and Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion) are both ranked in the top four, so the Sugar Bowl’s teams are up in the air. Per Big 12 rules, the team ranked second in their own rankings (right now Baylor) should be the Big 12 representative in the Sugar Bowl. If Baylor loses to UT this weekend, it is likely Oklahoma State will go to the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma State would go to the Sugar Bowl over TCU due to the tie-breaking process the Big 12 uses to determine their standings. In place of Alabama, it is very likely Ole Miss will be in the Sugar Bowl. Ole Miss is ranked No. 13, so even though Florida is in the SEC championship game, they cannot jump above Ole Miss unless they beat Alabama in the championship game. However, if Alabama were to lose to Florida, there is a possibility they would drop out of the top four spots. If that were to happen, they would be the SEC team in the Sugar bowl.
The Rose Bowl consists of the PAC-12 champion and the Big Ten champion. The Big Ten champion will be in the playoff because the two teams playing, Iowa and Michigan State, are both ranked in the top five; therefore, the most likely result will be the loser of the championship game will play in the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten’s team. (The only way this wouldn’t happen is if the loser of the championship game was chosen at an at-large team or fell behind Ohio State in the rankings. Ohio State would then have the right to take the Rose Bowl game as the higher ranked team.) The PAC-12 champion will likely be in the Rose Bowl game, unless as previously noted there’s a shake up in the top four this weekend. Stanford is favored to be the PAC-12 champion as they have already beat USC by 10 points earlier in the season.
With the amount of possibilities, it is difficult to make a firm projection of what teams will be in each game; however, my projections go as follows:
|Orange Bowl (semi-final game)||#1 vs #4 Playoff||Clemson vs Oklahoma|
|Cotton Bowl (semi-final game)||#2 vs #3 Playoff||Alabama vs Michigan State|
|Peach Bowl||At-large vs Group of 5||Florida State vs Houston|
|Fiesta Bowl||At-large vs At-large||Notre Dame vs Ohio State|
|Sugar Bowl||SEC vs Big 12||Ole Miss vs Baylor|
|Rose Bowl||B1G vs PAC-12||Iowa vs Stanford|
*you can go to www.collegefootballplayoff.com to see the current rankings
Tune in Saturday, December 5, for a day filled with championship games and Sunday, December 6, for the final College Football Playoff Rankings.