With the conference title games next weekend, now seems like an excellent time to make some predictions about the College Football Playoff and the major bowl games.
No projections will make any sense until we predict next weekend’s key games, however. So let’s start there:
- Washington beats Colorado
- Alabama beats Florida
- Clemson beats Virginia Tech
- Wisconsin beats Penn State
- Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State
Here’s what my Top 10 would look like in such a scenario:
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s predict the College Football Playoffs and the major bowl contests:
College Football Playoff and Top Bowl Projections
Date Game Matchup Saturday, Dec. 31 College Football Playoff (Peach Bowl) Alabama vs. Washington Saturday, Dec. 31 College Football Playoff (Fiesta Bowl) Ohio State vs. Clemson Friday, Dec. 30 Orange Bowl Florida State vs. Michigan Monday, Jan. 2 Rose Bowl Wisconsin vs. USC Monday, Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl Oklahoma vs. Auburn Monday, Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl Western Michigan vs. Penn State
Now to support those projections.
Alabama is a lock right now to be in the playoff, regardless of what happens in the SEC title game, so the Crimson Tide are in. Clemson is an absolute lock if they beat Virginia Tech.
And that is pretty much where the certainty ends.
Ohio State should be a lock for the playoff after beating Michigan, giving them wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Nebraska to go along with the huge victory over the Wolverines. By all measures, that’s the best resume in the nation, and even Ohio State’s loss—by a blocked field goal on the road against Penn State—is a quality one.
But there are simply questions that we don’t have the answers to just yet.
How much will the committee devalue Ohio State based on the fact that they didn’t win the Big Ten title? It’s hard to imagine Wisconsin jumping ahead of Ohio State if the Badgers win the conference—Ohio State beat Wisconsin, remember—but if Penn State happens to win the title, will the committee move them past the Buckeyes based on that head-to-head matchup and Penn State’s conference title?
And where, exactly, does Washington fit into all of this? Will a win over Colorado improve their resume enough to get them into the Top 4 Could Michigan or Oklahoma still have a say in the proceedings?
(Yes, but it seems unlikely, though losses from Clemson and Washington next week will make things interesting. Oklahoma isn’t going to jump past Ohio State or the Big Ten winner, based on the current rankings, but if Clemson and Washington lose, the Sooners could warrant the fourth playoff spot. On the other hand, the committee may still rank Michigan higher. It’s a fascinating scenario.)
Meanwhile, if the decisive criteria is selecting the four best teams, there is no way Ohio State should be kept out of the playoff. So that will leave one final question: Does the committee value a one-loss Pac-12 champion with a weak schedule more highly than a Big Ten champion with two losses but a better resume?
At this point, we can really only guess. It’s not crazy to think that a win over Colorado to close the season would be just enough padding on Washington’s resume to propel them to No. 4. Remember, coming into this weekend the Huskies were ranked ahead of Wisconsin and Penn State.
We’ll learn even more about the Committee’s thought process when this week’s rankings are revealed. Certainly, it will be fascinating to see where Michigan ends up in the voting.
But for now, a Top 4 of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington seems fairly realistic. Let’s then get to the rest of the major bowls.
The Rose Bowl will take the Big Ten winner, in this scenario the Wisconsin Badgers. If Washington heads to the playoff, however, which team will Wisconsin face?
Colorado’s claim will be that it won the Pac-12 South ahead of USC. The Trojans will point to the fact that they beat Colorado, beat Washington and have won eight straight games and, outside of Alabama, may be the hottest team in all of college football at the moment.
The Committee likely would side with USC’s argument and rank the Trojans higher, which in turn would send them to the Rose Bowl.
The Orange Bowl will have an interesting decision to be made as well. The bowl affiliation for the game is the ACC against the top-ranked remaining team from the SEC or Big Ten, which in this scenario will be Michigan. The real question will be whether Florida State or Louisville is ranked higher in the final standings.
Louisville holds the head-to-head tiebreaker—and it was an absolute blowout—but also lost two games to close the season while Florida State has won four in a row, including a win over Florida. Expect Florida State to be the higher-ranked team and to earn the Orange Bowl bid.
Up next, Oklahoma will be off to the Sugar Bowl, where the top eligible SEC team will await. It’s hard to imagine Auburn dropping too far after losing to Alabama—and frankly, what type is going to leapfrog them unless Florida shocks the Crimson Tide?—so the Tigers will face the Sooners.
Finally, the Cotton Bowl. It would appear that Western Michigan is going to finish as the highest-rated conference champion from the American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences, giving them the Cotton Bowl bid.
The real question, then, will be whether the Cotton Bowl wants Penn State or Colorado. Penn State will likely be the higher-ranked team unless they are absolutely trashed by Wisconsin while Colorado loses a nail-biter to Washington. Expect the Nittany Lions to get this at-large bid.
It’s possible that Navy could surpass Western Michigan, though the Broncos deserve credit for going undefeated.
And there you have it. Got all that?
The committee is going to have their hands full, that much seems certain.