The College Football Playoff has officially grown on me. I know that because I am actually excited about next Sunday, when we hear who is in the semifinals and who makes the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls. This is different than when we had the B(C)S, when almost every year, at least one team was screwed out of a shot at a championship. With four teams included now, that complaint is less applicable. Particularly this year – in my mind, it is nearly unfathomable for Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, or the winner of the Big Ten championship game to be excluded from the playoff. So without further preamble, here are the scenarios for how the teams that I believe are still standing can get to the New Year’s Six.
I believe the following teams are absolute locks to make a New Year’s (NY) Six bowl: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Baylor, and the winner of Michigan State vs. Iowa.
Ohio State, despite their weak schedule, made an incredibly impressive showing here in Ann Arbor this past Saturday and proved that they are among the nation’s top teams. There is no way the committee will overlook them, especially given that the Rose Bowl is still contractually committed to a Big Ten vs. Pac 12 matchup in years when it is not one of the semifinal games (this year is one such year). Notre Dame deserves a bid to the NY Six as well, and brings in far too much money for the committee to pass them over. Finally, Baylor is also deserving, and will go because the Sugar Bowl has similar contractual obligations to the Rose Bowl, in this case a SEC vs. Big 12 matchup. With Oklahoma being playoff-bound, Baylor is the next-best Big 12 team and will be selected to represent the conference in the Sugar Bowl.
There are two either-or situations. One is Florida or Ole Miss. Remember the Sugar Bowl’s contractual obligations. If Florida beats Alabama on Saturday, they are in. If not, Ole Miss is in, as they would be the second highest-ranked SEC team to Alabama, who is absolutely playoff-bound if they beat Florida (and should be, in my opinion, even if they don’t).
The other either-or is Houston or Temple. These two face off in the American Athletic Conference title game on Saturday. The committee takes the highest-ranked “Group of Five” team (in other words, the highest-ranked conference champion that isn’t from the Big Ten, ACC, Pac 12, Big 12, or SEC). So the winner makes the NY Six, the loser doesn’t.
LESS CLEAR CUT
If you’re doing the math, so far we have nine teams in. So we need 3 more to fill out the NY Six bowls, and I believe there are 5 others with a shot. Here is how the scenario looks for each:
The loser of Michigan State vs. Iowa – this team is 99% sure to be included. The only way they don’t make it is if they lose in a blowout and a whole bunch of other things go wrong. It is enough that it gives me a headache to even think through the scenario, so I am going to leave it at a near-certainty that this team goes to the NY Six.
Stanford is likely to make it. If they beat USC in the Pac 12 title game, they are in for sure. If not, they could still go if Clemson beats North Carolina in the ACC title game.
USC is in if they beat Stanford in the Pac 12 title game, out if they don’t.
UNC is in if they beat Clemson in the ACC title game, out if they don’t.
Florida State has the most unclear situation at the moment. They are certain to be ranked in the top 10 when the new rankings come out on Tuesday, but they aren’t going to the ACC title game. I think they get a NY Six bid if USC and UNC both lose on Saturday. If both win, FSU is very likely out. If USC wins and UNC loses, it would depend on if FSU jumps Stanford. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
For the conference title games that have any bearing on the NY Six, I am picking Alabama over Florida (Florida won’t be able to move the ball and Alabama is much better), MSU over Iowa (MSU is simply better), Stanford over USC (see MSU comment), Houston over Temple (I do not think Temple can keep up in a shootout with Houston), and in an upset, North Carolina over Clemson. I don’t think a one-loss Clemson, with wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, falls from the Top 4 though. So, here are how the bowls look:
Cotton Bowl (semifinal): #1 Alabama vs. #4 MSU
Orange Bowl (semifinal): #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Clemson
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Baylor
Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa (geography plays a role, and I think ND will go west because they will sell tickets anywhere)
Peach Bowl: Houston vs. North Carolina (these are teams the committee will keep closer to home to increase ticket sales)
Now, can Saturday hurry up and get here?