Last week, I predicted that Alabama would meet Miami in the national championship game. A week later, I still have these two teams on track to meet… in the Orange Bowl. Yep, it was that kind of weekend in the world of college football. The top two teams both found themselves on the losing side of the ledger. Miami, at least, can help themselves by beating Clemson in the ACC title game (but I don’t think they will). Alabama will look on helplessly as Auburn battles Georgia for the SEC title, needing help to get back into the top four.
With that, let’s take a look at…
Conference Championship Games
This week’s top four – Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin – can all guarantee their spots in the College Football Playoff with wins in their conference championship games. But will they? These are my predictions:
SEC: Auburn over Georgia. Auburn looked better than expected against Alabama last week. They will become the first 2-loss team to ever make the College Football Playoff.
ACC: Clemson over Miami. This is a reversal of what I predicted last week. I know people are going to overreact to Miami’s loss to Pittsburgh, but it caps off a season-long trend in which Miami has struggled against lesser opponents. Clemson is anything but a lesser opponent, and I think they will overwhelm the Hurricanes on Saturday night in search of a back-to-back championship.
Big 12: Oklahoma over TCU. This is what I predicted last week, and while TCU is a solid squad, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind.
Big 10: Ohio State over Wisconsin. Once again, I’m sticking with the prediction I made last week. Wisconsin is in the unusual situation of being an undefeated Power Five team but failing to crack the CFP field until the final week of the season. There’s a good reason for that: their strength of schedule, which is only 45th according to Team Rankings. The Badgers’ only win against a Top 25 team came against Northwestern, and they pulled off the remarkable feat of avoiding the Top 3 teams in the Big Ten East – Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State – throughout the regular season. This matchup against the Buckeyes will be a major step up in class, and it is one that Wisconsin will lose.
Pac 12: Stanford over Southern Cal. This one is a change in my prediction from last week. The more I think about it, USC has been a bit overrated throughout the year, struggling to put away some pretty weak teams. As for the College Football Playoff, you need a really wild imagination to figure out how either team gets in at this point. So, this is for a spot in a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl.
American Athletic: Central Florida over Memphis. By winning this game, Central Florida will get the New Year’s Six spot that is awarded to the highest-ranking Group of Five team.
The New Year’s Six!
Rose Bowl: (1) Clemson over (4) Ohio State. Yes, the Buckeyes jump all the way from 8th in this week’s rankings to 4th after they roll over Wisconsin. The losses by Georgia and Miami, as well as the fact that Alabama is idle, will be enough. This will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, and while Clemson won’t embarrass the Buckeyes by shutting them out again, they will win.
Sugar Bowl: (3) Oklahoma over (2) Auburn. Oklahoma made the CFP in 2015 but Clemson denied them a title game appearance. This year, they get the win over Auburn and advance to play Clemson once again.
Orange Bowl: (8) Miami vs. (5) Alabama. The Orange Bowl will take the top remaining ACC team, which will be Miami, against the highest-ranked remaining team from among the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame. That team will be Alabama.
Peach Bowl: (6) Georgia vs. (13) Central Florida. This matchup makes sense geographically and includes a Georgia team that is sure to remain in the Top 12 against a Central Florida team who will be the highest-ranked among the Group of Five.
Fiesta Bowl: (6) Wisconsin vs. (11) USC. This will give us the traditional Big Ten-Pac Twelve (Ten) matchup, just not in the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl is close geographically to the Rose Bowl, and this game should draw plenty of fans of both schools. Also, keep in mind that Wisconsin will very likely NOT end up in the Cotton Bowl, since they played there last year.
Cotton Bowl: (10) Penn State vs. (9) Stanford. Another Big Ten-Pac Twelve matchup. It will look this way because the Committee tries to avoid rematches of last year’s bowl games, one of which was Penn State vs. USC in the Rose.
And the winner is…
I have absolutely no idea. This is a tough one, because the team I picked to win it all last week – Alabama – now has just an outside shot at making it to the CFP. So, I’ll go with Clemson getting the repeat.
Coming soon – my first March Madness projection of the season. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s college football action!