We’ll see what degree of havoc the second half of the season brings, but as of now it seems highly likely that three of the four playoff berths will belong to the ACC, Big Ten and SEC champions. Currently I’m projecting Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama to claim those spots. That would leave the Pac-12 and Big 12 champs and possibly a few one-loss non-champs fighting for the fourth seed.
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Peach Bowl (playoff): Ohio State vs. Washington
Date: Dec. 31 -- Atlanta
Bowl affiliation: CFP No. 1 vs. CFP No. 4
Ohio State is No. 1 here because I believe it has a better chance of finishing undefeated than Alabama, last week’s disparate performances notwithstanding. Washington’s weak non-conference schedule leaves it little margin for error.
Fiesta Bowl (playoff): Alabama vs. Clemson
Date: Dec. 31 -- Glendale, Arizona
Bowl affiliation: CFP No. 2 vs. CFP No. 3
Some have asked why this matchup wouldn’t be played in Atlanta, the more geographically sensible option. That’s because the committee gives preference to the No. 1 seed, which in this case is much closer to Atlanta than Arizona.
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Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Utah
Date: Jan. 2 -- Pasadena, California
Bowl affiliation: Big Ten vs. Pac-12
The Utes currently remain the Pac-12’s best bet to finish as the league’s second-highest ranked team in part because Washington State’s poor non-conference performance might hurt it with the committee. Watch out for Colorado, though.
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Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
Date: Jan. 2 -- New Orleans
Bowl affiliation: SEC vs. Big 12
The Sooners are currently tied for first in the Big 12 with Baylor, both of them 3-0 in league play, but keep an eye on 2-0 West Virginia. The Mountaineers get to face both Oklahoma (Nov. 19) and Baylor (Dec. 3) in Morgantown.
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Cotton Bowl: Boise State vs. Tennessee
Date: Jan. 2 -- Arlington, Texas
Bowl affiliation: at-large vs. at-large
It would take a major upset down the stretch for the 5-2 Vols to win fewer than 10 games. It’s just a matter of whether they’re 10-2 or a 10-3 SEC East champ, and the committee isn’t likely to punish them much for losing in the league title game.
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Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Wisconsin
Date: Dec. 30 -- Miami
Bowl affiliation: ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten/ND
I flipped Wisconsin and Tennessee based on the fact the 4-2 Badgers remained in the AP Top 10 following their loss to Ohio State while the Vols plummeted from ninth to 18th. If both finish 10-3, that will likely be the committee’s order, too.