Although the College Football Playoff field remains the same, just about every other major bowl game gets a new matchup after Week 9. That’s hardly surprising given the number of pivotal outcomes the week produced, including the first loss of the season for four teams.
One of the biggest winners of the week is actually a loser. Nebraska slides up to the New Year’s Six bowls despite its defeat at Wisconsin, as the Cornhuskers capitalize on South Carolina’s upset of Tennessee to take the Volunteers’ spot in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma and Western Michigan also move in the New Year’s Six bowls this week, spurred by the losses of Baylor and West Virginia (for the Sooners) and Boise State (for the Broncos).
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Before we get to the bowl projections, a reminder about how the college football postseason works. The playoff selection committee will choose the teams for the two playoff semifinals—the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl this year—and the four other marquee bowls that are part of the New Year’s Six. The highest ranked Group of Five conference champion must play in one of those six games, and other games, such as the Rose Bowl, have conference tie-ins.
The remaining bowl games are also governed by agreements with the 10 FBS conferences, though if a league doesn’t produce enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill all of its tie-ins, that bowl can select another conference’s representative. In some cases, leagues will pool together their bowl tie-ins to create more flexibility. The Music City Bowl, for example, can choose either an ACC or Big Ten team to face an SEC opponent.
And lastly, just because a bowl may be designated to have a particular order of selection among a conference’s teams doesn’t mean it has to adhere exactly to the standings. The Alamo Bowl’s second choice among Pac-12 teams, for example, does not require it to choose the No. 2 available team from the Pac-12 standings or from the playoff committee’s rankings. Other factors, such as location, the matchup, the size of a school’s fan base and the willingness of that fan base to travel, can influence bowls’ decisions.