Everybody wants to know which teams will be in the College Football Playoff.
The selection committee pretty much answered that on Tuesday. There are eight teams that appear to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs: Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Miami and Ohio State. But what about the rest of that New Year’s Six bowl lineup?
It’s fairly simple: All the teams in the top eight that don’t make it into the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl semifinals will land in one of the other major bowls: Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange.
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The Orange Bowl is the only one with reserved spots because of conference affiliations. The Orange gets an ACC team no matter what. In this case that will probably be the loser of the conference title game between Clemson and Miami. But with the Tigers No. 1 in the CFP rankings there is at least a chance they could be in the top four even with a loss to the Hurricanes.
Two ACC teams in the playoff puts the next highest-ranked team from that conference in the Orange Bowl. That is currently Virginia Tech. The other Orange Bowl spot goes to the highest-ranked team from the Southeastern Conference or Big Ten not in the playoff. Good chance that’s an SEC team this season with Auburn, Alabama and Georgia all sitting in the top six.
The other three bowls have no contractual obligations, though one spot is reserved for the highest-ranked champion from the Group of Five conferences. That will be the winner of UCF-Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game.
Other than that, the highest-ranked teams by the committee get those spots. The committee cannot pass over a team ranked, let’s say, 11th to take a team ranked 13th because the 13th-ranked team is a more appealing draw with a bigger fanbase. The committee does get to decide which teams go where. The panel is expected to avoid rematches from the regular season, to make choices that make sense regionally and, if possible, to not have a team playing in a bowl that it has played in recently.
The Pac-12 appears to be locked out of the playoff so it is a safe bet that the winner of its championship game between Stanford and Southern California (10-2) winds up in the Fiesta Bowl. USC could get into a major bowl with a loss. Stanford (9-3) probably can’t.
The AAC winner is probably going to the Peach Bowl.
Penn State is the one team out of the playoff race but fairly well locked into a New Year’s Six spot. The Nittany Lions are ninth in the CFP rankings. Probably Cotton Bowl for them or maybe Fiesta if Stanford wins the Pac-12.
Where it gets unclear is No. 11 TCU (10-2), No. 13 Washington (10-2) and maybe No. 15 Notre Dame (9-3).
If TCU beats Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship it is unlikely the Horned Frogs can jump all the way into the top four, but both the Frogs and Sooners would get New Year’s Six spots. If TCU and Stanford lose, that could be recipe for getting Washington into the New Year’s Six. Maybe Notre Dame could move up and in if some of its previous opponents play well this weekend.
All of this will be determined Friday and Saturday. For just the second time in the history of the AP poll, there will be four games matching top-10 teams in one regular-season weekend.
The picks (AP rankings):
No. 11 Southern California (minus 4) vs. No. 14 Stanford, Pac-12 championship, at Santa Clara, California
Trojans have won 38 Pac-12 titles, by far the most in the conference, but none since 2008 before the league expanded from 10 to 12 teams … USC 31-24.
No. 1 Clemson (minus 9 +) vs. No. 7 Miami, ACC championship, at Charlotte, North Carolina
It has been a magical season for the Hurricanes, but now they are down both TE Chris Herndon and WR Ahmmon Richards … CLEMSON 28-14.
No. 2 Oklahoma (minus 7) vs. No. 10 TCU, Big 12 championship, at Arlington, Texas
Baker Mayfield’s last chance to give someone else the opportunity to win the Heisman Trophy … OKLAHOMA 38-28.
No. 3 Wisconsin (plus 6 +) vs. No. 8 Ohio State, Big Ten championship, at Indianapolis
Undefeated and underdogs, the Badgers would make things easier on the selection committee by beating the Buckeyes … OHIO STATE 28-23.
No. 4 Auburn (minus 2 +) vs. No. 6 Georgia, SEC championship, at Atlanta
Bulldogs were embarrassed in first meeting. Expect better this time around … GEORGIA 28-24.