College Football Playoff 2016: Week 9 New Year’s Six Projections
The College Football Playoff committee releases its first 2016 rankings on Tuesday. Who will be in line to reach a New Year’s Six bowl game?
With the last weekend of October in the books, we are starting to get a better idea of the national hierarchy in college football. The College Football Playoff committee releases its first rankings of the season on Tuesday. These rankings will help determine not just the four teams that reach the playoff semifinals but will also determine the matchups in the New Year’s Six bowl games as well.
Some of these bowl games are locked in with conference affiliates, making certain pairings nearly inevitable. But even there the CFP rankings allow us to better evaluate which teams in each conference are likely to land those spots. So let’s evaluate each of these games and which 12 teams are projected to win one of the coveted New Year’s Six spots.
Orange Bowl: Louisville (ACC) v. Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Louisville should earn its first New Year’s Six appearance since transitioning from the Big East to the ACC. The Cardinals have surged in Bobby Petrino’s second stint as head coach, thanks largely to the Heisman-leading exploits of Lamar Jackson. Louisville’s high-powered offense scored 50 points per game to lead the country in that category, while its defense has evolved into a top-35 unit. While losing to Clemson has put them behind in the ACC Atlantic, Louisville is on track for the Orange Bowl.
With SEC teams filling out other slots on the calendar, the Big Ten is likely to earn a third spot in the New Year’s Six this year after a strong 2016 showing. While Penn State could still theoretically play its way into this game, the more likely candidate is Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost only to Ohio State and Michigan so far, and feature one of the five best defenses in the nation. With a signature win over a rising LSU team, Paul Chryst’s team should return to a major bowl for the first time in four years.
Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan (Group of Five) v. Auburn (at-large)
After Boise State fell to Wyoming over the weekend, Western Michigan became the only undefeated Group of Five team left in the country. The Broncos are on pace to win their first MAC title since 1988 and their first-ever appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl. Ranked in the top 20 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense, WMU has two signature wins over Big Ten opponents to bolster their credentials before the CFP committee.
Their opponent is likely to come from the SEC, and the committee is more likely to pick a team like Auburn than projected SEC championship game loser Florida. The Tigers have surged back to prominence after early-season losses thanks to the nation’s third-best rushing attack. The defense is also allowing just 16 points per game, and other than their Iron Bowl showdown against Alabama over Thanksgiving weekend Auburn should be favored in every other November contest.
Rose Bowl: Ohio State (Big Ten) v. Utah (Pac-12)
Ohio State will probably feel as though a trip to Pasadena is a letdown after expecting to play for the national title this year. But the Buckeyes will nevertheless earn a fifth straight New Year’s Six appearance on the strength of their body of work. J.T. Barrett might not be a Heisman candidate this season, but he has been backed up by a defense allowing just 15 points per game. Urban Meyer’s team also has a signature win over projected Big 12 winner Oklahoma bolstering its resume.
Their likely opponent in the Rose Bowl, Utah, last played in a New Year’s Six bowl eight years ago when they were still a member of the Mountain West. The Utes could square off against the very coach that led them to prominence four years before that as the first BCS Buster. Under Kyle Whittingham, Utah is on pace to win the Pac-12 South thanks both to a run-heavy offense led by Joe Williams as well as a defense that gives up just over three touchdowns per game.
Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M (SEC) v. Oklahoma (Big 12)
These former Big 12 rivals met three years ago in the Cotton Bowl, and this time they will likely be matched up in a different New Year’s Six game. Oklahoma has survived two early defeats to Houston and Ohio State to take the lead in the Big 12 race. The Sooners have done so on the strength of their offense, with Joe Mixon handling the bulk of running duties and Baker Mayfield connecting with Dede Westbrook and a deep field of receivers.
Texas A&M lost at Alabama to fall behind in the SEC West race, but Kevin Sumlin’s crew is still on track to earn a major bowl invitation. The Aggies have surged thanks to a former Oklahoma quarterback, Trevor Knight, and the committee could see fit to pit him against his former team. A&M has been far better defensively than the Sooners, holding opponents under 20 points per game on average, and are on pace to win 10 or more games for the first time since 2012.
Fiesta Bowl: #2 Michigan v. #3 Washington
Jim Harbaugh has restored his alma mater into a national contender. The Wolverines are going to be favored the rest of the way, including against rival Ohio State on the road. No team in the country has a better defense than Michigan, and they are outscoring opponents by an average of five touchdowns per game. They have an ironman Heisman candidate in Jabrill Peppers, the offense has been rejuvenated, and Michigan looks like the best in a deep Big Ten field.
Meanwhile Chris Petersen has returned Washington to prominence on the west coast. The Huskies are currently ranked behind Clemson in both major polls, but the CFP might see fit to move UW ahead of the Tigers in the rankings. Jake Browning is playing his way into Heisman contention for the Huskies, while both the offense and the defense are top-10 units nationally. As long as they win the Pac-12, Washington will have a shot at its first national title since 1991.
Peach Bowl: #1 Alabama v. #4 Clemson
The second College Football Playoff semifinal is likely to pit Alabama and Clemson against one another in a rematch of last year’s national championship game. The Tigers are on pace to repeat as ACC champions, though this year has yielded more speed bumps than 2015. Deshaun Watson’s passing and rushing stats are down from his Heisman finalist numbers, but Clemson is still taking care of business thanks to a stifling defense.
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The Crimson Tide continue to bulldoze through the SEC West. Year after year Nick Saban’s team is in contention, and they will likely make their third straight CFP semifinal appearance and sixth consecutive appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl. Ranked in the top 10 in both points scored and points allowed, Alabama rolls on despite playing a true freshman at quarterback. We could be in for another wild shootout between these two teams, this time on New Year’s Eve.
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