The final full weekend of the regular season has provided us with some dramatics, a shake up in the New Year's Six games and an interesting situation for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
The Michigan at Ohio State game lived up to the hype and then some. Neither team played especially well, but the game was close all the way. Regulation ended with an Ohio State field goal to tie the game after the Buckeyes had missed two earlier in the game. The first overtime saw Michigan score a tying touchdown on fourth down to send it to a second overtime. That extra period gave us J.T. Barrett converting a fourth down by inches one play before Curtis Samuel scored from 15 yards out to win it for the Buckeyes.
That, combined with a Penn State victory against Michigan State, puts Ohio State in the clubhouse at 11-1. The Nittany Lions will play for the Big Ten title next Saturday against Wisconsin. That's not all bad for the Buckeyes.
Even though Ohio State will not win the Big Ten, it is still a very likely College Football Playoff participant. The committee is not charged with putting the four best conference champions in the playoff. It is charged with putting the four best teams in the playoff. It has to judge teams based on their entire seasons, not just the conference portion of it. It has to consider that it is possible that more than one of the top four teams in the country could be in one conference -- or even one division. It also must consider the possibility that the best team in a conference might not be the league's champion.
It is that latter category that applies to Ohio State. The Buckeyes will have played the strongest schedule by far of any one-loss team and there are only a few of those. When the CFP Rankings come out on Tuesday night, Ohio State will have a 3-1 record against teams in the top nine on that list. Think about that. The Buckeyes will have played four of the other eight teams in the top nine with three wins, including two on the road, and a three-point loss on the road. Nobody else can touch that.
|College Football Playoff projections|
|Peach Bowl||Dec. 31||Atlanta||(1) Alabama vs. (4) Washington|
|Fiesta Bowl||Dec. 31||Glendale, Ariz.||(2) Clemson vs. (3) Ohio State|
Wisconsin or Penn State will win the Big Ten title on Saturday. You could argue that the winner of that game had a better conference season than Ohio State. But only one team will be more deserving of a playoff spot than the Buckeyes, and that team is not in the Big Ten.
Now that the championship game matchups are set, we have a much clearer idea who will play in the New Year's Six games.
The predicted matchup for the Sugar Bowl is Oklahoma as Big 12 champion against Auburn, the highest rated team left in the SEC. If Alabama beats Florida as expected on Saturday, the SEC will not have another team with fewer than four losses.
I think the committee will rank Florida State ahead of Louisville despite the head-to-head result, which was a blowout victory by the Cardinals, because the poor performance at the end of the season did too much damage to Louisville's profile. The result of that would be the Florida State playing in the Orange Bowl against Michigan and Louisville slotting into the Citrus Bowl against Florida.
The Cotton Bowl is expected to get Western Michigan from the Group of Five against Penn State, which should not suffer too badly after the projected loss to Wisconsin.
|New Year's Six bowl projections|
|Sugar Bowl||Jan. 2||New Orleans||Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. Auburn (SEC)|
|Rose Bowl||Jan. 2||Pasadena, Calif.||Wisconsin (Big Ten) vs. Colorado (Pac-12)|
|Cotton Bowl||Jan. 2||Arlington, Texas||Western Michigan (At-large) vs. Penn State (At-large)|
|Orange Bowl||Dec. 30||Miami||Florida State (ACC) vs. Michigan (SEC/Big Ten/ND)|
There are currently 74 bowl-eligible teams, but only Louisiana-Lafayette can add its name to the list. Army West Point is poised to take one of the unfilled spots, and South Alabama would do so in the same manner if the Jaguars beat New Mexico State next week. Both teams would have six wins, but two against FCS opponents. Such teams get first crack at filling bowl bids when there are not enough eligible teams.
Hawaii plays a 13-game regular-season schedule because NCAA rules grant an exemption to Hawaii to do that. If the Rainbow Warriors finish 6-7, they would get priority over any 5-7 teams for an open bowl slot.