It's early August, which means it's time to get ready for college football! It's also time for preseason bowl projections, and when it comes to the College Football Playoff, expect some familiar names.
So as not to ruin a tradition, again this season the projected No. 1 seed is Alabama. Reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young leads the way as he looks to join former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as a repeat winner of that award. Elsewhere, the Crimson Tide are loaded with talent, as usual. Coach Nick Saban is welcoming his fourth consecutive recruiting class ranked either first or second in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. The more things change at Alabama, the more they stay the same.
Oklahoma is projected to be the No. 4 seed as Alabama's opponent at the Peach Bowl semifinal in Atlanta. The Sooners' streak of six consecutive conference championships came to an end last season as OU lost on the road at Baylor, the eventual champion, and Oklahoma State. Coach Brett Venables replaces Lincoln Riley, who took off for USC and brought some players with him; however, the cupboard is far from bare at OU. It will be a stiff challenge getting back to the top of the league, but this season, the Sooners get the Bears and Cowboys at home.
In the Fiesta Bowl semifinal, Ohio State is projected to return to the CFP as the No. 2 seed after losing to Michigan last season. The Buckeyes return QB CJ Stroud, who will again have a talented array of wide receivers to target. The Wolverines are still formidable, but that game will be played in Columbus, Ohio, this year. Ohio State gets another big home nonconference game as Notre Dame visits the Horseshoe to kick off the season. The Buckeyes will aim to avoid another season-opening misstep like last year when Oregon won OSU's home opener.
Ohio State is slotted against projected No. 3 seed Georgia. The reigning national champions lost a number of players to the NFL, especially from the defensive side of the ball. However, the Bulldogs have recruited to such a high level recently that they have extremely talented players waiting in the wings. Georgia is a heavy favorite to rematch with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, and if both teams are 12-0 entering that showdown, there is a strong likelihood both will be in the CFP.
Those four teams have combined to make 17 playoff appearances with Alabama earning seven itself. At least two of those four teams have been in the CFP across each season of its existence.
College Football Playoff
|Date||Game / Loc.||Matchup||Prediction|
|Title game|| Semifinal winners|
(1) Alabama vs. (4) Oklahoma
(2) Ohio State vs. (3) Georgia
The CFP Selection Committee does not have much flexibility when it comes to the other four so-called New Year's Six games. Three of the games have both of their spots contracted to specific conferences and/or teams with no minimum ranking required for qualification. In 2019, No. 24 Virginia was the ACC representative in the Orange Bowl as the next-highest ranked ACC team; Clemson was in the CFP that season. Even if a scenario occurred wherein no other conference team was ranked, the bowl would choose a team from that conference.
The Rose Bowl gets the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions. If those league champions are in the CFP, the bowl choose replacements, traditionally the next-highest ranked teams from those conferences. In this projection, Michigan replaces Ohio State for the Big Ten, while expected champion Utah represents the Pac-12.
A similar situation exists for the Sugar Bowl, which matches the SEC and Big 12 champions. In this projection, both leagues' champions are projected to make the CFP, and in the SEC's case, so is the next-highest ranked team. Therefore, the expected matchup here is Texas A&M, the third-highest ranked SEC team, against Baylor, the second-highest ranked team from the Big 12.
The Orange Bowl is projected to get ACC champion Clemson. The contracted opponent in that game is the highest-ranked team remaining from the SEC or Big Ten unless Notre Dame is higher than both. In this projection, the Fighting Irish get the open spot. That is an unfortunate matchup of sorts because Clemson and Notre Dame will play in South Bend, Indiana, during the regular season on Nov. 5. It is hard to imagine the Orange Bowl turning down Notre Dame, though.
That leaves the Cotton Bowl, the only place the Group of Five automatic qualifier can go if it does not make the CFP. Cincinnati is projected in that spot again, though the Bearcats could face more stiff competition this season both from within their own league and from another Group of Five champion. Cincinnati's opponent is expected to be USC, the highest-ranked at-large team. Riley has brought in a bunch of new but talented players led by QB Caleb Williams and WR Jordan Addison. If Riley can get this team to gel quickly, the Trojans could be a threat to do even better than this.
New Year's Six bowl games
|Date||Bowl / Location||Matchup||Prediction|
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
|Michigan vs. Utah|
at-large vs. at-large
|USC vs. Cincinnati|
SEC vs. Big 12
|Texas A&M vs. Baylor|
ACC vs. SEC/B1G/ND
|Clemson vs. Notre Dame|
There are 41 bowl games scheduled this season, which creates a need for 82 teams to fill the open spots. Last season, for the first time since 2016, bowl directors were forced to extend an invitation to a team with a sub-.500 record. Hawaii (6-7) was scheduled to play in the Hawaii Bowl, but the game ended up being canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Rainbow Warriors program. Rutgers (5-7) played in the Gator Bowl last season but was only invited as a last-minute replacement for Texas A&M, which had to bow out because of COVID-19 as well.
This preseason bowl projection has five teams expected to finish below .500 participating in bowl games. That would break the record for most in a season. There were three such teams in bowls in 2015, the first year sub-.500 teams were allowed to receive bowl bids.