College football bowl projections: Is Alabama-Clemson V inevitable in the 2020 College Football Playoff?

Alabama-Clemson, Clemson-Alabama.  Potato-To-ma-to. Take your pick. The current pecking order has the Tigers first after last season's 44-16 win over the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship.  The teams have faced each other in three of the last four CFP title games.  Alabama took the first one, while Clemson has won the last two.  Bama's title game victory over Georgia in 2017 was sandwiched between the Clemson championships.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who does not believe we are headed for a fifth playoff matchup in five seasons (the Tide and Tigers, which sit at 2-2 in the CFP, also met in the 2018 Sugar Bowl semifinal).

For the I-lost-count number of seasons in a row, I am picking Alabama as the preseason No. 1 team in the bowl projections.  It is not entirely crazy.  The Tide have been No. 1 in the Preseason AP Top 25, end-of-regular-season AP Top 25 or postseason AP Top 25 in each of the last 11 years.

Both teams have lost a fair amount of talent, as they always do, and Clemson is sticking with Alabama step for step not just on the field but on the recruiting trail as well.  However, I believe Alabama's strength of schedule will push the Tide to the top of the rankings when the season comes to an end.  That statement is not based as much on the perceived overall superiority of the SEC but rather that the ACC is down this season outside of the Tigers.

Things could really get interesting if preseason No. 3 Oklahoma actually ends up fourth in the CFP Rankings.  The Sooners could face the Tide in a battle of the last two Alabama starting quarterbacks.  Transfer Jalen Hurts takes over for Oklahoma this season.  That is not to say that the matchup with Clemson wouldn't be intriguing.  Hurts would get a chance to redeem himself after struggling in Alabama's first CFP title game loss to Clemson.

I have Georgia at No. 4, and while I am sure the Bulldogs would be happy to make the CFP after a projected loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, having a rematch of that game in a semifinal -- in the same stadium -- would be somewhat disappointing for the rest of us.  However, it is the CFP Selection Committee's job to rank the teams, not artificially shuffle things around to get more interesting semifinal matchups.

2020 College Football Playoff

Date Game / Loc. Matchup Prediction

Jan. 13

National Championship
New Orleans

Title game Semifinal winners

Dec. 28

Peach Bowl
Atlanta

Semifinal

(1) Alabama vs. (4) Georgia

Dec. 28

Fiesta Bowl
Glendale, Ariz.

Semifinal

(2) Clemson vs. (3) Oklahoma

The selection committee will not have a lot of flexibility in the New Year's Six games either.  The Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls have conference commitments that must be followed.  The best available teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 will meet in the Rose Bowl.  That matchup is projected to be league champions Ohio State and Washington.

The Pac-12 is thought to be wide open with many picking either Oregon or Utah as well.  In fact, in our Preseason CBS Sports 130 Rankings, our voters have those three teams ranked 11-13.

Many are on the Michigan bandwagon this season with Urban Meyer finally out of Jim Harbaugh's hair.  The Buckeyes are still the most talented team in the league.  I am not foolish enough to say the Wolverines cannot win the Big Ten this season, but I will believe it when I see it.

The Sugar Bowl is expected to get non-champions from the SEC and Big 12, since three of the four projected CFP teams are from those two leagues.  LSU and Texas are projected to be the highest ranked teams left from those respective leagues, which is unfortunately a rematch of a regular season game.

The Orange Bowl gets the highest-rated ACC team not in the playoff against the highest-rated team from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame.  That matchup is projected to be a relatively low-ranked Miami against ND.  Keep in mind that a team does not have to be in the top 12 of the CFP Rankings to play in one of these games.  For conference tie-ins and the Group of Five representative, it is simply the highest ranked team remaining, regardless of the actual ranking.

That leaves the Cotton Bowl, which has two at-large spots.  If the Group of Five representative is not in the playoff, as I project, it will definitely be in this game.  That is projected to be UCF for a third straight season.  I have the Knights facing the Wolverines, who are expected to be the highest ranked team not already in one of the other New Year's Six games.

Selection committee bowl games

Date Bowl / Location Matchup Prediction

Jan. 1

Sugar
New Orleans

SEC vs. Big 12

LSU vs. Texas

Jan. 1

Rose
Pasadena, Calif.

Big Ten vs. Pac-12

Ohio State vs. Washington    

Dec. 30

Orange
Miami Gardens, Fla.

ACC vs. SEC/B1G/ND

Miami vs. Notre Dame

Dec. 28

Cotton
Arlington, Tex.

At-large vs. At-large

UCF vs. Michigan

Check out Jerry Palm's complete preseason college football bowl projections.  

Once you get outside of the New Year's Six, merit is not a significant factor in bowl selection, unless it is contracted.  Bowls are looking to put good matchups together that will draw a good crowd and eyes to the TV sets.  ESPN owns several bowls and will sometimes even change conference affiliations at the last minute to create matchups that it wants for its games.

Several bowls have shared matchups with different conferences.  For example, the Big Ten and ACC share a spot in each of the Music City Bowl and TaxSlayer Bowl.  That agreement is in its sixth and final season and called for each league to be represented in each game three times.  Unless all four parties agree to forgo that, you will see the ACC in the Music City Bowl and the Big Ten in the TaxSlayer Bowl this season.

There are 39 bowl games again this season, which means 78 eligible teams are needed out of the 130 playing at the FBS level.  I came up two teams short.  There is a pecking order for filling spots when there are not enough eligible teams.  One of the first priorities goes to teams that finish 6-7.  That is a rare occurrence because so few teams play 13 games and most of those have many more wins than six.  However, Hawaii is allowed to play 13 regular season games, as is any team that plays at Hawaii.  I have the Rainbow Warriors projected at 6-7, so they get the first open spot.  After that, we turn to 5-7 teams.  Those teams are selected by best APR ranking.  Boston College has the best APR of teams I project to finish 5-7, so the Eagles were selected to the final spot.

I also currently have Missouri selected for a bowl as the Tigers have appealed their bowl ban. Should they lose their appeal, another team will be substituted for Mizzou.

Check out the rest of Jerry Palm's preseason college football bowl projections.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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