This week we move closer to what we’ve all been waiting for, as Rivalry Week kicks off with major games on tap to help sort out Championship Saturday and from there, the all important College Football Playoff Selection Sunday.
Two of the nation’s premier rivalries are set for Saturday, and both loaded with implications for the conference and playoff races.
Ohio State plays host to Michigan in a renewal of The Game to see who has the right to represent the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game and, as the favorite there, the likely No. 2 seed in the playoff semifinal.
Out west, a resurgent Notre Dame will try to play spoiler on the road at USC in the greatest intersectional rivalry in sports, looking to give the Trojans a costly second loss after they already clinched a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game after last week’s statement win at UCLA.
The position of Tennessee is far more precarious now after its surprise 63-38 defeat on the road against unranked South Carolina.
That pretty much ended the Vols’ hopes at making the College Football Playoff, which were considerable as it seemed to have a solid hold on the No. 5 position and poised to move up after either Ohio State or Michigan lost.
Where do things stand in the bowl selection process? Here’s our prediction for how this year’s biggest bowls and playoff games should look, given what we know right now.
Let’s take a look, first at what to expect in the final four semifinal and national championship, and second, the rest of the New Year’s Six bowl games
1. Georgia. In a season with no sure things, Georgia looks like one. Playing behind a defense that has maintained much of its dominance from last season, it also boasts a big-play attack that ranks top 10 nationally and should get into the SEC Championship Game undefeated, where it will be favored against LSU.
2. Ohio State. Given the relative improvements on the defensive side of the ball and the Buckeyes’ continued dominance throwing the ball, combined with Michigan running back Blake Corum dealing with an injury, we changed our projection towards Ohio State winning The Game and advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game.
3. TCU. Our projections indicate that the Horned Frogs will defeat Iowa State in the finale and win the Big 12 Championship Game, moving up a spot from its current No. 4 position ahead of the Ohio State/Michigan loser.
4. USC. A newcomer to our bowl predictions this week, the Trojans muscled their way into contention after a close win at UCLA that clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game. But this spot is far from secure, with a game against the surging Irish before the league championship bout.
Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. USC. By far the most dominant defense that USC’s potent attack would face this year, the Bulldogs would likely emerge as the early favorites given its success and that of the SEC in the playoff. Plus, we already saw how Georgia’s D played against Tennessee’s offense, one that resembles USC’s closely.
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. TCU. The Horned Frogs just keep finding ways to win games and play a brand of physicality and pace that the Buckeyes haven’t seen this season. That could catch the Big Ten favorites off guard, or could CJ Stroud and his receivers develop a rhythm in the deep passing game to throw TCU’s secondary out of sorts and force the Big 12 darlings into another first-half deficit?
National Championship: Georgia vs. Ohio State. Not having to play an SEC team in the semifinal should be welcome news for OSU, who has the power to slice and dice its way into the national title game. But even with its improvements on defense over the past year, the Buckeyes still don’t pack the same punch that Georgia does on defense, or when judging raw speed to match with the Dawgs’ skill threats on the perimeter.
National Champion: Georgia. Make it two straight natties for Kirby Smart and the Dawgs, who will take another step towards unseating Alabama as the kings of the SEC, and of college football.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Alabama. A rematch of the early College Football Playoff era’s best postseason rivalry, this time for smaller stakes, pitting a likely one-loss ACC champion Clemson against a projected two-loss Alabama.
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Kansas State. We project LSU will lose the SEC Championship Game and move to three losses, but should still easily garner a New Year’s bowl invite, likely against our projected Big 12 runner-up in Kansas State in what would be a rematch of last year’s Texas Bowl. Both teams are in better places since then.
Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Oregon. If the Wolverines drop Saturday’s game to Ohio State, they’ll be the Big Ten’s selection to play in Pasadena against our projected Pac-12 runner-up, the two-loss Ducks, who we predict will fall to USC in the conference championship game.
Cotton Bowl: Tulane vs. Tennessee. The committee has some intriguing options for the two at-large teams here, including Penn State, which should finish with 10 wins. But it will be eager to reward the Vols for their excellent season and set up a matchup against our projected AAC champion, the Green Wave.
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