Championship week winners and losers: Projecting the College Football Playoff and New Year's Six bowl games

Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg
·12-min read

Are we careening toward another Alabama vs. Clemson title game?

The Crimson Tide and Tigers look set to be the top two seeds in Sunday’s College Football Playoff rankings. Ohio State will probably be at No. 3 following its win over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game.

That leaves the fourth and final spot up for grabs. The candidates are Notre Dame, Texas A&M and maybe even Cincinnati. Here’s how all six of those teams stack up against each other with our predictions for the committee’s top four and New Year’s Six bowl matchups.

1. Alabama (11-0)

SEC champion

Best wins: No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 7 Florida

Case against: None. The Tide is in.

2. Clemson (10-1)

ACC champion

Best wins: No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 18 Miami

Case against: Clemson lost to Notre Dame without Trevor Lawrence. It beat Notre Dame with Trevor Lawrence. Case closed.

3. Ohio State (6-0)

Big Ten champion

Best wins: No. 11 Indiana, No. 14 Northwestern

Case against: Ohio State has played the fewest games of any team in the playoff conversation and the wins over Indiana and Northwestern had some unnecessary drama. But the Buckeyes didn’t lose either.

4a. Notre Dame (10-1)

Best wins: No. 3 Clemson, No. 15 North Carolina

Case against: The Irish’s best win came against a Clemson team without Lawrence. And ND looked outmatched against Lawrence and Clemson on Saturday. Should a team lose by 24 and still make the playoff the next day?

4b. Texas A&M (8-1)

Best wins: No. 7 Florida, Auburn

Case against: Texas A&M has one win over a team in the latest CFP Top 25. Yes, the Aggies’ only loss came to Alabama, but A&M would look a lot better with another signature win. The case for A&M hinges a lot on the timing of its loss compared to Notre Dame’s.

4c. Cincinnati (9-0)

AAC champion

Best wins: No. 23 Tulsa, UCF

Case against: No team outside of the Power Five conferences has made the playoff. And like A&M, Cincinnati has just one win against a ranked team. Oh, and Cincinnati was No. 9 in the latest CFP rankings and behind three two-loss teams.

The College Football Playoff

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Even though the Rose Bowl is now in Texas we’re expecting it to be a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Clemson won that fantastic game over Ohio State to earn the right to lose to LSU for the national title.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1)

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Yes, we’re sticking with the Irish at No. 4. The committee talks a lot about strength of schedule and Notre Dame’s schedule is better than A&M’s. Even though the Irish’s best win came against a Clemson team missing its best player, that win against North Carolina and Notre Dame’s status as the No. 2 team in the country until Saturday should be enough to keep it from falling outside the top four.

Other New Year’s Six bowls

Cotton Bowl (Dec. 30)

Oklahoma (9-2) vs. Florida (8-3)

The Sooners get the Big 12’s automatic berth to a New Year’s Six bowl thanks to their win over Iowa State in the Big 12 title game. Florida was frisky enough against Alabama in the SEC championship game that we won’t think they’ll fall more than three spots from No. 7 in the rankings. If Florida drops below Indiana, then the Hoosiers could end up in this spot against OU.

Peach Bowl (Jan. 1)

Georgia (7-2) vs. Cincinnati (9-0)

The Bulldogs’ reward for being in the top 10 of the rankings is a short trip to Atlanta for a bowl game in front of a (limited) friendly crowd against an undefeated opponent from a non-Power Five conference. The last time the Peach Bowl hosted an undefeated Group of Five team against an SEC team, UCF beat Auburn.

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2)

Oregon (4-2) vs. Iowa State (9-3)

Oregon beat USC for the Pac-12 title on Friday night and earned the conference’s automatic berth. Iowa State is buoyed by being No. 6 in the most recent CFP rankings and should stay ahead of both Florida and Indiana.

Orange Bowl (Jan. 2)

Texas A&M (8-1) vs. North Carolina (8-3)

This one is pretty straightforward. The highest-ranked teams from the SEC and ACC that aren’t in the playoff go to the Orange Bowl. That means it’s A&M and UNC.

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

— Nick Bromberg

Winners

Texas A&M defensive back Brian George (16), and defensive linemen Bobby Brown III and DeMarvin Leal (8) celebrate against Tennessee during an NCAA college football game in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Does Texas A&M have a legit playoff shot? (Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Texas A&M: Tennessee didn’t make things very difficult, but Texas A&M did what it needed to do to keep itself relevant in the College Football Playoff conversation. The Aggies handled their business on the road and cruised past the Vols, 34-13. Kellen Mond threw for 281 yards and rushed for 59 more in the win as A&M put up 497 yards of offense. At 8-1, now all Texas A&M can do is wait and see what the CFP selection committee will do with Notre Dame on Sunday.

LSU WR Kayshon Boutte: Predictably, Saturday’s LSU-Ole Miss game was a wild one. It was a game that featured more than 1,000 total yards of offense, and LSU emerged with a 53-48 victory. The decisive score came on a 45-yard Max Johnson touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte with 1:34 to play. That touchdown capped off a monster day for Boutte: 14 catches, 308 yards and three touchdowns. Boutte, only a freshman, gives LSU a clear go-to receiver entering 2021.

San Jose State: SJSU is now 7-0 and the Mountain West champions after beating mighty Boise State 34-20 on Saturday night. The win gives the Spartans their first Mountain West championship. It’s also the program’s first conference title since 1990, when it played in the Big West. SJSU has been one of the best stories of the 2020 season. The Spartans went a combined 8-29 in Brent Brennan’s first three years leading the program but are now a bowl win away from an undefeated 2020 campaign.

Army: The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will remain with Army for the third time in the last four seasons thanks to a 10-7 victory over Air Force. Air Force took a 7-3 lead late in the third quarter, but Army would go ahead for good with a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth. The game-winning touchdown was a one-yard plunge from Jakobi Buchanan on fourth-and-goal with 1:13 to play. Army’s defense then sealed the win by intercepting AFA quarterback Haaziq Daniels for the third time. Army enters bowl season with a 9-2 record, and its most important victories — Navy and Air Force — came in the last two weeks.

Utah: Utah senior quarterback Drew Lisk hasn’t seen much action during his time with the Utes, but he got in the game on Saturday against Washington State and made the most of it. The former walk-on was put into the game in relief of a struggling Jake Bentley and led Utah on a big comeback. Utah trailed 28-7 at halftime but scored 35 unanswered points to win, 45-28, with Lisk leading the charge. His stat line — 15-of-26 for 152 yards — wasn’t eye-popping, but he steadied the offense and helped his team finish the season with a 3-2 record. After an 0-2 start, that’ll do.

Penn State: Penn State started its season ranked in the top 10, but surprisingly dropped its first five games. It was the first time PSU had ever been 0-5, but the Nittany Lions kept playing. A month later, they are 4-5. Saturday’s win came over Illinois, and it was a dominant 56-21 effort. PSU put up 580 yards of offense and junior wideout Jahan Dotson led the way with six catches for 189 yards and two scores. Saturday night, PSU became the latest school to say it wouldn’t play in a bowl game.

Penn State tight end Theo Johnson (84) celebrates a first down catch during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State finishes the season at 4-5. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Missouri DB Shawn Robinson: Missouri’s roster was so depleted in Saturday’s regular season finale against Mississippi State that Shawn Robinson, the team’s starting quarterback to open the season, played defensive back. The Tigers lost, 51-32, to a bad Mississippi State team, but Robinson made five tackles and intercepted a pass. Robinson previously played QB at TCU before transferring to Mizzou. Robinson lost the starting role this year to Connor Bazelak, but his attitude about the situation has been admirable.

Losers

Notre Dame: Entering the weekend, there was very little chance Notre Dame would miss the College Football Playoff. All the Irish had to do in the ACC title game was avoid a blowout and the debates about the Irish’s résumé — of lack thereof — would not have much merit. All of a sudden, after a 34-10 loss, those debates are happening. The final score would have looked much worse had Notre Dame not scored a late touchdown. It was a completely dominant performance from the Tigers, and now the Irish will have to sweat out a decision on Sunday.

USC: USC had played — and won — several close games leading up to the Pac-12 title game on Friday night. The Trojans needed come-from-behind efforts to beat Arizona State and Arizona, and then scored a touchdown in the final minute last week to beat UCLA. With the conference title on the line, though, the Trojans could not execute one final high-wire act in a 31-24 loss. Kedon Slovis threw three costly interceptions in the loss, including on a possible game-tying drive in the final minutes. It was a ball he should have just thrown away. Instead, he forced it into coverage and cost his team a chance to tie the score. The Trojans aren’t going to a bowl game and will finish the season at 5-1.

Southern California players run off the field after warming up before an NCAA college football game against Oregon for the Pac-12 Conference championship Friday, Dec 18, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
USC will end the season at 5-1. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Tennessee: A bad season at Tennessee just got a whole lot worse. Not only did the Vols get blown out 34-13 by Texas A&M to drop to 3-7 on the year, news of a recruiting inquiry within the program also broke on Saturday. WKGN-AM in Knoxville first reported the news, saying that an internal compliance investigation had been launched. Even worse, the NCAA is reportedly also involved. ESPN reported further on the matter, but couldn’t confirm any NCAA involvement at this time. Jeremy Pruitt said he was unaware of any such reports, but the fact that running back Eric Gray was unavailable Saturday is reportedly part of the probe.

Louisiana athletic director Bryan Maggard: The Louisiana AD became a conspiracy theorist after the Sun Belt championship game was canceled. No. 19 Louisiana was set to take on No. 11 Coastal Carolina but the game got canceled because CCU couldn’t field an entire position group due to COVID-19 exposure. Maggard told the Daily Advertiser that “I’m going to let everybody draw their own conclusions, and I support the drawing of conclusions,” regarding the reasons for why the game was canceled. Maggard’s frustration is understandable, but it’s highly unlikely that the Sun Belt — and Coastal Carolina — wouldn’t want their undefeated national darling playing on championship Saturday without an incredibly valid reason.

Buffalo: Among the conference title games, Buffalo was one of the bigger favorites of the weekend going up against Ball State with the MAC crown on the line in Detroit. The Bulls had the chance to win their first MAC title since 2008, but were upset 38-28. UB led for most of the first half, but Ball State closed out the second quarter on a 21-0 scoring run to take a 35-21 halftime lead. That was too much to overcome as Buffalo RB Jarret Patterson was limited to just 47 yards. Patterson entered the game averaging more than 200 yards per game.

Buffalo running back Ron Cook Jr. (2) is tackled by Ball State's Tye Evans during the second half of the Mid-American Conference championship NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Buffalo's undefeated season disappeared against Ball State. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Marshall: Was there a team in the country that closed out the season in worse fashion than Marshall? The Thundering Herd were ranked in the Top 25 and undefeated just a few weeks ago. And then they were shockingly shut out, 20-0, by Rice on Dec. 5 in a game where Grant Wells threw five interceptions. Marshall still made the Conference USA title game, but lost 22-14 to UAB. It was another disappointing effort for the offense as Wells completed only eight of his 23 attempts for 138 yards.

Ole Miss QB Matt Corral: Ole Miss’ regular season ended with a 53-48 loss to LSU on Saturday, and it was a rough game for Rebels QB Matt Corral. Let’s start with the good. He threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns and added 158 yards and a score on the ground. Here’s where it gets bad. Corral threw a whopping five interceptions, all of which directly led to LSU points. He then turned it over for a sixth time with the game on the line. Corral moved the offense into LSU territory in the final minutes, only to fumble. LSU recovered the fumble, allowing it to run out the clock.

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