College Football Playoff, Bowl projections: Paths for the five contenders with three berths already clinched

With the penultimate College Football Playoff Rankings released Tuesday, it is time to examine the prospects for the teams still in the hunt for the four-team field. There are basically five teams in contention for those spots with only four of them actually competing in conference Championship games played across Friday and Saturday.

Given it is such a short list this year, we have expanded this annual story to include a look at what possibilities exist for the four remaining New Year’s Six games outside of the playoff. There is not much flexibility with so many conference connections involved, but there is still some intrigue.

Without further ado, here is a list of the remaining CFP contenders in order of their current ranking along with an explanation of what each team can accomplish this weekend. Let’s take a look at how those teams stack up with Championship Week and the final CFP Rankings ahead.

College Football Playoff paths

New Year’s Six paths

The New Year’s Six options are more numerous. After the CFP pairings are set, the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls will select the teams for their games. Here is how that will go down.

Rose Bowl

If the Big Ten and/or Pac-12 Champions are in the playoff, the Bowl will choose replacements. Traditionally, those would be the highest-ranked teams remaining from those conferences. However, the Rose Bowl has the option to choose its entrants from a “cluster” of similarly rated teams.

If Michigan and USC both win this weekend, the Rose Bowl could be left with a rematch of last year’s game featuring Ohio State and Utah. That is less than ideal. The Rose may go with it anyway, but it might instead choose to insert No. 8 Penn State from the Big Ten or No. 12 Washington from the Pac-12. The Buckeyes have played at the Rose Bowl twice in the last four years, while the Nittany Lions have not been in the game since 2016. The Huskies are a possibility from the Pac-12 as the Utes, in addition to playing the Rose Bowl last year, would also be taking their fourth loss. My Bowl projections list Ohio State and Washington as the choices.

If Utah beats USC, it is in the Rose Bowl as the league Champion against No. 8 Penn State as Michigan and Ohio State would be in the CFP. The wildcard is Purdue, which would automatically be in this game if the Boilermakers become the Spoilermakers against Michigan.

  • USC wins: Ohio State or Penn State vs. Utah or Washington
  • Michigan, Utah win: Penn State vs. Utah
  • Purdue, Utah win: Purdue vs. Utah

Sugar Bowl

Similarly, the Sugar Bowl features conference Champions from the SEC and Big 12. The Big 12 situation is set. Since TCU will be a playoff team win or lose, Kansas State will be in the Sugar Bowl either as the Big 12 Champion or the replacement for the Horned Frogs. If Georgia wins, No. 6 Alabama will replace the Bulldogs in this game. Otherwise, LSU gets in as the conference champion.

  • Georgia wins: Alabama vs. Kansas State
  • LSU wins: LSU vs. Kansas State

Orange Bowl

This Bowl only gets one conference champion. The ACC title Winner is the Anchor with No. 9 Clemson vs. No. 23 North Carolina deciding the berth as neither team can reach the playoff. The opponent is the highest ranked team remaining from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. That will be Ohio State (if not in playoff or Rose Bowl), Alabama (if not in Sugar Bowl) or No. 7 Tennessee (if Buckeyes, Crimson Tide are not in those games).

  • Georgia, USC win: Tennessee or Ohio State vs. Clemson or North Carolina
  • Georgia, Utah win: Tennessee vs. Clemson or North Carolina
  • LSU, USC win: Alabama or Ohio State vs. Clemson or North Carolina
  • Georgia, Utah win: Alabama vs. Clemson or North Carolina

Cotton Bowl

This is the only game with at-large spots. One of those will go to the Group of Five automatic qualifier, which will be the winner of the AAC battle between UCF and Tulane. The other spot simply goes to the highest-rated team left that is not already in a New Year’s Six game.

Those options will be USC (if not in CFP), Tennessee (if not in Orange) or Penn State (if not in Rose). The order of Tennessee and Penn State relative to each other is known. What’s unknown where USC would fall if it loses, but I believe at 11-2, the Trojans would rank ahead of those two.

The highest-ranked team with no chance at all to play in the New Year’s Six is ​​No. 13 Florida State. However, that does not mean all of the top 12 teams will qualify. In fact, the AAC Champion will not be in the top 12. and Purdue would not rank that high either even as a Big Ten champion.

Beyond this list of contenders, CBS Sports has released my penultimate Bowl projections for the 2022-23 season. Reminder: These projections are not how things stand now but rather how I expect them to look following the conference Championship games Saturday.

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