Bowl Projections: USC enters college football playoffs as New Year’s Six ahead of Clemson, Michigan

Nobody saw this coming, except maybe South Carolina. The Gamecocks wiped out Tennessee 63-38, wiping out any chance the Volunteers had of earning a berth in the College Football Playoffs. That might not have been the worst news for Tennessee, as Heisman Trophy-fighting quarterback Hendon Hooker left with a non-contact leg injury and did not return.

The Vols can still get into a New Year’s Six game; it depends on how far they fall in this week’s CFP rankings. Tennessee will likely stay ahead of Penn State and secure the last vacant seat in the Cotton Bowl as long as it beats Vanderbilt this week.

One thing the CFP selection committee won’t consider is how Hooker’s injury will affect Tennessee. It is not the committee’s job to predict the future. Your task is to rank the teams according to their performance. The impact of Hooker’s absence will be more apparent when the Vols play without him, although that won’t be more than one game before Selection Sunday.

Tennessee falling out of the playoff projection means someone has to move up. That team is USC, who are expected to finish 12-1 and win the Pac-12.

Ohio State and Michigan losers and Clemson, who is expected to win the ACC, are also being considered for the spot. However, the strength of USC’s schedule and the quality of its wins should give the Trojans an advantage for No. 4.

Clemson’s CFP case was marred by North Carolina’s home loss to Georgia Tech. That gives the Tar Heels two losses and could see them drop several spots in the week’s CFP leaderboard. If Clemson wins the ACC, his best win in the conference championship game will come over UNC, assuming the Heels don’t lose to NC State first. Clemson’s best win to date was over Florida State.

College Football Playoff

January 9th

National Championship
Inglewood, California

title game Semifinal Winner

Dec 31

peach peel


(1) Georgia vs. (4) USC

Dec 31

Fiesta Bowl
Glendale, Ariz.


(2) Ohio State vs. (3) TCU

Tennessee’s loss also results in a reshuffling of SEC teams in the new year’s six games. However, since the Vols fall towards the bottom of that list of four, that doesn’t change the shell projections for LSU or Alabama. The Tigers are still expected to face Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl while Alabama remains in the Orange Bowl as the top-ranked team left behind by the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame

With the rise of USC, Oregon is expected to head to the Rose Bowl to face Michigan.

There was another upset Saturday that affected the New Year’s Six. UCF lost at home to Navy 17-14, throwing away the ability to host the AAC championship game. Now the winner of the Tulane at Cincinnati game will welcome the Knights. Cincinnati is now expected to win the league and Group of Five spot in the Cotton Bowl.

If UCF wins the AAC title with three losses, it could put Coastal Carolina and Boise State in contention for the Group of Five spot, but the Knights would likely get it anyway given the quality of their wins.

New Year’s Six Bowl Games

Some matchups for league title games are already set. The Big Ten won’t be decided until after week 13 in both divisions. The winner from Ohio State and Michigan will most likely face Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. Just a month ago we wrote obituaries for the Hawkeyes season as they owned one of the worst offenses in college football.

TCU is waiting for an opponent for the Big 12 Championship Game. That will be Kansas State if it beats Kansas, otherwise Texas if it beats Baylor. The Longhorns hold the tiebreaker over the Wildcats.

USC’s win over UCLA put the Trojans in the Pac-12 championship game. Oregon will join them if it beats or loses Oregon State and ends in a two- or three-way tie involving Utah. The Huskies win a two-way tie against the Ducks.

Notre Dame is part of the ACC shell structure when not part of the New Year’s Six. The Fighting Irish will obviously be the most attractive team for all of the ACC Bowls and it’s likely that Notre Dame will be able to choose which game it prefers. However, the Irish are expected to finish 8-4 and cannot be selected ahead of an ACC team with two more wins. That means the Cheez-It Bowl expects North Carolina to win 10.

The options for Notre Dame after that are Duke’s Mayo, Gator, Holiday, Pinstripe, and Sun Bowls. The Duke’s mayo and pinstripe mean playing against a mediocre Big Ten team, possibly upstate rival Purdue. Although New York can be quite attractive as a travel destination. The Holiday Bowl is located in Southern California, where the Irish just played their last regular season game. The Sun Bowl is in Texas, which is fertile recruiting ground, but maybe not so much in El Paso. The Gator Bowl is also in fertile ground in Florida and would bring an SEC opponent. My projection is that the Irish vote for the Sunshine State.

There are four teams in this week’s prediction that are expected to finish 5-7. This is the final week of the regular season for teams vying for bowl eligibility. At this point last year, the forecast was that six 5-7 teams would be needed for the bowls, but there were a number of surprises last week and ultimately no 5-7 teams were required. Maybe it will work this time too.

The Army-Navy game winner could score a fifth win and qualify under the five-win exception, but since that game is being played a week after the bowl matchups are announced, it will be too late for the winner to one to go bowl.

Don’t see your team? Cash Jerry Palm’s updated shell projections after week 12 as well as the CBS Sports Bowl Eligibility Tracker for updates on what your team needs to do to bowl this season.


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