This week we’re getting closer to what we’ve all been waiting for as Rivalry Week kicks off with important games to settle Championship Saturday and from there the all-important College Football Playoff Selection Sunday.
Two of the nation’s key rivalries are slated for Saturday, and both are packed with implications for the conference and playoff races.
Ohio State is hosting Michigan in an overtime The Game to see who has the right to represent the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game and as a favorite there likely No. 2 in the playoff semifinals.
In the West, a resurrected Notre Dame will look to spoiler the greatest intersectional rivalry in esports on the road at USC to give the Trojans a costly second loss after already earning a spot in the Pac-12 championship game after last week have secured statement victory at UCLA.
Tennessee’s position is far more precarious now after their surprise 63-38 loss on the road to unrated South Carolina.
That ended the Vols’ college football playoff hopes, which were sizeable as they appeared to have a firm grip on the No. 5 position and were poised to move up after losing either Ohio State or Michigan.
What about shell selection? Here’s our prediction of what this year’s biggest bowls and playoff games should look like, given what we now know.
First, let’s take a look at what to expect in the last four semifinals and the national championship, and second, the remaining six bowl games of the new year
1. Georgia. In a season without certain things, this is what Georgia looks like. Playing behind a defense that retained much of its dominance from last season, it also boasts a big-play offense that ranks in the top 10 nationally and should go undefeated into the SEC championship game, where it meets against the LSU is favored.
2. State of Ohio. Given the relative improvements on the defensive side of the ball and the Buckeyes’ continued dominance in throwing the ball, combined with Michigan running back Blake Corum dealing with an injury, we changed our prediction toward Ohio State, who wins the game and promoted to the Big Ten Championship game.
3. TCU. Our predictions indicate the Horned Frogs will defeat Iowa State in the Finals and win the Big 12 Championship Game, moving up one spot from their current No. 4 position over loser Ohio State/Michigan.
4.USC. The Trojans, new to our bowl predictions this week, fought their way into the race after a narrow win at UCLA that secured a berth in the Pac-12 title game. But that place is far from secure with a game against the rising Irish ahead of their league championship clash.
Predictions for the semifinals
Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. USC. By far the most dominant defense to face USC’s strong attack this year, the Bulldogs would likely emerge as the early favorites given their and the SEC’s success in the playoffs. Also, we’ve already seen Georgia’s D play against Tennessee’s offense, which is very similar to USC’s.
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. TCU. The Horned Frogs just keep finding ways to win games and play a type of physicality and pace the Buckeyes haven’t seen this season. That could surprise the Big Ten favorites, or could CJ Stroud and his receivers develop a rhythm in deep-passing play to unsettle the TCU high school and put the Big 12 favorites in another first-half deficit to force?
National Championship: Georgia vs. Ohio State. Not having to face an SEC team in the semifinals should be welcome news for OSU, which has the power to carve its way into the national title game. But even with their improvements on defense over the past year, the Buckeyes still don’t have the same clout as Georgia on defense or when it comes to judging raw speed to match the Dawgs’ abilities on the rim.
National Champion: Georgia. Make it two straight natties for Kirby Smart and the Dawgs, who will take another step to topple Alabama as kings of the SEC and college football.
New Year’s Six Bowl Game Predictions
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Alabama. A rehash of the best postseason rivalry of the early college football playoff era, this time around smaller stakes, pitting a likely one-loss ACC champion Clemson against a probable two-loss Alabama.
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Kansas State. We expect LSU to lose the SEC championship game and go to three losses, but should still easily earn a New Year’s Bowl call, likely against our predicted Kansas Big 12 runner-up in a repeat of last year’s Texas Bowl . Both teams have improved since then.
Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Oregon. When the Wolverines take Saturday’s game against Ohio State, they will be the Big Ten pick to play in Pasadena against our likely Pac-12 runners-up, the two-loss Ducks, who we predict will play in the Conference championship game at USC.
Cotton Bowl: Tulane vs. Tennessee. The committee has some intriguing options here for the two teams at large, including Penn State, which should end with 10 wins. But it will be keen to reward the Vols for their superb season and schedule a matchup against our predicted UK champions, the Green Wave.
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