An explosive beginning should lead to an epic finish as the college football season wraps up with an entertaining slate of bowl games.
The CFP committee made a statement on Sunday in its revelation that Alabama would move into the top-four, despite Ohio State defeating Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Championship.
There was little reason to question that Alabama was one of the best teams in the country even after a loss to a red-hot Auburn team on the road knocked them out of the SEC Championship. They were undefeated and rolling over every team in their path until that point, while the Buckeyes seemed to be mostly judged on their shocking blowout loss (24-55) to an unranked Iowa team in early November.
Now, college football fans will be granted the playoff trilogy between Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. There is no better stage to watch two of college football’s greatest coaching minds match wits.
On the other side of the playoff bracket, Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners will try to hold the same Georgia Bulldogs team that stifled Auburn on Saturday. Can lightning strike twice for the Bulldogs, or will the Sooners continue to light up the scoreboard all the way to a national championship?
The New Year’s 6 festivities won’t end with the playoffs. It’s a jam-packed slate of solid match-ups that includes the best teams in college football.
Today, we’ll rank the six upcoming bowl games in the New Year’s series.
6) Orange Bowl – No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) vs. No. 10 Miami (10-2) — Dec. 30, Miami Gardens
Both Wisconsin and Miami had every chance to be playing for a national championship, but neither came away with a conference title. While the Badgers came up short against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, the Hurricanes were completely blown off the field by Clemson in Saturday’s ACC championship. That came after a shocking upset loss to Pittsburgh.
A win over the Badgers in the Orange Bowl would at least generate more hope heading into next season.
5) Fiesta Bowl – No. 11 Washington (10-2) vs. No. 9 Penn State (10-2) — Dec. 30, Glendale
Two close losses to Ohio State and Michigan State are the only reasons why Penn State missed out on the playoffs this year. The fact that both losses were nail-biters—a one-point loss to the Buckeyes and three-point loss to the Spartans— is even more disappointing for fans hoping to see something special this season. Perhaps they can end things on a positive not when they go up against Pete Kwiatkowski’s elite defense for the Washington Huskies.
4) Peach Bowl – No. 12 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 7 Auburn (10-3) — Jan. 1, Atlanta
Not only was the University of Central Florida snubbed from the college football playoffs, but they weren’t even ranked in the top 10. Meanwhile, teams like Auburn lost multiple times and still had a chance to compete for a playoff spot. We can argue strength of schedule until the sun goes down, but it would much easier to settle things on the gridiron. If UCF stuns Auburn, they will have a legitimate case that they were robbed of a shot at a national championship.
3) Cotton Bowl – No. 8 USC (11-2) vs. No. 5 Ohio State (11-2) — Dec. 29, Arlington
Ohio State will have an opportunity to take their frustrations out on quarterback Sam Darnold and the USC Trojans. Darnold, who is widely projected as the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft earlier in the season, could elevate his stock with a strong performance against the Buckeyes. That’s if the NFL is even in his immediate future. There is talk of him remaining in school and delaying his NFL debut.
If he does declare for the draft, however, this upcoming game against Ohio State will be his last in college football.
2) Rose Bowl – No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1) — Jan. 1, Pasadena
Fireworks are expected when Oklahoma’s juggernaut offense goes head-to-head with the Georgia Bulldogs, but don’t be surprised if Georgia’s underrated defense forces another talented offense into a dud performance. We learned on Saturday that there was more than meets the eye to this Georgia football team after they knocked off the hottest team in the country. They still have an uphill battle to climb against the Sooners, but it would be a mistake to continue overlooking them.
1) Sugar Bowl – No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1) — Jan. 1, New Orleans
The Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier of college football make up a Sugar Bowl game for the ages. Alabama and Clemson will look to settle their championship rivalry in a rubber match. Perhaps the biggest concern for Clemson is facing a rejuvenated and rested Crimson Tide team. There is no rolling over and playing dead in Saban’s locker room. We could be on the verge of witnessing Alabama’s best game against the defending champions.
As Swinney said on Sunday after the playoff games were announced, “it’s only fitting” for Clemson to play Alabama on this stage.