The 2016 college football season is quickly winding to a close, but the intrigue surrounding the national landscape is only getting more intense.
The biggest questions obviously surround which teams are going to get their shot at a national title in the College Football Playoff. Right now, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson are the teams in position, but this is going to change over the weekend.
Ohio State and Michigan face off on Saturday, which means one of those two teams will likely be watching the playoff as a spectator. However, there are several other key games this weekend that could affect the college football postseason.
Today, we're going to take another crack at predicting the playoff and some of the postseason's top bowl matchups. We'll also examine some of the most important games of the weekend. First, though, let's take a look at the latest rankings from the playoff committee.
|Projected Final Playoff Rankings|
Top Bowl Projections
Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Orange Bowl: Michigan vs. Louisville
Cotton Bowl: Penn St. vs. Western Michigan
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Colorado
Matchups to Watch
Ohio State vs. Michigan
This is the big one for the weekend because the loser between Ohio State and Michigan is probably sitting on the outside come playoff time. This should also be one of the top matchups of the weekend—and not just because of the rivalry or the playoff implications.
Both of these teams are incredibly talented. The Wolverines are averaging 42.3 points per game and allowing an average of just 10.9 points per contest. The Buckeyes are averaging 43.8 points per game and allowing only 13.0 points per game.
Both teams are averaging more than 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per matchup.
Of course, the epic rivalry between these does carry a lot of weight and will cause the collegiate football world to be even more focused on the action in Columbus on Saturday. The fact that this is No. 2 vs. No. 3 only adds to the potential intensity.
"A two-three matchup, that's perfect timing," Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James said of the game—which the Cavaliers will be attending—per ESPN.com.
The Buckeyes have won seven consecutive home games against Michigan, and we expect that trend to continue this year. A close win in a memorable game should earn the Buckeyes a spot in the title dance.
Alabama vs. Auburn
You might have heard, but there's another big-time rivalry going down on Saturday. The Auburn Tigers will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at 3:30 p.m. ET in Tuscaloosa.
While the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is one of the best college football has to offer, this year's edition of the Iron Bowl doesn't seem to carry as much weight as the game between Michigan and Ohio State. Even with a loss, Alabama seems destined to remain in the Top Four, barring a loss in the SEC title game.
Still, the game does put some pressure on the Tide, and it should be one heck of a slugfest. Both teams feature standout defenses—Auburn allows an average of 14.3 points per game, Alabama allows 11.4 points per game—and ground attacks.
The Tigers are currently averaging over 297 yards rushing per game. Alabama is averaging nearly 250 yards per contest.
We may see some unlikely aerial action in this game, though, due to those stout SEC defenses. Both teams are allowing fewer than 120 yards rushing per matchup and have done a remarkable job of keeping ball-carriers out of the end zone.
While we do expect this game to be closer than the latest lines might indicate—our friends over at Odds Shark have Alabama as an 18-point favorite—we do believe the Tide will stand tall at home and keep its place atop the college football world.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Fifth-ranked Washington took care of business on Friday night, besting Washington State in a 45-17 laugher.
This means the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers must find a way to defeat Minnesota on Saturday if they want to have a shot at making the playoff. Wisconsin has already clinched the Big 10 West with Nebraska's Friday loss.
However, a loss to Minnesota would probably leave Wisconsin out of the playoff hunt even with a victory in the Big Ten title game. As things stand, the Badgers are likely to face either Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State in that game.
If Wisconsin does face the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan tilt and wins, then a spot in the playoff seems likely. However, the Big Ten Championship will have no playoff implication for Wisconsin if the Badgers lose on Saturday.
Our guess is that the Badgers thrive on the pressure rather than wilt under it. Expect Wisconsin to remain in the playoff conversation for at least another week.