Bowl Projections 2016: Predictions for Top Teams Ahead of Final CFP Poll Reveal

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2016

Alabama wide receiver Robert Foster celebrates after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Alabama and Florida, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta. Alabama won 54-16. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

The college football world saw championship weekend go by with a few surprises mixed in with a lot of generally expected outcomes. There's a chance that those few surprises could be enough to shake up the playoff landscape.

Now we await the final decisions of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The big question is whether or not championship week really did anything to impact the current pool of four at the top of the rankings. The only mild surprise with those teams is the fact third-ranked Clemson only won by a touchdown over Virginia Tech. No. 1 Alabama blew out Florida 54-16, while No. 4 Washington battered Colorado 41-10 in the Pac-12 title game.

Ohio State, which currently sits at No. 2, didn't play. Penn State, which owned the head-to-head win over the Buckeyes, represented the East division in the Big Ten Championship.

This, of course, is where things get very interesting. The Nittany Lions ended up rallying to beat sixth-ranked Wisconsin and take the Big Ten title. The team came into the game ranked at No. 7.

The committee now has a major decision on its hands—should it put Penn State into the playoff? If so, could the Buckeyes be out since they've lost to Penn State and failed to make a championship game? How will championship week affect the Bowl picture as a whole? We're going to try predicting the answers to these questions now. We'll also examine some of the top storylines heading into selection Sunday.

First, though, let's take a look at what the CFP Committee rankings looked like coming into the weekend.

Projected Bowl Matchups

Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State

Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. USC

Orange Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida State

Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma

Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin

       

Biggest Storylines

Will Alabama Actually be Tested?

The Crimson Tide remain at the top of the CFP rankings and for good reason. The team has put together a perfect 13-0 record and has done so in convincing fashion. Alabama's smallest margin of victory came in a 10-0 win on the road against LSU.

This is a team that pretty much no one should want to play in the opening round of the playoff—even if some detractors try to convince you that the team isn't really that impressive.

Alabama has beaten six eight-win opponents this season and has been able to secure big victories even when the team isn't playing well. The Tide got off to a slow start against Florida and fell into a 7-3 hole early. However, Alabama quickly rallied to produce yet another dominating victory.

Obviously, confidence isn't an issue for this team.

"Even when [quarterback] Jalen [Hurts] goes out there and there is a slow start to our offense, we know we're all brothers and we're going to come back behind him and we're going to get it right," explained defensive endTim Williams, per Joseph Goodman of AL.com.

Part of the reason why Alabama can survive sloppy games is a defense that allows just 11.4 points per game on average.

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Do any of the top-ranked teams really have what it takes to challenge Alabama, or is this year's playoff little more than a formality? This should be one of the biggest questions remaining between now and the national championship game on January 9.

        

Should Ohio State's One Loss Keep The Buckeyes Out?

Aside from Alabama, the teams at the top of the CFP rankings have a least one loss on their resumes. Clemson's defeat came against Pittsburgh. Washington's came versus USC. As we mentioned earlier, Ohio State lost to Penn State.

The difference between Ohio State's loss is that it sent Penn State to a championship game and kept the Buckeyes out of one.

Alabama won the SEC title and Clemson won the ACC title on Saturday. Washington won the Pac-12 title on Friday. The Buckeyes spent the weekend on their couches watching other teams hoist trophies.

How much will that hurt the Buckeyes, exactly?

Our guess is that Ohio State's wins over teams like Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan will keep the team in the playoff. However, the Buckeyes could fall behind Clemson and even Washington based on the team's lack of a conference title.

This would leave Ohio State with an opening-round date with mighty Alabama.

       

Should the Nittany Lions Get in?

Penn State's win over Wisconsin was impressive, and it already has a lot of folks clamoring to put the Nittany Lions in the playoff.

Aaron Torres of FoxSports.com wrote the following before Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game:

It’s insane that Penn State could be left out in favor of the Buckeyes. And although the committee seems to be hinting otherwise, I’m not willing to concede that Ohio State is a “lock” to make the Final Four. The Buckeyes aren’t, and with a big statement win Saturday, Penn State could make a heck of case it should be in.

There are problems with ousting the Buckeyes in order to give Penn State a ticket. For one, Ohio State has one loss, while Penn State has two. Also, Ohio State has a better record against teams respected by the CFP committee.

Realistically, it could make more sense to put the Nittany Lions in at No. 4 and leave Washington out of the playoff. The Huskies showed that they probably deserve to be in the Final Four with their big win on Saturday. However, the Committee could probably get by with explaining that it placed more weight on the Big Ten championship than the Pac-12 championship.

Would such a decision spark debate and potentially some outrage? Sure. That's not going to be enough reason for the committee to not make a decision.

Perhaps the real question here is whether Penn State-Alabama would draw better ratings than Washington-Alabama. Unless, of course, the committee jumps Penn State past Clemson in order to set up a rematch with the Buckeyes to open the playoff.

      

Who Plays in the Rose Bowl?

The Rose Bowl's Big Ten participant should be pretty easy to figure out. If Penn State doesn't get into the playoff, the Nittany Lions go to Pasadena, California. If Penn State does, we should see Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Over in the Pac-12, things are a little more unsettled—unless Washington is the team that gets booted for Penn State's playoff entry.

If Washington is in the playoff, then the Pac-12 will get to choose its representative. The easy choice would be to put Colorado into the game as conference runner-up. However, the choice being easy doesn't make it right.

The Pac-12 might choose instead to send red-hot USC. The Trojans have reeled off eight straight victories and appear to be playing as well as anyone in the nation right now.

        

It would be easy enough for the committee to explain picking USC here. With the loss to Washington on Saturday, the Buffaloes now have as many losses as the Trojans, including one on a head-to-head matchup.

The Trojans also hold a head-to-head win over Washington, the team currently considered the fourth-best in the country.

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