There will be plenty of shifting in the college football landscape between the conclusion of the regular season this weekend and the conference championships next weekend, but there are certain teams all but locked in to particular bowl games.
The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 2 LSU Tigers and No. 3 Clemson Tigers each remained undefeated by winning their respective regular-season finales Saturday. There is no reason to believe those three teams won't be in the College Football Playoff.
The controversy surrounds the fourth and final spot. There are a few teams that have legitimate cases to compete for the national championship. The 11-1 Georgia Bulldogs were ranked No. 4 in the most recent CFP rankings, but they have the unenviable task of facing LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
That matchup leaves the door open for teams such as the 11-1 Utah Utes or 11-1 Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners, according to ESPN's Seth Walder, most likely need for LSU to win and Utah to lose.
It's more probable the Utes will top 10-2 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game than the Bulldogs will upset the Tigers. Under the scenario that Utah prevails and Georgia loses, the Utes will sneak into the College Football Playoff.
George Schroeder @GeorgeSchroeder
The @CFBPlayoff argument this week will be: * Utah’s dominance against a weak slate (lost to only ranked opponent so far, last 3 opponents have losing records—but has been very impressive). * Oklahoma’s/Baylor's wins against more ranked opponents, setting up Top 10 rematch.
The other scenario is if Clemson is upset by Virginia for the ACC Championship. Should that happen, the reigning champions could drop out completely. That would make room for two among Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah instead of one.
Below is a projection for the New Year's Six as well as predictions for the College Football Playoff semifinal games.
College Football Playoff
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 28): Ohio State vs. Utah
Peach Bowl (Dec. 30): LSU vs. Clemson
New Year's Six
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Florida vs. Memphis
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Virginia vs. Georgia
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Penn State vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama vs. Baylor
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Utah
The Buckeyes put on a show against No. 13 Michigan on Saturday, demolishing the Wolverines 56-27. It marked the fourth ranked team Ohio State has beaten this season. It's also topped Michigan State, ranked 25th at the time, as well as No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State.
Ohio State will have a rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes blew out the Badgers 38-7 on Oct. 26 and seem to have only gotten stronger since then. Against Michigan, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns, while junior running back J.K. Dobbins rushed for 211 yards and four touchdowns.
Not to mention junior defensive end Chase Young, who set the program's single-season record for sacks with 16.5.
All of that is to say: The Utes haven't faced an opponent nearly as talented as the Buckeyes all season.
Utah's one loss came Sept. 20 in a 30-23 defeat to USC, which finished the season 8-4. The Utes' lone ranked opponent was No. 17 Arizona State, which finished the season unranked at 6-5.
Should OSU and Utah meet in the Fiesta Bowl, the game figures to be low-scoring based on the Buckeyes' top-ranked defense and Utes' third-ranked defense.
Utah's advantage is its top-ranked run defense, keeping opponents to 55.9 yards per game. The Utes will need to keep up to that form against Dobbins:
That said, Dobbins recorded 157 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Penn State on Nov. 23 when the Nittany Lions ranked first in yards allowed per carry (2.19), per Cleveland.com. Dobbins averages 4.4 yards per carry.
In other words, the Utes would have to play the game of their lives to upset Ohio State.
No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Clemson
No team has been consistently hotter than LSU this season.
Led by senior quarterback Joe Burrow, the odds-on favorite to take home this year's Heisman Trophy, the Tigers have taken down the likes of Alabama, Florida and Auburn. Burrow tossed for the most yards in a single SEC season (4,366) and is tied for the most touchdowns (44). He is also the most accurate passer in an FBS season with a 78.9 completion percentage.
By comparison, Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence took a slight step back from his freshman campaign. Even so, the Tigers are ranked third in total offense (543.1 yards per game) and fourth in scoring offense (45.9 points per game).
Clemson had a much weaker schedule than LSU, only playing one ranked opponent—a 7-5 Texas A&M team that was ranked 12th when the two played Sept. 7. There is a case to be made that the Tigers' relatively lax regular season will play in their favor down the stretch:
While the Tigers offense is record-setting good, their defense is susceptible. LSU ranks 42nd in scoring defense and 43rd in total defense. That could mean a shootout between the two, and it's tempting to side with the experience Clemson has from its championship run a year ago.
However, the Tigers offense has given no reason to doubt against any opponent to this point. Even the reigning champions.