Bowl Projections 2021: Predictions, Updated College Football Playoff Outlook
Since the College Football Playoff system was implemented in the 2014 season, there hasn't been a team to win back-to-back national championships. But if there's any school that could do it, it's Alabama, which has already won three national titles in the CFP era.
The Crimson Tide cruised to a national championship last season by going 13-0, and they're off to a strong start in their quest to repeat. They've won their first five games of the 2021 campaign, already taking down formidable SEC rivals Florida and Ole Miss.
Who was the last team to win consecutive national championships? Alabama, of course, as Nick Saban led the Tide to back-to-back titles in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
There are still two months of regular-season games to be played, so a lot could change. One misstep could see Alabama or other top teams plummet in the rankings. However, it's hard to imagine the Crimson Tide won't be in the four-team CFP field at season's end.
Here's a look at some current bowl projections, along with a breakdown of the current playoff landscape.
Early Bowl Projections
College Football Playoff
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31): Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Orange Bowl (Dec. 31): Georgia vs. Penn State
New Year's Six
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Iowa vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss
Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma State vs. Coastal Carolina
Peach Bowl (Dec. 30): Ohio State vs. Wake Forest
More Notable Bowls
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Arkansas vs. Michigan
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan State vs. Florida
Gator Bowl (Dec. 31): Clemson vs. Kentucky
Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): Arizona State vs. North Carolina
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 30): Maryland vs. UCLA
Music City Bowl (Dec. 30): Auburn vs. Minnesota
Cheez-It Bowl (Dec. 29): Notre Dame vs. Baylor
Alabama, Georgia Could Battle for Both SEC Title, National Title
Alabama and Georgia are the clear top two teams in the country. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs have impressed during their 5-0 starts, each taking down some of the top competition the SEC has to offer. And neither team is likely to slow down anytime soon.
As long as both Alabama and Georgia can avoid getting upset, the two teams should be facing off in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. Even though that will be an exciting matchup, it may not have much of an impact on the College Football Playoff field.
If the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs are still ranked Nos. 1 and 2 at that point, they should both get into the CFP, even though one of them will be guaranteed to have a loss on their record. It won't be a bad defeat, and if the game is competitive, it may be clear the loser is still the second-best team in the country.
So it's possible that Alabama and Georgia will still end up with the top two seeds, setting up the potential for the SEC rivals to meet in the CFP National Championship. It wouldn't be the first time. In the 2017 season, the Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime to win the national title in one of the best games of the playoff era.
Big Ten Rivals Could Battle It out for CFP Berth
While SEC teams own the top two spots in the AP Top 25 poll, a pair of Big Ten teams are immediately behind them. No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State are also off to 5-0 starts as each looks to make the College Football Playoff for the first time in its program's history.
However, the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions may end up playing each other twice before the CFP field is set. The conference rivals are going head-to-head this Saturday, when Iowa hosts Penn State in one of the biggest matchups of the season to this point.
Could it be a preview of the Big Ten Championship Game? Potentially. But even if Penn State wins, it will have more difficult matchups to follow against No. 7 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan and No. 11 Michigan State. If the Nittany Lions hope to reach the CFP, they're going to have to run the gauntlet.
There's an easier path to the CFP for Iowa, which may not play another ranked team after Saturday until the conference championship game, assuming it gets there. But the Hawkeyes don't have much margin for error, and they need to make a statement against the Nittany Lions.
It's possible but unlikely that the Big Ten gets two teams into the College Football Playoff field. And if Penn State knocks off all the tough competition it faces, it will unquestionably be the top team in the conference.
Cincinnati Has Opportunity to Make CFP History
It's been tough for non-Power Five teams to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee enough to earn a spot in the four-team field. That's why it's never happened over the first seven seasons of the system. Maybe that changes this year.
Cincinnati could have one of the strongest cases that a Group of Five team has ever had. The Bearcats, ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25 poll, have started 4-0, and this past Saturday, they went on the road and took down Notre Dame for a trademark victory.
Cincinnati will look to win its final eight regular-season contests and the AAC Championship Game. If it does, it should have done enough to become a historic CFP participant. The Bearcats would have a stronger resume than they put together in 2020, when they went 9-0 but had to settle for a Peach Bowl appearance.
Of course, Cincinnati has to take care of business over the next two months for this to be a possibility. It still has some solid teams on the schedule, most notably No. 24 SMU.
But with the way the Bearcats are playing, they could be on a trajectory toward the CFP.