Bowl Predictions 2021: Projections for College Football Playoff Contenders

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIOctober 24, 2021

Bowl Predictions 2021: Projections for College Football Playoff Contenders

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Georgia may be in a class of its own this year. And that's becoming more evident with every passing week of the 2021 college football season.

    The No. 1 Bulldogs didn't play in Week 8, as they were on a bye. However, several other top College Football Playoff contenders weren't too impressive. No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 3 Oklahoma played unexpectedly competitive games. No. 4 Alabama let Tennessee hang around until late. And No. 7 Penn State and No. 8 Oklahoma State were both knocked off.

    As other strong teams struggle to keep rolling, Georgia has won each of its past six games by at least 17 points. And when it returns to action next week, it may pick up right where it left off.

    Here's a look at the current CFP landscape following the conclusion of Week 8.

New Year's Six Bowl Predictions

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    College Football Playoff Semifinals

    Orange Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

    Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma


    Rest of New Year's Six

    Peach Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest

    Fiesta Bowl: Michigan vs. Notre Dame

    Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Oregon

    Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma, Cincinnati Need to Be More Impressive

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Oklahoma and Cincinnati aren't exactly putting together the most impressive resumes for the College Football Playoff selection committee. At least not yet. And both played games that were a little bit closer than either would have preferred on Saturday.

    The No. 2 Bearcats played at Navy, and the Midshipmen trailed by only three points at halftime. Although Cincinnati pulled away in the second half, leading by as many as 17 points, Navy only ended up losing 27-20. The Bearcats need to be dominating AAC competition in order to become the first Group of Five team to reach the CFP, and that wasn't what happened in this matchup.

    Meanwhile, the No. 3 Sooners nearly had a devastating loss at Kansas. The Jayhawks hadn't defeated Oklahoma since 1997, having lost the previous 16 meetings between the two schools. However, Kansas had a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter, putting Oklahoma on upset watch.

    The Sooners pulled out a 35-23 victory, but it marked their sixth win by 12 or fewer points during their 8-0 start. They may be undefeated, but they need to start showing they're a legitimate CFP contender.

    For now, Cincinnati and Oklahoma remain in position to make the Playoff. However, both teams need to do a better job of winning its lighter matchups in more convincing fashion.

Penn State No Longer in CFP Picture

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Three weeks ago, Penn State was undefeated and ranked No. 4 in the country. Now, they're out of the College Football Playoff picture completely, having won each of their past two games and losing all of their early-season momentum.

    On Oct. 9, Penn State lost 23-20 to Iowa—which then immediately lost to Purdue the next week itself. The Nittany Lions were on a bye last week, but they returned to action in unimpressive fashion, falling 20-18 in a historic nine-overtime game against Illinois. Not only was Penn State playing at home, but the Fighting Illini entered the matchup at 2-5.

    Since the College Football Playoff system was implemented in 2014, there's never been a two-loss team to make the four-team field. That's unlikely to change this year, as there are still plenty of strong programs with either no losses or only one loss jockeying for position.

    Penn State has a challenging schedule coming up, with matchups against No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan and No. 9 Michigan State on the horizon. If the Nittany Lions run the table, perhaps there's a way they could somehow get back in the Playoff conversation. But that's unlikely to happen at this point.

Oregon Still Has a Path to the Playoff

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Even though Oregon's hopes of an undefeated season ended on Oct. 2 (when it lost at Stanford in overtime), its College Football Playoff dreams remained alive. The Ducks were still the top-ranked team in the Pac-12, and they still own an impressive win over Ohio State, after all.

    Now, Oregon is back on track, having notched wins over California and UCLA the past two weeks. The Ducks are likely to move up at least two spots to No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll this week, and there's still a path for them to get into the Playoff.

    What needs to happen? Oregon likely has to win each of its final five regular-season games, then win the Pac-12 Championship Game. It's possible that all will happen, but the Ducks may need a few teams ranked ahead of them to lose down the stretch as well.

    Oregon's 34-31 win over UCLA may be its most competitive game for a while. With matchups against Colorado (2-5), Washington (3-4) and Washington State (4-4) the next three weeks, expect the Ducks to keep rolling and to stick around in the Playoff hunt.