The Michigan Wolverines' reward for slaying the Ohio State Buckeyes and potentially winning the Big Ten Championship Game will be a trip to Texas.
Michigan would finish as the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff rankings if it beats the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Georgia Bulldogs defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide.
If Georgia is aligned with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, that matchup should take place at the Orange Bowl to avoid giving the potential Big 12 champion a game closer to home.
Michigan would be the third No. 2 seed to begin their playoff quest inside AT&T Stadium. Alabama and the Clemson Tigers started their respective playoff title runs in Arlington, Texas, in 2015 and 2018.
That could be a good omen for the Wolverines, who have experienced the most success under head coach Jim Harbaugh this season.
Michigan's likely Cotton Bowl opponent is the Cincinnati Bearcats. Luke Fickell's team can become the first Group of Five program to qualify for the playoff if it beats the Houston Cougars in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday.
Cotton Bowl Information
Date: Friday, December 31
Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET or 7:30 p.m. ET
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Cincinnati
Michigan simplified its path to the College Football Playoff by beating Ohio State.
The Wolverines vaulted from No. 5 to No. 2 in Tuesday's rankings release. That positioning confirms they will enter the four-team field with a win in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan caught a break in its title matchup since Iowa earned the Big Ten West bid through the Minnesota Golden Gophers' win over the Wisconsin Badgers.
Iowa presents an easier matchup for Michigan because it has gone through offensive struggles this season.
Iowa went through a three-week stretch in October in which it managed 31 points in one win and two losses.
Kirk Ferentz's team scored a single touchdown in their losses to the Purdue Boilermakers and Wisconsin in the middle of October.
Michigan's defensive front has the potential to make life miserable for the Hawkeyes on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Michigan allows 196.3 passing yards per game and has two double-digit sack artists in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
Hutchinson and Ojabo were menaces to the Ohio State offense, and they could wreak havoc on any opposing quarterback they face for the rest of the season.
The Wolverines have established dominance on offense through their rushing attack. Hassan Haskins ran for five scores in the win over Ohio State.
If Michigan follows the same formula it did to beat Ohio State, it will be confirmed as the No. 2 seed in the playoff. The Wolverines could be No. 1 if Alabama upsets Georgia, but that seems unlikely with the way the Bulldogs defense has played.
Cincinnati slowly moved up the CFB Playoff rankings throughout November. Its climb began at No. 6, and it checked in at No. 4 on Tuesday.
The Bearcats will take over the No. 3 spot if they beat Houston and Alabama loses to Georgia. In that case, Alabama would fall out of the top four from third.
Cincinnati owns a head-to-head advantage over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and their undefeated mark could be favored over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Desmond Ridder and Co. found another gear offensively in the last few weeks. They posted at least 35 points in each of the last three weeks. The Bearcats produced two of their biggest wins in conference play in the last two games.
Cincinnati has the advantage of playing its conference championship game at home, and that should help it in pressure-packed moments.
Cincinnati won all but one of its six home games by double figures. Its win inside Nippert Stadium was its most impressive, as it blew out the SMU Mustangs 48-14. SMU was in the mix to make the AAC Championship Game when November started.
A Michigan-Cincinnati matchup would be unique for the two programs, but it would carry a bit of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry influence since Fickell is an Ohio State product.
It would also allow us to see two new teams in the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten has only been represented by Ohio State and the Michigan State Spartans, and no Group of Five programs has been ranked as high as Cincinnati.