Bowl Projections 2021: Predictions for CFP Championship and Biggest Matchups

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2021

Bowl Projections 2021: Predictions for CFP Championship and Biggest Matchups

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    It's been a wild and wildly entertaining college football season thus far. As we head into Championship Week, plenty is left to be decided. However, the College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee seems close to setting the field for the 2021-22 season.

    Once again, fans will be treated to a four-team playoff—a format that may exist for the foreseeable future. A 12-team playoff has been proposed, but movement toward playoff expansion continues to stall. Another conference took place on Wednesday, but no decision was reached on when or how to expand the collegiate postseason.

    "We aren't done," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, per Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated. "I wish we were. There's no way to dance around it: We are working our way through hard issues and we disagree."

    Expansion wasn't going to occur this year, of course, and while it's fun to think about how a 12-team field would shape up this December, teams are vying for those top four spots.

    How might the 2022 College Football Playoffs look? Here, we'll dive into some predictions for the field and for some of the biggest non-playoff bowl games. First, though, let's examine the biggest games from this weekend's schedule.

Championship Week: Notable Games for Saturday, December 4

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Big-12 Championship Game

    No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State

    12 p.m. ET on ABC


    American Athletic Conference Championship Game

    No. 21 Houston vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

    4 p.m. ET on ABC


    SEC Championship Game

    No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 1 Georgia

    4 p.m. ET on CBS


    ACC Championship Game

    No. 16 Wake Forest vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh

    8 p.m. ET on ABC


    Big Ten Championship Game

    No. 13 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan

    8 p.m. ET on Fox

College Football Playoff Rankings, Top 10

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    No. 1 Georgia

    No. 2 Michigan

    No. 3 Alabama

    No. 4 Cincinnati

    No. 5 Oklahoma State

    No. 6 Notre Dame

    No. 7 Ohio State

    No. 8 Mississippi

    No. 9 Baylor

    No. 10 Oregon


    This is the top 10 according to the CFP Committee. However, Saturday's slate of games is likely to change the field fairly dramatically. The SEC matchup between Georgia and Alabama is probably the most important contest, though the AAC, Big Ten and Pac-12 games will also be important.

    Should Alabama upset Georgia, we'll likely see both SEC competitors in the final four. If the underdog doesn't deliver, however, Alabama will likely drop out of the playoff field for only the second time since the format was adopted.

    Cincinnati and Michigan will likely have to win to stay in, but there's still a chance that the Bearcats could drop if they don't pass the fabled "eye test" against Houston. It would be difficult to keep out an undefeated Cincinnati team, but if Alabama wins and stays, Oklahoma State or even Notre Dame could conceivably jump Cincinnati.

    The committee will make its final decisions on Sunday, December 5. The selection show is set to air at noon ET and can be viewed on ESPN and the ESPN app.

Bolw Game Projections

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

    Thursday, December 30 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: Pittsburgh vs. Mississippi


    Allstate Sugar Bowl

    Saturday, January 1 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: Baylor vs. Alabama


    Rose Bowl

    Saturday, January 1 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: Utah vs. Ohio State

    PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

    Saturday, January 1 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State


    We're largely assuming that the high seeds take care of business in their respective championship games this weekend, though that ultimately may not be the case. Upsets could lead to some surprises in the non-playoff bowl race.

    The ACC title game, for example, is going to be an intriguing affair, even if it has no real bearing on the CFP picture. Pittsburgh and Wake Forest both fall outside of the top 10, but the winner is likely to take on 10-2 Mississippi in the first of the New Year's Six.

    I'm backing Pitt here, though it's likely to be a back-and-forth thriller. Ultimately, rising quarterback and Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett should do enough to earn a matchup with Ole Miss in late December.

    Should Oklahoma State and Georgia take care of business in their respective matchups, a two-loss Alabama team is likely to fall out of the top four and face Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. I'd expect to see Ohio State in the Rose Bowl unless Michigan falls in the Big Ten title game. We could see a two-loss Wolverines squad fall out of the top four.

    Utah notched a 38-10 victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and should face the Buckeyes next.

    If Michigan wins, Michigan State and Notre Dame feels like the Fiesta Bowl matchup. There's a slight chance that Notre Dame could sneak into the final four, but it would likely take a lot of losing from the teams ranked higher for that to happen.

CFP Predictions

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Capital One Orange Bowl

    Friday, December 31 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 2 Michigan


    Goodyear Cotton Bowl

    Friday, December 31 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

    CFP National Championship

    Monday, January 10 on ESPN

    Projected Matchup: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan


    If Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State all win on Saturday, the CFP Committee will have a decision to make. Would a two-loss Alabama team edge out a one-loss Oklahoma State team? It feels unlikely, but it's not impossible.

    The picture will be equally cloudy if Alabama knocks off Georgia. My guess is that in this scenario, Michigan would move to No. 1 with a win. Alabama and Georgia would likely sit at No. 2 and No. 3 in some form or another, while a tough decision would loom at No. 4.

    Would the committee keep out the undefeated Bearcats to push Oklahoma State into the picture? Might Notre Dame creep in with a Cowboys loss? It's entirely possible, and a lot will hinge on (whether fair or not) how much the committee values a program's draw and quality of wins.

    A close loss to Houston could be problematic for Cincinnati. The Bearcats played tight games against Navy and Tulsa. An unconvincing win would at least open the door for a fall to No. 5. If Cincinnati wins big, though, it'll be tough for the committee to keep Cincinnati out.

    The Bearcats are the closest we've come to a true Cinderella story in the CFP era. The committee should want to at least give the impression that you don't have to be a Power 5 powerhouse to reach the final four. Even with an Alabama loss, though, I'd be willing to bet that Cincinnati stays at No. 4 and is indeed leapfrogged by Oklahoma State.

    I'm not going out on a limb by predicting Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State to all win on Saturday and to make up the final four, but that's what I see unfolding.