We don’t have to look very far to find a college football lover to forecast bowl season. Our guy Chip Scoggins offers up here what he hopes to see when the bowl game matchups are announced Sunday on ESPN.
But first, a reminder on how all this works. The College Football Playoff consists of seven bowls: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Peach and the CFP National Championship. This season, the Fiesta Bowl and the Peach Bowl are the national semifinals (Dec. 28), and the title game is in New Orleans (Jan. 13). The four other major bowls will include champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and the highest-ranked champion from the Group of Five conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) if that team is not invited to a semifinal. The following tie-ins exist for these top four other bowls this year:
• Rose Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12.
• Sugar Bowl: SEC vs. Big 12.
• Orange Bowl: ACC vs. SEC No. 2, Big Ten No. 2, or Notre Dame.
• Cotton Bowl: at-large or Group of Five (committee selection).
And now for Chip’s picks for his favorite bowl games. These aren’t ironclad projections as much as a wish list for matchups:
Gophers vs. Alabama
Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.
Florida + beach + dynasty opponent + Bloomin’ Onion = sign me up. Seriously, why not? This would represent the mother of all measuring stick games for P.J. Fleck’s program. Test yourself against the best. It’s weird not seeing Alabama in the playoff. Such is the standard for a program with sustained excellence.
Memphis vs. Penn State
Dec. 28 in Arlington, Texas
Sadly, a college football team in Tennessee not nicknamed the Vols earns a prime bowl game. Memphis snags a bid here as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion. Penn State bumps up to a more prestigious bowl thanks to Utah getting blown out by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Michigan vs. Auburn
Jan. 1 in Orlando
Who was the Einstein who put Michigan in the playoff in his preseason predictions? Oh, that’s right. Me. Harbaugh’s goose egg vs. Ohio State reinforces the theory that if at first you don’t succeed, try again, and again, and again. Auburn’s three losses came at Florida, at LSU and home vs. Georgia.
Fiesta Bowl National semifinal
LSU vs. Oklahoma
Dec. 28 in Glendale, Ariz.
LSU had a playoff spot locked up even before the SEC Championship Game, and then the Tigers made it look easy against Georgia. Joe Burrow will win the Heisman and lead LSU to the title game. Oklahoma received a gift when Utah lost in the Pac-12 Championship Game, ending its playoff hopes.
Virginia vs. Florida
Dec. 30 in Miami
Virginia doesn’t rank in the top 30 nationally in scoring or scoring defense. But it is the ACC’s second-best team, so it lands here with Clemson receiving a playoff spot. Florida’s only losses were to LSU and Georgia. Buckle up, Cavaliers.
Iowa vs. Texas A&M
Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Texas A&M’s 7-5 start is meh, but its losses came against Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Not exactly a walk in the park. Another solid 9-3 season for Kirk Ferentz’s program to the south.
Peach Bowl National semifinal
Ohio State vs. Clemson
Dec. 28 in Atlanta
Ohio State was in the same boat as LSU. The Buckeyes were in the playoff even before the Big Ten Championship Game after finishing the regular season No. 1. Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team wasn’t disrespected by saying it needed to go undefeated. The ACC isn’t very good.
Wisconsin vs. Oregon
Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
There was some debate before Saturday’s Big Ten title game as to whether the Rose committee would take Wisconsin or Penn State. Not anymore. The Badgers are headed back to Pasadena. The Ducks would have been in the playoff discussion if not for a season-opening loss to Auburn.
Music City Bowl
Tennessee vs. Va. Tech
Dec. 30 in Nashville
The Vols started 0-2, including a loss to Georgia State, so winning seven games seems like a miracle. Well, hallelujah. Let’s be honest, if the Vols were playing the ’85 Bears or Wayzata High, I’d put this as appointment viewing. Rocky Top, you’ll always be, home sweet home to me.
National championship game
Ohio State vs. LSU
Jan. 13 in New Orleans
Do you like offense? Ohio State entered the weekend averaging 49.9 points per game to lead the nation. LSU was second at 48.7. The Buckeyes and Tigers have been the two most impressive teams all season. My pick: LSU caps a perfect season.
Georgia vs. Baylor
Jan. 1 in New Orleans
If the playoff format were eight teams — which it will be at some point in the future — these two would have been included. Alas, the Sugar isn’t a bad consolation. Baylor has a high-scoring offense, but it hasn’t seen a defense as stout as Georgia’s.
Texas vs. USC
Dec. 31 in San Antonio
Two blue blood “helmet” programs trying to crawl out of ruts. People jumped the gun on Texas’ rebirth. Texas was ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll but finished 7-5. USC is standing by its man, embattled coach Clay Helton, who was told that he will return for his seventh season.