There shouldn't be too much drama ahead of the College Football Playoff rankings reveal on Sunday.
Conference championship Saturday felt set up for chaos after Oklahoma State's Dezmon Jackson came up inches short of a Big 12-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 title game. The Cowboys entered the weekend at No. 5 in the CFP rankings and were poised to move into the top four with a win and a Georgia win over Alabama.
Neither of those wins happened. Baylor ran out the clock after Jackson was stopped short for a 21-16 win and Alabama beat up Georgia in the SEC title game.
That Alabama win effectively stole a playoff spot from the rest of the field. With Georgia likely in the playoff no matter what happened on Saturday, Alabama needed to win as a 6.5-point underdog to get into the playoff. A loss would have dropped the Tide to 11-2 and out of the top four.
Remember, no two-loss team has ever made the playoff. And that's not happening this year. Alabama is 12-1. So is Georgia. So is Michigan. Cincinnati is 13-0. The playoff field seems pretty set. The only drama on Sunday should be what order those teams are in.
Here's our best guess at what the committee's top 10 will look like on Sunday along with our final New Year's Six bowl projections below. Utah is locked in the Rose Bowl after winning the Pac-12 title while Pitt is heading to the Peach Bowl as the ACC champion.
10. Michigan State (10-2)
The Spartans should move up a spot from No. 11 after Oregon was dominated by Utah on Friday night in the Pac-12 title game. Michigan State should be the third Big Ten team in a New Year’s Six bowl and will either head to Atlanta or Arizona.
9. Ole Miss (10-2)
The Rebels announced a contract extension for coach Lane Kiffin on Saturday night shortly after the SEC title game. Ole Miss is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Alabama’s win as the Tide’s playoff inclusion should move the Rebels up to the Sugar Bowl.
8. Oklahoma State (11-2)
Oklahoma State is a missed field goal in Ames from a BCS title game and now inches away from a College Football Playoff berth. We could see the Cowboys fall to No. 9, but No. 8 feels right and No. 7 is even possible. The consolation prize — just like it was in 2011 — should be a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
7. Ohio State (10-2)
With Michigan in the playoff, Ohio State gets to go to the Rose Bowl as the next-highest ranked team. The Buckeyes will play Utah in Pasadena after the Utes mauled Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
6. Baylor (11-2)
The Bears should be headed to the Sugar Bowl for the second time in three seasons after that dramatic win over Oklahoma State. Baylor was 11-2 the last time it went to the Sugar Bowl in 2019, though that berth came after a loss in the Big 12 title game. This time the Bears enter it as Big 12 champions.
5. Notre Dame (11-1)
The Irish needed Michigan to lose on Saturday night to have a legitimate shot at the playoff. Instead, Notre Dame will instead likely go to the Fiesta Bowl in Marcus Freeman’s first game as head coach.
4. Cincinnati (13-0)
The Bearcats are the only undefeated team at the top level of college football and will be aptly rewarded with a playoff berth. Cincinnati should officially become the first non-Power Five team to make the playoff on Sunday and could be as high as No. 3 in the rankings, though we think the Bearcats will stay at No. 4.
3. Georgia (12-1)
Georgia was the most dominant team of the regular season. That’s undeniable. But it’s also worth examining the level of competition Georgia faced in 2021 after the Bulldogs got beaten by Alabama on Saturday. Georgia is a playoff team. They’re really, really good and had a bad game against the Tide. One bad game after a year of domination — even over meh teams — shouldn’t penalized the Bulldogs too much.
2. Michigan (12-1)
The Wolverines could end up as the No. 1 team in the country after beating Iowa on Saturday night. But staying at No. 2 seems right for a couple of reasons. First, the committee has really liked what it’s seen from Georgia and Alabama for most of the season. Second, we don’t think the committee will want to pit Georgia and Alabama against each other in a semifinal game.
1. Alabama (12-1)
The Crimson Tide only fell out of the top two of the College Football Playoff rankings after Ohio State throttled Michigan State. And they stayed at No. 3 after a comeback win in four overtimes over a 6-6 Auburn team. The seedings aren’t especially important this season, but it sure feels like Alabama will be No. 1 off the heels the respect the committee has given it this season and the way it beat Georgia on Saturday.
FInal New Year's Six bowl projections
Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Michigan vs. Georgia
Ole Miss vs. Baylor
Pitt vs. Michigan State
Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State
Ohio State vs. Utah
Alabama: Never doubt Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Just when we thought this would finally be Georgia’s year to knock Alabama off the SEC throne, Saban’s group turned in a tremendous performance and upset the mighty Bulldogs 41-24 in Atlanta. Georgia entered Saturday’s game allowing just 6.9 points and 229.7 yards per game, but Bryce Young torched the Bulldogs for 431 yards and four total touchdowns. It was a performance that could give Young the Heisman and move Alabama into the No. 1 seed in the CFP. Alabama has now won the SEC in seven of the last 10 seasons.
Michigan: Michigan got the job done by beating Iowa in Indianapolis to win its first outright Big Ten championship since 2003. Jim Harbaugh has taken a lot of flak over the years, but he now has a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten East title and a Big Ten title. Now the Wolverines are headed to the playoff for the first time.
Cincinnati: Unless the CFP selection committee pulls a stunner, Cincinnati is going to become the first team from a Group of Five conference to reach the four-team playoff. The Bearcats took care of business in the AAC title game on Saturday, beating Houston 35-20 to improve to 13-0 on the season. It was a close game for a while, but Cincy’s lead ballooned from 14-13 to 35-13 by scoring three touchdowns in the span of about four minutes in the third quarter.
Baylor: Baylor went just 2-7 in its first season under Dave Aranda. A year later, the Bears are Big 12 champions. BU jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game on Saturday and then held on for dear life. It eventually came down to a goal line stand, and the Baylor defense got the dramatic stop it needed to win the game and spoil OSU’s College Football Playoff hopes.
Utah: For the first time since it moved from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has won the conference championship. The Utes trounced Oregon for the second time in three weeks to earn that conference crown and now the program is headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time. In the 38-10 win, the Utah defense forced two turnovers and limited Oregon to just 221 total yards and 3-of-12 on third down. The Utes started the season 1-2 but have won nine of their last 10 games entering the bowl game. Shoutout to Kyle Whittingham.
Pittsburgh: We can add the Panthers to the list of ACC champions after a big win over Wake Forest on Saturday night. The victory is just Pitt’s third conference championship in school history and the first since 2010. Pitt is likely heading to the Peach Bowl this year and could face Ole Miss. That could be a shootout.
UTSA: UTSA won seven games combined in 2018 and 2019. The Roadrunners hired Jeff Traylor and he immediately turned the program around. UTSA won seven games in 2020 and are now 12-1 and the C-USA champions after a 49-41 victory over Western Kentucky on Friday night. UTSA had 556 yards of offense in the win, including 204 yards and three touchdowns from star running back Sincere McCormick. Now that UTSA has its first conference championship, it can go out and get its first bowl win.
Billy Napier: There have been a lot of hurt feelings with coaches leaving, but that hasn’t been the case at Louisiana. After four years in Lafayette, Billy Napier is leaving for Florida. But before he heads to Gainesville, he coached his team to its first outright Sun Belt championship with a win over Appalachian State, a team that had previously beaten ULL twice in SBC title games during Napier’s tenure. On top of that, the terms of Napier’s contract came out — seven years, $51.8 million, per the AP. Yeah, life is good for Napier.
Utah State: How about Blake Anderson and Utah State? Utah State was in a bad place last year but Anderson, after seven years at Arkansas State, needed a change of scenery and landed in Logan. He executed a quick turnaround and now the Aggies are Mountain West champions after a 46-13 rout of San Diego State on Saturday. SDSU was allowing just 17.3 points per game entering the day, but USU stormed past that and won its first Mountain West title.
Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois went winless in 2020. A year later, NIU has won the MAC championship. NIU was an underdog against Kent State, but turned in an impressive performance on Saturday in Detroit. The Huskies rushed for 266 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-23 win. NIU dominated the time of possession, holding onto the ball for 40:01.
Georgia: Georgia was the best team in the country all season — until it ran into Alabama. The Bulldogs were trounced by the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game. Georgia had the chance to win the SEC for the first time since 2017 and get its first win over Alabama since 2007. Kirby Smart has never beaten his old boss, Nick Saban, and to end Georgia’s national title drought he’ll likely have to do it in the College Football Playoff. It remains to be seen which seed the Bulldogs will have in the four-team playoff.
Oklahoma State: Speaking of the playoff, Oklahoma State blew its chance. At No. 5 in the CFP rankings, OSU would have had a heck of an argument for the playoff had it been able to defeat Baylor in the Big 12 championship. The Cowboys couldn’t do it. They lost 21-16 in a thriller. OSU was stopped at the goal line in the final minute when it had a chance to take the lead. Before that, the Cowboys dug themselves a hole with mistake after mistake from quarterback Spencer Sanders, who threw four interceptions. Mike Gundy’s decision to kick a field goal from inside the 5 when down eight points earlier in the fourth quarter will be questioned all offseason.
Notre Dame: The Irish got a break when Oklahoma State lost to Baylor and needed Georgia to take care of business against Alabama. A Georgia win would have likely dropped the Tide below the Irish and put Notre Dame into the top four. Instead, Alabama bludgeoned Notre Dame's title hopes again, though this time it wasn't on the football field. The Tide's win over Georgia likely locks Notre Dame out of a playoff spot and keeps the Fighting Irish at No. 5 in the rankings.
Oregon: Oregon was barely competitive in the Pac-12 title game. A lot of it had to do with the effort and tenacity of Utah, but the Ducks just looked completely overwhelmed from the opening kickoff. Oregon got embarrassed by Utah a few weeks ago, so you’d think Mario Cristobal’s team would put forth a better effort. Instead, they sputtered on offense, turned the ball over and couldn’t get the stops they needed on defense.
Wake Forest: Wake Forest had a 21-14 lead over Pitt after the first quarter of the ACC title game. The Demon Deacons never scored again. Sam Hartman has been excellent this season, but he struggled mightily on Saturday night in his team's 45-21 loss. Hartman completed just 21-of-46 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Couple those turnovers with just 82 rushing yards, and it was a miserable night for the Wake offense.
San Diego State: SDSU’s 46-13 loss to Utah State in the Mountain West title game was a huge letdown at the end of what has been a really strong season for Brady Hoke’s program. SDSU entered the day with an 11-1 record and had the chance to get to 12 wins for the first time in program history. The Aztecs also could have won the conference for the first time since 2016. Instead, they got blown out and gave up 29 more points than their season average.
Miami: Miami just seems like a mess. The school has no athletic director yet is reportedly making a run at Oregon coach Mario Cristobal all while Manny Diaz — the Hurricanes’ current head coach — is still employed. It’d be hard to argue those who say Cristobal is an upgrade over Diaz, but the way this is all going down and playing out publicly just has the feeling of a highly dysfunctional university. And if Cristobal signs that reported contract extension that’s on the table from Oregon, Miami will look even worse. The whole thing is just unfair to Diaz.