College Football Playoffs, Bowl Drops: Paths to Ohio State and New Year’s Six Finalists with berths

With the College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday, it’s time to examine the prospects for teams still looking for a four-team home. There are basically five teams competing for those spots with only four of them actually competing in the conference championship games played on Friday and Saturday.

Because of such a shortlist this year, we’ve expanded this annual story to include a look at what prospects are out there for the remaining six New Year’s games outside of the playoffs. There’s not a lot of flexibility with a lot of conference connections involved, but there’s still some intrigue.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the remaining CFP contenders in their current standings along with an explanation of what each team can achieve this weekend. Let’s take a look at how these teams stack up with the Championship Week and final CFP rankings.

College Football Playoff Tracks

Six tracks for the new year

The six options for the New Year are more numerous. After the CFP pairs are assigned, the Rose, Sugar, and Orange Bowls will select teams for their games. Here’s how that would go down.

flower pot

If the Big Ten and/or Pac-12 champions advance to the playoff, the bowl will select their replacements. Traditionally, these would be the highest-ranked teams remaining from those conferences. However, the Rose Bowl has the option of selecting its participants from a “pool” of similarly ranked teams.

If Michigan and USC both won this weekend, the Rose Bowl could have been left with a rematch of last year featuring Ohio State and Utah. This would have been less than ideal. The Rose appeared poised to field No. 8 Penn State from the Big Ten and/or No. 12 from the Pac-12 to ensure the game would not repeat. The Buckeyes have played in the Rose Bowl twice in the past four years, while the Nittany Lions have not been in the game since 2016. If the Huskies were as likely a Pac-12 as the Utes, in addition to playing the Rose Bowl last year, they would have suffered their fourth loss.

However, that all became moot Friday night with Utah’s victory over USC to ensure the Pac-12 champion advanced to the Rose Bowl. With Ohio State moved into the playoffs and Michigan already booked a spot, Penn State is now expected to participate in the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten representative. The wildcard is Purdue, which would be automatic in this game if the Boilermakers go against Michigan.

  • Michigan win: Pennsylvania vs. Utah
  • Bordeaux win: Purdue vs Utah


Likewise, the Sugar Bowl features the conference champions from the SEC and the Big 12. Big 12 status is set. Since TCU will be a playoff or forfeit team, Kansas State will be in the Sugar Bowl as either the Big 12 champion or as a replacement for the Horned Frogs. If Georgia wins, No. 6 Alabama will replace the Bulldogs in this game. Otherwise, LSU gets to be the conference champion.

  • Georgia wins: Alabama vs. Kansas State
  • LSU wins: LSU vs. Kansas State

orange bowl

This bowl only gets one conference champion. The ACC title winner is the anchor with No. 9 Clemson against No. 23 North Carolina State to decide the berth as neither team can reach the playoff. The opponent is the highest-ranked team remaining from the SEC, Big Ten, or Notre Dame not in the playoff, Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl. This representative will come from the SEC and be either Alabama or No. 7 Tennessee.

  • Georgia wins: Tennessee vs. Clemson or North Carolina
  • LSU wins: Alabama vs. Clemson or North Carolina

Cotton bowl

This is the only game with large locations. One of those will go to the group of five automatic qualifiers, which will be the winner of the AAC battle between No. 18 Tulane and No. 22 UCF. The other spot simply goes to the highest ranked team remaining who was not already in the New Year’s Six game.

These options would be USC, Tennessee, or Washington. It’s unknown where USC will fall, but at 11-2 the Trojans are the team with the most potential for a Final Six finish in the new year.

The highest-ranked team that has never had a chance to play in the New Year’s Six is ​​No. 13 Florida State. However, this does not mean that all of the top 12 teams will qualify. In fact, an AAC champ wouldn’t be in the top 12, and Purdue wouldn’t rank that high either even as a Big Ten champ.

Along with this list of contenders, CBS Sports has released my update Bowl predictions for the 2022-23 season on Friday night. Reminder: These projections are not how things are now but rather how I expect them to look after Saturday’s conference championship games.

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