Bowl Projections 2016: Postseason Predictions, College Football Playoff Outlook

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Which teams are likely headed to the College Football Playoff?

We’ve gotten deep into the college football season—so deep, in fact, that the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday.

While we can sit and argue over whether the committee got the initial set of rankings right (are the one-loss Texas A&M Aggies really better than the undefeated Washington Huskies?), one thing is certain: The rankings are likely to settle themselves over the next month.

There will be arguments to be made for teams left out of the playoff, but it feels better to be upset about the No. 5 team not getting in than the No. 3 team—as was the case before the playoff was installed.

For the most part, the best teams should distance themselves over the next several weeks.

Now, we’re going to take an early look at the road to the playoff and give our picks for the field of four. First, though, let’s take a look at the opening CFP rankings:


Projected Final Rankings

Projected Top 6
Rank Team
1 Alabama
2 Clemson
3 Michigan
4 Washington
5 Ohio State
6 Louisville


Major Bowl Projections

Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Michigan

Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Utah

Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma

Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nebraska 

Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Wisconsin


Notable Playoff Contenders

1. Alabama

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Alabama HC Nick Saban

Alabama has been the crown jewel of college football ever since head coach Nick Saban joined the program in 2007. The Crimson Tide have won four national titles since then, and the school is in line to earn its fifth this season.

In fact, Alabama is so heavily favored that most bettors aren’t even getting 2-1 odds, per Odds Shark.

This, of course, doesn’t mean there won’t be a chance for Alabama to stumble somewhere along the way.

The biggest obstacle could come Saturday against the LSU Tigers. This is going to be an intense and hard-hitting affair, and it’s one the Tide cannot take lightly.

Saban commented on the looming matchup, per SEC Country’s Marq Burnett:

Sure, Alabama has won five straight over its rival, but that isn’t going to mean much when the two teams suit up to do battle. If Alabama cannot contain Leonard Fournette and the LSU rushing attack, the Crimson Tide could lose.

You better believe the Tigers are confident they can pull off the upset, too.

“They’re going to be fired up and ready to go, but we need to execute, and we have to expect that Alabama’s going to come in here and have great execution,” LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron said, per Michael Casagrande of “This is going to be a battle.”

If Alabama gets past LSU, the team will have a great shot at getting into the playoff. Even if the Tide lose in the SEC title game, they might not fall past the No. 4 spot.


2. Clemson

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Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

The No. 2-ranked Clemson Tigers should reach the playoff if they manage to finish the season undefeated, and the team’s toughest games appear to be behind it.

Clemson bested the Louisville Cardinals (ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25 at the time) 42-36 on Oct. 1. Last Saturday, the Tigers earned a 37-34 win over the 12th-ranked Florida State Seminoles. The remaining schedule leading up to the ACC Championship Game is comparatively underwhelming.

Clemson’s Remaining Schedule
Date Opponent
Nov. 5 Syracuse
Nov. 12 Pittsburgh
Nov. 19 at Wake Forest
Nov. 26 South Carolina
Dec. 3 ACC Championship Game*

*If team qualifies

Clemson features an explosive offense under the guidance of star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team also boasts an underrated defense that has allowed just 17.6 points per game. This team has a chance to win out, but it will be tested by top-tier competition in the playoff.

The question we should be asking is whether the team is built to survive the likes of Alabama or Michigan when it matters most. Clemson couldn’t outlast Alabama in last year’s CFP National Championship, losing 45-40.

This appears to be a more mature and grizzled Clemson team than the one we saw last year, but has it grown enough to earn a victory where last year’s team could not?


6. Ohio State

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Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

The Ohio State Buckeyes’ loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions on Oct. 22 was devastating for the team’s championship hopes. While the Buckeyes still have a chance to get into the playoff, they are on the outside looking in.

The path to the playoff is difficult.

The first thing the Buckeyes have to do is make it past the No. 10-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. That will be no easy challenge, even if the Buckeyes are three-score favorites, per Odds Shark.

The biggest test, of course, will come Nov. 26, when Ohio State is set to host the No. 3-ranked Michigan Wolverines. If the Buckeyes best the Wolverines, they’ll have a good shot at moving into the top four. The problem is that Ohio State cannot afford a second loss this season.

A one-loss Buckeyes team might belong in the playoff; it would be hard to argue for a two-loss Ohio State squad.

In addition to Nebraska and Michigan, the Buckeyes also have to beat Michigan State. Though the Spartans are winless in Big Ten play, they put up a strong fight against Michigan a week ago and may take take Ohio State to the limit.

If the Buckeyes win out, they’ll get their shot at the championship. As of now, though, that feels unlikely.