2022 College Football Season: Projecting every New Year’s Six bowl game

Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks on during the second quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

• One week of the college football regular season remains: We project the Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose bowls with postseason play nearly upon us.

Georgia faces Michigan in one semifinal: Despite a projected loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines make the playoff thanks to USC losing one of its next two games.

Ohio State and TCU play in the other: Two undefeated Power Five champions face off in the playoff.

There are 41 bowl games, but six stand out above the rest. Nicknamed the “New Year’s Six,” these games rotate the hosting of the two semifinal games of the College Football Playoff. The other four often feature the remaining top 12 teams in the country.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, here are our projected matchups for the New Year’s Six bowl games.

*Note: Ranking in playoff games is predicted ranking at the end of the season, while other rankings are where things currently stand heading into Week 13.

Peach Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #1 Georgia Bulldogs vs. #4 Michigan Wolverines

Top-ranked Georgia really only needs to beat Georgia Tech this weekend to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff. That has a 99.2% chance of happening, according to PFF’s power rankings. Even if the Bulldogs lose to LSU in the SEC championship game, the committee will still almost assuredly keep them in the final four.

As for Michigan, it can also clinch a playoff spot this weekend. The Wolverines don’t have it nearly as easy as Georgia, though. Michigan has a 31.7% chance of taking down second-ranked Ohio State, according to PFF’s power rankings. Even if the Wolverines lose, they can still make the playoff if either TCU or USC drops a game. USC will likely face two top-10 teams in PFF’s power rankings in Notre Dame and Oregon, so it’s unlikely that the Trojans come out unscathed. 

Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #3 TCU Horned Frogs

Ohio State is in the same boat as Michigan. With a win, the Buckeyes clinch a spot in the playoff, regardless of the outcome of the Big Ten championship game. A loss means Ohio State needs help in the form of either a TCU loss or a USC loss.

While the Horned Frogs are undefeated, they likely can’t make the playoff with even a single loss. However, there’s a good chance that TCU will run the table, as the team takes on Iowa State and likely Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. The Cyclones are tied for 76th in PFF’s power rankings, while the Wildcats lost to the Horned Frogs already this season.

Orange Bowl: #7 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. #8 Clemson Tigers

Alabama still has a chance at the playoff, albeit a small one. The Crimson Tide have a 1% chance of being invited to the final four, according to PFF’s power rankings. For that to occur, a lot would need to happen.

Clemson also needs some help to make the playoff, but not as much as Alabama. The Tigers would need to win their last two games against South Carolina and North Carolina while USC loses, TCU loses and Georgia beats LSU

Sugar Bowl: #5 LSU Tigers vs. #12 Kansas State Wildcats

LSU is looking to become the first two-loss team to make the College Football Playoff in its nine-year history. If the Tigers beat top-ranked Georgia in the SEC championship game, they’ll create a very interesting argument for the playoff committee. An SEC champion has never been denied an invite to the playoff.

While Kansas State can’t make the playoff, the Wildcats can still play spoiler to fourth-ranked TCU and win the Big 12 championship. However, Kansas State needs to take care of business on Saturday against Kansas in order to get to the title game.

Cotton Bowl: #10 Tennessee Volunteers vs. #24 Cincinnati Bearcats

Tennessee saw its playoff hopes disappear against South Carolina in a 63-38 rout. Making matters worse is the fact that Volunteers star quarterback Hendon Hooker suffered a torn ACL in the loss. While it’s certainly a disappointing end to an otherwise magical season, Tennessee should still make its first New Year’s Six bowl game since 2004.

The Group of Five conferences are guaranteed one school to represent them in the New Year’s Six bowl games. Over the past two seasons, that team has been Cincinnati, who became the Group of Five’s first-ever playoff team last season. While the Bearcats won’t make the playoff this year, they can still extend their NY6 appearance streak to three. On Friday, No. 24 Cincinnati takes on No. 19 Tulane. The winner of that game would become the favorite to be the Group of Five’s representative in the Cotton Bowl.

Rose Bowl: #6 USC Trojans vs. #11 Penn State Nittany Lions 

If USC wins its final two games against Notre Dame and likely Oregon, the Trojans would likely make the program’s first-ever playoff. As stated earlier, the chances of USC winning both contests are slim. The Trojans can still represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl if they lose to the Fighting Irish but beat the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game.

Since both Ohio State and Michigan make the playoff in this projection, that makes Penn State the Big Ten’s representative for the Rose Bowl. Aside from the Nittany Lions’ losses to the Buckeyes and Wolverines, they’ve won their other nine games by an average of 26 points. If both the Buckeyes and Wolverines make the playoff, Penn State could be playing in the Rose Bowl.

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