GRAPEVINE, Texas — The SEC’s dominance this season was reflected in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first ranking of the season, as one-loss LSU jumped undefeated Notre Dame for the No. 3 spot, joining No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson in the CFP semifinals.
With this particular ranking, there would be five SEC teams in the New Year’s Six bowls, including two in the semifinal.
But don’t write off the Big 12 and Pac-12 just yet.
With one-loss Oklahoma at No. 7 and one-loss Washington State at No. 8, the 13 members of the selection committee have given those conference front-runners more credit than the court of public opinion. Both teams have strength of schedule questions and would likely need to win out and finish with a conference title in order to climb into the top four, but by starting out in the top 10, it might not be a far reach in the eyes of the committee.
While strength of schedule wasn’t much of a deterrent for Washington State, which didn’t play any Power 5 nonconference opponents, it kept undefeated UCF at No. 12. The selection committee doesn’t factor in past seasons — only this season’s résumé. Still, it would be good enough for the Knights to earn another bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Here’s what the bracket would look like if the playoff ended today.
No. 1 Alabama would face No. 4 Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic because the committee won’t put the No. 1 seed at any geographic disadvantage, and while marginal, Arlington is slightly closer than Orlando, where No. 2 Clemson will face No. 3 LSU in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl. It also would be an unfair advantage for LSU to play in Arlington as it is geographically closer to Baton Rouge than Tuscaloosa.
The Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual is a contract bowl which historically pits the Big Ten champ against the Pac-12 champ, which is projected in this ranking to be No. 5 Michigan against No. 8 Washington State. The Allstate Sugar Bowl is also a contract bowl, which is guaranteed the Big 12 champ and the SEC champ. Since both the SEC champion, in this case Alabama, and the runner-up, LSU, are in the semifinals, the Sugar Bowl would get the next-highest ranked SEC team, which is No. 6 Georgia. The Bulldogs would play No. 7 Oklahoma, which is the projected Big 12 champion in this ranking.
No. 12 UCF would likely head to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl as the highest-ranked champion from a Group of Five conference, which is guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, because it played in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last year. The Knights would face No. 9 Kentucky, based on fan interest and matchup.
The Peach Bowl would then have No. 10 Ohio State against No. 11 Florida, as they are the highest-ranked remaining teams, and would also be chosen based on fan interest and matchup.
(All games can be seen on ESPN and the ESPN App)
Saturday, Dec. 29
Noon ET: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 11 Florida vs. No. 10 Ohio State (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
4 p.m. ET: College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 4 Notre Dame vs No. 1 Alabama (Cotton Bowl Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
8 p.m. ET: College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 3 LSU vs No. 2 Clemson (Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)
Tuesday, Jan. 1
1 p.m. ET: PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Kentucky vs. No. 12 UCF (University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)
5 p.m. ET: Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: No. 8 Washington State vs. No. 5 Michigan (Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)
8:45 p.m. ET: Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Georgia (Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)