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John Raoux/Associated Press
Little changed this week atop both of college football’s major polls, and that’s likely to continue in Tuesday’s College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings.
Three of the top four teams—Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson—won comfortably. But for Ohio State, Saturday’s cancellation against Illinois because of COVID-19-related roster issues not only cost the Buckeyes a game, but it could also cost them a chance to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. According to the league’s guidelines for this pandemic-shortened season, teams eligible for the title game must play six of their eight scheduled games.
The Buckeyes have played just four, with remaining games against Michigan and Michigan State on the schedule. If they are forced to cancel either of those, they will be short of the requirement, and it’s hard to see the College Football Playoff committee selecting a team into the top four that has played fewer than six games and wasn’t in its conference title game over teams like Florida or Texas A&M.
For now, it’s hard to see Ohio State not suiting up for the final two games with all of that at stake, but it will be the sport’s biggest storyline as bowl season approaches.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. Indiana
Cotton Bowl: Iowa State vs. Texas A&M
Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Miami
Peach Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia
We barely knew ye, Northwestern. The Wildcats landed at No. 8 in the first 2020 College Football Playoff rankings released. Five days later, they fell in a shocking upset to unranked Michigan State, just about dashing any hopes they had of making a New Year’s Six bowl. Indiana, meanwhile, still has a path into the NY6, though a matchup with a ranked Wisconsin team with eyes on that bid awaits Saturday. The winner of that matchup is in prime position for a New Year’s trip to the desert.
Barring any major upsets, the other three NY6 games are likely to stand as above. Iowa State survived its toughest remaining test by squeaking out a close win over Texas and only has a meeting with West Virginia standing in the way of a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. The winner of that is likely to face former Big 12 rival Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas.
The Orange Bowl could feature one of college football’s most bitter rivalries between Miami and Florida, which was discontinued as a regular game in the 2000s. The Gators’ only hopes for the CFP—outside of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game—are for Ohio State to fall out of the top four or for Clemson to lose in a rematch with Notre Dame in the ACC title game.
Georgia hasn’t been impressive this year, but the Bulldogs are still inside the CFP top 10, and as long as they win out, it’s hard to see anyone making a big jump over them. They don’t have any path to the SEC Championship Game, but their lone game remaining is against lifeless Vanderbilt, which just fired head coach Derek Mason and hasn’t won a game this season.
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Ken Ruinard/Associated Press
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson
The four teams projected for the CFP are the same as they have been for weeks. And it’s hard to argue that there are any teams better than these four, even if Ohio State has only played four games this season.
Barring a loss to Florida in the SEC title game, Alabama is a lock for the No. 1 seed with its strength of schedule and dominance over SEC opponents this year. For Clemson and Notre Dame, a rematch in the ACC Championship Game will decide whether one or both of these teams will be in the CFP. If the Fighting Irish win again, Clemson almost certainly drops out and is replaced by either Florida or Texas A&M. If the Tigers win, it’s hard to see Notre Dame falling out of the top four.
That leaves us with Ohio State, which just needs to emerge victorious from two very winnable games over the next two weeks to get to the Big Ten Championship Game. There, the Buckeyes will face either Northwestern, Iowa or Wisconsin, all three of whom OSU should beat somewhat handily. But if they do slip up—or somehow can’t get in six regular-season games—things get interesting.
Follow Keegan on Twitter, @ByKeeganPope.