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The final Saturday of the 2017 college football regular season didn’t produce any shockers, with Ohio State’s win over previously unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game the only thing close to being a surprise (though the Buckeyes were favored, per OddsShark.)
The same can’t be said for Sunday, especially when it came to the final spot in the College Football Playoff. The selection committee chose Alabama over Ohio State for the No. 4 seed, which, based on your lean, was either justified or a major head-scratcher.
That was just one of several decisions related to the CFP pairings, New Year’s Six bowl selections and other bowl matchups that stood out Sunday. Follow along as we break down which teams, leagues, bowls and other principals fared the best or worst from the bowl-reveal process.
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We don’t know for certain if the selection committee was watching ESPN late Saturday night, when SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt had both Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer on to state their cases for the final semifinal spot. If it did, it got to listen to two of college football’s top coaches give compelling arguments for why their team should get in.
Had they been in the same room, at the same time, with a moderator in between them, it could have easily been mistaken for a political debate. And with respect to that, it looks like Saban won over more voters.
Alabama, despite not winning the SEC West—and thus not getting that much-needed 13th “data point” from a conference championship game—was ranked No. 4 over Ohio State, which just won the Big Ten title by defeating a previously unbeaten Wisconsin.
It will be the fourth time in as many years of the CFP that the Crimson Tide (11-1) are among the final four—the only team to do so.
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Think Ohio State coach Urban Meyer looked despondent in 2013 when, after losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, he was spotted eating pizza while sitting on a golf cart? It probably pales in comparison to how he felt Sunday when he realized his Buckeyes weren’t going to the playoffs.
Despite knocking off Wisconsin 27-21 in Saturday night’s Big Ten title game, Ohio State was passed over for the last semifinal bid in favor of Alabama. It marked the second year in a row the selection committee went with a team that didn’t win its division over one that not only did so but also went on to claim a conference title. (Ohio State was on the winning side of that equation last year, getting the nod over a Penn State team it lost to in the regular season and which finished ahead of it in the Big Ten East.)
While OSU ended up winning its final four games this year—while Alabama fell to Auburn in its last outing, keeping it out of action on conference championship Saturday—the decision likely came down to what happened in the game immediately before the Buckeyes’ win streak. The 55-24 loss at Iowa on Nov. 4 appears to have been the deciding factor.
Rather than play for a shot at a national title, the Buckeyes will instead play USC in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.
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Rematches are great, but they’ve got nothing on rubber matches. And few entities benefit more from a winner-take-all third clash than the venue hosting that showdown.
That happens to be the Sugar Bowl, which as the closest playoff semifinal site to No. 1 seed Clemson gets the luxury of being where the Tigers and Alabama will meet for the third consecutive postseason. It won’t be the national championship, like in the previous two meetings, but that won’t make this third go-around any less enticing.
Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 in 2016 in Glendale, Arizona, to claim its 16th national title. Then in January 2017 the Tigers got revenge with a 35-31 victory in Tampa, Florida, for its first title since 1981. Now comes the third round, and the storylines abound.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, this is only the second time that teams have faced off in bowl games in three straight seasons. The other occasion saw Ohio State and USC meet in a trio of Rose Bowls from 1973 to 1975, with the teams splitting the first two meetings before USC took the third round.
Clemson hasn’t appeared in a Sugar Bowl since 1959, when it lost 7-0 to LSU, but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has. He was part of the Alabama team that won the 1992 national title by knocking off Miami (Florida) in the Sugar Bowl in January 1993.
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With five power conferences and four semifinal spots, something has to give each year. But through the first three editions of the CFP, there had been consistency in terms of which leagues would get a team in. The ACC, Big Ten and SEC had a playoff qualifier every season, with the Pac-12 (two) and Big 12 (one) filling out the last spot in alternating years.
Times, they are a changing. And not in a good way for the Big Ten, which missed the playoff party this year for the first time ever.
The committee didn’t buy Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney’s argument when he told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune that OSU was more deserving than Alabama because of a “different universe of competitive challenges.”
If it’s any consolation—spoiler: it isn’t—the Big Ten is sending three teams to New Year’s Six bowl games. Ohio State will play USC in the Cotton Bowl, Penn State will face Washington in the Fiesta Bowl and Wisconsin meets Miami (Florida) in the Orange Bowl.
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One brings great prestige and notoriety, the other provides an extra boatload of revenue. Which would you choose?
As much as the Pac-12 wishes it had a team in the playoffs, college football’s least-regarded power conference is likely just as happy getting two teams into New Year’s Six bowl games for the second year in a row and third time in four years of the College Football Playoff era.
USC, which won the league title on Friday night with a 31-28 victory over Stanford, finished No. 8 in the final playoff rankings and will play No. 5 Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29. Washington, which made the playoffs last season, squeaked into the final NY6 spot at No. 11 and will face No. 9 Penn State on Dec. 30 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Yup, that’s right. Not only is the Pac-12 getting two teams into big games, but they’re both against Big Ten teams. In a year where the Rose Bowl is a playoff semifinal site—and thus, it can’t play host to its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup—the trade-off is getting two such pairings.
Not a bad deal.
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With four years’ worth of College Football Playoffs data to pore over, TCU is likely the school that most wishes for an expansion to eight teams or would rather the old BCS format was still in use. No one else has gotten shafted as much as the Horned Frogs, and it isn’t even close.
It started the first year of the CFP in 2014, when after being No. 3 in the second-to-last rankings, TCU got bumped to fifth in the final standings despite a 55-3 win over Iowa State. The playoff selection committee said TCU’s lack of a 13th “data point” via a conference championship was a big reason for its drop.
Fast-forward to this season, with the Big 12 reviving its conference title game. TCU finished second in the league, earning a spot alongside Oklahoma in that championship bout, but it lost 41-17.
As a result, the Horned Frogs fell from 11th to 15th in the final rankings and were passed over for a New Year’s Six bowl bid in favor of No. 11 Washington (which didn’t play in a conference championship game).
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In the 1960s and 1970s, the Cotton Bowl was one of the biggest games on the schedule. It factored into the national championship numerous times, as the No. 1-ranked team appeared in it on five occasions. But over the years, the game lost its luster, featuring unranked participants three times between 2002-10.
But with the creation of the College Football Playoff and the associated New Year’s Six games, the Cotton Bowl is back in the spotlight. It’s one of the semifinal sites every three years, most recently in 2015 when Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0 en route to a national title.
This season’s matchup might be the best one yet under the new format, as No. 5 Ohio State faces No. 8 USC in a battle of conference champs.
It’s the first time since 1987 that OSU has played in the Cotton Bowl, when it beat Texas A&M 28-12. USC’s last Cotton Bowl appearance came in 1995, when it beat Texas Tech 55-14.
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Auburn fans flocked to Atlanta on Saturday to see the Tigers play for an SEC championship and, hopefully, their first-ever playoff berth. Few will be thrilled about heading back to the ATL on New Year’s Day.
A 28-7 loss to Georgia dropped the Tigers from No. 2 in to No. 7 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, pushing them out of the playoffs in favor of Georgia (and rival Alabama, which they beat a week ago to claim the SEC West Division title). Instead of going to the semifinals hosts, the Sugar Bowl or the Rose Bowl, Auburn instead will play UCF in the Peach Bowl.
The Peach Bowl is played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Auburn just lost to Georgia.
UCF, which went 12-0 and earned a New Year’s Six bowl invite by being the highest-rated Group of Five conference champion, is thrilled to be starting 2018 in Atlanta against an SEC team. The same can’t be said for the Knights’ opponent, which now must try to get motivated for a game that will end shortly before the first semifinal kicks off.
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There are few times during the bowl schedule where multiple games kick off within the same timeframe, but the major exception is on New Year’s Day. Between noon and 1 p.m. ET, three games will begin—the Citrus, Outback and Peach Bowls—which means college football fans either have to be savvy with the remote or pick one contest and stick with it.
For those who do the latter, they’ll likely be keeping the channel locked on the Citrus Bowl.
That’s because Notre Dame, one of the top draws in the sport, is facing off against LSU. The Fighting Irish have a massive fanbase that will undoubtedly snatch up plenty of tickets to the game, but those who can’t make it to Orlando will boost ABC’s ratings.
Notre Dame has never played in the Citrus Bowl, but it has appeared in the Champs Sports Bowl (now the Camping World Bowl) that’s held in the same stadium. The Irish lost 18-14 to Florida State in 2011, while LSU beat Louisville 29-9 in last year’s Citrus Bowl.
This is the fourth time LSU and Notre Dame will meet in a bowl. They most recently faced off in the 2014 Music City Bowl, which the Irish won, 31-28.
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Fresno State has enjoyed a breakout season under first-year coach Jeff Tedford, going from 1-11 in 2016 to 9-4 and a Mountain West Conference championship game appearance. One week after beating Boise State at home, the Bulldogs lost 17-14 to the Broncos on Saturday in the MWC final.
Had Fresno been able to hold on in the final minutes at Boise, it would have earned a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon on Dec. 16. Instead, it’s set to play Houston in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.
Wait, why is that a bad thing?
In a bubble, it isn’t. However, this will be Fresno’s second trip to the island in just over six weeks. The Bulldogs won 31-21 at Hawaii on Nov. 11.
Teams are required to buy a chunk of tickets to their bowl games, and as enticing as a tropical holiday vacation might sound, it’s a hard sell on three weeks’ notice.
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The proliferation of bowl games has made it so missing out on a bowl is more uncommon than playing in one. Unless you’re New Mexico State, which last bowled in 1960.
Correction: The Aggies’ last bowl appearance prior to this season was 57 years ago. The longest bowl drought in FBS finally came to an end Sunday when NMSU was invited to the Arizona Bowl.
NMSU got to six wins on Saturday by beating South Alabama 22-17 at home. That was its final game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which voted last year to boot out the Aggies and Idaho after the 2017 season. NMSU will play as an independent next season.
The Aggies’ opponent on Dec. 29 is Utah State, the same team they beat in the 1960 Sun Bowl.
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It used to be common for bowl-eligible teams not to get invites because there weren’t enough slots to go around. Then came 2015 and 2016, when a dearth of six-win teams made it so several bowls featured participants with 5-7 records.
Not so this season. The elimination of the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego and an increase in teams with six victories made it so three bowl-eligible teams didn’t get invited.
The ignominious three: Buffalo, UTSA and Western Michigan.
Buffalo won its final three games to get bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013 and just the third time since moving up from FCS in 1999. In its sixth season of FBS play, UTSA was eligible for the second year in a row—it lost to New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl last year—but it was left out despite only five losses. The Roadrunners went 6-5 after their opener against Houston was cancelled because of Hurricane Harvey.
And Western Michigan went from playing in a New Year’s Six game in 2016 (losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl) to an early end to 2017.