Winners and Losers: An Oregon-Penn State Rose Bowl leads our New Year's Six bowl predictions

We think we know what four teams will make up the College Football Playoff.

There were no upsets on conference championship Saturday. No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 8 WisconsinNo. 2 LSU throttled No. 4 GeorgiaNo. 3 Clemson destroyed VirginiaNo. 6 Oklahoma beat No. 7 Baylor in overtime.

With No. 5 Utah’s upset loss to No. 13 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night, those four Saturday winners should all be in the playoff in some order. It’ll be a shock if they aren’t the top four teams when the College Football Playoff rankings come out at Noon on Sunday.

Figuring out the rest of the New Year’s Six bowl games is a lot trickier. How far do Georgia, Utah and Wisconsin fall after their losses? Significant drops by one or more of those three teams could have widespread impacts in the remaining four New Year’s Six bowl games.

With the Peach and Fiesta Bowls seemingly set with Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma, here’s our best guess as to how the four other prestigious bowls will shake out on Sunday.

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 28

Memphis (12-1) vs. Utah (11-2)

The Tigers get the Cotton Bowl spot as the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences. Memphis won the AAC with a victory over Cincinnati in the conference’s title game on Saturday. The Tigers should stay ahead of both Boise State and Appalachian State in Sunday’s rankings.

Utah is a guess on our part. After getting blown out by Oregon the Utes could fall pretty far in Sunday’s rankings. But Utah also only has two losses. We think that keeps the Utes ahead of both Wisconsin and Auburn in this scenario and gives Utah the final at-large spot. 

Orange Bowl, Dec. 30

Virginia (9-4) vs. Florida (10-2)

The Orange Bowl is mandated to take the ACC’s second-best team if the conference champ makes the playoff. Congratulations to Virginia for getting the best of the rest designation after that blowout on Saturday night. The Cavaliers beat Virginia Tech who beat Wake Forest and should be ahead of both of those teams in the rankings.

Florida was No. 9 in last week’s rankings and could move up to No. 7 with losses by Baylor and Wisconsin.

Oregon is heading to the Rose Bowl after beating Utah handily. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1

Oregon (11-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)

The Ducks clinched a Rose Bowl berth with a Friday night demolition of No. 5 Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. Oregon could have gone to the Rose Bowl had it lost to Utah and the Utes made the playoff but it went ahead and got a conference title with its Rose Bowl berth and made it simple.

The Penn State pick is a lot more complicated. The Nittany Lions entered the weekend at No. 10 and two spots behind No. 8 Wisconsin. The Badgers are now 10-3 after losing to Ohio State by 13 in the Big Ten title game. Is that third loss enough to drop Wisconsin behind Penn State even though Wisconsin beat Minnesota and Penn State didn’t?

We think it could be, especially because Wisconsin lost to Illinois earlier in the season. So Penn State goes here on the strength of losses to two better teams. If Wisconsin heads to the Rose Bowl then Penn State could end up in the Cotton Bowl if it’s ahead of Utah in the rankings.  

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1

Baylor (11-2) vs. Georgia (11-2)

The Sugar Bowl is obligated to take the next-highest teams from both the Big 12 and SEC if the conferences have teams in the playoff. So this could be pretty straightforward. Baylor will stay as the second-best Big 12 team after losing to Oklahoma in overtime in the Big 12 title game.

Georgia got manhandled by LSU but should still stay ahead of Florida in the rankings because of a head-to-head victory over the Gators in November. Yeah, Georgia would be heading to the Sugar Bowl in back-to-back seasons but New Orleans isn’t the worst place to go in January.

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

WINNERS

Big 12: The Big 12 took center stage early Saturday and its championship game delivered. Oklahoma took a 23-13 lead over Baylor early in the fourth quarter but BU stormed back behind an unknown freshman quarterback named Jacob Zeno. Zeno completed just two passes, but they went for a total of 159 yards and helped the Bears force overtime. Oklahoma eventually prevailed and now — thanks to the sputtering effort of Utah on Friday night — will likely find itself as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. 

Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: New York City, here comes Joe Burrow. The LSU quarterback put a bow on his Heisman Trophy campaign with another stellar performance. In the Tigers’ 37-10 SEC championship victory over Georgia, Burrow completed 28-of-38 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. In the process, Burrow set an SEC record for touchdown passes in a season. He’s now up to a ridiculous 48 on the year. 

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma: Jalen Hurts turned the ball over two more times and helped keep Baylor in the game on Saturday. But he still did what he needed to do to get Oklahoma its fifth straight Big 12 title. It was the third conference title in Hurts’ career, and now Hurts can make his fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff and do it on a second team. Hurts reached the CFP all three years he was at Alabama, including the 2017 national championship team. Now he has the chance to win another with the Sooners.  

Lane Kiffin: It was a good weekend for Lane Kiffin. The 44-year-old capped off his third season at Florida Atlantic by trouncing UAB 49-6 in the Conference USA championship game. The win marked the second C-USA title in Kiffin’s tenure and he finishes that time with a 26-13 record in Boca Raton. Mere minutes after that game came to an end, Kiffin was announced as the next head coach at Ole Miss. It’s been 10 years since Kiffin was a head coach in the SEC but now he’s getting another shot. 

Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin is doused as his team celebrates defeating UAB for the Conference USA championship. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Appalachian State: App State needed some chaos in the AAC and Mountain West to realistically have a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl, but that shouldn’t diminish how well the Mountaineers played in their first year under Eli Drinkwitz. App State won its second straight Sun Belt title by holding off Louisiana, 45-38. App State enters bowl season with a 12-1 record and looking back at that loss to Georgia Southern wondering what could have been. A 13-0 App State is probably in Dallas after Christmas instead of Memphis.

Miami (Ohio): Miami went from a 2-4 record on Oct. 12 to a conference champion on Dec. 7. After dropping to 2-4 with a 38-16 loss at Western Michigan the RedHawks won six of their next seven games. Miami won the MAC East title and then pulled off the upset in Detroit on Saturday, upsetting Central Michigan 26-21. It marked the school’s first MAC title since 2010.  

LOSERS

Wisconsin: Wisconsin fans probably felt like they were experiencing a bad case of déjà vu on Saturday night. Three years ago the Badgers blew a big lead in a Big Ten title game loss to Penn State in Indianapolis. This time, Wisconsin led No. 1 Ohio State at halftime but allowed the Buckeyes to storm back in an eventual 34-21 loss. Wisconsin was not expected to win the game but it thoroughly dominated the first half.

Things turned quickly in the third quarter as OSU kept its unbeaten season alive. Instead of a trip to the Rose Bowl that a Big Ten championship would have provided, Wisconsin could drop to the Cotton Bowl — or even out of the New Year’s Six altogether. 

Pac-12: The College Football Playoff will be played without a Pac-12 team for the third consecutive season. The Pac-12 had a chance to shine on Friday night with everything set up perfectly for No. 5 Utah. Instead, it was a mostly uncompetitive league title game as the Utes laid an egg in a 37-15 loss to No. 13 Oregon.

The Utes mustered only 309 yards of offense, turned it over twice and were a miserable 0-for-4 on fourth down in the loss. And because of the loss, Utah not only cost itself a trip to the playoff, it won’t play in the Rose Bowl either. In the six years of the CFP’s existence, the Pac-12 will have been left out four times after Sunday. 

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert shakes hands with Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley at midfield at the end of the Pac-12 Conference championship game. (AP Photo/Daniel Alvarez)

Bronco Mendenhall: Bronco Mendenhall has done a great job rebuilding Virginia, so the fact that the Cavaliers were even in the ACC title game on Saturday night was noteworthy. But Virginia was a massive underdog to No. 3 Clemson, so Mendenhall’s conservative approach in the first quarter — punting on fourth-and-short inside Clemson territory — was a real head-scratcher.

Virginia moved the ball really well on its first two drives and trailed only 14-7 when it faced a fourth-and-4 from the Clemson 44. But Mendenhall sent the punter out, giving the ball back to Clemson. The Tigers tacked on a field goal on that drive and Virginia was never within a touchdown again. 

Cincinnati: Cincinnati had two shots at Memphis and came up short both times. The Bearcats have had a great season, winning 10 games and capturing their first AAC East title.

But the results of the last two weekends have to be majorly disappointing. UC had a chance to clinch homefield advantage in the AAC title game a week ago against Memphis but lost 34-24. In Saturday’s rematch, this time with the conference title and maybe even a New Year’s Six bowl on the line, the Bearcats surrendered a touchdown in the final minutes and lost 29-24. 

Cincinnati lost back-to-back games to Memphis, including Saturday's with the AAC title on the line. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Hawaii: Hawaii was playing Boise State tough on the blue turf early in Saturday’s Mountain West title game, but was doomed by a pair of turnovers on downs inside the Boise 5-yard line. The Rainbow Warriors had a chance to take a lead midway through the second quarter, but was stuffed on two plays inside the 2-yard line. And on the first second-half drive, Hawaii had first-and-goal from the Boise 5, but four straight Cole McDonald passes fell incomplete. Combine those goal-line failures with the two long touchdowns the defense allowed in the last 1:07 of the first half, and you have the ingredients to a blowout 31-10 loss. 

Florida Atlantic: It’s hard to include Florida Atlantic as a loser on a day where it won just its second outright conference title ever. But these tweets — one celebrating the Conference USA championship and another announcing the departure of head coach Lane Kiffin to Ole Miss — showing up in a span of just eight minutes, was just a brutal series of events.

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