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College Football Playoff picture: Four in, four out in final rankings


The College Football Playoff pairings will be unveiled Sunday, but Sporting News is putting out its best guess now as to how those final pairings will look.

Three of the Playoff participants will be the usual suspects: Alabama and Clemson are locks for their sixth playoff appearances, with the Crimson Tide and Tigers having met in the championship game three times. They should have the top two spots in the rankings.

MORE: Texas A&M or Notre Dame? Breaking down College Football Playoff’s uncomfortable debate

Ohio State will likely make its fourth CFP appearance as well after winning a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes might be questioned for playing just six games, but we think the committee will keep them in the No. 3 spot based on an unbeaten record in a Power 5 conference.

That leaves a debate for the fourth spot. Is it one-loss Notre Dame, which lost badly in the ACC championship game? Or can one-loss Texas A&M snag a second berth for the SEC? Or will the committee take unbeaten Cincinnati out of the American Athletic Conference?

Four in

1. Alabama (11-0)

Alabama is back in the Playoff after an excruciating one-year layoff. The Crimson Tide capped off another unbeaten regular season for the fourth time under Nick Saban. Alabama’s trio of Mac Jones (418 yards, 5 TDs), Najee Harris (244 total yards, 5 total TDs) and DeVonta Smith (184 yards, 2 TDs) put on another show with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian in a wild 52-46 victory against No. 7 Florida in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide will get the top seed and be heavy favorites in their semifinal matchup. Center Landon Dickerson’s injury and the pass defense are concerns, but Alabama remains the team to beat. 

2. Clemson (10-1)

The Tigers corrected their mistake in a 34-10 blowout victory against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game. Clemson will make its sixth straight CFP appearance as a result, and the Tigers have a chance to make the championship game for the fifth time in six seasons. It’s an amazing run of dominance in the conference, and Trevor Lawrence (322 passing yards, 90 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) made the difference in the rematch with the Irish. A rematch of last year’s thrilling Fiesta Bowl semifinal with Ohio State is a virtual certainty at this point.

3. Ohio State (6-0)

Trey Sermon rushed for a school-record 331 yards in the Big Ten championship game, an incredible performance that led to a 22-10 victory against No. 14 Northwestern. Justin Fields (12 of 27, 114 yards, two interceptions) had an off day, but Ohio State did enough to snag a fourth straight Big Ten conference title. That should clinch for the second straight CFP appearance with Ryan Day. The Buckeyes’ credentials against the other heavyweights will be questioned, but they can answer those questions in the Playoff.

4. Notre Dame (10-1)

The Irish lost the rematch to Clemson, and it wasn’t pretty. Clemson jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead, and the ACC championship game wasn’t competitive. Now, Notre Dame will sink into that argument for the last spot with Texas A&M — and perhaps Cincinnati. The Irish will have to bank on reaching a conference championship game in their lone season in the ACC. Who would have ever thought that would be their argument in 2020?

MORE: It’s time to reform the College Football Playoff — but how should it expand?

Four out

5. Texas A&M (8-1)

This is going to be a real argument for the fourth spot. Texas A&M capped its season with a 34-13 victory against Tennessee, which included a seven-game win streak after the 52-24 loss to Alabama. Kellen Mond’s development — he finished with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions this season — was a high point for third-year coach Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies, however, will have to settle for a New Year’s Day 6 bid without the benefit of a conference championship.

6. Oklahoma (8-2)

The Sooners beat Iowa State 27-21 for a fifth consecutive Big 12 championship game victory and sixth straight conference title. The Sooners matured around quarterback Spencer Rattler and receiver Marvin Mims after a two-game losing streak, but it’s that two-loss rule that will keep Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley out of the Playoff. Oklahoma will be back for the 2021 debate with one of the nation’s best offenses.

7. Cincinnati (9-0)

This will be the final insult to the Group of 5. Cincinnati finished unbeaten after knocking off Tulsa 27-24 in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The Bearcats have the best case as the fourth playoff team, but the committee’s placement showed it’s impossible to find a playoff path. Cincinnati will likely fall to a New Year’s Day 6 bowl, where an SEC opponent would be likely. How many times do we have to see that happen? The reality is the four-team playoff isn’t set up for Group of 5 inclusion.

8. Coastal Carolina (11-0)

The Chanticleers didn’t get to play in the Sun Belt championship against Louisiana, and won’t get into the Playoff despite a perfect season under Coach of the Year candidate Jamey Chadwell. Coastal Carolina, however, deserves New Year’s Day 6 consideration based on a memorable season that included a victory against previously unbeaten BYU.

New Year’s Day 6 predictions

Date Bowl games Teams
Dec. 30 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Oklahoma vs. Florida
Jan. 1 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Cincinnati vs. Georgia
Jan. 2 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Oregon vs. Indiana
Jan. 2 Capital One Orange Bowl Texas A&M vs. North Carolina

College Football Playoff predictions

Date Bowl games Teams
Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game (CFP semifinal) Ohio State vs. Clemson
Jan. 1 Allstate Sugar Bowl (CFP semifinal) Alabama vs. Notre Dame
Jan. 11 CFP National Championship Alabama vs. Clemson




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