Well, like it or not, the national college football playoff field has been set.
The bowl games get underway next week. Not counting the national semifinal games on New Year's Day, eight bowl games will match two ranked teams. If you add in the three playoff games, there will be 11 postseason games in which ranked teams will go head to head. Lots of quality clashes.
What follows are my predictions in all the bowls featuring ranked teams — except for the national championship. I'll have to wait until after the semifinals have been played before I can write about that.
Look for my prediction in early January.
Saturday, Dec. 16
- Las Vegas Bowl: #25 Boise State vs. Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have met twice before, and Boise State won both.
But they haven't met since 2009, and they have never faced each other in a bowl.
Oregon (7–5) is favored over 10–3 Boise State by 7½ points. I pick Boise State as an upset special.
- Birmingham Bowl: #23 South Florida vs. Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the first meeting between these two schools.
South Florida (9–2) is a 2½–point pick over Tech (6–6). South Florida should be able to cover the spread.
- Valero Alamo Bowl: #15 Stanford vs. #13 TCU, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: TCU leads the series 2–0, but it has been nearly 10 years since the schools faced each other on the gridiron.
The Frogs are favored by 2½ points to notch their third win over Stanford. I choose TCU.
- Camping World Bowl: #17 Oklahoma State vs. #22 Virginia Tech, 4:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the third time these schools have met.
Each team won an encounter at home, but they have never faced off in a bowl.
The Cowboys are favored to win this game by 6½ points. I expect Oklahoma State to prevail.
- SDCCU Holiday Bowl: #18 Michigan State vs. #21 Washington State, 8 p.m (Central) on FS1: This will be the eighth time these schools have faced each other — but the last time was more than 40 years ago.
The 9–3 Spartans lead the series 5–2, but Washington State, also 9–3, won the last time they met. Washington State is favored by a field goal, but I'm taking Michigan State in an upset special.
- Goodyear Cotton Bowl: #5 Ohio State vs. #8 Southern Cal, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the eighth time these teams have faced each other in a bowl. The first seven times were in the Rose Bowl; Southern Cal won four of those clashes.
They have played four times since their last bowl encounter, and Southern Cal won all four. In all, Southern Cal has won seven in a row against the Buckeyes and leads the series 13–9–1. Ohio State hasn't beaten the Trojans since the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1974.
But the 11–2 Buckeyes are favored to win this time by 6½ points. My only question is whether the Buckeyes can put the disappointment of being left out of the college football playoffs behind them. I say they can. Ohio State is my pick.
- Franklin Amer. Mort. Music City Bowl: #20 Northwestern vs. Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have met only once before — on Oct. 20, 1928, about a year before the Stock Market Crash.
Needless to say, it was a different game — and world — nearly 90 years ago. There was only one score on that occasion. Northwestern scored a touchdown and won 7–0. Common sense says there will be more scoring than that when the teams meet in Nashville.
Coincidentally, 9–3 Northwestern is favored by a touchdown in this contest with 7–5 Kentucky.
The schools are clearly going in different directions. Kentucky has lost four of its last six games while Northwestern is riding a seven–game winning streak.
The pick is Northwestern.
- Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Wisconsin vs. #11 Miami (Florida), 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Badgers were one win away from capping an undefeated season with a trip to the college football playoffs. Miami was also one win away from being in the playoffs.
Both came up short.
This will be the fifth meeting for these schools. They split the first four so the winner will take the lead in the series.
The Badgers are favored by 6½ points. I think they can cover. My pick is Wisconsin.
- PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: #9 Penn State vs. #12 Washington, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Penn State has beaten Washington twice, but the teams haven't met in 34 years.
The teams are both 10–2, but Penn State was more impressive in its losses than Washington. The Nittany Lions are favored by 2½ points, and I think Penn State will prevail.
- AutoZone Liberty Bowl: #19 Memphis vs. Iowa State, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have never faced each other before, and few, if any, observers expected to see them square off at the end of the season.
Nevertheless here they are.
Iowa State had a great year, beating both of the Big 12 finalists, but the Cyclones staggered to the finish line, losing three of their last four games (their only victory during that stretch came against hapless Baylor).
Memphis, on the other hand, won its last seven regular–season games before losing the American Athletic Conference championship in double overtime.
Memphis is favored by a field goal. I choose Memphis.
- TaxSlayer Bowl: #24 Mississippi State vs. Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Mississippi State is 4–0 against Louisville — but all four games were played in the '70s. It is safe to say things have changed in 40 years.
Louisville is favored by 6 points. I can go along with that. The pick is Louisville.
- National Semifinal: Allstate Sugar Bowl: #1 Clemson vs. #4 Alabama, 7:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oddsmakers established Alabama as a 2‐point pick, and perhaps that makes sense, given that Clemson beat Alabama for the national title last January. Vengeance is sure to be a theme in Alabama's preparations for the game.
Of course, that was Clemson's revenge for losing the national title to Alabama the year before.
So they meet for the third straight time in the national playoffs. The rubber match — but the national crown won't be on the line this time.
Historically Alabama has dominated the series, but it had been dormant since 1975 when the teams faced off in 2008. They met again in the last two national championship games. Now they will play to see which team will be in the championship game for a third straight year.
I pick Clemson in an upset special.
- National Semifinal: Rose Bowl: #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Georgia, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is an intriguing match and, based on the point spread, potentially the best of the bowls.
These schools have never faced each other before, and the Sooners are 1½–point favorites.
I agree with the oddsmakers. I expect this to be a close contest.
Georgia's competition in the SEC East did not turn out to be as strong as expected, and I don't think the Bulldogs are prepared for the Sooners, whose defense has been just good enough with Baker Mayfield running the offense. Unless Mayfield gets hurt, that should continue. He makes the defense look good even when it isn't. My pick is Oklahoma.
- Chick–fil–A Peach Bowl: #7 Auburn vs. #10 Central Florida, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Auburn faced Central Florida three times in the '90s and won all three.
The Tigers are favored to win this time by 9½ points.
I don't think there is any doubt that Auburn has the superior talent. But I have to wonder if Auburn will be in this game mentally after losing the SEC title game and missing a trip to the college football playoffs.
The Tigers have a lot of youth in starting roles, including at quarterback. I wonder if they have the maturity to handle a disappointing loss like that. I doubt it. My choice is Central Florida in an upset special.
- Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: #14 Notre Dame vs. #16 LSU, noon (Central) on ABC: Notre Dame leads the all–time series 6–5, but LSU is favored by a field goal to even the series.
Notre Dame's last two games against ranked teams didn't turn out too well. The Irish lost to Miami and Stanford at the end of the season. LSU went 2–1 against ranked teams and won six of its last seven games.
I favor LSU.
Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4
Last week's upset specials: 1–0
Overall upset specials: 14–23