The Michigan football team’s season outlook more or less ended Saturday, when the Wolverines went from Big Ten title favorites and College Football Playoff contenders to, well, not that.
But the eighth-ranked Wolverines’ overall body of work is still impressive, giving their bowl situation a chance to be rosy.
Heading into conference championship week, Michigan (8-1 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) is almost a sure thing to land in a New Year’s Six bowl, and very well could end up in Pasadena for its first Rose Bowl since the 2006 season.
Here’s a breakdown of the scenarios.
If Pasadena is their preferred destination, Michigan fans will have to root for their arch-rivals and a few other big-name teams this weekend. The Rose Bowl will automatically take the Big Ten champion unless that team doesn’t make the College Football Playoff, meaning the Wolverines have a chance of heading there should Ohio State win in Indianapolis over Northwestern next weekend and make the national semifinal field.
While the CFP selection committee is subjective and hard to predict, we can forecast that the Buckeyes will likely be sixth in this week’s rankings and viewed very closely to Oklahoma and behind Georgia. The Sooners will take on Texas in the Big 12 Championship game this weekend, while the Bulldogs will be heavy underdogs to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. If Alabama, Texas and Ohio State all win, the Buckeyes likely make the Playoff, and the Rose Bowl turns to the next highest-ranked Big Ten team, which at this time would appear to be Michigan.
Whoever represents the Big Ten will face the winner of Washington and Utah in this week’s Pac-12 Championship game.
Peach or Fiesta Bowl
Since the only other New Year’s Six bowl with a Big Ten tie-in (Orange Bowl) is hosting a national semifinal, Michigan would have an equal chance of landing in the Peach Bowl (Atlanta) and Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Arizona) should Ohio State not make the College Football Playoff. From what I can tell, the CFP selection committee more or less picks the matchups, and has historically tried to put together at least one major television draw in one of the games not played on the day of the semifinal games.
That’s where Michigan routinely being among the nation’s most-watched teams becomes relevant. Since the Peach Bowl takes place on the same day as the semifinal games (Dec. 29), this theory would suggest that the Fiesta Bowl would be more likely for Michigan, perhaps against a big-name New Year’s Six team such as Texas (if they aren’t sent to the Sugar Bowl as the top remaining Big 12 team) or Louisiana State.
Other possible opponents in New Year’s Six bowls include Central Florida, Washington State or Oklahoma if it loses to Texas. Penn State won’t be a possibility due to the two teams playing in the same conference, while Georgia (likely locked into the Sugar Bowl if it doesn’t make the Playoff) and Florida (who has already faced Michigan twice in less than three years) seem like unlikely matchups.
File this under the extremely unlikely scenarios, as Michigan was ranked eighth in both polls today and probably winds up around there in Tuesday’s CFP rankings. But should Northwestern win the Big Ten Championship, Texas win the Big 12 championship, Utah win the Pac-12 Championship and the selection committee rank Michigan multiple spots lower than expected, the Wolverines could be left out of the 12 teams in New Year’s Six bowls and drop to the Citrus Bowl, which takes the next-highest Big Ten team. Really, this shouldn’t even be entertained unless Michigan finds itself outside the top 10 in Tuesday’s rankings, which seems very unlikely.
Bottom line and best guess
Michigan is almost certainly going to a New Year’s Six bowl, and the most likely bowls appear to be either the Rose Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, depending on where Ohio State ends up at this time next week. Given that Ohio State could blow out Northwestern and Oklahoma and Georgia are more likely to underwhelm in their championship games, we’ll predict that Ohio State makes the four-team field and Michigan heads to Pasadena.
It’s certainly not a consolation prize Michigan fans wanted to entertain, but would give the Wolverines a chance to reach 11 wins, build momentum for next season with a win over a big-name team and possibly even land in the AP postseason top five for the first time since 1999.