ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan’s regular season came to an end Saturday in Columbus, and now that the Wolverines have no chance at the College Football Playoff, their attention turns to bowl season.
At 10-2 and co-Big Ten East Division champs, Michigan will certainly be ranked in the top 10 by the CFP committee and will likely receive a bid to a New Year’s Six game. Which game depends on what happens with Ohio State and other teams in the top 10.
How Michigan gets there
If Ohio State goes to the College Football Playoff, Michigan will play in its first Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 2007.
The Wolverines will be the highest ranked Big Ten team behind the Buckeyes when the season ends, so if Ohio State is one of the top four teams, Michigan will certainly get the invitation to Pasadena.
If Ohio State wins the Big Ten championship and gets left out of the playoff, it will go to the Rose Bowl. If Northwestern upsets OSU in the Big Ten title game, the Wildcats will go to the Rose Bowl, knocking both Michigan and Ohio State down a peg.
Most likely: Washington, Utah
Whichever Big Ten team plays in the Rose Bowl will face the winner of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Utah and Washington will face off for the conference crown Friday in Santa Clara, and since both have three losses, there’s no chance the winner will be selected for the College Football Playoff. That means the winner goes to the Rose Bowl and the loser gets left out of the New Year’s Six.
Both Utah and Washington are among the top 15 defensive teams in the country. Washington is led by senior quarterback Jake Browning, while Utah lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to injury.
Both teams are comparable to Michigan on offense, so it would be a difficult matchup either way.
Even though Utah lost its starting quarterback, it enters the conference title game winning seven of eight games. It lost to Washington at home in September, 21-7.
Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl
How Michigan gets there
We’ll lump the Peach and Fiesta bowls together, because Michigan’s path to both is essentially the same.
The Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl will host playoff semifinal games this season, and the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl have automatic ties with conferences. That leaves the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl to select four at-large teams.
If Ohio State wins the Big Ten and doesn’t make the playoff, or if Northwestern wins the Big Ten, Michigan will play in either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. That’s because either Ohio State or Northwestern would go to the Rose Bowl, forcing Michigan to be chosen as an at-large.
The Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl would have a handful of teams to choose from, so one isn’t necessarily more likely than the other for Michigan.
Most likely: UCF, Washington State, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma
Least likely: Clemson, Pittsburgh, Fresno State, Boise State
First of all, there are a few teams that can be eliminated from consideration.
Notre Dame has locked up a College Football Playoff spot with an undefeated regular season, and Clemson and Alabama are likely to do the same this weekend. If the loser of Alabama and Georgia doesn’t make the College Football Playoff, it will play in the Sugar Bowl, so Michigan won’t play either of those teams.
Technically, if Clemson loses to Pittsburgh, Michigan could play either of those teams. Pittsburgh would automatically go to either the Fiesta Bowl or the Peach Bowl, and if Clemson gets knocked out of the top four, it would play in the one that doesn’t get Pittsburgh.
We could see a matchup between Michigan’s No. 1 defense and Oklahoma‘s No. 1 offense if the Sooners lose to Texas in the Big 12 championship game. Texas would go to the Sugar Bowl as the Big 12 champion and Oklahoma would join the at-large pool.
The top-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — will be in either the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl, so there’s a good chance Michigan could fall into that matchup.
A Central Florida win Saturday over Memphis would clinch another New Year’s Six appearance for the Knights. A Memphis upset would open the door for the winner of Fresno State and Boise State. No other Group of Five champion is likely to jump the winner of the Fresno State and Boise State, so if UCF loses to Memphis, that game is essentially for a New Year’s Six appearance.
Other possible at-large opponents include Washington State, LSU and Florida.
Washington State was ranked No. 8 in the CFP poll before losing to Washington and finishing 10-2. It’s unclear how far the Cougars will drop, but they will certainly be up for at-large consideration.
LSU suffered its third loss of the season Saturday in seven overtimes against Texas A&M. The Tigers appeared to win the game on a late interception — even showering coach Ed Orgeron with a Gatorade bath — but it was called back because the quarterback’s knee was down. Texas A&M tied the game and went on to win, 74-72, seven overtimes later.
If Florida and Michigan end up in the same bowl, it will be their third meeting during the Jim Harbaugh era. Michigan dominated the first two times, but Dan Mullen has the Gators playing good football.
If Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl, Clemson wins the ACC and Oklahoma wins the Big 12, there are enough at-large spots for three-loss teams like Penn State and West Virginia to warrant consideration. But Michigan obviously wouldn’t play Penn State, and a game against West Virginia seems unlikely.
Possible bowls: Citrus Bowl, Holiday Bowl
How Michigan gets there
Before Michigan fans panic, understand that it would take a perfect storm to knock Michigan out of a New Year’s Six bowl game. That being said, there is a nonzero chance that it happens.
For example, say Northwestern and Pittsburgh win their conference championship games. That would mean Northwestern takes the Rose Bowl spot and Ohio State and Pittsburgh automatically use two of the four at-large spots.
The top Group of Five winner automatically gets one of the at-large spots, so that would only leave one spot. If Georgia beats Alabama and the playoff ends up with Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alabama, Clemson would also fall into the at-large pool and take the final spot.
So for Michigan to get knocked out of the New Year’s Six, Northwestern has to beat Ohio State, Pittsburgh has to beat Clemson, Georgia has to beat Alabama and Oklahoma has to beat Texas.
So, if Michigan falls out of the New Year’s Six, the obvious destination would be the Citrus Bowl, right? Technically, the Citrus Bowl can request Penn State, since it’s only one win behind Michigan.
Why would it pick Penn State over Michigan? The bowl has an agreement to select at least five different teams over a six-year span, and Michigan already played in the Citrus Bowl during that agreement — in 2015. Yes, Michigan could very well be the one team that goes twice during that six-year deal, but it’s not a sure thing since the bowl game is allowed to request a team within one win of the winningest remaining team in the conference.
If the Big Ten granted a Citrus Bowl request to pass on Michigan, the Outback Bowl would be next. The Big Ten has a rule that teams cannot play in the same bowl game in back-to-back years, so Michigan won’t go to the Outback Bowl.
If somehow all these steps go wrong for Michigan, it would play in the Holiday Bowl, which has the same five different teams in six years agreement but hasn’t hosted Michigan since 1994.
Possible opponents — Citrus Bowl
Most likely: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Texas A&M
Least likely: LSU, Auburn, South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt
Remember, in this doomsday scenario, Alabama and Georgia are both in the playoff, so the Sugar Bowl would pick a third SEC team to fill its spot.
The Sugar Bowl gets the highest ranked SEC team if the conference champion goes to the playoff. That would be either LSU or Florida in this scenario.
After the New Year’s Six games are set, the Citrus Bowl gets its pick of available SEC teams.
If the Sugar Bowl gets LSU, then Florida is a possible choice, though the Citrus Bowl might prefer to avoid an exact rematch of 2016. If Florida goes to the Sugar Bowl, the Citrus Bowl would almost certainly skip LSU because it has played in the bowl two straight years.
The other ranked SEC teams are Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Kentucky beat Florida and finished second in the SEC East Division, while Texas A&M finished second to Alabama in the West Division with its win over LSU.
Mississippi State wne 4-4 in conference play, but is still ranked in the top 20.
Auburn, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are also bowl eligible, but it’s very unlikely the Citrus Bowl would pass over the more accomplished teams.
Possible opponents — Holiday Bowl
Most likely: Loser of Utah/Washington, Oregon, Stanford
Least likely: Cal, Arizona State
Since the Pac-12 winner is going to the Rose Bowl, the loser of the conference championship game would join Washington State, Oregon and Stanford as the conference’s most attractive options.
If Washington State doesn’t get a New Year’s Six at-large bid, it will almost certainly be selected by the Alamo Bowl, which gets first pick for the Pac-12 and hasn’t hosted the Cougars since 1994.
The Holiday picks after the Alamo Bowl for the Pac-12, so the loser of the conference title game, Oregon and Stanford would be the top remaining options. Cal is also bowl eligible, but finished fourth in the North Division. Arizona State is also going to a bowl game, but has five losses while the other three will all have four.
The matchup with Stanford could be attractive since Harbaugh is a former coach, and Oregon had a nice bounce back campaign with eight wins. The Pac-12 is down this year, though, and these matchups wouldn’t be overly exciting.
NOTE: Again, there’s almost no chance Michigan ends up outside the New Year’s Six, but it isn’t officially no chance.
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