Already one of the biggest bowl games on the schedule, the 2015 Sugar Bowl will take on an increased importance as it is one of the two semifinal games in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
As the selection committee prepares to unveil its final rankings on Sunday, the pieces have been put in place for the matchup that will take place in Atlanta on New Year's Day. All that remains is making sure the committee doesn't try anything funny, which has happened more than once this season.
While there's still more than three weeks to go before the game and a few hours before the matchup is officially announced, here is a look at everything that's set for this year's Sugar Bowl thus far. It's only appropriate to follow that up with an examination of the teams most likely to be playing in New Orleans.
Teams in the Mix
Alabama Crimson Tide
As things are set up, the Sugar Bowl will play host to the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds in the College Football Playoff rankings. For the last three weeks, since defeating Mississippi State on November 15, the top spot has belonged to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban's team has shown some cracks at times this season. The offense was stagnant against LSU, while the defense gave up 630 yards and 44 points against Auburn. Through it all, they have come out with just one loss.
ESPN Stats & Info put out numbers using advanced metrics, as well as the rankings, prior to the SEC Championship Game to show how good Alabama has been this season:
Everything has been set up for 'Bama to play in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide have taken care of their biggest rivals (LSU and Auburn) already this season. Blake Sims has had his ups and downs but stepped up in the biggest moment of his career in the Iron Bowl.
Combine that with the committee's love of the Tide, and it's not going to surprise anyone when they are selected as the top overall seed.
TCU Horned Frogs
Even though TCU rose up to No. 3 in last week's rankings, the committee could opt to knock the Horned Frogs back down due to a cupcake opponent in Iowa State on Saturday.
Regardless, though, Gary Patterson's team is a lock for one of the two big bowl games. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com actually gave TCU the best odds of any team to make the playoff after last week's rankings came out:
TCU’s chances of making the playoff are now 96 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight model — up from 80 percent before the committee’s new rankings were released. Those odds might seem incredibly high, but TCU has a cupcake opponent in 2-9 Iowa State, against whom it’s a 97 percent favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). TCU remains unlikely to make the playoff should it lose, but it looks safer in the event of a win.
Based on the comments made by selection committee chairman Jeff Long after TCU was announced as the No. 3 team on Tuesday, it's clear the people in power love what they have seen from the Horned Frogs despite their head-to-head loss against Big 12 rival Baylor, via Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com:
We look at their losses. Baylor's loss is against a West Virginia team that's outside the top 25, and TCU's is against Baylor, who is No. 6 ... We look at many, many different things. Overall, the evaluation -- the human evaluation -- of this is what this committee is designed to do. And I think they've done that in this case with TCU and Baylor.
Saturday was basically a glorified coronation for TCU, as there was little doubt it would take care of business against Iowa State. The Horned Frogs aren't likely to move down after climbing up, though there is a logjam after the top two spots that warrants putting them here.
Florida State Seminoles
Based on the current rankings, the Sugar Bowl matchup was set to be Alabama against Florida State. There was some controversy about the committee dropping an undefeated Seminoles team from third to fourth, though Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com has a theory about that:
"Dropping Florida State to No. 4 means a semifinal in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against No. 1 Alabama," Adelson wrote. "That is the dream matchup everybody wanted to end last season, a delicious pairing between mentor Nick Saban and mentee Jimbo Fisher."
It's a good conspiracy theory, helped by the fact that Florida State wouldn't have to travel as far to get to New Orleans compared to Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl.
Even though their wins aren't always sexy, there's something to be said for the Seminoles always finding a way to come out on top. Per ESPN's College GameDay on Twitter, no other school in the country can match Florida State's combination of comeback wins and close wins:
Statistical analysis has taken over sports, and a lot of it is valuable, but sometimes it takes away from remembering the ultimate goal is to win a game. No one has done that more over the last two years than Florida State.
There's a real argument to be made for Baylor to be ranked ahead of TCU already, as the Bears won a 61-58 shootout against their conference rivals on October 11. The committee didn't agree, slotting Art Briles' team in three spots behind the Horned Frogs before Saturday's games.
One silver lining for Baylor is it had a chance to prove itself once again with a showdown against ninth-ranked Kansas State. The school tried to take necessary steps to get more publicity, including hiring a public relations firm, via SportsCenter:
While that's going a little overboard, as well as blurring the lines once again between college football and business, all Baylor really had to do is beat Kansas State to at least warrant consideration for one of the top four spots.
The climb is steep because of the competition around them, but the Bears have put together a resume that can compete with anyone. There will be justified outrage if they don't get in and TCU does. Remember when the BCS formula was broken?
Ohio State Buckeyes
Even the most optimistic Ohio State fan will tell you that they didn't see a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game coming. Certainly, it wouldn't happen without star quarterback J.T. Barrett.
But it did, which leaves the selection committee with the unenviable task of having to leave out one of TCU, Ohio State or Baylor. Florida State could be included in that group since it was fourth last week, but there's no way to leave out an undefeated defending national champion.
As crazy as it sounds based on the results from Saturday, Ohio State still seems like the odd team out. Think about what we know: The committee loves TCU, as evidenced by its ranking last week; Baylor has a head-to-head win over TCU and by matchup ranking had a tougher game on Saturday than the Buckeyes.
Therefore, it comes down to what the committee prefers. Even with the win over Wisconsin, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com only gives Ohio State a 40 percent chance to make the top four, putting the Buckeyes fifth in its latest simulation.
While being fifth is nothing to scoff at, it's not enough to get you into the playoff.
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The Rose Bowl is traditionally one of the biggest games of the college football season, and that's no different this year, given the stakes.
Historically, the Rose Bowl generally featured the winners of the Big Ten and Pac-10/Pac-12 conferences.
Since the creation of the Bowl Championship Series, the Rose Bowl became a little more inclusive, serving as the national championship for a few different seasons and also featuring TCU and Oklahoma when the conference champions were otherwise occupied.
With the advent of the College Football Playoff, that changes a bit.
Until the selection committee unveils the last batch of College Football Playoff rankings, it's anybody's guess as to whom will play in the 2015 Rose Bowl.
Here's what we know so far heading into the New Year's Day clash.
When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Where Rose Bowl Fits into Playoff
Since this is the first year for the playoff, some fans remain unaware how the Rose Bowl fits into this year's rotation. The game serves as one of two semifinals this year, with the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds facing off. The winner will play whomever wins the Sugar Bowl, with the national championship in Arlington, Texas.
In the old system, you had the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl fall under the BCS umbrella. One of the four would host the national championship, with the host rotating from one year to the next.
In the CFP, the Cotton Bowl and Peach Bowl are added to the prestigious list. Rather than switching the national championship, the six bowls rotate who hosts the two semifinal games. You can see the rotation schedule for the next three years below.
The Rose Bowl won't serve as the national semifinal at any other point in the next three years.
Who's Still in Play?
Nobody can say for sure right now who will play in the Rose Bowl. Between glancing at the Week 15 playoff rankings and results from Friday and Saturday's games, however, fans can get a good idea of at least which teams are in the discussion.
Three teams are essentially locks for the top four after the conference championships: Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. The Crimson Tide and Ducks won the two toughest conferences in the country, while the Seminoles are the only Power Five team still unbeaten.
Say what you want about Florida State's penchant for close wins. The only thing FSU needs as a playoff credential is its 13-0 record. Head coach Jimbo Fisher isn't sweating the committee's decision, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:
It seems a safe bet that the committee will be weighing the resumes of Ohio State, Baylor and TCU as it fills out the playoff bracket.
The Big 12 is officially recognizing two champions, which makes the committee's decision that much harder:
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wondered whether the members might save itself a major headache and simply send in the Buckeyes:
Say what you want about the Big Ten, but beating Wisconsin by 59 points in the title game was a major statement. According to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, it was the second-biggest shutout of a top-15 team ever:
Schlabach also crunched the numbers, and it's hard to vote against OSU:
Those fans without a dog in the fight shouldn't really get upset no matter who gets sent into the playoff. There won't be a bad semifinal matchup, and this system is miles better than the Bowl Championship Series.
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