<
>

Why USC should be upset, a new-look Clemson and everything we're excited for in bowl season

play
Nick Saban disappointed Alabama isn't in the CFP (1:22)

Nick Saban weighs in on Alabama not making the College Football Playoff. (1:22)

It's Selection Day and that means bowl season is quickly upon us -- arguably the most wonderful time of the year.

With Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State slated for the College Football Playoff, the rest of the bowl schedule is set. Before we get into what we're most looking forward to this postseason outside of the semis and national title, we've got one final Anger Index on who should be most upset at this year's selections.

Check out the complete bowl schedule here.

Jump to:
Anger Index | Bowl and Playoff Roundtable

Anger index

The final four is set, and for the first time in the history of the College Football Playoff, it doesn't include Alabama or Clemson. So, yeah, Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney might be a little upset today, but they're certainly not the only ones with a few gripes about how the committee came up with its top four.

For the last time this season, here's who's angry at the committee this week.

1. USC Trojans (ranked 10th)

Perspective is a funny thing. If the only conversation is who has the better record, then it makes sense to put Ohio State (11-1) ahead of USC (11-2). But look at the comparison from another angle and, well, the conversation gets a little trickier.

USC has lost to one team. Ohio State has lost to one team.

USC lost its last game by 23 points. Ohio State lost its last game by 22 points.

USC and Ohio State have one opponent in common: Notre Dame. The Trojans beat a red-hot Notre Dame team by 11 in a game they controlled throughout. Ohio State beat a work-in-progress Notre Dame team in the season opener by 11 in a game that was close until late in the fourth quarter.

Oh, and USC plays in a league that finished with six ranked teams (all in the top 18). The Big Ten has three.

And then, of course, there's this: A week ago, USC was in the top four and Ohio State was not. By virtue of its own success, USC had to play another game, while Ohio State sat home. And the reason for that? Just a quirk of college football's ad hoc systems, whereby the Big Ten plays with divisions and the Pac-12 doesn't. As a result, USC had to go up in a rematch with Utah. Ohio State was the second-best team in the Big Ten, and without divisions, it would've had a rematch with Michigan, too. Instead, the Buckeyes got the week off while Michigan played unranked Purdue for the conference title.

To think, too, that if Oregon hadn't blown a 31-10 lead to Oregon State, USC wouldn't have had to play Utah again in that Pac-12 title game. If Washington hadn't blown a game against woeful Arizona State back in early October, USC wouldn't have played Utah again either. There's no guarantee the results for the Trojans would've been any better against the Ducks or Huskies, but one fact already in evidence was that USC had already lost once to Utah. It was a bad matchup -- one made tougher when Caleb Williams got hurt.

In the end, the argument that Ohio State is simply a better team than USC is a fair one. But it's still hard to swallow the logic that getting a chance to play in a conference title game was a massive detriment for one team, and getting blown out a week earlier was actually a huge win for the other.

2. Georgia Bulldogs (ranked No. 1)

Hey Georgia, here's your reward for being the best team in the country all season: You get a date with, arguably, the second-most talented team in the country in the semifinal.

A quick comparison between Ohio State and TCU:

Ohio State is No. 3 in FPI. TCU is No. 10.

Ohio State is No. 3 in SP+. TCU is No. 6.

Ohio State's past four recruiting classes ranked, on average, sixth. TCU's ranked 38th.

Ohio State is making its fifth playoff appearance. TCU is making its first.

It's true, of course, that Georgia wouldn't have been a shoo-in to beat TCU, and the Bulldogs are the obvious favorite over Ohio State, too. But the bottom line is this is a far tougher matchup for the No. 1 team in the country than TCU or USC or Tennessee or Clemson or, heck, even Alabama might've been.

The Buckeyes' ugly loss to Michigan in the regular-season finale is the overwhelming storyline because it happened most recently, but as committee chairman Boo Corrigan noted, the final score wasn't entirely indicative of how competitive Ohio State was for most of the game, and there's a reason the Buckeyes spent the bulk of the year ranked among the top two teams in the country.

TCU is a great story this season. The Horned Frogs are absolutely deserving of the playoff berth. But we've seen enough college football over the years to know that, by the time we get to December, the single biggest factor in success is talent, and there's a good case to be made that the two most talented teams are meeting in the semifinal, which is hardly a fun draw for the Dawgs.

play
1:16

Kirby Smart: We've got some work to do to be ready for OSU

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart reacts to drawing Ohio State in a College Football Playoff semifinal.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (ranked fifth)

There's a lot of "yelling 'Don't you know who I am?' at the maitre'd when you can't get a table" vibes here, but ... don't you know who Nick Saban is? Sure, Alabama hasn't looked like a playoff team for much of this season, but two losses on the final play of the game make this awfully hard to swallow for a program that has more College Football Playoff wins than Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan combined.

4 (tie). Tennessee Volunteers (ranked sixth) and Clemson Tigers (ranked seventh)

Don't expect a Christmas card this year, Shane Beamer. You ruined two serious playoff bids in the final two weeks of the regular season. Couldn't you have just phoned it in like the LSU Tigers did? Oh, sure, maybe if Hendon Hooker doesn't get hurt or Dabo Swinney doesn't spite-start DJ Uiagalelei things are different, but we all know who the real enemy is here, Beamer, and we're not going to forget it any time soon. Especially since they're going to be reminded again and again in the run-up to the Orange Bowl.

5. Washington Huskies (ranked 12th)

Let's do a little blind résumé to end the year.

Team A: 10-2, two wins over ranked opponents, both losses by a TD or less. Won last six games.

Team B: 10-2, two wins over ranked opponents, both losses by 14 or more. Lost two of last four.

Team A, of course, is Washington. Team B is Tennessee, the lone wild card in the New Year's Six. Was there much chance of the Huskies really being ranked ahead of the Vols? Funny, perhaps Beamer and the Gamecocks made that happen, too. South Carolina's win over Clemson made that second Tennessee loss seem better, while the Arizona State loss for Washington continues to look downright awful.

Given Tennessee's late stumbles and Hendon Hooker's injury, there's a good case to be made the Huskies are the far more dangerous team today. But they're on the outside looking in -- just as they were for the Pac-12 title and hopes of a Rose Bowl -- because they couldn't beat Arizona Freakin' State.

-- David M. Hale


Roundtable

Our reporters break down what games they're most looking forward to and which teams and players have something to prove this postseason.

Should the CFP committee have done anything differently?

play
2:49

How the CFP committee selected its top 4

CFP selection committee chair Boo Corrigan details the discussions that went into picking the teams for the playoff.

David M. Hale: The committee likely got it right in selecting some combination of the four best or most deserving teams, but it's still hard to swallow the notion that USC was punished for playing (and losing) a game Ohio State didn't have to play. If the Trojans could've simply opted out of the Pac-12 title game a week ago, they'd be in the playoff. If the Big Ten didn't have divisions, Ohio State would've had a rematch with Michigan already and would've either earned its way in or been in the same position as USC. It's a function of college football's quirks that it comes down to something so illogical, but in the end, USC got exposed and Ohio State, for better or worse, will live to fight another day.

Chris Low: No matter what the committee did, it was going to be criticized. But, yes, it looks like the four most deserving teams got in. The four best? That's up for debate. Just like Roy Kramer, the godfather of the BCS, used to say, there's no perfect system to select the teams, not with everybody playing different schedules and in different conferences. Georgia and Michigan were locks. It's a bummer for USC it didn't get in when it probably would have been a lock had it not played in the Pac-12 championship game. But it lost to Utah ... twice in the same season. You could make cases for Ohio State, Tennessee and Alabama -- probably in that order -- for the fourth spot. The Vols had better wins, but were also blown out by South Carolina and lost starting quarterback Hendon Hooker. Alabama, with a healthy Bryce Young, is capable of beating anybody but lost two games on the final play and won two games on the final play. It was the ultimate back-in job by the Buckeyes, who were hammered on their home field the final week of the regular season but still managed to slip in.

Mark Schlabach: I think the committee got the four teams exactly right, although I think one could certainly argue that Ohio State might have deserved the No. 3 seed, after TCU's overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. I know the committee was probably trying to avoid a Michigan-Ohio State rematch in the Fiesta Bowl, but given how many people watched the regular-season showdown, I'm sure millions would have tuned in again. Alabama made its argument, but the Tide have no one to blame but themselves. Penalties and turnovers cost them in their close losses to Tennessee and LSU. The Tide are undoubtedly one of the two or three most talented teams in the FBS, but they didn't always play like it this season.

Blake Baumgartner: I'll concur with Mark. I know I definitely considered flipping TCU and Ohio State in our final staff CFP picks. I feel comfortable saying the Buckeyes are a better team than the Horned Frogs. But Sonny Dykes' team shouldn't be penalized for playing in a conference championship game that Ryan Day's team failed to qualify for because it couldn't beat Michigan within the friendly confines of the Horseshoe.

Alex Scarborough: Maybe I should stop listening the moment the rankings are revealed. Mostly I'm OK with the results, but it's when the committee chair comes on and describes the rationale for their decisions that they lose me. Ohio State is credited with keeping the game close with Michigan for three quarters? What does that even mean? The Buckeyes went on to lose at home by three touchdowns. Alabama lost two games on the road on the final play. I get that the chair has an impossible job, but come on.

Adam Rittenberg: I've long believed that the committee's toughest job is figuring out the weekly rankings leading up to the final one -- and justifying them. The actual CFP group normally works itself out, and did again this season. Hale makes a fair point about USC, but unbalanced schedules also helped the Trojans, who didn't have to face two of the league's best teams (Oregon and Washington). The four-team CFP is designed not to reward the deeper leagues, and it's unfortunate the Pac-12 won't have a representative despite being deeper than the three leagues that made the field.

Paolo Uggetti: It's hard to say so. In many ways, the committee was handed a pretty clear-cut top four. And while yes, I'd agree that USC got unfairly punished for playing and losing in a conference championship (while TCU didn't), the Trojans had their chance to prove they were a playoff-caliber team and could not do it. The debate between most deserving and best teams is going to plague the committee until the playoff is expanded (and maybe even then), but this season, there's little to no doubt the four best teams were also the ones who deserved to play for the national title.

Andrea Adelson: I have no issues with what the committee did, though I think it is a shame a team that got housed at home by its rival got rewarded because there were no other justifiable options. No, I am not buying "the game was close for three quarters." We saw how the whole thing ended. Blame South Carolina. If Tennessee and/or Clemson had beaten the Gamecocks as expected, I firmly believe the top four would have looked different. But that is what makes the regular season a quasi-playoff unto itself.

What NY6 bowl game are you most looking forward to?

Hale: The Peach Bowl, and it's not really close. For all the hand-wringing about how Ohio State got here, the bottom line is this: For the bulk of this season, we all assumed the two most talented teams in the country were Ohio State and Georgia. Now we'll get to see them play. So, who wins it? The offense with the Heisman-caliber QB and the seemingly endless supply of skill-position talent? Or the blue-collar bruisers with the dominant defense? It's a perfect matchup for the playoff, and it might be the best semifinal game we've had since Georgia and Oklahoma went toe-to-toe in the 2017 Rose Bowl.

Low: A distinctly orange Capital One Orange Bowl would be my choice. Clemson and Tennessee, with their two distinctly different shades of orange, are only about 3½ hours away from each other but have met only three times over the past 75 years. This is also a chance for both teams to take out some frustration (against each other) thanks to a common nemesis. Shane Beamer and South Carolina ruined both teams' playoff chances with wins against Tennessee and Clemson in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Scarborough: I'm with Chris. I'm looking forward to Tennessee-Clemson as a sneak peek of each team's offense next season, specifically at quarterback. I mean, surely Dabo Swinney will stick with Cade Klubnik now, right? He flashed real potential against North Carolina on Saturday. And Joe Milton III could be fun replacing Hooker. Milton is strong and fast, and he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

Schlabach: Georgia and Ohio State seemed to be on a collision course all season. It's offense vs. defense. The Big Ten vs. the SEC. Ryan Day vs. Kirby Smart. Bring it on. The Buckeyes' firepower on offense will test Georgia's defense in a big way, especially if OSU's tailbacks are healthy. Georgia's secondary has had some problems against explosive receivers, and few teams are better at that position than the Buckeyes. Georgia hasn't been as consistent as last season's championship team, but it has risen to the occasion when it mattered most. I don't think the CFP semifinal game will be any different.

Baumgartner: I'm with Hale and Schlabach here: Georgia vs. Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. Most of the national semifinals in the College Football Playoff haven't been ... how do I want to say this? "Competitive." The Buckeyes are smarting from their fourth-quarter collapse against the Wolverines Thanksgiving weekend and the Bulldogs want to supplant the Crimson Tide as the preeminent program in the sport. Ohio State's dynamic offense against Georgia's stout defense is one hell of a nightcap on New Year's Eve. You have to feel like the Buckeyes coming down to the ATL to face off with the defending national champions has the feel and ingredients to provide all of us an instant classic.

Uggetti: It's easy to lean toward the shiny toy that is Georgia-Ohio State, but I'm really looking forward to the Fiesta Bowl. Not only will the matchup decide the other finalist, but it's an equally great contrast in styles. Michigan already proved it can take down one high-powered offense in Ohio State, but TCU is riding its own capable offense as well as what feels like a dream season into this game. Nearly everything about the matchup says Michigan should take care of business, but I wouldn't count out the Hypnotoad just yet.

Which bowl game outside the NY6 are you most looking forward to?

Schlabach: The Alamo Bowl might be fun to watch. If Texas manages to beat Washington, we'll hear once again about how the Longhorns are back. I think Steve Sarkisian does finally have Texas on the right track, but there's a way to go before it is ready to compete in the SEC. Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is one of the more underrated players in the country. He has thrown for more than 4,300 yards with 29 touchdowns, but you don't hear as much about him as Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Caleb Williams and others.

Scarborough: LSU-Purdue in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl could be interesting. The Tigers outperformed expectations Year 1 under Brian Kelly, but there's a lot of room for improvement. I'm curious to see how they develop, especially in the passing game. Some other compelling matchups will be Notre Dame-South Carolina in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Florida State-Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl and, lest we forget the all-time best bowl celebration, I will be tuning in to NC State-Maryland in the Duke's Mayo Bowl.

Adelson: Speaking of the Duke's Mayo Bowl, this one rises to No. 1 on the list if Ron Cherry can be the honorary game official to commemorate the 15th anniversary season of "Giving him the business," which he said during a Maryland-NC State game back when the Terps were in the ACC. Perhaps Hale has some connections. This is actually one of the more underrated rivalry games lost to conference realignment. In 70 games played, the teams are deadlocked at 33-33-4 and last played in 2013 -- the Terps' final year in the ACC. There is one other rivalry game that returns -- Cincinnati vs. Louisville in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl. How can you not love a game featuring the Keg of Nails trophy?

Rittenberg: I'll go Group of 5 here and go with the Cure Bowl, which matches Sun Belt champion Troy against Conference USA champion UTSA. Few first-year coaches did a better job than Troy's Jon Sumrall, who won an increasingly competitive league with a team that embraced defense until its offense began to roll down the stretch. Sumrall and UTSA's Jeff Traylor both will be on the radar for Power 5 jobs in the near future. Traylor has been exceptional for UTSA, which enters the bowl on a 10-game win streak and boasts a must-see quarterback in Frank Harris. Part of me would love to see these teams take on Power 5 opponents in bowls, but they'll also get a nice spotlight by sharing the field in Orlando.

Baumgartner: This Michigan State alum is still having nightmares over watching what Penix did to the Spartans back in September. The chemistry Penix shares with Kalen DeBoer is real, and spearheaded one of the better turnarounds this season. And the Huskies had a good shot at the Rose Bowl, if not for some Pac-12 chaos during the regular season's final week. The Alamo Bowl will be an interesting chess match between two great offensive minds: DeBoer and Steve Sarkisian.

What player/team has the most to prove in a bowl?

Hale: TCU. No one is surprised to see Georgia, Michigan or Ohio State in the College Football Playoff. Been there, done that. But TCU is a true Cinderella, having opened the year unranked and gotten here with a series of frantic second-half comebacks. So, was TCU lucky or actually good? There's a good case to be made that this year's TCU is the most unlikely playoff team ever, and while that means the Horned Frogs won't carry the weight of heavy expectations into their matchup with Michigan, it also means there's an opportunity to completely alter the narrative around their season from one about luck to one about genuine skill.

Low: It's not that Stetson Bennett has a lot to prove, because his story is one of the best in all of college football. He goes from a walk-on to Georgia's starting quarterback and the unquestioned leader of that team. What the 25-year-old Bennett can prove is that he's one of college football's most distinguished winners if he can lead Georgia to back-to-back national titles.

Schlabach: It has to be Ohio State's defense, right? The Buckeyes looked better before they ran into the Wolverines, and they were run over in a 45-23 loss at the Horseshoe. Michigan had 530 yards of offense -- 278 passing and 252 rushing. The Wolverines threw over the top and ran through the Buckeyes. Georgia's defense gets all of the attention, but the Bulldogs are capable of putting up a bunch of points. They might be even better if receivers Arian Smith and AD Mitchell are healthy.

Scarborough: I'm still a little skeptical of Michigan. I've been down on the Big Ten this season and its schedule was underwhelming to say the least. The last two games against Ohio State and Purdue were impressive, but I want to see how J.J. McCarthy and the passing game perform if they're trailing or it's a close game late.

Rittenberg: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. He handled the Michigan loss with grace and maturity, saying he knows how his Buckeyes legacy will be viewed with no Big Ten titles and an 0-2 record in The Game. But he has a chance to take out the defending champs and set up a potential rematch against Michigan in the championship game. Stroud has been an excellent player statistically, but Ohio State fans are really down on him -- and coach Ryan Day -- after the Michigan loss. He should be incredibly motivated, and still leads one of the nation's most talented offenses into the CFP semis.

Adelson: Hard to argue with what was already mentioned. Looking outside the playoff, I will go with North Carolina and quarterback Drake Maye. The hype surrounding him is real -- opposing coaches rave about him and his potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2024. But it goes without saying both Maye and the Tar Heels ended their season with major disappointment. After a 9-1 start, they closed on a three-game losing streak and Maye was not nearly as efficient -- failing to throw for over 300 yards in the three losses. The struggles are not entirely on Maye. The offensive line deserves its share of responsibility -- teams have increased their pressure on Maye and he has gotten sacked and hit at increasing rates. In the ACC championship game, he was sacked four times and threw two interceptions. North Carolina also has had an ineffective run game, which adds to the problems. The bowl game is a good way to turn the page toward 2023 and what should be a season that begins with Heisman hype for the returning quarterback.

Uggetti: I'm with Adam here. Stroud has proved to be an incredible talent ready to take on the NFL, but to leave college with two losses to Michigan and nothing close to a title is not the way the Southern California native wants to go out. The fact that he's getting another chance to redeem the Buckeyes' season and possibly beat the Wolverines in a title game could reshape his legacy entirely.

Baumgartner: While I agree with what Adam and Paolo had to say about Stroud's potential reprieve with Ohio State, the fact that TCU is in the College Football Playoff is one of the season's best and most remarkable stories. They say things are bigger in Texas. As the first team from the Lone Star State to reach the CFP, the Horned Frogs have a golden opportunity to make an indelible statement if they can stun Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. There's something special brewing in Fort Worth.

Underclassman you're most excited to see in bowl season?

Hale: Clemson QB Cade Klubnik. There will be a lot of "what ifs" whispered around Clemson for the next few months. Dabo Swinney insisted on sticking with DJ Uiagalelei through an up-and-down season, and the result was two losses that might have been avoided if Klubnik had gotten on the field earlier. Instead, Swinney waited until the ACC championship game to unleash Klubnik on an unsuspecting North Carolina, and the freshman was exceptional, completing 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards. Was that a function of the Tar Heels' porous defense (No. 110 in FBS in opponent passer rating) combined with a couple of injured DBs? Or was it, as Swinney said, a sneak preview of the future at Clemson? The Orange Bowl will likely give us a far better answer in a matchup with a very good Tennessee team.

Scarborough: LSU outside linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. tore up the conference down the stretch as a freshman this season. It was very Will Anderson Jr.-esque the way he took over games rushing the passer. And while he wasn't as effective against Texas A&M and Georgia, I still expect big things from him. A strong bowl game could set him up as one of the best defensive players in college football next season.

Schlabach: Check back with me on this one in a few days. If a lot of potential NFL first-rounders opt out of the non-CFP bowl games as expected, we could see a number of underclassmen step into bigger roles in bowl games. I'm talking about guys like Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe.

Uggetti: Raleek Brown. USC is going to need a new No. 1 back next season to replace Travis Dye and Austin Jones, and the five-star prospect has already shown flashes of his raw talent this year that make me think Lincoln Riley could use the bowl game to unleash him.

Adelson: Hale is right. The Klubnik/Will Shipley combination is one that will have Clemson as a 2023 preseason favorite to make it back to the playoffs. But an under-the-radar ACC player to keep an eye on is Duke quarterback Riley Leonard, one of the biggest reasons Duke made a bowl this year. If he throws for 206 yards against UCF in the Military Bowl presented by Peraton, he will be Duke's first 3,000-yard passer since Sean Renfree in 2012 and just the fifth different quarterback in school history to ever reach that mark.