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The Biggest Potential Playoff Race Upset of All? Everyone Staying Unbeaten

One week out from the first playoff rankings, what would the New Year’s Six picture look like if as many teams as possible stayed perfect before bowl season?

Congratulations—or condolences, depending on your allegiances: Unbeknownst to you, this past weekend was the last one all year in which undefeated teams were at risk of being knocked off by opponents with losses already on the record. From here on out, the only setbacks the nation’s eight unbeatens will sustain are to come by the hands of another unbeaten team in their path: Penn State and Wisconsin will each reach the Big Ten title game 12–0; same goes for Alabama and Georgia in the SEC. TCU and Miami are bound for conference titles, and UCF and USF will play a de facto American title game one week before the actual American title game, with the winner locking up the Group of Five’s coveted New Year’s Six spot. For the first time in College Football Playoff history, every final four team will carry a spotless record into the semifinals.

Think that last paragraph sounds like a crazy hypothetical? You’re not alone, but it’s worth reflecting on the nature of the sport that chaos is the baseline expectation from late October on. Georgia and Notre Dame’s budding playoff candidacies have both been built on the premise that upsets elsewhere will push them to the top of the pile of one-loss teams up for consideration by the selection committee (assuming that the Bulldogs do in fact lose to Alabama in the SEC title game, which is far from certain). Miami’s 6–0 start has been the target of no small amount of skepticism after the Hurricanes produced late escapes against Florida State and Georgia Tech, with stiffer tests still to come. And you won’t find anyone rushing to crown TCU before the Horned Frogs can produce a clean sweep of the Sooner State rivals, one of which may be waiting for them again in the Big 12 title game.

Still, if that’s the way it plays out, we’d see three 13–0 teams in the playoff (plus 12–0 Miami, which had a September game scrapped due to Hurricane Irma) vying for the national title on New Year’s Day. It never, ever, ever happens that way, but at this point it’s just as likely as a dozen other plausible scenarios.

Below, the latest look at the projected (but far from official) matchups for all 39 bowl games leading up to the College Football Playoff national championship in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Appalachian State vs. UAB

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Tulane vs. Georgia State

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
​MWC vs. Pac-12
Colorado State vs. UCLA

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
Middle Tennessee vs. San Diego State

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Ohio vs. Arkansas State

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
Western Michigan vs. Florida International

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
Houston vs. Western Kentucky

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)
Florida Atlantic vs. South Florida

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
Akron vs. Wyoming

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
Memphis vs. Vanderbilt

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Southern Miss

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Troy

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
SMU vs. Boise State

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Big Ten
Kansas State vs. Purdue

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Duke vs. Iowa

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Texas Tech vs. Utah

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Boston College vs. North Texas

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Syracuse vs. Minnesota

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Nebraska vs. Stanford

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas vs. Texas A&M

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Virginia vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
NC State vs. West Virginia

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
Washington State vs. Oklahoma State

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Michigan vs. USC

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
Georgia Tech vs. Florida

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
Louisville vs. Arizona

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Kentucky vs. Northwestern

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
New Mexico State vs. Fresno State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
LSU vs. Wake Forest

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Iowa State vs. South Carolina

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Michigan State vs. Mississippi State

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten
Auburn vs. Virginia Tech

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Ohio State vs. Washington

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Clemson vs. Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
UCF vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Penn State vs. TCU

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. Miami

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner