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College football bowl predictions: Playoff, New Year's picks ahead of Championship Week

Where things stand in the college football bowl and playoff picture as we make our predictions heading into Championship Saturday

The regular season is in the books and the college football calendar moves to Championship Saturday and from there, Selection Sunday to determine the final four teams that will play for the national championship and the major bowl games.

Rivalry Weekend helped sort out the contenders from the pretenders with a slate of hugely impactful and dramatic games.

The contenders? Michigan and USC, which beat out their biggest rivals to move decisively into the top four of the rankings, but with both still looking ahead to conference championship games to further cement their position in the polls.

The pretenders? Ohio State and Clemson, a pair of playoff hopefuls that dropped costly games at home to rivals: For the Buckeyes, a second-straight L to the rival Wolverines in a game that determined the Big Ten East; and for the Tigers, a shocking upset to unranked South Carolina that drops the ACC favorites from playoff position this season.

With that in mind, let's make our updated predictions for how the playoff and bowl season will look once the postseason kicks off heading into the national title.

College Football Playoff rankings predictions

Georgia Bulldogs college football team schedule, rankings

Predicting the final four College Football Playoff rankings

1. Georgia. No real debates here as college football's defending champions have stayed the course, running the table in the regular season and clinching the East Division to set up an SEC Championship Game against resurgent LSU. Even a loss in Atlanta doesn't doom Georgia, but it doesn't exactly help, either.

2. Michigan. Even without star back Blake Corum, the engine behind this superb offense, the Wolverines simply went to the skies with quarterback J.J. McCarthy throwing bombs against OSU's secondary and backup rusher Donovan Edwards pasted the Bucks for two very long touchdown runs. We project Michigan will defeat Purdue for the Big Ten championship and stay at No. 2. But, like Georgia, it's tough to see a scenario where, even with a loss, the Wolverines don't make it.

3. TCU. It might be the predictable thing to say, but we project the Horned Frogs will win the Big 12 Championship Game over Kansas State. But a loss in Arlington could open the door for a one-loss Ohio State to sneak back into the rankings.

4. USC. Say what you will about the Trojans defense, and you'd probably be right. On one hand, it's among the nation's worst in total production. On the other hand, it leads college football with an astonishing plus-22 turnover margin, taking the ball away 20 times and turning it over just twice. Add to that mix a stealth offense led by Heisman contender Caleb Williams playing his best football right now and USC could have just enough to avenge its only loss, against Utah for the Pac-12 crown.

College Football Playoff semifinal predictions

michigan football

CFP Fiesta Bowl: Michigan vs. TCU. This 2 vs. 3 semifinal would bring us a Big Ten vs. Big 12 matchup of two teams that can pack a punch offensively, and it'll be interesting to see if the Wolverines can match up with the speed of the Horned Frogs' skill threats a year after they did against Georgia in the playoff. These two schools have never faced off on the same field.

CFP Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. USC. Caleb Williams and the Trojans receivers would be an exciting matchup against Georgia's elite defensive back group, and so would the duo of Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington against a USC defense that, while it struggles overall, is aggressive getting after the ball, ranking No. 1 in college football in turnover margin. Southern Cal is 3-0 against Georgia all-time, but the schools haven't met since 1960.

National Championship: Georgia vs. Michigan. A rematch of last season's CFP Orange Bowl semifinal, and likely with similar results. Michigan is a physical group up front on offense and can get push in the run game, but it still hasn't played against a unit of the physicality and speed that Georgia stacks up at the line, and the Bulldogs won't leave the back end open the way Ohio State did.

College Football HQ prediction: Georgia wins the national championship. Make it two straight natties for Kirby Smart and the Dawgs, who will take another step towards unseating Alabama as the kings of the SEC, and of college football.

New Year's bowl predictions

clemson football will shipley

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State. A matchup between two would-be College Football Playoff contenders whose seasons went off the rails late. Ohio State has told the Rose Bowl it doesn't want to play in that game, but it's still in line for a New Year's game, and could draw a Clemson side that is decidedly sluggish on offense but elite on the defensive front seven to test C.J. Stroud in the pocket and throw the Buckeyes' stealth offense off schedule.

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Kansas State. The rare non-CFP game for the Tide, which would draw our projected Big 12 runner-up in this one. The two schools have never met before, but the Wildcats boast a dynamic rushing attack behind star back/receiver Deuce Vaughn, whose agility and speed has bedeviled Big 12 defenses for three seasons now.

Cotton Bowl: Tennessee vs. Tulane. The committee has some intriguing options for the two at-large teams here, including a Volunteers team that still packs a punch offensively even without Hendon Hooker and despite two costly late losses, here in our projected matchup against our expected AAC champion, the Green Wave.

Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington. James Franklin's 10-2 PSU is a lock for Pasadena after the Buckeyes asked to be excused from the game, and coming off a strong finish, moving into the top 10 of the rankings. Washington is stacking up yards with Michael Penix at quarterback and is right at home in Kalen DeBoer's offense, which could find some holes against the Nittany Lions secondary in a game that could turn into a shootout.

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