College Football Playoff projections heading into Week 9. The nation’s best teams look to survive and advance on their way to potential semifinal berths.
Semifinal No. 1 – Fiesta Bowl
Date: Dec. 31
Location: Glendale, Arizona
Tie-ins: CFP No. 2/CFP No. 3
Fiesta Bowl Projection: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Clemson
The Wolverines make their first appearance of the season in the College Football Playoff projections following their win over Illinois and Ohio State’s upset loss to Penn State in Happy Valley. Jim Harbaugh’s squad continues to play some of the best football in the country, particularly on defense. Coordinator Don Brown’s unit is holding opposing offenses to a 12-of-92 conversion rate on third down, as opponents are facing an average of 3rd and 8.7 against the Wolverines. That’s ridiculous. The Big Ten race will likely come down to the showdown against Ohio State because this Wolverines squad is coasting in all three phases. And it looks very much like a CFP team.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, meanwhile, are coming off of a bye week and gearing up for the much-anticipated ACC Atlantic showdown with Florida State in Tallahassee. The last time we saw Clemson, it escaped an upset bid by NC State, which forced four Tigers turnovers. It was the second close call in a three-week span for the Tigers, as they needed to rally at home against Louisville for a 36-28 victory a few weeks back. Despite the close calls, Clemson is on path for a CFP berth if it can pass the remaining tests. We have seen this team’s potential, but will it start playing its best football once again?
Semifinal No. 2 – Peach Bowl
Date: Dec. 31
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Tie-ins: CFP No. 1/CFP No. 4
Peach Bowl Projection: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
Another SEC West test, another relatively easy victory for the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban’s squad beat Texas A&M last week, sacking Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight five times and not allowing him to go off offensively as he did when he was at Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago. In Saturday’s win, Tide signal-caller Jalen Hurts passed for 166 yards and rushed for 93 more, while running back Damien Harris rushed 17 times for 126 yards. After a bye this week, the Tide travel to play a rejuvenated LSU squad and still have the Iron Bowl to close out the regular season before a potential SEC title game. There are tests to pass, but this is the best team in America.
Meanwhile, Chris Petersen’s squad returned to action last week after a bye, and it was once again the Jake Browning Show. The sophomore threw three touchdown passes to give him 26 for the season, and he added another rushing score to help the Huskies roll to a 41-17 win over Oregon State. A big test looms this week, though, as U-Dub has to travel to Salt Lake City to face a Utah squad that is playing very good football. There are a few other tests, too, including the Apple Cup and a potential Pac-12 championship game. But Petersen and Co. are balanced on both sides of the ball and very talented. A CFP berth may indeed loom.