ATLANTA — Is LSU about to make its first-ever trip to a New Year's Six bowl?
Only the College Football Playoff committee knows for certain. But the Tigers went to bed at the end of Championship Saturday comforted by the knowledge that the day produced no shocking upsets to block their path to the Peach or Fiesta bowls.
The College Football Playoff committee’s infatuation with LSU did not end with the Tigers’ 74-72 seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M.
The CFP semifinal parings will be announced at 11:30 a.m. CST Sunday (the CFP show begins at 11 a.m.). New Year’s Six bowl parings will be announced at 2 p.m. Sunday, both on ESPN.
LSU has never played in the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. LSU was last in the Peach here in Atlanta in 2012 when it lost 25-24 to Clemson. That was two years before the Peach joined the Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Orange and Fiesta bowls in the CFP’s New Year’s Six.
A berth in one of the six bowls that rotate hosting the CFP semifinals would be a sign of improvement for LSU, 9-3 after a 74-72 seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M but still No. 10 in Tuesday's CFP rankings. A trip to the Peach or Fiesta bowls would also represent the Tigers’ most impressive bowl appearance since losing to Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Tigers played in the Citrus Bowl the past two seasons, the SEC's top non-CFP bowl.
All the conference championship games that could impact LSU on Saturday went according to form, a big plus for the Tigers' NY6 hopes:
- SEC: Alabama beat Georgia 35-28.
- Big 12: Oklahoma beat Texas 39-27.
- ACC: Clemson beat Pittsburgh 42-10.
- Big Ten: Ohio State beat Northwestern 45-24.
Other than No. 11 Washington, which beat No. 17 Utah 10-3 Friday for the Pac-12 title, no one ranked below LSU has a likely chance to jump the Tigers in the final CFP top 25. But Washington is bound for the Rose Bowl, a game not open to LSU this year.
CFP No. 1 Alabama (13-0) stayed on track for a berth in one of the CFP semifinals in the Cotton and Orange bowls. Georgia (11-2) will probably fall from No. 4 to the Sugar Bowl, where it will be expected to play No. 14 Texas (8-4). Oklahoma's win over the Longhorns is widely expected to push the Sooners (12-1) into the No. 4 spot.
No. 2 Clemson (13-0) stayed on track by beating unranked Pittsburgh for the ACC title, avoiding the possibility of both teams taking up Peach/Fiesta slots. No. 6 Ohio State (12-1) kept its thin CFP hopes alive but is likely headed to the Rose to play Washington (9-3). An upset loss by the Buckeyes would have put No. 21 Northwestern (8-5) in the Rose and likely sent Ohio State to the Peach or Fiesta, though the Buckeyes at 11-2 could have fallen behind LSU in the rankings.
Anxious to find out where LSU will play its bowl game?
Did Georgia look better in defeat than Oklahoma did in victory?
If LSU goes to the Fiesta Bowl, the Tigers’ likely opponent will be No. 8 UCF. The Knights shook off a devastating injury last week to star quarterback McKenzie Milton to beat Memphis 56-41 on Saturday in the AAC championship game. UCF (12-0) played in the Peach Bowl last year as the highest-ranked team from the so-called “Group of Five” conferences and is not expected to be sent back to Atlanta a second straight year.
If LSU is in the Peach Bowl and UCF is in the Fiesta, the Tigers would likely play No. 7 Michigan (10-2) out of the Big Ten. The Tigers and Wolverines have never met in football.
Ten final national bowl projections all have LSU in a NY6 bowl, nine of them in the Fiesta. Seven of the 10 say LSU will play UCF while three say the Tigers will play Michigan.
Should the CFP committee somehow deny LSU a NY6 bowl bid, the Tigers would have to look to one of the SEC’s bowl tie-ins. Having been to the Citrus Bowl the past two years, the Tigers would be unlikely to return to Orlando, Florida. LSU would then fall to one of the SEC’s “group of six” bowls: the Outback, Gator, Texas, Music City, Belk or Liberty.
LSU’s chances of playing in the Sugar Bowl seemed slim and none. In non-semifinal years, the Sugar gets either the SEC champion or the highest-ranked SEC team if the champion is in the CFP. With No. 9 Florida also ahead of LSU, the Tigers’ path to New Orleans appeared blocked from the outset.
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The CFP semifinals will be played Dec. 29 in the Cotton and Orange bowls, precluding LSU from playing there. The Rose Bowl is strictly a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in non-semifinal years, as the Sugar is strictly between the SEC and Big 12.
UPDATED FINAL BOWL PROJECTIONS (as of 10 a.m. Sunday)
• Kyle Bonagura, ESPN.com: Peach Bowl vs. UCF
• CollegeFootballNews.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Jason Kirk, SBNation.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Michigan
• Kerry Miller, BleacherReport.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Brant Parsons, OrlandoSentinel.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Steve Petrella, The Action Network: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Mitch Sherman, ESPN.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Michigan
• Eric Single, SI.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Erick Smith, USA Today: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF
• Jim Tomlin, SaturdayDownSouth.com: Fiesta Bowl vs. Michigan
Peach Bowl: 11 a.m. Dec. 29, Atlanta (ESPN) – 1 projection
Fiesta Bowl: Noon Jan. 1, Glendale, Arizona (ESPN) – 10 projections