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College Football Playoff Alternate Scenarios

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The playoff changes depending on the year.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We've all seen how the inaugural College Football Playoff bowls worked out. What may not be immediately obvious is that if every team in the country has an identical season next year as it did this year, the bowl pairings would change.

The College Football Playoff is a bit like the 1998-2005 era of the BCS in that the bowl assignments can change from one year to the next depending on which bowl has elevated status. Back then, it was which of the four BCS bowls served as the national championship game. Now, it's which of the CFP bowls are hosting semifinal games that makes the difference.

This year it's the Rose and Sugar Bowls hosting the semis. Next year it'll be the Orange and Cotton, while the following year it'll be the Fiesta and Peach. The three pairings will rotate in that order for at least the 12 years of the CFP contract, or until the scheme gets changed somehow. Let's take a look at how the bowls would work out using the other semifinal pairings.

Orange-Cotton semifinal scenario

Semifinal A

No. 1

No. 4

Orange Bowl

Alabama Ohio State

Semifinal B

No. 2

No. 3

Cotton Bowl

Oregon FSU

It's ambiguous as to which of these games would be in which location. Officially, the No. 1 team gets to play in whichever site works best for it, period:

When assigning teams to sites, the committee will place the top two seeds at the most advantageous sites, weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for its fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium. Preference will go to the No. 1 seed.

Emphasis mine.

I'm not sure if Bama has a strong preference one way or the other between Arlington and Miami Gardens. The former is closer to Tuscaloosa by about two and a half hours in driving time, but it's probably a flight either way. Meanwhile for No. 2 Oregon, playing in the Orange Bowl would mean playing in No. 3's backyard.

I think the committee would send the Tide to the site of its 2013 BCS National Championship Game win to prevent Oregon from being at such a disadvantage. I could also see the committee putting Bama in Texas and telling the Ducks to make sure they're No. 1 next time. We'll have to see what the committee does in this kind of situation in the future. Anyway, let's move on.

Contract Bowl

SEC

Big 12

Sugar Bowl

Mississippi State Baylor

The Rose, Sugar, and Orange Bowls are "contract bowls" because contracts govern their participants when they're not hosting semifinals. The Sugar takes teams from the SEC and Big 12, the champions if available. The Big 12 champ is available, so Baylor goes here. The SEC champ is not, so the next-highest ranked SEC team gets a bid. That means Mississippi State would make its first ever appearance in the Sugar.

Contract Bowl

Pac-12

Big Ten

Rose Bowl

Arizona Michigan State

As you'd expect, the Rose Bowl's contract gets it teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Neither champion is available, so the Grandaddy gets the next-highest ranked team from each conference: Arizona and Michigan State. It'd be a fun matchup seeing the Bearcat offense go up against the Spartan defense.

To fill up the other two bowls, we have a pool of Boise State—the contractually obligated representative from the "Group of Five" mid-major conferences—and the three highest ranked available teams of TCU, Ole Miss, and Kansas State.

Host Bowl West

At-Large

Group of Five

Fiesta Bowl

Kansas State Boise State

The Fiesta is a "Host Bowl", or bowl without contracted partners. It's the natural place to put Boise State under these premises just like with the actual 2014 bowl pairings. The only question is whether TCU or Kansas State will join the Broncos. Because the committee tried to pair up the highest ranked teams instead of bowing to geography—No. 5 Baylor got No. 8 Michigan State despite distance suggesting No. 9 Ole Miss is a better fit—we'll say No. 11 KSU plays No. 20 Boise State.

Host Bowl East

At-Large

At-Large

Peach Bowl

Ole Miss TCU

The Rebels are basically a lock for the Peach in the way that Boise State is for the Fiesta. No. 6 TCU ends up here to create a higher pairing of ranks than would be possible if the Frogs and Kansas State swapped.

Under this scenario, the top 11 teams plus No. 20 Boise State are in the CFP bowls. It's a slight difference over this year's setup where it's the top ten plus No. 12 Georgia Tech and the Broncos.

Fiesta-Peach scenario

Semifinal A

No. 1

No. 4

Peach Bowl

Alabama Ohio State

Semifinal B

No. 2

No. 3

Fiesta Bowl

Oregon FSU

There isn't any ambiguity here. Alabama will play in Atlanta and Oregon will play in Glendale. There's nothing else to say.

Contract Bowl

SEC

Big 12

Sugar Bowl

Mississippi State Baylor

Contract Bowl

Pac-12

Big Ten

Rose Bowl

Arizona Michigan State

These two contract bowls work exactly as they do in the other scenario.

Contract Bowl

ACC

SEC/B1G/ND

Orange Bowl

Georgia Tech Ole Miss

The Orange Bowl's contract is for an ACC team, the champion if available, and the highest ranked team out of the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame. FSU is unavailable, and the next-highest ranked team from the ACC is Georgia Tech. With Alabama, Ohio State, Mississippi State, and Michigan State taken—the Sugar and Rose get priority over the Orange in years like this one—the Rebels are the choice here.

Host Bowl Central

At-Large

Group of Five

Cotton Bowl

TCU Boise State

Thanks to all of the contracts, there's only one spot available for at-large teams. No. 6 TCU gets that honor. The Horned Frogs must face the Group of Five team in the Cotton, as there's no other place to put it. Interestingly, here we get a rematch of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, a.k.a. the Kids' Table Bowl, under much different circumstances.

This scenario works out like this year's does, in that we get the top ten teams plus Georgia Tech and Boise State. Here's a handy table to compare the bowl matchups across each of the three scenarios, with the semifinals in bold.

Bowl Rose-Sugar Orange-Cotton Fiesta-Peach
Sugar Alabama vs. Ohio St. Miss St. vs. Baylor Miss St. vs. Baylor
Rose Oregon vs. Florida St. Michigan St. vs. Arizona Michigan St. vs. Arizona
Orange Georgia Tech vs. Miss St. Alabama vs. Ohio St. Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss
Cotton Baylor vs. Michigan St. Oregon vs. Florida St. TCU vs. Boise St.
Fiesta Arizona vs. Boise St. Kansas St. vs. Boise St. Oregon vs. Florida St.
Peach TCU vs. Ole Miss Ole Miss vs. TCU Alabama vs. Ohio St.