After laying out the rankings, the College Football Playoff committee didn’t have a whole lot of room for creativity in this year’s New Year’s Six games, the big bowls it books. It did have a chance to make two exciting at-large games, but it bricked both of them.
First, Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the Orange and Clemson vs. Notre Dame in the Cotton were basically automatic, once you account for not wanting to give No. 4 OU home-field advantage in the Cotton. The Rose and Sugar were also automatic, thanks to conference ties.
That left four teams for the Peach and Fiesta, this year’s only two non-CFP NY6 bowls without conference ties: Florida, Michigan, LSU, and UCF.
One matchup jumps off the page there: Orlando upstart UCF against Gainesville power Florida. The Knights spent the entire offseason crowing about beating an SEC team that’d beaten other SEC teams, and can you imagine an SEC team — other than Alabama itself — they’d rather take on than the local bullies?
And putting it in the Peach Bowl would’ve meant a realistic drive for both teams’ fans, in addition to the many Gators and Knights who already live in Georgia.
On the other side, that would’ve given us Michigan vs. LSU, a battle of two of college football’s winningest teams ... who’ve somehow never played each other. Who wouldn’t wanna sell that?
And yet we got Florida vs. Michigan at a neutral site for the fourth time since 2003, leaving UCF vs. LSU in the Fiesta.
Absolutely nobody is excited about Florida-Michigan yet again.
From January 1, 2016 through January 1, 2019, the Michigan Wolverine football team will have played Minnesota in their 100 year rivalry for the Little Brown Jug precisely...once.— Richard Hoeg (@HoegLaw) December 2, 2018
Number of times they will have played Florida in that same time? Three.#GoBlue
The Wolverines blew out the Gators in Arlington a season ago. UF’s improved since then, but this has nowhere near the appeal THE BATTLE FOR OCALA would’ve.
[extremely Orson Welles voice]— BUM CHILLUPS (@edsbs) December 2, 2018
ahhhhhh the biannual loss to Michigan in a bowl game https://t.co/ZLg1ID4sQy
LSU vs. UCF is perfectly fine and could be really good, but isn’t worth giving up the two bowls we should’ve had instead.
Why’d the committee do this? I think it goes back to three “rules,” which it should’ve discarded for the sake of games worth caring more about.
With these loosie games, it tries to book at least one Big Marquee Matchup, the type of game any casual fan would tune in for, like Ohio State vs. Notre Dame in 2015. Florida vs. Michigan theoretically fits that bill best here, but I don’t think 2018’s teams move enough needles to make this a good decision.
The committee also prefers to keep the highest-ranked team in this group pretty close to home. Ann Arbor isn’t far from Atlanta, but Michigan fans are everywhere, y’all.
It also wants to avoid sending a team to a bowl for the second year in a row. UCF beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl last year. But I’m pretty sure UCF would not mind returning to the scene of its greatest glory, especially since it’s not far from home. And the Peach Bowl — which has no influence in deciding the matchup — has already sold out anyway.
The committee ends up getting most things right.
It whiffed on two games at once here, though.