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If it’s early August, it’s time to get ready for college football!  It’s also time for preseason bowl projections and a predicted College Football Playoff field that features some quite familiar names.
The projected No. 1 seed is once again Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost a lot of talent to the NFL, as always. They’ve also reloaded with a lot of talent the NFL cannot wait to get its hands on, as always.
Alabama should be in the Orange Bowl facing future conference mate and No. 4 seed Oklahoma.  The Sooners have been the dominant team in the Big 12, winning the last six conference championships; they are favored to extend that streak to seven. That game should be in Miami instead of the Cotton Bowl (technically closer for Alabama) because playing in Arlington, Texas, could be perceived to be an advantage for Oklahoma, which is even closer to the stadium.
In the Cotton Bowl, No. 2 seed Clemson is projected to make its seventh consecutive CFP.  The Tigers are heavy favorites to repeat as champions of the ACC. Also heavily favored to win its conference once again is projected No. 3 seed Ohio State from the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are looking for a fifth straight Big Ten title and a fifth CFP appearance.
Those four teams have combined to take 20 of 28 overall slots in the first seven seasons of the CFP. At least three of those four have been in each of the last six playoff fields.
That is no small part of why the CFP is looking to expand. A 12-team proposal was announced in June but is now on hold to wait and see how the new wave of conference realignment shakes out.
Jan. 10
National Championship
Indianapolis
Dec. 31
Orange Bowl
Miami Gardens, Fla.
(1) Alabama vs. (4) Oklahoma
Dec. 31
Cotton Bowl
Arlington, Tex.
(2) Clemson vs. (3) Ohio State
The SEC looks like it is going to have another big season with three more teams in the New Year’s Six projections: Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU.  The Bulldogs are projected to face Iowa State in the Sugar Bowl as the Cyclones return much of the team that won last season’s Big 12 regular season title.
LSU is projected to the Peach Bowl to face Notre Dame. The Tigers should bounce back from a dreadful season that was heavily impacted by opt-outs and other issues. The Fighting Irish are back to being an independent after spending the COVID-19 pandemic season in the ACC.
The Fiesta Bowl projection has Texas A&M against Group of Five representative Cincinnati. Some are projecting the Bearcats to finish in the top 10 this season. Cincinnati is being sent to the Fiesta Bowl instead of the much closer Peach Bowl because the Bearcats were in that game last season and the CFP Selection Committee spreads the Group of Five representative among the bowl games as equally as possible.
The Rose Bowl is the only non-playoff New Year’s Six game without an SEC team due to its historic assignments. Big Ten runner up Wisconsin is projected to face Pac-12 champion Oregon in that game. The Ducks would rather become the first Pac-12 team to make the CFP since 2016, when Washington got into the field. That might happen if they can win at Ohio State on Sept. 11.
Jan. 1
Sugar
New Orleans
SEC vs. Big 12
Jan. 1
Rose
Pasadena, Calif.
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Jan. 1
Fiesta
Glendale, Ariz.
At-large vs. At-large
Dec. 30
Peach
Atlanta
At-large vs. At-large
There are 41 bowl games this season, which means 82 teams will be needed to fill them. Those numbers would have been 42 and 84, but despite the lack of official announcement, it looks like the Redbox Bowl is no more. That means one fewer bowl spot for the Big Ten and Pac-12, which were contracted to that game.
It’s probably just as well since coming up with 82 bowl-eligible teams will be difficult enough. That will be the most there has ever been in a single season, granting 63% of the FBS a postseason opportunity. That happened most recently in 2018. There is a good chance that we will need to put some 5-7 teams in bowl games for the first time since 2016.
In this projection, there’s actually 11 sub-.500 teams in bowl games. It will likely be a lower number than that because I do not pick many upsets when projecting games. The 5-7 teams are chosen by the most recent Academic Progress Rate, which is from 2018-19. The APR is typically updated early in the football season, so that ranking list will change. No Pac-12 teams are among the 5-7 selections because the league requires teams to at least have a 6-6 record to participate in a bowl.
Here’s hoping we have a full, uninterrupted season with the return of fans, marching bands and the pageantry that is unique to college footballDon’t see your team? Check out the rest of Jerry Palm’s 2021 preseason bowl projections.
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