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New Year’s Six Breakdown and Its Impact on MSU’s Bowl

Quick Lane or Pinstripe? It all depends on the Cotton Bowl. I break down each scenario and I show my work.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season may be over for MSU, but there certainly is a lot of football left to be played. Everyone has an opinion of the current 4-team playoff system. Should it be expanded? Was the BCS system actually better? We could discuss this for days and there is likely no correct answer. I personally find the current 4-team playoff and New Year’s Six format to be a lot of fun. Slotting the teams into the bowls to create good end-of-year match-ups is a fascinating puzzle to try to solve. For me, it is like bracketology in December.

Now that we are down to the final set of championship games and that the penultimate Playoff Rankings have been released, the number of potential scenarios is bounded, and this allows us to take a precise look at how things may play out. Although MSU is clearly not in the conservation for a NY6 Bowl, the final selection of teams is going to impact where MSU will be spending the holidays. My goal for this analysis is to look at all the possible scenarios and understand the probabilities of each as a primer for the weekend to come.

As I have looked at the data carefully, there are several conclusions that I have come to which drive my analysis. Those conclusions (which are partially assumptions) are summarized here:

1) MSU at 6-6 is tied for 8th place with Illinois among the bowl-eligible Big Ten teams. The Big Ten Bowl line-up consists of (in order): Playoffs, Rose, Orange/Citrus, Outback, Holiday, Gator/Music City, Pinstripe, Redbox, and Quick lane. So, the Big Ten has 9 teams to put into 9 bowls. MSU went to the Redbox Bowl last year, so it only makes sense that MSU would go to the Quick Lane Bowl and Illinois would go to the Redbox Bowl. The only path that I see for MSU to go to the Pinstripe Bowl is for another bowl to enter the picture and pick up a Big Ten team, this sliding all of the other teams up. The Cotton Bowl is the ONLY option, and it is possible that Penn State or Wisconsin will wind up there. If that happens, I think MSU is headed to NYC.

2) I believe that LSU and Ohio State can take a loss this weekend and still remain in the Top 4 and in the Playoffs. I do not think that Clemson has the same luxury. If Clemson loses, their best win is over Texas A&M. I assume Clemson would not drop clear out of the NY6, but I thought the same thing about Alabama before they lost to Auburn. I am assuming they are still in the Top 8 or so if they choke (which is very unlikely).

3) If Georgia loses to LSU and Utah beats Oregon, I am going to assume that Utah will get that 4th playoff spot. However, I could also see the committee suddenly elevating the Big 12 Champs (Oklahoma or Baylor) to that 4th spot. Unfortunately, this point will likely directly impact the Cotton Bowl and therefore MSU’s bowl location. This is, perhaps, the biggest uncertainty for me in this entire analysis.

4) If Utah loses to Oregon, I predict and assume that they fall out of the NY6 entirely. If they don’t beat Oregon, their biggest win is over 7-5 Washington. This also impacts MSU’s bowl, as if Utah loses, the only other NY6 Bowl that they could fall to is the Cotton Bowl. So, this is also a key assumption.

5) I believe that the committee is going to manipulate the rankings in the 7-12 range to create the match-ups that they want. It is very, very tricky to predict where teams like Utah (if they lose), Wisconsin (if they lose), the Big 12 Championship loser, Penn State, Florida, and Auburn will land in the final standings. But, the exact position has implications for both the Orange and Cotton Bowl.

In the past, the committee changed the ranking of teams that did not play in order to create better match-ups. They did it before to MSU in 2014. MSU looked like they were headed to the Orange Bowl to play Georgia Tech, but in the final poll, the committee bumped Mississippi State ahead of MSU, which allowed them to match MSU with Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. They did this before and they will (and frankly should) do it again.

If fact, I think we already saw some evidence of this in this week’s poll. Florida flipped places with Penn State even though both teams won. I suspect that the committee would rather put Florida in the Orange Bowl, if possible, for geographic reasons, if nothing else. In addition, this prevents the Citrus Bowl from becoming an SEC-ACC match-up, which would be less competitive than an SEC-Big 10 match-up. Similarly, I even suspect that part of the reason Alabama dropped out of the NY6 was to avoid placing them in an Orange Bowl match-up with Virginia. An Alabama-Big Ten match up in the Citrus or Outback Bowl seems like a better choice.

For this reason, I am making two other big assumptions. First, I think the Florida is going to stay in a position above either Wisconsin or Penn State such that Florida will slot into the Orange Bowl, if they are available (i.e. not already in the Sugar Bowl). Second, I think that if the loser of the Big 12 Championship is available, they will be ranked in a position to play in the Cotton Bowl. Again, this has geographical (read: ticket sales) implications, and having 2 Big 12 teams in the NY6 brings more balance than having 3 Big Ten teams or even 4 SEC teams in the NY6.

So, with that all said, let’s breakdown each of the Power 5 match-ups to see how the result will impact the big picture.

ACC Championship: Clemson (-28) vs. Virginia. 98% chance Clemson wins.

What happens if Clemson wins?

Clemson goes to the playoffs. However, the Orange Bowl is still obligated to take an ACC team. Virginia is 9-3 and is the obvious choice for the 2nd best ACC team, even if they get blown out by Clemson. I suppose Virginia Tech could possibly get selected, but I seriously doubt it. As for which Bowl and “seed” Clemson would get with a win, that is still pretty complicated and not my biggest concern. At this point I only care in they are “in” or “out.”

What happens if Virginia wins?

Virginia is clearly not going to leap into the Playoff picture with a win, so as the ACC Champs, they would automatically be placed in the Orange Bowl. Basically, Virginia is almost certainly going to the Orange Bowl no matter what.

As for Clemson, however, things get dicey. As I mentioned above, I think that if they lose, they are out of the Top 4. That said, in the scenarios where LSU beats Georgia and Oregon beats Utah, I think that Clemson would still back into the Playoffs (along with LSU, OSU, and the Big 12 Champ). Also, as I stated above, I think that with a loss Clemson would still stay high enough ranked to draw a bid to the Cotton Bowl. Then again, I could see a scenario where the committee manipulates the rankings to put Clemson in a position to play in the Citrus Bowl against a team like Auburn. That might actually make more sense…

SEC Championship: LSU (-7) vs. Georgia. 69% chance that LSU wins

What happens if LSU wins?

If the Tigers win, they are clearly either the #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs. Meanwhile Georgia is almost certainly out of the playoffs. But, I would not expect Georgia to fall far in the rankings, so they would almost certainly be placed in the Sugar Bowl against either Oklahoma or Baylor.

What happens if Georgia wins?

In this scenario, Georgia would certainly be in the Playoffs and the question is whether LSU would join them or not. I personally think that LSU is in either way. But, at the very worst, LSU would draw a Sugar Bowl bid.

So, in general, what will happen to LSU and Georgia is straightforward. The interesting thing is how having one or two SEC teams in the Playoffs would cascade to the rest of the NY6. Specifically, there are two other Bowls in play: the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl. The Sugar Bowl must take the next highest ranked SEC team. So, based on the current playoff rankings, this is either going to be Georgia (if they lose) or Florida (if Georgia wins).

Next up is the Orange Bowl. As stated above, Virginia is almost certainly going to be placed in the Orange Bowl, but the placement of their opponent is quite complicated. The “rules” state that the Orange Bowl opponent will be the highest remaining ranked team from the SEC, Big Ten, or Notre Dame. The Irish are too low in the rankings to matter for this discussion. So, the teams in play (with their current playoff rankings show in parenthesis) are Florida (9) (if they aren’t in the Sugar Bowl), Wisconsin (8) / Penn State (10) (whichever is not in the Rose Bowl), and Auburn (11).

Clearly, the results of the Big Ten Championship play into this. If Wisconsin beats OSU, the Badgers in the Rose Bowl and this becomes a discussion between Florida, Penn State, and Auburn. Since none of those teams are playing this weekend, and as I noted in my assumptions, I believe Florida (if available) would be placed into the Orange Bowl and if they are not available, Penn State would be. If OSU beats Wisconsin, Penn State is likely in the Rose Bowl and then the competition is between Florida (if available), Wisconsin (with one more loss), and Auburn. I still think that Florida would be taken over Wisconsin, but I am not sure about 9-3 Auburn. For now, I will assume that Wisconsin would get the nod over the Tigers

Big Ten Championship: Ohio State (-16.5) vs. Wisconsin. 88% chance Ohio State wins

What happens if Ohio State wins?

The Buckeyes would obviously be in the playoffs as either the #1 or #2 seed. Again, for this analysis I don’t care which. The interesting question here is what would happen to Wisconsin. Much of this I covered above and in my assumptions. Basically, I assume that if Georgia beats LSU, Florida will go to the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Orange Bowl for Wisconsin (unless the committee likes the match-ups better if Auburn is placed there instead). However, if both LSU and Utah win this weekend, I think Florida will get the Sugar Bowl, Penn State will get the Rose Bowl, the Big 12 Championship game loser will get the Cotton Bowl, and Wisconsin drops out of the NY6.

What happens if Wisconsin wins?

This is actually very easy, I think. If Wisconsin wins, they will go to the Rose Bowl. I don’t see a path for them to jump into the Top 4 with a win. As for Ohio State, I think that the committee would give them a mulligan and take them into the playoffs either way.

Pac 12 Championship: Utah (-6) vs. Oregon. 66% chance that Utah wins

What happens if Utah wins?

If the Utes win on Friday night, they will be watching the SEC title game very carefully and to some extent, the Big 12 Championship game. If Georgia upsets LSU and Clemson wins, Utah is likely to get left out in the cold, playoff wise. But, a trip to Pasadena will hopefully soften the blow. If LSU does beat Georgia, Utah should get the final Playoff spot. That said, the committee could decide to bump the Big 12 Champion, but based on the last few playoff rankings, I think that this is less likely.

What happens if Oregon wins?

As the Pac-12 Champion, Oregon would automatically go to the Rose Bowl. Similar to Wisconsin, the Ducks have no chance in my view to make it into the Top 4. The question is, where would Utah wind up? As I mentioned above, I think that Utah would fall out of the NY6 due to a lack of quality wins.

Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma (-9.5) vs. Baylor. 75% chance that Oklahoma wins

What happens if Oklahoma wins?

If the Sooners win, as expected, like Utah, they will have to wait until the final rankings to see if the win is impressive enough to warrant elevation to 4th place. Right now, Utah seems to hold the right of first refusal, but Oregon is also lower ranked than Baylor, so basically the committee can do want ever they want, based on what they see this weekend. As stated above, I am going to assume that the current ranking will hold and if they do, Oklahoma needs both Georgia and Utah to lose in order to sneak into the playoffs. Otherwise, they automatically draw the Sugar Bowl. As for Baylor, a loss will drop them, but how far? As noted above, I think the committee will tweak the rankings to make sure they wind up in the Cotton Bowl. I should also note that if Oklahoma does sneak into the playoffs, Baylor would automatically be put into the Sugar Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl becomes available for a Big Ten team.

What happens if Baylor wins?

This scenario is essentially the exact opposite of the situation where Oklahoma wins. Baylor might sneak into the playoffs if Georgia and Utah lose, but otherwise they are in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners would also likely go to the Cotton Bowl with a loss but could wind up in the Sugar Bowl if Baylor finishes in the Top 4.

Group of Five Championships:

AAC Championship: Memphis (-9) vs. Cincinnati. 74% chance the Memphis wins

MWest Championship: Boise State (-14.5) vs. Hawaii. 85% chance that Boise State wins

Sunbelt Championship: Appalachian State (-5.5) vs. UL-Lafayette. 65% chance that App State wins

The scenarios for the 2nd Cotton Bowl participant seem very straightforward to me. The logic is as follows. If Memphis beat Cincinnati, they will go to the Sugar Bowl. If Memphis loses, Boise State will earn the bid with a win over Hawaii. If both Memphis and Boise State lose, then Appalachian State can earn the bid if they win. If somehow all three favorites lose, the crown goes back to Cincinnati as the AAC Champ.

If I go through all the possible combinations of game outcomes using my assumptions above, I can calculate the odds of each team playing in each NY6 bowl (lumping the playoffs together) in the following table:

At the end of the day, what does this mean for MSU? MSU will draw the Pinstripe Bowl if either Penn State or Wisconsin are in the Cotton Bowl. Based on my assumptions above, that only happens with both of the following outcomes:

  • LSU beats Georgia
  • Oregon beats Utah.

Basically, the Big Ten needs to get shut out of the Orange Bowl and needs a Big 12 team to make the Playoffs. Otherwise, the Cotton Bowl will fall to the #2 Big 12 team or (in rare cases) Clemson.

Based on the opening Vegas Lines given above, the odds work out as:

  • MSU to Pinstripe Bowl (vs. Pitt?): 23%
  • MSU to Quick-lane Bowl (vs. Florida State?): 77%

If some of my key assumptions are wrong, these odds would change. For example, if the committee is secretly planning to send the Big 12 winner to the Playoffs over Utah, the result of the Pac-12 Championship game does not matter. In this case, there is a 69% chance that the Big 10 would be placed into the the Cotton Bowl (and therefore MSU goes to the Pinstripe Bowl).

In contrast, however, if the committee likes Utah more that I think and does not drop them out of the NY6 even with a loss, then the odds of the the Big 10 being placed into the the Cotton Bowl (and therefore MSU in the Pinstripe Bowl) essentially drop to zero, as long as my theory that the Cotton Bowl has a preference for a Big 12 team. Then again, if my Florida / Orange Bowl and Big 12 / Cotton Bowl assumption is wrong... well pretty much anything could happen in the Cotton Bowl.

Based on all this analysis, here are my projections for the Big Ten Bowl assignments. In the case where the Big Ten in NOT in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State beats Wisconsin (68% chance):

  • Ohio State: Playoffs
  • Penn State: Rose Bowl
  • Wisconsin: Citrus or Orange Bowl
  • Minnesota: Outback Bowl
  • Iowa: Holiday Bowl
  • Michigan: Gator Bowl
  • Indiana: Pinstripe Bowl
  • Illinois: Redbox Bowl
  • MSU: Quicklane Bowl

If Wisconsin does upset OSU (4%)

  • Ohio State: Playoffs
  • Wisconsin: Rose Bowl
  • Penn State: Orange Bowl
  • Minnesota: Outback Bowl
  • Iowa: Holiday Bowl
  • Michigan: Gator Bowl
  • Indiana: Pinstripe Bowl
  • Illinois: Redbox Bowl
  • MSU: Quicklane Bowl

OR (5%)

  • Ohio State: Playoffs
  • Wisconsin: Rose Bowl
  • Michigan: Citrus Bowl
  • Penn State: Outback Bowl
  • Iowa: Holiday Bowl
  • Minnesota: Gator Bowl
  • Indiana: Pinstripe Bowl
  • Illinois: Redbox Bowl
  • MSU: Quicklane Bowl

Penn State went to the Citrus Bowl last year and is very unlikely to go again, and in this case I think Michigan would get the nod in Orlando. Iowa is also an interesting case, because due to the way I read the various bowl “no repeat” rules, Iowa cannot go to either the Outback or Gator Bowl. I have them in the Holiday Bowl by default. That said, due to the problem in placing Penn State into the Citrus Bowl, I wonder if the committee would switch them with Florida and put them into the Orange Bowl either way.

In the cases where the Big Ten does have a team in the Cotton Bowl, I would project (23%):

  • Ohio State: Playoffs
  • Penn State: Rose Bowl / Cotton Bowl
  • Wisconsin: Rose Bowl / Cotton Bowl
  • Michigan: Citrus Bowl
  • Minnesota: Outback Bowl
  • Iowa: Holiday Bowl
  • Indiana: Gator Bowl
  • MSU: Pinstripe Bowl
  • Illinois: Redbox Bowl

As a side note, there are rumors out there that the Music City Bowl would cut a deal with the Gator Bowl to get Indiana due to the proximity of Bloomington to Nashville. I would not rule this out.

Finally, just to close things out, I did calculate both my algorithm and the FPI’s picks as a function of the Vegas line. Those charts are shown below

There are no recommended bets this weekend, but my algorithm does have a very interesting sole upset pick, and that is Georgia over LSU. Otherwise both of the computers seem to think that most of the favored teams with not cover. It could be an interesting weekend.

That does it for now. As always, enjoy, and Go Green.