Tennessee Football. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee seemed locked into the Orange Bowl. The College Football Playoff committee ranked Alabama ahead of the Vols again in its penultimate college rankings meaning the Crimson Tide will play in the Sugar Bowl assuming they don’t make the playoffs.
Tennessee came in at No. 7 in the rankings and with the only two teams ahead of them outside the playoff appearing locked in for the Sugar and Rose Bowl. The Vols would then meet the Orange Bowl’s criteria as the “highest ranked power five team available” and would face off with the winner of Saturday’s ACC Championship.
However, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit made a very interesting comment during the playoff show Tuesday night.
“Penn State is a viable candidate for Pasadena (the Rose Bowl) at 10-2. I don’t know if they’d send Ohio State out there again after last year. Potentially maybe go Penn State to the Rose. Ohio State maybe to the Orange if they’re left out of the playoff,” Herbstreit said on air.
At first this scenario felt impossible. The New Years Six bowl games have tie ins and can’t simply choose the teams they want.
For instance, the SEC and Big 12 Champion play in the Sugar Bowl unless either team makes the playoff then the next highest ranked team from each conference fills the spot. The same is the case with the ACC in the Orange Bowl.
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While the Rose Bowl has tie ins with the Big 10 and Pac 12, the language is very vague. The Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to take the Big 10 and Pac 12 champion unless those teams make the playoff. In that case they “traditionally select the next-highest CFP-ranked team from that conference.”
But the vague language allows them flexibility.
“If the next-highest ranked team is in a ‘cluster’ of teams, meaning there is another team or teams from the same conference ranked within several spots of each other, the Tournament of Roses will select the team from the that cluster that will result in the best possible matchup for the Rose Bowl Game,” the Rose Bowl website says.
One of the criteria the Tournament of Roses states for its selection is the “last time a team played in the Rose Bowl.”
Ohio State played in the Rose Bowl last season while Penn State hasn’t played in the game since the 2016 season (2017 Rose Bowl). If anyone knows Ohio State’s ambitions and preferences it’s Herbstreit— who played quarterback at Ohio State in the mid-90s.
Getting Penn State to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State to the Orange Bowl would be a major coup for the Big 10. The Nittany Lions would jump from the Cotton Bowl — one of the smaller New Years Six bowls — to the most prestigious bowl game in football.
Ohio State would be out of the Rose Bowl but in the Orange Bowl — another extremely prestigious bowl game.
Tennessee gets the short end of the stick in this scenario, getting bumped from the Orange Bowl to the Cotton Bowl where they’d face the winner of the AAC Championship game (Tulane and UCF) instead of Clemson or North Carolina.
Tennessee director of athletics Danny White and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey are in a spot to fight back against the Ohio State/Big 10 power play and keep the Vols in the Orange Bowl. Needless to say, there will be plenty of politicking before the bowl games are officially announced Sunday.