CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last regular-season college football games have been played, with Saturday’s conference championships wrapping up the 2021 regular season.
Next will come the bowl season, but who goes where won’t be decided until Sunday.
For ACC champion Pitt, that means a guaranteed trip to a New Year’s Six bowl, but where the Panthers will play and who they may face is not set in stone.
The six New Year’s Six bowls are the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar. They also include the two games that are the semifinals for the College Football Playoff.
This year, the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas and Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida will host the CFP semifinals, featuring the top four teams in the country as determined by the CFP rankings committee.
After the championship games, it seems most likely that group will include Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia and Michigan in some order.
The other games are filled by a two-step process. Some bowls have permanent arrangements with conferences. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California gets the winners of the Big Ten and Pac-12. The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana hosts the winners of the Big 12 and SEC. The ACC’s usual tie-in is to send its champion to the Orange Bowl, but because that game is hosting a semifinal this season, the ACC champion is a bowl free agent.
After the top four teams are assigned to the playoff semifinals, the New Year’s Six bowls with contracted placements fill their teams.
The Rose Bowl will get the Pac-12 champions, Utah, and likely Ohio State as the No. 2 team out of the Big Ten to replace Michigan. The Sugar Bowl will get Big 12 champs Baylor, and most likely Ole Miss to in place of Alabama and Georgia.
That will leave the Peach Bowl in Atlanta Georgia and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona to fill their games with automatic qualifier Pitt and the next three highest-ranked teams.
That group will almost certainly include Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 6 and was off on championship weekend. No. 11 Michigan State, who was also off, will also likely rise into that group. The third team could be BYU, who was ranked No. 12, or Oklahoma State, depending on how far the Cowboys fall from No. 5 after their loss to Baylor.
The committee and the bowls will work together to mold those teams into two pairings, and they could theoretically come in any order. But sources have told Pittsburgh Sports Now that the Peach Bowl is the most likely destination for Pitt. Michigan State and Notre Dame would be the Panthers’ most likely opponents in that game.
The Peach Bowl will be played on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. at the home of the Atlanta Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. The official announcement of Pitt’s bowl fate is expected on Sunday afternoon.
Update: It’s official, Pitt will play Michigan State in the Peach Bowl.