Having spent more than a hour on the phone with ESPN’s Brad Edwards — three separate conversations, as I recall — last fall in the attempt to handicap the College Football Playoff, I can attest that he takes the postseason more seriously than anyone who doesn’t work for the CFP itself. Writing for ESPN Insider, Edwards has disclosed his selections for next season’s New Year’s Six games, and he includes …
Georgia Tech, which overwhelmed Mississippi State in the first-ever New Year’s Six.
And one team from the SEC East.
Edwards has the Jackets making the arduous 1.4-mile trek down Centennial Olympic Park Boulevard to play Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He has Tennessee — yes, Tennessee — headed for New Orleans to face Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. He has Oregon and Michigan — yes, Michigan — meeting in the Rose Bowl, and he slots Alabama and Notre Dame into the Fiesta Bowl. Those are his four non-playoff matches.
In the semifinals, he has one unsurprising pairing — Ohio State versus USC in the Orange, and I should note that those were my Nos. 1 and 4 teams in the Top 25 look-ahead compiled last month — and then he has a real stunner in the Cotton Bowl: Auburn, which I had at No. 16, and Oklahoma State, which I didn’t have anywhere. (Not included in Edwards’ New Year’s Six is TCU, which I had at No. 2.)
Give Edwards this: He doesn’t just pull these names from a fedora. He offers as much methodology as we’re apt to get 10 months ahead of time. He assesses quarterback play, recruiting rankings, returning starters and schedule. He picks Tech to win the ACC (ahead of Florida State and Clemson) because of Reasons 1 and 3, writing: “I like the experience on defense, and the returning talent on offense is where it needs to be for a team like this — at QB and on the O-line.”
I picked the Jackets No. 18 partly because they lost nearly everyone who touched the ball except quarterback Justin Thomas. Granted, he’s really good. But when you lose Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, that has to have some effect, does it not? The other part was Tech’s schedule: It plays four of my top 12 teams — FSU, Notre Dame, Clemson and Georgia — with two of those coming on the road.
As for Georgia: I had the Bulldogs No. 12. Edwards doesn’t mention them, but he does offer this appraisal of the team they’ll face in Knoxville:
There are good reasons to like Tennessee, even though the Vols may still be a year away from being a top-10-caliber team. Joshua Dobbs was inserted to the lineup halfway through last season but still managed to finish 21st in Total QBR and looks like a star in the making. Tennessee has 18 returning starters and plenty of experience on both sides of the line. The Vols also are coming off back-to-back top-five recruiting classes. And while no SEC schedule is easy, only the trip to Tuscaloosa looks like a probable loss.
Oh, and here’s one more ESPN Insider nugget for your consideration: Travis Haney ranks Georgia Tech No. 5 on his list of 10 teams trending upward after National Signing Day. Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee are also included. The school based in Athens is not.