Bowl Projections 2017: Predictions, Updated College Football Playoff Outlook

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2017

BLACKSBURG, VA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Dorian O'Daniel #6 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia.  (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Five weeks in, the 2017 college football season is shaping up to end with a rubber match between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers.

The two schools rank first and second, respectively, in the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, and Alabama and Clemson are the only teams commanding any first-place votes.

Plenty can happen over the remainder of the year, but the Crimson Tide and the Tigers have been head and shoulders above the rest of FBS so far.

Prior to the advent of the College Football Playoff, an air of inevitability may have hung over the 2017 campaign. But even if Alabama and Clemson run the table during the regular season, the fight for the other two playoff spots will provide plenty of drama.

Below are projections for the two national semifinals and the four additional bowl games decided by the CFP selection committee.

           

College Football Playoff Selection Committee Bowl Projections

Dec. 29: Cotton Bowl (At-large vs. At-large); TCU vs. Wisconsin

Dec. 30: Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame); Louisville vs. Penn State

Dec. 30: Fiesta Bowl (At-large vs. At-large); USC vs. South Florida

Jan. 1: Peach Bowl (At-large vs. At-large)Georgia vs. Ohio State

Jan. 1: Sugar Bowl (No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed); Alabama vs. Washington

Jan. 1: Rose Bowl (No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed); Clemson vs. Oklahoma

            

The Big 12 has been shut out of the playoffs twice since the process began in 2014, but the conference won't have to worry this year as long as the Oklahoma Sooners maintain their perfect record.

And even a one-loss Sooners team would have a strong case for playoff inclusion considering they will have had quality wins against some combination of Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia.

Instead, the Big Ten and Pac-12 may end up sweating the playoff rankings the most as the season unfolds.

The Big Ten could be a victim of its own depth at the top of the conference. Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all inside the top 10 of the AP and Coaches Polls, with the Nittany Lions, Wolverines and Buckeyes all in the same division.

Ohio State already has one loss, while Penn State and Michigan will have treacherous roads ahead to stay unbeaten.

Because it plays in the West division, Wisconsin may have the best odds of reaching the playoff among the Big Ten title contenders. The Badgers have one ranked team—Michigan—remaining on their schedule and they get the Wolverines at home Nov. 18.

Projection systems aren't always 100 percent accurate, but ESPN.com's Football Power Index (via ESPN Stats & Info) isn't wrong to figure the Badgers are likely to go 12-0:

Wisconsin went 0-3 against the trio of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan a year ago, though. The Badgers may get exposed when they enter the more difficult portion of their conference schedule in the second half.

The Big Ten title game won't be a cakewalk, either, assuming one of the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions or Wolverines are the East's representative.

Ultimately, the CFP selection committee may have to determine whether it prefers an unbeaten Pac-12 champion or a one-loss Big Ten champion.

While Washington has yet to play a difficult opponent, the Huskies have won their first five games by an average of a little over 33 points. They also rank eighth in total defense (256.0 yards per game) and they're tied for fourth in scoring defense (10.8 points per game).

Washington can only beat the teams in front of it, and the Huskies have generally done so in comfortable fashion. 

Jake Browning is even more efficient than he was a year ago, with his completion percentage up from 62.1 percent in 2016 to 71.4 percent in 2017. That increase isn't the result of the Huskies quarterback making shorter throws, either, with his yards per attempt climbing from 8.8 yards to 9.4 yards.

Running back Myles Gaskin is also averaging 7.1 yards a carry, more than a full yard higher than 2016 (5.8 yards per carry).

This year's Washington team doesn't look much worse than the one that reached the Peach Bowl in 2016. That's not to say last year's success should count toward the Huskies ranking in 2017 but rather that what was one of college football's best teams a season ago appears to have not fallen off at all.

Some will say USC's upset at the hands of Washington State will end up costing the Pac-12 a playoff berth. However, Washington would have done more than enough to warrant top-four consideration if it can beat Stanford, Utah and Washington State and then win the Pac-12 title to finish 13-0—a realistic possibility.