College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Week 9 Rankings & Bowl Game Projections
Save for the loud statements made by Penn State and Notre Dame, Week 8 of the 2017 college football season was much quieter than the previous two. After four AP Top 10 teams lost to unranked opponents in Week 7, not a single AP Top 25 team suffered such a fate this past week.
As a result, movement in this week's AP poll was scarce. Notre Dame jumped four spots to No. 9 for beating up on USC, which plummeted 10 rungs to No. 21. Also, former No. 19 Michigan dropped out of the Top 25 after getting blown out by Penn State, which made room for Iowa State in the poll for the first time in more than a decade. Aside from that, no team moved more than two spots, and Alabama remains the unanimous No. 1 for a second consecutive week.
There wasn't a ton of movement in our bowl projections, either. The Top 4 teams are the same as last week—albeit in a different order—and five of the New Year's Six matchups are the same as they were heading into the week as well.
But these projections are built on sand, and an earthquake is coming.
Regardless of the outcomes, No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State and No. 14 North Carolina State at No. 9 Notre Dame are going to shake things up Saturday. And given the way No. 25 Iowa State has been playing the past few weeks, it just might throw another wrench into the College Football Playoff debate when it hosts No. 4 TCU.
Here is the full list of projected matchups for the 39 bowl games in advance of Week 9.
Group of Five Bowls
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Arkansas State
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Colorado State
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Wyoming vs. UTSA
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Western Michigan vs. South Alabama
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. Western Kentucky
Boca Raton Bowl: Houston vs. Southern Miss
Frisco Bowl: SMU vs. Akron
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Ohio vs. North Texas
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Purdue vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Appalachian State
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Vanderbilt
Hawai'i Bowl: UCLA* vs. Fresno State
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Marshall vs. Kansas State
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Syracuse vs. Tennessee
Military Bowl: Navy vs. Duke
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: San Diego State vs. Georgia State
*The conference tie-ins for the Hawai'i Bowl are supposed to be American Athletic vs. Mountain West, but with UCF projected for a New Year's Six game and 3-4 Connecticut the best AAC team not projected for a bid, there simply aren't enough AAC teams to fill out the conference's spots. Meanwhile, there are 11 Pac-12 teams with at least four wins and only seven spots reserved for that conference. Even with UCLA "stealing" this spot, 4-4 Oregon, 4-4 Colorado and 4-4 California are each currently on the outside looking in.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Texas vs. Utah
Quick Lane Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Nebraska
Not a whole lot to see here. All four teams in these projected bowls are currently riding multigame losing streaks—two for Nebraska and Texas; three for Utah and Wake Forest—but the Longhorns, Utes and Demon Deacons all seem to be a little better than their records, especially Texas. Since that disappointing season-opener against Maryland, the Longhorns are 3-3 with losses to USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by a combined margin of 11 points.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Northwestern
Texas Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Texas A&M
Foster Farms Bowl: Minnesota vs. Stanford
As promised last week, we will continue to project Texas teams for the Texas Bowl as long as it makes sense.
As also mentioned last week, Stanford remains the hard-luck loser of the Pac-12 having a down year as a whole. If the Pac-12 champ weren't required to play in a New Year's Six bowl, the league might not have any representation in those games. And the Pac-12's spot in the Foster Farms Bowl is reserved for its third-best non-NY6 team in the conference. For now, Washington is the projected champ with Washington State and USC as the top two runners-up, but the Cardinal will have ample opportunity to change their conference standing—for better or worse—with games remaining against Washington, Washington State and Notre Dame.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Boston College vs. Mississippi State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Virginia vs. Arizona
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. LSU
Following back-to-back wins over Louisville and Virginia, Boston College is 4-4 overall with a should-win home game remaining against Connecticut. We'll see whether the Eagles can pull off a win over Florida State, North Carolina State or Syracuse to get to 6-6, but this is a darn fine team that few people are paying any mind. Don't forget, they were tied at seven with Clemson in the fourth quarter and hung with Notre Dame for about 40 minutes.
The marquee game in this group, though, is unquestionably AP No. 13 Virginia Tech vs. No. 23 LSU. With six SEC teams in the Top 28 and five ACC/Notre Dame teams in the Top 14, the Belk Bowl is currently shaping up to be one heck of a juicy matchup. After removing the NY6 teams, the tie-ins here are ACC/ND No. 3-6 vs. SEC No. 2-7, so it isn't necessarily designed to be one of the top games. However, it will be if it ends up being ACC No. 3 against SEC No. 2, as we're projecting here.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Florida
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Kentucky
A big day for the state of Iowa, and two of the strangest pairings in this entire exercise. Iowa vs. Florida might be a hard-to-watch race to 10 points, and Iowa State vs. Kentucky would be a battle between two of the most surprising five-win teams in the country.
Speaking of Florida, much has been said in the past few weeks about Florida State potentially missing out on bowl season, but the Gators are in a fair amount of trouble, too. They're currently 3-3 with games remaining against Missouri and UAB that should certainly get them to five wins. But their other three games are vs. Georgia, at South Carolina and vs. Florida State. Thanks to the games cancelled due to hurricanes, it's entirely possible that Florida vs. Florida State is a battle between 5-5 teams in which the loser fails to qualify for a bowl game. And yes, that's precisely why we have Florida in and Florida State out at the moment.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Louisville vs. West Virginia
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington State
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Michigan vs. USC
Do you suppose there might be any interest for a bowl game between Michigan and USC? Both teams were blown out of the water this past week, so it's not the Rose Bowl or anything close to it. Still, put the Wolverines and Trojans on the same field and some people are going to show up, no matter the stakes.
If these are the three matchups, though, that would be the least entertaining game of the bunch—provided you equate points to entertainment. Oklahoma State, Louisville and West Virginia all rank among the top five nationally in total yards per game, and Washington State is No. 5 in passing offense. And the Cougars are the only member of that quartet ranked in the top 40 in total yards allowed per game. Oh, yes. There will be offense.
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. South Carolina
Citrus Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Auburn
Each of these four teams is going to be pushed to the limit in the next few weeks. Michigan State will face Penn State and Ohio State in back-to-back games to open November. Three of South Carolina's final four games are against Georgia, Clemson and Florida. North Carolina State plays at Notre Dame this weekend before hosting Clemson the following Saturday. And Auburn has this coming week off to prepare for Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M down the stretch.
In other words, trying to predict what's going to happen with these teams the rest of the way is even more impossible than it is for most. Any of the four could run the table and sneak into the NY6. Heck, if Michigan State or NC State does that, it might sneak into the College Football Playoff. Conversely, all four of these teams are in danger of finishing the season with at least four losses. So, if these post-Week 8 projections for the Outback and Citrus Bowls end up being correct, I got lucky.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: UCF vs. Washington
Though I start over from scratch with the bowl projections every time, it just so happens that seven of the eight teams on this slide are projected in the exact same spot as they were one week ago. The one exception to that rule is Washington State moving up to replace USC, thanks to the Trojans getting trounced by Notre Dame. Someone from the Pac-12 is required to play in a New Year's Six game, so why not the Huskies? It's either them or Washington State, and Washington has the more favorable schedule—including being the home team for the Apple Cup.
The more interesting team in this game is UCF. The Knights are still one spot behind South Florida in the AP poll, but for what it's worth, they are way ahead of South Florida in ESPN's FPI rankings (No. 19 vs. No. 41) and should be heavy favorites in each remaining game—including the regular-season finale vs. USF. If and when UCF keeps winning and some of the Power Five's top contenders start suffering losses, the Knights will at least sneak onto the fringe of the CFP conversation. Western Michigan got up to No. 15 in the CFP poll last year, and UCF's schedule is drastically tougher than what those Broncos faced.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Wisconsin
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Miami vs. Oklahoma
Nothing new to report on Clemson coming off a bye week, and Wisconsin reinforced its No. 5 ranking with a 25-point trouncing of Maryland. With Michigan falling out of the AP Top 25 this week, these two teams combine for just one remaining game against a current ranked opponent—Clemson at North Carolina State in two weeks. In theory, they should cruise to nine out of 10 wins, with that game between the Tigers and the Wolfpack determining who wins the ACC Atlantic division.
On the Coastal side of things, Miami is the only undefeated team left in the ACC, though its last three wins have come by a combined margin of 13 points. Also in two weeks' time, the Hurricanes will be hosting Virginia Tech to likely determine who wins that division and thus enters the driver's seat for a spot in a NY6 bowl. Meanwhile, Oklahoma hasn't won a game by a multiple-possession margin since Sept. 17. What the heck happened to the team that waltzed into the Horseshoe and smoked Ohio State?
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
Like Clemson, Ohio State had a bye week, so nothing to rehash there. And there will be plenty written in the next few days about the colossal showdown with Penn State this coming Saturday.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, had the most impressive showing of the week, throttling USC 49-14 to jump into the AP Top 10. It's the start of a journey that could propel the Fighting Irish into one heck of a position in the CFP discussion. They aren't particularly close at the moment, but if they win their next five games—vs. NC State, vs. Wake Forest, at Miami, vs. Navy, at Stanford—they would almost have to rank ahead of any SEC or Big Ten runner-up, right? It could all go up in smoke on any given Saturday, but as long as Notre Dame keeps winning, it's going to be a headache for the CFP selection committee.
College Football Playoff
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 TCU
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Penn State
The order has changed from a week ago, but the only actual difference is the location of the matchups. Last week, it was No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Penn State and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 TCU.
Even though TCU held Kansas to 21 total yards, That 43-0 win doesn't even come close to comparing to Penn State's 42-13 win over then-No. 19 Michigan. You could certainly make the case that TCU's overall resume—wins at Oklahoma State, vs. West Virginia, at Kansas State and at Arkansas—is better than a Penn State resume where the third-best win is probably Northwestern. However, there's no question that an undefeated Big Ten champ would rank ahead of an undefeated Big 12 champ, so let's just move the Nittany Lions ahead of the Horned Frogs now.
It was tempting to also vault Penn State ahead of Georgia, using the same logic that an undefeated B1G champion would rank higher than a one-loss SEC runner-up. However, Georgia's marquee wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State gained some value this week with both of those teams obliterating their competition. For now, we'll keep the Dawgs ahead of the Lions, but that'll certainly change if Penn State beats Ohio State.
Besides, it wouldn't have been fair to drop Georgia two spots while on a bye, and it had already been bypassed by Alabama. Say what you will about the overall strength of the SEC, but Alabama is now 5-0 in conference play with an average margin of victory of 40.0 points per game. Georgia isn't too far behind with a 31.25 MOV, but it's time to just put Alabama at No. 1 and let the Crimson Tide inform us if that needs to change in the future.
As far as teams just missing the cut are concerned, they would currently be ranked: No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Miami, No. 7 Clemson, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Ohio State. But with four games this week pitting AP Top 25 teams against each other and several other potential upsets on the docket, those will change considerably in the next seven days.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.