College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Week 13 Rankings & Bowl Projections
Week 12 did absolutely nothing to help resolve the debate over the top candidates for the College Football Playoff, but it did bring us one step closer to what should be a glorious final two weeks of the regular season.
The biggest impact of Week 12 was on the "other" bowl games we don't spend much time discussing at a national level.
Each of the CFP's Top 12 teams won—most of them in blowout fashion—so there wasn't much of anything to change as far as the New Year's Six goes. But there were 11 teams that became bowl-eligible with a sixth win, pushing the total for the season to 70. And with four Week 13 games between teams with 5-6 records, we're guaranteed to have at least 74 teams to fill the 78 spots.
There are 12 teams left in the running for those final four spots. We're projecting Florida State, Texas Tech, Temple and Louisiana to get there. Others might join them, or perhaps they'll fall short and we'll need to revert to Academic Progress Rate scores, which could bode well for Air Force, Duke, Minnesota and Vanderbilt.
But we know what you're all here for: playoff projections. Don't worry. We'll get to them and explain in full detail why undefeated Wisconsin is in, why (currently) undefeated Miami is out and why Alabama vs. Auburn is much more than just an incredible rivalry game this year.
As far as this week's AP rankings are concerned, the only particularly noteworthy development is Oklahoma State's drop from No. 10 to No. 18 after losing to Kansas State. While teams formerly ranked Nos. 11-18 each slid up one spot to bypass the Cowboys, literally nothing else about the Top 17 changed.
There's a little bit of a shake-up at the bottom as Northwestern, Virginia Tech and Boise State climb into the final three spots to replace Michigan, West Virginia and NC State, but that's about it. Expect similar (lack of) movement in the new CFP rankings Tuesday night.
Group of Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. Boise State
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Temple vs. Louisiana
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. UT San Antonio
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Ohio vs. Georgia State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Akron* vs. Middle Tennessee
Boca Raton Bowl: Utah State* vs. UAB
Frisco Bowl: Houston vs. Arkansas State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Central Michigan vs. North Texas
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Marshall vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Troy
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Utah*
Hawaii Bowl: SMU vs. Fresno State
Military Bowl: Navy vs. UCLA*
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Appalachian State
*Teams with asterisks are replacements for leagues projected to be unable to fill their bowl spots.
Even one week away from the end of the regular season, most of these projections are shots in the dark. Unlike the Power Five conferences, there's no stated order of selection for the Group of Five bowl teams, save for the Mountain West champion playing in the Las Vegas Bowl and the unwritten rule that the MAC and Sun Belt champions will meet in the Dollar General Bowl. Beyond that, proximity to venue is the primary determining factor—aside from, you know, having at least six wins.
Add in the fact that most leagues are going to fall short of producing enough bowl teams to fulfill their tie-ins, and things get really messy.
For instance, the AAC has ties to seven bowl games, but after removing its conference champion as a New Year's Six participant, there might only be five** teams left to fill those seven spots. Without any explicit order of selection for the AAC, there's no guarantee which of those seven bowls it will fill and which ones would be filled by the "extra" teams from Conference USA, MAC and Pac-12.
At this point in the season in most years, a couple of spots in these bowls are already filled by teams that have accepted invitations, making these projections that much easier.
Through Sunday morning, though, the only team locked into a bowl is Army going to the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl—and that isn't even news, because that was always the game the Black Knights would go to if they got to six wins and fell short of reaching the NY6.
That's a long-winded way of requesting that you grade my prognostication skills on the other four sections of this piece. Unless I end up nailing a dozen of these 16 games. In that case, pats on the back will be unwarranted but accepted.
**Temple plays at Tulsa while Tulane plays at SMU next week in search of a sixth win, so five, six or seven non-NY6 teams remain possibilities for the AAC.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. Arizona State
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Southern Miss* vs. Texas Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan* vs. Florida International*
It's a coincidence that the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas and Quick Lane bowls are on the same day, but it gives me the opportunity to point out how much of a crapshoot it is trying to project what are supposed to be battles between 6-6 Power Five teams.
In a perfect world, the Zaxby's game would be the seventh non-NY6 Big Ten team against No. 6 from the Big 12, and the Quick Lane would be No. 6 from the Big Ten against a bottom-tier ACC team.
But with three Big Ten teams projected for the New Year's Six and only eight total teams—nine if Minnesota happens to shock Wisconsin—from the Big Ten becoming bowl-eligible, there aren't nearly enough teams to fill those spots. Even Texas Tech is a stretch at 5-6 with a road game against Texas next week.
Thus, this is where Conference USA starts to take over. That league already has eight teams with six wins, is guaranteed a ninth with 5-6 Middle Tennessee hosting 5-6 Old Dominion, and it could even end up with a 10th if Louisiana Tech wins its season finale against UT San Antonio. And we have to put those teams somewhere, right?
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Louisville vs. Iowa
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Florida State vs. Western Kentucky*
Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Texas A&M
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana vs. Washington
After a brief hiatus, we're back to projecting two Texas teams for the Texas Bowl.
Even if that doesn't fit perfectly with how the hierarchies in the Big 12 and SEC are supposed to be selected, one has to believe that committee will be begging to get its hands on Texas and Texas A&M. It's not supposed to be a high-profile game, but that'd be a great way to get it on the radar.
The Foster Farms Bowl remains the most lopsided matchup of all the bowls.
The third-best non-NY6 Pac-12 team is going to be either Washington, Washington State or Stanford, and the fifth-best non-NY6 team from the Big Ten is almost certainly going to be the winner of the Week 13 game between Indiana and Purdue. Regardless of the combination, if the "seeding" plays to form, the Pac-12 team might be favored by 20 points in that bowl.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Virginia vs. Missouri
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. Arizona
Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State
How about the run Missouri is on lately?
The Tigers have won five straight to become bowl-eligible, and they have won those five games by a combined score of 260-83. Even if you combined their worst offensive performance with their worst defensive performance during that stretch, they still would've won by 24 points. Quite the turnaround from a team that lost a home game against Purdue by a 35-3 margin earlier this year.
Elsewhere in this ACC-heavy subsection, both Wake Forest and Virginia are looking dangerous.
Can't imagine anyone had John Wolford or Kurt Benkert on their preseason list of the top five QBs to watch out for in this conference, but those dudes have been slinging it all season long. Those aren't teams you typically think of as problematic bowl opponents, but they're going to be.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. South Carolina
We could find out in a big way this coming week in the rivalry game against Clemson, but just how good is South Carolina?
This 8-3 team has flown completely below the national radar, but its only misstep since September was a 24-10 road loss to No. 1 Georgia. The Gamecocks have had a tendency to barely do enough to win, but they do keep winning. An upset of the Tigers would probably bump South Carolina up to fourth in the SEC's pecking order behind Alabama, Georgia and Auburn.
Similarly, Northwestern has won six in a row and was competitive in a road loss to undefeated Wisconsin. The 41-17 loss at Duke remains one of the most bizarre results of the season, but the Wildcats have been much better than the national attention they have (not) received since then. Barring a terrible loss to Illinois this Saturday, they'll be 9-3 and might end up getting selected for a bowl ahead of both Michigan and Michigan State.
*Teams with asterisks are replacements for leagues projected to be unable to fill their bowl spots.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: NC State vs. Iowa State
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington State
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford
As will be the theme the rest of the way, these three games are almost identical to last week's projections. In fact, the only changes among the five games in this section were a swap of NC State and Virginia Tech because of NC State's loss to Wake Forest and bumping up Iowa State to replace TCU, which ascended into the New Year's Six projections. Outside of that, it's the same snapshot as last week.
While we're on the subject of the Big 12, though, the middle tier of that league has become quite the indiscernible cluster. Following Kansas State's road win over Oklahoma State, you could power-rank teams Nos. 3-7 in this conference in just about any order you want. Kansas State has the worst record of the bunch, but the Wildcats looked doggone good against the Cowboys. It will be fun to see how the Big 12 shakes out next week.
The one team from this group that could reasonably make a jump into a New Year's Six bowl is Washington State.
The Cougars get a huge opportunity on the road against Washington in Week 13. Win that one and they'll draw USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Even if they lose that rematch with the Trojans, as long as it's competitive, they'd have a strong case for finishing in the CFP's Top 12. Gotta win that Apple Cup first, though.
Citrus Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. LSU
Virginia Tech needed a last-second goal-line stand to avoid disaster at home against Pittsburgh, and the Hokies were handsomely rewarded for that defensive effort by getting promoted to this New Year's Day (but not technically New Year's Six) bowl game.
Scoring has been a major struggle for the Hokies over the past several weeks, but this is still a solid resume. And with Clemson, Miami and Notre Dame all projected for the NY6, VT is tops among remaining ACC candidates.
In the Outback Bowl, this is the fourth time in seven weeks that we've been projecting a Michigan vs. LSU matchup.
That's not because of some unhealthy desire to watch those teams slowly race each other to 17 points. It's just the direction things have been mutually headed in the Big Ten and SEC. Both teams are good enough for one of the top bowls reserved for their respective conferences, but it has been months since either one even felt like a fringe candidate for the playoff.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Notre Dame vs. TCU
Each of our New Year's Six matchups is the exact same as last week except for this one.
TCU takes the spot that Washington never should have been given in the first place. We were projecting Washington to beat Washington State in the Week 13 Apple Cup but neglected to consider that would make Stanford—not Washington—the winner of the Pac-12 North. And Stanford might have five losses by the time it has finished facing Notre Dame and USC in the next two weeks.
Thus, TCU slides into the Power Five's last spot in the NY6, even though we're projecting the Horned Frogs to lose to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. The way things are shaking out this year, it's looking like Notre Dame, UCF and all 10 teams participating in the Power Five conference championships—with the exception of Penn State as a third Big Ten team instead of the Pac-12 runner-up—will make up the NY6 bowls.
Even if TCU beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship, a spot in the playoff is highly unlikely, at best. The Horned Frogs do have a solid resume with wins at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. SMU, vs. Texas and vs. West Virginia—plus the neutral-site win over Oklahoma—but that seems more like a sixth-best resume than one in the Top Four.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Ohio State
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. UCF
No changes here, as all four teams handled their business in Week 12. Ohio State and UCF did so in dominant fashion, while Miami and USC would like to remind you that a win is a win in November.
We're spoiling the surprise of the final section, but we're projecting Clemson and Wisconsin to win their conference championship games, effectively eliminating the Hurricanes and Buckeyes from the playoff. Should Miami instead beat Clemson, there's no question the Hurricanes would be in the Top Four—possibly even No. 1. And if Ohio State defeats both Michigan and Wisconsin in the next two weeks, it would be all but impossible to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff.
Sadly, there's no amount of chaos that could get USC or UCF into the playoff, even though the undefeated Knights still have one heck of a hill to climb just to get here. They'll face 9-1 South Florida this week for the right to face one-loss Memphis in the AAC Championship Game. Should UCF win those games to get to 12-0, it could realistically climb up to around No. 8 in the CFP rankings, but that appears to be the ceiling.
Maybe USC could get in if:
- Washington State beats Washington in the Apple Cup, giving USC a better Pac-12 championship opponent;
- USC wins that game;
- TCU beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship;
- Alabama wins the SEC title; and
- Either Clemson or Miami beats the other one badly enough to eliminate it from consideration. Even that might not be enough, but short of that, the Trojans will have to settle for a non-playoff bowl.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State
Not much to say here, as both Georgia and Penn State cruised to Week 12 victories. Georgia's Jake Fromm didn't throw the ball anywhere near as much as I thought he would, attempting just 14 passes in a 42-13 win over Kentucky. After all the struggles he had in the loss to Auburn in Week 11, this appeared to be a golden opportunity to get his confidence back against a mediocre defense, but Georgia just fed Nick Chubb and Sony Michel instead.
Of all the teams in consideration for the New Year's Six, Penn State has the least eventful conclusion to the season.
The Nittany Lions have already been eliminated from the Big Ten East Division title, so next week's game against Maryland will be their last until their bowl game. When Maryland moved to the Big Ten a few years ago, apparently the conference decided that this matchup geographically made sense for rivalry week. But going Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland to finish the season is quite boring for a Top 10 team.
College Football Playoff
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
Every team in the CFP's Top 12 won this past week, so if you were expecting any changes in our projected playoff participants, you were mistaken.
Alabama and Clemson beat the living daylights out of Mercer and The Citadel, respectively, and Oklahoma clobbered Kansas. Heck, those three teams won by a combined margin of 158-6.
And Oklahoma's path to the Big 12 championship appears to have gotten a lot easier with TCU star RB Darius Anderson ruled out for the rest of the season with a leg injury and starting QB Kenny Hill missing Week 12 with a concussion. Yet, as long as the Horned Frogs don't lose a home game to Baylor next week, they'll be the last team standing between the Sooners and the playoff.
Moreover, our confidence level in Wisconsin at No. 4 is a little bit higher after the Badgers beat Michigan 24-10. This offense is hit or miss from one drive to the next, depending on QB Alex Hornibrook. But this defense is the real deal and just might be able to hold Ohio State in check.
Let's quickly recap the scenarios we're projecting for the next two weeks:
ACC: Clemson (11-1) defeats Miami (11-0) for the conference title.
Big 12: Oklahoma wins out to get to 12-1, including a victory over TCU.
Big Ten: Ohio State beats Michigan; loses to undefeated Wisconsin.
Pac-12: USC beats either Stanford or Washington State in the title game.
SEC: Alabama wins at Auburn and beats Georgia to get to 13-0.
Should all those things come to pass, we'll end up with the Final Four listed above.
As mentioned in the previous section on the other NY6 bowls, it's highly unlikely the Pac-12 championship makes any difference in the playoff picture. USC would have a much stronger case than Stanford or Washington State, but just about the only conference champion it could have a case for finishing ahead of would be TCU—and even that's debatable.
But even without the Pac-12 (or Notre Dame) playing a part in this puzzle, there are still a plethora of possible wrinkles that could unfold.
Last week, we discussed an Oklahoma loss potentially turning this whole house of cards on its head, but that's just one wild scenario.
One other big "What if?" would be Alabama losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to finish at 12-1. Let's say Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma and Wisconsin win their conference championships. Could an Alabama team with wins at Auburn, at Mississippi State, at Texas A&M, vs. LSU and at a neutral site against Florida State (when the Seminoles were good) be able to sneak in ahead of any of those teams?
What if instead of Wisconsin from the Big Ten, it's two-loss Ohio State? Or, what if Ohio State loses to Michigan and then beats Wisconsin to become a three-loss champion?
The season is rapidly drawing to a close, but there are still countless scenarios in play. The truth of the matter is there's no telling what the playoff will look like until after we know the results of the conference championships.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.