College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Week 14 Rankings & Bowl Projections
No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Miami and No. 8 Notre Dame all suffered road losses in the final week of the 2017 college football regular season, shaking up the bowl-projection picture one last time before conference championship weekend.
As a result of those upsets, Auburn will now compete in the SEC Championship Game and is projected to make the College Football Playoff, and Notre Dame is no longer even expected to receive an invitation to a New Year's Six bowl.
Elsewhere, nine 5-6 teams won their final game to become bowl-eligible, and there are three more 5-6 teams with a chance to get a sixth win next weekend. As a result, we already have one too many bowl-eligible teams and could end up with as many as four six-win teams—five if you count ineligible Ole Miss—being left out of postseason play.
Though there's a lot still up in the air, things could be pretty clear at the end of the Saturday night. There will be one ACC team and one SEC team in the playoff. Oklahoma and Wisconsin would join them by winning their conference championships. And most of the six-win teams omitted from bowl season should come from Conference USA.
But how often does "should happen" actually happen in this sport? As we'll get into a bit later, there could be total chaos in which it becomes nearly impossible to separate Nos. 3-9 in the final rankings. As Samuel L. Jackson said in Jurassic Park: "Hold onto your butts."
We'll need to wait until Tuesday night to find out where everyone now sits in the eyes of the CFP selection committee. In Sunday afternoon's AP Top 25, though, Clemson jumped three spots to No. 1, followed by Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Auburn. Alabama dropped four spots to No. 5; Miami fell five spots to No. 7. The only in/out change was Fresno State beating Boise State and taking the Broncos' spot in the rankings at No. 25.
Group of Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. Fresno State
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Buffalo* vs. Georgia State
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. UT San Antonio
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Akron vs. Arkansas State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Western Michigan* vs. Louisiana Tech
Boca Raton Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International
Frisco Bowl: Houston vs. Appalachian State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Ohio vs. Marshall
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: UAB vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Troy
Birmingham Bowl: SMU vs. Texas Tech*
Hawaii Bowl: Memphis vs. San Diego State
Military Bowl: Navy vs. Florida State
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. New Mexico State
*Teams with asterisks are replacements for leagues unable to fill their bowl spots.
The most interesting point of conversation here will be: Who gets left out?
There are "only" 78 bowl spots and we already have 79 bowl-eligible teams. Florida State, Louisiana and New Mexico State all play next week with the chance to get to six wins, and we're expecting FSU and NMSU to get those victories, meaning there will be three bowl-eligible teams that don't get rewarded for their efforts.
The obvious top candidate for exclusion is Conference USA. That's not because C-USA football is inherently any worse than that of the other four Group of Five leagues, but because there are so many bowl-eligible teams from it. While the Sun Belt is sitting on four and hoping to get to six next week, there are 10 bowl-eligible C-USA teams.
We're projecting Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky as the 6-6 teams from C-USA that get omitted from postseason play. Maybe we're wrong on the actual teams, but if three teams need to get left out, two are probably coming from this league.
The third would be Utah State. The Aggies finished 6-6 and went 4-4 in Mountain West play, but they didn't win a game this season against a team that finished the year with more than five wins. Even though excluding Utah State would mean only five MWC teams get to play in the postseason, failing to beat any remotely decent opponents seems like a good reason to cut a team from bowl season.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Iowa State vs. Utah
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas vs. Texas
Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Duke
Two weeks ago, Duke's chances of becoming bowl-eligible seemed slim to none. The Blue Devils were 4-6 with games remaining vs. Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest. Maybe they would win one of those games and sneak in with a 5-7 record and a stellar APR score, but even that seemed unlikely after six consecutive losses. Nevertheless, Duke knocked off both the Yellow Jackets and the Demon Deacons to get to six wins.
Elsewhere, what happened to Iowa State? One month ago, the Cyclones were in first place in the Big 12 and had a serious shot at the New Year's Six. But after three losses in four games, they finished in seventh place and probably wouldn't even be favored in a bowl against a .500 team.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Iowa
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Virginia vs. Southern Miss
Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. Texas A&M
Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue vs. Arizona State
If these are the actual Dec. 27 matchups, expect most of the conversation on this day to be spent discussing the coaching carousel.
Todd Graham is already out as Arizona State's head coach, as is Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Given the quick work Jeff Brohm and Bronco Mendenhall have done with Purdue and Virginia, there's bound to be discussion about their contract buyouts. And there has been a lot of recent talk about Kansas State's succession plans for 78-year-old Bill Snyder.
We should get a fun on-field battle between Boston College's AJ Dillon and Iowa's Josey Jewell in the Pinstripe Bowl, though.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona vs. Wake Forest
Belk Bowl: NC State vs. Missouri
Let's be honest: Unless one of the eight teams in the previous section is your favorite, not one of those matchups is particularly juicy. But each of these three games has the potential to be incredibly entertaining.
Mississippi State's offense likely won't be the same without Nick Fitzgerald following his gruesome injury in the Egg Bowl, but between Lamar Jackson, Khalil Tate, John Wolford, Jaylen Samuels and Drew Lock, the amount of offensive star power in these three games might make it the most entertaining day of the entire bowl season.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Michigan vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. UCLA*
Who would have guessed before the season that Michigan vs. Kentucky would be a potential bowl-game matchup? Better question: Would Kentucky actually be the favorite in this game? Michigan went 0-4 against teams that finished the season with a winning record, and its only win over a bowl-eligible team was a September game against Purdue in which the Boilermakers led deep into the third quarter.
Yet, the TaxSlayer Bowl would probably be more entertaining than the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, considering Will Grier would be questionable to play because of a finger injury and Josh Rosen likely wouldn't play because it's not worth risking injury and hurting his draft stock. West Virginia and UCLA had outstanding offenses with those QBs on the field, but they don't bring much to the table without those leaders.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
Valero Alamo Bowl: TCU vs. Stanford
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Washington State
For five of these six teams, the final week of the regular season was a great one. Virginia Tech built on a Week 12 game-sealing, goal-line stand against Pittsburgh with a 10-0 shutout of rival Virginia. Oklahoma State and TCU beat the two worst teams in the Big 12 (Kansas and Baylor, respectively) by a combined margin of 64 points. Northwestern stomped Illinois, 42-7. Stanford scored three touchdowns in the span of 3:36 in the fourth quarter in a marquee win over No. 8 Notre Dame.
And then there's Washington State, which trailed 34-0 before finally getting on the scoreboard in a 41-14 loss to Washington in the Apple Cup. Had the Cougars won, they would have faced USC in the Pac-12 championship for a guaranteed spot in a New Year's Six bowl. Instead, they finished in fourth place in the conference and might not even end up in one of these top non-NY6 bowls if either TCU or Notre Dame takes the final spot over Washington and Stanford. (More on that shortly.)
Our projected Alamo Bowl participants can still play their way into the New Year's Six, though. It's unlikely a TCU win over Oklahoma would be enough for the Horned Frogs to reach the playoff, and there's no chance Stanford would make it. But conference championship victories would lock them into the NY6 to shake up this projection a bit.
Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. South Carolina
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Three weeks ago, Notre Dame was projected to reach the playoff. Now, the Fighting Irish aren't even on the correct side of the New Year's Six fringe. Getting absolutely destroyed by Miami before struggling with Navy and losing to Stanford will do that to a team, though. It's just hard to believe they've slipped this far since effectively ending both USC's and NC State's hopes of competing in the playoff.
Elsewhere in this section, the Outback Bowl should be a fun game between teams that have been egregiously overlooked all season long. South Carolina's 24-point loss to Clemson in the regular-season finale didn't do much to help its argument as a team worth watching. But the Gamecocks still might be the best SEC team outside its top three. And Michigan State's rebound from last year's 3-9 mess by going 9-3 with wins over Penn State and Michigan is a sensational story that isn't being told often enough.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Georgia vs. Washington
Of the 12 spots in the New Year's Six bowls, 11 have already been claimed—Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, Wisconsin and the AAC champion are all but certainly getting in. The one wild card is the spot currently held by 10-2 Washington.
Between the Huskies obliterating Washington State in the Apple Cup and Notre Dame losing to Stanford, expect Washington to move slightly ahead of the Fighting Irish in the next installment of the CFP rankings. Beyond that, the other two candidates for this spot are TCU and Stanford, but both would likely fall behind Washington with losses in their respective conference championships.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Ohio State
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. UCF
Our projections for these two games haven't changed since Nov. 11, but they are nowhere close to set in stone, as all four teams will partake in conference championship week. Given our long-expected outcomes of wins for USC and UCF and losses for Miami and Ohio State in those games, though, this is likely where they would land.
Miami vs. Ohio State would get billed as the top game of the day because of the championship history of both programs and the mandatory flashbacks to the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. But after so many weeks of projecting a USC vs. UCF showdown, that's the one I'm more excited to watch.
If UCF can maintain its ridiculous scoring pace in a win over a Pac-12 champion with a legitimate case for the playoff, it would be huge. Not just for Scott Frost. And not just for a program that went 0-12 two seasons ago. It would be huge for next year's top Group of Five teams by giving legitimacy to the argument that these smaller schools deserve a look for a spot at the big boys' table if and when they go undefeated.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Penn State
For what is probably the first time in the history of the College Football Playoff, Alabama is not projected to partake in the national semifinals. That can still change with an upset or two in the Big Ten and Big 12 conference championships, but there will be no room at the inn for the Crimson Tide if both Oklahoma and Wisconsin win.
Even if one of those teams loses, though, it's entirely possible that the combination of Alabama's mediocre strength of schedule and its poor play against Auburn would result in the selection committee taking a two-loss champion ahead of the Crimson Tide. We'll see how it all plays out, but it does appear that a non-playoff spot in the New Year's Six is the most likely outcome.
Their projected opponent would be another major test for the defense. Penn State has averaged 61 points over its last two games and scored at least 35 in five of its last six. Against a team like UCF or Washington, Saquon Barkley would probably sit out the Nittany Lions' bowl game in preparation (preservation) for the NFL draft. Given the opportunity to beat Alabama, though, perhaps he risks injury for the chance to become even more of a legend in State College.
College Football Playoff
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Auburn
Even though Miami slipped ahead of Clemson in last week's CFP rankings, we were already projecting the Tigers to beat the Hurricanes in the ACC championship. Thus, Miami's loss to Pittsburgh—though shocking—had no impact on our projected CFP pairings.
On the other hand, Alabama losing to Auburn had massive ramifications, as last week's projected No. 1 team will no longer have a chance to play for a conference championship. As a result, both Clemson and Oklahoma move up a spot, and Auburn makes its first playoff projection appearance at No. 3.
We can argue until we're blue in the face about which teams are going to win next week's various conference championship games, but there are a few things that can be safely assumed. Both the ACC and SEC champions will get in, and the runners-up almost certainly will not. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Wisconsin control their own destiny. Should the Sooners and Badgers both win, there won't be any drama about who the top four teams will be, but there will be a spirited debate about the order in which they should be ranked.
If the Sooners and Badgers both lose, though, it will be Playoff Hot Take Armageddon. The top two teams would be the ACC and SEC champions. After that, all of these teams would be legitimate candidates:
- 11-1 Alabama (no SEC title game)
- 11-2 Ohio State (Big Ten champions)
- 11-2 TCU (Big 12 champions)
- 11-2 USC (Pac-12 champions)
- 12-1 Wisconsin (Big Ten runners-up)
- Either 11-2 Clemson or 10-2 Miami as ACC runner-up
- 11-2 Oklahoma (Big 12 runners-up)
- 12-0 UCF (Only undefeated team)
Perhaps it's a stretch to include UCF and two-loss Miami, but those other seven teams would all have a solid argument for finishing in the top four. Should all of that chaos come to pass, the above order is the one in which we would rank those teams, meaning Alabama would be No. 3 and Ohio State No. 4. However, the gap between No. 3 and No. 9 would be razor-thin, which would inevitably fast-track any conversation about expanding the playoff in the near future.
One team in that mix to keep an eye on is USC. The Trojans have a bit of a weird "no marquee wins, no bad losses" resume. Yes, Notre Dame blew them out, but road losses to Washington State and Notre Dame are less damning than say, Clemson's loss to Syracuse, Ohio State's loss to Iowa or TCU and Oklahoma both losing to Iowa State. And for all the talk about the (lack of) strength of schedule for Alabama and Wisconsin, USC will have played 10 games against bowl-eligible teams and two others against five-win teams.
It's unlikely, but without much else to separate these teams, maybe the committee would start eliminating options based on red flags on their resumes, leaving USC as the lone survivor for the fourth and final spot.
Even though there are only five games left that matter, there are still a lot of ways in which this deck can be shuffled.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.