College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVOctober 18, 2022

College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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    Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (11) plays against Ball State during an NCAA football game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)
    Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt (AP Photo/John Amis)

    Through the first six weeks of the 2022 college football season, projections for the College Football Playoff grew redundant: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State in one order or another on repeat.

    But with Tennessee breaking a 15-year losing streak against Alabama, Week 7 delivered a serious jolt to the CFP picture.

    Is it the Volunteers replacing Alabama in the Top Four, or one of the other remaining undefeateds (Michigan, Ole Miss, Syracuse, TCU or UCLA)?

    And what of the other bowl games on the docket? How did this week's games impact their outlook?

    Please note that these are bowl projections and not some sort of "if the season ended today" exercise. To that end, the combination of each team's win-total betting line and its projected win total according to ESPN's Football Power Index are more important than its record or AP ranking.

    The bowl games have been broken into tiers and are presented in ascending order of magnitude.

    For the first five tiers of bowls, we'll discuss (when applicable) one team projected for a better bowl than it was one week ago, as well as one team checking in a bit lower in the aftermath of Week 7 results. After touching on the updated CFP projections, we'll wrap things up with a conference-by-conference breakdown of which teams are projected to go to which bowls.

Group of 5 Bowls

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    EAST HARTFORD, CT - OCTOBER 01: Fresno State Bulldogs head coach Jeff Tedford during the game as the Fresno State Bulldogs take on the UConn Huskies on October 1, 2022, at the Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.(Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Fresno State's Jeff Tedford (Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Bahamas (Dec. 16): UTSA (5-2) vs. Miami-Ohio (3-4)
    Cure (Dec. 16): Ball State (4-3) vs. Georgia Southern (4-3)
    Frisco (Dec. 17): Ohio (4-3) vs. Southern Miss (3-3)
    LendingTree (Dec. 17): San Diego State (3-3) vs. South Alabama (5-1)
    New Mexico (Dec. 17): Middle Tennessee (3-4) vs. UNLV (4-3)
    Myrtle Beach (Dec. 19): Appalachian State (3-3) vs. North Texas (4-3)
    Boca Raton (Dec. 20): Florida Atlantic (3-4) vs. Troy (5-2)
    Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 20): Eastern Michigan (4-3) vs. Wyoming (4-3)
    New Orleans (Dec. 21): Coastal Carolina (6-1) vs. Western Kentucky (4-3)
    Independence (Dec. 23): Army (2-4) vs. East Carolina (4-3)
    Hawai'i (Dec. 24): Air Force (5-2) vs. UAB (4-2)
    Camellia (Dec. 27): Marshall (3-3) vs. Fresno State (2-4)
    Arizona (Dec. 30): Boise State (4-2) vs. Buffalo (4-3)

    Moving Up No. 1: Florida Atlantic Owls

    As far as ESPN's Bill Connelly is concerned, Florida Atlantic was the least deserving victor of a game in Week 7. FAU beat Rice 17-14 in Conference USA's battle of the Owls, but it had just a 15 percent postgame win expectancy.

    Nevertheless, Florida Atlantic improved to 3-4 and now has about a 50-50 shot at getting to 6-6 and potentially serving as the home team in the Boca Raton Bowl for what would be the third time in six years. In the process of getting its slightly improbable victory, FAU stole Rice's spot in our bowl projections.

    The Owls play at UTEP in Week 8 in what may well be a C-USA bowl-eligibility elimination game.

    Moving Up No. 2: Fresno State Bulldogs

    There are no teams in this tier that tumbled backward from a tier above, so let's highlight a second team that climbed into the projected bowl picture with a Week 7 victory.

    That team is Fresno State, which had gotten out to a brutal 1-4 start after opening the season as one of the Mountain West's top contenders, if not the prohibitive favorite to win the league.

    The Bulldogs almost beat Oregon State in Week 2, falling short when the Beavers scored the go-ahead touchdown with no time left on the clock. But then losing veteran quarterback Jake Haener to a high-ankle sprain in the subsequent loss to USC is when things turned ugly. Without him, they proceeded to lose to lowly Connecticut and got smoked by Boise State before finally getting back into the win column this week with an upset of 4-1 San Jose State—a game in which they kicked one of the most unnecessarily risky field goals of all time, turning a 14-10 lead into 17-10 lead with 10 seconds remaining.

    Haener is on the mend—a "week-to-week" situation, per head coach Jeff Tedford—and could return soon to lead an offense that simply has not been the same without him. And with three games still to come against opponents who are currently 2-5 (Hawai'i, New Mexico and Nevada), flipping the script from 1-4 to 6-6 (or better) is well within the realm of possibility.

    Heck, after this win over SJSU, they might even bounce all the way back to win the MWC's West Division.

Group of 5 vs. Power 5 or Pool Bowls

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    ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 13: UCF Knights quarterback John Rhys Plumlee (10) decides to run after failing to find an open receiver during the game between the Temple Owls and the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights on Thursday, October 13, 2022 at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, FL (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    UCF's John Rhys Plumlee (Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Fenway (Dec. 17): Duke (4-3) vs. Houston (3-3)
    LA (Dec. 17): San Jose State (4-2) vs. Washington State (4-3)
    Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Liberty (6-1) vs. Tulane (6-1)
    Gasparilla (Dec. 23): BYU (4-3) vs. Texas Tech (3-3)
    Quick Lane (Dec. 26): Iowa (3-3) vs. Toledo (5-2)
    Birmingham (Dec. 27): Louisville (3-3) vs. Memphis (4-3)
    First Responder (Dec. 27): SMU (3-3) vs. Oklahoma (4-3)
    Military (Dec. 28): Miami (3-3) vs. UCF (5-1)

    Moving Up: UCF Knights

    On the surface, UCF hasn't moved. For the third consecutive week, we've got Miami vs. UCF in the Military Bowl.

    But as far as noteworthy gaps are concerned, the 5-1 Knights are now basically in a deadlock with 5-1 Cincinnati for the Group of Five's spot in the Cotton Bowl—with 6-1 Tulane more than lurking in that race, as well.

    In due time, those three teams will play a round-robin tournament of sorts. UCF hosts Cincinnati in Week 9, Tulane hosts UCF in Week 11 and it'll be Cincinnati hosting Tulane in Week 13. And after UCF blew out SMU (41-19) and Temple (70-13) in consecutive games, it's beginning to feel like this is the team to beat.

    Given how good Cincinnati has been over the past two-plus seasons, though, we're inclined to keep the Bearcats on the AAC's throne, at least until they lose a league game. Still, that Oct. 29 clash will be humongous.

    [If UCF does end up in the Cotton Bowl, here's hoping it's against Ole Miss. Former Rebel John Rhys Plumlee had four passing touchdowns and rushed in three more in this week's annihilation of Temple.]

    Sliding Down: BYU Cougars

    For the "not affiliated with any bowl this season" Cougars, their movement in these projections usually has more to do with what happens on the Power Five's bowl bubble than it has to do with BYU's actual results.

    But this week, both factors worked against the Cougars.

    As far as things under their control are concerned, they couldn't control anything on defense in a 52-35 loss to Arkansas. BYU forced a fumble and forced a punt on the Razorbacks' first two possessions, but then it was eight consecutive scoring drives with KJ Jefferson—who missed last week's loss to Mississippi State—racking up 367 passing yards and a career-high five touchdowns.

    Out of BYU's control, it looks more likely this week that the Big Ten will be able to fill its spot in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, thanks to the trickle-down effect of *spoiler alert* Penn State dropping out of the New Year's Six picture.

    Regardless, BYU should ultimately get into a bowl game, though that would start to look more questionable if the Cougars were to fall to 4-4 with a loss at Liberty this coming weekend.

Power 5 Bowls with Potential to Be Fun

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    PROVO UT- OCTOBER 15: KJ Jefferson #1 of the Arkansas Razorbacks throws a pass against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half of their game October 15, 2022 LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
    Arkansas' K.J. Jefferson (Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)

    Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 27): Baylor (3-3) vs. Wisconsin (3-4)
    Holiday (Dec. 28): Pittsburgh (4-2) vs. Washington (5-2)
    Liberty (Dec. 28): Arkansas (4-3) vs. Kansas (5-2)
    Texas (Dec. 28): Kansas State (5-1) vs. Florida (4-3)
    Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Maryland (5-2) vs. NC State (5-2)
    Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Notre Dame (3-3) vs. Minnesota (4-2)
    Sun (Dec. 30): Florida State (4-3) vs. Oregon State (5-2)
    Music City (Dec. 31): Purdue (5-2) vs. South Carolina (4-2)

    Moving Up: Arkansas Razorbacks

    There was quite a bit of internal shuffling among the teams on this tier, but 13 of last week's 16 "Potential to Be Fun" teams are still in this section. And of the three new arrivals (Arkansas, Minnesota and NC State), only the Razorbacks are on the rise.

    As previously mentioned, Arkansas put on an offensive clinic in Provo, Utah. The last time BYU allowed 50 or more points in a game was in a 55-53 scoring bonanza against Toledo back in September 2016. However, the Razorbacks were already at 52 less than a minute into the fourth quarter before finally taking their foot off the gas in a 52-35 victory.

    In addition to KJ Jefferson's big day, Raheim Sanders had 15 carries for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns, more than making up for the lost fumble on his first touch of the game.

    The win pushes Arkansas back above .500 and stopped the bleeding of a three-game losing streak. The Hogs are idle in Week 8 but should be able to secure bowl eligibility within their first three games back (at Auburn, vs. Liberty, vs. LSU). If they only manage to win one of those contests, though, the season finale at Missouri should be where they seal the deal—although an 0-4 record in Columbia over the past decade suggests otherwise.

    Sliding Down: NC State Wolfpack

    This week was a double whammy for NC State.

    Not only did the Wolfpack lose 24-9 to Syracuse—eliminating any fleeting hope they may have had about winning the ACC's Atlantic Division—but they also learned that veteran quarterback Devin Leary will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

    Leary was named the ACC's preseason Player of the Year back in July, and though he wasn't quite living up to those expectations, it's a gigantic loss for what previously looked like the second-best team in the ACC.

    Without him, NC State was unable to score a single touchdown against the Orange, and you've got to wonder how the Wolfpack will fare the rest of the way. They're off this week before a Thursday night home game against Virginia Tech, which they should win to improve to 6-2. If they lose to the Hokies, though, they're probably looking at a 7-5 year-end record, at best.

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - OCTOBER 01: Will Levis #7 of the Kentucky Wildcats warms up before the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 01, 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
    Kentucky's Will Levis (Justin Ford/Getty Images)

    Las Vegas (Dec. 17): Texas A&M (3-3) vs. Utah (5-2)
    Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma State (5-1) vs. UCLA (6-0)
    Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Texas (5-2) vs. Wake Forest (5-1)
    Gator (Dec. 30): North Carolina (6-1) vs. Mississippi State (5-2)
    Citrus (Jan. 2): Kentucky (5-2) vs. Penn State (5-1)
    ReliaQuest (Jan. 2): Illinois (6-1) vs. LSU (5-2)

    Moving Up: Kentucky Wildcats

    Playing without quarterback Will Levis, Kentucky suffered a home loss to South Carolina in Week 6.

    But with Levis back in action, the Wildcats rebounded for a key win over Mississippi State, moving back ahead of the Bulldogs in the SEC's bowl-game pecking order.

    Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (196 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and the defense (225 total yards allowed) were the stars of the day, but there's no question that Levis made a huge impact, most notably on the pivotal fourth-down touchdown pass midway through the third quarter, as well as with the 50-yard pass to Dekel Crowdus late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-sealing touchdown.

    Kentucky still has two extremely difficult games remaining (at Tennessee in Week 9; vs. Georgia in Week 12), but the Wildcats are in a good position to be the SEC's top non-NY6 team. And if they were to win one of those two contests, perhaps they could still sneak into the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl.

    Sliding Down: Penn State Nittany Lions

    Oklahoma State also slipped from a projected New Year's Six bowl down to this tier, but at least the Cowboys looked competent in their double-overtime loss at TCU. In fact, when they were up 24-7 in the first half, it looked like they were about to make a serious surge into the College Football Playoff mix. If they bounce back and beat Texas this week, there's a good chance they climb back up a tier.

    Penn State, on the other hand, got drilled by Michigan, allowing more rushing yards in this one game (418) than it had allowed in its first five games combined (398).

    Penn State had one huge play on offense (a 62-yard run by Sean Clifford) and one huge play on defense (a pick-six) in what was otherwise an "All Wolverines" type of afternoon.

    Did things simply get a bit out of hand on the road against a juggernaut, or was Penn State—which had yet to face an opponent that has been ranked at any point this season—just exposed as fraudulent?

    It's too early to make a call there, but if they lose this week to Minnesota and/or if things get just as ugly the following week against Ohio State, it's going to be next to impossible to make a case for the Nittany Lions going to the Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl.

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    SYRACUSE, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15: Sean Tucker #34 of the Syracuse Orange runs the ball during the third quarter against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at JMA Wireless Dome on October 15, 2022 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
    Syracuse's Sean Tucker (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Orange (Dec. 30): Syracuse (6-0) vs. Ole Miss (7-0)
    Sugar (Dec. 31): TCU (6-0) vs. Alabama (6-1)
    Cotton (Jan. 2): Cincinnati (5-1) vs. Oregon (5-1)
    Rose (Jan. 2): Michigan (7-0) vs. USC (6-1)

    Moving Up: Syracuse Orange

    Ole Miss and TCU are also on the rise this week, but we'll get to them shortly in the context of the wide-open debate for the CFP's No. 4 seed.

    Syracuse isn't anywhere close to that conversation just yet—though that could change in a hurry with a Week 8 road win over Clemson—but the Orange do currently look like the ACC's second-best team, improving to 6-0 with a relatively convincing home win over still-ranked NC State.

    For the most part, they've done it with defense, as they have yet to allow a touchdown in October.

    Granted, they were idle in Week 6 and faced an FCS school (Wagner) in Week 5, but this has been an impressive defense all season long. Five of six opponents were held below 200 passing yards, and none of the six were able to reach 150 rushing yards. Purdue's passing attack was the only thing to do any legitimate damage against the Orange thus far this season, and even in that one, the defense still came up huge with a pick-six in the fourth quarter.

    The Orange are one of nine remaining undefeated teams, each of whom now ranks No. 14 or better in the AP poll. And should they happen to upset Clemson, that would have CFP and conference championship ramifications far behind what happened in Knoxville this week.

    Sliding Down: Alabama Crimson Tide

    For the first time since No. 2 Ohio State defeated No. 5 Notre Dame over Labor Day weekend, a Top Five team took an L this week.

    And while Alabama was our projected No. 1 seed heading into that instant classic at Tennessee, the Crimson Tide fall out of the Top Four as a result.

    Because USC and Oklahoma State also lost this week, though, it's not much of a fall from grace for the Crimson Tide.

    They're still No. 6 in the AP poll and still control their own destiny to a certain extent. An undefeated Ohio State or Michigan would presumably finish ahead of a one-loss 'Bama, but winning out—which would include a road victory over Ole Miss and an SEC championship victory over either Georgia or Tennessee—would likely yield no worse than a No. 2 seed.

    Conversely, Alabama's cushion is now gone. No two-loss team has ever made the playoff, and with just-barely-survived games against Texas and Texas A&M on a resume currently devoid of marquee wins, it's hard to imagine this team being the one to change that.

College Football Playoff

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    Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) throws to a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
    Tennessee's Hendon Hooker (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

    Peach (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (7-0) vs. No. 4 Tennessee (6-0)
    Fiesta (Dec. 31): No. 2 Ohio State (6-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (7-0)

    National Championship (Jan. 9): No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 2 Ohio State

    Two SEC East teams in the College Football Playoff?

    Sure, why not?

    Tennessee now has almost unarguably the best CFP resume in the country. Pitt, Florida and LSU are no longer in the AP Top 25, but the Volunteers have four wins over teams who were ranked at the time of the game, as well as five wins over teams that currently have a winning record.

    Tennessee also has a road game remaining against Georgia (Nov. 5), which will probably result in a loss.

    But if the Volunteers can get to 11-1 with six or seven wins over bowl teams, that marquee victory over Alabama and just one understandable road loss to the No. 1 team in the country, they're going to have a very strong case for a spot in the playoff.

    If nothing else, 11-1 Tennessee would seem to have a better case than 11-1 Michigan. Style points the rest of the way would play a factor, of course, but Tennessee's wins to this point are more impressive than Michigan's.

    Maybe Clemson slips up somewhere along the way and there ends up being room for both Tennessee and Michigan in the Top Four. Or maybe Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and one of TCU or UCLA all run the table and the idea of a one-loss, non-champion making the playoff becomes a laughable proposition.

    There's no way to know how things will shake out, but it sure feels like we'll be comparing the Volunteers and the Wolverines until the final rankings come out.

    The other team that's going to play a huge part in framing the final picture is Ole Miss.

    The Rebels are currently 7-0 with home games remaining against Alabama and Mississippi State, as well as road games against LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Nothing close to a freebie in the bunch, but they could run the table to still set up the 12-0 vs. 12-0 SEC Championship Game we had been anticipating.

    That Week 11 showdown with Alabama looms large as a likely CFP-elimination game.

Bowl Games by Conference

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    CHESTNUT HILL, MA - OCTOBER 08: Clemson Tigers Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) runs with the ball during the second half of the college football game between the Clemson Tigers and the Boston College Eagles on October 8, 2022, at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Ma. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei (Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Here is the breakdown of bowl projections listed alphabetically by conference. New Year's Six games have been italicized and underlined to help those of you who just scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee bowls.

    American Athletic (7 teams): Cincinnati (Cotton), East Carolina (Independence), Houston (Fenway), Memphis (Birmingham), SMU (First Responder), Tulane (Armed Forces), UCF (Military)

    Atlantic Coast (10 teams): Clemson (Fiesta), Duke (Fenway), Florida State (Sun), Louisville (Birmingham), Miami (Military), North Carolina (Gator), North Carolina State (Pinstripe), Pittsburgh (Holiday), Syracuse (Orange), Wake Forest (Cheez-It)

    Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Guaranteed Rate), Kansas (Liberty), Kansas State (Texas), Oklahoma (First Responder), Oklahoma State (Alamo), TCU (Sugar), Texas (Cheez-It), Texas Tech (Gasparilla)

    Big Ten (9 teams): Illinois (ReliaQuest), Iowa (Quick Lane), Maryland (Pinstripe), Michigan (Rose), Minnesota (Duke's Mayo), Ohio State (Fiesta), Penn State (Citrus), Purdue (Music City), Wisconsin (Guaranteed Rate)

    Conference USA (6 teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton), Middle Tennessee (New Mexico), North Texas (Myrtle Beach), UAB (Hawai'i), UTSA (Bahamas), Western Kentucky (New Orleans)

    Independents (4 teams): Army (Independence), BYU (Gasparilla), Liberty (Armed Forces), Notre Dame (Duke's Mayo)

    Mid-American (6 teams): Ball State (Cure), Buffalo (Arizona), Eastern Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato), Miami-Ohio (Bahamas), Ohio (Frisco), Toledo (Quick Lane)

    Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Hawai'i), Boise State (Arizona), Fresno State (Camellia), San Diego State (LendingTree), San Jose State (LA), UNLV (New Mexico), Wyoming (Famous Idaho Potato)

    Pac-12 (7 teams): Oregon (Cotton), Oregon State (Sun), UCLA (Alamo), USC (Rose), Utah (Las Vegas), Washington (Holiday), Washington State (LA)

    Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar), Arkansas (Liberty), Florida (Texas), Georgia (Peach), Kentucky (Citrus), LSU (ReliaQuest), Mississippi State (Gator), Ole Miss (Orange), South Carolina (Music City), Tennessee (Peach), Texas A&M (Las Vegas)

    Sun Belt (7 teams): Appalachian State (Myrtle Beach), Coastal Carolina (New Orleans), Georgia Southern (Cure), Marshall (Camellia), South Alabama (LendingTree), Southern Miss (Frisco), Troy (Boca Raton)

    Kerry Miller covers college football, men's college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.