College Football Playoff Projections: Week 14 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
Only 12 non-bowl games remain in the 2022 college football season: 10 conference championships, an Akron-Buffalo blizzard makeup game and the annual Army-Navy game on Dec. 10.
Normally, there's a ton of College Football Playoff drama heading into Championship Saturday, but not this year. Undefeated Georgia, Michigan and TCU should be in the CFP whether they win or lose on Saturday, and USC could secure its first trip to the playoff with a win over Utah on Friday night.
But while the CFP implications are minimal, there's much still to be decided in the rest of the New Year's Six bowl picture.
Will Tulane or UCF win the AAC championship and the de facto spot in the Cotton Bowl that comes with it? And will that team face 10-2 Penn State, or will the Nittany Lions get squeezed out by an upset in the Big Ten or SEC championships?
Could Purdue shock the world with a win over Michigan to steal a spot in the Rose Bowl? Or could enigmatic LSU bounce back from a loss to Texas A&M to upset Georgia and play its way into the Sugar Bowl?
Thus far, we only know two bowl game matchups: it'll be a .500 showdown between UAB vs. Miami-Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl, as well as 7-5 San Diego State vs. 7-5 Middle Tennessee in the Hawai'i Bowl. Everything else is still a projection as we wait for the final CFP rankings on Sunday to sort out the trickle-down effect for all 41 bowls.
The bowl games have been broken into tiers and are presented in ascending order of magnitude.
For the first four tiers of bowls, we'll discuss one team projected for a better bowl than it was one week ago as well as a team that checks in a bit lower in the aftermath of Week 13 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
Bahamas (Dec. 16): Miami-Ohio (6-6) vs. UAB (6-6)
Cure (Dec. 16): Buffalo (5-6) vs. Rice (5-7)
Frisco (Dec. 17): UNLV (5-7) vs. Southern Miss (6-6)
LendingTree (Dec. 17): Troy (10-2) vs. Utah State (6-6)
New Mexico (Dec. 17): Fresno State (8-4) vs. North Texas (7-5)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 19): Georgia Southern (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
Boca Raton (Dec. 20): South Alabama (10-2) vs. UTSA (10-2)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 20): Toledo (7-5) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
New Orleans (Dec. 21): Coastal Carolina (9-2) vs. Western Kentucky (8-5)
Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Marshall (8-4) vs. SMU (7-5)
Independence (Dec. 23): Connecticut (6-6) vs. Memphis (6-6)
Hawai'i (Dec. 24): San Diego State (7-5) vs. Middle Tennessee (7-5)
Camellia (Dec. 27): Bowling Green (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)
Arizona (Dec. 30): Eastern Michigan (8-4) vs. San José State (7-4)
Underlined teams have accepted invitations to a bowl.
Moving Up: Georgia Southern Eagles
Next time someone tries to tell you there are too many bowl games, show them this past weekend's double-overtime drama between Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
Though App State already had six wins, two of them were against FCS schools. So for both teams, it was a "win and you're in, lose and you're out" showdown.
Twice in the final two minutes of regulation, the Mountaineers had a chance to win. But after a turnover on downs from the fringe of field-goal range and then a missed 30-yard attempt as time expired, the game required a few extra periods before crowning Georgia Southern as the 51-48 victor.
Clay Helton's Eagles put an end to a three-game losing streak and will be headed back to bowl season after a one-year hiatus.
Sneaking In on APR Scores: Rice Owls and UNLV Rebels (and maybe Auburn?)
We are currently at 79 bowl-eligible teams with Buffalo possibly making it 80 if it can beat Akron on Friday. But with 82 spots in the bowl-season field, that means using Academic Progress Rate (APR) score to include a few teams that finished 5-7.
Unless New Mexico State, Army and/or Appalachian State can get waivers to "forgive" their two wins over FCS schools, we'll need at least two APR teams, and those lucky losers, if you will, are Rice (994 APR) and UNLV (986 APR).
The Owls haven't played in a bowl game since 2014, and the Rebels haven't played in the postseason since 2013. Even though they're sort of getting in on a technicality, it's pretty cool that they'll get to end their droughts.
If Buffalo loses to Akron, that means we need a third team based on APR score. I'm seeing both 5-7 Auburn and 5-7 Michigan State with a 983 score, but the Action Network's Brett McMurphy says that Auburn would be the one benefitting from a Buffalo loss.
Should the Bulls lose, Auburn wouldn't just take their projected spot in the Cure Bowl, though. The Tigers would likely play in the SEC-affiliated Birmingham or Gasparilla Bowl, bumping not-affiliated-with-any-bowl BYU down to this tier.
Group of 5 vs. Power 5 Bowls
Fenway (Dec. 17): Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Louisville (7-5)
LA (Dec. 17): Boise State (9-3) vs. Washington State (7-5)
Gasparilla (Dec. 23): Houston (7-5) vs. Missouri (6-6)
Quick Lane (Dec. 26): Ohio (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (6-6)
Birmingham (Dec. 27): BYU (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
First Responder (Dec. 27): East Carolina (7-5) vs. Kansas (6-6)
Military (Dec. 28): UCF (9-3) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
Moving Up: Missouri Tigers
We already had Missouri projected for a bowl game heading into its finale against Arkansas. However, the Tigers were a slight underdog to get that sixth win, so it feels like they moved up by cementing their spot in bowl season.
Quarterback Brady Cook had one heck of a day, throwing for 242 yards and rushing for 138 more while leading the Tigers to a turnover-free 29-27 victory.
Remarkably, this is Missouri's fourth consecutive .500 regular season. The Tigers will be looking for their first postseason victory since the 2014 Citrus Bowl.
Sliding Down: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Remember when Wake Forest was 6-1, ranked 10th in the AP poll and was a strong candidate to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl?
The Demon Deacons went 1-4 down the stretch, punctuated by a back-and-forth, defense-optional, 34-31 loss at Duke.
Quarterback Sam Hartman had another big day, throwing for at least 320 yards and multiple scores for the fourth consecutive week. But that merely kept the Deacs within striking distance while the defense allowed at least 30 points for the fifth straight game.
Whichever bowl Wake Forest lands in, have fun betting the over.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential to Be Great
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 27): Liberty (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Holiday (Dec. 28): Oregon State (9-3) vs. Pittsburgh (8-4)
Liberty (Dec. 28): Baylor (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)
Texas (Dec. 28): Kentucky (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Iowa (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Duke (8-4) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
Sun (Dec. 30): NC State (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)
Music City (Dec. 31): Arkansas (6-6) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Moving Up: Pittsburgh Panthers
In what was more or less an early audition for next season, Miami used three different quarterbacks within its first five possessions against Pittsburgh, resulting in two punts, two interceptions and a fumble.
Pitt led 35-3 before the Hurricanes found the end zone for the first time, ultimately cruising to a 42-16 victory.
For the Panthers, it was their fourth consecutive win, somewhat salvaging a season that didn't go according to plan. They opened the year at No. 17 in the AP poll—their first preseason ranking since 2010—before sputtering to a 4-4 record with disappointing losses to Georgia Tech and Louisville. But they continued to battle and got to eliminate Miami from bowl contention.
Sliding Down: Iowa Hawkeyes
All Iowa had to do to secure its spot in the Big Ten championship was end the regular season with a home win over a no-good, very-bad Nebraska offense.
The Cornhuskers had averaged 9.75 points and barely 200 total yards per game over the course of their previous four games (all losses) against Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Sure felt like a safe bet that Iowa's defense—which is still leading the nation in total yards allowed per play—would limit Nebraska to two or fewer scoring drives.
As has been the case all season, though, Iowa's offense didn't help its defense.
The Hawkeyes fumbled three times in their own territory, setting up Nebraska for three scoring drives of fewer than 40 yards. They were down 24-0 before finally making some progress and putting points on the board, but by then it was too late. Iowa lost 24-17 and opened the door for Purdue to make the Big Ten championship.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Las Vegas (Dec. 17): South Carolina (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3)
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oregon (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Florida State (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (6-6)
Gator (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (8-4) vs. North Carolina (9-3)
Citrus (Jan. 2): LSU (9-3) vs. Purdue (8-4)
ReliaQuest (Jan. 2): Illinois (8-4) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
Moving Up: Purdue Boilermakers
In all likelihood, they are going to get pummeled by Michigan on Saturday. But three cheers to the Boilermakers for making it to their first Big Ten championship. (With a lot of help from Nebraska upsetting Iowa on Friday.)
Purdue scored four second-half touchdowns at Indiana to end the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Jeff Brohm's guys will have at least eight wins for the second consecutive season, which is something they hadn't done in more than a decade.
This has nothing to do with bowl projections, but thanks to this extra game against Michigan, Charlie Jones might be able to set Purdue's all-time single-season records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He's at 97, 1,199 and 12, respectively. The records currently stand at 121 (Chris Daniels in 1999), 1,307 (John Standeford in 2002) and 16 (Taylor Stubblefield in 2004). Quite the year for the Iowa transfer.
Sliding Down: LSU Tigers
From "would make the College Football Playoff by winning its final two games" to "needs to beat Georgia to get into a New Year's Six bowl," losing by multiple scores to 4-7 Texas A&M comes with quite the fall from grace for LSU.
Texas A&M's Devon Achane and Moose Muhammad III looked like Barry Sanders and Odell Beckham Jr. against LSU, with the former too elusive to tackle and the latter making multiple one-handed grabs. If Achane returns for another season, get ready for that season-ending performance to be enough evidence for AP voters to put the Aggies back in next year's preseason Top 25.
But on the LSU front, the 9-3 Tigers bookended their regular season with losses to Jimbo Fisher's current and former teams, with a blowout loss to Tennessee in the middle. Wins over Alabama and Ole Miss got LSU into the conversation in a hurry, but this SEC West champion will be nowhere close to the final playoff conversation, no matter what happens in the SEC championship against Georgia.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Orange (Dec. 30): Alabama (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Sugar (Dec. 31): Kansas State (9-3) vs. Tennessee (10-2)
Cotton (Jan. 2): Tulane (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
Rose (Jan. 2): Ohio State (11-1) vs. Washington (10-2)
One intriguing thing to monitor on this tier is how much teams get penalized for losing conference championships.
It's Utah facing USC in the Pac-12 title game, but the Utes would fall to 9-4 with a loss. A USC win would ensure the Trojans earn a spot in the playoff, leaving the Rose Bowl door open to the next-best/next-highest ranked Pac-12 team. And at that point, it would most likely be Washington.
Similar situation in the Big 12, where a TCU would win would drop Kansas State to 9-4, possibly opening the door for Texas (which defeated KSU in Manhattan) to claim the Big 12's spot in the Sugar Bowl.
The rankings gap between No. 10 Kansas State and No. 20 Texas is presumably wide enough that the Wildcats still make the cut. But we've got No. 12 Washington finishing ahead of No. 11 Utah in the end.
There's also rankings intrigue in the SEC with (assuming an LSU loss to Georgia) Alabama and Tennessee duking it out for the Orange and Sugar Bowls. Tennessee won the head-to-head matchup and should arguably finish ahead of the Crimson Tide for the Sugar Bowl, which would set up a marquee Alabama-Clemson Orange Bowl (assuming the Tigers beat North Carolina on Saturday). But we'll see how those discussions pan out for the final CFP Top 25.
If Georgia and Michigan hold serve in their conference championship games—thus keeping LSU or Purdue from stealing a spot on this tier as a conference champion—it looks like Penn State will get the "wild card" spot in the Cotton Bowl. The Nittany Lions finished 10-2 with the losses coming against undefeated Michigan and one-loss Ohio State.
College Football Playoff
Peach (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (12-0) vs. No. 4 USC (11-1)
Fiesta (Dec. 31): No. 2 Michigan (12-0) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-0)
National Championship (Jan. 9): No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan
Here's hoping you got all of your playoff-focused arguing done during the regular season, because there simply isn't much left to debate.
Ohio State would probably sneak back in at No. 4 if USC loses to Utah for a second time in the Pac-12 championship. Or if the Trojans win their game, perhaps the committee would give the edge to the Buckeyes if TCU gets smoked by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship, citing stuff like Game Control and overall efficiency as a reason to give the edge to the much bigger name program.
But with No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 8 Penn State all failing to qualify for their conference championship games, there's not much hanging in the balance heading into Championship Week.
If we had the future 12-team playoff format, though, imagine how much fun the upcoming weekend would be.
Instead of playing for a spot in the Orange Bowl, the ACC championship between Clemson and North Carolina would be for a spot in the field. Maybe with a win, Clemson lands the No. 8 seed and gets to host a first-round game.
Instead of the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC championships being completely irrelevant, you'd have the possibility of three-loss LSU, three-loss Kansas State or four-loss Purdue crashing the party while also forcing their currently undefeated foe to play in extra game as the No. 5 seed (or lower). Moreover, if any of those three games resulted in a major upset, all of a sudden Clemson even receives a first-round bye as the fourth-highest ranked champion.
Alas, we'll have to wait another few years for that type of can't-miss drama.
Bowl Games by Conference
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 scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee bowls.
American Athletic (seven teams): Cincinnati (Fenway), East Carolina (First Responder), Houston (Gasparilla), Memphis (Independence), SMU (Armed Forces), Tulane (Cotton), UCF (Military)
Atlantic Coast (nine teams): Clemson (Orange), Duke (Duke's Mayo), Florida State (Cheez-It), Louisville (Fenway), North Carolina (Gator), NC State (Sun), Pittsburgh (Holiday), Syracuse (Birmingham), Wake Forest (Military)
Big 12 (eight teams): Baylor (Liberty), Kansas (First Responder), Kansas State (Sugar), Oklahoma (Cheez-It), Oklahoma State (Texas), TCU (Fiesta), Texas (Alamo), Texas Tech (Guaranteed Rate)
Big Ten (nine teams): Illinois (ReliaQuest), Iowa (Pinstripe), Maryland (Music City), Michigan (Fiesta), Minnesota (Duke's Mayo), Ohio State (Rose), Penn State (Cotton), Purdue (Citrus), Wisconsin (Quick Lane)
Conference USA (six teams): Middle Tennessee (Hawai'i), North Texas (New Mexico), Rice (Cure), UAB (Bahamas), UTSA (Boca Raton), Western Kentucky (New Orleans)
Independents (four teams): BYU (Birmingham), Connecticut (Independence), Liberty (Guaranteed Rate), Notre Dame (Pinstripe)
Mid-American (six teams): Bowling Green (Camellia), Buffalo (Cure), Eastern Michigan (Arizona), Miami-Ohio (Bahamas), Ohio (Quick Lane), Toledo (Famous Idaho Potato)
Mountain West (eight teams): Air Force (Myrtle Beach), Boise State (LA), Fresno State (New Mexico), San Diego State (Hawai'i), San José State (Arizona), UNLV (Frisco), Utah State (LendingTree), Wyoming (Famous Idaho Potato)
Pac-12 (seven teams): Oregon (Alamo), Oregon State (Holiday), UCLA (Sun), USC (Peach), Utah (Las Vegas), Washington (Rose), Washington State (LA)
Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Orange), Arkansas (Music City), Florida (Liberty), Georgia (Peach), Kentucky (Texas), LSU (Citrus), Mississippi State (Gator), Missouri (Gasparilla), Ole Miss (ReliaQuest), South Carolina (Las Vegas), Tennessee (Sugar)
Sun Belt (seven teams): Coastal Carolina (New Orleans), Georgia Southern (Myrtle Beach), Louisiana-Lafayette (Camellia), Marshall (Armed Forces), South Alabama (Boca Raton), Southern Miss (Frisco), Troy (LendingTree)
Kerry Miller covers college football, men's college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.