College Football Playoff Standings: Final 2022 Bowl Game Projections
The 2022 college football regular season is all over except for the shouting.
But, buddy, Alabama fans have been doing a LOT of shouting since losses by USC and TCU during Championship Week.
Will those upsets be enough for the Crimson Tide to jump from No. 6 on Tuesday to No. 4 on Sunday?
Most likely not, but USC's loss to Utah probably did pave the way for Ohio State to sneak into the playoff despite that ugly home loss to Michigan one week ago.
Before we get on with the bowl projections, here are the new Top 25 rankings from Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Morgan Moriarty, Kerry Miller and Brad Shepard—where Alabama is unanimously NOT in the Top Four, by the way.
1. Georgia (Previous Week: 1)
2. Michigan (2)
3. TCU (3)
4. Ohio State (5)
5. Alabama (6)
6. USC (4)
7. Tennessee (7)
8. Utah (11)
9. Penn State (8)
10. Clemson (9)
11. Washington (10)
12. Kansas State (12)
13. Florida State (13)
14. Oregon State (16)
15. Tulane (17)
16. UCLA (15)
17. Oregon (18)
18. LSU (14)
19. Notre Dame (19)
20. South Carolina (20)
21. UTSA (24)
22. Texas (21)
23. Troy (NR)
24. Fresno State (NR)
25. Mississippi State (NR)
Other Receiving Votes: Cincinnati, UCF
In our bowl projections throughout the regular season, we highlighted noteworthy teams that moved up and down from one week to the next. But considering not a whole lot changed during championship week, we're instead focusing on which bowl teams finished the year most significantly better or worse than their preseason expectations.
Before we dive into that, let's point out a few teams that surprisingly didn't even make it to bowl season. Texas A&M was No. 6 in the preseason Associated Press poll but finished 5-7. Michigan State and Miami also went 5-7 after debuting at Nos. 15 and 16, respectively.
And though they weren't ranked in the Top 25, Auburn, Appalachian State and Nebraska each received at least one vote in the preseason poll before missing the cut.
Now, without further ado, where will the 82 bowl-eligible teams land?
Bowl games are broken into tiers and presented in ascending order of magnitude.
Group of 5 Bowls
Bahamas (Dec. 16): Miami (Ohio) (6-6) vs. UAB (6-6)
Cure (Dec. 16): Buffalo (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (6-6)
Frisco (Dec. 17): New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Rice (5-7)
LendingTree (Dec. 17): Boise State (9-4) vs. Troy (11-2)
New Mexico (Dec. 17): North Texas (7-6) vs. Utah State (6-6)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 19): Air Force (9-3) vs. Georgia Southern (6-6)
Boca Raton (Dec. 20): South Alabama (10-2) vs. UTSA (11-2)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 20): Ohio (9-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
New Orleans (Dec. 21): Coastal Carolina (9-3) vs. Western Kentucky (8-5)
Armed Forces (Dec. 22): East Carolina (7-5) vs. Marshall (8-4)
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 (6-6)
Arizona (Dec. 30): Eastern Michigan (8-4) vs. San José State (7-4)
Underlined teams have accepted invitations to that bowl.
Better Than Expected: Eastern Michigan Eagles
Picked to finish fifth in the MAC West in the preseason, Eastern Michigan posted the best overall record in its division and the second-best record in the conference.
Granted, the Eagles played only three games against teams that qualified for bowl season and ended up losing each against Buffalo, Louisiana and Toledo. But they did pull off a shocking upset at Arizona State early in the year as a three-touchdown underdog.
That was a critical result for a team that won at least eight games for the first time since it finished 10-2 in 1987. Eastern Michigan will also be seeking its first bowl win in 35 years.
Didn't Live Up to the Hype: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns
ULL was 34-5 over the previous three seasons, including a 22-2 regular-season record against Sun Belt competition. And despite losing head coach Billy Napier and top running back Montrell Johnson to Florida as well as quarterback Levi Lewis to graduation, the Ragin' Cajuns were still picked as the team to beat in the Sun Belt's West Division.
But luck in close games just was not on their side this year.
Over the previous two seasons, Louisiana was 13-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer. In 2022, they went 0-3. Plus, they lost to Rice and Southern Miss, both of which were one-possession games with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
At least the Ragin' Cajuns made it to bowl season, though. Appalachian State was picked to win the Sun Belt's East Division but went just 4-6 against FBS competition and missed the cut.
Group of 5 vs. Power 5 Bowls
Fenway (Dec. 17): Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Louisville (7-5)
LA (Dec. 17): Fresno State (9-4) vs. Washington State (7-5)
Gasparilla (Dec. 23): Houston (7-5) vs. Missouri (6-6)
Quick Lane (Dec. 26): Liberty (8-4) vs. Toledo (8-5)
Birmingham (Dec. 27): BYU (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
First Responder (Dec. 27): Baylor (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)
Military (Dec. 28): UCF (9-4) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
Underlined teams have accepted invitations to that bowl.
Better Than Expected: Syracuse Orange
Syracuse was supposed to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division, and it wasn't even close. There were 164 ballots in the preseason media poll, and the Orange received 201 points. That means at least three-quarters of voters projected them for last place.
Lo and behold, the Orange started 6-0 and climbed to as high as 14th in the AP poll. They also put up one heck of a fight at Clemson in their first loss of the season, looking like the second-best team in the league heading into the final weekend of October.
But that was the beginning of a five-game losing skid that brought Syracuse all the way down to this tier. But even a 7-5 finish with wins over NC State, Louisville, Virginia and Purdue is better than anyone guessed four months ago.
Didn't Live Up to the Hype: Houston Cougars
We could also go with 6-6 Baylor in this spot, but we'll address the preseason Big 12 favorite a little later.
By the slimmest of margins (243 votes to Cincinnati's 242), Houston was the preseason pick to win the AAC. The Cougars went 12-2 last season and opened the year at No. 24 in the AP poll.
Suffice it to say, expectations were high for the returning quarterback-wide receiver duo of Clayton Tune and Nathaniel Dell.
And while those two offensive weapons fared extremely well—Tune accounted for 42 touchdowns, Dell 1,354 receiving yards and 15 scores—the Houston defense took a colossal step backward.
The Cougars allowed 20.4 points and 301.5 yards per game in 2021, but those numbers ballooned to 33.5 and 430.0. They held every foe to 400 total yards or fewer last year but managed to do that only three times in 2022.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential to Be Great
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 27): Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Wisconsin (6-6)
Holiday (Dec. 28): Oregon State (9-3) vs. Pittsburgh (8-4)
Liberty (Dec. 28): Arkansas (6-6) vs. Kansas (6-6)
Texas (Dec. 28): Florida (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Iowa (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Minnesota (8-4) vs. NC State (8-4)
Sun (Dec. 30): Duke (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)
Music City (Dec. 31): Kentucky (7-5) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Better Than Expected: Kansas Jayhawks
With an honorable mention to Duke and Texas Tech, neither of which was projected for a bowl game in the preseason, Kansas is the obvious choice.
There were 41 ballots in the preseason Big 12 media poll, and Kansas received 48 votes. That's even more of a unanimous last-place finish than Syracuse was projected for in the ACC. And understandably so, as Kansas was 23-118 over the previous 12 years, not once posting more than three wins in a season.
As such, the Jayhawks' 5-0 start was nothing short of shocking, and it's a darn shame quarterback Jalon Daniels got hurt against TCU. Kansas looked like USC Lite: woeful on defense but capable of dropping 42 points on any foe. But with Daniels out for over a month, the offense just wasn't the same, and the Jayhawks went 1-6 down the stretch.
At least KU won an early November game against Oklahoma State to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2008.
Didn't Live Up to the Hype: Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin wasn't quite a unanimous favorite to win the Big Ten West, but the Badgers did receive 31 of 36 first-place votes and later debuted at No. 18 in the AP Top 25.
But after a 2-3 start with blowout losses at Ohio State (understandable) and at home against Illinois (yikes), Paul Chryst got the boot and the Badgers darn near messed around and missed bowl season for what would have been the first time since 2001.
Wisconsin typically has one of the 10 stingiest defenses in the nation, but the Badgers never got there this year. Replacing linebackers Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn and defensive backs Scott Nelson, Collin Wilder and Caesar Williams proved to be too tall of a task.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Las Vegas (Dec. 17): Oregon (9-3) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
Alamo (Dec. 29): Texas (8-4) vs. Washington (10-2)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Florida State (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (6-6)
Gator (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (8-4) vs. North Carolina (9-4)
Citrus (Jan. 2): LSU (9-4) vs. Purdue (8-5)
ReliaQuest (Jan. 2): Illinois (8-4) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
Better Than Expected: Washington Huskies
Under Chris Petersen, Washington was typically at its best when the defense was thriving. From 2015 to 2019, the Huskies ranked in the top 15 in scoring defense each year and top 15 in scoring offense just once—when they made the College Football Playoff in 2016.
But in Kalen DeBoer's first year at the helm, Washington became an offensive juggernaut that won 10 games despite its mediocre defense.
Led by Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback, the Huskies averaged 40.8 points per game and even scored 32 and 38 in their losses to UCLA and Arizona State, respectively.
Quite the turnaround for a team that averaged 21.5 points while going 4-8 one season ago.
Getting to avoid USC and Utah in league play certainly helped Washington's cause, but that road win over Oregon in mid-November was no joke.
Didn't Live Up to the Hype: Oklahoma Sooners
We previously mentioned that Baylor going 6-6 was a major disappointment, but Oklahoma's .500 record was even more surprising.
The Bears (No. 10) and Sooners (No. 9) opened the season in the AP Top 10 atop the preseason media list to win the Big 12. But with a new head coach Brent Venables, who had to replace an absurd number of key transfers, Oklahoma failed to win seven regular-season games for the first time since 1998.
The shocking thing is how bad the defense was since Venables was a defensive coordinator for nearly a quarter century.
The Sooners started out looking good against a weak nonconference slate (UTEP, Kent State and Nebraska). In Big 12 play, though, they allowed 36.1 points and 496.4 yards per game, punctuated by a 51-48 loss at Texas Tech to end the regular season.
Among teams in this tier, Oklahoma was the worst by far. But with TCU and Kansas State destined for the New Year's Six and Texas the only other Big 12 team that won at least eight games, the Sooners should get the nod for what would still be a high-profile Cheez-It Bowl showdown with Florida State.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Orange (Dec. 30): Clemson (11-2) vs. Tennessee (10-2)
Sugar (Dec. 31): Alabama (10-2) vs. Kansas State (10-3)
Cotton (Jan. 2): Tulane (11-2) vs. USC (11-2)
Rose (Jan. 2): Penn State (10-2) vs. Utah (10-3)
The good news for USC is that, despite losing 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Trojans should at least be headed to a New Year's Six bowl.
That feels like a disappointment since they were just one win from punching their ticket to the CFP.
Still, what an incredible 180 it was in Year 1 under Lincoln Riley.
USC was a 4-8 disaster last season, but it's going to be in the Top 10 of the final polls for just the second time in the past decade. And with likely Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams unable to enter the NFL draft until after next season, the Trojans should be right back in the CFP mix again in 2023.
Because of that conference championship game outcome, Utah is headed back to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive year. And the Utes figure to face Penn State in the granddaddy with Michigan and Ohio State en route to the playoff.
Speaking of incredible 180s, though, how about Tulane?
After beating UCF 45-28 in the AAC championship, Tulane has gone from 2-10 in 2021 to 11-2 with a spot in the Cotton Bowl in 2022.
Per The Athletic's Chris Vannini, that nine-win increase ties the FBS record for the largest one-year improvement in win total. Thus, a win over USC in the Cotton Bowl would put the Green Wave in sole possession of that record.
It's just the third time in program history that Tulane has won at least 11 games in a season. Tommy Bowden led the Green Wave to a perfect record in 1998 before relocating to Clemson, and Bernie Bierman led them to 11 wins in 1931 prior to becoming the head coach at Minnesota.
Looking forward to seeing if Willie Fritz coaches them in the Cotton Bowl before making a similar leap. (To Georgia Tech?)
College Football Playoff
Peach (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (13-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (11-1)
Fiesta (Dec. 31): No. 2 Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-1)
National Championship Game (Jan. 9): No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan
Is it fair that USC was penalized for losing its 13th game while Ohio State got to sit at home and do nothing on championship weekend?
But it also wasn't fair five years ago when undefeated No. 4 Wisconsin lost in the Big Ten Championship Game to No. 8 Ohio State and idle Alabama took the Badgers' spot in the playoff field.
At least it's consistent?
That Pac-12 title tilt should be the only game that mattered this weekend for CFP purposes, though.
Some will argue that TCU's overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game should open the door for No. 6 Alabama to climb into the playoff, but that would be just plain wrong.
It was one thing for one-loss Alabama to sneak in five years ago when its lone loss was on the road against an excellent Auburn team, or for one-loss Ohio State to sneak in this year when its lone loss was against arguably the best team in the country.
But a two-loss, non-division winner with only five wins over bowl teams going to the playoff in place of a team that went 12-0 with eight wins over bowl teams?
That would be an injustice.
It really feels like the argument is only happening because it's Alabama and we're so conditioned to argue about something heading into Selection Sunday.
That said, we could argue about the seeding, both between Georgia and Michigan for No. 1 and between TCU and Ohio State for No. 3. But we've got the Dawgs hanging on to the top spot and facing the Buckeyes in what should be an unbelievable Peach Bowl.
Bowl Games by Conference
Here is the breakdown of bowl projections listed alphabetically by conference. New Year's Six games are italicized and underlined to help those of you who scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee bowls.this
American Athletic (seven teams): Cincinnati (Fenway), East Carolina (Armed Forces), Houston (Gasparilla), Memphis (Independence), SMU (First Responder), Tulane (Cotton), UCF (Military)
Atlantic Coast (nine teams): Clemson (Orange), Duke (Sun), Florida State (Cheez-It), Louisville (Fenway), North Carolina (Gator), NC State (Duke's Mayo), Pittsburgh (Holiday), Syracuse (Birmingham), Wake Forest (Military)
Big 12 (eight teams): Baylor (First Responder), Kansas (Liberty), 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 (Peach), Penn State (Rose), Purdue (Citrus), Wisconsin (Guaranteed Rate)
Conference USA (six teams): Middle Tennessee (Hawai‘i), North Texas (New Mexico), Rice (Frisco), UAB (Bahamas), UTSA (Boca Raton), Western Kentucky (New Orleans)
Independents (five teams): BYU (Birmingham), Connecticut (Independence), Liberty (Quick Lane), New Mexico State (Frisco), Notre Dame (Pinstripe)
Mid-American (six teams): Bowling Green (Camellia), Buffalo (Cure), Eastern Michigan (Arizona), Miami (Ohio) (Bahamas), Ohio (Famous Idaho Potato), Toledo (Quick Lane)
Mountain West (seven teams): Air Force (Myrtle Beach), Boise State (LendingTree), Fresno State (LA), San Diego State (Hawai'i), San José State (Arizona), Utah State (New Mexico), Wyoming (Famous Idaho Potato)
Pac-12 (seven teams): Oregon (Las Vegas), Oregon State (Holiday), UCLA (Sun), USC (Cotton), Utah (Rose), Washington (Alamo), Washington State (LA)
Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar), Arkansas (Liberty), Florida (Texas), Georgia (Peach), Kentucky (Music City), LSU (Citrus), Mississippi State (Gator), Missouri (Gasparilla), Ole Miss (ReliaQuest), South Carolina (Las Vegas), Tennessee (Orange)
Sun Belt (seven teams): Coastal Carolina (New Orleans), Georgia Southern (Myrtle Beach), Louisiana (Camellia), Marshall (Armed Forces), South Alabama (Boca Raton), Southern Mississippi (Cure), 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.