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Bowl Projections 2015: Predicting Playoff Standings and Bowl Games Post Week 8

Bryan Fischer@BryanDFischerNational College Football Columnist October 26, 2015

Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, left, is stopped on a running play by Iowa State defensive back Jomal Wiltz (17) and linebacker Brian Mills (25) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

There was only one game between two Top 25 teams on Saturday but a number of somewhat major upsets was still enough to cause some shuffling to the postseason outlook.

First, Georgia Tech finally looked like the preseason ACC Coastal favorite by pulling off the shocker and beating Florida State on a last-minute blocked field goal that few could have seen coming. That the Yellow Jackets were even in that game based on how they played in the first half of the season was surprising enough, but to beat the winners of 28 straight ACC games with such a memorable play added even more to the ending in Atlanta.

Out west in another shocking turn of events, USC throttled Utah at the Coliseum to show once again the Trojans are talented enough to beat anybody (and, as we’ve also seen, lose to anybody too). That changed the dynamic a bit in the Pac-12 race and certainly altered the perception of the Utes for the vast majority of the country as well.

Mike Stewart/Associated Press

But those two results don’t have quite the effect on the postseason picture of something that happened on Monday. While it appeared on Sunday that there would be only a few minor changes to the New Year’s Six picture with the Utah/Florida State losses, the projected College Football Playoff final four was expected to remain intact as it had been last week.

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Then Baylor announced on Monday afternoon that quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the season and would undergo surgery to repair damage to his neck. In will step true freshman signal-caller Jarrett Stidham for the Bears.

To be fair, it remains completely feasible for Baylor to still run the table in the Big 12 and make the playoff. But we’re in the business of projecting the rest of the season and figuring out what postseason partners will make of things. Russell only led the country in five categories and was a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy. Now, a young and inexperienced quarterback will take over for him with five of the season’s six toughest games left on the schedule. That includes trips to both undefeated Oklahoma State and TCU.

There was bound to be a drop-off in the team’s production due simply to the opposition. Factoring in losing the starting quarterback only magnifies things. Stidham is a really good prospect, but he’ll be put in the tough position of having to live up to Cardale Jones-sized expectations now.

Get mad all you want, Bears fans. But until proved otherwise, the team has gone from playoff front-runners and likely Big 12 champs to simply another flawed but good team in a season full of them.

With that said, on to the bowl projections. A hearty disclaimer that these are projecting out the rest of the season and as such are not completely reflective of the state of college football at the moment.

  • Here are the full Top 25 rankings. The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first set of rankings NEXT Tuesday, on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
  • Given how tough the Big 12 will be in November, we’re anticipating that both TCU and Baylor lose at least once along the way to the postseason. Both will remain good enough to earn a New Year’s Six bowl game but once again can’t do enough to justify a spot in the playoff. Getting left out two years in a row from the final four may cause a fit in the league offices but at least it forces Big 12 teams to significantly bump up their nonconference schedules in the future.
  • The biggest beneficiary to the Baylor news may very well be Alabama. The Tide sneaked by Tennessee at home and still have a dicey path to another SEC title but at this point, they’re probably the team you can trust the most in that conference due to Nick Saban and the overall talent level in Tuscaloosa. They can’t afford a loss, though, that’s for sure.
  • Dabo Swinney could face his alma mater in a semifinal pitting Clemson against Alabama. He's long been mentioned as a replacement once Saban decides to retire and this game could help lend legitimacy to that. If nothing else, it's a fun sub-plot to the game.
  • The Cotton Bowl is technically a few miles closer to Columbus than the Orange Bowl, but the committee will likely give top-seeded Ohio State its semifinal in South Florida as a way to give it an actual geographic advantage like it should. For one, it keeps it in the Eastern time zone and plays on the fact that the Orange Bowl has a past relationship with the Big Ten and Ohio State. Plus it forces No. 4 seed Stanford to travel across the country at the same time. That gives the Buckeyes a nod over Clemson when it comes to semifinal sites.

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  • From a bowl committee’s perspective, it's a tough swing for the Fiesta Bowl, which went from hosting Notre Dame last week to featuring an old SWC matchup between small fanbases in Baylor and Houston. At least it’ll get plenty of points in that contest.
  • NFL scouts have to love a potential Sugar Bowl between TCU receiver Josh Doctson and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
  • We’ll get a great glimpse as to what the committee thinks about the "Group of Five" race when it releases its standings next Tuesday but for now, Houston remains the pick to get the bid out of the AAC in part because of its schedule. It’ll host Memphis at home off a bye while the Tigers have to play Navy the week before they play the Cougars. Then Justin Fuente’s team has to travel to Temple. That’s three tough games right in a row.
  • Miami has the talent to finish better than 6-6 this year, but it could still get left behind when it comes to the ACC bowl order thanks to having an apathetic fanbase and an interim head coach. If you want to know why it winds up in Orlando and the Cure Bowl instead of a better game, that would be some of the factors.
  • There are a couple of interesting matchups in non-NY6 bowl games. Those include a good Oklahoma team against UCLA in the Alamo, Leonard Fournette and LSU taking on Michigan’s stiff defense in the Citrus Bowl and a cool meeting of resurgent academic powers Duke and Cal in the Sun Bowl.
  • We’re bound to get a few sneaky good (i.e wild) games in the Bahamas Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl with some potential New Year’s Six contenders falling to those spots. Bowling Green/Western Kentucky will feature a pair of promising head coaches with exciting offenses while Toledo/Georgia Southern will do the same. The brand names may not be much, but real college football fans should be excited over the prospect of these four teams hooking up in the postseason.
  • Speaking of head coaching searches, could Virginia Tech’s date at the Independence Bowl be the last game for Frank Beamer? And could it serve as an audition for Rich Rodriguez to take over in Blacksburg? Yes, it certainly could.
  • FIU, Southern Miss and Buffalo in bowl games are proof you can go from awful to the postseason in two years or less.

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Bryan Fischer is a national columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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