After 569 games and more than two months of waiting, the first official College Football Playoff standings of the 2016 season are finally here.
Texas A&M at No. 4 with undefeated Washington at No. 5 was the biggest surprise of the night—followed closely by Penn State debuting at No. 12.
The decision makes some sense. The Aggies have wins over Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas and ranked-at-the-time UCLA, while the Huskies have "only" beaten Utah, Stanford, Oregon State and Idaho.
But these are merely current rankings rather than projections. They don't take into consideration the fact that Texas A&M needs Alabama to lose two games in order to play for the SEC championship, while Washington is clearly the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 and likely to win the conference title. If Washington keeps winning, it will get into the College Football Playoff.
Louisville at No. 7 was also surprising and more than a bit troublesome for the Cardinals' playoff hopes. With games remaining against unranked Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston and Kentucky, they've already done just about all they can do to impress the committee. At this point, they're left to root for disaster for the top teams.
It's still early in the season, though, and a lot will change. Just look at this past week: The top six teams survived without suffering a loss, but not one of them won by a double-digit margin. And of the other 15 ranked teams in action, more than half (eight) suffered a loss.
There's no telling what Week 10 will bring, but here are our latest projections of every bowl pairing with just four weeks remaining until conference championships week.
|College Football Playoff Projection|
|Peach Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington|
|Fiesta Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan|
The committee may not agree, but Washington stays ahead of Texas A&M in these projections.
With four teams in the initial CFP rankings (No. 5 Washington, No. 15 Colorado, No. 16 Utah and No. 25 Washington State), an undefeated Pac-12 title would hold a lot of weight for the Huskies. And until they lose a game, that will remain their projected outcome.
Before looking too far ahead, though, let's take a look back at what was a stressful week for most of the teams firmly in the running for the national championship.
Michigan led by 20 at Michigan State early in the fourth quarter only to be out-gained 256 yards to 41 the rest of the way as the Spartans made things a bit more interesting. Clemson and Washington both prevailed against ranked foes with touchdowns on their final drives (ignoring the game-ending kneels). Louisville got all it could handle at Virginia, scoring with just 13 seconds remaining to avoid the upset. And Ohio State struggled at home against Northwestern in what looked an awful lot like a battle between two evenly matched teams.
For all that drama, however, there was only one minor change in our projected top four from last week, and that's Clemson moving ahead of Michigan to No. 2.
Where you stand on that switch boils down to how you answer this question: Is quality of play or quality of opponent more important for an undefeated team?
If you prefer quality of play, you want to see the Wolverines at No. 2. They have decimated most of their opponents, winning by an average score of 46.6-11.6. The dominant wins over Rutgers and Illinois don't mean much, but those early blowouts of Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado and Penn State all look great now that those teams are in position to play in a bowl game.
But they don't have a road win over a team with three or more wins and the one team they didn't blow out (Wisconsin) is their only opponent thus far with a great shot at a New Year's Six bowl.
Clemson, on the other hand, has had a lot of close calls this season, only winning three of its eight games by a margin of more than seven points. However, they have four road wins over teams with a combined record of 20-12, as well as home wins over one-loss Louisville and one-loss Troy.
As things currently stand, the Tigers have undoubtedly faced the more difficult schedule. By season's end, though, that pendulum should swing back in Michigan's favor with the season-ending road game against Ohio State looming large.
|Non-Playoff New Year's Six Games|
|Orange Bowl||Dec. 30||Louisville (7-1) vs. Florida (6-1)|
|Rose Bowl||Jan. 2||Ohio State (7-1) vs. Utah (7-2)|
|Sugar Bowl||Jan. 2||Texas A&M (7-1) vs. Oklahoma (6-2)|
|Cotton Bowl||Jan. 2||Western Michigan (8-0) vs. Wisconsin (6-2)|
There is significantly more shake-up in this group, as Boise State, Nebraska and West Virginia all dropped out of position for a New Year's Six game by kissing their perfect seasons goodbye.
Taking Boise State's spot as the representative from the "Group of Five" is Western Michigan. The Broncos avoided a Week 9 upset by simply not playing, benefiting from others while on a bye. If they can get by a desperate Ball State team Tuesday night, they should have little difficulty at least getting to Week 13 with their undefeated record intact.
With both West Virginia and Baylor losing, the Big 12's new representative in the Sugar Bowl is Oklahoma. Early losses to Houston and Ohio State almost buried the Sooners, but they have responded to average 51.4 points per game in their five Big 12 wins, including Saturday's 56-3 evisceration of Kansas.
And it only seems right that Wisconsin replace Nebraska, considering it was the Badgers who handed the Cornhuskers their first loss of the season. Yes, Wisconsin has two losses while Nebraska has just one, but the Badgers lost by just one touchdown each to Michigan and Ohio State and has wins over Nebraska, LSU, Iowa and Akron. Nebraska's best win of the season might be the home game against Wyoming.
If the Cornhuskers can win at Ohio State this week, we'll strongly consider pushing them back ahead of the Badgers. But even that might not be enough. Without the zero in the loss column, this team isn't anywhere near as appealing.
|Other Bowl Games|
|Camellia Bowl||Dec. 17||Akron (5-4) vs. Arkansas State (3-4)|
|Cure Bowl||Dec. 17||Troy (6-1) vs. Temple (6-3)|
|Las Vegas Bowl||Dec. 17||Boise State (7-1) vs. Arizona State (5-4)|
|New Mexico Bowl||Dec. 17||San Diego State (7-1) vs. W. Kentucky (6-3)|
|New Orleans Bowl||Dec. 17||So. Miss (5-3) vs. Appalachian State (6-2)|
|Miami Beach Bowl||Dec. 19||Memphis (5-3) vs. Old Dominion (5-3)|
|Boca Raton Bowl||Dec. 20||Central Florida (4-4) vs. Toledo (6-2)|
|Poinsettia Bowl||Dec. 21||BYU (4-4) vs. Wyoming (6-2)|
|Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||Dec. 22||Ohio (6-3) vs. New Mexico (5-3)|
|Armed Forces Bowl||Dec. 23||Navy (5-2) vs. Texas Tech (4-4)|
|Bahamas Bowl||Dec. 23||Central Michigan (5-4) vs. SMU (4-4)|
|Dollar General Bowl||Dec. 23||Eastern Michigan (5-4) vs. Idaho (4-4)|
|Hawaii Bowl||Dec. 24||Air Force (5-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (6-3)|
|Independence Bowl||Dec. 26||Wake Forest (5-3) vs. Ole Miss (3-5)|
|Quick Lane Bowl||Dec. 26||Northwestern (4-4) vs. Miami (4-4)|
|St. Petersburg Bowl||Dec. 26||Houston (6-2) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-2)|
|Cactus Bowl||Dec. 27||Texas (4-4) vs. California (4-4)|
|Heart of Dallas Bowl||Dec. 27||Cincinnati (4-4) vs. Notre Dame (3-5)|
|Holiday Bowl||Dec. 27||Minnesota (6-2) vs. Washington State (6-2)|
|Military Bowl||Dec. 27||Syracuse (4-4) vs. South Florida (7-2)|
|Foster Farms Bowl||Dec. 28||Stanford (5-3) vs. Indiana (4-4)|
|Pinstripe Bowl||Dec. 28||Maryland (5-3) vs. Georgia Tech (5-3)|
|Russell Athletic Bowl||Dec. 28||West Virginia (6-1) vs. Virginia Tech (6-2)|
|Texas Bowl||Dec. 28||Baylor (6-1) vs. Tennessee (5-3)|
|Alamo Bowl||Dec. 29||Oklahoma State (6-2) vs. Colorado (6-2)|
|Belk Bowl||Dec. 29||North Carolina (6-2) vs. Kentucky (5-3)|
|Birmingham Bowl||Dec. 29||Tulsa (6-2) vs. Army (5-3)|
|Arizona Bowl||Dec. 30||South Alabama (4-4) vs. Hawaii (4-5)|
|Liberty Bowl||Dec. 30||Kansas State (5-3) vs. South Carolina (4-4)|
|Music City Bowl||Dec. 30||Iowa (5-3) vs. Georgia (4-4)|
|Sun Bowl||Dec. 30||Pittsburgh (5-3) vs. USC (5-3)|
|Citrus Bowl||Dec. 31||Nebraska (7-1) vs. Auburn (6-2)|
|TaxSlayer Bowl||Dec. 31||Florida State (5-3) vs. Arkansas (5-3)|
|Outback Bowl||Jan. 2||Penn State (6-2) vs. LSU (5-2)|
Here are some awards for the other 34 games.
—Per usual, the award for "Best Non-NY6 Game" goes to the Russell Athletic Bowl. This week, the projection for that ACC-Big 12 clash features a pair of neighbors in the form of West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech. VT's Jerod Evans has quietly had a phenomenal season, throwing for 21 touchdowns against just two interceptions. That efficiency would be put to the test against a stingy Mountaineers defense.
(Honorable mentions for the Alamo Bowl, Citrus Bowl and Outback Bowl. Based on the way the conference tie-ins are structured, all four games are bound to feature juicy matchups.)
—On the opposite end of that spectrum, the award for "Most Disappointing Pair of Teams" goes to the Music City Bowl. Way back in August, Iowa and Georgia were Nos. 17 and 18 in the preseason AP poll—one spot ahead of Louisville, if you can believe that. Since then, it's been one disappointment after another for the Hawkeyes and Bulldogs. It's almost surprising they have enough wins to be in contention for a bowl game.
—The award for "Most Likely Turnover Bonanza" goes to the Alamo Bowl. Colorado and Oklahoma State are among the nation's leaders in turnovers forced at 18 and 19, respectively. They're both plus-10 in turnover margin, though, and have only thrown a combined five interceptions. It would be an interesting battle between turnover-averse offenses and turnover-forcing defenses.
—The award for "Game We'd Love to See in Hoops" goes to the Belk Bowl. Kentucky and North Carolina are No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in all-time college basketball wins and are both in their usual place in the preseason Top 10. The kings of the hardwood haven't squared off on the gridiron since UNC's 16-13 win in 1990, but as long as the Wildcats can win one more game—they host Austin Peay on the 19th, so go ahead and book it—it's possible they get matched up against each other.
—And, finally, the award for "Game Most Likely to Be Completely Bonkers" goes to the Las Vegas Bowl. Anything's on the table when Boise State is involved, and Arizona State has played in more than its fair share of wild games this season. There are some enticing pairings on this list, but this is the one we'll be not-so-secretly hoping comes to fruition.