With five of the Top Nine teams losing in Week 11, it was anyone's guess what the College Football Playoff standings would look like beyond Alabama at No. 1. In the collective eyes of the selection committee, though, it'll be No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Clemson for the penultimate week of the regular season.
Beyond those four, the committee had a few tricks up its sleeve, per usual.
Boise State jumped Western Michigan and is now the highest-ranked Group of Five team, even though WMU is one of just two undefeated teams in the country. Three-loss USC flew right by one-loss West Virginia to No. 13. And Wisconsin didn't move an inch from No. 7 despite winning by a 45-point margin in a week where three of the top four teams lost.
But what will the Top Four look like in three weeks when it actually matters? Ohio State and Louisville are in the Top Five for now, but can either one stay there if it doesn't even get the chance to play for a conference championship?
Based on projected outcomes for the rest of the season, here's what the matchups for all 40 bowl games look like, starting with the big ones.
|College Football Playoff Projection|
|Peach Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Wisconsin|
|Fiesta Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State|
How did I possibly come to this conclusion after an upset-laden Week 11?
Great question. Let's first agree on two things:
- A three-loss team will not make the College Football Playoff. The one exception might be USC if the Trojans win out, get some help from Colorado to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game and beat Washington for the second time in less than a month. However, if they beat UCLA and Notre Dame, they'll knock those teams out of bowl contention, leaving them with just three or four (depending on Arizona State) wins over bowl teams. That's not a great resume.
- No Group of Five team is getting an invite. Sorry, Western Michigan, but even if you run the table to get to 13-0, your best win of the season (Northwestern) is only as good as Ohio State's seventh-best win. The Cotton Bowl will have to do.
Given those parameters, there are 16 teams still mathematically in the running for the Final Four.
If we learned anything this past week, it's that it is never safe to assume anything in this sport. However, let's go ahead and assume a few results for the next three weeks to eliminate most of those teams.
Week 12 assumptions: Florida loses at LSU, Oklahoma loses at West Virginia and Washington State loses at Colorado. Everyone else holds serve against inferior opposition.
Week 13 assumptions: Michigan loses at Ohio State and Utah loses at Colorado. Once again, every other team wins the games it should.
That would set up the following conference championship games on Dec. 3: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech, Wisconsin vs. Penn State, Washington vs. Colorado and Alabama vs. Tennessee. In each case, assume the first team listed wins each game. Also assume that Oklahoma State loses at Oklahoma, leaving West Virginia as the Big 12 champion.
Should all that come to pass, it'll be these six teams battling for the three spots behind Alabama.
|Wins Over Bowl Teams|
|Clemson (12-1)||Ohio State (11-1)||Wisconsin (11-2)||Washington (12-1)||W. Virginia (11-1)||Louisville (11-1)|
|at Auburn||vs. Tulsa||vs. LSU||vs. Idaho||vs. BYU||vs. FSU|
|vs. Troy||at Oklahoma||*vs. Akron||vs. Stanford||*vs. Kansas St.||*vs. N.C. State|
|at G. Tech||*vs. Indiana||at Iowa||at Utah||*at Texas Tech||*at Boston Coll.|
|vs. Louisville||at Wisconsin||vs. Nebraska||*at Cal||*vs. TCU||vs. Wake Forest|
|*at Boston Coll.||*vs. N'Western||*at N'Western||***vs. Ariz. St.||*at Texas||**at Houston|
|*vs. N.C. State||vs. Nebraska||**vs. Minnesota||**at Wash. St.||**vs. Oklahoma||***vs. Kentucky|
|at Florida State||*at Maryland||**vs. Penn State||**vs. Colorado||**vs. Baylor|
|**at Wake Forest||**vs. Michigan|
|**vs. S. Carolina|
|**vs. Va. Tech|
*Has not yet become bowl-eligible
***Projected win against team not yet bowl-eligible
As the ACC champion with up to 10 wins over bowl teams, Clemson is clearly the best of the bunch—even though it also clearly has the worst loss of the bunch (vs. Pittsburgh). Gripe about the margin of their victories all you want, but it's possible the Tigers end up playing 11 of their 13 games against bowl teams while stomping their other two opponents (Syracuse and South Carolina State) by a combined margin of 113-0.
After Clemson, Ohio State looks the best, even without playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Four wins over Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska is tough to beat, especially when supported by four other wins over likely bowl teams.
For the fourth and final spot, we can quickly rule out Louisville, even though we would all love to see Lamar Jackson doing his best Vince Young impersonation for the title. The Cardinals simply didn't beat enough quality teams. N.C. State is a stretch to get to six wins, while Boston College is a long shot. Wake Forest is going bowling and Kentucky should, but home wins over those teams don't hold much water. That leaves this resume at little more than a blowout of Florida State and whatever Louisville does to Houston this weekend.
West Virginia can also likely be ruled out. Winning a major conference is nice, but the Big 12 never got off the ground this year and the only noteworthy out-of-conference win for the Mountaineers was a home nail-biter against BYU.
That leaves one-loss Pac-12 champion Washington against two-loss Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the ultimate toss-up. In the end, season-opening games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State will likely be Washington's undoing. The Huskies got some quality in-conference wins, but Wisconsin's win over LSU—and the fact that the Big Ten was clearly the best conference in the country this season—put the Badgers over the top.
However, if Wisconsin were to lose to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game while everything else remains the same, Washington should get into the No. 4 spot ahead of the Nittany Lions.
Now, let's see how many of those assumptions for the next three weeks go horribly awry.
|Non-Playoff New Year's Six Games|
|Orange Bowl||Dec. 30||Louisville (9-1) vs. Penn State (8-2)|
|Rose Bowl||Jan. 2||Michigan (9-1) vs. Washington (9-1)|
|Sugar Bowl||Jan. 2||LSU (6-3) vs. West Virginia (8-1)|
|Cotton Bowl||Jan. 2||Western Michigan (10-0) vs. Colorado (8-2)|
Last week, we were questioning whether the Big Ten could send four teams to New Year's Six games. Now, the debate is whether it might even be able to send five.
Despite Michigan's loss to Iowa, no conference fared better in the aftermath of the Week 11 carnage than the Big Ten. Ohio State and Wisconsin destroyed their competition while Penn State and Nebraska both emerged with hard-fought wins against teams likely headed for a bowl game.
With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State all in the Top Eight of the new CFP standings, the conference clearly has four deserving teams.
Could Nebraska still get into the mix for the Cotton Bowl?
With SEC teams not named Alabama dropping left and right, it's hard to imagine it will have a third resume good enough for a NY6 after sending the Crimson Tide to the CFP and some other team (currently LSU) to the Sugar Bowl.
The Big 12 has three quality candidates in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but Oklahoma still faces each of the other two, West Virginia still faces Baylor and Oklahoma State travels to TCU. It's unlikely that two teams come out of that mess smelling like roses.
The ACC shot itself in the foot this past weekend, as both Virginia Tech and North Carolina suffered bad losses. Even if they both get to 9-3, neither one would have a better resume than a 10-2 Nebraska. A 9-3 Florida State with wins over Ole Miss, Florida, South Florida and Miami would almost certainly rank ahead of the Cornhuskers. However, the Seminoles have yet to put together a three-game winning streak this season, so let's see how they fare against Syracuse and Florida before handing them a spot in the Top 12.
Nebraska's best competition is likely from the Pac-12. Colorado closes the season with home games against 8-2 Washington State and 8-2 Utah—each of which would be significantly more impressive wins than anything Nebraska has done this season. Even if Colorado falters, Utah and USC both have good enough resumes to edge out Nebraska—provided they don't also fall apart down the stretch.
|Other Bowl Games|
|Camellia Bowl||Dec. 17||Troy (8-1) vs. Toledo (8-2)|
|Cure Bowl||Dec. 17||UCF (6-4) vs. Idaho (6-4)|
|Las Vegas Bowl||Dec. 17||Arizona State (5-5) vs. Boise State (9-1)|
|New Mexico Bowl||Dec. 17||Wyoming (7-3) vs. Western Kentucky (8-3)|
|New Orleans Bowl||Dec. 17||Middle Tennessee (6-4) vs. App. State (7-3)|
|Miami Beach Bowl||Dec. 19||Temple (7-3) vs. Southern Miss (5-5)|
|Boca Raton Bowl||Dec. 20||Central Michigan (5-5) vs. SMU (5-5)|
|Poinsettia Bowl||Dec. 21||BYU (6-4) vs. San Diego State (9-1)|
|Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||Dec. 22||New Mexico (7-3) vs. Ohio (7-3)|
|Armed Forces Bowl||Dec. 23||Texas (5-5) vs. Navy (7-2)|
|Bahamas Bowl||Dec. 23||Memphis (6-4) vs. Miami Ohio (5-6)|
|Dollar General Bowl||Dec. 23||E. Michigan (6-4) vs. Arkansas St. (5-4)|
|Hawaii Bowl||Dec. 24||Hawaii (4-7) vs. UTSA (5-5)|
|Independence Bowl||Dec. 26||Kentucky (5-5) vs. Wake Forest (6-4)|
|Quick Lane Bowl||Dec. 26||Army (5-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-4)|
|St. Petersburg Bowl||Dec. 26||Tulsa (7-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-3)|
|Cactus Bowl||Dec. 27||Kansas State (5-4) vs. Colorado State (5-5)|
|Heart of Dallas Bowl||Dec. 27||Texas Tech (4-6) vs. Old Dominion (7-3)|
|Holiday Bowl||Dec. 27||Minnesota (7-3) vs. Utah (8-2)|
|Military Bowl||Dec. 27||South Florida (8-2) vs. N.C. State (5-5)|
|Foster Farms Bowl||Dec. 28||Maryland (5-5) vs. Washington St. (8-2)|
|Pinstripe Bowl||Dec. 28||Miami FL (6-4) vs. Northwestern (5-5)|
|Russell Athletic Bowl||Dec. 28||Oklahoma St. (8-2) vs. Virginia Tech (7-3)|
|Texas Bowl||Dec. 28||Baylor (6-3) vs. Auburn (7-3)|
|Alamo Bowl||Dec. 29||Oklahoma (8-2) vs. USC (7-3)|
|Belk Bowl||Dec. 29||Arkansas (6-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-4)|
|Birmingham Bowl||Dec. 29||Houston (8-2) vs. South Carolina (5-5)|
|Arizona Bowl||Dec. 30||Air Force (7-3) vs. South Alabama (4-5)|
|Liberty Bowl||Dec. 30||TCU (5-4) vs. Georgia (6-4)|
|Music City Bowl||Dec. 30||Indiana (5-5) vs. Ole Miss (5-5)|
|Sun Bowl||Dec. 30||Stanford (7-3) vs. North Carolina (7-3)|
|Citrus Bowl||Dec. 31||Nebraska (8-2) vs. Florida (7-2)|
|TaxSlayer Bowl||Dec. 31||Tennessee (7-3) vs. Florida State (7-3)|
|Outback Bowl||Jan. 2||Iowa (6-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-3)|
In the past, this space was reserved for highlighting intriguing pairings. Instead, let's use it to discuss the bowl bubble.
With 40 bowl games, we need 80 bowl-eligible teams. There are already 58 that have hit the six-win threshold and 39 others knocking on the door with either four or five wins. But with just two games remaining for the majority of those teams, who is actually going to get in?
Before we dive into the grouping of those 39 teams, let's take a gander at Conference USA's bubble teams to demonstrate just how much is still on the line with time running out.
Southern Miss (5-5), Texas-San Antonio (5-5), North Texas (4-6) and Charlotte (4-6) are all within striking distance, each with one game to come against one of the other three. There are only six games remaining involving one of these four teams, but there's no telling whether zero or four of them will get to six wins.
If North Texas beats Southern Miss and UTEP, Charlotte beats Middle Tennessee and UTSA, Southern Miss beats Louisiana Tech and UTSA upsets Texas A&M, all four teams get to six wins and go bowling. If, however, North Texas and Charlotte win the two C-USA battles and all four teams lose their other remaining game, they all finish the season at 5-7.
If you're a fan of a school with a strong APR score and a likely 5-7 record, that's your dream scenario.
Based on difficulty of remaining schedule, the four- and five-win teams were broken down into the following five confidence buckets.
All But Guaranteed To Reach Six Wins (5): Army, Kansas State, Kentucky, Maryland and South Carolina
Each of these teams is already at five wins and has a painfully easy home game remaining.
This coming weekend, Army hosts Morgan State, Kentucky faces Austin Peay and South Carolina draws Western Carolina—FCS schools with a combined record of 4-25. Even though we just watched a completely chaotic Week 11, it’s hard to believe any of those games result in upsets. And the following weekend, Kansas State plays one-win Kansas while Maryland gets its turn against a Rutgers team that has been shut out in three of its last six games.
Should Get the Job Done (8): Arkansas State, Hawaii, Indiana, Miami (OH), Northwestern, Ole Miss, South Alabama and Texas
These are mostly five-win teams with at least one remaining game in which they should be favored but aren't quite a slam dunk to win. There are also a pair of four-win squads, as Hawaii closes out the season against 1-9 Fresno State and 2-8 Massachusetts, while South Alabama still has easy home games remaining against 2-7 New Mexico State and 2-8 FCS school Presbyterian.
The particularly intriguing team in this group remains Miami (OH). The RedHawks opened the season 0-6 before getting starting QB Gus Ragland back from a torn ACL and winning five in a row. But there's still one hurdle remaining. They'll have this weekend off before a home game against Ball State next Tuesday.
Could Go Either Way (6): Arizona State, Southern Methodist, Southern Miss, Texas Christian, Texas-San Antonio and Texas Tech
Add in Texas at 5-5 and North Texas at 4-6, and just about every fanbase in the Lone Star State is going to be holding its breath for the next few weeks.
SMU is 5-5 with two home games remaining, but they're against 8-2 South Florida and 7-2 Navy. TCU is in a similar boat with five wins and tough games left versus 8-2 Oklahoma State, at 5-5 Texas and versus 5-4 Kansas State. And good luck to Texas Tech, which needs to win at Iowa State and versus Baylor to get to six wins.
Will 5-5 Arizona State be able to get one more win? The Sun Devils take their atrocious pass defense on the road against Washington this week before closing out the regular season at Arizona. No one expects them to beat the Huskies, but that rivalry game against the Wildcats is a coin flip.
Stranger Things Have Happened (10): Akron, Boston College, California, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, North Carolina State, North Texas, UNLV
If you've been counting, there are already 58 six-win teams, five almost certain to get there (63 total), eight that should be able to (71 total) and six others that are coin flips (77 total). That means to get to 80 teams, even if every team in the first three buckets gets in, there still needs to be three other teams—most likely from this group—that find a way to get a sixth victory.
The obvious candidates are the four teams with five wins: Akron, Central Michigan, Colorado State and North Carolina State. However, they have a combined seven games remaining, all against teams that are already bowl-eligible. Maybe N.C. State can win a home game against Miami, or maybe Colorado State can take down New Mexico. But it's unlikely that any of those four teams will be favored in any game in the next two weeks.
So, can any of the four-win teams pick up two more victories? Boston College finishes with Connecticut and Wake Forest, neither of which has been anything close to elite on offense. Despite a disappointing season to this point, the Eagles could conceivably win those games. Likewise California, which has home tilts left against Stanford and UCLA.
On Life Support (10): Ball State, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Duke, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, UCLA, Vanderbilt
Here are 10 more teams sitting at 4-6 with almost no hope of winning both of their remaining games.
Notre Dame, for example, needs to win a pair of games against 7-3 teams: Virginia Tech at home and USC on the road. The Fighting Irish showed some life with a 44-6 win over Army, but they'll need to play nearly flawless football the rest of the way, given their opponents.
The team in this group with the best chance of getting in is probably Duke, even though the Blue Devils finish on the road against Pittsburgh and Miami. If they can win just one of those games, though, they'll improve to 5-7 with the best APR score among eligible teams.
There's still a chance that 80 teams get to six wins, but it's not particularly likely. Even if the Conference USA shuffle leads to all four bubble teams getting in, a lot more needs to go right for enough teams to get to six wins.