College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Week 10 Rankings & Bowl Projections
The first College Football Playoff Top 25 will be released Tuesday night, and with it will come a deluge of hot takes about two teams from the SEC (Alabama and Georgia) being ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in one order or the other. Though they would eventually need to face each other in the SEC Championship Game, they are clearly the two favorites to reach the playoff at the moment.
Stick with us and we'll explain why Notre Dame and Clemson are the other two teams looking solid for the remaining openings.
There are already 39 bowl-eligible teams, and 25 others just are one win away from punching their ticket to college football's postseason. We just wrapped up the final single-digit week of the year. That glorious smell in the air isn't pumpkin spice lattes or whatever the aroma of falling leaves may be. It's the smell of marquee bowl projections actually starting to resemble the final product, as opposed to just wild guessing with 50 percent (or more) of the season remaining to be played.
In our pre-Week 10 bowl projections last year, we had three of the four CFP teams right (ranked in the correct spot and everything), and eight of the 12 projected New Year's Six teams ended up reaching one of those bowls.
As far as current non-CFP rankings are concerned, Iowa State was the week's biggest riser, jumping from No. 25 to No. 14 in the AP Top 25 after upsetting TCU. Mississippi State (21) and Arizona (23) slid into the poll after being unranked last week. West Virginia and South Florida fell out of the Top 25. Michigan State and Washington State nearly joined them, falling a combined 18 spots to Nos. 24 and 25, respectively.
Group of Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. San Diego State
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Southern Miss* vs. Idaho
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs. Marshall
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Akron vs. Appalachian State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Air Force* vs. Florida International
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane vs. UTSA
Frisco Bowl: SMU vs. Arkansas State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Ohio vs. UAB
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: UCLA* vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Troy
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Arkansas
Hawai'i Bowl: Houston vs. Colorado State
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas vs. Western Michigan*
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt
Military Bowl: Navy vs. Georgia Tech
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State
There are four teams listed above with asterisks. Those spots are supposed to be reserved for teams from other leagues, but it doesn't appear those conferences are going to have enough teams get to six wins to fill out their spots.
Of particular note is the American Athletic Conference, where only six teams have even reached four wins, one of which (UCF) is projected for a New Year's Six game. Even with 3-5 Tulane projected for the Boca Raton Bowl, there still weren't enough AAC teams to accommodate its tie-ins.
The Sun Belt is also a bit of a conundrum with only four teams with four or more wins. One of its five three-win teams will end up getting to six wins—we're currently projecting Idaho to do so—but it doesn't look likely that the league will get six bowl-eligible teams to fill out its reserved spots.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Colorado
Quick Lane Bowl: Nebraska vs. Syracuse
This has officially become the "Will any of these teams actually become bowl-eligible?" section of the bowl projection exercise. Colorado should be the safest bet at 5-4, but its remaining games are at Arizona State, vs. USC and at Utah. Nothing close to a gimme on that list.
The other three teams are each 4-4, and looking at the schedules, we wouldn't recommend betting much money on any of them going 2-2 or better the rest of the way. Texas Tech does have three straight home games, including one against Baylor, but we'll see how things shake out for a Red Raiders team that has given up at least 40 points four times this season.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Iowa
Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Texas A&M
Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue vs. Washington State
Purdue is the oddball of this group with a 3-5 record, but the Boilermakers still host Illinois and Indiana, who are a combined 0-10 in Big Ten play. And their other two games (at Northwestern; at Iowa) aren't exactly guaranteed losses.
But whether it's Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland or some other Big Ten team, get ready for the Foster Farms Bowl to look like one of the biggest mismatches of bowl season. If they adhere to the selection guidelines, it's the third-best non-NY6 Pac-12 team against the sixth-best non-NY6 Big Ten team. At this point in time, that's 7-2 Washington State against 3-5 Purdue. It'll probably end up more like 8-4 against 6-6, but it's one game where everyone will be riding the Pac-12 team.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Wake Forest vs. South Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Virginia vs. Arizona
Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Speaking of riding the Pac-12 team, is there a more fun-to-watch team in the nation right now than Arizona? The Wildcats are averaging 48.8 points over their last four games, and they also scored 62 and 63 earlier this season before discovering their Superman at QB, Khalil Tate. In this week's edition of "Tate did what?!" the former backup QB threw for 275 yards and ran for 146 more in a 58-37 win over Washington State. The dude is merely averaging 11.7 yards per pass attempt and 13.4 yards per rush attempt.
But, no, we did not intentionally project Tate to play on the same day as Lamar Jackson, so that was a very happy accident. No stranger to silly stat lines of his own, Jackson threw for 330 yards and rushed for 161 in a Week 9 loss to Wake Forest. However, it's painful to think about what Mississippi State would do to Louisville's defense if this matchup were to happen.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Northwestern vs. Florida
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Kentucky
There are only a couple of three-win teams projected for a bowl, but 3-4 Florida is one of them—despite the 42-7 beating the Gators took from Georgia this week. They'll get to rebound against Missouri in Week 10 and have a home game against UAB in Week 12 that they should win. But that's only five wins. They will need to also either win at South Carolina or at home against Florida State in the regular-season finale.
One team that surprisingly doesn't need to win any more games is Kentucky. The Wildcats improved to 6-2 with a victory over Tennessee—a testament to how little heart is left in that Volunteers program at this point. Benny Snell Jr. ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns in making sure Big Blue Nation has a bowl game to watch for a second straight year.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Iowa State
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. USC
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Michigan vs. Stanford
Five of these six teams won in Week 9 and are thus trending in the right direction. The one exception to the rule is North Carolina State, as the Wolfpack were the latest sacrificial lamb in Notre Dame's quest for the College Football Playoff. Prior to that game, NC State had one of the best rush defenses in the country. After getting repeatedly gashed by Josh Adams and Co., though, it's hard to imagine this team upsetting Clemson next week to remain in the hunt for the New Year's Six.
USC and Oklahoma State both went on the road this week and showed up in a huge way on offense after brutal performances the previous week. The Cowboys and Trojans combined for 98 points this Saturday, compared to 27 in Week 8, and they looked like teams that are still going to make some noise and potentially win their respective conference championships.
One other offense in this group that looked good for the first time all season was Michigan. It took more than a quarter and a QB change for that to happen, but the Wolverines played arguably their best game of the season against Rutgers, bouncing back nicely from last week's shellacking from Penn State. Brandon Peters appears to be the answer at quarterback, though that's also what people said about John O'Korn when he came on in relief against Purdue and led Michigan to victory. We'll see if Peters can keep this momentum going.
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. LSU
Citrus Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
LSU and Auburn both had byes this week and Michigan State lost in triple overtime to Northwestern, so there's not a lot of good vibes coming out of these teams right now.
Except for Virginia Tech, that is, as the Hokies have been quietly lingering in the teens of the AP poll for eight consecutive weeks now. But their defense has been ridiculous, holding both North Carolina and Duke below 185 yards in consecutive weeks. Their Week 10 showdown with Miami should be the marquee game on Saturday, and it should be what determines who faces Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, as the winner will have a huge advantage in the race for the Coastal division title.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Penn State vs. Oklahoma
One of the biggest questions heading into Tuesday night's CFP Top 25 debut is: How far does Penn State fall? The Nittany Lions were the No. 2 team in last week's AP poll by a comfortable margin and may well have debuted at No. 1 if they had been able to hang onto their lead on the road against the Buckeyes. Instead, they came up just short of pulling off the rarely seen back-to-back wins over Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State will still be in New Year's Six territory, but will it be close enough to the Top Four to potentially sneak in without even reaching the Big Ten Championship Game?
Heck, where will Penn State rank just compared to Oklahoma? Unlike Penn State, the Sooners won at Ohio State earlier this year, but they also suffered a loss to Iowa State—which at least doesn't look anywhere near as bad now as it did at the time. Wherever the Sooners end up, Baker Mayfield is going to be a problem for the opposing defensive coordinator. He has led this team to at least 29 points in every game, and Oklahoma's offense appears to be back to firing on all cylinders.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Ohio State
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. UCF
With all due respect to Washington and UCF, there's no question which game would get top billing on Dec. 30 if these matchups came to fruition. Whether the CFP selection committee agrees remains to be seen, but Ohio State and Miami are No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, in this projection. The Buckeyes have been unstoppable on offense over their last six games, but if Clemson, Notre Dame and Ohio State all win out, the boys from Columbus would likely have the weakest resume.
UCF remains one of the most intriguing teams in the country after a 73-33 beatdown of Austin Peay in which the Knights scored on all but one possession. It's unlikely we'll ever need to seriously consider them a threat to reach the CFP, but this offense is a very real threat to whichever Top 12 team it would draw.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU
The Badgers still haven't beaten a team that has locked up bowl eligibility, and Alex Hornibrook hasn't shown much in terms of reliability at quarterback. Given their remaining schedule, there's a better than decent chance they run the table to a 12-0 record. But if they lose to Ohio State in the B1G title game, there's no chance the Badgers go to the playoff.
TCU, on the other hand, was projected for the playoff prior to its loss to Iowa State this week. The Cyclones sure have made a habit of ruining the Big 12's plans of competing for a national championship, but there's still hope for the Horned Frogs if they can turn things around. A road win over Oklahoma in two weeks' time would look mighty fine next to that previous road win over Oklahoma State. If they then get to 12-1 with a revenge win over Iowa State or a third win against the Oklahoma schools in the B12 title game, well, let's just say they'd have a much stronger resume than Wisconsin.
College Football Playoff
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
With both Penn State and TCU suffering Week 9 losses, wholesale changes to the College Football Playoff picture were mandatory.
Alabama and Georgia remain the clear-cut top two teams, even though people keep trying to argue there's no way they will finish in the top two spots since they would have to face each other in the SEC Championship Game. If they both enter that game with a 12-0 record, yes, they could rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the final CFP Top 25.
If Georgia is the team that falls to 12-1, it would do so with road wins over Notre Dame and Auburn, a neutral-site win over Florida and home wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky and Appalachian State. That's a darn good resume compared to a one-loss Clemson, Ohio State or Notre Dame, especially considering it would have the most valuable loss of the bunch. Conversely, if Alabama loses the SEC title game, it would have road wins over Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, a home win over LSU and one of the strongest nonconference schedules in the country.
Outside of that SEC debate, Notre Dame catapults to No. 3 with the best resume among one-loss teams and with several stiff challenges remaining on the schedule. The Fighting Irish have already beaten USC and North Carolina State at home, as well as Michigan State and Boston College on the road—each by at least a 20-point margin. If they get to 11-1, they'd be adding road wins over Miami and Stanford, as well as solid home wins over Navy and Wake Forest.
The lack of a conference championship game might hurt Notre Dame a little bit, but it's going to have an incredible strength of schedule, even without that 13th game.
Among the non-SEC, non-independent teams, Clemson has the best profile in our estimation. Ohio State's Week 9 win over Penn State was great and dramatic (and recent in our minds), but the rest of the Buckeyes resume leaves something to be desired. Meanwhile, all but one of Clemson's wins have come against teams with a winning record—including Virginia Tech and Auburn—and the Tigers have tough games remaining against NC State and South Carolina.
Undefeated Miami and Wisconsin are noticeably absent from our top four, but neither of those teams has beaten a currently ranked opponent, are we're assuming Clemson and Ohio State defeat them in their respective conference championship games.
The only other legitimate candidate at the moment is the Big 12 champion, particularly if it's a 12-1 Oklahoma, since the Sooners already have a win over Ohio State and would still pick up wins over TCU, Oklahoma State and another TBD strong Big 12 team in the conference championship game. However, given what we've seen from the Sooners over the past five or six weeks, we're not at all confident in projecting them to win each of those games.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.