College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Week 12 Rankings & Bowl Projections
With three matchups between teams in last week's College Football Playoff Top 10, Week 11 of the 2017 season was guaranteed to have some movers and shakers. In the end, Nos. 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 all suffered losses, drastically altering the bowl projection picture as we knew it.
For starters, the SEC's road to a CFP double-dip hit a massive pothole with No. 10 Auburn knocking off No. 1 Georgia. There are still scenarios in which Georgia and Alabama both finish in the top four, but that's no longer a likely outcome.
Perhaps even more noteworthy was Notre Dame's no-show loss to Miami, as that reopens the door for four Power Five champions to reach the playoff, as intended.
But we're interested in more than just those four playoff teams. In fact, there are a total of 78 bowl spots to be filled, and we've got projections for each of them.
Unlike the past few years when APR scores were necessary to determine which 5-7 teams become eligible for bowl games, things are shaping up nicely for this year's field to be entirely filled with teams with six or more wins. We're already at 59 bowl-eligible teams and there are 20 more with five wins. And even 3-6 Florida State still has a reasonable shot at getting to six wins.
We'll need to wait until Tuesday for the next batch of rankings that matter, but in the latest AP Top 25, Miami soared from No. 7 to No. 2, Georgia (No. 7) and Notre Dame (No. 9) both dropped out of the top six and newcomers at the back end of the poll are Stanford, LSU and North Carolina State.
Group of Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. San Diego State
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky* vs. Arkansas State
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Wyoming vs. Florida International
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Ohio vs. Georgia State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana vs. Southern Miss
Boca Raton Bowl: Temple vs. UAB
Frisco Bowl: Houston vs. Appalachian State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Marshall
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: North Texas vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Troy
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Oregon*
Hawaii Bowl: SMU vs. Fresno State
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah State* vs. Texas Tech
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Central Michigan* vs. Middle Tennessee
Military Bowl: Navy vs. Boston College
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Colorado State vs. New Mexico State
*Teams with asterisks are replacements for leagues projected to be unable to fill their spots.
As has been the projection for some time, there's a glut of Conference USA teams and a dearth of bowl-eligible squads from the American Athletic Conference. There are already six C-USA teams with six wins, and there will probably be a total of nine by season's end. Meanwhile, with the AAC champion almost certainly reaching the New Year's Six, that league is only going to have five or six other bowl teams, depending on whether Temple can win one of its final two games. Should be fun to watch those situations shake themselves out.
The Sun Belt is a bit of a mess, too. Every other conference already has at least five teams with six or more wins, but the Sun Belt only has three, and Arkansas State is the only team in that league with five wins. The Red Wolves should get their sixth win this week against Texas State, but there's a good chance the Sun Belt only has four bowl-eligible teams. Look for Conference USA to steal those spots.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Texas vs. California
Quick Lane Bowl: Indiana vs. Florida State
The Quick Lane Bowl is supposed to be the seventh-best non-NY6 Big Ten team against an ACC team that finishes between seventh and 11th among those not in the New Year's Six. However, with each league projected to send three teams to those marquee bowls, it's becoming almost impossible to find suitable applicants for this game.
Though the Hoosiers finish the season with Rutgers and Purdue, projecting 4-6 Indiana to become bowl-eligible is a stretch. So is 3-6 Florida State, which still needs to win at Florida in Week 13 in to have a shot. But until the leagues officially can't fill these spots, we'll keep throwing darts.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia vs. Iowa
Texas Bowl: West Virginia vs. South Carolina
Foster Farms Bowl: Minnesota vs. Arizona
It's a happy accident that we ended up with Minnesota against Arizona, as quarterbacks Demry Croft and Khalil Tate combined for 389 rushing yards and five touchdowns this weekend. Croft isn't usually that much of a rushing threat, but against Arizona's porous defense, he'd be a candidate to once again don a Superman cape and put up ridiculous numbers.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Texas A&M
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Arizona State
Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Speaking of dual-threat QBs squaring off, this is the third time in the last four weeks that we've had Louisville (Lamar Jackson) projected to face Mississippi State (Nick Fitzgerald) in either the Belk Bowl or the Music City Bowl. For whatever reason, it seems these teams are destined for one another. Mississippi State almost ruined it with its attempt to upset Alabama, but the Bulldogs fell short of that landmark win and remain strong candidates for one of these lower-tier bowls.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Missouri
In just a moment, we'll get you back to your regularly scheduled programming of griping that 75 percent of the head coaches in the SEC need to get fired ASAP. However, can we please take a moment to appreciate what Mark Stoops has done with Kentucky? Granted, the schedule has been weak and the Wildcats are probably going to get annihilated at Georgia next Saturday. But they could win the home finale against Louisville to finish at 8-4. If they proceed to win their bowl game, it would be Kentucky's first season with nine or more wins since 1984.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. TCU
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington State
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Both Oklahoma State and Stanford did themselves a huge favor with Week 11 wins over ranked opponents. Stanford knocked off No. 9 Washington on Friday night, and Oklahoma State emerged from Ames with a road win over No. 21 Iowa State. They both still need some help to have a shot at a conference championship, but they're in great shape to finish as the second-best, non-NY6 teams in each of their conferences.
For half of this group, though, Week 11 was much more detrimental. Michigan State was obliterated by No. 13 Ohio State by a 48-3 margin. After climbing 12 spots to get to No. 12 in last week's CFP Top 25, the Spartans just might drop 12 spots back to No. 24. TCU had its worst defensive effort of the season in a 38-20 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma. And Virginia Tech only managed 258 total yards in a 28-22 loss to unranked Georgia Tech.
Citrus Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Auburn
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. LSU
Kudos to Auburn for a gigantic win over Georgia, but it's still going to need to beat Alabama to get into a New Year's Six bowl. Otherwise, we're talking about a three-loss team that didn't win its division and didn't beat many noteworthy opponents—aside from Georgia, obviously. I've felt all season long that this is clearly one of the 10 best teams in the country. However, the CFP selection committee made it clear with its ranking of Michigan State and Ohio State last week that the resume means a whole lot more than the proverbial eye test, and this resume isn't great without an Iron Bowl victory.
Each of the other three teams in this subsection also won their games this week, albeit against drastically less impressive competition. Michigan beat up on Maryland and should be ranked for its big Week 12 showdown with Wisconsin. (By the way, that's the only game worth watching this weekend. Do yourself a favor and spend a Saturday away from the couch.) LSU took care of business against Arkansas. And North Carolina State squeaked by with a road win over Boston College.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Notre Dame vs. Washington
Georgia still has a shot at reaching the College Football Playoff despite its Week 11 loss to Auburn, but these two teams are now dead in the water following their losses.
It'll never come out and say it, but the CFP selection committee has to be thrilled with Notre Dame's 41-8 loss to Miami. Now, instead of a scenario where it would've had to choose between an 11-1 Notre Dame and a 13-0, Big Ten champion Wisconsin for the final spot, the committee no longer has to face the dilemma of rewarding a team that doesn't play in a conference championship.
Likewise, Washington's loss helped make the overall picture much clearer and less controversial. Had the Huskies won out, they would have been 12-1 against one of the softest schedules in the country. However, a one-loss conference champion should finish ahead of the potential one-loss non-champions we could have in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC, right? Well, we'll never have to find out, because Washington lost to Stanford, 30-22, and is now holding on to a spot in the New Year's Six by a thread.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Ohio State
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. UCF
We'll discuss this in more detail in the CFP section, but here's your reminder that this is a year-end projection and not an approximation of what the bowls would look like if the season ended today. Most likely, either Miami or Clemson is going to get left out of the playoff after losing the ACC Championship Game. And despite how great the Hurricanes have looked in the past two weeks against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, we're still projecting Clemson to win that game. Thus, Miami finishes at either No. 5 or No. 6 in the final CFP Top 25 and takes this spot in the nearby Orange Bowl.
It's also worth noting that we're projecting USC—which was No. 11 in last week's Top 25 and will likely land at No. 9 this week—to win each of its remaining games and for it to not be enough for the Trojans to get in. Though they did play one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the nation (Western Michigan, Texas, at Notre Dame), several things need to go wrong elsewhere for a two-loss team to make the playoff this year, Pac-12 champion or not.
Meanwhile, UCF just keeps doing its thing, averaging a nation-best 48.6 points per game and getting no respect whatsoever. I had the Knights at No. 8 in my ballot for the B/R Top 25 this week, but they're probably going to land at No. 16 in a CFP poll that has been ruthlessly designed to keep them from having any shot at a national championship.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State
After more than a month of sitting at either No. 1 or No. 2 in our projections, all it took was one road loss to a very good Auburn team to knock Georgia out of the playoff picture. Sorry, Bulldogs, but them's the breaks. Unless they're able to knock off Alabama in the SEC title game, there's no realistic scenario for a two-loss, non-champion to reach the playoff.
It's a disappointing finish given how well the first nine weeks went, but if you had told Dawg Nation in August that it would finish in the Top 10 and earn a spot in the Atlanta-based Peach Bowl, it would have been thrilled with that news following so much underachieving in the past decade.
Same goes for Penn State fans, right? With a combination like Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, they had dreams of an undefeated season. But even the most optimistic, bleeding-white-and-blue Nittany Lions die-hard had to know that the road game against Ohio State was always going to be a likely reason they'd miss the playoff. Two straight trips to the New Year's Six, though, is one heck of a consolation prize, given everything this program has dealt with in recent years.
College Football Playoff
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
First things first, let's remember that this is a projection of what things will look like after all the conference championships have been played, and not a projection of this Tuesday's CFP Top 25. I fully expect to see both Clemson and Miami in the top four Tuesday, but there would need to be another major upset or two along the way for both to get in.
Here's a quick rundown of the noteworthy projections we're making in each of the major conferences to come to this conclusion:
ACC—Clemson (11-1) defeats Miami (11-0) in the conference championship.
Big 12—Oklahoma wins out to get to 12-1, including a second win over TCU.
Big Ten—Ohio State beats Michigan in regular-season finale, but loses to undefeated Wisconsin in B1G title game.
Pac-12—Two-loss USC beats two-loss Washington in championship game.
SEC—Alabama wins at Auburn and beats Georgia in title game to get to 13-0.
Should all those things actually come to pass, the six viable candidates for the playoff would be the five champions and one-loss Miami. As the only two-loss champion, USC is an obvious choice for exclusion. And without a conference title, the Hurricanes would be the other team left out. Rather straightforward, right?
Of course, there's a lot of football left to be played, so any number of wrenches could still be thrown into this thing. And the biggest wrench would be a loss by Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.
It seems safe to assume—as reasonably safe as it is to assume anything in this sport—that three of the four spots will go to the champs of the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. Whatever combination of Clemson, Miami, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia that may be, the conference champion would have a clear leg up on every other team in that conference.
But the Big 12 is Oklahoma or bust, and bust would lead to a very difficult debate between 11-2 USC and 11-1 Miami—a debate that I would hope could be decided by the fact that Miami stomped Notre Dame, which stomped USC. Roughly 99.9 percent of the time, it's moronic to use the transitive property when comparing resumes. This is one of the exceptions to that rule.
However, if Oklahoma, Miami, Alabama and Wisconsin all lose in their conference championship games, there would be three one-loss, non-champions in the mix for that final spot.
The moral of the story is that Baker Mayfield and an Oklahoma defense that has given up at least 20 points and 400 yards in seven straight games will determine whether the final top four is an easy decision or a raging debate that fast-tracks the conversation for a playoff expansion.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.