College Football Playoff Standings 2017: Final Bowl Game Projections
It feels like just yesterday that preseason projections put USC, Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, it's going to be Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and a heated debate between Alabama and Ohio State for the final spot in the fight for all the marbles.
Though it's the most noteworthy piece of the pie, the playoff is just a fraction of the full postseason picture. Excluding the national championship, there will be 39 bowl games played in the next month, and we've got the projections for all 78 of those spots.
If you can't wait until Sunday's selection show to purchase flight and game tickets for your favorite team, here's an educated guess on when and where they'll play, as well as answers to these questions (and more):
- Will TCU or Washington be the final team in the New Year's Six bowls?
- Which three bowl-eligible teams will be left out because there isn't enough room for all of them?
- What are some of the dream matchups outside of the playoff?
Read on for our final glimpse into college football's crystal ball.
Group of Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. Boise State
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Buffalo* vs. Georgia State
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. UT San Antonio
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Akron vs. Arkansas State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Western Michigan* vs. Louisiana Tech
Boca Raton Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International
Frisco Bowl: Houston vs. Appalachian State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: South Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Fresno State vs. Northern Illinois
Bahamas Bowl: Ohio vs. UAB
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Army
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Troy
Birmingham Bowl: SMU vs. Texas Tech*
Hawaii Bowl: Memphis vs. San Diego State
Military Bowl: Navy vs. Florida State
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. New Mexico State
*Teams with asterisks are replacements for leagues unable to fill their bowl spots.
As discussed last week, the big question here is: Who gets left out in the cold?
Now that we know the full list of 81 bowl-eligible teams, let's try to figure out which three will get cut to accommodate the 78 spots.
First off, we know it won't be anyone from the power conferences, unless some team refuses to play in a lower-tier bowl game while dealing with a coaching search or something of the sort. We also know it won't be any teams from the American or the Sun Belt, since they already don't have enough squads to fill all of the bowls with which they have tie-ins.
That leaves Conference USA, the MAC and the Mountain West.
Conference USA is the obvious primary target. The league has 10 bowl-eligible teams, which is more than any other except for the ACC, which also has 10. From that bunch, C-USA has four six-win teams, which—excluding games against each other—combined for just two victories over bowl-eligible teams.
Per ESPN's Football Power Index, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and UT San Antonio each has an FPI score and a "strength of record" that ranks 95th or worse nationally. There's a strong case to be made that none deserve a bowl game, but if we sort through the weeds, Louisiana Tech and UT San Antonio are probably the safest bets for inclusion.
Three of LT's losses came by a one-point margin and a fourth came in double overtime—all against teams that won at least eight games. Also, the Bulldogs won head-to-head matchups over UTSA and Western Kentucky. As far as the case for the Roadrunners, they lost one fewer game than the other three schools (five), won a road tilt against a Power Five school (Baylor) and beat 7-5 Marshall a couple of weeks ago.
From the other two conferences, the most obvious candidate for exclusion is Utah State. The Aggies went 6-6, but they did not win a single matchup against an opponent that won five or more games this season. Their best win was a home game against BYU, and they were destroyed by the only quality opponents they faced: Boise State, Wake Forest and Wyoming.
Maybe the various bowl committees with "at-large" openings will decide to make their selections based on geography rather than football prowess, but Middle Tennessee, Utah State and Western Kentucky should be the three teams that get omitted from bowl season despite six wins.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Cactus Bowl: Iowa State vs. Utah
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas vs. Texas
Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Duke
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Iowa
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Virginia vs. Marshall
Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. Texas A&M
Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue vs. Arizona State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona vs. Wake Forest
Belk Bowl: NC State vs. Missouri
TaxSlayer Bowl: Michigan vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. UCLA*
With the exception of North Texas and its 41-17 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA title game—as was expected—not one of these 24 teams played in Week 14. Thus, only one thing has changed about this section since last week: Marshall has replaced Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl to accommodate some Conference USA swapping.
Rather than rehashing the same comments made in the previous projection, let's use this space to discuss a few potential dream pairings.
First on the list would be Louisville vs. Arizona, which would most likely need to take place in the Sun Bowl, given the optional affiliations involving the ACC and Pac-12. Even though Arizona's Khalil Tate sputtered to the finish line—just like Louisville's Lamar Jackson did last year—that would be a wildly entertaining game pitting sensational dual-threat quarterbacks against two of the worst Power Five defenses. It might take 63 points to win that game.
Another enticing QB combination would be West Virginia (Will Grier) against Missouri (Drew Lock). Both quarterbacks averaged better than 300 passing yards per game this season, combining for more than 7,000 yards and 77 touchdowns.
Grier did suffer a finger injury a couple of weeks ago and is questionable to play in WVU's bowl game. But if they happened to meet up in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, at least he would have a few more days to recover than if the Mountaineers played in any other Big 12 bowl game.
Switching gears, Michigan vs. Mississippi State—potentially in the TaxSlayer Bowl—would be an interesting battle between two of the top 10 defenses in the country in terms of total yards allowed per game. High-scoring contests are usually more fun, but we need the occasional race to 21 points to appreciate football's chess matches.
Last, but not least, it would be neat to see two of the nation's best young running backs square off. Boston College freshman AJ Dillon finished just 11 yards behind Louisville's Jackson for most in the ACC. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic sophomore Devin Singletary finished fourth nationally with 1,796 rushing yards and led the nation with 29 touchdowns.
It seems likely that FAU will go to the Gasparilla Bowl to face South Florida, but with so many bowl-eligible C-USA teams, at least one or two squads from that league will get bumped up to fill in better bowls. Perhaps Lane Kiffin's Owls will benefit from that rat poison by landing in the Quick Lane or Independence Bowl against the Eagles.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
Valero Alamo Bowl: TCU vs. Stanford
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Washington State
Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. South Carolina
If the 12 teams projected for the New Year's Six are correct—a big "if"—nine of the 10 spots in these five bowls would appear to be cut and dried.
With a Big Ten team projected for the Orange Bowl, the Citrus Bowl is supposed to be the top non-NY6 teams from the ACC/Notre Dame and the SEC, which would be Notre Dame and LSU. Meanwhile, the Alamo Bowl is the top non-NY6 teams from the Big 12 and Pac-12, which would be TCU and either Stanford or Washington State. (Even though Stanford lost that head-to-head game, it should probably be the Cardinal, since they played in the Pac-12 title game.)
From there, the Camping World Bowl is the ACC's No. 2 vs. the Big 12's No. 2, and the Holiday Bowl is the Pac-12's No. 2 vs. the Big Ten's No. 2. The Big Ten's best non-NY6 team will go to the Outback Bowl to face the only wild card of the bunch: a TBD second-tier team from the SEC. Based on both geography and quality of play, though, the smart money is on South Carolina.
The one potential huge wrinkle here would be if TCU takes the last spot in the New Year's Six instead of Washington, which would shake up the projections for both the Big 12 and Pac-12. As is, though, it's tough to argue with any of these pairings.
Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph against Virginia Tech's defense should be a great battle. Same goes for Stanford's Bryce Love against TCU's elite rush defense and Washington State's Luke Falk against a Northwestern defense with nine interceptions in its last four games. Michigan State vs. South Carolina should be a solid defensive tussle, while Notre Dame and LSU should be more of an offensive explosion.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Dec. 29): Penn State vs. Washington
Last week, I laid out Washington's case for earning a spot in the New Year's Six, and it played perfectly to form. Heading into Tuesday's CFP rankings, the final spot boiled down to TCU, Notre Dame and Washington. (Had Stanford beaten USC on Friday night, it would have knocked the Trojans out of the Top 12 and taken their place. So even though the Cardinal had an obvious path to the NY6, we didn't need to consider them here.)
Washington jumped two spots ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings, so, unless the committee arbitrarily changed its mind about the order of those teams, the Huskies will finish ahead of the Fighting Irish. And after TCU lost by 24 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship, it's likely the Horned Frogs will at least drop a little bit in the rankings, bumping Washington up to either No. 11 or No. 12 and the final spot in the NY6.
Given the potential candidates, it looks like the Huskies will draw Penn State. At any rate, it's unlikely the Nittany Lions would go to the Fiesta Bowl to face USC for a second consecutive season. Maybe they land in the Orange Bowl instead of Wisconsin and the Badgers land in this spot. Either way, Washington should run into a really good Big Ten team.
Capital One Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Miami vs. Wisconsin
It only seems fitting that Miami and Wisconsin should face each other in a bowl game, since we spent nearly an entire month talking about both as undefeated teams who played lackluster slates.
Miami's schedule eventually picked up in earnest in the form of back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but the Hurricanes followed those supposed season-defining triumphs with a too-close-for-comfort victory over Virginia and losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson. It's almost incomprehensible that the team that "showed up" to face Clemson in the ACC title game was the same one that smashed Notre Dame in mid-November.
Wisconsin got all the way into the Big Ten Championship Game with an undefeated record before it came up just short against Ohio State. Per ESPN's FPI, the Badgers didn't win a single game against a Top 20 team. There's a strong case to be made for putting one-loss Alabama into the playoff, but one-loss Wisconsin will likely finish no higher than No. 7.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 30): USC vs. Auburn
It was one hell of a second-half-of-the-season run by Auburn, knocking off No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama to jump to No. 2 in the penultimate CFP rankings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were unable to seal the deal with another win over Georgia in the SEC championship. In fact, they weren't even close, as the Bulldogs outscored them 28-0 after the first quarter to instead to vault into the College Football Playoff.
Can Auburn bounce back with a big defensive effort against Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II and the USC offense?
The Trojans are the lone Power Five conference champ that will be left out of the playoff picture, and there's a good chance they'll use that as motivation to make a statement against a runner-up from one of those supposedly superior conferences. Things haven't gone according to plan for the preseason Heisman favorite, but don't be surprised if Darnold gets back into that spot heading into next season after a big day against Auburn.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama vs. UCF
Throughout the week, I saw most people projecting either Georgia or Auburn to face UCF in the Peach Bowl, but I'm not sure why. Alabama was already ranked ahead of Georgia, and it was a safe assumption the Crimson Tide would move ahead of Auburn if the Tigers picked up a third loss in the SEC title game. Thus, Alabama would be the highest-ranked non-playoff team from the SEC. Why would that not be the squad selected to play in Atlanta?
And, let's be frank, this is the matchup college football desperately needs.
Whether Alabama's resume is good enough for a spot in the playoff is open to interpretation, but this is clearly one of the five best teams in the country—if not the best. This is the team UCF needs to play to prove whether the Group of Five's best team deserves more respect in future seasons.
Even if the Knights don't win the game, if they're at least competitive against the Crimson Tide, maybe next year's undefeated team will get into the conversation for a spot in the Top Four.
College Football Playoff
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
The top three teams are no-brainers. It was a foregone conclusion heading into the weekend that if Oklahoma won the Big 12 championship, the Sooners and the winners of the ACC and SEC championships would get into the CFP.
There's an argument to be had about the order in which those three teams should appear. Georgia had (by far) the most acceptable loss of the bunch, and it avenged that loss in the SEC championship against Auburn. Clemson has more quality wins than any other team in the country. And Oklahoma has a strong resume to go along with one of the most potent offenses we've ever seen.
But if Clemson was No. 1 in the selection committee's Top 25 on Tuesday, the Tigers should remain at No. 1 after it beat the life out of Miami in the ACC championship. From there, there isn't any good reason to debate No. 2 vs. No. 3, unless you care that much about which team wears which colors in the Rose Bowl.
Rather, 99.9 percent of the debate for the 12 hours before—and perhaps the 12 days after—the selection show will be Alabama vs. Ohio State for the fourth and final spot.
The crux of the argument is whether you believe quality wins or bad losses are more important, and just how much of a tiebreaker you think a conference championship is.
On the wins side of the equation, it's a clear advantage for the Buckeyes. In addition to actually winning their division and conference, they beat Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. Even the September victory over now-8-3 Army looks better than anyone could have guessed at the time. But Alabama's best wins came against LSU, Mississippi State and Florida State, not one of which is even remotely in the conversation for a spot in the New Year's Six.
But on the losses side, it's a much clearer advantage for the Crimson Tide. They lost one road game against an excellent Auburn team, and it looked like they might win for at least two-thirds of that game. Ohio State lost at home to Oklahoma by 15 points and had the infamous 55-24 loss to Iowa in early November.
In many ways, it's a debate on par with Ohio State vs. Penn State last year. As you may recall, Ohio State was the one-loss team that didn't win its division, and Penn State was the two-loss conference champion that had a bad loss to Pittsburgh and a 39-point loss to Michigan. Even though Penn State won the head-to-head game, Ohio State finished at No. 3 and Penn State was left out at No. 5.
However, that Penn State team only had two quality wins, while that Ohio State team had three wins (two on the road) against opponents in the FPI Top 12. It's a comparable debate in terms of records and division/conference titles, but the actual resumes aren't all that similar.
Because of that, the conference championship serves as a tiebreaker, and the Buckeyes will get in at No. 4. But if I'm wrong, I won't be too upset about getting to watch Alabama vs. Clemson Part III.