College Football Bowl Projections: Week 9 Rankings and Playoff Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 23, 2018

College Football Bowl Projections: Week 9 Rankings and Playoff Forecast

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    Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
    Clemson QB Trevor LawrenceRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Alabama and Clemson delivered statement wins over Tennessee and North Carolina State, respectively, further solidifying their spots in the College Football Playoff. As was the case before the season began, it only feels like a matter of time before they square off in the playoff.

    Ohio State also made a statement in Week 8, but a much different, more disturbing one in a 49-20 loss to Purdue.

    The Buckeyes tumbled all the way from No. 2 to 11 in the latest AP Top 25, but was that loss enough to knock them out of the playoff projection?

    Aside from that colossal upset, it was a rather quiet week. Then-No. 12 Oregon, No. 16 North Carolina State, No. 20 Cincinnati, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 24 Michigan State each suffered a loss, but they were all underdogs. Because of that, their projected win totals and bowl spots didn't change much.

    The most noteworthy movement in the AP poll was Washington State, which soared from No. 25 to No. 14 after its win over Oregon. The Cougars were in a nearly identical spot one year ago, ranked No. 15 on Oct. 22. If they finish this season better than the last one, a spot in the Rose Bowl is still a real possibility.

    Read on for the full list of bowl projections heading into Week 9.

'Group of Five' Bowls

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    Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin
    Florida Atlantic head coach Lane KiffinMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Dec. 15

    R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
    New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs. UAB
    AutoNation Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Middle Tennessee*
    Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Troy vs. Western Michigan

                             

    Dec. 18

    Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Eastern Michigan

                       

    Dec. 19

    DXL Frisco Bowl: Nevada vs. Ohio

                                                    

    Dec. 21

    Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida International
    Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois

                                  

    Dec. 22

    Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Marshall
    Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Buffalo

                                            

    Dec. 29

    NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. San Diego State

                              

    There are several feel-good stories in this tier.

    For starters, Appalachian State has won five straight and just cracked into the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history. If the Mountaineers win out (they should), there's a chance they'll sneak into the conversation for a New Year's Six bowl if UCF falters at any point. And how great would it be if Appalachian State faced Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl?

    App State's upcoming opponent, Georgia Southern, also deserves recognition for a fantastic turnaround.

    Save for a Week 3 loss at Clemson, the Eagles are undefeated and have already become bowl-eligiblethis is after a disastrous 2-10 2017 season that included a loss to FCS school New Hampshire. Their triple-option offense sputtered in 2016 and 2017, but they're back in a big way, currently ranked fifth in the nation with better than 275 rushing yards per game.

    And then there's UAB, which improved to 6-1 and assumed the driver's seat for the Conference USA championship with a Week 8 win over North Texas. In case you've forgotten, the Blazers didn't have a football program in the 2015 or 2016 seasons. They came back last year and set a school record with eight wins. They have never earned so much as a share of a C-USA title in 17 previous tries. If UAB keeps this up for a few more weeks, head coach Bill Clark needs to be considered for national Coach of the Year.

    But let's also make sure to shout out the not-so-good season going on at Florida Atlantic.

    Once projected to contend for a New Year's Six bowl, the Owls are 3-4 and have yet to beat a team that is likely to finish .500 or better. They outgained Marshall on Saturday (359-335), but five turnovers resulted in a 31-7 loss to the Thundering Herd. FAU will need to win three of its remaining five games in order to qualify for that home bowl game in Boca Raton.

Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls

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    Houston QB D'Eriq King
    Houston QB D'Eriq KingWill Newton/Getty Images

    Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 15): Colorado vs. Utah State

    Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 20): Florida State vs. South Florida

    Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 22): Houston vs. Baylor

    Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 22): BYU* vs. Memphis

    SERVPRO First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26): Indiana vs. North Texas

    Military Bowl (Dec. 31): Boston College vs. Temple

    Walk-On's Independence Bowl (Dec. 27): Cincinnati vs. Air Force*

    *Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill

                                   

    If it turns out there aren't enough bowl-eligible squads to fill all 78 spots and we need to consult the APR scores of 5-7 teams to figure out the last few schools in the mix, the AAC may be largely to blame.

    The league has some excellent teams. UCF is projected for a New Year's Six bowl, and undefeated South Florida is one of five AAC teams in this tier. Each of those is more than capable of winning its projected matchup.

    But it drops off in a hurry from there.

    Connecticut (1-6), Tulsa (1-6), East Carolina (2-5) and Navy (2-5) are effectively out of the running for bowl games, given their current records and remaining schedules. SMU and/or Tulane could reasonably get to five wins. However, six is a stretch, and neither one has an APR score that ranks in the top 65 nationally.

    As a result, the AAC—which has tie-ins to seven bowls—figures to only have six bowl-eligible teams. And it's likely to "lose" UCF to the NY6, meaning it would only fill five of those spots. And there aren't any conferences projected to have more bowl-eligible teams than spots to put them, so 3-4 Air Force (projected to go 5-7) slides into the Independence Bowl by virtue of having the second-highest APR score.

Power Five Bowls with Potential

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    Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead
    Mississippi State head coach Joe MoorheadJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Dec. 26

    Cheez-It Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. USC
    Quick Lane Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Purdue

                                                                                          

    Dec. 27

    Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: TCU vs. Mississippi State
    New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland vs. Syracuse

                                  

    Dec. 28

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Michigan State vs. Missouri

                             

    Dec. 29

    Belk Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Army*

                           

    Dec. 31

    Hyundai Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Virginia
    TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. Duke
    Redbox Bowl: Northwestern vs. Utah
    AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. South Carolina

                                           

    Two months ago, this Texas Bowl pairing almost could've been a projected New Year's Six bowl.

    TCU was No. 16 in the preseason AP poll. Mississippi State wasn't far behind at No. 18. But both teams have just fallen to pieces over the past month, particularly on offense.

    After three consecutive weeks of scoring 17 points or fewer, a slow start against Oklahoma forced the Horned Frogs to make a switch at quarterback. Shawn Robinson simply wasn't getting the job done. But after quick scores in his first two drives against the Sooners, Michael Collins wasn't any better, completing just four of his final 13 pass attempts for 56 yards with an interception.

    At this point, the Horned Frogs are 3-4 and in danger of not becoming bowl-eligible.

    But at least TCU can occasionally score. Mississippi State's offense has been a disaster, putting up just three touchdowns over the past four games. Even though the Bulldogs are averaging almost 6.0 yards per carry on the season, they're only scoring 9.8 points per SEC game. They have one of the best defenses in the nation, but they have lost three of the last four and look nothing like the fringe title contender we were promised all offseason.

    One would assume the games against Arkansas and Ole Miss at the end of the regular season will help fix the offensive numbers a bit, but they need to endure tough matchups with Texas A&M and Alabama before that. Mississippi State should at least become bowl-eligible for a ninth consecutive season, but the Texas Bowl is a far cry from what this program was hoping for in Joe Moorhead's first season as head coach.

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    Kentucky RB Benny Snell Jr.
    Kentucky RB Benny Snell Jr.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Dec. 28

    Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Oregon
    Camping World Bowl: Miami vs. West Virginia

               

    Dec. 31

    San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Washington

                                                        

    Jan. 1

    Citrus Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Penn State
    Outback Bowl: Kentucky vs. Iowa

                                                                   

    Save for Texas A&M replacing Mississippi State in the Citrus Bowl and Oregon dropping from the Rose Bowl to the Alamo Bowl, not much changed in this tier. But rather than keying in on any of these potential matchups, let's take a minute to marvel at No. 12 Kentucky, which is right on the cusp of a New Year's Six bowl.

    For a couple of weeks, it looked like the SEC had finally found an answer for Benny Snell Jr.

    Kentucky's phenom running back rushed for 175 yards in a Week 2 win over Florida and had another 165 yards and four touchdowns in a Week 4 win over Mississippi State. But he wasn't anywhere near as lethal in Weeks 5 and 6, averaging 3.9 yards per carry and failing to reach the century mark against both South Carolina and Texas A&M.

    But he bounced back in a defensive tussle with Vanderbilt, finishing with 169 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday.

    Kentucky QB Terry Wilson completed just three passes for 18 yards against the Commodores. He has yet to throw for more than 163 yards in a game and has just four passing touchdowns in the entire season. But Snell put the Wildcats on his back once again, keeping them in the running (no pun intended) for the College Football Playoff.

    UK still has road games remaining against Missouri and Tennessee, with a biggest-opportunity-in-program-history home game against Georgia sandwiched in between. The reward for winning the SEC East Division would be a mission-impossible matchup with Alabama in the SEC championship. But, mathematically, the Wildcats could still make the playoff. And if they do, Snell would get quite a few first-place votes for the Heisman.

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    Washington State head coach Mike Leach
    Washington State head coach Mike LeachYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): UCF vs. LSU

    Playing without star QB McKenzie Miltonwho tweaked his ankle late against Memphis but probably could have played if necessaryUCF didn't look great against East Carolina. The Knights covered the 22-point spread, but they allowed nearly 500 yards of total offense and needed to force five turnovers to get the job done. As long as they keep winning, though, they'll be the Group of Five's NY6 representative.

    Meanwhile, LSU's defense was dominant in a 19-3 win over Mississippi State. The Tigers picked off Nick Fitzgerald four times while holding the Bulldogs to just three points. But that defense had one major misstep, as star LB Devin White was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter, meaning he'll miss the first half of LSU's big battle with Alabama on Nov. 3. We'll see if that proves to be the difference in that SEC West clash.

                                                                 

    Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Georgia

    In Oklahoma's first game since the tough loss to Texas, the Sooners showed something new: Defense. They limited TCU to 275 yards of offense in a 52-27 rout and had their fewest yards allowed thus far this season.

    Part of that was TCU's own doing. The Horned Frogs hadn't scored more than 17 points in any of their previous three games and didn't even move the ball well against Texas Tech one week ago. But as long as Oklahoma occasionally puts forth some effort on defense, this offense is good enough to beat anyone.

                                                          

    Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan vs. Washington State

    Spoiler alert for the upcoming playoff pairings, but the only major change from last week's New Year's Six projections is that Washington State replaced Oregon in the Rose Bowl after the Cougars' head-to-head win over the Ducks.

    It's ironic that while Ohio State's offense was being exposed as too one-dimensional, Washington State and its pass-first (pass-only?) approach became the team to beat in the Pac-12. The Cougars have one of the worst ground attacks in the country, averaging just 72.6 rushing yards per game. Were it not for this absurd 24-yard TD run by James Williams, they wouldn't have had a single rush for 10 or more yards against Oregon. But the Cougs are 6-1 and have the best record in the Pac-12.

    If this ends up being the Rose Bowl matchup, though, Michigan would probably win by 35. The Wolverines have the best secondary in the nation, and it's not even close. They don't get many interceptionsseven through eight games—but opponents have been helpless when trying to move the ball through the air against them. In Big Ten play, Michigan has allowed a 43.9 completion percentage and 103.8 yards per game.

                                                                    

    PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Florida vs. Texas

    Both of these teams had Week 8 off, so there's nothing new to report on either one.

    Each could take a big step into the playoff conversation this coming Saturday, though. Texas plays at Oklahoma State and Florida has a neutral-site game against Georgia in Jacksonville. In each case, it's arguably the toughest remaining regular-season game.

    Wins would be massive, of course. But even if they lose, both the Gators and Longhorns should remain in good shape for a New Year's Six bowl.

College Football Playoff

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    Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
    Ohio State head coach Urban MeyerJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Dec. 29

    Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State
    Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

             

    Jan. 7

    National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson

                     

    Keeping Ohio State in the playoff picture after that ugly loss to Purdue will undoubtedly be a controversial decision, but the Buckeyes are still the projected Big Ten championalbeit by a much slimmer margin than one week ago.

    ESPN's football power index (FPI) calculates that Ohio State has a 52.9 percent chance of winning its regular-season finale against Michigan, which is effectively the Big Ten East Division championship game. Unless OSU loses to Nebraska, Michigan State or Maryland prior to that showdown, the Buckeyes-Wolverines winner will play for (and presumably win) the conference title.

    At this point, though, we might as well just assign six teams a spot on a die and throw it to determine the current No. 4 team.

    Those six teams are Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, LSU and whomever you're picking to win the SEC East Division (Georgia, Kentucky or Florida). If we can agree on Georgia as that team, FiveThirtyEight gives all six of those teams between a 15-30 percent chance of reaching the playoff.

    But shouldn't we also put Iowa in that mix?

    The Hawkeyes are the forgotten contender at No. 18 in the latest AP poll. They have won three consecutive games against potential bowl teams by at least a 17-point margin, and they led in the final minute of their only loss of the season (vs. Wisconsin).

    They need some help in the form of one more Wisconsin loss at some point in the next five weeks. If the Badgers oblige and the Hawkeyes win out, the team would have road wins over Penn State and Purdue, a neutral-site win over Michigan or Ohio State and a Big Ten championship.

    Put that one-loss resume up against that of a 12-1 Oklahoma, and it's at least a close call, if not a clear advantage for Iowa.

    It could all go up in smoke this weekend at Penn State, but the most entertaining playoff hypothetical that could actually happen is for Iowa to claim a spot.

Bowl Games by Conference

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    Clemson's Travis Etienne (9) and Milan Richard (80)
    Clemson's Travis Etienne (9) and Milan Richard (80)Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    The following teams are listed in alphabetical order within each conference.

    American (6 teams): Cincinnati (Independence Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), South Florida (Gasparilla Bowl), Temple (Military Bowl), UCF (Peach Bowl)

    ACC (9 teams): Boston College (Military Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Gator Bowl), Florida State (Gasparilla Bowl), Miami (Camping World Bowl), North Carolina State (Belk Bowl), Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Sun Bowl), Virginia Tech (Quick Lane Bowl)

    Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Armed Forces Bowl), Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl), Oklahoma State (Cheez-It Bowl), TCU (Texas Bowl), Texas (Fiesta Bowl), Texas Tech (Alamo Bowl), West Virginia (Camping World Bowl)

    Big Ten (10 teams): Indiana (Heart of Dallas Bowl), Iowa (Outback Bowl), Maryland (Pinstripe Bowl), Michigan (Rose Bowl), Michigan State (Music City Bowl), Northwestern (Redbox Bowl), Ohio State (Cotton Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Purdue (Quick Lane Bowl), Wisconsin (Holiday Bowl)

    Conference USA (7 teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton Bowl), Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (New Orleans Bowl), Marshall (Hawaii Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Cure Bowl), North Texas (Heart of Dallas Bowl), UAB (New Mexico Bowl)

    Independents (3 teams): Army (Belk Bowl), BYU (Birmingham Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)

    Mid-American (6 teams): Buffalo (Dollar General Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl), Northern Illinois (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Ohio (Frisco Bowl), Toledo (Bahamas Bowl), Western Michigan (Camellia Bowl)

    Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Independence Bowl), Boise State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Fresno State (New Mexico Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (Frisco Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Las Vegas Bowl)

    Pac-12 (7 teams): Colorado (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Alamo Bowl), Stanford (Sun Bowl), USC (Cheez-It Bowl), Utah (Redbox Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Rose Bowl)

    SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Fiesta Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Outback Bowl), LSU (Peach Bowl), Mississippi State (Texas Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), South Carolina (Liberty Bowl), Texas A&M (Citrus Bowl)

    Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Dollar General Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl), Coastal Carolina (Arizona Bowl), Georgia Southern (Cure Bowl), Troy (Camellia Bowl)

                                          

    Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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