College Football Playoff Standings 2018: Week 11 Rankings and Bowl Projections
The College Football Playoff selection committee has Alabama at No. 1 and Clemson at No. 2 once again. Accompanying the Crimson Tide and the Tigers in the latest top four rankings are No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Michigan. Georgia and Oklahoma are just on the outside looking in, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively.
For the second consecutive week, the top six teams were pleasantly predictable. We could (and will) argue about the order of Michigan and Georgia at No. 4 and No. 5, but instead, let's just appreciate the fact that the committee didn't throw us any major curveballs.
"Separation Saturday" didn't actually do much to separate the wheat from the chaff. Last week's No. 3 and No. 9 teams (LSU and Kentucky) are now out of the conversation after each suffering their second loss, but there are still 10 teams in the playoff hunt with just three weeks remaining until conference championship games.
Will there be enough shake-up for UCF or Washington State to legitimately get into the conversation, or are we headed for Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and a vicious debate between the Big Ten and Big 12 champions?
We aren't just focused on those top 10 teams, though. We've got projections for each and every bowl game. And here's some good news: It's looking like we won't need to worry about the APR scores of 5-7 teams to fill those 78 spots. There are already 49 bowl-eligible teams with 28 others just one win away. That's only 77, but there are several four-win teams with at least two more games on the schedule that they should win.
Read on for the full list of bowl projections heading into Week 11.
Group of Five Bowls
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Nevada
AutoNation Cure Bowl: BYU* vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Western Michigan
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic
DXL Frisco Bowl: Coastal Carolina* vs. Ohio
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida International
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Marshall
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Appalachian State vs. San Diego State
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
Not much has changed in this tier from one week ago, but there are three noteworthy moves.
First, Troy swaps with Georgia Southern and takes the Sun Belt champion's spot in the Dollar General Bowl following the Eagles' woeful performance in a 44-25 loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Georgia Southern was held to half its season average in rushing and did not score on the ground for the first time this season.
Troy still has to play road games against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, so it was probably a premature swap. But given how bad the Eagles looked this week and how bad the Mountaineers looked the week before that, maybe the Trojans can run the table.
Noteworthy move No. 2 is Florida Atlantic's bounce back into the projected picture after destroying Florida International, 49-14. The Owls are only 4-5, but they should win home games against Western Kentucky and Charlotte to lock up that spot in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Last but not least, BYU lost a low-scoring heartbreaker for the second straight week. The Cougars have now lost four of their last five, and it gets harder every day to recall how this team could have won a road game against Wisconsin. They're 4-5 and will likely need to win their next two against Massachusetts and New Mexico State, because the season finale at Utah has already been penciled in as a loss.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: USC vs. Utah State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Miami vs. Memphis
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 22): Houston vs. Army*
JARED Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 22): Fresno State* vs. South Florida
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26): Tulane* vs. UAB
Walk-On's Independence Bowl (Dec. 27): Louisiana Tech* vs. Temple*
Military Bowl (Dec. 31): Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
Each game in this tier is supposed to be reserved for at least one Power Five team, but it is quickly filling up with asterisks as it gets harder to imagine those leagues will have enough teams reach six wins.
The only one that definitely won't be a problem is the Las Vegas Bowl. Even if Washington State sneaks into the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 is going to have enough eligible teams to fill that game against the Mountain West's champion—or its second-best team if the champion gets the Group of Five's New Year's Six spot.
The other spots are much less promising.
The only way the Big 12 will have ample teams to claim its spot in the Armed Forces Bowl is if either Oklahoma or West Virginia falls far enough that the conference only gets one spot in the New Year's Six bowls. It's a similar story for the Big Ten with the First Responder Bowl and for the SEC in the Birmingham and Independence Bowls.
Even the ACC's spots in the Gasparilla, Military and Independence Bowls are far from guarantees, as Miami (FL), Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech all have tough remaining paths to six wins.
Thus, instead of getting opportunities to prove itself against 6-6 or 7-5 teams from the power conferences, the AAC will likely be left to feast on replacements from Conference USA and the Mountain West.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Cheez-It Bowl: Arizona State vs. Baylor
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Maryland
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Purdue vs. Syracuse
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Northwestern vs. South Carolina
Belk Bowl: Duke vs. California*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. Stanford
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. Virginia
Redbox Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Can anyone make sense of Oklahoma State this season?
The Cowboys started out 3-0, punctuated by a 44-21 win over Boise State, and looked like they might be the top challenger to Oklahoma in the Big 12. But they opened league play with losses in three of four games—a win over lowly Kansas the lone exception.
Right when we thought the Cowboys hit the low point of no return in a 31-12 loss to Kansas State, they rallied to upset No. 6 Texas. And then they came right back to earth with a last-second loss to Baylor this past week.
They're now 5-4 with likely losses to Oklahoma and West Virginia in the next two weeks, which would mean they need a road win over TCU in the regular-season finale to become bowl-eligible.
Given the way this team has been operating all season, though, they'll probably get to 6-6 by upsetting either the Sooners or the Mountaineers and then losing to the Horned Frogs.
And it's because of this week's upset of Oklahoma State that Baylor is back in the projected bowl picture. The 5-4 Bears will probably lose at Iowa State this coming Saturday, but they should be able to find that sixth win in the remaining games against TCU and Texas Tech.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Utah
Camping World Bowl: Iowa State vs. North Carolina State
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. Washington
Citrus Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan State
Apologies to Virginia for using this space last week to praise the surprisingly great job the Cavaliers have done this season. They promptly lost a home game to Pittsburgh and were replaced by NC State in the projection for the Camping World Bowl. Kudos to the Wolfpack for snapping a two-game losing streak with a blowout of Florida State, which has almost no hope of becoming bowl-eligible now.
Aside from that, the only change to this section was a swap of Iowa and Michigan State. That's partially thanks to several readers pointing out that the Spartans probably wouldn't get sent out to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl for a second consecutive season, but mostly due to Iowa losing to Purdue and opening the door for Michigan State to rise up to the Outback Bowl.
Iowa's loss also means the Big Ten West Division is Northwestern's to lose. The Wildcats are now 5-1 with head-to-head victories over the only two-loss teams in the division (Purdue and Wisconsin), meaning they effectively have a 1.5-game lead. Even if Northwestern loses at Iowa in Week 11, it just needs to close out the season with wins over Minnesota and Illinois to lock up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
And yet, the Wildcats are nowhere to be found among the Big Ten's top six bowl candidates because they went 0-3 in nonconference play, including this past week's home loss to Notre Dame and the unforgivable home loss to Akron back in mid-September. Unless the Wildcats win their next three games and put up a valiant fight against Michigan or Ohio State in the B1G title game, they probably won't land in a bowl game in this tier—much less the next one.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): UCF vs. LSU
In addition to giving up 40 points and 670 yards in a tight win over Temple, it was a weird week in the "things completely out of UCF's control that nevertheless impact how we view the Knights" department.
The weekend started out great with Pittsburgh beating Virginia and moving one step closer to playing in the ACC Championship Game. UCF stomped Pitt in late September, but since then the Panthers are 3-1 with wins over now-bowl-eligible Syracuse, Duke and Virginia and a close loss to Notre Dame. Suffice it to say, that win looks a lot better now for the Knights.
However, that good was undone by Houston and South Florida losing in ugly fashion to SMU and Tulane, respectively. UCF finishes the regular season at USF and figures to play Houston in the AAC Championship Game, so its remaining schedule got less impressive. The Knights are still the Group of Five team to beat and a heavy favorite to reach a New Year's Six bowl, but their chances of reaching the playoff may have gone from slim to none this week.
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
This is our fourth consecutive week projecting the Sooners and Bulldogs to meet in the Sugar Bowl. And as has been the case for the past month, they're both pounding on the door of the playoff.
Georgia made a big statement in a 17-point road win over Kentucky this week. Were it not for a pair of first-half fumbles in Kentucky territory, it would have been even more of a beatdown. The Dawgs clinched the SEC East Division and will face Alabama in the conference championship—a game Georgia probably needs to win to get back into the playoff.
And Oklahoma had 683 total yards in a 51-46 road win over Texas Tech. Offense has never been a question mark for the Sooners, but the defense—which appeared to have turned a corner in recent weeks—remains a serious concern. If they had so much as a single win over an AP Top 25 team, maybe they would be closer to the top four.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Ohio State vs. Washington State
Neither of these teams looked great in winning efforts this week. Ohio State struggled to contain two-win Nebraska, trailing at halftime before eking out a five-point win. And Washington State needed a late red-zone interception and a final-minute touchdown to survive a home game against California.
But they avoided losses, which keeps them in the running for the playoff and in excellent position to play in the Rose Bowl. If that matchup does happen, Dwayne Haskins and Gardner Minshew II might combine for 1,000 passing yards.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Kentucky vs. West Virginia
Though Kentucky's defense had no answer for Georgia's D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, the Wildcats still have a rock-solid resume worthy of a New Year's Six bowl. As long as they don't get upset by Tennessee, Middle Tennessee or Louisville in these final three weeks, they'll be headed for their most noteworthy postseason game since the 1951 Cotton Bowl.
Meanwhile, West Virginia clipped Texas on the road thanks to a gutsy two-point conversion decision with 16 seconds remaining in the game.
Even if it hadn't worked out, it was the right call. West Virginia was moving the ball at will against the Longhorns defense, but Texas had scored on seven of its previous eight possessions and had home-field advantage. Playing for overtime in that situation was as good as playing to lose, and Dana Holgorsen had the good sense to go win the game while he had the chance.
As a result, West Virginia climbed several spots in the polls and still has an outside shot at a national championship.
College Football Playoff
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Quick reminder: These are projections for the end of the season.
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson
There are no changes to the top three seeds, as the undefeateds remained as such. Notre Dame wasn't quite as impressive in its victory as Alabama and Clemson were, but the Fighting Irish still won a road game by a double-digit margin against the current Big Ten West Division leader. That's not something to be sniffed at, and it keeps them ahead of the gaggle of one-loss Power Five teams.
There was finally a change at No. 4, though, with Ohio State replaced by Michigan.
Up until this week, the Buckeyes were still projected to win the regular-season finale against the Wolverines, which would make them the Big Ten champions. But following Michigan's evisceration of Penn State and Ohio State's nail-biter against Nebraska, that Nov. 24 clash has flipped from Ohio State having a 54.1 percent chance of victory to Michigan at 55.4 percent in ESPN's FPI metrics.
Moreover, now that Michigan has cleared that Penn State hurdle, its odds of getting to Thanksgiving weekend without another loss are drastically better than Ohio State's. There's a roughly 95 percent chance the Wolverines get through both Rutgers and Indiana in the next two weeks, while the Buckeyes have a slightly below 50 percent chance of winning both road games against Michigan State and Maryland.
Mathematically, the Buckeyes still have a reasonable shot at getting in. But that isn't happening if they keep playing defense like they did against Purdue and Nebraska. We can at least temporarily take Ohio State out of the conversation, leaving a spirited debate between Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma for the final spot.
Georgia currently has the best resume of that trio, thanks to back-to-back wins away from home against Florida and Kentucky. But the expected loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game would keep the Dawgs out if four of the other six contenders keep winning. And if Michigan and Oklahoma both win out, there's little question the Wolverines would have the better 12-1 resume. Thus, they are our new No. 4 seed.
If you noticed there was no mention of West Virginia, Washington State or UCF in the preceding six paragraphs, that's no mistake. Both the Cougars and Knights would need a ton of help to creep into the top four. And even in the unlikely scenario that WVU wins out—which would mean ending the season with a road win over Oklahoma State and back-to-back wins over Oklahoma—the Mountaineers would still only have the fifth-best resume behind Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and the Big Ten champ.
Those three teams aren't out of the conversation, but they don't need to be included in it right now.
Bowl Games by Conference
The following teams are listed in alphabetical order within each conference.
American (seven teams): Cincinnati (Military Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Gasparilla Bowl), South Florida (Birmingham Bowl), Temple (Independence Bowl), Tulane (First Responder Bowl), UCF (Peach Bowl)
ACC (nine teams): Boston College (Sun Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Belk Bowl), Georgia Tech (Military Bowl), Miami (Gasparilla Bowl), North Carolina State (Camping World Bowl), Pittsburgh (Quick Lane Bowl), Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Gator Bowl)
Big 12 (seven teams): Baylor (Cheez-It Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl), Texas Tech (Texas Bowl), West Virginia (Fiesta Bowl)
Big Ten (nine teams): Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Maryland (Quick Lane Bowl), Michigan (Cotton Bowl), Michigan State (Outback Bowl), Northwestern (Music City Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Purdue (Pinstripe Bowl), Wisconsin (Redbox Bowl)
Conference USA (seven teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton Bowl), Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (Independence Bowl), Marshall (Hawaii Bowl), Middle Tennessee (New Orleans Bowl), North Texas (New Mexico Bowl), UAB (First Responder Bowl)
Independents (three teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (Cure Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)
Mid-American (six 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 (six teams): Boise State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Fresno State (Birmingham Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Las Vegas Bowl)
Pac-12 (eight teams): Arizona State (Cheez-It Bowl), California (Belk Bowl), Oregon (Redbox Bowl), Stanford (Sun Bowl), USC (Las Vegas Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Rose Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Outback Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Fiesta Bowl), LSU (Peach Bowl), Mississippi State (Citrus Bowl), Missouri (Liberty Bowl), South Carolina (Music City Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl)
Sun Belt (six teams): Appalachian State (Arizona Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl), Coastal Carolina (Frisco Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana-Monroe (Cure Bowl), Troy (Dollar General Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.