College Football Playoff Standings 2018: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Projections
Following a rare week in which no Top 10 teams suffered a loss, the top 40 percent of the 25-team College Football Playoff rankings remain unchanged. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan are Nos. 1-4 in that order, and those are also our projected playoff teams once again.
One could argue that the most unpredictable thing about college football is when everything goes according to plan in a given week. We're so accustomed to chaos that a Saturday without any major upsets is almost as much of a shock to our system as seeing the No. 1 team go down.
The biggest upset of the week was No. 11 Kentucky barely even showing up in a 24-7 loss to Tennessee. And while that does nothing to affect the playoff picture, it did have a big impact on the projections for the New Year's Six bowls.
We are already down to only 11 teams in a Power Five conference with two losses or fewer, and there's a good chance that number drops to 10 after two-loss Syracuse plays Notre Dame this week as a 10-point underdog. Even if UCF runs the table and locks down a spot in an NY6 bowl, it will probably play a three-loss team from either the SEC or Big 12. The Knights deserve better than that, but it's the direction things are trending.
If UCF happens to slip up in the next three weeks, though, could Utah State sneak into the Top 16? The Aggies are leading the nation in scoring and have destroyed most of the competition during their nine-game winning streak. And at long last, the selection committee decided to rank Utah State at No. 23 this week.
With games remaining on the road against new No. 25 Boise State and likely a showdown with Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference championship game, USU should have enough quality opportunities to climb ahead of some of those four-loss teams it is currently ranked behind.
Read on for the latest bowl projections.
Group of 5 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: Tulane 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
If you have a photographic memory, you might notice there is only one change in this section from one week ago: Tulane replacing Coastal Carolina in the Frisco Bowl.
The Green Wave were nowhere close to the bowl picture three weeks ago when they were 2-5 with road games remaining against Tulsa, South Florida and Houston. But they took care of the first two and beat East Carolina this past weekend to surge back to .500. With the way Houston has been playing lately, Tulane might beat the Cougars next week, too. If not, the home finale against Navy should get the Green Wave to six wins and bowl eligibility.
It was otherwise a rather uneventful week on the Group of Five bubble, though. North Texas and San Diego State each suffered bad losses, but they both already have seven wins and the teams they lost to (Old Dominion and UNLV) each already has seven losses.
The two most noteworthy developments were Fresno State's loss at Boise State and Troy's victory at Georgia Southern. However, we were already projecting Utah State to win the Mountain West and Troy to win the Sun Belt, so no changes were necessary.
Buckle up for some Thursday night drama this week, though. There are only three games being played, but 5-5 Toledo, 5-5 Tulane and 5-5 Florida Atlantic all go on the road in search of that pivotal sixth win.
Lower-Tier Power 5 Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: California vs. Utah State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Miami vs. Memphis
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army*
JARED Birmingham Bowl: Louisiana Tech* vs. South Florida
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: USC* vs. UAB
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Temple*
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
If you called it a night before #Pac12AfterDark, you missed an ugly but critical game between California and USC.
The Golden Bears snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Trojans with a 15-14 road win. A USC fumble just before the intermission paved the way for a second half that was a comedy of errors. Neither team scored in the final 21 minutes. But none of that matters. California became bowl-eligible with the win, and USC is left to search for one more—either at UCLA or against Notre Dame.
We're still projecting the Trojans to sneak in as the Pac-12's eighth team. And though neither 5-5 Arizona nor 5-5 Colorado appears in the above list this week, they give the league a shot at 10 bowl-eligible teams.
The ACC already has eight teams with six wins, and both Miami and Wake Forest need just one more win to join that club. And with only one ACC team currently projected for a New Year's Six bowl, it might be able to put a team in each affiliated bowl. That makes this our first in-season projection that has either an ACC or SEC team in the Independence Bowl, even though those are supposed to be the conferences filling that game.
As long as we're discussing power conferences, let's also note that the Big 12 only has four bowl-eligible teams at the moment—and both Oklahoma and West Virginia are projected for New Year's Six bowls.
Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are all sitting at 5-5 and should get in. The Bears and Cowboys each still have a game against falling-apart-at-the-seams TCU. The Red Raiders will draw struggling Kansas State this week. And Baylor faces Texas Tech in Week 13 to guarantee at least one of those teams gets to six wins.
But it's possible the Big 12 only participates in five bowl games, which would be its lowest mark since having five in 1997—when there were only 20 bowl games (there are now 40). It's also possible that eight Big 12 teams get to six wins, although that's a much less likely scenario.
Suffice it to say, all bowl prognosticators—and the Big 12's financial department—are quite interested in the results of next week's TCU at Baylor and Texas Tech at Kansas State games.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential
Cheez-It Bowl: Arizona State vs. Baylor
Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Virginia
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Purdue vs. Pittsburgh
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Fresno State*
Belk Bowl: Duke vs. South Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. Oregon
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. North Carolina State
Redbox Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
It's kind of fitting that Stanford and Wisconsin are projected to meet in the Redbox Bowl. Three months ago, we would've paid good money to see them. But after eight combined losses, it's merely the type of matchup we might be intrigued enough to turn on while flipping through the list of available titles in the channel guide.
Both Stanford's Bryce Love (90 yards, one touchdown) and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor (185 yards, one touchdown) had quality games this week. However, Love's day was a far cry from what he should've done to Oregon State's defense if he was healthy. And in spite of Taylor's Herculean effort, Wisconsin managed just 10 points and 12 first downs in a loss to Penn State. It was business as usual for both clubs.
Elsewhere, let's give a shout out to Minnesota for annihilating Purdue 41-10. The Golden Gophers had lost five of their previous six games, allowing at least 30 points in each of those contests, but they suffocated Purdue in the snow to climb back into the picture for a bowl game.
Minnesota is now 5-5 and finishes the season with a home game against Northwestern and a road game at Wisconsin. The Gophers will be projected to lose both games, but they could win either one. Even if they don't, though, they might have the highest Academic Progress Rate score among 5-7 teams. Depending on how things shake out with all the 5-5 teams in the Big 12 and Pac-12, there might not be 78 teams with at least six wins.
One closing thought on this tier: Sign us up for four hours of passing attempts in the Liberty Bowl.
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State would be a glorious blend of good passing offenses and bad pass defenses. The Cowboys and Tigers have combined for 45 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on offense as well as 40 touchdowns allowed with just 10 interceptions on defense. Oh yes. There will be points.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Utah
Camping World Bowl: Iowa State vs. Syracuse
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Washington
Citrus Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Outback Bowl: Kentucky vs. Michigan State
What a wild ride this season has been for Northwestern.
The Wildcats went 0-3 in nonconference play, including a horrendous home loss to Akron. They needed overtime to win a home game against a Nebraska team that started 0-6. They also needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to come from behind to defeat Rutgers. Northwestern has not yet won a game by more than 14 points, and its point differential is plus-six.
And yet, the Wildcats are 6-1 in league play and have already clinched the Big Ten West Division title.
The popular opinion is that they are just getting in position to get slaughtered in the conference championship game. However, let's not forget that the Wildcats held a 17-0 lead over Michigan earlier this season and only lost that game by a field goal. They play up (or down) to the level of their competition like no one else this season, and they're liable to put up a serious fight against either U-M or Ohio State in that game.
Elsewhere in this tier, Syracuse moved one step closer to a New Year's Six bowl by blowing out Louisville so badly that the Cardinals finally waved the white flag and fired Bobby Petrino. The Orange are 8-2 and would be undefeated if not for a couple of late comebacks by Clemson and Pittsburgh. If the season ended today, they, instead of Florida, would get into the Peach Bowl.
However, Syracuse has one of the toughest remaining schedules in the country, facing Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on Saturday before ending the regular season at Boston College.
If the Orange win either game, there's a good chance they'll finish in the CFP Top 12 and go to either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl. If they win both games, they're a lock for one of those two bowls. Unfortunately, they are projected to lose both games, which would keep them outside the Top 12. Still, Syracuse would be an excellent candidate for the Camping World Bowl, which is reserved for the top ACC team (or Notre Dame) that doesn't play in a New Year's Six game.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): Florida vs. West Virginia
Continuing the Syracuse discussion from the previous tier, unless the Orange win out, there's going to be (at least) one three-loss team in a New Year's Six bowl. Assuming Florida, Kentucky and Texas each win their remaining two games, it's likely going to be a debate between those three teams for the No. 12 spot in the final rankings.
For now, we're leaning toward Florida, because the Gators have the best win (versus LSU) and the most impressive second-best win (at Mississippi State). And while this wouldn't actually be a talking point in the selection committee war room, how great would it be to watch West Virginia QB Will Grier go up against his former team?
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
This makes five consecutive weeks with this projected Sugar Bowl matchup. If and when it happens, you best believe the analysts and commentators will be using this game to push their "expand the playoff!" agenda.
Both Georgia and Oklahoma are worthy playoff contenders. Kyler Murray and the Sooners might have an even more unstoppable offense than Alabama. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have an outstanding defense and a rushing attack that has gained at least 300 yards in back-to-back games.
If the playoff had a six-team format and we were given a first round of No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 Georgia, it'd be more than a little tempting to pick both of the lower seeds.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Ohio State vs. Washington State
Both the Buckeyes and the Cougars took care of business this week, going on the road and defeating a good-not-great opponent by at least a 20-point margin. Unfortunately, they didn't get any help in the form of losses by higher ranked teams, meaning their odds of reaching the playoff moved closer to zero.
Though Washington State is the higher ranked of these two teams, it needs the most help. We're talking Pittsburgh and Northwestern winning the ACC and Big Ten championships, Notre Dame losing one of its two remaining games and perhaps even another loss by LSU. In other words, it's not looking great. But the Cougars should be thrilled with going to the Rose Bowl for just the fourth time in program history.
Ohio State has a little more control over its destiny thanks to the remaining game against Michigan. If the Buckeyes get to 12-1, Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and neither Oklahoma nor West Virginia wins out, maybe that would be enough. The Rose Bowl is the most likely scenario, though.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): UCF vs. LSU
Like the Sugar Bowl, this is our fifth consecutive week projecting UCF vs. LSU. For the past four weeks, that projection was in the Peach Bowl. However, UCF defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl last year, so the Fiesta Bowl is more likely to host the Group of Five's New Year's Six team (provided there is one in the Top 16 of the final rankings).
Regardless of location or sponsor, it's looking like the Knights will get another chance to claim a national championship by beating a great team out of the SEC. Maybe one of these years they'll get their shot against Alabama. Sadly, though, it won't be this year, unless Alabama plays its way out of the top four.
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
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson
So much for that Week 11 chaos we tried to warn you about.
After four consecutive years of at least four CFP Top 10 teams suffering a Week 11 loss, this year's supposed shake-up week was positively boring. Every Top 10 team won. Seven of them did so by at least a 20-point margin, including each of the four projected playoff teams. Bedlam was the only game to produce any legitimate late drama.
Thus, it's lather, rinse and repeat as far as the top four is concerned.
Alabama shut out an opponent for the second consecutive week. Clemson cleared its biggest remaining hurdle with ease at Boston College. Playing without Ian Book didn't stop Notre Dame from smoking Florida State. And to the surprise of no one, Michigan crushed Rutgers.
Georgia also won rather easily, beating No. 24 Auburn by 17 points. It was the Bulldogs' fourth win over a ranked opponent this season, and all four were by at least a three-possession margin. It wasn't hard to argue one week ago that Georgia should have been ranked ahead of Michigan, and it's an even easier argument to make now.
However, we're still expecting Michigan to win out and Georgia to lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, which would end that debate.
The more interesting debate over the past week has been: What happens if Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan and Georgia all win out? Would the committee actually leave out a one-loss Alabama team that has destroyed everyone during the regular season? If not, who gets kicked to the curb to make room for the Crimson Tide?
My guess is Alabama would be the odd man out, but we've still got three more weeks before worrying too much about that hypothetical scenario. Notre Dame could lose to Syracuse this Saturday. Michigan might lose at Ohio State on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Alabama could lose to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. And there's no guarantee Clemson won't let one slip away.
As things stand, though, this remains the most cut-and-dry projected top four since the CFP's inception in 2014.
Bowl Games by Conference
Teams are listed in alphabetical order by conference.
American (seven teams): Cincinnati (Military Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Gasparilla Bowl), South Florida (Birmingham Bowl), Temple (Independence Bowl), Tulane (Frisco Bowl), UCF (Fiesta Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Boston College (Sun Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Belk Bowl), Georgia Tech (Military Bowl), Miami (Gasparilla Bowl), North Carolina State (Gator Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Syracuse (Camping World Bowl), Virginia (Quick Lane Bowl), Wake Forest (Independence 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 (Peach Bowl)
Big Ten (nine teams): Iowa (Music City Bowl), Michigan (Cotton Bowl), Michigan State (Outback Bowl), Minnesota (Quick Lane Bowl), Northwestern (Holiday 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 (Birmingham 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 (Music City 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 (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Sun Bowl), Stanford (Redbox Bowl), USC (First Responder Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Rose Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Peach Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Outback Bowl), LSU (Fiesta Bowl), Mississippi State (Citrus Bowl), Missouri (Liberty Bowl), South Carolina (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl)
Sun Belt (five teams): Appalachian State (Arizona Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans 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.