College Football Playoff Standings 2018: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Projections
Every team in the Top Eight of the College Football Playoff rankings won by double digits this week, so once again there are no surprises up top. The top four seeds are still Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan in that order with Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU and Washington State just behind, praying for some upsets.
The most noteworthy development in the latest rankings was UCF's leapfrogging Ohio State to climb from No. 11 to No. 9. There's still no conceivable scenario in which the Knights make it all the way up to No. 4, but it was nice to see them rewarded for a statement win over Cincinnati while Ohio State barely hung on to beat Maryland.
A few other moves in this week's Top 25 worth mentioning:
- Both Washington and Utah climbed two spots to Nos. 16 and 17, respectively. Washington State will face the former this week and—if it beats the Huskies—would face the latter in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If the Cougars defeat those teams even half as soundly as they destroyed Arizona this past Saturday, they'll have a strong case for playoff consideration.
- Utah State and Boise State also moved up a little bit to Nos. 21 and 23, respectively. The Broncos host the Aggies this week to determine who plays for the Mountain West title. They'll need UCF to lose one of its final two games in order to open up the Group of Five spot in the New Year's Six bowls, but either one could still finish the season in the Top 16.
- Syracuse plummeted from No. 12 to No. 20 after getting crushed by Notre Dame, while Boston College dropped out of the Top 25 following its loss to Florida State. This leaves Clemson with just one win over a current Top 25 team, and the Tigers needed a late miracle to get that home win over the Orange. It won't matter if they get to 13-0, but a loss to either South Carolina or Pittsburgh might leave Dabo Swinney and Co. out of the playoff.
That's enough rankings banter. Let's dive into the latest bowl projections.
Rather than peppering it throughout the tiers, let's address all the bowl math in one spot.
Excluding the national championship game, there are 39 bowls, which means we need 78 teams. There are already 71 bowl-eligible teams, and 22 others are one win away from securing eligibility.
Moreover, three games this coming week (Baylor at Texas Tech, Purdue at Indiana and Tennessee at Vanderbilt) pit 5-6 teams against one another. Since we know three of those teams will get to six wins and three of them will not, it's fair to say there are 74 bowl-eligible teams with 16 others one win away.
Most of those teams will be underdogs in Week 13, but we project four of them to win: Tulane vs. Navy, Florida Atlantic vs. Charlotte, Southern Miss at UTEP and Miami-Ohio vs. Ball State.
If those four teams win and the other 12 five-win teams all lose, there won't be any drama. Every team with at least six wins would go to a bowl game, and we wouldn't need to worry about Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores among the 5-7 squads.
If more five-win teams win than expected—especially if those teams are Florida State (vs. Florida), USC (vs. Notre Dame) or other power-conference programs—we're going to see six-win Group of Five teams left out.
If there aren't enough six-win teams and we do end up needing to go to the APR scores, the ranking among teams that could end the season at 5-7 is, in descending order: Vanderbilt or Air Force (same score), Illinois, Kansas State, Minnesota and Maryland.
One wild card to keep in mind: Virginia Tech (4-6) had a game canceled earlier this season due to Hurricane Florence. If the Hokies defeat Virginia this weekend, they could still schedule an "emergency" game during conference championship week to try to get that sixth win, just like Florida State did last year. Southern Miss (5-5) also had a game canceled and might be willing to play a do-or-die game against the Hokies if it were to lose to UTEP this week.
Akron (4-6) also had a game canceled and has already scheduled a Week 14 game against South Carolina. It's mathematically possible for the Zips to sneak into the bowl picture, but they would need to win road games against Ohio and South Carolina. According to ESPN's FPI metrics, there's only a 0.3 percent chance that happens.
Group of 5 Bowls
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Nevada
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Miami-Ohio* vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Western Michigan
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Louisiana* 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
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Marshall
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Appalachian State vs. San Diego State
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
Most of the Week 13 focus will be on the huge games in the power conferences, but there are also a bunch of Group of Five games with major ramifications.
First and most notable is Utah State at Boise State. Not only will this game decide who faces Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game, but it will also determine whether the Aggies or the Broncos remain in the hunt for the Group of Five's spot in the New Year's Six. Regardless of who wins this Saturday, if that team goes on to beat the Bulldogs next week, it will likely finish in the Top 16 of the CFP rankings, just in case UCF were to lose the AAC title game.
Troy at Appalachian State is also a big one. That game will determine who wins the Sun Belt's East Division. Though the West Division representative is still up in the air, either Troy or Appalachian State would be favored by a wide margin in that conference championship game.
While Buffalo should destroy Bowling Green to clinch the MAC East Division, there's still a chance for Ohio to steal that spot if the Bobcats defeat Akron and Buffalo gets upset by BGSU.
And let's not forget the five-win teams that are still hunting for a spot in a bowl game. As mentioned in the previous section, we expect Tulane, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Miami-Ohio to win their games this week, but SMU, Wyoming and Coastal Carolina also play road games with a chance to get to six wins.
Lower-Tier Power 5 Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: California vs. Utah State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Miami vs. Memphis
JARED Birmingham Bowl: UAB* vs. South Florida
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army*
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: BYU* vs. North Texas
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech* vs. Temple*
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
Even though it's looking like the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC will each be unable to fill at least one of its spots in these bowls, this tier is growing more interesting with each passing week.
Whether it's Utah State, Boise State or Fresno State that represents the Mountain West in the Las Vegas Bowl, there's a great chance that team will pick up a win over a Pac-12 team like California or Arizona State.
The same goes for the American against the ACC in the Gasparilla Bowl and Military Bowl. Cincinnati's upper-echelon defense against the Georgia Tech triple-option offense would be a fun one, as would the Memphis run game against Miami's solid defense. Those are both coin-flip games if we get them.
Alabama-Birmingham in the Birmingham Bowl and Louisiana Tech traveling about an hour to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl would make for some great home-field(ish) advantages for Conference USA against the AAC.
Even the First Responder Bowl would be an intriguing battle between a top-25 offense (North Texas) and a top-25 defense (BYU).
These may be the lower-tier power-conference bowls, but sign me up for all of them, please and thank you.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Virginia vs. Eastern Michigan*
Cheez-It Bowl: Arizona State vs. Fresno State*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse vs. Purdue^ / Indiana^
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech^ / Baylor^
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Michigan State vs. Vanderbilt^ / Tennessee^
Belk Bowl: Duke vs. South Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. Oregon
Redbox Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. North Carolina State
^As previously mentioned, there are three "play-in" games this week. The winners of those games are projected for the Texas Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl and Music City Bowl. If forced to venture a guess at each one, let's go with Texas Tech, Purdue and Vanderbilt.
Week 12 was quite the mixed bag for this tier.
Oklahoma State picked up a huge win over West Virginia to become bowl-eligible. The Cowboys have now played in four consecutive games decided by four points or fewer, knocking both Texas and West Virginia out of the playoff conversation and falling a failed two-point conversion away from doing the same to Oklahoma.
Their projected opponent in the Liberty Bowl also had a big week, as Missouri put a 50-17 hurting on Tennessee. The Tigers have now won four of their last five games, and the lone exception was a last-second loss to Kentucky. Aside from Alabama, Georgia and LSU, this is probably the best team in the SEC. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers destroy Arkansas this week and wind up replacing Mississippi State in the following tier.
At the other end of the spectrum, Duke, Syracuse and Michigan State all failed to score so much as a touchdown this week. The Blue Devils and the Orange got obliterated by top playoff candidates Clemson and Notre Dame, respectively, but the Spartans lost 9-6 to Nebraska to fall down to this projected tier for the first time in a month. (At least they should win the regular-season finale against Rutgers.)
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Iowa State vs. Pittsburgh
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Utah
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. Washington
Outback Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State
Citrus Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Northwestern just keeps on winning and has played its way into position for one of the eight most noteworthy bowl games. If the Wildcats happen to shock the world by upsetting either Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, they could still be the league's representative in the Rose Bowl.
It's a similar story for Pittsburgh, which locked up the ACC Coastal Division with a statement win over Wake Forest this week. If the Panthers win at Miami on Saturday and knock off Clemson in the subsequent ACC Championship Game, they could still sneak into a New Year's Six bowl (most likely the Peach Bowl against LSU). The irony of that scenario is that Penn State—which destroyed Pittsburgh back in September—would no longer have much of a case for an NY6 bowl.
Really, the only teams in this tier that couldn't conceivably climb up to an NY6 game are Iowa, Iowa State and Mississippi State, each of which has four losses and no chance to play for a conference championship.
If Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma, Washington State and UCF all take care of business, though, it'll come down to whether three-loss Florida, three-loss Penn State or three-loss Kentucky finishes in the highest position in the CFP rankings for the final NY6 slot.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): Florida vs. West Virginia
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): UCF vs. LSU
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Ohio State vs. Washington State
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
With the exception of West Virginia, every team in this tier has won each of the past two weeks. But the Mountaineers' second loss of the year wasn't enough to boot them in favor of Kentucky, Penn State or Texas. Thus, for the first time this season, there was no change in these four bowl projections.
But the outcome of West Virginia's next game will certainly shake things up.
If the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma, they would swap places with the Sooners and become the projected Big 12 champion and Sugar Bowl competitor. But if Oklahoma wins, it would be adios 'Eers, as they only have one win over a team that currently has a winning record (Texas), if you can believe that.
While that Big 12 game is happening Friday night, there might simultaneously be some Pac-12 drama in the Apple Cup. If Washington State beats Washington, no changes will be necessary. But if the Cougars lose to the Huskies, Jake Browning and Co. would become the new projected Rose Bowl team. Gardner Minshew and Co. would stay on this tier, though, dropping down to the Peach Bowl and either bumping out Florida or taking the spot vacated by West Virginia.
The biggest shakeup, though, would come if Ohio State beats Michigan.
Unless Oklahoma and Washington State both lose, it wouldn't be enough to vault Ohio State into the Top Four. But if Oklahoma and Ohio State both win, the Sooners would move up to No. 4, West Virginia would drop out of the NY6 picture, Texas would climb up to replace Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and Michigan would drop to the Peach Bowl.
Florida (at Florida State) and LSU (at Texas A&M) are no guarantees to win this week either, so this could go from cut and dried to a gigantic mess in a hurry.
College Football Playoff
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson
All signs point toward this playoff quartet, and they have for a while. Aside from making a Big Ten champion swap of Michigan in place of Ohio State a few weeks ago, it has been the same four teams in this projection every week since I started posting these Oct. 9.
But instead of discussing these teams for an umpteenth time, let's talk chaos.
What if Notre Dame loses at USC this week? And what would happen if the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 championship games all result in upsets, leaving Pittsburgh, Northwestern, Texas and Utah as conference champions?
It's beyond unlikely that all of those underdogs get the job done, but pretend anyway. While you're at it, pretend UCF is the one relevant favorite that does win.
In that scenario, we'd probably be left with a playoff of Alabama and Georgia in the top two spots—regardless of how the SEC Championship Game plays out—LSU at No. 3 and a tough decision between 12-1 Clemson, 11-1 Notre Dame and 12-0 UCF for the fourth spot.
Could you even imagine the national backlash if the playoff consisted of three SEC teams and either independent Notre Dame or Group of Five UCF? (If you can't, I wrote about it over a month ago.) Four entire power conferences left out would be enough to incite a riot.
Clemson would probably get the fourth spot ahead of both Notre Dame and UCF, but still, three SEC teams and no Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 would leave 60 percent of the country in a rage.
Then again, if Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington State all avoid losses the rest of the way, we'd still have two conferences (Big 12 and Pac-12) furious that their one-loss champions didn't get a chance to play for a national championship.
Basically, there's no scenario in which there won't be a significant number of people angry with the final rankings. But you knew that before the season even began.
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 (nine teams): Boston College (Sun Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Belk Bowl), Georgia Tech (Military Bowl), Miami (Gasparilla Bowl), North Carolina State (Gator Bowl), Pittsburgh (Camping World Bowl), Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Quick Lane Bowl)
Big 12 (six teams): Baylor / Texas Tech (Texas Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl), West Virginia (Peach Bowl)
Big Ten (eight teams): Indiana / Purdue (Pinstripe Bowl), Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Michigan (Cotton Bowl), Michigan State (Music City Bowl), Northwestern (Citrus Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Penn State (Outback Bowl), Wisconsin (Redbox Bowl)
Conference USA (eight teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton Bowl), Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (Independence Bowl), Marshall (Hawaii Bowl), Middle Tennessee (New Orleans Bowl), North Texas (First Responder Bowl), Southern Miss (New Mexico Bowl), UAB (Birmingham Bowl)
Independents (three teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (First Responder Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)
Mid-American (seven teams): Buffalo (Dollar General Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Quick Lane Bowl), Miami-Ohio (Cure 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 (Cheez-It Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Las Vegas Bowl)
Pac-12 (seven teams): Arizona State (Cheez-It Bowl), California (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Sun Bowl), Stanford (Redbox Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Rose Bowl)
SEC (11 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), Tennessee / Vanderbilt (Music City Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl)
Sun Belt (six teams): Appalachian State (Arizona Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Boca Raton 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.