Bowl Projections 2018: CFP Predictions Ahead of Saturday's Key Games

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2018

Ian Book and the Fighting Irish head to Los Angeles Saturday against USC.
Ian Book and the Fighting Irish head to Los Angeles Saturday against USC.Jim Young/Associated Press

Is this the week there is finally some movement of the teams inside the Top Four of the College Football Playoff structure?

Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are all undefeated and in the top three spots. Alabama and Clemson are heavy favorites over Auburn and South Carolina, respectively, while the Fighting Irish are also in a strong position to beat traditional rival USC Saturday.

However, while the Crimson Tide and Tigers are playing at home, Notre Dame has to go to the West Coast, where it will play the Trojans in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The Irish have had some success on the road against the Trojans over the years, but they have also suffered some painful defeats on USC's home turf.


CFP Rankings (record include Nov. 23 games)

1. Alabama, 11-0
2. Clemson, 11-0
3. Notre Dame, 11-0
4. Michigan, 10-1
5. Georgia, 10-1
6. Oklahoma, 11-1
7. LSU, 9-2
8. Washington State, 10-2
9. UCF, 11-0
10. Ohio State, 10-1


Alabama is a 24.5-point favorite over Auburn, per OddsShark, while Clemson is a 26-point choice to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. The Fighting Irish are 12.5-point favorites over the 5-6 Trojans, who are coming off a loss to UCLA.

It would be shocking if Alabama or Clemson lost, and it would be somewhat surprising if quarterback Ian Book and Notre Dame lost, but it would not be as seismic an upset as games involving the top two teams.

Jim Harbaugh is looking for his first win over Ohio State as Michigan's head coach.
Jim Harbaugh is looking for his first win over Ohio State as Michigan's head coach.Tony Ding/Associated Press

No. 4 Michigan is clearly in danger this week as the Wolverines go to Columbus to play Ohio State. Both teams take 10-1 records into this game, but the Wolverines appear to be the stronger and more well-rounded team. They can play a devastating defensive game, and that's where the Buckeyes have struggled this year.

They were overwhelmed in their only loss of the season at Purdue, but they were pushed hard by a struggling Nebraska team. They gave up 51 points to Maryland last week before surviving the game in overtime.

Michigan dropped its season opener at Notre Dame, but it has not lost since. The Wolverines have dominated most weeks, but they could have been looking ahead to the Buckeyes in a 31-20 victory over Indiana last week.

The big issue for the Wolverines against the Buckeyes may be mental. Ohio State has won six straight games against Michigan, and 13 of the last 14 in the series. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has never lost to Michigan, while Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has never beaten Ohio State as Michigan's head coach.

It was a different story for Harbaugh as a player, as he led Michigan to a 3-1 record when he wore his No. 4 maize-and-blue uniform.

If Michigan can beat Ohio State, it should be able to hold on to the No. 4 ranking, at least for the time being.

The Wolverines would move on to the Big Ten title game against Northwestern, and while the Wildcats would present a challenge, the big issue could come if Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC title game.

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If that happens, Georgia would likely deserve a spot in college football's Final Four, and so would Clemson and Notre Dame.

Would the CFP decision-makers simply abandon Alabama as a result of one loss? This appears to be Nick Saban's strongest team, and even if the Crimson Tide were to lose to Georgia, or Auburn in the regular-season finale, a great argument can be made that they still deserve to be in the playoffs.

If Michigan beats Ohio State, we see the College Football playoffs retaining the same four teams at the top of the rankings.

However, if Ohio State beats Michigan at home as 4.5-point underdogs, look for Georgia to move into the No. 4 spot.

The pressure on the Wolverines will be huge, and while the Ohio State defense has not been stellar, the Buckeyes are capable of playing one good game in that area. Add in the prolific passing of Dwayne Haskins (3,685 passing yards and 36 TD passes) and we see Ohio State winning on its home turf and causing even more pain for Michigan.

Here's what the bowl picture will look like after Saturday's action:


Bowl Projections

College Football Playoff

Cotton Bowl (December 29): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia

Orange Bowl (December 29): No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame 


New Year's Six

Peach Bowl (December 29): Texas vs. Michigan

Fiesta Bowl (January 1): Oklahoma vs. Florida 

Rose Bowl (January 1): Ohio State vs. Washington

Sugar Bowl (January 1): UCF vs. LSU


But even if Georgia moves into that No. 4 spot, the only way it will stay there is if the Bulldogs can beat the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game.

If not, Oklahoma, UCF and Ohio State will all have a shot. Washington State would have been in that same position with its explosive offense, but the Cougars dropped a 28-15 decision at home to archrival Washington in their Apple Cup confrontation Friday night.