College Football Playoff Standings 2018: Week 14 Rankings and Bowl Projections
If the college football season ended today, it would be No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia and No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff.
But the season doesn't end today. In fact, that is one of the unlikeliest possible playoff scenarios, since it would only happen if Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State—and UCF?—all lose on conference championship weekend. And even then, there would be an argument for Michigan or Texas to jump all the way to No. 4.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves with hypotheticals, though. Instead, let's focus on some of the things we know for sure following the latest CFP Top 25 rankings.
First, undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame is a mortal lock for the playoff, even though it doesn't have a conference championship game. Clemson is also guaranteed a spot in the playoff, provided it doesn't suffer a catastrophic loss to Pittsburgh. Also, with Alabama and Georgia both in the Top Four, it's more than safe to assume the SEC champion is locked into a national semifinal.
That leaves just one spot up for grabs.
No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 Ohio State are right at the doorstep of the playoff, hoping to move ahead of whichever team loses the SEC Championship Game. If Georgia is the loser, there's a near 100 percent chance either the Sooners or the Buckeyes would get that spot—provided either one is able to win its conference championship. If Alabama is the loser, though, the SEC might be sending two teams to the playoff yet again.
Two noteworthy developments in these penultimate rankings:
Michigan only dropped three spots to No. 7, despite looking just plain awful in the loss to Ohio State. The Wolverines would probably drop behind No. 8 UCF if the Knights take care of Memphis in the AAC championship, but they are definitely going to a New Year's Six bowl. And they might still be in the conversation for the No. 4 seed if Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma all lose.
Washington State, on the other hand, dropped all the way from No. 8 to No. 13 following its loss to Washington in the snow-filled Apple Cup. The selection committee still has a few days to re-evaluate its ranking of those teams in the Nos. 10-14 range, but it's looking like the two-loss Cougars are in danger of missing out on a New Year's Six bowl.
Read on for our current projections for all of the bowls.
Group of 5 Bowls
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Nevada
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Tulane
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Western Michigan
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Eastern Michigan* vs. Middle Tennessee
DXL Frisco Bowl: Temple vs. Ohio
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida International
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Marshall
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Louisiana vs. San Diego State
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
There was some movement among Conference USA teams to account for Florida Atlantic's stunning home loss to Charlotte, leaving head coach Lane Kiffin and the Owls out of the bowl picture at 5-7. There was also some shuffling among the Sun Belt teams to put Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl following its win over Troy.
Aside from that, though, there's only one noteworthy change in this section: Utah State drops down to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl following its loss to Boise State.
It's proof that it's a hard-knock life for these "Group of Five" teams.
Utah State had a fantastic season. The Aggies were one of just 10 teams to score at least twice as many points as they allowed. They won 10 consecutive games in the middle of the season, bookended by hard-fought road losses to Michigan State and Boise State. They never got much respect in the CFP rankings, but they climbed as high as No. 14 in the AP poll.
But for all that hard work, they're projected for an afternoon bowl game against a five-loss team on the Friday before Christmas.
The Aggies deserve better than that. Hopefully, I'm wrong on that one, and they get a different time slot and/or a game against a better opponent such as Appalachian State, Buffalo, Troy or UAB. But there always seem to be a couple of Group of Five games between teams separated by three or four wins. I fear that is Utah State's fate this year.
Lower-Tier Power 5 Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Boise State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. South Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Wake Forest*
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army*
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: BYU* vs. North Texas
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Virginia Tech^
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Duke
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
^Virginia Tech is 5-6 with a game against Marshall remaining
After basically an entire season of thinking there wouldn't be enough Power Five teams to fill most of these bowls, what do you know? We ended up with 11 bowl-eligible squads from the SEC and a possible 11 from the ACC if Virginia Tech can win next week.
There were weeks in which neither the Birmingham nor the Independence Bowl had power-conference representation, but they're both looking solid now.
The Big 12 did drop the ball with the Armed Forces Classic but only because of Kansas State's catastrophic meltdown against Iowa State this past week. The Wildcats led by 17 in the fourth quarter, but they allowed three Cyclones touchdowns in less than six minutes, taking the loss and finishing the season at 5-7. But, hey, Army should probably be in the Armed Forces Classic anyway, right?
The Big Ten also ran out of teams before it could fill the First Responder Bowl, and that's even with Minnesota's surprising road win over Wisconsin to get to 6-6. But Independent BYU fits nicely in that spot.
And in case you're wondering who is on the bubble and rooting furiously against Virginia Tech next week, 6-5 Southern Mississippi would take the Hokies' spot in the Independence Bowl if they were to lose to Marshall.
The Thundering Herd were already responsible for one of the Golden Eagles wins this season. It would be cool if they were further responsible for opening the door for Southern Miss to sneak into a bowl game.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Virginia vs. Michigan State
Cheez-It Bowl: TCU vs. Fresno State*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse vs. Purdue
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Baylor
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Minnesota vs. Missouri
Belk Bowl: NC State vs. South Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. California
Redbox Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. Miami
This entire tier reeks of "What might have been."
Wisconsin, Miami and Auburn all opened the season ranked in the Top 10 of the AP poll. Michigan State, Stanford, TCU and Mississippi State weren't far behind in the Nos. 11-18 range. But each and every one of those teams suffered at least four losses.
At least they all became bowl-eligible, right? The same can't be said for 5-7 USC (preseason No. 15) and 5-7 Florida State (preseason No. 19), and the jury is still out on 5-6 Virginia Tech (preseason No. 20), which scheduled an emergency Week 14 game against 8-3 Marshall for one last chance to extend its 25-year bowl streak.
The only teams in this group who exceeded expectations by a considerable margin are Syracuse and Virginia.
Projected by most to be the two worst teams in the ACC, Syracuse finished ahead of everyone other than Clemson in the Atlantic Division, and Virginia was in first place in the Coastal until losing its final three conference games. Both the Cavaliers and the Orange spent time in the AP Top 25, which no rational person could have guessed in the preseason.
And there's still a good chance that Syracuse finishes one tier higher than this. We're projecting Pittsburgh for the Camping World Bowl, but the 9-3 Orange may receive that honor if Clemson smashes the Panthers in the ACC Championship Game.
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. Oregon
Outback Bowl: Kentucky vs. Northwestern
Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Penn State
By landing on the wrong side of the seven-overtime instant classic against Texas A&M, LSU is probably out of the New Year's Six picture.
It's hard to believe, considering the Tigers were No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and considering they have quality wins over Georgia, Mississippi State, Miami and Auburn. Unfortunately, the head-to-head loss to Florida is shaping up to be a de facto tiebreaker between those similarly ranked, three-loss SEC teams.
Though it isn't technically a New Year's Six bowl, this New Year's Day Citrus Bowl between LSU and Penn State should be sensational.
In fact, given the expected margins of victory for Alabama and Clemson in the national semifinals, this just might be the best bowl game prior to the national championship. Sign me up for four quarters of quarterback Trace McSorley vs. Devin White and Greedy Williams, please and thank you.
One could have reasonably projected that Citrus Bowl pairing in the preseason, but the Outback Bowl between Kentucky and Northwestern is a different story. It's almost poetic that two of the biggest positive surprises of the 2018 season end up facing one another on New Year's Day.
It could be quite the platform for Northwestern's Clayton Thorson and Kentucky's Josh Allen and Benny Snell to show NFL scouts their potential.
And as long as we're talking about NFL draft stock, buckle up for a lot of talk about the future if that Holiday Bowl pairing comes to fruition. Both Oregon's Justin Herbert and Iowa's Noah Fant could be top-10 overall picks in a few months. We'll see if either one decides to risk injury in what is ultimately a meaningless game, though.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): Florida vs. Michigan
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): UCF vs. Washington State
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Ohio State vs. Washington
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): West Virginia vs. Georgia
With Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, you should be able to figure out by process of elimination that we have Oklahoma projected for the No. 4 seed in the playoff. There will be plenty of discussion on that decision in the final section, but it's worth noting the trickle-down effect that it has on this tier.
West Virginia isn't going to finish in the Top 12 of the CFP rankings. Assuming Texas loses to Oklahoma and falls to 9-4, it won't finish there either. But the highest-ranked non-playoff team from the Big 12 is going to the Sugar Bowl.
That means the team ranked 12th—whether it's Washington State, LSU, Florida or Penn State—is going to get left out of the NY6 picture.
Moreover, if UCF loses to Memphis—a real possibility, considering the Knights barely beat the Tigers when quarterback McKenzie Milton was healthy—then Boise State could beat Fresno State, finish barely in the Top 16 and steal the Group of Five's spot in the Fiesta Bowl. If that happens, both Nos. 11 and 12 in the final rankings would be on the outside looking in.
But let's address the most preposterous part of this tier: The Pac-12 is projected to send two teams to NY6 bowls.
That conference was terrible, and between Washington and Washington State, the most impressive nonconference win was either the Huskies' home game against BYU or the Cougars' road game at Wyoming, each of which finished 6-6.
Yet, there's a good chance the Huskies and Cougars both get into NY6 bowls, while LSU and Penn State—who played a combined 15 games against teams in the ESPN FPI Top 50—are left to duke it out in the Citrus Bowl. That's not right.
College Football Playoff
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson
Another season, another fierce debate about who deserves the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff.
If Michigan had been able to win at Ohio State and then take care of Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, this would have been oh so simple.
Instead, we're left with five scenarios for that final spot.
(Note: We're assuming in all of these scenarios that Clemson will defeat Pittsburgh as a 26.5 favorite in the ACC Championship Game. If the Tigers happen to lose that contest, that's one heck of an extra variable to throw into the equation.)
Scenario A: Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. None of the other games matter at that point. It would be No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama.
Scenario B: Alabama beats Georgia, and Oklahoma beats Texas. Even if Ohio State wins the Big Ten championship, Oklahoma would have the slightly better resume after avenging its close loss to Texas. The fact that Ohio State got destroyed by Purdue—and that its wins away from home against TCU and Michigan State aren't anywhere near as impressive as they once seemed—should be enough for the Sooners to get in ahead of the Buckeyes.
Scenario C: Georgia loses, Oklahoma loses and Ohio State wins. Buckeyes get the No. 4 spot. No question about it.
Here's where it gets wild...
Scenario D: Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State all lose; UCF beats Memphis in the AAC championship. By golly, could the Knights actually get in?! Probably not. But if they blow out the Tigers and Georgia gets crushed by Alabama, it's at least worth having the conversation. After all, UCF is No. 8. The selection committee is at least paying a little attention to this team.
Scenario E: Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and UCF all lose. Could three-loss Big 12 champion Texas jump into the Top Four? A season sweep of Oklahoma would be doggone tough to ignore, but so are the losses to 6-6 Oklahoma State and 5-7 Maryland.
Could Michigan get back into the conversation in Scenario E? Maybe. Most likely the fourth spot would go to an 11-2 Georgia. But this is the scenario that would make heads explode even more than the Ohio State vs. Oklahoma debate that will rage through the next few days.
Bowl Games by Conference
Teams are listed in alphabetical order by conference.
American (seven teams): Cincinnati (Military Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), South Florida (Gasparilla Bowl), Temple (Frisco Bowl), Tulane (Cure Bowl), UCF (Fiesta Bowl)
ACC (11 teams): Boston College (Sun Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Military Bowl), Georgia Tech (Gasparilla Bowl), Miami (Gator Bowl), North Carolina State (Belk Bowl), Pittsburgh (Camping World Bowl), Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Quick Lane Bowl), Virginia Tech (Independence Bowl), Wake Forest (Birmingham Bowl)
Big 12 (seven teams): Baylor (Texas Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl), West Virginia (Sugar Bowl)
Big Ten (nine teams): Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Michigan (Peach Bowl), Michigan State (Quick Lane Bowl), Minnesota (Music City Bowl), Northwestern (Outback Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Purdue (Pinstripe Bowl), Wisconsin (Redbox Bowl)
Conference USA (six teams): Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (New Mexico Bowl), Marshall (Hawaii Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Boca Raton Bowl), North Texas (First Responder Bowl), UAB (New Orleans Bowl)
Independents (three teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (First Responder 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 (Las Vegas Bowl), Fresno State (Cheez-It Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Pac-12 (seven teams): Arizona State (Las Vegas Bowl), California (Sun Bowl), Oregon (Holiday Bowl), Stanford (Redbox Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Rose Bowl), Washington State (Fiesta Bowl)
SEC (11 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Peach Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Outback Bowl), LSU (Citrus Bowl), Mississippi State (Liberty Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), South Carolina (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl), Vanderbilt (Independence Bowl)
Sun Belt (five teams): Appalachian State (New Orleans Bowl), Arkansas State (Camellia Bowl), Georgia Southern (Cure Bowl), Louisiana (Arizona Bowl), Troy (Dollar General Bowl)
Six-Win Teams Left Out: Southern Miss (C-USA), Miami-Ohio (MAC), Wyoming (MWC), Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.